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   Fri, July 9, 2004



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Impact looks to hook racing fans
By STEVEN JOHNSON - SLAM! Wrestling


It's not as though this hasn't been tried before. Remember NASCAR standout Jerry Nadeau sat behind the wheel of the WCW/nWo car and Bob Holly of the WWE was originally Thurman "Sparky" Plug, a race car driver-turned-grappler. Heck, driver Hermie Sadler has joined forces with WWE and NWA-TNA, and even got in the ring with Ron Killings.

So, when Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling "Impact!" introduced racing expert Jeff Hammond to its broadcast team this week, it was clear that TNA and Fox Sports Net were simply embarking on the latest attempt to crossbreed wrestling and racing.

On the surface of things, the marriage makes sense. Wrestling pundits believe the fledgling TNA promotion might be able to piggyback on the popularity of NASCAR as entry to an estimated audience 75 million racing fans. Fox, a prime purveyor of all things NASCAR, would love another sports entertainment hit.

Certainly Hammond, who rose from tire changer to become one of the legendary crew chiefs in the business, gave it his all on this week's "Impact!" taped July 8 at Universal Studies in Orlando for broadcast today on Fox Sports Net.

He got his own explanatory vignette, describing how the six-sided TNA ring helps to produce the same kind of energy and action for which NASCAR is known.

"Standing in here gives me the feeling of being at Bristol Motor Speedway," Hammond declared. Later, helping to call a three-way X Division match between A.J. Styles, Chris Sabin, and Petey Williams, Hammond said: "Let's drop the green; let's get this thing on!"

Hype aside, it's hard to see whether this bid at a crossover appeal will be any more successful than its predecessors. While there are undeniable similarities between NASCAR and wrestling, the differences are even starker.

Wrestling is based on ever-changing story lines, with a smaller, though no less fanatical, following. TNA, especially, is still a very small promotion, and the appearance of a broadcaster, racer, or other NASCAR figure seems unlikely to spike its weekly pay-per-view buy rates to any meaningful degree.

Now, of course, if Tony Stewart stopped fighting in the pits, and decided to take out his anger against Dale Earnhardt Jr. in that fast-paced, six-sided ring ... well, then you might have something.

Quote of the week: "I've got a whole bunch of one-way, first-class tickets to Larry land" - Larry Zbyszko, in breaking out one of his signature lines, promoting his match with Jeff Jarrett and his Elite Guard

Match one: The Naturals versus XXX (Christopher Daniels and Primetime)

XXX is a tag team - for the record, movie titles usually cannot be copyrighted. Sorry, Vin Diesel. Though the Naturals (Andy Douglas and Chase Stevens) are TNA tag champs, this was apparently a non-title match. Announcer Mike Tenay set up The Naturals as "an amazing success story" in the way they have risen to the top of the promotion.

Daniels started and armdragged both opponents, and Primetime, the former Elix Skipper, continued the onslaught with a kick to Stevens' belly and the back of his head. But he fell prey to distraction by Douglas, and Stevens gained a near fall with a clothesline. Zbyszko was seen mulling over the match - he was the judge in case of a time-limit draw.

During a commercial break, Douglas "neutralized" Primetime, Tenay said. A brief reference to Daniels' injured shoulder suggested that the hero team was in dire straits. But after a hot tag, Daniels delivered a clothesline, a back elbow, and a rock bottom on Stevens. Only Douglas' interference kept Stevens from a pinfall after a Daniels' moonsault.

For most of the last two minutes, all four men were in and out of the ring, with a Daniels superplex on Stevens being the high spot of the event. After a 10:00 draw, Zbyszko declared XXX as the winners, which meant The Naturals got to attack them, which meant America's Most Wanted could come and make the save. Unsurprisingly, America's Most Wanted and The Naturals will thus square off on next week's pay-per-view in a double ladder match.

