The +/- #’s: Impact Wrestling, 7/25

In hockey, basketball, and other sports I’m sure I’m forgetting, individual players are held accountable for their team’s performance during their time in the game through the plus/minus statistic. This week’s Impact review will attempt to score each segment as a hit (+1; a superior match or well-executed story-building segment), a miss (-1; offensive to the eyes or ears), or a push (+0; a segment that is wholly acceptable, but nothing memorable) in order to find an overall rating to the show.

Segment 1: Destination X Recap

Positives: The opening video package successfully made Destination X seem like a big show in hindsight.

Negatives: Rather than feature any one storyline in depth, this video package highlighted how TNA’s top two storylines are tied in a rather ugly knot. The emphasis on the Main Event Mafia took away from Sabin, but at the same time failed to put over that the Mafia succeeded in their stated goal of ensuring Bully Ray lost the title.

Segment Score: +0

Segment 2: Main Event Mafia and Chris Sabin Promos

Positives: The Main Event Mafia set a goal. They achieved the goal. They talked up how they achieved the goal. Structurally, that is sound.

Angle putting a young wrestler over sounds a lot more convincing than Hulk Hogan at this point. He seemed happy for Sabin, which doesn’t say much for his own championship aspirations,

Sabin as WHCbut is the right thing for a wrestler in his position to be doing.

Sabin established who is he as a champion: a fighting champion who believes in himself and welcomes the challenges ahead. Sabin looked to be playing a Daniel Bryan-esque babyface character.

It was good that this week’s Impact continued to put over the X Division in the wake of Destination X. Sabin announcing he would face the next X Champion in a match made the Ultimate X match seem even more important than it already was.

The lawyer referred to Bully Ray as “Mr. Ray.” This helps answer the eternal question “How do wrestling characters fill out their tax forms?”

Negatives: Sting putting over Destination X as “by far my best night ever since I started in pro wrestling” tested suspension of disbelief in a big way. It’s great for Sting to put over the angle, but it doesn’t make Sting seem like a real contemplative guy if he’s really thinks that.

Obviously TNA needed to show the finish to last week’s match, but if felt a little deflating to watch a replay of the dirty babyface win after the Main Event Mafia claimed righteous victory.

Sabin wanting to be a fighting champ is a good thing, but he seemed almost a little too eager to fight everybody by the end of this promo. He needs to slow down and pace his character to be a true World Heavyweight Champion.

All in all, this segment felt long the second the Aces & Eights music, and Bully Ray’s lawyer was a strange mix of Kevin Nash and Dr. Phil. A lawyer angle feels like cheap heat considering the rash of controversial court cases in the news.

Segment Score: +0 (A lot to like. A lot to be wary of.)

Segment 3: Ultimate X Hype

Positives: TNA introduced the match with a recap of each wrestler’s win from last week. Once again, they made Destination X feel like a show where a lot happened.

TNA went out of their way to further introduce Marasciulo, the newest of the three characters.

Negatives: Marasciulo’s backstage promo, while alright, didn’t match the intensity and likability of his performance in last week’s match.

It defies the whole psychology of masks in wrestling for Manik to cut a “serious promo about his journey” speaking to a camera with no mask on. There’s nothing to be gained through a worked shoot video where a wrestler transparently talks about their “alter-ego.” The crowd will accept Manik as a new character if they get him out of the outfit and consistently portray him as a real person.

Segment Score: +0

Segment 4: Ultimate X Match

Positives: Sonjay Dutt (the unanimous winner of the “What’s the Worst that Could Happen?” reader poll to become X Champion) hit some athletic spots, including a moonsault low off the support truss onto Manik. Despite never being pushed as a champion, Dutt has a degree of iconic status that makes him stand out as a babyface in chaotic multiman matches. It’s a rare talent in the X Division – and one he shares with new World Champ Chris Sabin (Discussed at length here in our X Division primer from May http://wp.me/p3uWIw-A).

