So last night was the debut of the “new” TNA, err Impact Wrestling and I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the changes, the things they did right and the things they did that were very wrong.

First let me preface this by saying I am a longtime TNA fan. Unlike most of the people who criticize the product, I’ve follwed TNA since day one. I ordered almost all of the early weekly pay-per-views and followed them from Fox Sports to Spike to Destination America to Pop. I’ve seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I actually believed for a time that Hulk Hogan was a good signing for the company (to be fair I lobbied for that about 5 years before it actually happened) and I’ve been in favor of some regime change.

Secondly, I’d like to say that TNA never gets a break. When Samoa Joe, AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels were putting on 5 star matches in TNA, the mainstream wrestling audience still crapped on everything. People will tell you now that they liked TNA back when it was “good” but the truth is even when TNA was consistently putting out the best wrestling product on television, they were disliked by whole groups of people. Wrestling needs a punching bag company and no matter how many times WWE puts Roman Reigns in the main event of Wrestlemania, has Randy Orton win the Royal Rumble or does an angle like Katie Vick, they will always get a pass. TNA became the new WCW from day one (insert your own joke there) because no matter what TNA did they became the punching bag of the wrestling community. TNA could literally put on the best match EVER in pro-wrestling and they’d still get slagged off for it.

That said, there has been some optimism and speculation how the new “reboot” would work. Dixie Carter has had a hand in TNA for the past decade and a half. In the beginning that wasn’t a bad thing, but eventually Carter did become a detriment to the company. Anthem bought her out and brought in a team on paper, that’s relatively good. Jeff Jarrett not only founded TNA, but has been exposed to more wrestling knowledge than few people on the planet. Dutch Mantell and Bruce Prichard have been around the block many times and in the case of Mantell, is one of the best minds in the business.

Along with them came some familiar faces in the production end and for the most part, I have to applaud Kevin Sullivan for his mostly excellent work on this reboot of Impact. The show looked new, sleek and clean, while still retaining a familiar feel. It was nice overall, though I thought some of the lower thirds weren’t as nice as they could have been.

Unfortunately, that was probably the highlight of the show. They did a nice video package talking up the history of the company and going on about how they “used” to be the place to be. The theme is to “Make Impact Wrestling Great (Again)” which is immediately a turn off. First, it’s an ignorant slogan even when Trump used it as it doesn’t really make sense but even if TNA was hoping to use the “trendy” factor, it sort of defeated the purpose when it’s connected to the world’s most unpopular politician. More than half the country absolutely LOATHE that saying, so it’s probably not a good idea to throw that albatross around your neck. The fact that they changed it to just “Make Impact Wrestling Great” is a nice attempt to distance yourself from Trump, but it’s sort of like putting a bandaid on a gunshot. They should have rebranded with an entirely new slogan. 

The man Impact Wrestling should be building their brand around.

TNA lost a lot of talent in this Anthem buyout, including their most popular act, the Hardy Boys. I don’t necessarily hate that, but I found the way they wrote the Hardys out, pretty weak. It would have been better to pay the Hardys to come in and drop the titles, or do some careful editing and have them “lose” to someone else. They did some hackneyed angle where the Hardys were deleted in mid-teleportation and now we’re just supposed to accept that Decay are the tag team champions. It was weak and uninspired. If you’re going to do something like that, might as well go all-in and do something over the top.

They debuted some new talent including Reno Scum, who are castaways from Jeff Jarrett’s GFW promotion. I don’t mind Jeff bringing in some GFW guys, as they’re all fairly decent. I actually went to a GFW house show last year and aside from the fact it was very low budget, the talent all worked hard and booking was solid if unremarkable. I know more GFW alum are to come, but Reno Scum had the unfortunate role of not being properly introduced, the announcers not paying attention to them/burying them and they were heels facing other heels. It did no one any favors.

They managed to write Maria and Mike Bennett out in a decent way. I have no complaints. Truthfully while I liked Mike Bennett well enough as a mid-card guy and enjoyed Maria purely as his manager, not having segments with Maria in them is a godsend. Maria took up WAY too much time on Impact the past year and we never got any real payoff to it because she’s not a wrestler. So I consider this a win in TNA’s book.

