Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down – TNA One Night Only Live Review: Deconstructing ‘No Holds Barred’ & 50 Shades Of TNA

Mike Killam

Mike Bennett Maria Kanellis

Full disclosure: I’m going into this show somewhat cold. Impact Wrestling as a weekly show fell off my radar early in 2016 as my schedule filled up, and it was the first promotion on the chopping block. But I do follow along with results semi-regularly, and I’ve seen all the Broken Hardy specials. I use one-off shows like these to gauge my interest in a product, and if it goes well I’ll consider trying to fit more Impact into my life. 

TNA One Night Only Live
January 6, 2017

Bobby Lashley vs. Davey Richards
Thumbs Up

After a moderately uncomfortable promo from Lashley to kick off the show, their match started out with a good back-and-forth exchange. It was obvious there’s heat between the two, even for someone who hasn’t been watching the show consistently, and it came out in the way they went after each other from the beginning. Commentary did a solid job referencing Davey’s recent injury, which gave a simple underlying story to the match, and legitimized Lashley being in total control of the second act.

Lashley is an interesting talent to me, in that he’s an unmistakably huge dude, expressing that with incredible power throughout his matches; he’s also someone who can roll into an armbar or transition submission on the drop of a dime, making him a truly terrifying opponent. I’d like to see commentary emphasize those points a little more.

The third act wandered more than I’d like, falling apart a bit in places, but they recovered heading into a nice finishing sequence. I have two small criticisms, but overall I enjoyed their work and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of them together going forward. 1) Davey superplexing Lashley, and hanging on into another suplex looked great, but it made me wonder if a 200-pound guy should be throwing around someone the company is trying to build as a legitimate powerhouse. Sure it showcases the core strength of Richards and makes him look good, but is it necessary? Especially in a match where they didn’t show him trying and failing to power over the big man earlier in the action. I think if I were Bobby I’d want to protect my size a bit and ask guys not to toss me around unless it was built into a specific spot in the match. 2) Lashley tapping out guys isn’t a new thing, but I don’t remember him ever working over Davey’s arm at any point during the match. At least a kneebar would have made sense given that they’d put over his ACL injury several times.

X-Division Championship
DJZ (c) vs. Braxton Sutter vs. Trevor Lee vs. Andrew Everett
Thumbs Up

There’s a lot to like here from the X-Division stars, from the smooth chain-wrestling and counters of DJZ and Braxton Sutter in the early going, to the tag team dynamic of Everett and Lee that seemed to backfire on them more than help either towards the title. The first five minutes or so were excellence, with everyone offering up something to the cruiserweight gods, even sprinkling in some tag team combos that would make the Young Bucks proud (or sarcastically bitter, you can really never tell with those two).

Everett’s elimination did feel like it came out of nowhere, and especially after they’d roped in the fans with all that tag team action, it was almost disappointing to see him go. I guess that’s to be expected in any kind of elimination style match, but with all the well-received combos they were pulling off, any one of them could have led to a surprise pinfall that might have come across better. On one hand I really liked Lee slowing down the pace of the match after that, making the other X-Division guys work against his rhythm while he got some heat on the champion. That said, they lost the crowd from the minute all the high-flying action came to a halt, as it almost felt like two completely different matches; before and after Everett got eliminated.

I give this a “thumbs up” because again, there’s a lot to like in the match, and even all that they did in the second and third act was very technically sound. I don’t know that changing the pace so drastically was the best move though, as they killed the crowd and had a hard time getting momentum back. I’d kind of like to see these four in a full-length tag team match, on a bigger show without commercial interruption (or hell, on the indies would be fine with me), as they have a lot of chemistry and I really enjoyed that part of the action.

Robbie E vs. Bram
Thumbs in the Middle

If you’ve ever had an unquenchable, burning desire to watch Robbie E get beaten up for five minutes, this might end up being your Match of the Year. I have no such desire, and as such this didn’t really do anything for me. It’s not getting a “thumbs down” by any means, because they’re both fine wrestlers who did nothing wrong, but if a “new Robbie E for a new year” results in the guy getting thrashed by big guys who come out soaking wet, looking like they’ve already gone half an hour with Brock Lesnar, before the match even starts, I’ll check back in 2018 and see what that year looks like. Nice dive to the floor at the beginning though…

No Holds Barred
“The Miracle” Mike Bennett vs. Moose
Thumbs Up

This was right on the line between “in the middle” and “thumbs up”. All the elements were in place for a great match, and the last few minutes are what ultimately flipped the switch for me, but I would have laid it out a bit differently. First of all, and I know some will disagree and that’s your prerogative, I’m not a fan of people kicking out of the piledriver. This isn’t one of those “the Young Bucks are killing the superkick” arguments – the piledriver is still a relatively protected finisher, one that you’re hardly ever going to see in a major promotion. If you’re going to use it as a late-game surprise nearfall, fine. But I better not see you throwing TWO back-to-back piledrivers, let alone one into a steel chair, and then have the guy kick out at two, a third of the way into the match.

