What Hard To Kill Said About TNA

Anything can happen in pro wrestling. It’s cliche, but it’s true.

When the return of Total Nonstop Action, a rebranding of Impact Wrestling that was changed from the original initials when Anthem Entertainment rescued the organization from the brink of collapse in 2016, was announced a few months ago, it was surprising, especially with the possible negativity of the double entendre of the letters, but not too surprising. By nature, the over-the-top world of professional wrestling can be a combination of fascinating, ridiculous, and thrilling.

This past weekend’s Hard to Kill pay-per-view from The Palms, a venue once well-known for hosting UFC cards during the surge in popularity of the mid-2000s, was undoubtedly a fresh start for an organization that often had the quality talent, but not quite the sizzle to make an “impact” upon the industry within the past few years. Is it possible that dynamic could shift in 2024?

The show opened with the Knockouts Ultimate X match, and while there were a few new faces in this segment, everyone seemed to do well, even if it was a rather artificial presentation with the car crash gimmick of the bout. Let’s be honest here, this type of bout is designed for an all action contest to kick off the show with a minimal level of psychology so you weren’t going to get the chance for there to be much character development, if any at all, for the debuting talents. Still, this contest delivered what it was booked to accomplish, it was a fireworks type of presentation as a way to kickoff the card, and that makes sense, given the selling point is nonstop action with the rebrand. That being said, just a day after the scary Austin Theory/Carmelo Hayes incident that saw the TV match stopped because of a legitimate head injury, it was a stark reminder of how dangerous the sport can be. Thankfully, this Ultimate X segment did very well, as it gave the viewing audience the dives and spots expected for the gimmick, but everything looked to be done as safely as possible. Sure, those insane bumps from the early Ultimate X matches that made the highlight reel were memorable, but in modern times, particularly with the rightful emphasize on in-ring safety, those type of bumps should be kept to a minimum. They were in this contest as the finish saw a rough landing for Dani Luna, and a tumble for Tasha Steelz before Gisele Shaw grabbed the X logo to become the number one contender for the KO championship. As of this writing, there aren’t any injuries reported from the match.

Aside from the gimmick of Ultimate X, I’d say that the Knockouts Division, one of the staples of TNA in its heyday with the Awesome Kong/Gail Kim rivalry, has a solid future. What the KO division lacks in star power, it will probably have a steady level of consistency that will allow the stars of the division to shine as much as possible. Gisele Shaw can be a marketable star for the organization, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Xia Brookside can do in the company as well.

AJ Francis, the former Top Dolla, was involved with a segment where he confronted Joe Hendry, but I’m not sure why the office wanted to bring Francis into the organization. He only had a few years experience under the WWE umbrella and has no specific star power to bring to the table. He hasn’t shown an aptitude for the industry and again, a lack of name value so I don’t think an even semi-national promotion is the place for him. If he can further hone his craft on the independent circuit then maybe he can rejuvenate his career, but I don’t see the upside of his involvement with TNA. Outside of the infamous botch on Smackdown, would he still be in the conversation of the industry?

PCO vs. Dango become a six man tag rather quickly, with Rhino and Jake Something joining the French Canadian grappler to clash with Dango’s unique group. Dango took a wild bump to the floor before the six man tag portion started. As far as the match itself, it was a basic six-minute tag match that was probably booked to get a few more wrestlers on the card than anything else. That said, it’s quite remarkable that PCO still does what he does at 56, and probably even more remarkable than that is that Vladimir Kozlov is on pay-per-view in 2024. A tidbit from the early years of NWA-TNA that some fans might not know, after the Nashville-based company launched and was eventually rescued by Panda Energy a few months into its existence, Jerry Jarrett, the legendary Memphis promoter, looked for a way to sell his stake in the organization. Jerry had a lucrative construction company and invested $300,000 as a part of the start up money to launch the wrestling project. Jarrett detailed much of his frustration with the lack of progress the group made in his autobiography, “The Best of Times” and explained that he wanted to cut bait with the venture. Through his business connections in the construction industry, he met a few Russian investors that supposedly wanted to purchase NWA-TNA with Oleg Prudius as its potential top star. Prudius was going to be trained for pro wrestling by TNA and thus the sale negotiations could start. When Jeff Jarrett wasn’t open to the idea of selling to the Russians as an exit strategy, plus the red tape of Panda Energy’s involvement, Jerry Jarrett took Prudius to the WWE offices in Stamford. The meeting was actually covered by the WWE website, and the publicity of it led to Panda Energy buying Jerry’s stake in NWA-TNA.

