All posts by Dave

Writer. Educator. Vaguely decent human being.

Say It Like You Mean It: The Impact Wrestling Preview, 12/12

Like every other wrestling company, TNA creates a weekly preview of its flagship show, Impact Wrestling. And, like every other wrestling company, they don’t always tell the truth when hyping their product. Thankfully, Dave is here to try to figure what TNA is trying to say, and tell you what he thinks, so you don’t have to do either.

TNA Says:

The annual “Feast Or Fired” match returns to IMPACT on Thursday night – featuring Samoa Joe, James Storm, Mr. Anderson, Gunner, Chavo Guerrero, Zema Ion and more superstars! Four briefcases will hang in the ring – three will contain shots at TNA World Titles, while the fourth will cost one unlucky superstar their spot on the TNA roster! Who will earn title shots – and who will be FIRED?! Don’t miss the Feast Or Fired match this Thursday on SpikeTV!

What This Probably Should Mean: Samoa Joe wins the World Title shot, reasserting himself as a true main event player. Zema Ion gets the X Division Title shot, receiving an opportunity to put his new DJ character in the ring. Either Gunner or Storm wins the Tag Team Title shot, adding additional drama to what feels like a slow burn breakup, and Chavo Guerrero gets fired.

What This Probably Shouldn’t Mean: Chavo Guerrero gets anything good.

Dave Thinks: This match is interesting (and sad) in that it features six wrestlers that have been utterly misused and incorrectly pushed over the last year. Mr. Anderson seems like the hottest character by far going into this match, given the success of the Aces & Eights funeral segment he led, but he doesn’t feel like a good choice to be TNA’s version of “Mr. Money in the Bank” (remember how that worked out in the WWE?).

***

TNA Says:

Who will be the next TNA World Heavyweight Champion? The Finals of the World Title Tournament is set for December 19 during “Final Resolution” on SpikeTV as Jeff Hardy will battle Magnus to crown the new titleholder! Tune into Thursday’s IMPACT for the latest on Hardy and Magnus as they prepare for their showdown for the gold!

What This Should Mean: Individual promos from both men throughout the show followed by a man-to-man, show-closing faceoff between the two. Magnus asserts himself as a clear heel to oppose the super-over Hardy, but does so verbally without the two men touching.

What This Shouldn’t Mean: TNA doesn’t use a healthy chunk of their valuable TV time (at least thirty minutes combined) to hype the match that will effectively redefine TNA’s identity heading into 2014.

Dave Thinks: It’s a great move by TNA to take a week off from the title tournament to hype the final. With that said, if they don’t make good use of this show promotionally to build that match as something really special, well then they might as well have not produced a show for this week at all.

***

TNA Says:

Speaking of the World Title, this past week AJ Styles told TNA President Dixie Carter that if she wanted the belt, she would have to come to his home in Georgia to get it! How far will Carter go to get back her intellectual property? Tune in and find out on Thursday night!

What This Should Mean: A blend of actually-funny comedy from Rockstar Spud and dead-serious intensity from A.J. Styles. Styles refuses to give Dixie the belt back, but instead offers to defend it against the winner of the ongoing TNA title tournament.

What This Shouldn’t Mean: Four segments worth of Dixie Carter’s terrible, self-congratulatory acting.

Dave Thinks: TNA deserves a lot of credit for building up a huge title match (Hardy vs. Magnus) while also hinting at the next huge title match (New Champ vs. A.J. Styles) and the huge title match after that (New Champ vs. Feast or Fired Winner). Unfortunately, all this strong long-term booking will still result in me being a sad panda if A.J. is one and done with TNA in 2014.

***

TNA Says:

Also on Thursday: The X Division Championship will be on the line as Chris Sabin will defend against Austin Aries, plus who will step up to battle TNA Knockouts Champion Gail Kim in her ongoing open challenge?

What This Should Mean: Aries and Sabin have a long, strong match that reestablishes the prestige of the X Division Title. Sabin goes over with a pull of the trunks or his feet on the ropes to continue his development as a heel. Gail Kim’s next opponent continues the upward trend in quality.

What This Shouldn’t Mean: A short match that ends with Velvet Sky distracting Aries while Sabin gets a quick, cheap win. Gail Kim’s next opponent does not continue the upward trend in quality.

Dave Thinks: TNA is at its worst promotionally when they’re lumping the X Division and the Knockouts together like this. It’s basically an indicator that the creative team is only interested in the top one or two storylines and everything else is a desperate attempt to fill out a card.

Final Thoughts

This show will be a good indicator as to whether the new, post-Hogan/Bischoff braintrust in TNA has any idea how to tell compelling stories. Feast or Fired should provide some insight into who will be pushed in the early months of 2014, while the Hardy/Magnus build will demonstrate whether TNA has learned how to make their televised “super Impacts” seem any more like pay per views than they did in 2013.

