TNA needs to bottle the reaction and the response from fans at the Thursday, June 26th 2014 television tapings and bring it to wherever they run shows.
The response they received from the fan base that attended the weekend as a whole was positive and passionate…and made it seem like TNA iMPACT Wrestling was a hot, must-watch product, despite its current state of uncertainty, being in need of a television contract renewal with SpikeTV.
TNA iMPACT Wrestling ran a three-night stand at The Grand Ballroom at The Hammerstein from Wednesday through Friday of last week, taping episodes for their show on SpikeTV which will make air later in the summer.
The TNA shows had been known about for some time and struggled initially to sell tickets, though the Thursday and Friday shows were eventually announced as sell-outs (1,150 for Thursday and Friday and 850 fans for the Wednesday show-Ring of Honor has seated 1,200 for events there in previous years). TNA will also run a trio of return dates for August 5th, 6th, and 7th.
TNA wrestlers did media appearances in New York, with New York-bred Bully Ray appearing on FOX and Friends and the Opie and Anthony radio show. As well, this week TNA received some buzz thanks to the announcement that it would run the annual Bound For Glory Pay Per View in Osaka, Japan at Koruken Hall, which will be co-run with Keiji Muto’s Wrestle-1 promotion. Muto was on hand at the first show in the Hammerstein to kick off an angle with his protégé Senada, perhaps to set up matches at future Wrestle-1 shows in Japan.
A New York Appeal
TNA has been much ridiculed and criticized over the last twelve years for their presentation and execution of professional wrestling. A lot of the criticism is fair and some of it is overblown, but there was a need for things to be retooled at this point in time. Then again, it seemed like a few years back TNA was going through a reboot and a reset almost every week, so there is the idea of treading lightly when those words are brought back into the mix.
It comes down to the constant struggle for TNA to find itself and to assert its identity. The promotion has changed directions and concepts from year-to-year and sometimes month-to-month and show-to-show. What is TNA and what kind of wrestling are they presenting? Are they a youth-based product or are they a nostalgia act (with the specific type changing based on whether it’s time to remember Hulk Hogan, the nWo or ECW)? Are they an action-based wrestling program or a more soap-opera, sports-entertainment weekly drama?
What TNA was for this three-night stand in New York City was a show catering to New York City. TNA packed the roster for these shows with name draws in the professional wrestling industry and combined that with bringing in wrestlers with strong ties to the New York. Tommy Dreamer, who hails from Yonkers and works as an agent for TNA, in addition to running his House of Hardcore shows predominately in the Northeast, became a centerpiece of an angle with TNA Owner Dixie Carter along with Bully Ray (another ECW stalwart, though he has now spent more time in TNA than both ECW and WWE) and Devon Dudley. Brooklyn’s own Homicide and Low Ki were announced for these shows. Rhino-a perennial favorite in the Northeast due to his ECW ties-also appeared.
From the acts they brought in with New York-ties to the ECW revivalism (that believe it or not, worked out decently well for the live audience), much of the show screamed “New York”. It is what TNA will likely continue to work on as they return to the Hammerstein Ballroom in early August (for example, reading the results for Friday shows makes it clear Low Ki is already scheduled to return). Jeremy Borash heavily hinted to the live crowd on Thursday night that they would be there in September as well.
Also on the shows were Matt and Jeff Hardy, reunited as a tag team with Matt working babyface (a decided contrast to his appearances in this area with ROH). Then there were other former WWE names like Ezekiel Jackson and Snitsky who were used as heavies for Carter’s group. Kurt Angle was back and has now been placed in the authority figure role as a face GM.
King Mo, whose medium star has shone mostly in the MMA world (but who has aspiration of being a dual sports star in pro wrestling) was brought back after a lengthy hiatus from the promotion and placed in Carter’s group.
If there was ever a time and a place for TNA to try once again to pull up their bootstraps and make strides back to where they should be then it would be these shows in New York City. Was it all enough for the New York fans? Did they get their money’s worth from seeing these wrestlers on the show?
Loud and Proud on All Sides
The production and set-up of The Grand Ballroom was impressive, taking a beautiful venue and making it look even better is no small feat but TNA’s team did that. Their use of lighting trestles and seating plan was on-point.
It was LOUD (capitalizations necessary) in the upstairs Grand Ballroom of the Hammerstein throughout the night for the Thursday show: loud roars from the crowd, loud music blasting in-between segments and loud smacks on the ramp, steel steps and with weapon shots. Ring of Honor events at The Grand Ballroom have been notable for the amazing crowd response and high decibel volume. Some of that is due to the acoustics of the building and the smaller, more intimate room and some of it is because the ROH wrestlers worked so hard for that reaction, especially in marquee bouts.