And that all comes back to my frustrations over how this match was laid out. They had all the table spots, the ladder spots, and the big fake finishes you’d expect out of a modern hardcore bout, but they blew the metaphorical load very early with very little damage done; it’s hard to buy into a guy going through a ladder, taking two piledrivers, then shaking it off to work another 10 minutes at a relatively normal pace. Some of that just comes down to Moose’s inexperience in the ring. He’s a great athlete and I’m always impressed by what he’s able to do – I think he has a fine career ahead of him – but when I can see you clapping to sell a dropkick, right in front of the camera, suspension of disbelief is not easy to get back.

Restructure this match so they’re working a solid five minutes in the ring, build that tension already present in the rivalry, and then start bringing in the foreign elements. A single well-placed table spot at the end of a war between two great fighters can go a lot further than sprinkling a bunch of these spots throughout. Had they backed off the hardware and executed the piledriver fake-out at the end, that would have been a nearfall to bring fans to the edges of their seats. Then you have Maria get involved, the accidental spear to take her out of play, and the final lariat as a last gasp of  breath from the big man – there’s your showstealer. The match itself was fine, Moose was a bit sloppy and his inexperience showed at times (hey, sometimes you slip on the ropes when you’re 300 pounds, it happens), but if they had taken the exact same segments and moved them around to pace the match better, this would have easily been in the “four star” territory. That’s a positive thing though – the effort is there, you know they can pull it off, all they really need is some layout psychology and you’re golden.

Marshe Rockett vs. Mahabali Shera
Thumbs Down

I don’t mean any disrespect, but this came off like a paint-by-numbers developmental match. Every move and spot was straight out of the beginner’s handbook, and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with the basics, neither one of these guys are exactly new to the business. Rockett’s been doing his thing for a decade, and Shera was a part of the old TNA Ring Ka King project almost six years ago; to be calling spots that loudly in a headlock, to move that slowly, to work that indifferently… Not the kind of match you want to throw on live pay-per-view, especially with the level of talent around the world right now who would kill to be in a spot like that.

During the entrances the commentary kept putting over this idea that Rockett was trying to be an X-Division star, and that the rest of the division thought he was “over-sized”. The guy is six-foot-five so I don’t mind that at all, but then don’t match him up with somebody that has 40 pounds on him, only a couple inches shorter, and throw them out there to work a match with zero flair. Rockett is a Chicago boy, just like me, and I’ve seen him work for Windy City and Resistance; there’s more to him than what we saw in this match, but after that how can you even justify putting him in the X-Division?

TNA Knockouts Championship
Rosemary (c) vs. Sienna
Thumbs in the Middle

As far as characters go, there are few if any in the world of women’s wrestling better than TNA’s psychotic clown demon, Rosemary. I like Sienna too, as she brings a lot of power and presence to her matches, but not being a consistent viewer of the Impact Wrestling product as of late, I was a little confused about the intricacies of her character here. I gathered from that little scuffle on the ramp with Gail Kim that she’s not supposed to be a babyface, but I know for certain Rosemary is absolutely not the hero. The fans seemed unsure of who to cheer for as well. It doesn’t help that you have an opponent trying to be “classy” with her pinky in the air, biting the fingers of your villain, while the commentary team discusses a theoretical Rosemary vs. Gail Kim rematch like there’s no potential of a title change about to happen.

The match was okay. Both seem very solid in the ring, and know what they’re doing. Earl Hebner growing more and more frustrated with them, to the point of not caring when Sienna got blinded by poison mist, was some good underlying story-telling. I’m fairly confident my issues with this just come down to a general dislike for heel vs. heel matches. It’s hard to attach yourself to anything other than what’s going on in the ring, especially when it’s being made very clear through the pre-match promo and commentary that this story has nothing to do with one of the competitors. But nothing was remotely close to bad, I enjoyed parts of the match, and I’d definitely like to see more of both of them.

Jessie Godderz vs. James Storm
Thumbs Up

When you boil it down this was just a simple match with not a lot of bells and whistles, but good pro wrestling is all about adding basic plot devices into otherwise straight-forward bouts and getting the crowd to react. Jessie’s pre-match promo showed a ton of charisma, and the presence of DCC members Bram and Kingston at ringside gave him legitimate odds to overcome – so the crowd got behind him. It may be 2017 and those Impact Zone fans may be the smarkiest of smarks (okay, maybe second to the Full Sail fans) but never underestimate the effective power of fundamental pro wrestling story-telling.

