Review: Impact Wrestling 07/03/2013

So ends the era of the Impact Zone! Not counting the six 'One Night Only' specials to be filmed in Orlando across March 17th to 19th, this is the last episode of Impact Wrestling to emanate from Universal Studios. Considering the long storied history of the venue, I'm of the opinion TNA could've made a much bigger deal about leaving their safety net behind. For the past decade, the Impact Zone has been their fallback position and no matter what went wrong, rain or shine they'd be back in that studio filmed more material than you could shake a stick at. But that all changes next week on March 14th, as they take Impact Wrestling on the road permanently, starting in "The Windy City" Chicago. As such, that was exactly where TNA's focus was on with this episode - the future. But even so, have a closing ceremony or something. Don't just pack up and leave the Zone behind without a proper send off. And a Youtube thank you video doesn't count.

Starting the show, we were treated to yet another go-around of current World Heavyweight Champion, Jeff Hardy, and recent title contender, Austin Aries. A-Double is eerily talented when it comes to carrying Hardy through high quality matches, with there being every reason why he was called upon to do so across multiple pay-per-view main events at the tail end of 2012. Clearly, the novelty has worn off though, if TNA are willing to give this combination away as the curtain jerking opening match on free TV. Unfortunately for Aries, Hardy always gets the upper hand at the last minute, as if from nowhere *cough*SuperCena*cough*. The moment the Champion starts with his MANY Twists of Fates, the conclusion is all but decided. This encounter proved to be slightly different, as the ending was interrupted by the disgruntled big boot of Matt Morgan. The timing of this new quest for the TNA World Title is definitely curious, as the focus should be on Bully Ray's contendership, not Morgan's. Actions such as these, give the impression that Morgan will soon be chasing Hardy's Championship well beyond Lockdown, deflating Bully's own efforts for no apparent reason. Why should we potential pay-per-view customers buy a show, when the challenger doesn't stand a chance?

The mystery of the Aces and Eights VP finally came to an end with this episode of Impact Wrestling, as the small stocky masked individual was revealed to be none other than D'Lo Brown himself. You're looking at the real deal now...or at least that's what they'd like us to believe. Having been unmasked off-screen at the close of last week's show, D'Lo decided to take the wind out of Kurt Angle's own reveal by beating him to the proverbial punch. I've always been a fan of D'Lo and would hilariously mark out whenever he'd appear on screen, usually breaking up a brawl between two wrestlers, working as defacto security with Al Snow. But the fact of the matter is that once again, TNA have revealed a member of Aces and Eights with no viable future or payoff. I thought it was bad enough several weeks ago when they revealed Tazz as the new mouthpiece of the group. Admittedly, they do need that added kick behind the microphone, but Tazz is a severely injured FORMER wrestler and current commentator. Just where exactly that revelation was meant to lead, I have no idea. The same goes for now, as they've revealed a mastermind behind the group to be a broken down former wrestler turned backstage agent. There's a good chance they may lure D'Lo back into the ring for one or two matches down the road, but nothing of meaning or substance. Ergo, pointless. My only hope is that there is yet an unnamed force behind Aces and Eights, pulling their strings and truly making the decisions. D'Lo is only meant to be the VICE President after all. I don't think we've ever actually seen the true President, so it could conceivably be anyone.

The Gut Check segments turned out to be somewhat farcical this month, as they introduced a new judge (OVW's Danny Davis) and were faced with a no-win situation, as frankly both women deserved a contract. The Knockouts division has been severely depleted in recent months, with only a core four or so seeing regular work. If you're not Velvet, Tara, Gail or Tessmacher, you're not on the show, period. As such, the division could really have done with hiring both Ivelisse Velez and Lai'd Tapa. The former having an impressive MMA background and a minor buzz around her previous appearances on WWE Tough Enough, the latter having a scary size advantage over most men, let alone women. Their David and Goliath match last week was a refreshing change of pace to the usual Knockouts style and highlighted both ladies' strengths going forward in this competition. Personally, I preferred Ivelisse as a potential Knockout. She has a wonderful look, a hard-hitting history and reminded me of a young Lita. For whatever reason, despite winning the match, she was the first to be eliminated and never even made it infront of the judges. TNA could really be missing a trick by letting her walk away like this. Even without a contract, I'd whisk her away to OVW and hire her on the sly. As for the eventual winner of the contract, Lai'd Tapa, I feel as if her look will be the sole positive in her hiring. Ever since losing Awesome Kong to the WWE several years ago, TNA have lacked a monster heel in the women's division. Tapa looks to fill that void nicely, but also with notable drawbacks. For starters, she should remain silent at every opportunity. Her promo work was uninspired and cliche, not to mention when given a final chance to impress the judges, she pretty much repeated everything she said the first time. But my reservations are moot, as she is now a member of the Impact Wrestling roster. Hopefully, we will see her a bit more often than the last female Gut Check winner, Taeler Hendrix, who has spent the best part of a year hidden away in the developmental territories.