The TNA show hit near-maximum ROH levels consistently throughout the entire night…and it wasn’t because wrestlers were hitting each other the hardest or pulling out the craziest moves. Jeremy Borash should take a lot of the credit for working the fans to fever-pitch throughout the evening. Bully Ray and the ECW wrestlers should receive credit as well, as should Dixie Carter who, if judging solely by this crowd, you would think her heat dwarfed that of Stephanie McMahon. Bully Ray using the Bully Bomb on Dixie through the table delivered the largest pop of the night.
This was a late-arriving crowd as when the show began there were still pockets of empty seats on the floor and empty rows up in the balcony. By the first or second match there was someone sitting in just about every seat available, give or take a seat or two.
The vibe from the fans was positive and supportive for the most part, although there were reports about these shows where fans cheered WWE-related chants and tried to get themselves over-which, to be honest, is par for the course with New York crowd, no matter what show or promotion.
It is no easy task to do Jeremy Borash’s job as ring announcer and hype-man for three-straight days. He got the crowd into it, kept them in the loop about what was happening next, did the whole “cheer loudest and you will get backstage” routine and provoked loud response many times throughout the night. It was amazing to see how he succeeded in getting these responses from the fans every single time without fail.
Surprisingly, Borash knocked the Orlando, Florida crowd and that city several times throughout the night. He asserted that Orlando was not a great place to be and that New York already felt like a new home to them given the reactions of the fans. Those comments made me feel a bit uneasy-was it just him doing pitch work to keep the fans hot or did he and others in TNA actually feel that way? Orlando was where they spent the majority of their time taping their shows, where they developed a faithful audience and where they wound up having to return after the attempt to live tour the television series had failed. What would JB say of New York in a scenario where those fans eventually became tired of TNA and they had to move elsewhere?
Much was made of the return of the six-sided ring for these tapings. The ring looked smaller than what I remember from a TNA house show several years ago in New Jersey. Other than that, there’s not much to say about it. The booking and the wrestling is what is most important, not the ring shape. The wrestling can take place in a trapezoid or figure-eight as long as the show is worth seeing.
As far as the in-ring wrestling went, results were hit or miss. TNA taped parts of two shows in one night, as has been done for years now. The second show taped on the Thursday event, Destination-X, was more action-oriented and vastly superior in terms of presentation, wrestling match quality and eventfulness compared to the first-hour (which wrapped up the previous night’s second show taping). This was not too much of a surprise, as the X-Division is usually the best part of TNA’s product. TNA has always run better quality matches when focusing on the X-Division. The problem is that specific grouping of wrestlers have been maligned so much in the past and now only seems to have focus put on it for these specialty showcases.
The first three matches of the night gave me cause to worry about the road that lay ahead. The opening contest was MVP versus Bobby Roode in a Falls Count Anywhere match. MVP did not show up to the ring. Roode took the microphone and told everyone he was going back to find MVP and kick his ass. So after waiting an hour for the show to begin and ten minutes worth of hype from Borash, there was still no actual physical contact between wrestlers. There are no video monitors for fans to watch what happens backstage, so the minute or two of Roode disappearing was frustrating. Once the match got going, it was okay action, but short (a frequent pattern of the first part of the tapings) and featured interference from Kenny King and Eric Young, whose appearances were kept brief. Young received a great pop for his stopping King.
The second match also featured interference. Taryn Terrell, who was really heating up in TNA before taking time off due to pregnancy, was back in action (and looking amazing) challenging for the Knockouts (Women’s) Title against Gail Kim (also looking amazing). Both ladies put in a lot of effort to make this about the wrestling and in-ring action (which was good), but again, the action was marred by outside influence, this time by The Beautiful People of Velvet Sky and Angelina Love.
Next up was a tag bout: Gunner and Mr. Anderson against Magnus and Bram. Once again, this match was way too short and featured multiple run-ins by the likes of Sam Shaw and Abyss.
At this point, TNA was not getting off to a great start with me. I am no fan of interference and now there were three matches in a row that featured it in the finish. The shortness of the matches (obviously partly due to television constraints) also was annoying.
However, the fans around me and on the floor still were into the show and Borash helped keep it that way. They had not been turned off by the interference and liked seeing Abyss come out and hit people. Maybe that was a sort of wake-up call about TNA’s fan base and what they are looking for in their wrestling…and that they don’t seem to care too much about interference in terms of it affecting their enjoyment of the show.
Things would begin to turn around once Destination-X kicked in-and it helped that the next match was the best one of the show: the tag team title attraction bout between The Wolves of Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards defending against the reunited Jeff and Matt Hardy.