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#ECWWeek: Essential Viewing

After having so much fun with the stables last month in celebration of the Survivor Series, we’ve decided to turn this December — and all Decembers in perpetuity — into Promotions Month. This week we have Paul Heyman’s Extreme Championship Wrestling. This is Day Two of #ECWWeek, the fifteenth installment of our (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week Series. As (almost) always, we started by making ECW a Promotion You (Should) Probably Know Better. Today, we give you the finer points of the company’s oeuvre with some Essential Viewing AND a Highlight Reel . Tomorrow, we discuss the idea of ECW and Another Fan’s Treasure before quenching your thirst for Listicles with a Juice Make Sugar Top 10 List on Thursday. Finally we’ll sum everything up on Friday with a “Difference of Opinion” that will likely be closer to a “Difference in Levels of Disdain”. Let’s get Extreme?

In 1994, Jim Crockett Jr. himself approached Tri-State Wrestling Alliance/Eastern Championship Wrestling promoter Todd Gordon about carrying the standard for the NWA. Based on nearly 50 years of NWA tradition, the move should have been an honor for the relatively small territory.

But Gordon and new booker Paul Heyman understood that following the death of Jim Crockett Promotions, the appearance of the title on WWF television, and the belt shuffling at WCW’s Disney tapings, the NWA Title had been devalued past the point of no return.

So, they — along with “The Franchise” Shane Douglas — did this:

Douglas’ promo isn’t great, with a “substitute news anchor reading off the prompter” feel to it, but he hits the right bullet points, successfully creating the sense of rebellion and anti-authority sentiment that made this dimly-lit moment the spark from which ECW’s “revolution” was ignited.

ECW had the attitude from that moment forward, but what really made the company work was that they offered an in-ring product that neither WWF nor WCW could even approach. The ECW-style was rooted in the super hard-hitting, fast-paced style of early 1990s Japanese wrestling. Matches like this one — between Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko — is a perfect showcase of what ECW brought to the United States. Both men are nearly subatomic by the standards of height and bulk required in big-time operations of the day, but their work is so simultaneously smooth and physical that it seems like a well-choreographed dance performance compared to the awkward, herky-jerky main event style of the day.

If ECW was built on unapologetic, in-your-face attitude and high-level in-ring work, then Steve Austin was the perfect ECW star. He had only a short stint in the territory between his exit from WCW and debut into the WWF, but Steve Austin made the most of the time he had there. With the encouragement of Paul Heyman, Austin began developing the promo style that would make him one of the most successful wrestlers of all time.

Fifteen years before CM Punk, Steve Austin helped establish himself as one of the great characters in wrestling with this scathing shoot promo. Austin vented his frustration with the inner politics of wrestling, using impressions of Dusty Rhodes, Hulk Hogan, and Eric Bischoff that were as scathing and dead-on as Punk calling Triple H a doofus during his “Pipe Bomb” promo. Even if you were oblivious to the history of the Attitude Era, if you saw this promo from ECW in 1995, you would look at Steve Austin and say, “That’s a huge star.”

Austin put it well when he said that ECW was mostly “a bunch of violent crap.” The territory saw many great workers and historically significant moments, but everything was reduced in prestige and respectability by the fact that the company’s wrestlers treated each other like kidnapping victims in a snuff film. The unofficial motto of ECW was “more is more.” More spots. More risk. More violence.

When wrestling was at its white-hottest in 1997, both the WWF and WCW were borrowing heavily from the ECW playbook: outrageous injury angles, scantily clad women “spontaneously” bursting out of tight dresses, and a near-constant barrage of weapon shots and juice. Rather than reinvent themselves in the face of imitators, though, ECW decided to stick to the same tricks and turn them up to eleven.

The following match from Hardcore TV features three of the greatest tag teams in ECW history: The Dudleys, The Gangstas and The Eliminators. All three teams were crazy over, and fans loved their matches, but two of the three groups had the same gimmick: “guys who brutally beat up other guys” (The Gangstas had been involved in the notorious “Mass Transit Incident” less than six months earlier — I won’t link you to it, but you can look it up…). The result is a match that engages the crowd, but exposes the unsustainable nature of ECW’s booking for all to see. You could take this match “around the circuit” once, but how many times will fans pay to watch a six men sloppily beat the crap out of each other?

The escalating violence of ECW reached its crescendo at 1997’s Born to Be Wired in an ECW Title match between Sabu and Terry Funk. This match is possibly one of the worst ideas ever. It pits a then-53-year-old Funk against a then-seemingly-indestructible Sabu in a match that makes Funk look very old and Sabu look very destructible. The match, straight out of FMW, is every bit as gruesome as you would expect a match with barbed wire ring ropes to be.

The match’s signature moment occurs at the ten minute mark, with Sabu tearing open his bicep by flying into the barbed wire. Few moments embody the legacy and philosophy of ECW better. The match should have stopped for the sake of safety, but in the name of the religion of ECW (created in equal parts by Paul Heyman in order to control talent and stereotypical Philadelphians in order to feed their bloodlust), Sabu tapes his arm up with white athletic tape and finishes the match.

For all its fame, this match contains the most abysmal clean finish of all time. The two men become inextricably tangled in the barbed wire, with their clothes torn to the point that they seem in danger of being stripped naked. A terrified-looking Bill Alfonzo tries to interject, cutting the wire in hopes of freeing the men to the point where they can actually wrestle, but it doesn’t work. Ultimately, Fonzie and a referee have to gingerly lift and roll Sabu and Funk back in the ring in order to go home on the worst pin ever executed. You know what would have prevented all that? One iota of restraint.

