SO AWHILE BACK–I can’t remember how far back, since the weeks and months tend to blur together, especially when it comes to pro wrestling programming–TNA put on a string of pretty good Thursday night Impact shows. Nothing earth shattering, but good, solid professional wrestling television: a decent mix of talk and action, a relatively compelling cast of characters, a focus on titles…well, on the World Title at least…effectively simple stories that followed internal pro wrestling logic. I was watching both Impact and Raw/Smackdown regularly at the time, and I often found myself enjoying Impact the most of the three, or at least Impact and Smackdown ahead of Raw.
Then the wheels slowly fell off. Among other things, Garrett Bischoff got his head-scratchingly nepotistic push, Hulk Hogan returned, storylines started to backpedal in convoluted ways, and it felt like Impact was returning to mediocre business as usual. Meanwhile, Wrestlemania season started in full force on the WWE side of things, making TNA seem less and less relevant in all ways possible.
Eventually, as the road to Wrestlemania XXVIII got closer to its destination, I stopped watching Impact all together, and soon I wasn’t even checking the results on pwtorch.com. But now, a few months removed from Wrestlemania, with WWE firmly back into its offseason slump mode and some TNA buzz following a reportedly decent Sacrifice PPV, I decided to check in on Impact after weeks away.
And my decision yielded a pleasant surprise. Last Thursday’s Impact Wrestling (5/17/12) was a thoroughly entertaining rasslin’ show.
After retaining the World Title at Sacrifice against Rob Van Dam, Bobby Roode–six months into his inaugural reign as champ–kicked off the show finding himself targeted by a mob of potential challengers. Hulk Hogan hit the stage in his current role as Impact GM (not a big fan of the Hulkster on my screen in 2012, but I can deal with him somewhat in this role), and announced a series of matches to determine four candidates for number one contendership, one of whom he would then select to have a title match with Roode the following week.
This is pretty basic, nothing exciting or earth shattering, but it works. Champ feuds with a contender up to a PPV, champ dispatches challenger, a rouge’s gallery of possible contenders crops up post-PPV, and a series of matches over the course of the night’s show determines the challenger for the next PPV. I like this because it makes it seem as if the undercard matters and that those wrestlers are actually working toward a goal (contendership for titles). It also helps create a sense that there’s some sort of ranking leading toward title shots. These are seemingly minor points, but they’re important fundamentals in allowing the viewer to suspend disbelief regarding wrestling’s predetermined nature.
I know there are some out there who feel this predetermination should be ironically celebrated or laughed at, but for me, a suspension of disbelief (and an internal logic that allows this suspension to take root), is–in addition to larger-than-life personalities and a history/tradition of viewing the sport–what makes wrestling worth watching.
We then saw Bully Ray defeat Rob Van Dam, AJ Styles defeat Austin Aries, Eric Young, ODB, Robbie E., Robbie T., Gunner, Garrett Bischoff, Magnus, and Devon in a battle royal, and Jeff Hardy defeat Mr. Anderson. All of these were qualifying matches for next week’s potential contendership.
Bully Ray is hands down the best heel in wrestling right now, so it’s nice to see him hovering around the title picture. RVD is pretty inconsequential to me these days, but I’d rather see RVD as an enhancement act than I would a Kofi Kingston or a Jack Swagger.
Which brings me to my point regarding the battle royal. While there are certainly the Robbie E.’s and Robbie T.’s on the TNA roster who I don’t give a crap about (though Robbie E. does a lot with what he’s been given gimmick wise), overall the TNA undercard is much more interesting to me than WWE.
In WWE, the drop off from CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Cena, Lesnar, and co. to Epico, Primo, Kingston, R-Truth, et. al. is so staggering that aside from the main event angles, I don’t really feel like watching the rest of their shows. We’ll see if this changes as new faces are being introduced on Smackdown currently, but in the meantime, I’m more interested in TNA’s undercard mix of WWE veterans with stories and histories that make them seem better than generic placeholders (RVD, Devon, Mr. Anderson, Jeff Hardy, Kurt Angle), and younger and/or homegrown wrestlers who, while still often in enhancement roles, are at least occasionally presented as being hungry for or in the mix for titles (Gunner, Magnus, Austin Aries, AJ Styles, Kazarian, Christopher Daniels) rather than depicted simply as unranked, wheel-spinning “superstars.”
With the vets, even when they’re jobbing, you can get into them as grizzled old-timers, picking themselves up off the mat and trying to get back into the mix. The WWE vets can also, at any time, easily be slid into the main event. In the case of the younger and/or homegrown talent, you can empathize with their fight to get to the top, a top that’s often been denied to them in favor of undeserving but better connected talent. All of this gives what could be boring filler a sense that it’s part of a larger drama–the quest for titles and positioning. I’m not saying this never happens in WWE, but TNA’s current roster seems better suited at creating this illusion for me right now.
The battle royal was followed by a 3-way women’s match for the TNA Knockouts Title. While women’s wrestling in TNA is a step above WWE (which is automatically unwatchable), it’s still a shadow of its former self, so until something changes, this got fast forwarded.
Samoa Joe then faced Kurt Angle in another qualifying match. This was nothing special, but good. It’s always kind of sad to see Joe in the ring and then think about how he could have been used all these years. Angle is disturbing as hell regarding his health and apparent mental state, but the guy is a freaking machine.
And that was that. It was a little confusing, because the show never clearly stated how Hogan was going to pick one of the four potential candidates for contendership next week, but that being my biggest gripe with this episode is a good sign. We’ll see if Impact keeps it real again next week. I sure hope so.
I didn’t watch the 5/18/12 episode of WWE Smackdown, because it was leading into a PPV (Over the Limit) that I didn’t give a crap about.
I didn’t watch the 5/19/12 episode of Ring of Honor, because I hate watching their weeks that are out of sync with their iPPV schedule.
I didn’t watch the 5/21/12 episode of WWE Raw, because it was coming out of a PPV (Over the Limit) that I didn’t give a crap about, with nothing much seemingly on the horizon. Also, the news of Raw becoming a three hour show in the near future has kind of knocked the wind out of my sails regarding WWE. I love me some wrestling, but geeze louise!
I’ll probably check in with Smackdown this week to see how the likes of Damien Sandow and Claudio “Antonio Cesaro” Castagnoli are shaping up.
I’ll probably check in with Ring of Honor TV whenever their weird schedule catches up to the aftermath of the Border Wars iPPV.
I’ll probably check in with Raw next time there’s some Brock buzz or something else along those lines.
Speaking of which, more, shortly, on the last spate of iPPVs I watched: Evolve 12 and 13, and ROH: Border Wars. Better late than never!