All four men worked hard and put in a lot of effort in, especially Matt Hardy who has tapped into an extra gear this week that he hasn’t used in a while, taking into consideration his performance at Ring of Honor’s Best in the World 2014 event and these three nights in New York City. The match focused on the trademark double-teams for each duo, and it didn’t take much for the fans to react molten-hot for near-falls. Both teams popular with the live audience, but The Hardys were more so, clearly. Somewhat surprisingly, The Wolves went over, giving them a marquee victory during their time in TNA. It was a positive sign to me that TNA would put over the younger act over the older one. Yes, the X-Division was the focus of the second half of the show, but these four delivered as well.
The X-Division tournament to crown a new champion (as Austin Aries relinquished the title to challenge Lashley for the TNA Title) was a major part of the second-half of the show. There were three three-way matches with the winner advancing to the three-way finals (to be taped the next night). Low Ki returned to TNA and won his bracket over DJ Z (Zema Ion) and Manik in a smooth and fun match. Brian Cage impressed, borrowing “The Michael Elgin” (carrying both men and releasing into a simultaneous Samoan drop and Last Call) and getting his sh…errr, stuff in before Senada advanced in the match by pinning Crazzy Steve of The Menagerie group. Finally, Samoa Joe went over Homicide and Tigre Uno with a musclebuster on Homicide. All of these matches were entertaining and worth watching.
So, TNA is going to try Joe in the X-Division…again…and see if it works…again. It’s not a bad idea but it is also a painful reminder of how much the promotion has messed up with Joe over the years. The guy walks in with a fantastic year-and-a-half undefeated streak in the X-Division, but then the ball gets absolutely dropped with him when he moves into the top tier and main-event scene. Samoa Joe was put through so many ridiculous angles and overlooked many times over since then, his character misused and abused until there was nothing but apathy about him. This year, Joe has been slowly resuscitated as an important character in the world of TNA, but it will be something to see if they get it right with him this time.
Joe and Homicide shook hands after the match and I found that oddly familiar and enjoyable. I was searching for the reason when my mind went back to seeing Joe and Homicide as a team against The Briscoes in this same venue eight years ago for ROH’s debut in the Grand Ballroom. Yes, even Ring of Honor nostalgia had now been used on this occasion.
The second best match of the evening was Austin Aries challenging Bobby Lashley for the title. Lashley has a good amount of heat for being in the “monster” role. Austin Aries-the now perennial Destination-X challenger for the World Title, played the underdog role to a T. The match showcased smart psychology as Aries wore down Lashley to put on The Last Chancery (is that still what he calls it?) and also managed to take some crazy bumps to put over Lashley’s strength and power. Aries crashed-and-burned in an amazingly unpleasant manner with a tope suicida to the outside and that allowed Lashley to take control, winning seconds later with a Spear. I didn’t expect a title change for one second, but Aries and Lashley did a good job of convincing many fans that brainbuster near-fall could have been it.
Through the Table
Bully Ray’s rivalry against Ethan Carter III and his quest to put Dixie Carter through a table were the other major components of this taping. Bully promised fans to stick around tonight, because Dixie was going through a table.
The deal was built up from a challenge to a “final battle” from Ethan (in the ring with his aunt Dixie, Spud, Rhino, Ezekiel Jackson and Snitsky) to Bully Ray, Tommy Dreamer and Devon Dudley. The ECW Three responded to EC III with the terms, an eight-man hardcore weapons tag match. The match was advertised for “next week” when the segment was recorded and actually was the main-event for the Thursday show.
Before the main event there was a tag match with The Bro-Mans against Knux and The Freak of The Menagerie group. This one went on way too long and was not good at all; the worst match of the night by far. The most entertaining aspect of this segment was seeing a Bro-Mans super-fan freak out in the balcony.
Dixie Carter was shown walking to a protected part of the upper balcony before the eight-man tag so she could watch the show. King Mo and other security guards were there for her protection.
The match used gauntlet rules with two men starting and a new wrestler coming in every two minutes with a weapon of their choice and the winner determined after all participants had entered the ring. It was clear the ECW side needed another man as it was four-on-three. The mystery of the mystery partner wouldn’t last all that long as a minute before his entrance, TNA employers passed around mannequin heads to fans who were seated so that they would be seen on the hard cam.
Yes, Al Snow, TNA backstage agent was the mystery man. It made sense with the ECW nostalgia to add one more…but the jaded wrestling fan in me would sigh and shake my head at it all. I had seen the original ECW at the downstairs room of the Hammerstein Ballroom once before, in 1999. How many ECW or “Hardcore” reunions had there been since then? The ECW Reunion Train has been done to death across so many promotions and twice already in TNA. Here it was again.
Don’t expect that this moment will play well with TNA’s critics. However and once again, the live audience really liked this…and so it will come off very well when it airs on television.