***

ECW finally got a national television deal just as they were finding themselves unable to deal with the constant brain drain of talent leaving for WCW and the WWF. By early 2000, Taz(z), Raven, the Dudley Boys, and The Radicalz were all in the WWE and Lance Storm and Mike Awesome were in WCW. The result was a mixture of wrestlers with blind faith in ECW (Tommy Dreamer) and wrestlers that nobody wanted (Balls Mahoney). ECW, the company where wrestlers tore their bodies to shreds to make their home team relevant had failed supremely: they weren’t relevant, and the wrestlers’ bodies were still torn to shreds.

The dying days of ECW were hard to watch on many levels, but one redeeming feature was that ECW on TNN gave many talented, hungry workers a place to ply their craft on TV. This match between Taijiri and Psicosis is a gem in the coal dust, a wonderful, albeit feeble beat in the fading pulse of ECW.

The +/- #’s: Impact Wrestling, 12/5

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, as ever, this 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; wholly acceptable, but nothing memorable) in order to find an overall rating to the show. This week, for the first time, however, Dave’ll be doing his best to explain his reasons behind the score. 

MagnusAngle

Seg 1: Kurt Angle/Magnus Promo Exchange

Thoughts: Kurt Angle’s had so many head injuries in his career that all his promos sound like he just got a head injury.

Magnus needs to stop hedging and turn heel. Talking about having heart and desire in promos isn’t at all consistent with his in-ring actions in what was supposed to be a star-making vehicle against Sting at BFG.

Roode cut a solid heel promo, but the best part was the closing line when he told Magnus he will “never ever be World Heavyweight Champion.” Mangus sold being legitimately insulted, too, which made it even better.

Jeff Hardy starting his own “Hardy” chant was awkward on a lot of levels, most notably: If TNA had booked one of the most over wrestlers of the last 15 years with any competence at all, fans would pop for him on their own. On the other hand, can we already go back to blaming the Orlando crowd for not being into anything?

Score: +0

Reasons: None of these promos were home runs — heck, Roode only hit a double. With that said, Impact opened with a segment that featured wrestlers promoting the two big matches on the card without any authority figure meddling. That’s a good, rare thing these days.

RoodeTable

Seg 2: Jeff Hardy vs. Bobby Roode — Tables Match

Thoughts: A few minutes into the match, Hardy bumped right onto his head on a short-armed clothesline from Roode. It looked really scary, and the announcers threw to a replay, suggesting he took an awkward amount of time live to recover. Things got even worse when Hardy crashed and burned on a Whisper in the Wind attempt on the next spot. If Hardy starts respecting his body more, he’ll be able to make money wrestling for many years. If he doesn’t, he won’t.

Hardy and Roode simultaneously bumping through the table from the apron was very well-timed. If that spot had gone wrong, it would have made for a really awkward decision: call for the bell on the fly, possibly changing the finish, or pretend it looked good. Lucky, it looked great, preventing what could have been a bad situation. Also, it was a nice, logical spot to throw to commercial on, rather than cutting away in the middle of in-ring action.

The finish on this match was great in that the right man won, and he did it in an original way. Hardy had already hit the Swanton and the Twist, so finishing on the mule kick off the apron felt fresher than “here’s my finisher again!”

Score: +1

Reasons: Strong TV match between a great babyface and a great heel. Several good spots throughout with a clean, different finish.

Hebner

Seg 3: Ethan Carter III vs. Earl Hebner (yes, you read that right)

Thoughts: Based on the tight shot of Carter during his promo, it’s safe to say that all his “You suck” heat came out of an extra large can of Goldberg Brand Canned Heat.

This segment was an awful, awful idea, but you know what the worst part of it was? No babyface wrestler came out to stop EC3 from being a gigantic jerk wasting the fans’ time. As I said in my preview, whoever’s booking this angle thinks they’re being “old school” by building Carter on an island separated from any real wrestlers, but that strategy has already cost the character valuable heat. On this trajectory, EC3 will never become a heat magnet, just a channel up button.

Score: -1

Reasons: This whole segment felt like a pre-intermission house show bit, and a bad one at that.

Seg 4: A Collection of Short Promos/Vignettes

Thoughts: The Sam Shaw vignette was really, really good. It successfully made me, a faithful but fairly jaded TNA fan, excited to see more. Shaw actually came across as a decent actor in the segment, and Hemme’s been defined as just a ring announcer for so long that the idea of her actually being involved in an angle seems fresh and intriguing.

Roode’s promo, while short, was a nice touch too. Too often, wrestlers lose an important match and then move onto the next thing with no further thought. It’s good to see TNA actually take care of one of their top characters after a big loss.

The time dedicated to Dixie Carter would have been far better spent as an extra thirty seconds for either Shaw or Roode. Obviously TNA’s writers feel obligated to give their boss X minutes per episode.

Score: +0

Reasons: Cheers to Shaw and Roode. Jeers to Dixie.

IMG_2781

Seg 5: Bad Influence “Expose” Joseph Park

Thoughts: Bad Influence have been one of the most consistent, and consistently strong, acts in TNA since they came together. With that said, being involved with Joseph Park so long has really dragged them down.

After 10 minutes of peeking through my fingers at the TV for fear the awfulness of this segment might blind me like some kind of solar eclipse of shit, I suddenly realized that this whole exchange solved absolutely NOTHING other than set up a match with Eric Young in it.