The six person tag between Chavo, Hernandez, Velvet Sky, Daniels, Kazarian and Gail Kim was a fantastic idea in theory, but struggled to capture my interest. I'm a big fan of the heel side of things, with Christopher Daniels lighting up my screen every chance he gets. However, the Chavo/Hernandez tag team continues to bore. When they first got together, I thought of them as a low-rent Mexican America/LAX knock-off and six months later, I still think of them as a low-rent Mexican America/LAX knock-off. Their promos have been trite and manipulative (mostly of fan's love of Chavo's Uncle Eddie) and their ring work predictable. Neither man is doing the best work of their career and whatever this gimmick is meant to be, it could use a shake up. At the moment, they're simply a known quantity that can be thrown out in front of a crowd with minimal set up and illicit a basic reaction from the audience. I respect Chavo, but part of me wonders whether the crowd ever really noticed Hernandez's former partner Anarquia being switched out and simply believes Mexican America is still going. As with most inter-gender tag team bouts, the finish found the men brawling on the outside of the ring, while the women battle for the pinfall on the inside. It proved an impressive victory for Gail Kim over current Knockouts Champion, Velvet Sky, and I'll never get tired of her finisher "Eat Defeat", which looks downright nasty to take. I don't for a second think Gail stands a chance at derailing Velvet's latest title reign, as it's still early days. But this heel win goes a long way to instilling doubt in the viewers as to the former Beautiful Person's viability as Champion. Just what's needed on the eve of a pay-per-view bout. The only thing that truly puzzled me, was the lack of representation for the actual Tag Team Champions, Bobby Roode and Austin Aries. The pair are about to defend their titles against both teams present in this match, however, their focus was entirely elsewhere, still hounding current World Heavyweight Champion, Jeff Hardy, or outright absent, mysteriously so. It basically leaves the Tag Team division ticking over exactly as it was before Roode and Aries made their mark, only without any titles to feud over.

The series of Team TNA/Aces of Eights matches never truly took off in the way that one would hope. Beginning with the poor showing of Sting and Devon, which oddly relied upon the use of a fan throwing a drink in the Icon's face, they started the night out on the wrong foot and rarely showed signs of recovering. Unfortunately, this is par for the course in regard to Sting's current in-ring career. The Icon has long since lost the ability to keep up with younger men and hides his inadequacies with base brawls and few actual wrestling moves. Hell, the man is afraid to take his t-shirt off, how is he meant to be taken seriously as the leading crusader against Aces and Eights. However, despite the poor showing in the ring, the intensity of his promo work is second to none. I greatly enjoyed the backstage scenes of the bloodied legend stomping around, eager to destroy something with his baseball bat and further inspire his troops. Later in the night, Samoa Joe & Magnus vs Garett Bischoff & D.O.C. proved to be a much better product, reuniting a set of former Tag Team Champions and their ensuing double-team move set. Joe and Magnus, while not an obvious pairing, make for a fantastic team and it's a wonder they were ever broken up in the first place, as they were much stronger together than apart. I got a particular kick out of this match, not for the wrestling itself, but the merciless crowd chanting at Garett Bischoff "You can't wrestle". I couldn't agree more and I'm happy to see the audience realising it! Finally, the series was decided with the (technical) main event of "The Cowboy" James Storm taking on a decidedly muted Mr Anderson. The match barely got going before being rudely interrupted by both teams coming down to ringside and Storm walking into a spontaneous Mic Check from Anderson. While giving Aces and Eights the benefit of entering Lethal Lockdown first this Sunday, the cheap victories do little to give this band of bikers a sense of credibility. Their membership is second rate, their accomplishments few and their end goals confusingly murky at best. The fact they've taken a former TNA World Champion like Mr Anderson and made him one of the faceless masses in an oversized faction, taking orders from a jobber like D'Lo Brown no less, just goes to show how little upside there is from this angle.