Al Snow ran wild for a bit, helped Team 3-D with a Head assisted Wazzup Drop…and then did a huge dive over the ropes. Team 3-D hit the 3-D move on Rhino for the win. The ECW guys celebrated the victory as the end of the “war” as Ethan Carter and his group walked away in defeat. Ray took the mic again and said he would get to Dixie, but Dixie countered he wouldn’t…and that…was it?
Not quite, because TNA set up for one more segment to close the show.
Bully Ray putting Dixie Carter through a table was a spectacle, built up throughout the night. It was the needed payoff for the story TNA has been telling the last several months (and moreover since Dixie became a heel authority figure). I figured it was going to happen on the last New York show, but Bully Ray plainly said (and it didn’t take much to read between the lines) that fans shouldn’t leave early because it was happening tonight.
There has been something of a debate in some corners of the internet regarding Dixie taking the table bump and misogyny surrounding the moment. Professional wrestling has an unfortunate history of crowds popping when women, especially the villains, get beat or embarrassed. This has happened in many promotions including WWE (Summer Rae and Layla engaging in cat fights with milk and “kitty litter” for the love of a man) and ROH (Maria taking the Package Piledriver at Final Battle 2013).
Yet, if one replaced Dixie Carter with, say, Vince McMahon or Eric Bischoff, then it’s easy to understand why the bump was necessary at some point. All debate aside regarding the clichéd aspects of heel authority figure angles (and they are clichéd, as clichéd as ECW reunions in 2014), when a promotion runs hard with it, then there must be a comeuppance at some point for whoever is used in that position-male or female. That is a clear part of the mechanics of professional wrestling-eventually the good guys prevail and the villains get what is coming to them.
The key now for TNA is to know when to put the authority figure clichés aside and run with something else…but it is uncertain if that will ever happen, not just in TNA, but in WWE as well.
The moment itself was a fantastic one, but the way they got to it was clunky. Why would Dixie ever come down from the balcony after the eight-man tag had finished? It seemed illogical and weird to see her back in the ring just minutes after being nestled safely up in the balcony, with plenty of backup and protection from King Mo and other “security” and being practically untouchable (Bully Ray intimated she was in a danger zone surrounded by rowdy New York fans, but there was never much chance this crowd would “start a riot” as they chanted with Ray).
Now, Dixie was in the ring in a vulnerable position. She had fired Jackson and Snitsky for being incompetent (though it wasn’t their fault-Rhino took the fall). King Mo, Ethan the Third, Spud and Rhino were still in the ring with her, but Dreamer, Ray and Devon came out with a table bearing Dixie’s name on it. Mo landed a stiff shot on Dreamer to spark a brawl, but the ECW Three got the better of it, cleared the ring and left it just between Ray, Devon and Dixie.
They teased the 3-D and Carter snuck out of the ring…but the entire TNA face locker room came down to stop her from leaving. They formed a flank around her and forced her back into the ring, where she ultimately met her doom.
Dixie was great here, as was Bully Ray, milking the reaction as long as possible until he super bombed her off the second rope through the table. The locker room celebrated and Tommy Dreamer declared his job done and left, giving the spotlight one more time to Bully Ray and Devon. A “medical crew” came out and brought a stretcher to take Dixie to the back (the same stretcher I saw them roll in during the hour before the show began).
Dixieland had closed for the summer.
Next in NYC
As with building or rebuilding anything in wrestling, follow-up and consistency is the key. Nostalgia only goes so far. What TNA has to do, not for the future, but for right now, is to take the talent they have and put them together in unique and fresh combinations. Lashley versus Aries worked because it was fresh and different and something no one had ever seen before in any other promotion, not even in TNA. The same goes for The Wolves / Hardys dream match.
TNA should want to find the unique feuds and matches that can catch fans’ attention, and build them up and develop them, so they become branded as their own. When they return to New York City in August, will they run more nostalgia or will they run with more unique and different rivalries? Hopefully, TNA will again put their best foot forward, keep the BS down to a minimum, and cross their fingers that many of the same fans who attended these shows come back for the next ones…and that others come to the shows for the first-time and continue onwards.
If the fans are as rabid and energetic as they were this weekend (or if Borash can work them up to that level), then they are onto something here.
However, it will take more than 850 fans, as awesome as they were, to effect change for TNA. These shows need to translate well on TV and they need to convince viewers at home and Spike TV executives that TNA has a future, and a promising one at that. Then they need to take that reaction and response from the fans in New York…and make sure it happens wherever and whenever they put on a show.
For now, TNA, its wrestlers, producers, production team and staff demonstrated how hard work can result in a series of quality shows that are well-received live by one of the hardest-to-please wrestling cities in America.