at 6:40am, the Prince N/R stop is lit
at 6:40am, the Prince N/R stop is lit
WWE segments fired on all cylinders in the lead up to WrestleMania, but it also released something for the superfans by unveiling newly-found footage of a promotion we’ve never heard of before. Outside of the E, we got a great PPV from PROGRESS, an OK New Japan tournament and even some neat videos from EVOLVE.
Here’s what I watched for this week’s edition and what I’m planning to watch from the 24th through the 30th. If I’m missing anything that can be accessed without too much trouble, @ me on twitter: henrytcasey.
SmackDown Live, 3/21
SmackDown’s tag division has been on life-support ever since the Alphas won. Sure, I love the former NXT champs and want to see them get their moment, but nothing ever interesting happened during their time as champs.
So thank god for The Usos, who’ve done wonders building themselves up as swaggering heels. Also, credit to WWE for putting this eventful barnburner on free TV. Much like Bayley winning before Mania, this division was dampened by its babyfaces holding the titles going into the biggest show of the year. Now, both teams have momentum to get a pre-show match on the Mania card, and I’m hoping it goes for two out of three falls.
And to be a bitter smark, I need to take an aside here. Yet again , SmackDown Live’s best match didn’t get the spotlight it deserved. Instead, the main event of this show went to a crap segment featuring Shane McMahon’s shitty punches and inability to actually connect on his flying elbow. Sure, it was impressive that he made it as far as he did, but reminded me of that spot between him and Roman Reigns at Instantly made a dead division matter. 2:3 falls at Mania?
YouTube.com/WWE, 3/17 & SmackDown Live, 3/21
Sure Southpaw Regional Wrestling got the whole wrestling internet talking and watch it if you haven’t (I bet you have), but the Total Bellas Bullsh** segments share top billing.
Not only did they succeed by making Cena’s unwillingness to propose to Nikki the elephant in the room, but they were hilarious. Maryse has been back for how long and we didn’t know she was this funny? Her timing is excellent and the line “I’m the one wearing the hat!” had me cackling. The first bit was so good it earned a sequel.
Things got better with Breezy Bella … who you need to see to believe. Two bonus clips, then:
PROGRESS Ch. 45: Galvanize, 3/19 — went up on demand on 3/23
This match was a semi-final in the PROGRESS Women’s Championship Natural PROGRESSion tournament, which will crown the promotion’s first women’s champion.
Because I’m just starting with PROGRESS, I kinda needed this match to show me where it is in regard to women’s wrestling. Sure, Ch. 44’s, Dahlia Black vs Session Moth Martina was entertaining, but it didn’t grab me as much, partially because it was a comedy match.
PROGRESS Ch. 45 is available via https://demandprogress.pivotshare.com/
WWNLive’s YouTube, 3/23
I don’t know about the rest of the EVOLVE audience, but I’ve been trying to figure out what to make of Jason Kincaid since I first saw him wrestle. He’s a meditating beardo with a style that confuses the shit out of his opponents, but always seems to impress.
So, I thank EVOLVE and its parent company WWN for finally committing to defining the gimmick. More importantly, credit to Kincaid for making it work so well.
What a week it’s been. So much to talk about, and so many things we can’t talk about.
Of course, though, I can say that this was the week I dropped Impact (fka TNA). It took 19 minutes for that show to focus its whole efforts on the Josh Matthews vs JB storyline and for me to tune out.
Also, this was the week where I learned what it’s like to watch NJPW’s non-English content. Shows with only Japanese commentary are the most engaging, while matches without any commentary and a fixed angle, they can be difficult. For more on NJPW, read my explainer here.
Last little note, who the hell schedules ROH’s content? The ROH Wrestling show that landed on 3/13 was completely incongruous with the promotion’s 3/10 ppv. Not only did it ignore 15th Anniversary, but it had the Young Bucks holding the tag titles. Which they haven’t since March 4th, when they lost them at Manhattan Mayhem.
Below, as usual now, you’ll see what I watched for this week’s edition and what I’m planning to watch next week. If I’m missing anything that can be accessed without too much trouble, @ me on twitter: henrytcasey.
ROH 15th Anniversary aka Winner Takes All, 3/10
I went into this late, having known everything that would happen, but damn did Daniels’ promo still pump me up. In part, it works so well because it plays upon his history with the company and his lack of reward, blurring that line and creating that raw emotional tension.
New Japan Cup (Night 2), 3/12
I don’t know what would make a man so foolish as to get into a knife-edge chop fight with Ben Grimm. Maybe Kenny Omega doesn’t see Tomohoro Ishii the way I do, which is as New Japan’s version of The Thing from The Fantastic Four.
Either way, this match was fantastic, so much so that I’m using it to start noting the overall best match of the week.
From the Terminator claps from the audience to the back and forth spitting on one another, this match made the New Japan Cup feel important.
My notes include the phrase “such lariat” and I’ll stand behind that. It’s the first no-English commentary match I ever loved and it validated my decision to go deeper down the rabbit hole into the NJPW content.
Available via NJPWworld.com
WWE Monday Night Raw, 3/13
I’m not giving a YouTube video for this segment, as I sometimes do. Find it in full, WWE edite too much out of it.
Both the Mick Foley’s Impending Firing storyline and Rollins vs. Triple H have been drawn on for so long that it felt like this night would never come. Therefore, seems fitting that WWE rolled the climaxes for the two into one night.
Mick Foley may often get praise for his Angry Old Veteran promos on Raw, but this segment truly allowed the McMahon/Levesque (pronounced “le•vek”) duo to shine. This segment told us what we already knew (the Authority branding is dead but Steph and Paul still run this town), and made us feel those feelings.
From the look that Steph gives as Triple H’s music hits to Hunter bringing up Foley disappointing his kids and potentially ruining Noelle’s budding career as a WWE Superstar, there’s a lot of beautiful malice happening here.
So to top it off with two returns, a low blow and a beating, help give the coming weeks some stakes. Good job, Raw.
WWE NXT, 3/15
Sure, I’m awarding this match as a compliment, but I should like this match a whole lot more. Hell the audience in Tampa should have enjoyed this match more. I loved the reversals, and that Ohno elbowed Roode out of the ring, but I need to digress a little about what held this back.
The big problem, of course, is that they didn’t get enough time to cook. 14 minutes may sound long for a WWE match on paper, but it’s still the first match Hero wrestled as Ohno in this return to NXT. Therefore, parts of the audience had no idea who he was or why they should care. Also, WWE kinda botched Ohno’s return, with a bunch of telling and not showing. By leaving the stories of his old feuds on the table, by trying to brush the topic of his weight under an unfortunately tucked-in customized Dream Team jersey, they gave a match so meta that audiences would need to be super aware in order to connect.
