Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012 Year in Review/2013 Year in Preview: Impact Wrestling

Dominating the discussion in 2012
Photo Credit: Impact
Promotion: Impact Wrestling (or is it Total Nonstop Action? They can't seem to decide)

What Happened in 2012: Impact opened the year on a creative high note, setting the table with Robert Roode as Champion with several angry contenders chasing him. Whether they had reason to or not, they all placed their targets on the back of him, none greater than former tag partner James Storm. It was Storm who took a beer bottle to the head in December of last year en route to losing the title to his former best friend, and he had him cornered at Lockdown with a chance at regaining his title in the crosshairs. However, the momentum from his Last Call superkick sent Roode bursting through the cage and out of the ring for the win.

Storm would have to wait until Bound for Glory to get his full revenge on Roode, but it would be without the Championship at stake. At Destination X, Roode ran into one Austin Aries, who had spent the first part of the year taking the X-Division Championship, making it worth a damn again despite the newb-level competition he faced, all the while fending off challenges from Bully Ray in the process. Hulk Hogan came to him with an opportunity to lay down his X Title and chase the World strap, or keep the status quo. He took the shot at and upgrade and succeeded, holding the title until Bound for Glory.

His challenger there was Jeff Hardy, who surprisingly took the Bound for Glory series over testy competition from Bully, Storm, and Samoa Joe. Hardy spent the year bouncing from feud to feud. He was part of the title picture early on, garnering a DQ victory over Roode, but after that, he kinda just floated in and out of feuds with the likes of Kurt Angle and Ken Anderson. When he won the series, it sparked a more jealous, vindictive side out of the Champion, which raged into full-fledged heeldom the week before the event.

The best heel in the company, however, wasn't Aries, but Bully Ray. As the remnants of Immortal dissolved in the beginning of the year, Bully set his sights on what he thought was the weak link in the group, Abyss. At Genesis, Abyss defeated Bully, but allegedly orchestrated a beatdown that left the Monster missing. This elicited Abyss' "brother," Joseph Park, Esq. to come around and ask some questions to his whereabouts. This led to a pretty major skirmish during the year, which led to several matches between the arrogant New Yorker and the "untrained lawyer" that saw some of Abyss' traits leak out into his brother's persona. Their feud, however, was put on permanent hold thanks to them being unlikely allies against a new threat.

Aces and Eights, a biker gang populated by masked assailants, began to lay siege on Impact, starting with Sting. Their invasion was so overarching that it gave Bully a reason to abandon his tough guy rudo ways and join the fight. At one point, Park was held hostage by the group for a week straight, and they allowed Hogan to walk right into their trap to get captured. The result of this was for Hogan to put two of his best against two of their best at BfG with the rider that Park would be released.

The other big feud of the year that bled into BfG was also predicated on one of the worst angles in wrestling history. Frankie Kazarian and Christopher Daniels tried to blackmail AJ Styles with bogus evidence of both an affair with Dixie Carter and with a crackhead named Claire Lynch. This bollocks basically led to a three-way Tag Team Championship match where the feud between Styles and the World Tag Team Championships of the World took backseat to giving titles to a dude living off his uncle's name and the big Mexican guy they have no idea what to do with. Go fig.

As for the rest of Bound for Glory, Storm and Roode fought to a bloody mess with King Mo Lawal as the guest referee. Storm settled the score with a pin though. Aces and Eights were able to use their ace up the sleeve in Brother Devon to get the win over Bully Ray and Sting. Finally, Aries lost the title to Hardy, and then lost in a ladder match the next month at Final Resolution. Since then, he's taken a number of guys who want to feud with the immobile, almost-senior citizen general manager of the show in Hogan.

In the last month of the year, Hogan has accumulated three people to have heat with. Matt Morgan, for whatever reason, has a beef with Hogan. Aries accuses Hogan of trying to hold him down. Finally, for WHATEVER reason, Bully and Hogan's daughter, Brooke Hogan, are in love, and Hogan's not down with that. Since when did Impact Wrestling become Everybody Loves Hogan: The Less-Scripted Version Than When It Was, LOL, a "Reality" Show?

The greatest MVP that ever lived
Photo Credit: Impact
As for Aces and Eights, one of their ranks, Doc (the former Luke Gallows) was unmasked, and as his penance, he had to beat up a bunch of people with a ball peen hammer, including Sting, whom he beat so bad, the Impact announcers were using the Owen voice. They've also started taking money for hits, which adds a little depth to the story.

The 2012 MVP: The most valuable wrestler is also the greatest man who ever lived, Austin Aries. He would be a candidate for this award alone if just for how he revitalized the X-Division and brought a glimmer of importance that it had before Daniels, Joe, and Styles graduated from it. He took his ultimatum choice at Destination X and ran with it, becoming the World Champion in an all-too-short reign. Now that he's been thrown into the main event mix, he's proving more and more that even with Hulk Hogan stinking up the joint, he still makes Impact appointment viewing on Thursdays.

