#DiscoveringWrestling #031 – Can Anthem #MakeImpactGreat Again? (Part 3)

The list of international promotions who have had working relationships with Impact, in its various incarnations, is a lengthy one. I’m not going to lie and say that they’ve always made excellent use of these relationships, and the talent that has moved through their roster because of them, but, for a variety of reasons, they have always excited me.

Right now, Global Force Wrestling has working relationships with Pro Wrestling NOAH, AAA, and The Crash. Perhaps not too surprisingly they have already begun to lean on these relationships to bolster their roster and provide fresh, distinct match ups to their viewing audience. Most prominently featured, thus far, and becoming semi-regulars in the process, are the team of Garza Jr. and Laredo Kid, courtesy of The Crash. For many weeks now this pair have featured in the Tag Team landscape and have garnered for themselves a fair bit of love from those paying attention to the product.

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Look at how happy they are! But Garza Jr. recognizes this fan can’t spell his name right…

In more recent weeks, Impact Wrestling’s audience have been treated to the spectacle of Drago and Taiji Ishimori being entered into the latest installment of the Super X Cup, a four-company interpromotional tag team title match at Slammiversary, and the sheer bewildering absurdity of a Naomichi Marufuji versus Moose match for the Impact Grand Championship. Impact Wrestling talent have also found themselves abroad, working in NOAH and The Crash themselves this year.

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Drago picks up the win over Sammy Guevara and moves on to the Semi-Finals in the newly reborn Super X Cup! Seriously, guys, this X Division is good!

While many will cling to the well-documented story of Okada, as a young lion on excursion, having his time in TNA be a completely missed opportunity – and as hindsight would have it, woah yeah that’s a missed opportunity – few will give them credit for their successes. At present they have repeatedly used their inter-promotional guests to great effect, booking them to look strong in victory and defeat, making certain to set up their losses in ways that do not tarnish their value as special attractions for the brand. In doing this well enough they have elevated both the X and Tag Team divisions, injecting meaningful depth into a roster rife with instability, both looming and present. This presentation is respectful to their partner promotions and beneficial to making their own talent look competitive.

While the tag division, post-Slammiversary, has been on a simmer with LAX’s involvement with El Patron, the X division is at a full boil with the Super X Cup, the budding feud between Sonjay Dutt and Trevor Lee, and the ascendancy of Matt Sydal all going on at the same time. That’s a lot of TV time dedicated to the division. The fresh match ups and high quality performances brought to Impact Wrestling by their international guests are a strong component in making that time worth watching. Not only do they book them into matches up and down the card, they spend a decent amount of energy introducing their audience to who these guests are, getting them over and giving them depth enough so that the audience feels it is safe to invest in them. Realistically I do not know how long the current selection of talent will be in play, but it doesn’t feel like they’re just going to be here for a short time and have no meaning to the greater whole. That feeling, in the moment, is possibly more valuable than whether or not they actually succeed at it because it has generated intrigue and buzz enough to get people talking.

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This match was really quite amazing, and the set up here for Low-Ki’s double stomp had me excited. You knew it was coming and you couldn’t wait!

This formula reminds me of when, in times past, TNA had successfully utilized their international talent. I remember a young Hiroshi Tanahashi, then the IWGP U-30 champion, having matches with AJ Styles that excited me. Back then, much like the recent match between Moose and Marufuji, run ins marred the match itself but helped to keep the question of who would have won without it in the mix. Furthermore, Impact’s marketing of Wrestle Kingdom III as Global Impact  gave fans a window into a world that only tape traders and hardcore fans had had access to. This is arguably not something that was remarkably beneficial to them back then. Nevertheless  it did draw me further towards Puroresu which I am thankful for. However with the increased power of social media and the increasingly tightly-knit nature of the online fandom, I have seen people talking about and watching Impact who otherwise wouldn’t have bothered to pay it any mind at all. Most notably English speaking fans of their foreign partners, such as NOAH, who were abuzz about the announcements of the partnerships and the action that has unfurled from these relationships in those domains.

With the return of the Super X Cup, one must wonder if these partnerships could be leaned on to populate the roster of a potentially rebooted team-based World X Cup. The previously annual World X Cup events were always a highlight of TNA’s calendar year for someone like me. It put a lot of new talent in front of my eyes and introduced me to new companies, new styles of wrestling, new fan favorites. Indeed, I can say that I likely would have walked down my path into Puroresu fandom a lot later in life if Then-TNA hadn’t put so much of it in front of my eyes. If I had never discovered that Global Impact WAS Wrestle Kingdom III then I don’t know where I’d be as a wrestling fan now.

