I’ve heard a number of good things about IMPACT Wrestling since the show moved networks to Destination America around the beginning of this year. The only problem is – I’ve heard all these things before…
Unlike our esteemed host of The Wrestling Retort website, I’m not as enthused with what the WWE is selling us right now. This article is aimed at those ‘rasslin fans still on the lookout for a different show to watch besides the WWE. On the other hand, if you’re a diehard TNA fan (bless your bones – the verbal abuse you must endure from your WWE-watching friends), then this post probably isn’t for you, as odds are you’re already enjoying the show each and every week.
I’m what you might call a lapsed fan. I’ve given TNA’s shows numerous second chances and I’ve been burned just about every time. Whether it was the insertion of Jeff Jarrett – that black hole of charisma – into every conceivable angle, the ample amounts of Vince Russo inspired madness over the years, the implosion and lack of payoff from major storylines (Aces & Eights, I’m looking at you), pushing C-list ex-WWE talent as main event material, or the sheer Lovecraftian horror that was the experiment to take IMPACT head-to-head with RAW on Monday nights. At this point, me giving TNA another chance is about as smart as Sting trusting Ric Flair and the Horsemen not to double cross him again.
However, if I’m being honest with myself, after catching up with a little more than a month’s worth of IMPACT Wrestling, I do like what I see.
What impressed me most are the number of storylines on offer. Whereas in the WWE you have the majority of the main event level guys involved in a two or three month-long feud while the rest of the roster is left aimless and rudderless, in the current TNA landscape almost every talent has something going on for them. From the top of the card to the lower ranks, most of the players in TNA are involved in their own plot line, some of which I notice are cleverly intertwining with one another to (I presume) evolve into another stage of the story. Almost every match and every segment of IMPACT Wrestling of late serves a greater purpose in advancing the overall plot; there are few throwaway segments like you’ll inevitably see on bloated three-hour episodes of RAW.
Some of the current storylines are of your basic blood feud variety (like the ongoing BDC vs. The Rising gang war), while others (is Magnus right to not trust James Storm, or is he just being a dick?) are venturing into soap opera territory. Personally, I appreciate that kind of variety. It’s certainly a refreshing change from the WWE’s usual two or three rudimentary ‘Me-Want-Belt’ storylines and the token Divas division ‘She’s-a-bitch’ story. Another greatly appreciated touch is a sense of continuity. Something that happened several months ago usually gets a reference in the commentary if it’s pertinent. Contrary to popular belief, wrestling fans are not stupid. We have long memories and we enjoy the stories even more when they acknowledge events from the past leading up to the present. In the WWE it’s like pulling teeth from a tiger to get them to acknowledge that two opponents may have been tag-team partners at some point in the past. TNA’s creative seems to at least be trying to get this aspect right.
The wrestling itself is serviceable with occasional moments of glory. TNA currently has a crop of guys and gals who are more than capable of putting on great matches, but time constraints seem to be their biggest bugbear at the moment. I realize there’s only so much you can do with a two hour show, but some of the matches – particularly the main events – are over and done with before a good flow can be established. For instance, the main between Kurt Angle and Eric Young from the most recent episode I watched (May 8th) started with only eleven minutes of showtime left. Every now and then I’d love to see a midcard match or segment sacrificed in order to give more time to some of the bigger matches.
That said, more matches on offer does mean more X-Division ‘flippy shit’ (if that’s your thing) and more of the Knockouts Division. Oh, the Knockouts… I would make another comparison with the WWE here, but it’s almost unfair to compare the Divas division with the KO’s. The gals in TNA are actually allowed to wrestle instead of unconvincingly rolling around the ring and pulling hair in wasted two and a half minute segments. (But remember, #GiveDivasAChance!) I suppose decent wrestling is inevitable when the likes of Gail Kim and Awesome Kong are the pillars of the division. Whereas a ladies match on a RAW or Smackdown just makes me want to fast-forward or take a bathroom break, I find myself genuinely looking forward to the KO’s matches. Superfluous side note: I think I’m in love with Marti Bell.
Production-wise, the show is fine. It’s fairly obvious that the crowds are tiny with the way the venue is lit, the wrestlers’ entrance themes are still on the generic side after all these years, and don’t expect any elaborate or expensive pyro or laser shows along the way. But most of these extra bells and whistles are things I can live without in a wrestling show. I still value pageantry in wrestling, but there’s no reason why that can’t be delivered on a lower budget. What matters most is that the camera coverage gets the fundamentals down. TNA’s production crew are competent enough to capture the important pieces of action for the viewer during a six-man tag or a wild post-match run-in without those absurd Kevin Dunn cutaways to innocuous scuffles on the outside (or worse, ill-timed fan reaction shots) just as a major high spot goes down inside the ring. If you’ve watched any WWE over the last five years or so you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about here.
On the commentary side of things, I’m digging Josh Matthews as the new voice of IMPACT Wrestling. I’ve always appreciated Mike Tenay’s scholarly insight into the wrestling business, but in the parlance of Freddie Blassie, he’s a bit of a pencil-neck geek. Josh brings a much needed injection of youthful vigor and attitude to the show. Bonus: he doesn’t look like a disaffected Hot Topic employee so much these days.
My biggest concern with TNA right now are the hints of moribund that appear every now and then. There is a nagging sense that this promotion’s best opportunities have passed; that it could be a show living on borrowed time. You hear it occasionally with the listless, halfhearted chants from the crowd. (That can happen when you run a taped show in the same venue to mostly the same group of fans.) And of course, as a once-bitten-twice-shy fan, I’m extremely wary as I watch the show nowadays, almost expecting another boneheaded creative decision to throw the entire promotion off-course and into a nosedive again. Frankly, I’m not sure if I should be pleased or terrified at the recent addition of Billy Corgan to the TNA creative team. Many of his ideas sound perfectly fine on paper, but we’re simply going to have to wait and see what kind of effect his input has on their overall product. Being a massive fan of pro wrestling does not always equate to creative aptitude within the wrestling business. Again – I’m wary.
However, if you’re as jaded with the WWE as I am and you’re looking for alternatives, TNA is still a viable option. It may not have the excitement of Lucha Underground or the bone-crunching athleticism of New Japan, but in terms of a traditional sports-entertainment style wrestling show, it’s an enjoyable watch… for now.