Score: -1

Reasons: I haven’t cringed so much during a wrestling segment since Claire Lynch. I usually complain when story lines are dropped with no explanation, but this Joseph Park mess was the time to do it. Every time they tease that they’re going to end the angle, I get hopefully optimistic, and every week they just kick the can down the road.

Seg 6: World Tag Team Champions The BroMans vs. GunStorm

Thoughts: The BroMans exist in this existential singularity where I can’t tell if I really hate them or if they’re just good heels.

This match had some solid mid-card action, which was exactly what this episode of Impact was in desperate need of.

The finish of this match was predictably awful. I can never decide if that’s better or worse than an unpredictably awful finish.

Score: +0

Reasons: Watchable midcard match, but nothing special. A solid step down the path for both The BroMans as champions and GunStorm heading toward a breakup.

GailKim

Seg 7: Knockouts Champion Gail Kim vs. Laura Dennis

Thoughts: Gail Kim’s real-life husband, Robert Irvine (of Food Network fame), heeling in Kim’s pre-match promo was fantastic. It’s good to know that heels are married to other heels. This actually felt like a nice “cable-level celebrity” rub for Impact, as Irvine is, in his own way, a very well-established TV character.

Dennis’ offense was mostly punch-kick, but her timing was good, which resulted in the smoothest and most watchable Gail Kim challenge match to date.

ODB’s save looked really good. She came to the ring hot and put together fast-paced offense without looking even slightly blown up. Her clothesline of Tapa over the top rope successfully made her look like a threat to the Kim/Tapa empire.

Score: +1

Reasons: Another watchable match that actually enhanced Gail Kim as champion, and a strong return for ODB. Also, the Robert Irvine heel turn put The Knockouts over the top this week.

RoodeDoode

Seg 8: Magnus vs. Kurt Angle — Last Man Standing Match

Thoughts: This match had some decent action, especially from Magnus, but Kurt Angle’s limitations are getting harder and harder to hide.

Roode’s interference felt like the ultimate copout. This finish will help Roode’s ongoing feud with Angle, but it didn’t do a thing for Magnus who this tournament is supposed to build up as the next main event star in TNA.

This was a good enough match, but it honestly didn’t feel as “main event” as the opener between Hardy and Roode. Angle has a well-established reputation, but I think both matches would have benefitted from this match happening in the first hour and Roode/Hardy main eventing.

Score: +0

Reasons: This match was fine for what it was, but not anything special. A clean win for Magnus would have been a +1, but this match wasn’t good enough to make up for such a bad finish.

OVERALL +/- SCORE FOR 12/3 EDITION OF IMPACT: +0

Final, Final Thoughts: There was about thirty minutes of extremely strong content on this show. Unfortunately, it was a two-hour show.

While Hardy vs. Roode, Sam Shaw’s vignette, and the Knockouts were all positives, ECIII and Joseph Park provided just enough horrifically boring, terribly draggy segments to bring the whole episode back down to earth.

Say It Like You Mean It: The Impact Preview, 12/5

Like every other wrestling company, TNA creates a weekly preview of its flagship show, Impact Wrestling. And, like every other wrestling company, they don’t always tell the truth when hyping their product. Thankfully, Dave is here to try to figure what TNA is trying to say, and tell you what he thinks, so you don’t have to do either.

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TNA Says:

Next Thursday, it will be the Semi-Finals of the ongoing World Heavyweight Championship tournament, with the two winners advancing to the FINALS to crown a new titleholder! The Final Four are set, and one of these four superstars will become the NEW World Heavyweight Champion: Jeff Hardy, Bobby Roode, Kurt Angle or Magnus!

WORLD TITLE TOURNAMENT SEMIFINAL

Tables Match

Jeff Hardy vs. Bobby Roode

WORLD TITLE TOURNAMENT SEMIFINAL

Last Man Standing Match

Kurt Angle vs. Magnus

What This Probably Should Mean: Three of the most talented, over wrestlers in the TNA and the company’s rising star put together two strong wrestling matches. Hardy and Roode bump all over the place for each other, with Hardy eventually getting the win on one of his signature big spots to cement his return to the main event. Magnus and Angle work a long, physical match that puts over the toughness and desire of both men. Magnus gets the win, dropping Kurt Angle with his Michinoku Driver for the clean pin.

What This Probably Shouldn’t Mean: These matches are rushed at ten minutes each so the crowd can be treated to more time with Joseph Park and Dixie Carter. Both matches have B.S. injury finishes, with Hardy crashing and burning when he flies too close to the sun setting up the crowd-thrillingest spot of all time and Angle slipping on a banana peel and “injuring his neck” again.

Dave Thinks: While there’s always the loud (and often correct) contingent of TNA fans who ask “Where the hell is Samoa Joe?” TNA has brought this title tournament down to as good a final four as they can muster. Angle is a massive star who, in spite of his recent troubles, is still over like crazy and would make a credible champion at any time. Roode is the most underrated main eventer currently on TV, and would also make a great champion, as he seems at the height of his powers in the ring. Jeff Hardy is one of the most over babyfaces of the last fifteen years and, when he feels like it, can have a great match with a sack of potatoes. Magnus is a terrific wild card, as he is young and fresh, albeit unproven. TNA has made more booking mistakes than you can shake a stick at, but they’ve done well with this tournament.