Right now, Global Force (a.k.a. Impact Wrestling f.k.a. Total Non-Stop Action Wrestling) sits at the crux of a fascinating international inter-promotional alliance. In the current landscape of Pro-Wrestling you have a handful of alliances building and consolidating their power bases. The WWE has its own, with Evolve, IPW, and Progress being willing underlings and talent farms for them. Then there is the second tier, featuring Ring of Honor, NJPW, CMLL, and Rev Pro. Then you have the third tier, consisting of AAA, NOAH, GFW, and The Crash (and, in an indirect way, Lucha Underground). This third alliance is seen by many as the black sheep of the industry.   GFW has a well documented, turbulent history full of highs and lows, with rumors of the company’s imminent shut down circling about every few months (or so it seemed). NOAH, once a shining star in the constellation Puroresu, now a brown dwarf barely visible in the night sky, were undone by untimely deaths and financial troubles which led them into an unfavorable relationship with NJPW. AAA is plagued by rampant rumbling rumors and twitter beefs about their backstage politicking and talent disputes. Only The Crash escapes the negativity-storm unscathed, and that is realistically because it’s very young. Humorously, The Crash spawned out of a splinter group of talent who left AAA because of their dissatisfaction with management.

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It was kind of surreal seeing NOAH’s logo on an Impact show, partly because I grew up watching both in my Post-E days.

Brought together, however, their leadership stood united on the ramp at Slammiversary, and their talent have worked matches together on Impact. 2017 has been a year of rebirth for GFW Impact and NOAH, seeing both companies turning out good shows and rededicating themselves what made them work in the first place. During their dark times the two companies didn’t feel like themselves, they felt like a bad version of another place. Can they lean on each other, and their turbulent Mexican partners, to revitalize, reinvigorate, reinvent, and rebrand themselves as themselves? Or will the immense potential presented by this pool of exchangeable talent go to waste? If I were to base my verdict on the past several months of Impact television, I’d say we’re in store for some amazing wrestling over the next few years… but the specter of the past looms large, and the only way to know for sure is to tune in each and every week to find out!

Do you have any feedback or questions? Leave a comment here!

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#DiscoveringWrestling #029 – Can Anthem #MakeImpactGreat Again? (Part 2)

Last week I wrote about the special feel and solid booking that GFW Impact Wrestling brought to its four weeks worth of television filmed in India. These shows, and the subsequent pay-per-view Slammiversary XV, featured a truly satisfying ratio between match time and segment time. This allowed for the matches to have, as they say, room to breathe. It gave the performers the room to develop the story of the match. With more meat to the in-ring portion of the product, the segments do not feel like they are robbing me of action I’d rather be seeing. This trend looks to be continuing in to Post-Slammiversay episodes of Impact as well.

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Look at that nice, slick logo!

I want to talk about the Swoggle and Rockstar Spud feud here in a positive light, which is funny to write down here because, by all rights, it was a waste of talent and TV time. It failed to do anything meaningful in-ring, and the entire story failed to make either man look particularly good. It was a sad expereince… except it wasn’t the same in the backstage vignettes. These segments were filmed to look like television drama rather than traditional backstage pro-wrestling cinematography. The critical successes of the #Broken Hardys’ gimmick and Lucha Underground’s entire presentation has clearly gotten through to someone in creative and they’ve decided to go all in on it. This decision elevated an otherwise idiotic set of cliched and meaningless feud into a campy, weird jaunt through dreary American hospital rooms to self-referential, bizarrely aware of itself, campy Indian cafeteria food fights and chase scenes through the streets.

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Look at that amazing framing!

This advanced presentation was not limited to Spud and Swoggle. Many other names benefitted from it. The training sessions with Borash and Park were filmed in a simillar fashion, and the entire middle portion of their Slammiversary match against Matthews and Steiner was a jaunt through the annals of Impact history which even included underwater camerawork. LAX and the strange musclely bromance of Eli Drake and Christopher Adonis also got caught up in these really fun vignettes of their own, that certainly felt like we were getting a look into these characters world’s outside of just an arena and dressing rooms and hanging a cloth on the wall, mounting a logo to it and calling it an office.Hell, they even made me care about the goddamn Mumbai Cats!

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They made me care about these monstrocities!

There’s a certain tone that runs through these segments that feels a bit irreverent. They know we’re in in the illusion and a lot of it comes off as tongue-in-cheek. At the same time as this new approach is being injected into the framework of Impact as a television show, the familiar tropes and stylings of Pro-Wrestling as Television bolster the bulwarks of the genre. They’ve freshened up the product without  what a wrestling fan, casual or hardcore, has come to expect about it. Continuing in this direction, and maintaining an upward momentum in quality storytelling (as they did with Dutt vs Low Ki, something I talked about last week) this could pay big dividends in making their product have its own identity again, instead of being looked at by many in the Pro-Wrestling fandom and community as a C-Grade version of the WWE.