Speaking of the name TNA… They had Bruce Prichard come out and pat himself on the back for a bit, and say that TNA was dead. This was I assume supposed to be “shocking” but the name TNA is almost never used on the show anyway so it’s hardly a shocker. They rebranded as Impact Wrestling 5 or 6 years ago and have been emphasizing that as their name ever since. Myself and the rest of the world will continue to call them TNA anyway, so it’s a moot point. It also doesn’t help that the titles still say TNA as do the title graphics. Bruce’s promo was generally terrible and uninteresting, particularly after earlier in the night Josh Matthews and Jeremy Borash had a 10 minute promo back and forth talking about much of the same crap (more on that later).

There was also a long pointless promo from Dutch Mantell where he talked about how great he is, how TNA has sucked for the past 3-5 years and how he wants to listen to the people to make it better. I always find segments like this insulting, because it tells the audience who has enjoyed most of the stuff of the past few years that they were stupid. When Hulk Hogan came out and buried the “six sided sandbox” it went over like a fart in church and this, while not quite as bad, was along the same lines. It was particularly bad given we’d already had two other segments with non-wrestlers covering the same ground.

Alberto Del Rio/Alberto El Patron finally debuted. He’s been rumored to be coming to TNA for a few years. Unfortunately it’s hard to care about him, as he’s bounced around from Lucha Underground, WWE and AAA so much in the past year or two that any excitement from him showing up is lost. Any goodwill he built up in Lucha Underground was squashed with his last WWE run which was uninspired and terrible for a variety of reasons, including his performance. And Alberto has had a ton of drug/legal problems in the past few months and has generally come off looking like a not so reliabe performer, so this isn’t a coup.

There’s an old meme that TNA always brings in a WWE castoff and immediately puts the TNA title on them, but to my knowledge it’s never actually happened like that. So in order to be “different” they literally do the whole meme and put the belt on Alberto in his first night. It’s stupid. Worse, they have the best act in wrestling right now with Lashley as a dominant legit tough guy. So having him lose to Alberto is uninspired. It’s not a trade up. The company should be BUILT around Lashley. Likewise, they did a Dusty finish where there were two Referees and one DQed Alberto while another counted his pinfall. At best this ends with the title being held up and at worst Alberto cheated to win, thus technically making him a bad guy… Who beat a much better bad guy. It was poor booking.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, they added Jeremy Borash to the announce booth, which SHOULD be a good thing as Borash is a TNA loyal guy who’s a decent commentator and probably should have been given the job years ago. Sadly rather than just getting Borash to commentate he has to play out a real/worked “feud” with Josh Matthews. In all of this, no one seems to know who the lead announcer actually is, with Matthews going in and out of his “heel” persona at a moment’s notice.

I don’t hate Josh Matthews as much as most of the web, but I have found his commentary a bit weak at times. The Pope actually grew on me as a “colorful character” and I think he’d be fine with Borash. But Matthews now has no real role at ringside and having him be a heel, just makes me relive that weird era where WWE had Michael Cole be a heel, but still be the lead announcer. Which means he’s trying to call a match straight one minute and then “shooting” and burying talent the next. It was horrible then and it’s horrible now. They need to either fire or remove Matthews, or remove Borash and drop the heel Matthews bit. The commentary during the “reboot” was probably the worst commentary in the history of wrestling. And I mean that. It was really distracting and took away from the show in the most negative way possible.

You know who was a great announce team? Lance Russell and Dave Brown. They called the action straight, never put themselves over, always put the talent and promotion over and knew when to lay out and let the action speak for itself. How is it that Dutch Mantell and Jeff Jarrett spent decades around those guys as announcers, but decided what happened last night was more interesting? No one likes bickering announcers.

So what does this all mean? Well… It was essentially a pilot episode. The new Impact Wrestling spent far too long on non-wrestlers bickering about how TNA used to be good, who they know or have been in WWE and just generally wasting time and not putting the focus on the talent. Impact still has a lot of great wrestlers on their roster. They have had a pretty solid show for the past year or more. In order for Jarrett and company to “Make Impact Great” they need only to continue to do the things that have been GOOD and add in some new good things and make other things better, while eliminating the weaker aspects. Thus far it seems that Anthem’s reboot has been a failure at the outset because they’ve scrapped the things that were good and bad, made some things worse and hamfisted new things that could have been good in such a way that they aren’t good.

As it stands the only good things to come out of this reboot has been the return of Kevin Sullivan, a nice set of new graphics and a reformatted website. Everything else was either same as it ever was, worse or just annoying for the sake of being annoying. Many opportunities were missed. I am hopeful that the ship will be steered correctly in the coming weeks. But if this reboot was a harbinger of things to come, then Impact Wrestling is going to have to rebooted again soon.

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