Also, I don’t buy Ohno or Hero getting fooled into getting his neck hurt by the top rope. Dude’s a veteran. Yes, I spent the majority of this bitching, but it wasn’t the best week for matches in WWE.
Remember What Was TNA?/What Is Impact? and What is New Japan Pro Wrestling? I’m back, you animals, and I’m here with zero fear because of one of my favorite things to happen in recent memory to
wrestling: LUCHA UNDERGROUND.
Pardon the cliche, but it’s the truth: Lucha Underground is not just another pro wrestling show. In fact, it’s the rebirth of the genre, and one of the best damn things on television in the last 3 years.
Wait, have you seen my twitter? I’ve been raving about Lucha Underground since Dario opened the temple (more on that in a minute). But to answer your question, I’m ranting because now you’re fresh out of excuses for not watching it.
March 15, 2017 will be marked in the annals of wrestling history as the day Netflix got the first two seasons of Lucha Undergound. Well, just Netflix in the Americas. And anywhere that has a VPN service.
So, Lucha Underground is a show about wrestling, specifically the matches and backstage noir antics that take place in the temple of one Dario Cueto
(Luis Fernandez-Gil). Here’s Dario in his office with his red bull statue and a glass of liquor:
Here’s Dario Cueto with one of his favorite things (MONEY):
If you can’t tell, Dario Cueto has the brash egomaniacal chutzpah of Vince McMahon, but he’s working on a seedier level. But of all the things Dario Cueto loves, he probably would put VIOLENCE at the top of that list.
So, what does a promoter with a love of violence and seedy behavior do? Open up an arena in a shady part of Los Angeles (the show is taped in the actually grungy Boyle Heights district) and operate it like his own fight club.
That’s the ground Lucha Underground is built upon, and it’s been a strong-enough base for 84 hours of blisteringly good pro wrestling, with 21 more episodes coming this year. The show is presented in hour-long episodes, making it far more manageable than most other promotions, and built to binge-watch.
Another thing that separates Lucha Underground from the pack is its narrative style. The show tells stories every way it can, from in the ring to film-quality vignettes and scenes shot in the same arena or on locations.
Throughout it all, Lucha Underground has this strong visual charm and a noir way about itself that is delightful, which makes sense, given that it’s on El Rey, a network started by Robert Rodriguez. You know, the writer, director and producer of such films as Desperado and El Mariachi.
Other wrestling shows offer minimal attention to detail, but Lucha Underground exists only as a television show, so storytelling is its only master. It won’t sell talent up the river because it’s developmental. The show has season premieres and finales, and the writers have plans for how to get from one to the other.
If you watched WWE during the 00’s, then you’ve got at least one familiar face: Johnny Mundo. But you probably remember him as The Prince of Parkour, John Morrison. Good news, he’s getting to live his best life in Dario’s temple as a super smug chickenshit baddie.
Modern day wrestling fans who spend time in online communities might know about Ricochet, as his super-flippy match with Will Ospreay at the 2016 Best of The Super Juniors tournament went viral. In Lucha Underground, he’s Prince Puma, a local and fan favorite.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Lucha Underground’s cast of characters is rich and deep. You’ve got two couples: Son of Havoc and Ivelisse (who might be dating?) and Mil Muertes who is managed by Catrina. You’ve also got mysterious masked … not-men, such as Drago who seems to be part dragon and Pentagon Jr. the zombie-ninja.
The show also features some of the best women wrestlers on the map. At first, it’s limited to Sexy Star (whose talents are limited if we’re honest), but then Ivelisse kicks things into second gear. Season 2 introduces Taya, who is excellent, as well as the dangerous Mariposa.
Not entirely, unless you prefer it. The El Rey presentation of Lucha Underground uses English commentary and a mix of English and Spanish dialogue, with subtitles when appropriate.
Those with the UniMás network can see the series entirely in Spanish.
The biggest difference between Lucha Underground and most televised wrestling is that women and men can fight each other in Dario Cueto’s temple. It might take some getting used to, but when you realize these are performers and their art is about trust and not hurting each other, you realize there’s not much difference between someone wanting to get revenge on Taya or Cersei Lannister. Equality, many argue, is the right to perform with anyone.
If you get used to it, and not everyone will (we all have different histories), you’ll get to enjoy a relatively rare version of pro wrestling. Further, it gives Lucha Underground an even greater number of potential matchups.
If you love seasons 1 and 2, you can see season 3 in one of the following ways:
With TNA and NJPW, I was OK with explaining this, but you know what, this is all best saved for watching. Have fun.
Hey there, remember What Is TNA? where I tried to explain the faltering (but not worthless) pro wrestling promotion? In light of recent events (Impact falling to shit, WWE alienating audiences with its booking, WWE’s ties to the Trump administration), I’ve decided to do more of these wrestling promotion explainers.
While the upcoming weeks will see me cover Lucha Underground, Ring of Honor and other promotions, I’m starting off with New Japan Pro Wrestling.
If you find things in here that aren’t correct, I’ll admit that while I tried to do all the research I could for this, I’m still getting to know the promotion. Let me know where I botched by hitting the ASK button above and shooting me a note.
As its name suggests, New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) is a Japan-based pro wrestling promotion. It’s one of the largest promotions in the world, second (of course) to WWE.
This year (2017) the company celebrates its 45th anniversary in good shape, having a solid run over the last 7 or so years, gaining traction with well-reviewed matches and pursuing westward expansion. It recently held its first solo-produced event on American soil: The G1 In The USA two-night in Los Angeles, a successful event that saw the crowning of its first United States champion.
NJPW talent currently appears in the states during shows held by Ring of Honor. The two promotions have a tenuous relationship that includes sharing talent.
New Japan is a lot like WWE, but offers stark differences. Both present a variety of kinds of performers ranging from serious badasses such as Kazuchika Okada (its current top guy, who has all the looks of a main hero in a Final Fantasy game) to goofier dudes (Toru Yanu, a supremely lucky cheating idiot).
Another high-profile talent in NJPW right now is Kenny Omega, who just turned a lot of heads with a match of the year-candidate he wrestled with Okada at January’s Wrestle Kingdom 11 event. Many hoped Omega would stun the world by showing up at WWE’s Royal Rumble event later that month, but he opted to stay.
You know who isn’t wrestling for New Japan? Women. The promotion’s roster, similarly to younger, smaller organizations such as Evolve, is male-only. Women sometimes walk men to the ring, but they’re solely seen as eye-candy.
So, up front, yeah, New Japan is presented in a series of ways, and new fans coming to it for major pay-per-views will likely start with its English commentary. In its NJPW World streams Kevin Kelly works play-by-play, with Don Callis handling color. On the AXS broadcasts, we hear the voice of the WWE’s Attitude Era Jim Ross on play-by-play with Josh Barnett on color.