I will say this: if you gauge success of the way fans do, or do not react to something, that post match attack by The Decay did not work. As in, zero reaction. Again, I don’t watch enough Impact Wrestling to speak authoritatively on the state of this team, but maybe this goes back to what I was talking about during the Knockouts match. They’re clearly not babyfaces. The DCC are clearly heels. I know riding that line and not committing to an archetype is “cool” in wrestling – although I guess the term “tweener” doesn’t really apply exactly in the case – there are so many shades of grey in TNA right now I have a hard time trying to figure out what I’m supposed to feel in half these matches, if anything at all.

TNA Tag Team Championship
The Broken Hardyz (c) vs. Eli Drake & Tyrus
Thumbs Down

I’m a big fan of most of the guys in this match, and Eli Drake’s promo earlier in the night was some of the best mic work I’ve seen in awhile, but there wasn’t much to get into. I feel like a broken record, so I’m not going to dwell on it again, but the shades of grey between heroes and villains in TNA make it really difficult to latch onto anything as a casual fan, tuning in to check out the product on a random show. People chant for the Hardyz because they’re the Hardyz, and because the gimmick is over. Drake is good too, and his promo work connects him with the fans, but he’s partnered with a guy who started the match by shaking Josh Matthews’ hand (public enemy number one for a lot of people), threw his swag at Pope, then sauntered around the ring for far too long, casually throwing some punches and looking generally apathetic. What am I supposed to do with that?

Honestly? I was bored watching through this match. “Boring” is not a word I ever want to use to describe either the Hardyz or Eli Drake. Somebody needs to pick a lane and stay in it.

TNA World Heavyweight Championship
Eddie Edwards (c) vs. Ethan Carter III
Thumbs Up

A solid back-and-forth brawl between two top guys that are very obviously hungry to be the world champion, and the face of Impact Wrestling. The interference from Lashley, followed by the inadvertent tampering of Davey Richards, was something of a necessity, as the company attempts to keep EC3 protected in defeat, and I thought the angle came off well. The match wasn’t out of this world, but it was enjoyable enough and I thought commentary did a great job focusing on the lower back injuries sustained to the challenger throughout the bout; even if I could have done with a little more actual selling from Ethan.

Given how easy it is to mess up convoluted angles with three guys, let alone a returning fourth, they handled this remarkably well. Eddie and Ethan put a lot into the 15 minutes or so they had to work with, you know there’s going to be more tension between The Wolves after what happened, the challenger has a very real claim to a rematch, and you want to see the heel be dealt some justice as the show goes off the air. TNA has historically done far, far worse putting elements like that together in the past. But everyone got their shots in, and everyone leaves with motivation going forward. A job well done.

In Conclusion…

I’m going to give this show a “thumbs in the middle” overall, with the caveat that there’s a lot they need to work on as we progress into 2017. What I liked had flaws, save for the main event, and what I disliked can be fixed. That’s a good thing!

Again, I’m not on top of the week-to-week Impact Wrestling product, so this could have just been a one-off show with random matches thrown together, but it didn’t feel that way to me given references to all the angles that had just played out the night before on television. I know a lot of people think the old formula is archaic, and TNA seems to have this eternal struggle of wanting to be “different” without really having a vision to execute, but there has got to be a better distinction between the heels and babyfaces on this show. You can’t throw together a hundred shades of grey and expect any crowd to react passionately towards it. If it works, it works, but you can plainly tell when the crowd went dead during this pay-per-view, and it was all the times where either something just plainly sucked, or the they had no motivation to really cheer for anyone involved.

The good news is that all the pieces are there. This wasn’t a show where the matches were all terrible, and none of the characters resonated, and the booking felt directionless. The idea is there, it just needs to be adjusted. I should be able to pick up a show at any point, and through the video packages, subtleties of the characters, and help from the announcers, know what’s going on and where to place my emotions. Within two minutes of a Katsuyori Shibita match, you know what he’s about. Within ten seconds of Kevin Owens walking out of that curtain you know exactly who he is. I don’t know who Eli Drake was tonight. I don’t know who the Broken Hardyz or the Decay are right now. The main event had everything it was supposed to, they need to trickle down and apply that same attention to character development throughout the rest of the roster.

Hats off to Mike Bennett and Moose for having clear and easily relatable characters. I jumped right into that match, no problem. Again, my frustrations with that match have nothing to do with their ability or their characters. I’m very aware that I’ve never wrestled a match, but I’ve been a fly on the wall for a lot of guys working through their spots, and I pride myself on being able to deconstruct something and put it back together again. If you put it together and thought “yeah, this will work”, great. Go back, figure out what did work, what you liked, what you didn’t like, take out what didn’t work at all, and I would love to see that entire match spot-for-spot laid out in a way that better builds anticipation and takes advantage of the emotion fans want to invest in your work. And for the love of god, don’t ever use a piledriver into a steel chair as a throw-away spot in the first act of a match again.

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