The Mean: Victory Road

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that everything in life could be broken down into two extremes: excess and deficiency. He believed that if a person could find the medium or mean between the two extremes in all that they did in life, they would travel down the path to happiness and virtue. With pro wrestling fans, the two extremes are clear: the deficient “mark” enjoys watching wrestling more than anybody but has very little knowledge of anything not on TV, while the excessive “smart” knows every backstage dealing, but as a result can become highly bitter and cynical, losing their ability to enjoy the show. These two extremes view each wrestler differently, often disagreeing with each other. Each pay-per-view I look at both perspectives and then attempt to find “The Mean” between the two.

I was in England when TNA launched in the summer of 2002, so I didn’t get a chance to take a look until I returned in early 2003. I got a chance to watch a few Wednesday pay per views before heading back to school and became more of a regular over the summer and then did my best to catch as many installments as I could from then to today.

Has TNA always been managed to its optimum? No, definitely not; the Jarretts & company have made tremendous bonehead moves with big stars, the production values can be bush league and the frequent comings and goings of wrestlers has been agonizing, but at the end of the day, I enjoyed having an alternative to WWE. The X division has redefined high spot wrestling and nobody has had a better tag team division over the last three years than TNA.

I enjoy the surprise appearances, the unpredictability and the high spot nature. To be honest, I’ve always seen TNA as a promotion that would appeal more to marks, the people who love to just be entertained and don’t care so much about dissecting the product or having their intelligence insulted once in awhile. Tonight’s first three-hour pay per view is a turning point for the promotion as well as a chance for me to test that theory. This may be the first time many casual fans are ordering TNA as well as a show that hardcore fans will be putting under the microscope. Let’s get to it”¦

(as always, I don’t do play-by-play, so if that’s what you’re looking for, PK has got your hookup, and I understand he’ll be joined by an all star crew)

Opening Notes
-I can’t help but think back to ECW when I see the small arena/crowd, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. From the opening of the show (including the awesome opening video package), I got a very early ECW ppv feel in the sense that this was a really big deal, guys actually working hard for something they believed in and a genuine feeling of excitement and anticipation over not knowing what was going to happen next.

Match #1: Hector Garza won a 20 man X Division Gauntlet match

The Mark: There could exist no better opening match to get the live crowd hyped up, and hyped up they were as I have not heard a hotter crowd in quite some time. The non-stop nature of this match and the fact that every time the action gets a bit stale a new element is introduced was tailor made to keep the marks happy. The match itself was a total spot fest and the Orlando crowd, which you have to figure was at least in significant part casual fans, always love that. The interspersing of characters the crowd really cared about, like Sonjay Dutt, L.A. Park, Shark Boy, Spanky and Chris Sabin with lesser-known entities like the Japanese competitors, Matt Sydal and Jason Cross was well done, and keeping veterans like Kazarian, Michael Shane and Hector Garza in for the duration to hold things together was smart.

The Smart: Again, it was a spot fest, and sometimes the internet crowd loves that, sometimes they hate it. I’ll wager that they’ll be fairly kind to this one based on its position on the card (and how effective it was in that regard), the fact that it obeyed the cardinal rule of a spot fest of at least keeping things going with no pause and not repeating too many spots (with the exception of eight million enzuiguris), and had some clever booking from Shane/Kazarian working as a team to clear out some of the deadwood partway through to Alex Shelley not waiting until the end of the match to pull the “I wasn’t really injured” card and telegraph the ending. There were some rough patches early on as far as transitional spots went (many of which can be attributed to guys like Puma), but once the real pros got in there, it ran very smooth. Smarts have to appreciate guys like Sabin, Garza, Shane & Kazarian and the tremendous efforts of guys like Dutt and even Sydal.