Kelly has been doing this for a while, but recently left doing similar work for Ring of Honor, which is amusing considering that ROH and NJPW are supposedly working together. You may remember both for their time in WWE, but you don’t need to. Kevin Kelly works face, Callis works heel.
As you get deeper into the NJPW library, you’ll progress to shows without English commentary. Sometimes those have no commentary, sometimes it’s in Japanese. Neither is particularly easier to follow, especially if you can get distracted.
One thing might not notice immediately, but over time, is that NJPW tells the vast majority of its stories in the ring. New Japan’s equivalent of the backstage scenes that chop up an episode of WWE Raw take place at a press conference room as post-match interviews. This gives the show a look that feels a lot like an actual sport.
Also, kiss those authority figures goodbye. Aside from the wrestlers, the only other performers are managers, such as Gedo, who is Okada’s coach and calls himself The Playmaker. The matches are either arranged by the nameless powers that be or challenges between talent.
Lastly, get used to the crew around the ring. Many are wrestlers-in-training often called Young Boys or Young Lions. They set up the ring and do chores for the wrestlers, learning while they train. When they get to perform, they wear sparse gear (black trunks) and fight with a similarly short move-list.
Wrestling factions have long existed to help get talent popular by association, but NJPW takes the idea of a stable of wrestlers a step further.
The four major factions in NJPW exist as ways to group talent for tag team matches and to set up storylines and matches down the road. This tweet perfectly encapsulates the factions in the TL;DR style:
v2 Morality Rankings to reflect ded-ness pic.twitter.com/4Ry8aICg3M
Those factions are:
You’ve got two options:
How does one follow NJPW?
Casual fans stick to the major events such as the annual Wrestle Kingdom (New Japan’s equivalent of WrestleMania) and G1 Climax tournament (remember King of The Ring?).
There’s also a schedule on 1972njpw.com, the company’s brand-new site for English-speakers. This is where you can see what’s coming up and which events will have English commentary.
Those following the promotion more closely will have to do without English commentary. While many events will have Japanese commentary, some get absolutely zero commentary.
Pro wrestling expert Aubrey Sitterson (host of the Straight Shoot podcast) explained to me by noting that historically “lesser [NJPW] shows, you had to either be there live or read about them online or in the newspaper if you live in Japan.” and that with the advent of NJPW World, the company began showing “EVERYTHING online, but they still don’t do commentary for the smaller shows.”
This can be helpful for those who can focus, but a detractor for those who need help engaging and staying locked in.
Just as with WWE, an obstacle with most NJPW shows may be running time, with most major PPVs going 4 hours.
So, here’s more primer for those who aren’t put off by all of the above, and are ready to dive in deep.
The top titles in the company feature the IWGP acronym, which stands for International Wrestling Grand Prix. That’s NJPW’s governing body.
The IWGP Heavyweight Championship is the top title in NJPW, and it’s currently held by Kazuchika Okada. Okada is the face of NJPW and has been for years. One of the most respected working wrestlers today, he’s famous for his beautiful standing dropkick and Rainmaker lariat.
The IWGP Intercontinental Championship, which (yep, a second tier belt just like the WWE’s IC title) is held by Hiroshi Tanahashi, a noble dude.
The IWGP Tag Team Championship is held by War Machine, the husky duo of Hanson and Mike Rowe. If I had to describe them, I’d say, Big Angry Dads.
Wrestlers weighing in at under 100 kilograms (220 pounds) will fight for the Junior championships.
The IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship is currently held by KUSHIDA, a nice young man who loves Back To The Future.
The IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship is held by The Young Bucks.
The other titles fought over in NJPW are from something called NEVER, which is no longer an active thing, despite its titles still being defended. Both of the NEVER titles are fought without weight restrictions, otherwise called Openweight.
To quote Wikipedia:
NEVER is an acronym of the terms “New Blood”, “Evolution”, “Valiantly”, “Eternal”, and “Radical” and was a NJPW-promoted series of events, which featured younger up-and-coming talent and outside wrestlers not signed to the promotion.
The NEVER Openweight Championship, its primary belt, is currently held by Minoru Suzuki. He is a fashionable killing machine.
The other NEVER Openweight title is the 6-Man Tag Team Championship, currently held by Los Ingobernables de Japon (Bushi, Evil and Sanada) (LIJ). LIJ is great for a number of reasons, but primarily because they are the Goth Kid Gang of NJPW.
Thank you for making it this far, stay tuned for more coverage of the best pro wrestling stuff of the week, as well as non-WWE promotions.
Update, 3/12/17: Clearly, shit’s gone down. Expect a full update soon, but, in short:
The promotion wants to be called Impact, but it is TNA’ing the fuck out of itself.
But what was TNA?
Updated 10/29/16, 1pm Eastern with recent court date news, and a brief history of TNA’s ownership prior to 2016.
Updated again, 11/6/16, 2pm Eastern with news of TNA’s new parent company and a major departure.
So you may have seen headline after headline fly by about the state and future of Total Nonstop Action. Since we don’t really have the time to cover TNA on The Ring Post, the wrestling podcast I do with Myke Hurley and Dave Tach, I’ve decided to write up a state-of-affairs synopsis of the company.
Primarily, this will run though current drama regarding its ownership, as well as the different championships and titles.
TNA is a pro wrestling promotion commonly seen as the second-largest in America and the major competitor to WWE. While TNA is trying new things, like a title belt defended in a UFC-style format, and campy pre-taped content, it mostly follows the same formulas as the WWE.
You can either watch it on the Pop cable and satellite network, which you likely don’t get, watch clips on its YouTube channel, or stream PPVs on the FITE app or other providers.
Right now, the widely ridiculed Dixie Carter is still majority owner, Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins is a minority owner, as is Aroluxe Marketing, a Tennesee-based firm.
IMPACT Ventures, the parent company of TNA, named Billy Corgan its president on August 12, but he is no longer with the company, and its new parent company is Anthem Sports. More on it later.
Dixie Carter didn’t create TNA, industry veterans and father-and-son duo Jerry and Jeff Jarrett did that in 2002. Carter came in in 2002 when she found out that the company needed marketing and publicity help, which was soon followed by the discovery that the company had financial problems due to a backer dropping out due to unrelated issues.
Carter contacted her parents, the owners of Panda Energy International, a Dallas-based energy company, which purchased 71% of TNA for $250,000 from Jerry Jarrett. Spoiler alert: when Dixie couldn’t make TNA’s financials work, Panda divested itself of its stake in 2012. Jeff Jarrett left his role as Executive Vice President of Development/Original Programming in December 2013, and sold his as minority-share to Carter in June 2015.
