June 5, 2004
Tag title change, four-way melee mark first Impact!
By STEVEN JOHNSON - SLAM! Wrestling
For fans accustomed to watching World Wrestling Entertainment programming during the WWE's three-year strangehold on televised cable wrestling, the maiden edition of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling "Impact!" on Fox Sports Net Friday was perhaps as noticeable for what it didn't contain as for what it did.
No scantily clad women. No long, pointless backstage vignettes. No signs or gestures referring directly or indirectly to unmentionable body parts.
Instead, the first national non-WWE cable endeavor since 2001 stuck for the most part to quality in-ring action with a few ruffles designed to distinguish itself, and draw attention to what it hopes will be profitable, weekly pay-per-views that have been running for two years.
Whether casual fans watching the action, taped Thursday at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., is dubious, given the show's airtime in most markets at 3 p.m. Friday. It is probably safe to say that wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes, on hand for the first card, was slightly overwrought when he exclaimed, "You talk about Impact! Impact heard around the world! Impact heard in over forty-eight hundred million countries around the world."
Still, with initial Friday clearances in 15 Fox Sports Net territories, and a few stray markets in the days to come, the reach of "Impact!" seemed more than reasonable for a first effort.
Other than the absence of "Suck It" signs - inappropriate, TNA officials know, for an afternoon program - the most striking innovation was a six-sided wrestling ring. The new geometry clearly provided considerably more room for action and a few opportunities for new moves and aerial spots.
As announcer Mike Tenay carefully explained during the first match, the ring allows "so many more options to use high risk offense," a hallmark of TNA wrestling. Tenay took pains to point out that the ropes also had more spring to them, meaning wrestlers can bounce off at a faster - and hence more exciting - pace. At the same time, whips into the turnbuckles seemed less impressive because the wide angle of the turnbuckle didn't look particularly painful to encounter.
Other deviations from standard televised wrestling fare included the Fox network signature "Fox box" at the top of the screen, a development at one time considered a viewer irritant but now regarded - sometimes with a sigh - as a common practice in TV sports.
The bar indicates the match in progresses, and keeps a running clock set at 10:00 for normal bouts and 30:00 for championship contests. A crawl line at the bottom of the screen provides repeated updates of the latest PPV results and other information.
And Tenay and his partner, Don West, assured fans that time limit draws, once a staple of televised wrestling, were a thing of the past since each episode would feature a special judge who would render a decision in event of a tie. "Impact!" avoided that predicament Friday, though Rhodes was on hand just in case.
Match one: Team International (Amazing Red, Sonjay Dutt & Hector Garza) vs Team Canada (Petey Williams, Bobby Rude & Eric Young with Scott D'Amore)
Putting six men in the ring in the first-ever "Impact!" match underscored just how much room the six-sided ring adds. All six grapplers had plenty of room to operate and perform their high spots.
The design also meant the rival teams were facing each other, instead of squaring off in neutral corners. That provided some strange-looking moments because there was very little ring apron to pace - wrestlers looked somewhat glued to their positions, despite the apparent absence of a tag team rope.
Still, the match contained everyone's high spots, and at one point turned into a literal "spot-fest" as, in succession, Rude hit a powerbomb, Dutt a huracanrana, Red a code red, and Williams a flip piledriver. Dutt delivered a nice snap huracanrana as a counter to Rude, and Garza followed with a twisting moonsault for the pin.
Winner: Team International
Interlude: TNA aired a recap of the King of the Mountain show from June 2, which saw Jeff Jarrett reclaim the NWA heavyweight championship. A brief highlight from the company's first two years in business showed Jarrett confronting, then getting suplexed by, country singer Toby Keith. In the background was Scott Hall, but neither announcer pointed him out.
Match two: Shark Boy vs Abyss
Should "Impact!" become a success - and wrestling badly needs more competition between companies - Shark Boy can lay title to the same honor as S.D. Jones at WrestleMania I - squashed by a monstrous opponent in a very brief time.
Tenay and West briefly mentioned that Goldilocks, who appeared only on an inset, has some kind of mystical power over Abyss. For newer viewers, they didn't take the time to present the back story. But it was not as though they had much time to work with as Abyss dispatched Shark Boy with a blackhole (spinning side) slam.
Match three: American's Most Wanted (Chris Harris and James Storm) vs. Kid Kash and Dallas for the TNA tag championship
Tenay and West set up the match by describing Harris and Storm as the dominant tag team force in the brief history of the promotion. Still, Kash and Dallas, who have held the belts since April, got in a lot of offense at the outset. Kash dropped Storm on his neck on the ropes, and Dallas then slammed him to the mat. Kash followed with a high flip off his 6-9 partner for a two count as the show went to a commercial break.
The champions seemed to be on the verge of winning when Dallas caught Storm in his modified sitdown powerbomb, known as the blackout. Kash then shot off the top rope with a frog splash as part of a quick-hitting combination. But Harris speared Kash as he was turning to pin Storm, then rolled up Dallas after a missed boot to the face for the victory.
Winner and new tag champions: America's Most Wanted (a fourth reign)
Interlude: Tenay brought out Rhodes to a big ovation and The American Dream started to shuck the jive. He seemed to have the aforementioned problem with numbers, before elevating TNA stalwart A.J. Styles to the same sentence as NWA champions Buddy Rogers, Jack Brisco, Terry Funk, and himself.
Within a minute, Jarrett came out to confront Rhodes and suggest that he henceforth stay outside of the ring. "What are you even doing here, Dusty?" he asked. "I was 15-16 years old. I adored you. I respected you. I was even grateful to you, Dusty, for the things you taught me about professional wrestling. That was 20 years ago," which chronologically is accurate.
Jarrett turned his back on Rhodes and gave him five seconds to exit the ring. Rhodes marched behind Jarrett and they engaged in a brief brawl until Ron Killings came to Rhodes' aid. Killings got a guitar shot to the noggin for his trouble. Jarrett departed, but B.G. James and Konnan, part of 3 Live Cru, raced to the ring and announced they'd hunt down Jarrett on next week's PPV.
Match four: X Division free-for-all: Elix Skipper (Prime Time) vs Chris Sabin vs Michael Shane vs an unannounced opponent
Director of Authority Vince Russo, in an apparent respite from his Internet seminary course, declared he knew who the mystery fourth man was. The purpose of Russo's information monopoly was less than clear since A.J. Styles, in what Tenay and West billed as his return to his X Division roots, soon joined the others in the four-man melee.
Midway through the match, Shane was the only man left standing and had a chance to go for a winning pinfall and the right to face X Division champ Frankie Kazarian next week on the PPV. He bypassed the opportunity, preferring to mount the top rope for a spectacular move. A re-energized Styles shook the rope to crotch Shane and put him out of commission momentarily.
Styles, the poster boy for TNA's self-proclaimed "reinvention" of wrestling, took the victory when he turned into a sunset flip off the ropes into a Styles clash on Shane with a little bit of difficulty melding the two moves.
"What is going through Kazarian's mind right now?" Tenay exclaimed. That, of course, will have to wait for Wednesday.
Steven Johnson is a writer and editor in Virginia. He can be reached at email@example.com.