***

TNA Says:

Christopher Daniels and Kazarian have informed TNA officials that they plan to EXPOSE Joseph Park once and for all on Thursday night! According to Daniels and Kazarian, they took a road trip this week to find out the truth about Park – and came back with evidence that could destroy him! What will Daniels and Kazarian reveal about Park this Thursday? Tune in and find out!

What This Should Mean: This should mean that Joseph Park is successfully “EXPOSE[d],” turns back into Abyss permanently, and returns to kicking ass unapologetically. Daniels and Kaz bump like wild men, displaying for everyone that Abyss is back and ready to become a tank.

What This Shouldn’t Mean: Take 27 of the following sequence:

“I’m not Abyss!”

“Yes, you are!”

“No, I’m not!”

**Sloppy brawl in which Park gets busted open**

“Rawr!”

**Park Black Hole Slams Kaz and Daniels, then just stands there looking at himself, befuddled**

Dave Thinks: You know when the police put down those spike strips that pop the getaway car’s tires, but the crooks keep trying to drive away on the rims in a shower of sparks until the wheels are so hopelessly bent that they can’t move anymore? Joseph Park is that car.

***

TNA Says:

In addition on IMPACT, World Tag Team Champions The Bro Mans will battle the former titleholders James Storm and Gunner

What This Should Mean: Gunner and Storm both take turns looking strong against The Bro Mans, who stall and beg off like cowardly heels. Ultimately, DJ Zema Ion creates some kind of distraction that leads to Robbie rolling up Gunner for the win. Storm looks frustrated, but ultimately consoles Gunner after the match.

What This Shouldn’t Mean: An unbelievably lightning quick victory for the heels that makes Storm and Gunner both look like (1) weaklings and (2) idiots. Gunner and Storm immediately start doing the back-and-forth-shoving tag team breakup thing, culminating in Storm knocking Gunner to the ground and storming (Ha! Get it?) out of the ring.

Dave Thinks: This feud would actually make sense: The Bro Mans are goofy 2013 Honky Tonk Men and GunStorm are no-nonsense, ass-kicking babyfaces. The only problem? It’s hard to see this match being much more than a chapter in the GunStorm breakup angle. If this was happening before Gunner threw in the towel for Storm, I’d be excited about the prospect of these two teams mixing it up, but as it stands, I’m already cringing, waiting for the miscommunication spot that leads to Storm jobbing and glaring at Gunner.

***

TNA Says:

Plus, TNA Knockout Champion Gail Kim’s Open Challenge continues – is there anyone that can step up to beat the Women’s World Champion?

What This Should Mean: Kim faces a challenger from the indy circuit who can have a smoother match than her previous opponents have given her. Kim actually shines the babyface and looks to be in danger for a minute before cutting her opponent off, hitting her finisher, and retaining.

What This Shouldn’t Mean: Kim squashes her opponent in 30 seconds, then Lei’D Tapa comes into the ring and beats the girl down more. They pose. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Dave Thinks: Gail Kim’s open challenge gimmick has officially run up against the rule of threes with this match. Kim’s a great worker and a tremendous champion, but by the end of January, 2014, there needs to be an actual Knockouts Division for her to defend against. Fresh faces are great, but if you don’t have an established base of talent, “fresh face” just starts to look like “next warm body through the revolving door.”

***

TNA Says:

Ethan Carter III (aka EC3) is going to challenge a Legend!

What This Should Mean: EC3 calls out a returning TNA star — let’s say Jimmy Yang (one of the interesting/funny things about Impact being back in Florida is it’s actually feasible that random wrestler could show up at a moment’s notice). Yang, or whoever, gets in a crowd-pleasing spot or two against Carter, but ultimate takes EC3’s headlock driver and the clean pin in the middle of the ring.

What This Shouldn’t Mean: Wow, I could rattle off a pretty damning roll call of D-list wrestling “legends” if I wanted to… but I’ll go with Koko B. Ware on this one. EC3 should not wrestle Koko B. Ware

Dave Thinks: It was a good (albeit belated) move last week for EC3 to go over a real jobber in Shark Boy and not a comedically jobbery jobber. It feels like whoever is behind this angle feels like they’re being “old school” in the way they build up EC3, but the fact that he hasn’t even glared at a serious babyface is officially starting to catch up with him. He officially needs a breakthrough, over match against an established TNA babyface — Eric Young sounds like the perfect opponent.

Final Thoughts

This show looks frustrating on paper because what TNA’s presenting is utterly schizophrenic. On one hand, we have two serious match-ups between some of the company’s top stars, but on the other, we’re presented with Joseph Park and The Bro Mans. As long as they try to play the WWE’s comedy sketch game, TNA will continue to struggle. If they don’t embrace the fact that the million or so people who actually tune in every week are hardcore wrestling fans (as in serious, not trash can lids and barbed wire) who want to see in-ring action, they’ll never rise above the level of second-rate ripoff artists.

#4HorsemenWeek: Tully Blanchard – The High Chief of the Mid-Card

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It’s Still #4HorsemenWeek. And we’re taking some time to celebrate Tully Blanchard, The High Chief of the Mid-Card.