Not much is known about Aroluxe, though it works with former wrestlers Ron and Don Harris, who have known affections for Nazis.
Over the years, Carter served as an on-screen authority figure in TNA, which she was inarguably terrible at. Wrestling isn’t known for high-caliber acting, but she was so horrible that it generated a not-insignificant portion of fan hate for Carter.
To make some long and terrible years short, Carter is credited for bringing in Vince Russo, Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan, aging vets who’d run out of original ideas.
Hogan is seen as a major source of TNA’s financial problems, as he cost a pretty penny and bled TNA dry. Oh, and Hogan brought in his daughter Brooke Hogan, to act, and she made Dixie look like Helen god damn Mirren.
Carter’s mismanagement of TNA left talent often going unpaid for long periods, a major reason for wrestlers including AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, Daniels & Kazarian, Bobby Roode and Eric Young to flee.
Billy Corgan loves wrestling.
Billy (right), with his enforcer O’Shea (left).
This isn’t his first rodeo either, in 2011, he founded a company called Resistance Pro Wrestling, which started the Resistance Pro wrestling promotion. Corgan is mocked by some, but the talent involved with that promotion wasn’t terrible, in fact it included Colt Cabana, El Generico (a friend of WWE superstar Sami Zayn) and Kevin Steen.
The only thing we should really mock Corgan for is his recent lack of fashion sense when he’s been on camera at TNA, and his GM-like character’s association with the utterly boring garbage-man known as Aidan O’Shea, who briefly wrestled under the name Ryan Braddock in WWE, where he knocked out the Big Show with a ‘knockout hook,’ because Big Show.
The biggest question, meta or otherwise, from the last weeks of TNA is who in fact owns this company? Here’s a timeline of recent events:
October 1: Rumor had it that Corgan would purchase from TNA its current majority owner, Dixie Carter, and that WWE would buy the TNA tape library. Those rumors seemed bound to come true during the days before and after TNA’s October 1 PPV Bound for Glory, but never came true. Oddly enough, on that PPV, an injured Drew Galloway said “Billy Corgan’s buying TNA” in an interview. He’s a heel if that matters.
Corgan is publicly seen as bearing serious intent to rebrand the company and run it well (as you’ll see below, that hasn’t been the case recently). WWE would use that tape library to further cement its streaming network as the one true archive of wrestling history, as well as add to video packages for former TNA superstars such as Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, and Sting.
Then on October 13, reports surfaced of Billy Corgan suing TNA and Dixie Carter. Major details are unknown (as is the case throughout this story), but we do know that a court approved a temporary restraining order that Corgan put out on Dixie.
On October 14, it was reported that the State of Tennessee issued a tax lien against TNA this past September. The total of its unpaid taxes is unknown, but likely sizable, as liens aren’t issued without substantial reason.
On October 15, we learned that TNA may owe a total of 3.4 million dollars to Aroluxe, Anthem Sports & Entertainment Corp., the parent company of Fight Network, which streams TNA PPVs online, and MCC, an affiliate of Anthem.
On October 19, Anthem made a couple of moves in its quest to invest in TNA. First, it confirmed the company “made a working capital loan” to fund the operations of TNA, and then it offered to “provide TNA Impact Wrestling with funding to repay the loans made by Mr. Billy Corgan” and lastly noted it is in the position to provide further “transitional assistance to TNA.”
That same day, we found out that TNA is both planning events for the start of next year (it has been taped through to the end of this year) and that TNA is likely to file for bankruptcy soon, to get out from under its debts. Confusing? Yep. Imagine what it’s like to be waiting on a check from Dixie.
Even Matt Hardy, in character as Broken Matt Hardy on Twitter, also expressed interest in buying TNA. More about him later.
And not that this is about who owns TNA, but … a lawsuit filed in July by American Express in the New York Supreme Court claims that “Impact Wrestling’s parent company owes $269,049.50 for ‘travel-related expenses’.”
On October 26, both sides (Corgan; TNA/Dixie) presented their arguments in court. Corgan argued that Dixie’s TNA isn’t fit to continue given talent going unpaid. TNA’s legal team painted Corgan as a conniving loan-shark out to steal the company.
On November 1, in another sign that TNA may be on the wrong end of its lifetime, the promotion lost its deal with Challenge TV, its television distributor in the UK. That deal was one of the major sources of TNA’s income.
On November 3, following news that Corgan lost his lawsuit, Anthem Sports announced that Billy Corgan is no longer with TNA. Anthem appears to be the new parent company of TNA. Corgan claimed on Twitter that he is owed 2.2 million dollars, to which Anthem responded: YOU SHOULDN’T SAY THESE THINGS ON SOCIAL MEDIA. Following that, Corgan threatened / teased selling his share to WWE.
So now that you know the current state of TNA ownership drama, let’s talk about the actual product.
This question, like some the others, comes from my The Ring Post co-host Myke Hurley. He asks this because only have TNA’s titles been confusing in the past, they just got moreso. Let’s work our way from the most basic to the oddest, and who is currently in contention.
TNA’s Knockouts Championship is the title of its Knockouts division, which comprises its female wrestlers. Get it, because they’re knockout beauties and they’ll knock you out? Currently, the title is held by recent TNA hall of fame inductee Gail Kim, which is the first time in a very long time that a HoF inductee held gold after said ceremony.
Gail Kim doesn’t have much in the way of rivals right now, as her most recent opponent, Maria Kanellis Bennett, is currently locked in a rivalry. Bennett is feuding with Allie, her former ‘apprentice’ who she bullied too much. Allie is beloved by the Impact audience, and while her gimmick is not one of a fighter, we know she can go, as she’s held gold in a number of other promotions, under the name Cherry Bomb.
The TNA World Tag Team Championship is currently held by The Broken Hardys (Broken Matt Hardy & Brother Nero Jeff Hardy, often accompanied by with Reby & King Maxel) the most well-publicized bright-side in TNA at this moment. This is the division and story worth explaining, so pour a drink and strap in, folks.
Jeff injured Matt out in a storyline and Matt returned as Broken Matt Hardy, an eccentric version of himself. Broken Matt only referred to Jeff as Brother Nero (Jeff’s middle name is Nero), and started a campaign to “DELETE!” his brother, who he repeatedly mocked for being a “spot monkey” and blamed for the troubles the team faced over their careers. This is grounded in life, as Jeff’s ban for traveling abroad forced the team to drop the TNA titles when the company travelled to the UK.
TNA garnered a lot of attention for this feud, which embraces wrestling’s campier and sillier side, a definite break from TNA aping WWE in previous years. Matt talks with a ridiculous affectation, smiles way too widely all the time, and refers to talent by the wrong names names (Meek Mahan is his name for Vince McMahon, The Bucks of Youth are the Young Bucks).