The Mean: TNA needed all twenty guys to go out there with full intensity and wrestle at a breakneck speed to get the crowd psyched for the rest of the show and everybody delivered. This wasn’t a technical classic, but it was one of the most exciting and entertaining openers you will find on any major pay per view of the last few years. Nothing was contrived, there were absolutely no dead patches (as there often are in Royal Rumbles) and while there was a lot going on, it was easy to follow as guys obviously put a lot of time into making sure they didn’t overlap their big spots. TNA can’t ask for much more from an opening match.

-Right off the bat, I’ve got to give props for the underrated Mike Tenay/Don West commentary team, who always have something to say and are light years ahead of the WWE commentators when it comes to covering a blown spot (granted they have to do it far more often”¦)
-The only thing about the announcing that did come off as somewhat bush league was the constant name-dropping of WWE guys (beginning here with several references to Shawn Michaels)
-Alex Shelley has one of the greatest entrance themes in history
-The camera work was a bit weak, missing some key eliminations
-I’m glad they acknowledged that Kazarian is always number one in these things
-I don’t care what anybody says, that Tower of Doom spot is great
-Chris Sabin is the most under appreciated guy in TNA
-That Hector Garza moonsault may have been the best one I’ve ever seen

Match #2: Ron Killings, Johnny B. Badd, Erik Watts & Pat Kenney d. Kid Kash, Dallas & The Naturals (Killings pinfall on Chase Stevens via sit out double underhook facebuster)

The Mark: After that opener, this gave the crowd a chance to catch their breath, but putting so many guys in such a short match may have screwed up the pacing, as a longer singles match would have been better. Essentially this was the vastly inferior of two spotfests and coming off the heels of the Gauntlet the crowd was really unimpressed. On top of this, Watts & Kenney haven’t been seen for months and the crowd didn’t care about them; Kash & Dallas also haven’t been around, but Kash will always be over as a heel; The Naturals were surprisingly over (maybe not so surprising given the Orlando’s crowd’s continued exposure to them), Badd was over and Killings was way over (no shocker there).

The Smart: Kash, The Naturals, Kenney and Badd were able to work a decent match, if somewhat hampered by the short segments, but Watts coming in killed it (I wouldn’t blame Dallas as he had much better portions once other guys came in). Killings was basically there to do cleanup duty. I don’t think smarts will care one way or another about this one.

The Mean: I understand that TNA wanted to get as many guys as possible on the card to showcase, but this match was a big mistake. Nobody had a chance to really showcase themselves and it killed the crowd. Putting Killings in a singles match with Kash or Dallas would have been a much better move, as the crowd would have stayed hyped. The other waste here was bringing back Pat Kenney in his “new” gimmick, which was exactly the same as his old one and not building his return at all. The aforementioned Killings singles match or a tag match with Kenney/Badd against either of the heel teams would have been better. This match showed that Watts is not ready to be a major in-ring player and is better utilized as a mouthpiece. Killings deserved a better spot on this show.

Match #3: Mascarita Sagrada d. Piratita Morgan (pinfall via rollup)

The Mark: A minis match is designed to be a mark’s match, specifically put out there to get a dead crowd back into it, and this is the first of these matches I’ve ever seen that killed the crowd further. Having seen plenty of Sagrada matches, I know he can deliver better than this, and it baffles me why they’d stick him in there with Morgan, the slowest, dullest mini I have ever seen.

The Smart: I have no idea what the smarts will say about this match; they’ll probably say this has no place on a major ppv and this match proved it, or just ignore it.

The Mean: TNA had the right idea putting a minis match here, as it should have been a crowd resuscitator before the meat of the card, but they screwed up big time in selecting the participants. Due to Morgan’s limitations, the match was short, giving the crowd no time to get juiced, and boring.

-Screw Alex Shelley’s theme, Mascarita used “Low Rider”!
-The name-dropping continues, with Rey Misterio Jr. of all people

Scott Hall Interview
It was a pretty pedestrian interview, but the thing everybody was no doubt wondering about: Hall looks in much better shape than reported”¦not perfect, but better than expected and I’m guessing he can still work a decent match.