Borash and Tenay talked about how the X Division Title “changed Chris Sabin’s life,” putting over the position of X Division Champion as a major accomplishment.UltimateX

This match succeeded in putting over Manik in the ring as a worthy X Division Champion. He went toe-to-toe with a legend of the X Division and a rising junior heavyweight on the international scene, and he effectively outsmarted them. His spots weren’t always the smoothest, but the match told a story that legitimately elevated the character.

Negatives: Marasciulo took a bump onto the ramp less than thirty seconds into the match, which didn’t feel necessary.

These Ultimate X matches feel dated. It was a concept born of a specific time and place that no longer exists. Wrestling has reigned itself in since the early days of TNA and the kind of bumps that made this match successful have become rather taboo.

Jeremy Borash bragged up Ultimate X as “dangerous.” It’s okay to talk seriously about the risks involved, however, Borash toed the line of discussing it like sexy Bond-movie danger.

Some finishers are great but just don’t make sense outside of the ring. Greg Marasciulo’s finisher looked like it left him worse for wear after hitting it on the ramp.

The fight on top of the scaffold felt more “safe” than “awesome.” The restraint was laudable, but made the whole idea of scaling the truss silly to begin with.

Manik winning is the furthest thing from a shakeup available, by far. Although they’re pushing T.J. Perkins — the man behind Manik — more , the gimmick fails to bring back good memories (as Dutt could) or hope for something new (as Marasciulo could).

Segment Score: +0

Segment 5: Bully Ray & Ken Anderson talk backstage

Positives: Ray’s “you know I would have voted for you” was so phony it was worthy of Mickie James.

Bully Ray did a great job establishing that Aces & Eights’ priority was for Anderson to win the Bound For Glory Series. For the second time on the show, a main event star successfully put over someone without it sounding forced or fake.

Negatives: This felt like a scene written by someone who’s a fan of C-grade mobster movies. The pacing and delivery of the lines felt too much like “acting” and not enough like “pro wrestling.”

Segment Score: +1 (This felt like the last time Aces & Eights brand will help elevate someone, but it was a good storyline hook)

Segment 6: Hernandez vs. Ken Anderson

Positives: Anderson outsmarted Hernandez and beat him cleanly in the middle of the ring. His win coupled with the prior segment made him a “man to watch” for the remainder of the Bound For Glory Series. This character development was much needed – it elevates him and the overall story of the Series.

Negatives: Some of the announcing in this match felt a little WCW in that they were talking about Ken Anderson’s soap opera drama rather than calling the match he was having.

Continuing the WCW theme, this was a match of upper-midcarders with minimal crowd heat and neither man able to do anything to make the match special.

Segment Score: +0

Segment 7: Velvet Sky Promo & Knockouts Title Match

Positives: Velvet’s promo helped Mickie James’ character, as it put over the idea that she’s chewed Knockouts up and left them in her wake.

Both Kim and James are superior workers, and they definitely showcased their wrestling abilities by packing the match with action.

At one point Kim grabbed James by the hair, prompting ref O.D.B. to exclaim, “Easy on the weave!” O.D.B.’s run as a ref stands as a real positive example of TNA repurposing a popular talent and keeping them employed – things the company desperately needs to draw attention to.

These two worked holds and had an honest-to-goodness wrestling match. TNA is letting women’s in-ring work shine, a decided contrast from the WWE focusing on Total Divas.

Negatives: Velvet’s reappearance exposed her a bit, as James and Kim are not the Knockouts you want to be competing with if you’re trying to get over at this point.

Gail Kim

Gail Kim still hasn’t done anything to establish that she’s a real babyface. TNA is effectively portraying her as an enemy of Mickie’s, but they’re leaving money on the table by not doing more to get fans behind her character.

The time devoted to Velvet felt even longer in hindsight after the less-than-ten-minute Knockout Title Match. If her involvement in this means she’s the next to face Mickie, I think the angle is moving backwards.