The first segment to go viral was a pre-taped vignette at the Hardys’ North Carolina compound that featured Matt’s sinister groundskeeper Señor Benjamin and his drone Vanguard 1 (a reference to Matt’s V.1 gimmick in the WWE).
The segment ended when Matt’s wife Reby Sky tossing her son “Baby Maxel” at Jeff to confuse him, as it wasn’t Maxel, but a doll, and then Matt put Jeff through a table that looked real, unlike the standard issue built-to-break tables you see in any promotion. Maxel has been a recurring character, and his cuteness adds levity throughout the story.
The two Hardy brothers faced off in a segment called “The Final Deletion,” which was peppered with references to earlier chapters of their careers. Matt won the feud because Jeff was too stupid and hubristic, and attempted a dive off of a statue in the shape of his own brand’s glyph. Matt had Señor Benjamin rig that statue with gas and explosives, and he triggered its destruction once Jeff scaled the top of it.
By winning that match, Matt won the Hardy brand and forced Jeff to take the name Brother Nero, and Matt called his brother “my obsolete mule.” Matt forced Jeff to fight other TNA tag teams in 2 on 1 scenarios, without his high-flying moves, in a build-up to win that title. This made all of those other teams look like garbage.
Eventually, Jeff took to the Brother Nero gimmick in a subtle move to regain his connection with his brother. He even sings a song about making his opponents “obsolete.” Baby Maxel and Reby dress as eccentrically as Matt, each with grey streaks in their hair. It is, as Matt says DELIGHTFUL.
The Broken Hardys tried to recapture the brilliance of The Final Deletion in two matches with a horror-based tag team called Decay. They were called “Delete or Decay” and “The Great War” and both didn’t hit the mark set by The Final Deletion.
Right now, The Broken Hardys are on the verge of facing a new, white-masked three-person faction, who we later were told are called The DCC. The trio were introduced in a series of vignettes presented in the “we hacked your feed” style that’s so common in wrestling.
The masked wrestlers speak in voice-altered tones about “chaos and control” and sit at a table with six white masks in front of them. I found out who they are, google it if you want to, and one out of the three gives me some hope for this being interesting and not boring.
The DCC debuted in-ring by beating up the Tribunal tag team, which is made up of Baron Dax and Basile Baraka. Dax and Baraka are the former NXT talents who went by Marcus Louis and Sylvester Lefort. The Tribunal were briefly ‘coached’ by Al Snow, but they currently exist on their own as a French-speaking, off-brand version of The Shield.
Do the hackers plan to fold Dax and Baraka into their faction and give them two of those six white masks? We can only hope, as that would be a great improvement over their current staleness.
The TNA World Heavyweight Championship is the company’s big, important title, and currently held by Eddie Edwards, one half of former TNA Tag Team Champs The Wolves. He’s vanilla and boring and I can’t be brought to care about him. The title was given to him in what seemed utterly random, when former WWE-era ECW Champion Bobby Lashley lost when he didn’t take Edwards seriously.
On the October 20 episode of Impact, Edwards beat former WWE superstar Cody Rhodes (though due to copyright litigation by the petty WWE, he’s going by just Cody right now). Edwards will defend that title against Lashley soon, as Lashley beat Moose in a #1 contender’s match that same night.
The TNA X-Division Championship is… well, take WWE’s Cruiserweight division, and imagine there wasn’t a weight limit, but an expectation that all competitors perform death-defying (or, failing that, flippy) stunts. TNA’s X-Division, which was once its crown jewel and one of its major differentiators, is where the crazy matches happen.
It was once referred to with the phrase “It is not about weight limits, it is about no limits.” Nowadays, that shine and sheer isn’t there as much anymore. The current champ is DJ Z, a bro-ish DJ babyface, who is starting something called Team X Gold, which is somehow a series of 3 on 3 matches. Why does it exist? Is there a three-man-tag-title they’re fighting for? We don’t have answers to either question.
The biggest problem facing the X-Division right now is the same that the still-nascent Cruiserweight division is faced with: a lack of stories. Oh, and I think that TNA does not gives its wrestlers enough room between the ring and the guard rail.
DJ Z’s main opponents are all underwhelming, like the comedy jobber Rockstar Spud (a pint-sized Brit who used to be something during his feud with EC3), Marshay Rocket, the most generic man alive, and Trevor Lee, Andrew Everett, both of whom get zero character in TNA unlike on the indies (at least that’s what the hosts of Not Your Demographic say.
Lastly, we get to the Impact Grand Championship. This is a weird one. First of all, there are rules:
1. Each match is comprised of three 3 minute rounds, with special event matches going 5 minutes
2. 3 judges grade a talent’s performance using 3 categories: Physicality, aggressiveness, controlling the action.
3. Scoring is done using a “10-point must system” something that will be familiar to boxing fans. It’s called that because a judge “must” award ten points to at least one fighter each round.
4. Wins can happen anytime via pin or submission
5. If there is no winner after three rounds, a winner is decided by judge’s decision.
Raise your hand if you think this would make storytelling very stunted and difficult. You all with raised hands are correct, and so far, Grand Championship matches (a tournament led to the inaugural champion) haven’t been anything fantastic.
Much worse, the Grand Championship played a major role in the dilution of the newly signed Aron Rex (the wrestler formerly known as Damien Sandow). Rex came in talking shit about WWE, as all former Meek Mahon employees do, but in the weeks since, he’s showed almost no personality and been forced to wrestle these horrible, boring matches.
Rex apparently turned heel on the the October 20 episode of TNA Impact, aligning with Eli Drake against Jesse Godders and EC3. This may be a way to salvage him, I’m not sold.
For all the positive talk of Corgan, if he believes this belt and matches are good things, he’s as misguided as Carter.
Also, the lack of TNA in the title of the belt refers to the possibility of TNA getting rebranded to Impact, something that Corgan has suggested he may do if he gained full ownership.
Any other complicated title news?
You know how WWE has Money in the Bank contracts that allow for an on demand title match? TNA has two of these gimmicks. Bound for Gold, a contract won in a royal rumble-adjacent event is the one currently in play.
Eli Drake, a charismatic wrestler whose gimmick is that of a talk show host with a button that plays his voice yelling DUMMY, YEAH!, and calls himself “the namer of dummies,” currently holds that Bound for Gold opportunity, which is good for a number 1 contender’s ranking against the TNA World Heavyweight Championship. He’s currently feuding with former world champion and top babyface EC3, Ethan Carter The 3rd.
Primarily, TNA is taped in a venue called The Impact Zone, a soundstage at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. And yes, just like The Twilight Zone, the Impact Zone suffers from weird denizens.
