Austin Aries: The Latest Heel Champion?

After watching this week's edition of Impact Wrestling, it's become abundantly clear that the current TNA World Heavyweight Champion, Austin Aries, is on the verge of a heel turn. Personally, I think this is a terrible idea, as the notion of Aries as Champion has barely taken hold, let alone enough to turn it on it's head and have him be the exact opposite. But on the flip side, I could understand if TNA management began to worry about the lack of traction Aries has had as a Face Champion, especially in the build up to the main event of the biggest pay-per-view of the year, Bound for Glory, with no clear antagonist in sight. I suspect A-Double is about to turn for two reasons - his promos and the match itself.

Firstly, his promos. While not overly villainous, I have begun to notice Aries throw in small jabs at the crowd's expense. On this week's episode alone, he commented how he would love to have the crowd follow his every whim like sheep, just like Jeff Hardy's fans do. Being a smart mark, I got a huge laugh out of that crack, because Jeff Hardy fans ARE sheep. The man has done nothing worthwhile in years besides screw up big opportunities. Even his matches are dull, featuring the same repetition of moves (whisper in the wind, twist of fate, swanton bomb) week in, week out. Yet fans still flock to him by the droves. They paint their faces in ridiculous manners, they wear tattered sleeves on their arms, basically mimicking the worst possible role model. So Austin Aries is basically right, why shouldn't he want that unquestioning adoration. But still, calling the fans "sheep" isn't exactly going to win anyone over!

Another questionable promo choice was towards the end of the night, after calling Bully Ray out for Open Fight Night. Bully Ray was pacing around the outside of the ring cutting his own promo, when a fan happened to touch him. Taking exception to this, Ray insisted the fan must be supporting Austin Aries to be so obviously stupid. Aries, rather than defend the fan, agreed with Bully Ray and threatened to punch his lights out too! Once again, you could make the argument that it's all subjective and maybe Aries was only intimating he wouldn't have liked the fan to get to Ray before he did. But no matter which way you look at it, you've got your World Heavyweight Champion threatening to sock a fan in the face!

Finally, the match itself. The ring work from both men was exemplary as usual, but the ending draws much concern for the fan suspecting a fast approaching heel turn. Basically, Aries took the loss due to illegal weaponry and poor refereeing. Huge hallmarks for a frustrated face who's about to turn. Look at last year's Bound for Glory main event featuring Bobby Roode. He lost the biggest match of his career due to a cheat on Kurt Angle's part, leading to a spiral of doubt and frustration, resulting in his turn on long time tag partner, James Storm. TNA nailed that storyline to such an extent, it dominated Impact Wrestling for close to a year. Who's to say they won't try the exact same thing with Austin Aries? But even if history isn't repeating, it wasn't just one man who got to stand over the World Champion wielding his Title, but two! First, Bully Ray lorded it over Aries by grabbing the belt and threatening to lay him out with it. Then second, Jeff Hardy, despite making the noble safe, doesn't hesitate for a second to grab that belt and hold it on high. Much to the Champion's chagrin.

So much of Austin Aries' World Title reign has come down to this unjustified "fluke" label, it's no wonder the Champ has taken offense and is verging on turning. He's the longest reigning X Division Champion turned World Heavyweight Champion, who beat Samoa Joe, Bully Ray and Bobby Roode is short order, just what part of Aries' resume reads as a fluke? On some level, for the past few months I've wondered whether this weak Title run was down to the booking committee simply not believing in him as the face of Impact Wrestling. He's done absolutely everything that's been asked of him, yet he's coming out the losing end of every conflict. For someone who got such notoriety through winning everything, these last few months have been downright miserable.

I don't usually like to draw parallels to the WWE in these columns, but so much of this Austin Aries title reign reminds me of Vince McMahon's current treatment of CM Punk as WWE Champion. Last summer, Punk put the world on notice with a stunning shoot promo and what resulted was lightning in a bottle that frankly the company didn't have the slightest clue what to do with. With every passing show, Punk gained popularity. Not because of anything the company had planned, but because of genuine skill, both in the ring and on the microphone. At the time, Punk was actually a heel and pretty much overnight turned face because there wasn't a chance in hell anyone would boo him. But rather than capitalise on this, the face turn never really took off and left the hottest commodity in professional wrestling floundering for a solid storyline. Now, a year later, Punk's in the awkward position of never being the top face (due to John Cena's strangle hold), yet forced to become a half-assed heel who can't rile up the crowd because people like him too damn much.