Match #4: B.G. James & Konnan d. Tag Team champions Bobby Rude & Eric Young to win the titles (Konnan pinfall on Rude via K-Factor)

The Mark: After sitting through about an hour of filler, this was the match that woke the crowd back up again. 3 Live Kru is over enough with the crowd that all they really have to do is show up to get the marks going, but credit both guys, B.G. James especially, for putting on probably the most motivated and energetic match either has in years. On the other side, Team Canada is the perfect mark heel team with the time old Canadian xenophobe gimmick that every team from The Quebecers to La Resistance have used to perfection. This match used the good old fashioned tag team formula of having one face (James) get beat up the whole match and then have the other face (Konnan) save the day; throw in a wild finish and you have a perfectly solid match to bring back the crowd.

The Smart: Smarts tend to dig the old school WWF formula tag matches, so they’ll probably find this one acceptable. Neither of the 3LK boys are smart darlings, but James was played for his strengths (selling) and both of them looked motivated; Team Canada is green but not glaringly so. I’m guessing this match won’t be heralded as match of the year or the card, but won’t be crucified either; hopefully it will be recognized as a solid effort.

The Mean: A good match to fire up the crowd and not offend the wrestling fans right when TNA needed it after the previous two. Again, lots of credit to 3LK for looking as motivated as I’ve seen them in ages; this permutation of Team Canada is extremely underrated as Bobby Rude is excellent both physically and psychologically (working the crowd) and their double teams are extremely fluid. The crowd dug this match and I both liked and appreciated it at this point in the show.

-Those Team Canada varsity jackets are badass.
-Comic geek moment: Raven references the Age of Apocalypse in his Monster’s Ball promo

In The Pit With Piper: Jimmy Snuka
-I saw the Snuka appearance coming, but was still a bit surprised given that he has such close ties with WWE; then again, he appeared on Nitro once and it didn’t seem to be a problem. I liked the “originator of the X Division” angle, but still, didn’t they just do this on Smackdown during Piper’s last WWE run?
-This interview pretty much backed up everybody who said Piper has become a parody of himself as he went back on everything that made him cool once upon a time. His bizarre slowness to aid Snuka also pretty much killed the second part.
-As always, Kid Kash can save any interview segment; his confidence regardless of who is standing across from him is remarkable.
-Saw the Dutt coconut shot coming a mile away, but it was a neat and symbolic little passing of the torch, as Kash is in many ways a modern day Piper.

Match #5: Trinity d. Jacquelyn (pinfall via moonsault)

The Mark: The crowd didn’t care about Jackie at all, but they do love Trinity, so watching her squash somebody they had heard of but didn’t care about was just fine.

The Smart: Smarts hate Jackie and she got in way too much offense here again Trinity, who is a vastly superior worker.

The Mean: Not awful in the sense that TNA got to trot Trinity out there and put her over somebody known, but bad in the sense that Jackie got any offense in at all (as I’m reasonably sure she won’t be back) and Trinity is both capable and deserving of so much more. Also, the NYCs are not over and are terrible on the mic, so way too much time was wasted on them.

Match #6: Monty Brown d. Raven and Abyss in a Monster’s Ball match (pinfall on Raven via Pounce through a table)

The Mark: TNA was lucky the crowd cares about all three characters because the match was awful and the crowd turned on it big time. The pace was incredibly slow and there were long periods where nothing really happened, two things there is no excuse for in a match involving three guys. The thumbtack spot was the only thing the crowd got excited for and it was built well, but too little, too late. Abyss was the mark favorite here, and hopefully TNA recognizes the untapped potential they still have with this guy no matter how many stupid angles they put him in. Monty Brown is also winning over supporters left and right and improves literally every match he’s in and with every interview he gives; he did his best to keep the crowd in it after they were long gone.