Come on back next week, where I’ll talk about how GFW Impact is leaning on its great international alliances! Also, later this week tune in for my review of Smash Wrestling’s latest event!

Do you have any feedback or questions? Leave a comment here!

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#DiscoveringWrestling #028 – Can Anthem #MakeImpactGreat Again? (Part 1)

I will admit to having been a wandering fan of NWA-TNA-IMPACT-GFW. I fell headlong into my fandom when they were on Spike, a channel I could finally get in my Canadian cable TV packages, which i had to beg my Mum to add to our package. During this time something resonated with me in Then-TNA more than WWE. The X Division was brilliant and somehow they managed to reinvent and rebirth characters whom the E had failed me on. I fell out of regularly watching them shortly after Hulk Hogan made the decision to take away the six-sided ring and try to convince me that his presence was beneficial to the company. Nevertheless, I have occasionally popped back in from time to time, trying to get back into the product that had provided me with so much joy.

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This Logo has gone through a lot of revisions in recent months.

Once Anthem purchased Impact Wrestling (and now GFW too, Double J somehow keeps on winning despite all odds) some interesting details and news started coming to light. Piquing my interest the most was the announcement that they were heading to India to film a series of episodes. One of my favourite things in Pro-Wrestling is seeing how different cultures engage with and reinterpret the art. Never before had a North American company broadcast shows filmed with an Indian audience and I knew I’d have to follow along and see what the crowd was like. If nothing else about the shows was good, at least I’d have a window into the Indian audience.

I tuned in a few weeks ahead of the India episodes, so that I wouldn’t be blind to the storylines heading into these special episodes. I found myself pleasantly surprised by how focused the shows were on in-ring action, and was greeted with the returns of Low-Ki and Sonjay Dutt. A clever decision geared towards helping reintroduce returning fans to the product’s new age with some familiar faces. I’m not going to break matches down here, or dissect every single nuance of every single story that Impact has had going on over the last five or six weeks. That would miss the point entirely. I’d like to talk about a selection of details that really highlight the deep potential their programming has displayed over the last while. This week I’m going to talk about what pulled me back in to the fold: their excursion to India.

Beyond making history, and beating the E to the punch, by being the first North American promotion to broadcast shows filmed in India, Impact’s time in Bollywood gave the viewer some notable ups, with very few downs. The crowd in attendance for these tapings was hot for the product. They were there to have a good time and reacted at all the appropriate times in the appropriate ways. I’m certain that India is capable of producing smarks but they didn’t make their presence felt the way they so often do in North American audiences. This may be because having full-fledged promotions running in India is a relatively recent phenomenon, with things like The Great Khali’s CWE and WrestleSquare being relatively fresh in the cultural zeitgeist. It may also be because the Impact brand lineage was one of the first to try and push into the Indian market and establish themselves a foothold, even going so far as to create the short-lived Indian based Ring Ka King promotion for that market. Maybe they just wanted to be excited for the spectacle of a live event. Whatever the reason, the audience was so into the show that they elevated the product.

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Moose got a good reaction from the audience, who quickly picked up on the arm pump mannerism and reacted vigorously for all performers.

Another distinct upside to the tapings in India was the booking of Sonjay Dutt’s storyline. The creative team built up a story that worked to engage and captivate both the North American and Indian audience at the same time. For the North American fans the story hinged upon Dutt’s inability to capture the X Division title in his lengthy tenure with the company, and was back-dropped with his return “home” to India where he finally captured the championship that had eluded him for so long. For the Indian fans he was an Indian underdog, coming to the ring with an eye patch over his wounded eye, competing for a championship on home turf. He came out of these episodes as a babyface to both audiences. The booking rewarded both the longtime Impact viewer and the hometown fans equally. More importantly, while they did play with Indian tropes throughout the shows, at no point did they pander towards xenophobia. This is the right way to go about making an Indian the central figure to an arc to attract the Indian audience. Compare this to the criticism often leveled at the E: Jinder Mahal is an Indian for an American audiences to hate. Sonjay Dutt is an Indian for an Indian and American audience to love. He’s a bigger face now than he ever was before. All of that without even mentioning how good the matches he had with Low-Ki were, easily the best work I have personally seen from Dutt. I’ll talk more about the in-ring product another time.

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To make the shows in India extra special, GFW Impact Wrestling even modified their match graphics and logo to reflect the colours of India’s flag.

