WWE | Pro Wrestling

TNA Wrestling’s In-Ring Last Week: Shockingly Good

Hulk Hogan and Dixie Carter I watched last Thursday’s TNA Impact on my DVR last night before RAW, and I was pleasantly surprised that the quality of wrestling that I got. Normally, with TNA, I expect schmozzes in every match, nothing lasting longer than three minutes before a nonsensical run-in or bad finish and Vince Russo’s fingerprints all over the product. While there were still some short matches on the card, they played out a lot better than what the normal quick faire has in the past, and the two showcase matches actually delivered in two different ways.

Let’s start with the opening bout between Kazarian and AJ Styles. Styles is one of the best workers in the company, if not the best one. Kazarian is solid in his own right, but in his TNA run, he’s had a tendency to go the excessively choreographed route that makes matches look like dance numbers more than physical contests. I was afraid that Styles would prove to be a willing dance partner, but what I got was a solid, hard-hitting, well-grounded wrestling match that played well into what the ongoing storyline was calling for. It was like an actual road agent sat down with the two before the match and laid out what it should look like, or that both guys actually got together and decided they wanted to tell a story rather than do flips like they were part of Ringling Bros. Kazarian has been a part of my two favorite TNA matches this year, and both of them were draws (the other being a contest against Shannon Moore a few months ago when they were both feuding with Douglas Williams). That may sound strange, but they each had a story in them, and the draw endings in both matches made sense.

About the only thing I didn’t like about this match was the exchange of arm drags in the beginning of the match. That felt out of place, and more of a pander to the Pavlovian dogs in the Impact Zone who are conditioned to mark out for anything that certain wrestlers do, no matter how masturbatory it is. After that, the real story of the match started to unfold, with both guys’ aggressions towards each other over their desire to be accepted in to Ric Flair’s Fortune stable coming out. When Flair waddled his way to ringside, the action started to heat up even more, as if the two were showing off how violent and “serious” they could be for perhaps the greatest wrestler who ever walked the Earth. The ending worked as both men were too concerned with trying to one-up each other on the outside of the ring to notice the ref’s count, and when the bell rang to signal a double count-out, they both realized it, made great facials and then started to take their frustrations with themselves out on each other. It was great theater, a praise that I’ve found very hard to levy onto TNA for their actual wrestling in recent times.

The second match I wanted to break down was the “first-hour main event” of Rob Van Dam taking on Samoa Joe. While the previous match was great for the story it told within an ongoing angle, this match was something I thought was special for the self-contained story it told between the bells. I’ve soured on Rob Van Dam during his WWE run because his offense consisted mostly of contrived, flippy strikes that made very little contact. It made his opponents look like dullards standing there, watching him do all his flips before eating a move they should have blocked or avoided 30 seconds ago. He still has those spots, like the one where the guy’s seated in the corner and instead of moving as RVD leaps to the second rope, he sits there waiting to be kicked in the face. However, when he’s given time to work, like he was Thursday, those spots become more diluted in impact and are less egregious. With Joe, if you’ve seen his indie work, you know the guy can bring it. He’s been less than inspired in TNA ever since Kurt Angle arrived and stole his mojo, but lately, he’s been rebuilding his momentum, and he’s come back to a level close to where he was before Angle’s TNA arrival.

Again, the beginning of the match was the weakest. RVD started out sloppy as he was trying to feel out Joe, and the two exchanged strikes in the Fighting Spirit style of Japanese puroresu heavyweight wrestling. Fighting Spirit is when guys trade shots with each other all while no-selling each other. It’s my least favorite aspect of the puro strong-style, and I absolutely hate it when American wrestlers try to incorporate it into serious matches. Once they got settled in, things started to pick up. RVD was on-point with his kicks, and Joe did a good job of playing the crafty assassin-type, outsmarting RVD at a few points and getting him with good counters. The finish, however, is what made this match. Joe cinched RVD in the rear naked choke, and RVD kept fighting and fighting to get out of it. Finally, RVD got to the corner and flipped over so that he was bridging while Joe still had the choke locked on him. Before Joe could realize his shoulders were on the mat, the ref counted three. For a company that often botches the finish, it was miraculously impressive they were able to pull something like that off, a clean finish putting over the Champion and yet still protecting the guy losing in defeat. Well-played.

There were other good contests on the card. While I wholly disagree with the booking of Jeremy Buck against Douglas Williams in a non-title ladder match, it was at least a good ladder match. The six-man tag between the heel team of Beer Money and Matt Morgan and the face team of the MCMGs and Hernandez was pretty entertaining, probably because Morgan saw the least ring time out of all of the competitors. Seriously, have I mentioned how much I think Matt Morgan sucks as an all-around performer, especially in the ring, lately? While the main event between Ken Anderson and Jeff Hardy was very short, it was passable. You can tell that Impact is making strides on their in-ring when that main event would have been the best match on many other editions of their flagship show. It appears as if Russo is finally in the background, just having an input here and there as an executive producer and keeping his mitts away from the actual in-ring product. When the wrestling is good, it’s usually because the suits and “creative” guys are mostly hands off and the road agents are the ones doing the heavy lifting.

As for the other part of the show, the angles and storylines, well, a lot of them fell flat for me. Judging on what happened at Victory Road and the spoilers for this Thursday’s Impact, things will be getting interesting at the very least. If the execution on these angles is good, then hey, maybe TNA will be turning a corner. However, one thing’s certain. They need to keep building on the in-ring part of their presentation. One show is a good launching point, but they can’t fall back to their old ways of screwy Russo booking or heavy meddling from the front office. TNA has the roster to deliver solid grappling week in and week out. They just need to be allowed to develop a consistency to do it.

Tom Holzerman is a lifelong wrestling fan and connoisseur of all things Chikara Pro, among other feds. When he’s not writing for the Camel Clutch Blog, you can find him on his own blog, The Wrestling Blog.

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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