The Smart: I imagine the first things smarts jump on (and the first thing I jumped on myself) is the imaginative but stupid “24 hours of isolation and food/water deprivation” gimmick which required three intense brawlers to act like they were exhausted and couldn’t handle sunlight for the first several minutes of the match. Beyond that, this was everything that smarts complain about when it comes to three way matches as the reasons to keep one guy out action were contrived and the pacing was off. The finish was awful as setting up the tables so early destroyed any sense of realism and made the whole thing seem way too choreographed.

The Mean: A match that could have gone either way but many had high hopes for ended up being a total stinker. I’d blame TNA more than the workers here as they saddled them with that awful set up with the isolation thing and the match never really recovered. I think a one on one match between any two guys here would have been a preferable alternative. This was a perfect example of TNA sometimes being too clever and too cute for their own good.

-Why didn’t they reveal “the voice” of Abyss?
-Provided he didn’t book this match, TNA should hand Raven the book if Mantel is doing so poorly, what do they have to lose?

Match #7: X Division champion Petey Williams d. A.J. Styles (pinfall via Canadian Destroyer)

The Mark: After that last match, the crowd needed to be revived (again) so TNA was lucky that A.J. Styles was on deck. Perhaps no other wrestler anywhere in the business today knows how to amp up the intensity and drag the crowd into a match no matter whom his opponent is like Styles. Of course the opponent here was game, as Petey Williams shows that he indeed deserves to be on this big a stage against this good an opponent. The match was fast paced and showcased everything good about the X Division. In sharp contrast to the opening match, this was not a spotfest, but rather a very good chain-wrestling match, and the crowd dug it. The only flaw for this one was that it didn’t go longer.

The Smart: Very little for the smart to complain about from this match as it was a great chain wrestling exhibition broken up by brawling sequences and a few well-timed high spots. Only potential points of fault were the length, a lack of psychology (but they can’t all have that) and a lot of outside interference by Scott D’Amore. Still, all in all a very professionally worked match.

The Mean: Exactly what you’d expect from two extremely capable guys and exactly what TNA needed at this point in the show. The X division is what put TNA on the map in the first place and Styles & Williams went out there and showed exactly why it deserves to remain that way. The short length of the match left everybody wanting more, which isn’t a bad thing.

Match #8: America’s Most Wanted d. Triple X in a Last Team Standing match

The Mark: Surprisingly little initial crowd reaction for two TNA institutions and I have to think that is at least in some part to the fact that TNA waited way too long to pull the trigger on XXX’s heel turn (the very last second) and, as a result, the crowd had no favorite. That said this match was not at all a good sampling of TNA’s two best teams and perhaps TNA’s best all-time feud. There was a slow and disjointed pace and the gimmick played against both teams’ strengths, as all four are good wrestlers and a Last Man Standing match generally calls for mostly brawling. The crowd turned against the match big time with no patience for the slow pace or the surprising lack of effort put in by all four men (Christopher Daniels tried the hardest and that wasn’t saying much). When it got down to just Chris Harris and Primetime, it got incredibly sloppy and the crowd let them know this. If TNA was looking to wow casual fans with their renowned tag team division, this match was a horrible failure and killed the credibility of two great teams in the eyes of many mark fans.

The Smart: A sloppy match like this on the biggest stage TNA has had so far is going to have a lot of smarts questioning the support they’ve given these two teams and wondering if they crumbled under the pressure. James Storm failed to sell his knee injury early on and that ended up being a crucial point later in the match, something that will not sit well with smart critics. Harris and Primetime’s breakdown at the end should rightfully be crucified by smarts and marks alike. Maybe some smarts will applaud Daniels trying to make something out of nothing, but he gave up too quick to deserve too much praise.