This evening, we also got another brief glimpse into the rugged new lifestyle of one AJ Styles. Known for being a noble and respected family man, this latest angle has him behaving as anything but. Last week, TNA aired a series of interviews with his "estranged" wife and best friend, wherein they documented the drastic change in personality after the Clare Lynch debacle last year. Upon finding a camera crew in his home, Styles refused to comment and took off for parts unknown on his motorcycle. Catching up with the man this week, the crew finds him about town lingering in a store/barfront talking to someone. Noticing their continued presence, the shaggy-haired, bearded Styles confronted the TNA camera man and forced him back into his vehicle before the feed cut out. Where exactly this is leading is a mystery, but one I'm eager to get to the bottom of. As it transpires, we won't have to wait long, as Styles has since tweeted that as TNA are so happy to show up at his residence uninvited, so too will he show up in Chicago next week uninvited. This angle bears an uncanny resemblance to Bobby Roode's heel turn in the wake of Bound for Glory 2011. Only instead of turning into a well-oiled, suit-wearing World Champion, Styles is taking the opposite approach and literally coming apart at the seams. Just who will take the brunt of his anger remains to be seen. At this rate, he'd fit right in with Aces and Eights. He's got the leather, the bike and the facial hair, all he's missing is the patch on his back.

The final Impact Zone show ultimately came to a close with promos from current TNA World Heavyweight Champion, Jeff Hardy, his opponent for Lockdown this Sunday, Bully Ray, and Impact Wrestling General Manager, Hulk Hogan. Any other day and the prospect of a Jeff Hardy promo would send me running for the hills, but with a seasoned vet like Bully Ray standing next to him, guiding the direction of the segment, I felt we were in safe hands. With neither man playing the villain of the piece, the tone was generally that of mutual appreciation. I particularly liked how Bully Ray made a point of saying how he wasn't going to defeat Hardy by climbing over the cage walls or by walking out of the cage door, but instead by hitting the Champion with his best move and winning the Title fair and square in the centre of the ring. It was at this point, that they were interrupted by General Manager, Hulk Hogan, who as per his usual sabotaging tricks, tried to steal the spotlight from the Champion and his challenger. The focus should've been entirely upon Hardy and Bully as the show came to a close, but instead, Hogan tried to make it all about him (despite being a broken old man on crutches and never being able to wrestle ever again). Whatever "The Immortal One" was trying to say, it paled in comparison to the words of the younger men in the ring before him. Hogan tripped over his lines at multiple points, making for a garbled and incoherent promo. It even proved to be borderline insulting to TNA, as he referred to them as a "small company". Surely, the point of paying this supposed legend so much money is to have him elevate and not denigrate. TNA could've saved themselves status and a week's paycheck by telling the crazy old man with the handlebar mustache to stay home. Thankfully, his ramblings were soon interrupted as well, as Aces and Eights randomly brawled with Team TNA to end the show.

Not really the ending the Impact Zone deserved to be honest. I'm hoping the upcoming 'One Night Only' tapings prove to be a more fitting send off to a location that has been TNA's bread and butter for the best part of a decade. This particular episode of Impact Wrestling was always going to struggle, as last week's cliffhanger promised an immediate resolution to the Aces and Eights mystery, despite the fact it needed to carry over to the pay-per-view and beyond. There's no way possible to spin the reveal of D'Lo Brown as anything but a dud and that's what this week will always be remembered for. But fear not, as all can change in a single week, as TNA take both their pay-per-view and their weekly show on the road, beginning this Sunday at Lockdown. The San Antonio Alamodome promises to be a spectacular venue and the electricity of the largest crowd in TNA history is sure to up everyone's game going forward into the live Impact Wrestling tapings next week in Chicago. It's an exciting time for the company and could very well be a turning point that sees them actively competing with the WWE on a regular basis. The trick is giving us a product both we and they can be proud of.

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