How much of that rings true for the self-proclaimed "Greatest Man That Ever Lived"? Through sheer talent and skill, Austin Aries has risen through the ranks of Impact Wrestling. It was never the booking, always him.  This gained him an overwhelming surge in popularity, yet he's not quite trusted as the top dog. Now he's in the awkward position of never being an effective top face (due to Jeff Hardy's strangle hold) and forced to become a half-assed heel who can't rile up the crowd because people like him too damn much. Oh my god, how can both top tier professional wrestling companies botch these fantastic Champions at the same time. My mind boggles at the thought.

That's not to say A-Double can't turn it around though. He was a fantastic heel upon his re-debut with the company at Destination X 2011 and continued to be so for the rest of that year. If anything, it's probably his natural fit. Just like CM Punk currently, I see him performing his heel duties to the best of his ability. I'm just sad to see yet another breakout superstar of the wrestling business get bogged down by bad booking.



Trash Talking: TNA's MVP's

Every week on Impact Wrestling members of the roster come down to the ring to entertain, fans have their favourites to cheer and to heckle, sometimes we are treated to epic encounters or crowd sprawling brawls whilst other times it may be a squash match or extended promo, everybody is used in a different way to create an all round program that will have something for everyone, so here we are looking at those who don't always get the praise they deserve for the excellent work they are doing. 

It's easy to look through the roster and name the likes of Austin Aries, Jeff Hardy and James Storm as some of the main guys in TNA as they are the main babyfaces, all three get huge pops every time their music hits and the crowd always wants to see them overcome the odds and win, that is why this list is in the majority made up of heel's who often get overlooked by many fans as they either don't connect with them or just despise them, but without the work of these then the fan favourites would have a much harder job to do to make you cheer. 

Do You Know Who I Am? 

Bully Ray has been one of TNA's greatest assets since he turned his back on Devon back in 2010, he went on to become one of the major players in Immortal and has had a major hand in the success of some of TNA's Heavyweight Champions. 
Bully has yet to win a singles title but has been in the final two of the Bound For Glory series twice now, coming up short against Jeff Hardy last week and Bobby Roode last year,  but in both matches he made his opponent look like a serious challenge for the champion at Bound For Glory. As well as putting these two over on their way to the main event he also has been the stepping stone for Austin Aries who defeated Ray at the Sacrifice PPV in May and was the result that really elevated Aries out of the X Division and into the Heavyweight picture. 
Although impressive in the ring, Calfzilla's best attribute is when he has a mic in hand, although sometimes he doesen't need one to be heard. His promo's can bring instant heat and despite sometimes being seen as a comedy character he can also bring a serious edge when needed to. The crowd love to jeer Ray and wind him up with chants whether it be a 'Devon's Better' or a 'You're A Pussy' but this is where he thrives and works the crowd by reacting and interacting. 
Bully is the alpha heel in TNA right now, dare I say even in the whole industry, he is an excellent all- rounder and deserves a singles title to show fans he is actually the real deal. 

The 'IT' Factor

Bobby Roode has come a long way in the last year and a large part of that is due to becoming the longest reigning TNA Heavyweight Champion, holding the belt for 256 days. 
Roode was weakened by his loss to Kurt Angle in last years Bound For Glory main event but his turn on James Storm to win the title weeks later sure as hell made up for it. Roode went on to retain the belt by any means and despite fans tiring of his cowardliness it was a refreshing change of pace for a champion.  
In his run at the top his matches were all main event worthy overcoming a number of the top names in the company including Sting, although his matches will be more remembered for there gimmick endings rather than the quality that lead up to that point.
It is fair to say that Roode's 'Beer Money Inc' partner James Storm has become one of the companies biggest faces over the last year and even lead all the way through the BFG series, but a big part of this is down to Roode and his interactions with his ex tag team partner, with the expected grudge match likely to take place at this years Bound For Glory event they will be looking to raise each others profiles further and raise the roof in Phoenix.