Not only are TNA tapings often not well attended, the crowds they do attract are often filled with theme park goers who have no idea what TNA is. On occasion they do get actual wrestling fans to attend, but it never seems like many of those show up.
As someone who attended multiple TNA tapings when it came to NYC’s Hammerstein Ballroom, I will tell you that the company has little care for fan authenticity, going as far to hand out signs and create fake “backstage pass” contests to get fans loud for recorded b-roll.
That hexagon-shaped monstrosity is still there, and if reported past gripes from wrestlers can be taken as fact, it creates a dangerous work environment. And ask any pro wrestler, they take enough risks as-is.
The six-sided ring went away for a while, but returned at New York tapings in 2014. Billy Corgan says the six-sided ring will stay if he wins the bidding war for TNA.
TNA’s gotten deserved heckles over the years, most recently for the lights going out mid match, but they’re OK if you compare them to the indies. Nobody right now can really be compared to the WWE. The biggest self-inflicted wound in TNA is that the type in their graphics is illegibly small, which is a major problem if you watch them in SD, which DirecTV forces you to. It makes the round points graphics for Impact Grand Championship fights especially hard to read.
Former WWE backstage interviewer and ringside announcer Josh Matthews is joined by Da Pope, who some might remember as Elijah Burke during his run as a wrestler in WWE during the mid to late Aughts.
Neither is good at his job, but Pope is so awful he makes Matthews seem OK by comparison. There isn’t really much worth saying aside from the fact that I hope Pope agrees to donate his brain to science for CTE testing after he passes. Oh, and if you ever think Cole or JBL is doing a bad job, listen to them for a while.
As much as I ragged on the current state of TNA in the above explanations, it can be entertaining. They’ve done good stuff in the past. Also, TNA has (in the past) been more reliable with advancing storylines each week.
I watch TNA every week, but with the current glut of wrestling programming, I can’t watch it live every time.
I’ve liked TNA, I’ve laughed with and at the company, but I currently don’t love the product. TNA employs a ton of great wrestlers, but it wastes them in even worse ways than WWE does.
I want TNA to do well and live for a few simple reasons.
1. Competition makes everyone work harder and come up with new ideas, and so the WWE needs a strong #2 opponent to avoid stagnation.
2. WWE can’t employ all of the wrestlers, and some simply don’t want to work for Meek Mahan.
3. TNA’s current taping schedule (filming months of shows in the span of a week) is better for some than WWE’s always on the road process. This allows for Drew Galloway, Cody Rhodes and others to work multiple promotions and build their brand in that way.
Originally, I said:
Its death, rebirth and rebranding under Corgan. Corgan needs to then either disappear as an on-camera talent, or at least seriously reboot himself to something less boring or generic.
This is something that the Not Your Demographic podcast hosts Stunning Stella Cheeks and The Enigma Erin Cline suggest as the most likely and best possible outcome. You should listen to their podcast, it’s great.
On the October 27 episode of Impact, he took a meeting with Allie in the stands of the Impact Zone before a taping, sitting creepily with his hoodie’s hood over his head before she came over. When he took it off, he was smiling and acting pleasant, but still seemed a little creepy. This is an improvement from his faux gangster look, and I’d like to see it furthered.
From there, fix or toss out the Grand Championship title, as it’s a dud.
Refresh the Knockouts roster, which has shrunk and leaned on bland, uninteresting talents such as Laurel Van Ness and Sienna.
Add stories to the X-Division.
Fire Pope and/or Matthews.
Yeah, and the biggest resultant effect of Corgan’s departure would be Broken Matt following Corgan out. According to everything I’ve read, Corgan and Lagana were arguably two of the only positive forces in TNA Creative.
At this point, I’d say TNA’s wrestlers should find employment with more respectable folks with an actual vision. Ostensibly, a new organization from the ground-up, started by Corgan.
Burn TNA to the ground, as Seth Rollins would say.
Well, that was an interesting week of professional wrestling.
Not only did the Broken Hardys jump ship (more on that later), but we saw a great heel turn in New Japan (which I won’t spoil, but is in one of the matches I mention), WWE put on a mostly-bad PPV (Fastlane) and then signed a major talent out of Stardom (we’ll be learning more about her in the future) and of course, TNA fell the fuck apart.
Impact Wrestling was so bad, that I’m actually thinking about finally dropping it from my weekly wrestling diet. How did it get that bad? Well, the big plot through the entire show is a Josh Matthews & Jeremy Borash feud. That’s all I believe I need to say for now, if it’s this bad this week, I’ll be cutting them out.
So, here’s the list of what I watched, the list of what I plan to watch, and of course, what you came here for, the awards for best of the week.
WWE Fastlane, 3/5
I’ll make this short and sweet: Jackie Boy and Adrian saved the god damn show for Vince & co. This match had the unfortunate position of going on after two Raw segments featuring Handsome Rusev & Hardbody Mahal, and brought the Milwaukee crowd back to life. Tons of fun, stiff work, and Gallagher’s head-butts show that he’s no joke.
WWE Fastlane is available on the WWE Network
Progress Wrestling Ch. 44: Old Man Yells At Sky
WWE fans may be familiar with the three lads of British Strong Style, but I’d like to use this match to welcome Progress Wrestling to my viewing habits. Top to bottom, Chapter 44 was a great show, but I’d like to talk about this match for its solid use of good & evil dynamics.
While I’ve heard that Jimmy Havoc is an amazing heel, the crowd treated him and his team of loosely aligned alternative lads as the faces. All three of them got positive reactions, as they were each returning from injury, but Mark Haskins got huge pops. That much fan love and the fact that he looks a little like CM Punk was enough to grab my attention.
And then, wow, British Strong Style. I know they were heels before now (story beats taking place last August and last December ), but WWE fans might be surprised to see Trent Seven and Tyler Bate in the roles of villains alongside Pete Dunne. The three of them are delightfully rotten, spending their time flipping off the crowd and having Bate brandish his UK Championship in a way that says, “we’re leaving soon, get used to it.”
The match itself is nice too, with tons of great including a dive out of the ring into a spike DDT by Havoc and a brutal-looking ring apron dragon suplex by Trent Seven onto Havoc. My one issue with the match is that it was a bit heavy on triple moves, where a whole team does the same thing to the other team. It always risks looking especially choreographed.
The match also played with its stipulation well, with a title shot going to either Havoc, Haskins or Webster if that man gained the pinfall or submission victory. At first, this leads them to jockey for the win, but eventually, they all work together, since they realize this isn’t something to risk.
Progress Wrestling is streaming via Pivotshare , with events going up around a week after they happen.
