The (belated) +/- #’s: Impact Wrestling, 8/22

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: Bully Ray & Tito Ortiz Arrive

Bully Ray and Tito Ortiz

Positives: Bully Ray and Tito Ortiz playing (suddenly) best buddies actually does something for both of them. Ray knows how to cut the storyline-driven wrestling promo, and Ortiz’s attitude and body language add a new wrinkle to a Bully Ray character that seemed to have hit a wall in the past three months.

Negatives: The idea of Ken Anderson being spun out of Aces & Eights as a top babyface seems a bit much considering the short shelf life of his previous curse-based gimmick. Anderson’s presence in this angle shows what TNA lost when D.O.C. was not retained.

Segment Score: +0

Segment 2: Extraordinary Gentlemen’s Organization Promo

Positives: In this segment, TNA actually did something to fight the perception that the company is an intellectual continuation of the failed WCW: They established a heel faction within the company that is equal to the heel outsiders. After the nWo caught on, WCW lost the ability to create successful heels without the nWo brand. Here, TNA showed some forethought and laid the ground for the next generation of top heels after the Aces & Eights saga wraps up.

James Storm cuts the soundest babyface promos in the business. It sounds like a backhanded compliment, but the fact of the matter is that Storm gets himself over as a likable guy who sets goals that fans want to see him accomplish.

Negatives: It was a little puzzling that the EGO declared war on Aces & Eights only to be greeted by the babyface Tag Team Champions. Storm has plenty of reason to dislike Roode, but his appearance came across as a bit out-of-turn.

Segment Score: +1

Segment 3: Street Fight – James Storm & Gunner vs. EGO (Bobby Roode & Kaz)

Positives: As in the previous segment, James Storm proved his near-Jeff Hardly-level Teflon status. In spite of all that his character has been through over the last two years, Storm can still put together a flurry of offense that gets the fans as hot as anything.

One of the reasons to be excited about EGO is the way all three members of the group sell. They know when to take the bigger-than-average bump in a way that contributes a lot to the match but doesn’t make fans expect it every time.

The dirty finish in this match was well-executed by all involved. There were no conspicuous pauses or awkward moments that made things look fake. The referee’s focus shifted for just a second so that Roode snuck in the low blow, but Storm didn’t have to have his shoulders pinned for any longer than the three count.

Negatives: Gunner looked like the Yang to Storm’s Yin in terms of charisma. His work lacks top star polish, which hurts his ability to get over as exciting, and he seems more like a guy that Storm needs to help rather than a talent with whom Storm can create something new.

Segment Score: +1

Segment 4: Sonjay Dutt vs. Mannik

Sonjay Dutt vs. Mannik

Positives: Sonjay Dutt is, in his own way, one of the most over wrestlers in the eleven-year history of TNA. He understands how to have an “X Division match,” which is a minor miracle consider how poorly that term has been defined over the years.

Mannik helped fill out his resume as X Division Champion with this match. This felt like a showcase for “this Mannik” (T.J. Perkins) on par with his match against then-champion Chris Sabin earlier this month. Mannik also showed here that he can get some heat on a match by selling, a consideration that was lost in the triple threat era of the X Division.

This was the second match in a row with a very crisp finishing sequence. When finishes are quick and well-executed, they make everybody look better – even the wrestler taking the loss.

 Negatives: This is utter nitpicking, but there was a point in this match where Dutt took an extra nasty-looking sitout powerbomb and both he and Mannik proceeded to stand right back up and keep going. It’s great to push the pace and use every second of your limited time on TV, but if a spot looks devastating, for the love of God, sell it!

Segment Score: +1

Segment 5: Jay Bradley vs. Hernandez vs. Joseph Park vs. Christopher Daniels

Positives: Multi-man matches with no rules can be hard to hold onto, but this match actually told a solid story for each wrestler. Jay Bradley asserted himself as a young guy who can dish out some punishment and Joseph Park continued his angle in a way that didn’t make him or everybody involved look like a cartoon fool. TNA also did well to write out EGO logically with the appearance of Austin Aries, so as to explain why Daniels didn’t win. Hernandez was the only person who looked somewhat weak, as he got in his signature offense but sat out the finish on the outside after taking just a running STO from Daniels.