The Mean: For TNA and its longest and strongest supporters, watching this match had to be a nightmare as four of the company’s most reliable workhorses went out and imploded in the biggest match of their careers. The poor choice of gimmick is partly to blame, but these guys have worked together so many times and are so good typically that they should be able to have a good match in their sleep. This match was supposed to be one of few “gimmes” as far as good matches on an unpredictable card and it came up looking bush league, the one thing TNA can’t afford to look like. I’m glad a rematch in a better gimmick has already been signed for the next pay per view as I’m willing to give these guys another chance, but the question is whether or not everybody else will do the same.

-Honestly, the DOA stuff isn’t even worth commenting on other than to say that Dusty Rhodes going out there and wasting ten minutes that could be devoted to having thrown in another match or giving more time to A.J. & Petey basically proves all the points Russo was trying to make.

Match #9: World champion Jeff Jarrett d. Jeff Hardy in a Ladder match

The Mark: The crowd got very behind Jeff Hardy, which had to be a tremendous relief for TNA, and he repaid them in kind by playing the match for them and wrestling on a level he hasn’t since his glory days of four, five years ago. The crowd was hooked big time into the actual wrestling portion of this match as Hardy went back to what he does best, trying to kill himself at a breakneck speed, and was as innovative as anybody can be with a ladder given how many times the gimmick has been done. For his part, Jarrett, who looked out of his element at times, let Hardy drag him through the motions. One knock would be that Jarrett, usually a star at playing the crowd, really got no chance to here. The mark crowd loved the wild shenanigans at the end, but I think even some of them eventually keyed in on the fact that Hall & Nash certainly weren’t into it at all and the whole thing was a pretty big joke for anybody who remembers the rise and fall of WCW.

The Smart: Smarts will call this match pretty sloppy, but I would hope they appreciate the level Jeff Hardy was operating on as it was as close to the one he was on when he became a star as he has been since. Jarrett was pretty inexcusable as he was messing up a lot of spots and had to be bailed out by Hardy or covered by the announcers far too many times; from the most experienced guy in the company who has had the most high profile exposure and is the flagship, you expect more. Still, even the most hardened smart had to be somewhat pleasantly surprised, as they have come to expect so little from Hardy over the last few years and he finally delivered here. As far as Hall, Nash and Randy Savage’s involvement, the rehash of the NWO angle and the rushed cliffhanger conclusion to the pay per view, if every columnist on the internet hasn’t started drawing comparisons to WCW at its worst by now, they will by the end of the week.

The Mean: Pretty much the best a Ladder match can be in a day and age in which we as fans have seen every possible variation on the gimmick. Jeff Hardy was a pleasant surprise and Jeff Jarrett was a pretty bad disappointment. From a wrestling perspective, it was a good match with two high profile guys and was the right choice for the main event and a good note for the pay per view to end on. As far as the post match nonsense, well, if you’re going to copycat an angle, there are worse ones to copycat. The next phase of TNA as a company is going to depend in large part on how much effort Hall, Nash & Savage are willing to bring to the table, and that’s a pretty scary proposition. The thing I’m genuinely annoyed about is not what happened after the match (truth be told, I found it kind of fun), but the fact that a finish I saw coming a mile away ruined what was a far better match than it had any right to be (when Tenay said “they played everybody” all I could think was “yes”¦everybody except every fan everywhere who already predicted this”¦.”).

TNA is a long way away from being ready to compete with WWE, but I think they were able to show that they have a decent alternative product that features some entertaining wrestling despite some big time disappointments and glaring errors in the scheduling of the matches and time allotted. As could be expected, the X division carried the company as it has from the start with the opening match and Styles/Williams being the matches of the card. The main event was a nice surprise and almost made up for the train wrecks that AMW-XXX and the Monster’s Ball became. There was still a lot of minor league camera errors and they need to get their pacing down (don’t cut to the back immediately after every match), but there was enough good here that I’m willing to sit through the bad to get to it. TNA is still going through growing pains and I’ll be sticking around to see what it grows up to me.

In the mean time, thanks for reading.