The World Tag Team Champions of the World

Forget the nonsense with Claire Lynch, Christopher Daniels and Kazarian have been my personal highlight of TNA for the last few months, there in-ring performances have been the typical high standard that is expected from the duo whilst their mic work was the highlight of the drama between themselves, A.J. and Lynch.
Since they won the tag titles from Samoa Joe and Magnus at Sacrifice the two haven't actually had that many matches as a duo with Daniels facing off against Styles in singles action and being apart of the BFG Series, but the two stole the show in defeat against Styles and Angle at Slammiversary, regained their titles a few weeks later and again stole the show at No Surrender, it is likely that a rematch will occur at Bound For Glory which should be just as excellent as the previous bouts.
From their letter in the back of issue 691 of the Amazing Spider-man to their face off with Hogan and Sting on Impact a few weeks ago, this duo have been outshining everybody on the roster, they have the responsibility to build the tag division around them and if their match with Chavo and Hernandez is anything to go by then they can pull the best out of other teams giving the division a slight hope.

I cant help but mention this last on as he always gives his all to the company even if he is injured and that is the legend that is Kurt Angle, but in the mean time make mine an Appletini! 


pictures by: Impact Wrestling (http://www.facebook.com/ImpactWrestling/photos)


The Top Five Suspects Behind Aces & Eights

5. Abyss/Joseph Park

What are the hallmarks of the Aces & Eights? Masks, hoods, brutality. All of which could be easily used to describe our favourite Monster. Abyss, as a character, has been M.I.A. for months now, sparking the arrival of his "brother" Joseph Park. At the tail end of a feud with Bully Ray, Park miraculously performed a Black Hole Slam, the signature move of Abyss, and despite multiple parties asking what happened, the mystery remains unsolved. In recent weeks, Park has re-emerged on Impact Wrestling, investigating the Aces & Eights group at the behest of authority figures, Hulk Hogan and Sting. But, it was Park himself that wanted such a role. Who's to say he's not holding up the investigation to delay the truth getting out about his "brother".

4. Hulk Hogan

While the Immortal One may seem to be the least likely suspect, after having endured a severe beating at their hands, something about his actions since returning have felt off. Even back at the beginning, we never actually saw the beating that left Hogan on the shelf for the next couple of months. In recent weeks, he's been sporting his trademark NWO beard, taking frequent phone calls from Aces & Eights and outright defending captured members from a legitimately pissed off World Champion. It'd be pretty lame for TNA to fall back on ANOTHER Hogan heel turn, but I don't see that stopping them. Over the years, Hogan has made grabs for power in every way, shape and form. Even with the title of General Manager on his desk, are we sure that's enough for the Hulkster?

3. Bully Ray

This is clearly the most obvious choice of the entire roster. Bully is the best damn heel in the business at the moment and yet something about the situation with Aces & Eights inspires him to be heroic? It just doesn't add up. He's always first to point fingers, he's always the first to chase them off (yet never actually lay a finger on them) and don't think we didn't notice how they've never targeted him. If that wasn't enough, how obnoxious was his forced fist bump with Austin Aries. The only reason I'm not outright condemning Bully is because he's TOO obvious a choice. Maybe I'm giving the TNA booking committee too much credit, but right now a blind man could point to Bully Ray being the mastermind, so I trust they realise this and he's not.

2. Eric Bischoff

Ever since being "fired" from TNA, losing the right to the Bischoff name and his son Garrett being granted a contract on the Impact Wrestling roster, you have to imagine Eric is off biding his time somewhere, waiting for the perfect moment to strike and regain all the power he lost. Why did Aces & Eights target Sting and Hogan first? Because they were instrumental in his downfall. Also consider that this is the man notorious for having organised WCW Road Wild, the pay-per-view event where the crowd was exclusively made up of bikers. It can't simply be a coincidence that a gang of bikers have struck up base in the heart of the Impact Zone.

1. Jeff Jarrett

Think back to the very first attack by the Aces & Eights group and tell me, who did they assault? Sting. Right in the middle of his acceptance speech for his spot in the TNA Hall of Fame. Before Slammiversary, absolutely everyone thought the first inductee to this new Hall of Fame had to be Jeff Jarrett, it HAD to be. The man founded the company and is a multiple time World Heavyweight Champion. Without Jeff Jarrett, there would be no TNA, no Impact, no Xplosion, no nothing. So can we really trust a notoriously proud man to sit back and do nothing as that first spot goes to...Sting? As far as we know, Jeff Jarrett is doing approximately nothing at the moment. It's quiet on the TNA front, it's quiet on the Ring Ka King front, just what exactly is Jeff Jarrett doing with his time? This is not a man to sit idly by and watch as Hulk Hogan runs HIS wrestling promotion.