Logistically I know that heading back there may not be easy or immediately cost effective but I do believe it would be to the benefit of the brand to make their presence in India a part of their annual schedule. It made the product feel extra special with the change in colours for the logos, and the different settings for the outdoors vignettes, and the simple but effective and respectful booking. If Anthem truly wants a “Global Force” in the business, they can do so if they can corner a solid share of the Indian market. Not only would it be financially beneficial to gain revenue from the huge Indian market, the difference in presentation to their North American audience would really make Impact feel special. If Anthem can capitalize on this market, and this special feeling to these shows, they just might #MakeImpactGreat again!

Come back next week where I’ll continue looking at the direction of GFW Impact Wrestling.

Do you have any feedback or questions? Leave a comment here!

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#DiscoveringWrestling #015 – 5 Reasons you should give IMPACT WRESTLING some bloody respect.

With their troubled history it is easy to lump blame and negativity miles high, like giant pillars of owl dung, upon IMPACT WRESTLING, but to openly wish for their failure and to take up the rallying cry of “Fuck TNA!” shows a fundamental lack of respect for the company’s high points, and what their legacy is. I’m not certain that I can convince everybody to give them some respect, but I hope to make some strong attempts to do so. So, in no particular order, here are 5 good reasons that you should give TNA some respect.

Honourable Mentions: It’s another place for the boys to get work and it disappearing would mean a lot of talented people looking for new work for one. Then there is the often brought up X-Division and how phenomenal it really was at its peak (and I’d argue the talent has always been stellar).

1) AJ Styles. For eleven years of his absolutely brilliant career, AJ Styles called Total Nonstop Action home. In TNA he held the vaunted NWA World Heavyweight Championship and Tag Team championship, the TNA X-Division championship, the TNA Tag-Team championship, the TNA World Heavyweight championship, and pretty much every other accolade the company could concoct. You’d be surprised to note that they never tried having him cross-dress for the KnockOuts titles. He moved all over the card, competing in all sorts of matches. Through TNA’s foreign partnerships, he wrestled in AAA, CMLL, NJPW, and Wrestle-1. The point is, he did everything the company had to offer.

Certainly not all of it was the best. Some of it was total shit. But some of it was brilliant, and all of it was AJ Styles putting his heart, soul, and body, into becoming the best performer he could be in any given booking circumstances. You can’t spend eleven years working in one place, and doing everything that can be done there, and not have you come out the other end undeniably affected by it. AJ Styles has certainly proved that he is self-motivated and insanely talented since he left TNA, but for those who were watching him develop in that company, there was never any doubt that he truly was The Phenomenal One. Without TNA giving AJ Styles all of that time, on air and in front of a television audience, for him to hone his craft, it is doubtful that he would be in the same position he is in now.

2) It was the first major point of exposure for a lot talent. The rosters of WWE NXT, RAW, and SmackDown! are now replete with talent that got their first major break with TNA. Samoa Joe,  Austin Aries,  and Bobby Roode all put on career defining matches and spent many years with a company that, at one point, was considered the upstart that might challenge the E one day. Sadly TNA had an addiction to insane booking and faded stars. Nevertheless,  countless other incredible talent all called the company home. To this day they continue to do so, more recently giving Grado a huge potential audience out of pretty much nowhere.

Even if we expect that IMPACT WRESTLING can never rise to that speculative challenger height again, as a company with high production values and fifteen years of establishing itself a fanbase, however degraded it may be from its heights, they can, and will, have an important role to play in many future stars careers. They’ve done it before and can, certainly, do it again. Just look at the names these two entries contain for evidence.

3) It was a place where people could reinvent themselves. I fondly remember seeing Christian Cage debut in TNA. I had grown frustrated with the WWE in how they were treating him, and his start in TNA was great. He was given an opportunity and proved himself to be what he had never been allowed to be before: the guy. Over the course of its ups and down, IMPACT WRESTLING even provided perennial tag team wrestler Bubba Ray Dudley/Brother Ray the opportunity to invent the Bully Ray character, one that gave him a solid storyline built around himself and a place in the spotlight as a world champion. Even unto today, with their post-separation actions inciting jeers and hatred from the wrestling community, this oft maligned company provided Matt and Jeff hardy the creative freedom and platform to create the #BROKEN gimmick that has launched them into a brilliant career renaissance. I am confident that if they had never left the WWE, there would never have been chants of DELETE! echoing across wrestling venues throughout North America, indie and WWE, at this time.