WWE Ride Along, 3/6
We have enough podcasts hosted by current and former wrestlers, but the banter shown by these who makes me want them both to have a show. From Sami’s coffee nerdery to what Sami’s jealous of Neville about, this had me in that painful laughter.
WWE Ride Along is available on the WWE Network
Ring of Honor: Manhattan Mayhem VI, ¾
Manhattan Mayhem VI wasn’t a pay-per-view, but it certainly got the attention of one in its aftermath. In the week leading up to it, we learned that The Broken Hardys (who had been working with Ring of Honor’s Young Bucks) were leaving Impact (fka TNA), and so the buzz of “will they return to WWE?” had already began, but nobody was asking much about the Hardys’ planned work with ROH. The Bucks and the Hardys had planned to face in Orlando at a WrestleMania week event, but that was it right?
Ring of Honor: Manhattan Mayhem VI is available via VOD on the Fite app and at ROHwrestling.com
We were only making (at littlefield)
Greetings folks, before we get into the week that was in pro wrestling, I just wanted to explain what goes into an average WTW. Since I can’t give an award to something from every show, and not all of them deserve one, I thought a list of everything I watched this week would be worth writing out.
Also, there’s the whole matter of the changing tides in the world. With all of the nonsense going on in Impact (House Hardy, Drew Galloway, Jade, Maria Kanelis, and Mike Bennett all leaving while a handful of people showed up), I don’t know how long that show will stay in my watch list. But before I move onto the next week’s topics, here’s my watch list for next week. Let me know if I missed anything I can catch:
WWE Monday Night Raw, 2/27
This wins for the sheer fact that Nia Jax got herself further up the ladder of the division by sheer domination. By using Sasha as a weapon, slamming her onto Bayley, and then winning with a damn leg drop, Ms. Not Like Most Girls got the elevation she deserves.
Also, points to Charlotte for being a terrible mentor to her protege Dana Brooke, by saying she’d rather tag with Nia.
Evolve 79, 2/25
As I explained here, the main event from Evolve 79 is a beauty. From the dueling chants to the pacing of strikes and submissions, I’m so glad I attended this match. Not much more I can say I haven’t said in that piece, and you should just watch it online.
Available on FloSlam.
WWE SmackDown Live, 2/28
Randy Orton befriended Bray Wyatt to inevitably turn on him because not only is that how Randall Keith Orton lives, it’s how wrestling works. Factions exist only to build talent up to one day go on their own or to start an amazing feud.
While I’m no fan of the weird raw meat and earthworms that WWE kept cutting the camera to, I loved everything about this. From Bray’s joyous cry of “RANDY!” upon seeing the man he sees as his friend to Orton revealing that Sister Abigail is buried under this compound building, it all works. It also reveals what Bray meant when he said Randy got the keys for surrendering his title shot.
Honorable Mentions: Miz TV featuring John Cena from the 2/28 SmackDown Live, most of the 2/27 Raw’s segments: Cesaro Knows Joe; Steph Almost Fires Mick Foley; Mick Knows Joe; Joe Is Here To Hurt People; Sami Attacks Joe; and yes, even Stop 1 on the Rollins Apology Tour
Evolve 79, 2/25
If you happened to notice me at any time during Evolve 79, it was during this segment where Satellite Radio Journalist Larry Dallas emerged. Dallas, who I love to hate, continued to stir the shit with Catch Point.
This segment is fantastic, though, because Fred Yehi’s finally had enough of Matt Riddle’s selfish bullshit. I wanted Yehi to win the title, but gaining a feud with Riddle (who’s as over as it gets in Evolve) works too.
Honorable Mention: Dissent in The Bullet Club from Honor Rising 2017 Night 1
OH! THAT-CHERRR IS GARRRRBAGE!
OH! THAT-CHERRR IS GARRRRBAGE!
As the Evolve Champion, Timothy Thatcher was the purest villain in professional wrestling. And because of what pro wrestling has become, the crowd gave him the exact reaction that a heel should want: abject and sincere hatred. And it freaks some people out.
Some have told me they’re surprised about how much the Evolve crowd hated Thatcher. Getting boos is one thing, but the unanimous lack of respect inspired by this muscular Californian demonstrates that he works on another level. Sure, he got elevated to the title soon after he joined Evolve and held the title for longer than some might like, but there’s more happening here.
We live in a time of mixed heat, where fans appreciate Brock Lesnar’s freak physique, abiding mystery and overall singularity. Kevin Owens gets applause for his time spent on the independent circuit, his cool moveset and mastery of the microphone. Even when Seth Rollins is a heel, fans are in awe over his flippy shit.
Even the independent scene is filled with Cool Bad Guys. On paper, the Young Bucks, Adam Cole, and Cody (all members of The We’re So Cool Bullet Club) are baddies. Yet none of them get treated as the villains by anyone, even in Japan, the land of fans supposedly rooting and booing by the numbers. They get the chants of “Too Sweet!” Fans want to do the Wolfpac Salute (also called the “Too Sweet!”) with them. Their superkicks cause riots. And unless they’re booked to be the good guys, it makes for really messy stories, or a lack thereof.
In a way, Thatcher works above all of those prominent wrestlers because he does nothing exciting. He only provides a convincingly brutal but incredibly dry in-ring style, to a point where I can’t say more than that.
Thatcher doesn’t do social media or meet & greet merch sales either. His character, if you could call it that, is in absentia.
Thatcher gives the Evolve audience so little (beyond his straightforward, no-frills, no-fun, almost San Antonio Spurs-ian style of wrestling), that I can’t help but over-analyze what he does offer.
His only accoutrement, until recently at least, was the phrase Ring Kampf on his gear. Kampf loosely translates to Fight, but since Ring Fight doesn’t really say much, the gear provides more obfuscation of his character.
Someone looking to make conclusions where they are not might remember that Kampf is one of the two words in the title of Hitler’s book Mein Kampf, so that might mean something. It doesn’t, or at least not like that. Ring Kampf is a faction of a bunch of German wrestlers plus Thatcher, and they all have a look reminiscent of … yeah.
So because Thatcher’s style is so minimalist, in an era where fans are used to heels with more characteristics, Evolve turned up the heat by pairing him with Stokely Hathaway. Hathaway, who needed a new client after he managed the now-reviled TJ Perkins until TJP made it to the WWE main roster.
Perkins, by the way, is a clear example of how a character will fail if they straddle the line between hero and villain sloppily. Sure, he does flippy moves, loves video games, and fights bullies, but he’s smug and egotistic. Further, some hate him for his history of tweeting Men’s Rights Activist ideologies.