The spot where they teased that Bradley was going to hit Park in the head with the chair was really well done. TNA created all the drama of a shot to the head without requiring anybody to actually take a shot to the head. It takes restraint not to use shortcuts in a street fight match, but this match felt like it was put together with an eye toward safety.

Negatives: This match had a lot of awkward moving parts. For one, Hernandez and Bradley interacted way too much – two big midcard guys running slowly at each other is not what you call a hot ticket. Also, throughout the match, there were several moments of wrestlers grabbing at each other’s wrists like they weren’t sure what was happening next.

Segment Score:  +0

Segment 6: Bully Ray/Tito Ortiz Promo

Positives: Ray is better than anybody had any right to expect at setting up Tito Ortiz. Ortiz actually had very good crowd heat during his short promo, and while he didn’t do a great job finding the camera, he had a legitimate, heelish swagger to his body language.

A heel turn for Brooke Tessmacher is a surprisingly interesting development. Who knows to what degree she’ll wrestle or just be Ray’s valet, but either way, she is another new wrinkle to his character.

Negatives: Ray’s repetition of the word “again” as he bragged about his accomplishments was supposed to make him seem double evil, but it also did a lot to reinforce how TNA is already in its second go-around using every trick in the book with Bully Ray.

This segment pumped Bully Ray back up a lot, but it seems like the last two months were used to rebuild Ray at the expense of Chris Sabin. If Sabin doesn’t have a big comeback angle from this, his title reign will indeed seem like “a fluke,” as Bully Ray says.

Segment Score: +0

Segment 7: Gail Kim vs. ODB

Positives: This match was one wrestler who knows how to play babyface facing another wrestler who knows how to play heel. The result was a match that told a good story and cemented ODB as someone who belongs in the top tier of the Knockouts Division after her stint as a referee.

Negatives: It felt like both Mike Tenay and Taz could have done a lot more to make this match feel important. They failed to bring up Mickie James and the Knockouts Title in a way that contextualized the match, and Taz seemed more interested in mocking ODB than saying anything meaningful about her as a wrestler.

Segment Score: +0

Segment 8: The Main Event Mafia (with A.J. Styles) vs. Aces & Eights

A.J. Styles hits his flying forearm

Positives: First off, A.J. Styles’ return as a defined babyface got over like crazy, at least with the live crowd. Styles feels like a great fit with the Mafia, as he is a “TNA Original” with loads of championship credentials. He also adds another “big match wrestler” to the Mafia, which patches a hole created by Kurt Angle’s absence.

Mike Tenay absolutely lost his babyface announcer mind to a beyond-Tony-Schiavone level when the match started. In stark contrast to the Knockouts match, Tenay went out of his way to make this match seem like a huge deal and the addition of A.J. Styles to the mafia a great coup. Even Taz sold that Styles turning face was a big blow to the plans of Aces & Eights.

Taz said Magnus “looks like Tarzan, but fights like Jane,” which is an oldie, but a notable goodie. Speaking of Magnus, his long sell went over surprisingly well. Every heel who got into the ring to work him over got loud “______________ sucks” chants, and his teammates (particularly Rampage and Sting) were well-protected from over exposure.

Above all, this match felt like a real main event. Wrestlers in a top storyline were fighting with something meaningful on the line, and they delivered a match of worthy length that told a story that, even with many bells and whistles, was easy for the crowd to get behind. The finish felt like a big moment in the Aces & Eights angle and also a big moment for one of TNA’s all time top stars, A.J. Styles.

Negatives: Watching Garrett Bischoff on offense makes you feel bad for the guy selling, and watching him sell makes you feel bad for the guy on offense. Knux and Brisco are clunky and awful too, but at least they understand how to play heel.

The part of the match surrounding Rampage’s flurry of offense felt a little off. First, Samoa Joe visibly shoved Rampage into position, at which point Rampage stood up and just waited for someone to run at him. The ref was outside the ring for the whole exchange, which led to an awkward moment in which Knux had Sting pinned for a near-criminal length of time. It goes to show that wrestling is hard enough without one guy in the match everybody else has to work around.

Segment Score: +1

NET +/- SCORE FOR TNA IMPACT WRESTLING 8/22: +4

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