The involvement of O.D.B. in the finish made the Gail Kim character even more confusing. So she’s a heel and that was just a heel-heel match even though she was working babyface? Everybody knows Kim is a great wrestler, but they needs a character-defining promo to explain what fans are supposed to expect from her.

Segment Score: +0

Segment 8: Christopher Daniels vs. Samoa Joe

Positives: Daniels responded to a “Joe’s gonna kill you chant” by mouthing “No, he’s not.” His current run is actually very similar to Mickie James in that he plays a very realistic, very unlikable heel character.

This match featured two wrestlers who know how to have a really solid TV match. Without giving anything special away, they showed off some signature moves and actually worked a fairly “big match” pace in spite of the time restraints.

Even with the distraction, this felt like a big win for Daniels, given the push Joe is getting as a member of the Main Event Mafia. Daniels could find himself in a very good position if he can establish himself as a top heel while Sabin is champion.

Negatives: While a solid TV match, this was “what you’d expect from these two.” The distraction finish, while effectively contributing to the Aces & Eights vs. MEM storyline, felt like a bad move in a Bound For Glory series match. The Series’ matches need to feel sacred, and screwy finishes hurt TNA’s ability to build prestige.

Segment Score: +0

Segment 9: Sting & Angle Backstage Segment

Positives: This segment had a very natural feel to it – It seemed like a real brainstorming session. Sting looked very smart and measured here in contrast to his credibility-killing statements at the top of the show.

Negatives: Combined age: 98

Segment Score: +0

Segment 10: A.J. Styles vs. Jeff Hardy

Positives: The announcers put over why this would be a big win for either man by explaining how close the pack behind Magnus is in the BFG Series.

This was an interesting philosophical matchup between one guy destined to play “exciting young star” forever and another guy trying to move on from the gimmick.

A.J.’s experiment with what is basically the WWE pace is one of the interesting “Inside Baseball” stories in TNA right now. This match gave worthy time to selling A.J.’s new spots and working holds to build a worthy TV main event.

The finishing sequence of this match was really crisp, with all the signature moves looking good. It seemed legitimately exciting because Styles and Hardy made the audience wait for it with the methodically-paced match.

Styles going over Hardy cleanly by submission seems like a huge investment in A.J.’s new character.

IMG_3046Negatives: TNA has done a poor job taking care of Hardy since he lost the World Heavyweight Title. This was a good match with a clean finish, but it was a televised loss for Hardy.

It’s officially time for TNA to show their cards a little more with the A.J. Styles character. His new character is getting over in the ring, but they’ve done little to explain it. Styles is on the borderline of “too mysterious” in that the audience hasn’t been given enough about his goals and his character to hold onto.

Segment Score: +1

Segment 11: Bully Ray & Chris Sabin face off

Positives: The crowd was chanting “Sabin, Sabin” which is an encouraging sign for TNA. The company has way more options if the crowd embraces Sabin.

Wrestling promotions have used and abused the cage for thirty years now, but this felt like a logical situation in which to use the gimmick: both men effectively have gangs of supporters, so the cage is necessary to make sure the match stays one-on-one.

TNA picking a date for a big Thursday night card and promoting toward it could be a positive move, as it will give each weekly show a greater sense of purpose, rather than just being a random Thursday between two pay per views that are three months apart.

Negatives: Sabin’s promo wandered into “conceited” a few times. He seems just a tinge overly-aggressive.

Bully Ray is a hypocrite, but it still rang a little too true when he told Sabin he should be ashamed he won dirty.

Hogan’s involvement in this segment felt 100% unnecessary and generally like a ploy to give the Hulkster another appearance on the show. His whole promo could have been one sentence: “We need to guarantee that you two have a fair match, so you’re going to have a cage match.”

Segment Score: +0

NET +/- SCORE FOR TNA IMPACT WRESTLING 7/27: +2

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