What's Going to Happen in 2013: Well, they started running promos for 1/3/12, which they've already tipped their hand as being Sting. The rumor is he's bringing Buff Bagwell with him because he knows a thing or two about rogue stables. My thoughts on that:

Also, apparently, feuding with Hulk Hogan seems to be so hot right now, almost as hot as Hansel. My guess is that people either think it's some weird combo of 1987 when Hogan had peak name value and 198NEVER when he was willing to put guys over like whoa, or we're supposed to believe that on a wrestling show where wrestling angles are supposed to end in wrestling matches that we can get satisfying payoffs with a guy who can't even lay on his back without fear that he'd never get up without assistance from a forklift.

The World Championship scene also looks like it's going to have a similar muddling problem for Hardy as it did for Roode in the beginning of '12, as there are no apparent challengers. We know one wrestler who won't be challenging Hardy - AJ Styles. He got his title match privileges revoked after being the one to take the fall at Final Resolution. Roode right now has the number one contender spot, but I doubt he gets the strap going forward. Could a "thank you" run be in the works for Christopher Daniels? Could they try and build someone new? For once, I don't have a feel on the answer, and it's probably one of the most positive things Impact has going for them at the moment.

Five Wrestlers to Watch in 2013: Sam Shaw - Of all the Gut Check guys who aren't Christian York, he's definitely the one with the most potential that I've seen. I've see some of his work on the indies, and it's solid. Whether he'll be able to translate it to weekly, televised wrestling is another thing, but I do have high hopes for him.

Joseph Park - He's "training" to be a wrestler now, and some of his inner Abyss has leaked out. While I fear the end game is the Monster coming back, I really hope that the personalities merge, and we get a fully functional wrestling Joseph Park. Either way, he should figure in huge with the Aces and Eights storyline.

Kazarian - There's mileage in his tag team with Christopher Daniels, but I feel like Kaz, who's steadily improved since reteaming a returned Daniels, is getting ready for a solo run, or at the very least a trial singles push. I think he'd do well with it. He's more a straight man to Daniels' ostentatious style, but he's competent in the ring. Look for him to break out in 2013.

ODB - She's clearly got the most personality among the Knockouts right now, and her shtick has grown on me in this, her third run with the company so far. There's only so much that Velvet Sky trying to act like a serious wrestler while talking about pigeons can go. ODB would be a perfect long-term foil for Tara, especially given that they both have able male counterparts to act as comic relief.

Kenny King - Someone's gotta wrest that X-Division Championship from Rob van Dam. Why not King? They've got some good longterm storytelling brewing right now between the two, and King would be an ideal candidate for getting what shine is left from working with a clearly phoning-it-in RVD. He's a complete package, and a guy who really should not have his exit from ROH be for naught.

Three Things I Want to See in 2013: 1 - Clean house at the top - It's about time that Bob and Janice Carter take inventory of who is running the ship on their investment and make some changes. Hulk Hogan, in kayfabe, boasted how TNA was a juggernaut last week, but there are no metrics that suggest the needle is far to the positive in any metric. Ratings are down, buyrates are down, and most importantly, creatively, their zenith was more than likely in the two month period at the end of 2011. It starts with their daughter, Dixie, who really has no spine and is just toying with the promotion like it's a Creepy Crawler oven or some shit like that.

People got in a tizzy when Hogan stated a desire to be TNA Champion. I get it, people hate when Hogan suggests he should be a focal point of any company past 1997 WCW, but would it be any different than what we have now? He's embroiled in no fewer than three feuds right now - with Bully Ray, Austin Aries, and Matt Morgan. That's three feuds too many. The show is all about him, and when it's not about him, it's about his daughter yelling at the Knockouts. Enough is enough. Impact isn't going to be making a creative impact with the current structure at the top. Yes, it's better than when Vince Russo was in charge, but that's not saying a whole lot. The whole kit and kaboodle has to go, and it needs to start with their daughter, who has no business running a Sims game, let alone a major wrestling company.

2 - Decide on a name and stick with it - Is it "Impact Wrestling" or is it "TNA?" I hear both names bandied about on the shows. I mean, I think until this column, I've been more stringent about calling them "Impact" than they have been They're not changing an image by continuing to go with the puerile former name.

3 - Stop treating the Knockouts like WWE treats their Divas - Brooke Hogan eliminated ODB from the Knockouts Title deliberations because she needed to stay home and take care of her man. For realsies, THIS HAPPENED IN 2012. For realsies, THIS SHOULD NOT BE HAPPENING IN 2012. I mean, this is a company that used to have Awesome Kong and Gail Kim doing real wrestling feud type things, right? Didn't they also once have a Knockouts division that ran laps around the rest of the roster? What kind of misogynist ignorance are these assholes living in? It's almost scientifically proven that even the blandest, epitome-of-mediocre wrestlers like Velvet Sky or Brooke Tessmacher seem a little better when they have purpose and a story behind them. Hell, Sky and Tessmacher also both at least try really hard in the ring. So why banish them to the same fate as the WWE Divas? Because misogyny is the industry standard? Bullshit. They can do better. They have done better. They should do better.