Until very recently in wrestling history, there was a whole class of wrestlers who had spectacular careers, made great money and matches, while stimulated those feelings of love or hatred that make wrestling work. They were happy there, and they didn’t really want to wrestle tippy top stars regularly if they weren’t positioned to go over.

But now, everyone wants their favorite wrestler to be a main eventer.

Most fans — in particular, the “smart” ones —  don’t feel like they can fully appreciate Dolph Ziggler or Bray Wyatt or The Shield if they’re not positioned in the top angles with World Champions. Much of this consternation is rooted in the thoroughly incorrect belief that wrestling (or life in general) is somehow a meritocracy. A place where the best and most-deserving get the first lick at the cream, and not the biggest and the best looking.

The parts of this misguided notion that don’t come from the cognitive dissonance that one’s personal opinion isn’t always shared with the paying majority comes from a twisted understanding of the importance of belts in the modern era. Nostalgia for a time when the midcard system worked simply because there were so many titles that were over in whatever podunk region the various promotions ran shows in.

Wrestlers understood their individual brand — their only tool to make money in a pre-guaranteed contract era — was far more likely to be enhanced by being perceived as the holder or number one contender to the United States or Intercontinental Title than a “main event” wrestler outside of the title picture. If you had a title, you were guaranteed bookings. It didn’t matter if it was the Southern States Title or the Six-Man Tag Title, or the Brass Knuckles Title; having your hands on a strap meant you were going to get dates and have at least one very good payday when you dropped the belt.

The Four Horsemen’s own Tully Blanchard was in many ways the avatar of this approach. Blanchard held many titles, although never the World Title, and was involved in some of the most memorable feuds of the mid-to-late 80s. Tully could cut promos that sounded like the ones from main event wrestlers, have matches on their level, and because of this, got as much heat from the crowd as anyone at the top of the card. However, he was firmly planted in the middle where he could make the most hay.

Blanchard had basically the same skill set as Flair: he cut the cocky heel promo, bumped big, and even strutted. There was no place in the main event for a shorter, slightly less charismatic Ric Flair, but there was tons of money to be made in the midcard. Wrestlers like Magnum TA and Nikita Koloff could work with Tully and have a great match where they looked strong and could leave fans thinking, “If he beat up Tully like that, what would he do to Flair?” Understanding what a powerful promotional tool this was, Flair, booker Dusty Rhodes, and the Crocketts positioned Tully right next to Flair in The Four Horsemen.

So, given how successful Blanchard was with a single run in the main event, why do so many fans “in the know” want all their favorite stars to be main eventers?

For one, “smart” fans are still stinking marks — just like we are, and just like the fans of previous eras were — even if they don’t seem to realize it. Most hardcore wrestling fans reading dirt sheets filled with “insider” knowledge use the backstage drama in professional wrestling to take the place of actual angles. There’s a very specific portion of the audience who think investing in “the man” Bryan Danielson rather than “the character” Daniel Bryan makes them a student of the game and not a mark, a more misguided thought than the dream of wrestling is a meritocracy.

Even when Daniel Bryan is in a World Title feud with John Cena, fans discuss his chances of becoming “the face of WWE” (a marketing term) rather than “beating Cena and becoming the Champion” (a sports-oriented term). Which, was exactly what the WWE wanted to have happen to people who only love one thing more than Shawn Michaels and HHH making insider jokes about what happened when they went hunting the week before: complaining about Shawn Michaels and HHH making insider jokes.

And since the politics of cracking into the main event (especially in a post-nWo, post-Triple H world) have been so aired out on shoot tapes, insider interviews, and wrestling blogs, internet-era fans have come to see the entire midcard as “less than.” The problem is that this is significantly getting in the way of their enjoyment of the product and their appreciation of great midcard performances.

Whether or not it will come, there should be a day when we stop asking “When is Kofi Kingston going to be pushed into the main event?” and start appreciating him as a fantastic midcard performer who you can just sit back and enjoy. He, like Tully Blanchard before him, has won titles, made money and given you no reason to feel sorry for him.

Say It Like You Mean It: The Impact Wrestling Preview, 11/28

Thanksgiving

Like every other wrestling company, TNA creates a weekly preview of its flagship show, Impact Wrestling. And, like every other wrestling company, they don’t always tell the truth when hyping their product. Thankfully, Dave is here to try to figure what TNA is trying to say, and tell you what he thinks, so you don’t have to do either. 

TNA Says:

IMPACT continues the longtime tradition of pro wrestling on Thanksgiving! After the turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, join the rest of your family for a night of IMPACT WRESTLING! TNA President Dixie Carter will host the Thanksgiving special, and she promises a night to remember!

What This Probably Should Mean: Lots of wrestling. Minimal Dixie. (This is more like “Pie in the Sky Scenario.”)

What This Probably Shouldn’t Mean: Dixie kicks off the show with a ten minute promo which generates more “get off TV” heat than Dads on Fox. She does her usual tired rundown of A.J. Styles (seriously, if she wants to pretend he doesn’t exist, why does she talk about him so damn much?) and uses the term “Dixieland” no fewer than four times. Dixie appears throughout the show as festive holiday filler, ultimately leading to at least 45 minutes of Dixie Carter in a two hour wrestling show.