Hathaway, though, adds delusions of grandeur to the screen when Thatcher appears. We know to boo the daylights out of Stokely, but we also respect his facial expressions and his ability on the microphone. During his time with Thatcher, he kept bringing up his client’s epic reign, which was 596 days-long when Evolve 79 began. It didn’t see day 597.
Thatcher went into the weekend of Evolve 78 & 79 (Feb. 24 & 25) with two scheduled title defenses: Fred Yehi at 78 at Joppa, MD, and Zack Sabre Jr. at 79 at Queens, NY. But unfortunately, the former was already doomed.
Evolve pre-announced that Evolve 79 would feature a match where the loser of Thatcher / Yehi would fight in a Four-Way Freestyle match featuring Chris Dickinson, Anthony Henry, and Austin Theory.
While he’s one half of the Evolve Tag Team Champions, Yehi made so much sense for this match, especially with his experience fighting some of those guys in other promotions. Further, Thatcher just sounded wrong for a match comprised of guys so farther down on the card than he, the Evolve champion.
Yehi’s loss didn’t suggest Sabre Jr. would win, but it was frustrating. Yehi, who is introduced as “angry, pissed off, and short” is amazing in the ring, mixing submissions, unexpected strikes and a manic energy together. Watching his match and being sure he had no chance was unengaging. Dude could also benefit more from a title win than Zack Sabre Jr., as the Brit is one of the most-well-known independent wrestlers today.
Not only is Zack Sabre Jr. the Pro Wrestling Guerilla champ, but his notoriety rose with the WWE Cruiserweight Classic last summer. He went in as an established name, and one of the few at that, and left with more fame than before.
But while Thatcher / Zack Sabre Jr. is a big match because of ZSJ’s star power, I went in expecting him to lose. Death, Taxes and Tim Thatcher’s reign, I thought, were sacrosanct. Wouldn’t you want Thatcher’s reign to end at an Evolve event during the big, upcoming WrestleMania weekend series of shows?
So, you know the quoted chant that I led this piece with? That chant, which might have been made by the fans on the spot, was sung in the key of “Oh, Zack Sabre Juuuuunior!” And of course, that’s sung in the style of The White Stripes song “Seven Nation Army,” an insanely popular song in sports arenas across the world and in ZSJ’s home country.
That chant spun out of the standard “That! cher’s! Garbage!” chant that follows Tim everywhere. Is the chant what spawned the nickname name Trashy Tim, or was it the other way around? Is calling Thatcher garbage a derision of his plainness, or a sign of respect for how pure his villainy is? I like to hope it’s the latter. That in a time where too many blur the lines, Thatcher is the one true evil.
That might not be it, though. Thatcher as the dry, dominant champ doesn’t always work, though. When I saw him in person for the first time, defending his title against Drew Gulak at Evolve 67, the crowd sort of died around him.
Maybe the gymnasium they were performing in was too muggy, as we were all drenched with our own salty sweat. Knife-edge chops against chests resulted in mid-air splashes.
Maybe the crowd was too wiped from one hell of a show, which included a great matches such as Tommy End vs Matt Riddle, Chris Hero vs Cody, and Cedric Alexander vs Zack Sabre Jr..
No matter why that match fell apart (maybe Gulak and Thatcher are too similar in their grappling style) maybe experiences like it created the hate from the fans. Creating the sense that Thatcher is bland and that bland isn’t worth it.
Fortunately, Sabre Jr. and Thatcher built and delivered a solid match for the crowd at Evolve 79 in La Boom and those watching at home. The match blended speedy and powerful strikes with signature submissions just right, and the crowd took to it. The tension of Thatcher retaining sparked the fire of that chant, which the crowd volleyed back and forth with its inspirer:
OH! THAT-CHERRR IS GARRRRBAGE!
OH! ZACK-SABERR JUUUU-NNNIOR!
OH! THAT-CHERRR IS GARRRRBAGE!
OH! ZACK-SABERR JUUUU-NNNIOR!
OH! THAT-CHERRR IS GARRRRBAGE!
OH! ZACK-SABERR JUUUU-NNNIOR!
The chants filled the room and took the moment to another level. Almost to that point of John Cena vs CM Punk at Money in the Bank 2011. Not that high up, but close.
And then when Thatcher eventually tapped out to Sabre Jr.’s laboriously-long-titled submission (Hurrah! Another Year, Surely This One Will Be Better Than The Last; The Inexorable March of Progress Will Lead Us All to Happiness), I didn’t buy it.
I kept asking the people around me how it would be reversed. But Thatcher tapped, his time was over.
The crowd was apoplectic when Thatcher tapped out. Not just because this was something they wanted and may not have expected, but because Stokely Hathaway was having a nervous breakdown in the aftermath. Stokely clutched the title tight, and tried to refuse Thatcher taking it from him, to give to Sabre Jr.
The moment was pure delirium for more than just the crowd and the end of Tim’s reign. I was over-the-moon happy for ZSJ on a personal level. Repeated encounters I’d had with the guy left a very positive impression upon me, but he grew even higher in my opinion by taking a humane political stance.
In the aftermath of Shitbird President Trump’s xenophobic executive order against immigrants, Sabre Jr. released a shirt for sale that reads “This Wrestler Armbars Facists”) and gave all of his proceeds ($2,400 as of March 1) to the ACLU. I bought one immediately, and felt an even stronger bond with the Brit.
After winning the title, Sabre Jr. took the mic and declared (somewhat randomly) that pro wrestling should be a place for everyone. It was of course a good thing to say and a nice high-note to end the night on, but it took our focus away from the title change from Thatcher to ZSJ. Also, the placement of that line, between the finish and the setup for future matches with other wrestlers, took away.
As trashy as Timothy Thatcher may be, he’s no bigot, and neither is anyone in Evolve, so it rang a little oddly, ricocheting off the walls at zany angles, not raising the room to a higher plateau. The fervor of the room stayed at this level, though. That was the boiling energy of the end of Thatcher as champ. That the people would no longer be cursed by his plainness.
What Evolve does next with Thatcher is unclear, but it certainly ended on a fantastic moment. The title change also sets up a big-time main event for WrestleMania weekend, with ZSJ going up against fellow fan-favorite ACH. It’s also an interesting friend vs. friend match, as the end of Evolve 77 showed the bond between them and Chris Hero, who addressed ACH as “Albert.”
ZSJ also plans to fight in New Japan this year, which makes him an even more valuable champ for Evolve. He can bring the title to the east and give Evolve that prestige by successfully defending it there.
And as much as I will gripe that it shoulda been Yehi, he didn’t leave La Boom empty handed, but with a feud against the white-hot Matthew Riddle. A feud that could lead to Yehi being back in contention for the Evolve title.
A Yehi win would have also been explosive, but that’s the great thing about a truly detestable villain: you don’t always need the right hero to topple them.