4) International Exposure. International cross-promotional events and talent exchanges dot the landscape of TNA’s rocky history. I first watched Hiroshi Tanahashi wrestle on a TNA pay-per-view, in 2006, against AJ Styles, a full eight years before the two would meet again in New Japan. The first NJPW full show I watched was Wrestle Kingdom III, which featured heavy involvement from TNA who were advertising it as Global Impact. I tried to find it online for a price I could afford at the time and came across the complete unedited version on a DVD sellers site and bought that. It was a bootleg burned DVD, but it was a launching point for me headfirst into Puroresu, right alongside the Fight Network’s English-announcing dub of Pro-Wrestling NOAH. It’s funny how things come full circle with Anthem now owning all of my original gateway drugs for Japanese Pro-Wrestling.

Their annual World X Cup tournament exposed me to wrestlers from AAA, CMLL, AJPW, and Dragon Gate. Their announce team was never shy to tell you who they were, where they came from, and what they had done in their careers outside of TNA. This stood in direct opposition, and for the most part still stands that way today, to how the WWE handle international talent. I loved Abismo Negro. I bought a CMLL show with a Team TNA vs Team CMLL match from that same DVD seller. I discovered Mistico and Averno. My tastes diversified and I fell in love with how Pro-Wrestling transforms across cultural contexts. I can genuinely say that if TNA had never existed, I likely never would have become the fan I am today. The fan who had the trip of a lifetime in Tokyo fueld by my desire to attend Wrestle Kingdom, the fan who has made friends with performers and other fans alike, the fan who wants to contribute something back to the art I love. Maybe I’m an extreme example, but I cannot be the only one whose spark was kindled in this way by TNA.

They had the prescience to blaze a trail into India. In securing themselves TV deals in the highly populated foreign market, scouting talent from the country to bring onboard to make the product attractive to said population, and having a hand in setting up the short lived Indian Ring-Ka-King promotion, they assured that they are an indellible part of the face of Pro-Wrestling to this massive market, right next to Dalip Singh and the WWE.

Now, in 2017, under new management, they have a talent exchange with NOAH. Based on the March twelfth GREAT VOYAGE in YOKOHAMA showing, it looks promising, at the least for the quality matches it has generated in Japan and giving more international exposure to potential breakout stars like Moose. Considering the absolute tear that Pro-Wrestling NOAH has been on under the NOAH the REBORN moniker, it certainly couldn’t hurt either company to put their best people together to generate interest in both brands and to forge a new reputation for IMPACT WRESTLING, one that highlights impactfuland internationally influenced wrestling and sheds the bad habits of its heritage. But, we’ll have to wait and see on that one.

5) Women’s wrestling. Before NXT and the Women’s Revolution was even a twinkle in Paul Levesque’s eye, TNA was putting on some serious women’s wrestling matches. The company dedicated far more air time to women’s wrestling than contemporaneous WWE did and it let its female talent go at it just as hard as the men. Gail Kim excelled in TNA. Her tenure in the WWE before heading to TNA had made me curious about her, but in TNA’s Knockouts division she truly shone her brightest and excelled far beyond what she had ever accomplished in the E.

Indeed, there was a general attitude in the way TNA treated its women that was a step up from the WWE at the time. In an era where the WWE would phase the Women’s Championship into the Diva’s belt, emblazoned with a delicate butterfly, TNA had both the KnockOuts Tag and singles titles and women routinely, to this day, compete in hardcore matches. They were ahead of the curve, by a long shot. It wasn’t always perfect, but it generally outclassed what the WWE was offering contemporaneously. Like everything with TNA, it went through its ups and downs, but it fueled and helped shape in me a desire to see more intense women’s wrestling. It was around that same time that I would first start to look into Joshi wrestling.

I also find it useful to remember that TNA didn’t come up with an angle making fun of the beautiful Mickie James for being overweight and calling her Piggie James on national television. So there’s also that. Yeah…

Look, I get it. TNA dropped the ball. They dropped it so hard that they lost it in the crust of the Earth. But somehow, amongst all that mess, they still managed to do some incredible good. The story of TNA and IMPACT WRESTLING is one of peaks and valleys. But no one ever seems to remember or care about the peaks, preferring to mock and throw verbal rocks at the company. They have done a lot for the industry, for the talent, and for me. Yeah, I stopped watching them when they got really bad, and every now and then I would check in to see how they were doing. It really wasn’t all bad, and learning to acknowledge and respect it for what it did right, well, it could go a long way towards helping them recover. Anthem is gonna need all the help it can get to rehabilitate this damaged brand, and they have a lot of cool talent and great archive footage to forge a new path with. Give them some credit. Tell them what you want to see more of, and leave the hate out of it.

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