Dave Thinks: It’s smash-your-face-against-a-doorframe frustrating how Dixie doesn’t hold her writing staff accountable. That she actually claims to take pride in the product — even if it’s because her face is plastered all over it each week — might be the most frustrating part. Every time since the one week Dixie generated actual wrestling heat, the boos have just been directed at how abysmally bad the product she allows on TV is.

***

TNA Says:

Speaking of Thanksgiving tradition, the infamous TNA Turkey Costume returns on Thursday night! Who will be humiliated and forced to wear the Turkey Suit on the broadcast? Tune in and find out!

What This Should Mean: Through some “We hired back Vince Russo for one night” machinations, Ethan Carter III is supposed to wear the suit, but because of the language of his “Ironclad TNA Contract” (insert laugh track here), the suit actually ends up on Dixie.

What This Shouldn’t Mean: Having contacted the Nielsen folks, TNA already mailed out turkey suits to every fan who actually watches Impact weekly. They will arrive promptly on our doorsteps at 8:55pm EST, so that we can put them on just before Impact so our loved ones who happen to be in the room will get the full effect of how willfully and persistently dumb we all are.

Dave Thinks: Without the Turkey Bowl — a surprisingly good thing that TNA actually did each year —  to give the the turkey costume meaning, the entire concept becomes as stupid as it sounds.

***

TNA Says:

The Main Event of the Thanksgiving broadcast will feature Team Angle vs. Team Roode in an 8 Man Elimination Match! As the war between Kurt Angle and Bobby Roode continues, who will they pick to join them in battle in the huge tag team match on Thursday night?

What This Should Mean: Team Angle consists of Kurt himself, Jeff Hardy, Samoa Joe, and Eric Young, who always weasels his way onto these cards somehow. Team Roode consists of Bobby, Bad Influence (Kaz and Daniels), and Magnus. Young gets double-teamed early by Bad Influence, leading to a quick elimination. Magnus gets a big rub with a win over Hardy, but is eliminated by Joe to even up their emerging feud. Bobby Roode gets the better of Joe to make the match three-on-one: Bad Influence and Roode against Angle. Suddenly, Abyss’ music plays and he runs off Bad Influence, leading to a man-to-man confrontation for Angle and Roode. Angle finally gets the clean victory over Roode (albeit in a convoluted-as-heck elimination tag) that he’s been denied since they started the injury angle.

What This Shouldn’t Mean: Any combination of events that ends with Kurt Angle “injuring his neck” or “getting a concussion” to avoid a finish. TNA thinks they’re doing the whole “delayed gratification” thing setting up Angle’s eventual clean win over Roode, but all TNA has to do to realize what a bad idea that is is to look at the WWE. They kept delaying gratification for Daniel Bryan until people stopped buying pay per views.

Dave Thinks: Obviously there will be more matches throughout the night, but, to unapologetically use a cliche, “the word on the marquee is wrestling.” Build your show, even your throwaway holiday show, around the promise of cute costumes and silly skits, around wrestling. I can’t even begin to explain how fundamentally abhorrent it is to me when a two hour wrestling show is advertised with only one match on the card.

***

Turning Point Coverage: Mr. Anderson vs. Bully Ray, Two Title Tournament Matches, Joseph Park's Challenge

TNA Says:

After beating Bully Ray this past week and forcing the Aces and Eights to disband, Mr. Anderson is holding a public funeral for the end of the Aces and Eights on Thursday’s broadcast!

What This Should Mean: Anderson leads the crowd in a legitimate celebration of the fact that we will never hear from Aces & Eights again. Bully Ray stays well enough away from the whole thing. The segment acts as a launching pad for fans to start caring about Ken Anderson again.

What This Shouldn’t Mean: This whole segment is a long block of overly-clever filler to flesh out a holiday episode on which TNA doesn’t want to give away any storyline development because nobody’s watching (but, like, even worse than usual). Bully Ray is eventually so incensed by Anderson’s zingers that he comes to the ring and challenges Anderson to yet another match on next week’s Impact.

Dave Thinks: Outside of “This is Your Life, Rock,” I don’t think these long, planned talk-with-video-clips segments have ever been successful or good. With that said, the success of this segment depends on two things: how much time it’s been given (less is more — anything more than seven minutes is way too long for this) and which Ken Anderson we get: the funny, spontaneous one or the “here’s my routine of Attitude Era material” .

Final Thoughts

Wrestling on Thanksgiving is a decades-long tradition, somewhat proudly maintained by TNA each year. This week’s show is built around a mock Survivor Series match which will continue TNA’s top-shelf Angle vs. Roode feud, as well as a tryptophan coma-inducing amount of Dixie Carter.

#4HorsemenWeek: Essential Viewing

4horsemen

It’s Day Two of #4HorsemenWeek. In celebration of this month’s Survivor Series, we’re taking a look at famous stables from the wonderful world of wrestling. This is the thirteenth installment in our patent-pending Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week series. As always we started by making The Horsemen a Stable You (Should) Probably Know Better. Today, we give you the finer points of their oeuvre with some Essential Viewing. On Wednesday, we’ll be asking you to Watch and Learn. After Hump Day, we get our BuzzFeed on with a Top 10 List, before finishing everything off on Friday with a Difference of Opinion (or, more likely, a celebration of the Horsemen’s specific brand of awesome.) 