Winners: XXX

Match two: Michael Shane and Frankie Kazarian (with Traci) versus Shark Boy and D-Ray 3000

If "Jaws" had the diminutive size of Shark Boy, you wonder if Robert Shaw might not have had an easier time of things. As it was, Shane and Kazarian had a fairly easy time of it. Shark Boy was double teamed at the bell, and Shane and Kazarian sprung a neatly timed double nip-up into a double elbow drop. Shark Boy took most of the punishment early on, escaping only after a neckbreaker on Kazarian.

Fans then witnessed an "afro-ram," which was slightly less frightening than the name suggests. Shark Boy grabbed D-Ray 3000 in a side headlock and rammed his head into Kazarian. Chalk one up for the "Name That Hold" manual. As Shark Boy leaped over the ropes, Shane pushed Traci in harm's way, putting Boy and Traci on the floor. Kazarian followed with a powerslam off the top rope on D-Ray in 3:19. That, Tenay and Don West shouted, was "the flux capacitor." So, chalk two up for the "Name That Hold" manual.

Winners: Michael Shane and Frankie Kazarian

Match three: Alex Shelley and Abyss (with Goldylocks) versus Mikey Batts and Jerrell Clark

Shelley, now nicknamed the "Baby Bear" - and we will see how that meshes with Shark Boy - was touted as a promising new wrestler. Still, Abyss did most of the damage against the two new workers. He press slammed the agile Batts and Clark and administered the spinning side slam (blackhole slam) on Batts for the win in 3:02.

Winners: Alex Shelley and Abyss Match four: The Elite Guard (Onyx, Hotstuff Hernandez, and Chad Collyer) versus 3 Live Kru (Konnan, B.G. James, and Ron Killings)

Killings started out with Hernandez in some fast-paced, traditional sequences - armbars, reversal, and hammerlocks. A tag to James and a double team yielded a two count against Hernandez. James continued to punch all three members of the Guard, but was overcome by a Hernandez clothesline. All six men wrestled in and out of the ring - Konnan apparently to barely graze Onyx as he "threw" him over the ropes. Killings locked Collyer in a submission hold, but, with the referee's back turned, Jeff Jarrett raced to ringside and laid out Killings with a guitar shot. Killings was easy prey for the pin in just 3:52.

Promo time: Larry Zbyszko and Dusty Rhodes recapped the outcome of last Wednesday's PPV, Larry more cogently so than Dusty. "You're looking at a couple of men who have served in the game for more than 30 glorious years," Zbyszko announced. That experience, he said, would pay off as he and Rhodes join 3 Live Kru next week in a 10-man, guitar-on-a-pole match against Jarrett, the Guard, and Ken Shamrock.

Match five: Petey Williams versus A.J. Styles versus Chris Sabin

One fair criticism of the TNA broadcasting team is that while Styles may indeed be "phenomenal," we need not be reminded of that at every turn. Overuse of the phrase, "the phenomenal A.J. Styles" means it is as likely to become as shopworn as, say, "the hungry Delta Burke."

As expected from an X Division match, this was a battle of high spots. Styles dropkicked Williams, only to be met by a huracanrana by Sabin. When Styles landed outside the ring, Hammond returned us to NASCAR, suggesting the steel railing was like a "retaining wall."

Styles performed a nice DDT on both men, the rolled Sabin for a two-count. Sabin, quickly recovering, hit a spinning DDT on Styles and an enziguiri on Williams at the same time. The camera angle didn't capture the full effect of the manuever.

Kazarian and Shane came to ringside to taunt Styles, who responded with a suicide dive through the ropes on to both men. In the meantime, Williams dropped Sabin with a "Canadian destroyer," which is a flip piledriver and another possible entry in the "Name That Hold" manual. Styles continued to tussle after the match with Shane and Kazarian, who are apparently bent on ousting him from the X Division.

Steven Johnson is a writer in Virginia. He can be reached at blakeslee_74@yahoo.com