The entire Horsemen catalogue is Essential Viewing. They are the measuring stick for all wrestling alliances that came after them, cutting the best promos of all time, and working legendary matches that made them the quintessential heels for an entire generation in-and-out of the ring.

Because of their perfect mix of chemistry and the gravitas their in-ring credibility lent them, interview segments helped create the mystique of The Four Horsemen just as much as any five star match could. Everybody had their moment with the mic to get across their individual personality, but the segment always successfully communicated the group dynamic and the collective agenda. This early offering shows the Andersons, Flair, and Tully Blanchard all have time with the mic while displaying their shiny title belts:

The great target of the 1980s Horsemen was Dusty Rhodes. From a creative standpoint, Dusty was the perfect foil for The Four Horsemen. He was on par with the group’s leader Ric Flair in terms of promo ability and represented the honesty and fundamental goodness of which The Horsemen were bankrupt. Practically speaking, however, Rhodes, the booker of Jim Crockett Promotions at the time, knew a good thing when he saw it and kept himself as close to the white-hot Horsemen as possible. Even in light of these blatant political machinations, Dusty vs. The Horsemen was a great feud.

Rhodes and Flair main evented Starrcade ’84, but in the subsequent year, The Four Horsemen were assembled, which allowed the NWA to build towards another Flair-Rhodes showdown with a powerful, natural way to stack the odds against superface Dusty. In the buildup to Starrcade ’85, Flair and The Horsemen jumped Dusty in one of the most memorable moments in NWA history, breaking his leg inside a steel cage in a vicious attack that shocked the fanbase.

The injury angle got over like free money and catapulted Dusty towards a monumental title win at Starrcade. The bit was so good that it even worked the second way around less than a year later when The Horsemen broke Dusty’s arm in a legendary segment. The Horsemen kidnapped a cameraman, forced him to travel with them as they stalked Rhodes, and ultimately jumped The American Dream in the parking lot of JCP headquarters, smashing his arm with a baseball bat. (Dusty famously shouts “MAKE IT GOOD!” just before the moment of truth.) The segment was so revolutionary and gritty that fans watching on TV called local police to alert them of an assault in progress – seriously. The moment cemented The Four Horsemen as the most lowdown, despicable heels in the territory, and was so highly-regarded within the industry that it was copied over a decade later by the nWo.

Of course, these segments, in spite of their greatness, wouldn’t have meant a thing if The Horsemen hadn’t delivered in the ring with Dusty. As this match (oddly dubbed for Japanese broadcast complete with awesome Japanese commercials) illustrates, The Horsemen knew how to get heat and build anticipation for their opponents comebacks. The match sees Flair and the Andersons (The Minnesota Wrecking Crew if you will, daddy) take on Rhodes and The Rock n’ Roll Express, who were at the time just about the three biggest pure babyfaces in wrestling this side of Hulk Hogan.

Their offense, while smooth and expertly-executed, was never flashy, and the goal was always to build the next hope spot for their babyface opponents.  As seen in the above match, the Andersons worked a largely punch-kick style, an effective heel tactic of the era. However, The Horsemen came into their true prime with Ole’s retirement in 1987. This allowed Arn and Tully to become the group’s tag team in residence, which was good, considering Arn and Tully are a prominent part of the “greatest heel tag team ever” discussion.

Arn was big, strong, and no-nonsense, but could bump like a jobber – which is a compliment – while Tully was essentially a midcard version of Ric Flair. Arn looked as credible as anybody in the ring while Blanchard bumped, begged off, and strutted in a way that incensed the crowd. They were the perfect heels in that they were simultaneously dominant and beatable. Arn and Tully could — and frequently did — wrestle  jobbers and have a great match as easily as they could with two main eventers.

It’s a testament to Anderson and Blanchard that the golden age of The Four Horsemen ended the second they left for the WWF (where they were known as The Brainbusters and had a memorable feud with Demolition).

As the 80s became the 90s, it felt like the era of The Horsemen was over. During wrestling’s creative nadir in the early 90s, fans and promoters remembered the greatness of The Four Horsemen, and trying to recreate that instead of build something new felt like a good idea. Whether it was a face run incorporating Sting in the group or a heel run with “Pretty” Paul Roma, these incarnations never had the flair (no pun intended) of the original lineup.

In spite of their lack of sizzle, each subsequent group of Horsemen always fulfilled one fine tradition of The Four: they brought it in the ring. This match shows the least popular Horseman of all time (Roma) put on a great tag match with Anderson against “The Team I Really Wish Was A Real Tag Team,” Steve Austin and Steven (William) Regal.

The later versions of The Four Horsemen had some really talented members (Brian Pillman, Dean Malenko, HE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED), but they always fell miles short of recapturing the original magic. Even as the act’s long-standing mystique fizzled, “The Four Horsemen” remained a brand that wrestling fans recognized and respected. When presenting the nWo as beatable finally seemed like a good idea two years too late, WCW used none other than The Horsemen (now featuring way-worse-than-Roma Mongo McMichael) as their logical opponents. By this time, though, WCW had strayed too far for any group, no matter how legendary the name, to make an impact. And so it was that along with WCW, The Four Horsemen ultimately died not with a bang, but a whimper.