Anyway, outside of a few of the trademark crazy PCO spots, there wasn’t much to discuss with this match. PCO got the pin after he landed a moonsault on Bravo. However, Jake Something seems to have the potential to have a much bigger role within the organization as the year continues. He’s an athletic big man that can move so he has an upside that TNA might be able to use as an asset. Also, PCO had a fun entrance in this segment, and in a crowded wrestling landscape, he’s definitely a unique commodity for the company to promote for their events.

According to the broadcast, the Knockouts tag team title match was added to the show, and when you take into account that this was only given five minutes, it seemed like this was another segment that was shoehorned onto the pay-per-view to get a few more performers on the show. That said, for what it was, this was an entertaining segment, as all four athletes can go in the ring. Decay won the belts, but it’d be good to see a rematch with these two teams given the proper amount of time, as it has the potential to be a great tag title contest that just didn’t get the chance to get into second gear on this card.

The X-Division title contest was the work rate match on the card and it delivered in that aspect. There was a lot of fast paced action and some wild bumps too. Vikingo’s dives, while one-dimensional, are still incredible. The finishing sequence was insane, as Chris Sabin hit Vikingo with a springboard Canadian destoryer on the ramp before he launched Kushida with a German suplex off the top rope and hit the Cradle Shock to retain the X-Division belt.

Alexander Hammerstone vs. Josh Alexander was a quality bout that could’ve been the main event of the show. With Impact Wrestling under the radar because of how much has happened in the business the past few years with the dynamics of WWE and TNA, Josh Alexander was almost quietly one of the most consistent workers in the entire industry. I’ve always viewed Hammerstone as a big fish in a very small pond as far as MLW goes. He has the look of a guy you’d like would be tailor made for WWE, but did it only appear that way because of the surroundings of MLW? If Hammerstone can continue to compete at this level for TNA, he has a bright future, not only in the company, but elsewhere as well. Given the flexibility that more organizations have with working agreements, Hammerstone might be a major force in the business this year, at least at the level of TNA. Everything in this bout was solid and crisp, which is a credit to both performers. Josh Alexander got the win with the double under hook pile driver.

The perspective of the four-way tag team title match really depends on what you’re looking for when you tune into a show. There were a lot of wild spots, but not much psychology or pace to the match. It seemed like the 15-minute segment could’ve been chopped down to two minutes of highlights and you probably wouldn’t have missed anything in the grand scheme of things. Furthermore, this is where the pay-per-view started to get the impression of being overbooked with too many names on the card. The focus became rather splintered, and again seemed more like an excuse to sandwich as many people onto the screen as possible, but I’m not sure that did anything to boost their stock. Ace Austin and Chris Bey retained the titles.

The Knockouts title match was really solid and probably the best Jordynne Grace match I’ve seen. If Trinity Fatu made a smart business decision by following Sasha Banks out the door of WWE in May 2022 is debatable, but if nothing else, this run with TNA allowed her to prove that she’s as skilled in the ring as any of the other top quality workers in the WWE women’s division. This KO title match was a back and fourth contest that built well toward the conclusion. The only downside was, it’s well-known, specifically among the niche TNA audience. that Trinity is set to return to WWE so none of the near falls had the believability that it could actually be the finish of the match if Trinty would’ve retained the title with the three count. Grace won the championship, and Trinity will probably be at The Royal Rumble so it was a successful stint for her outside of the WWE.

I’ve always considered Alex Shelley one of the most underrated talents of his generation, and it was a shame when he actually had to pursue higher education outside of the sport because he didn’t have full-time work in the industry. That’s not a knock on outside ventures or education that will lead to a different career, but rather to point out that if someone as talented as Alex Shelley didn’t have work in the business then something was wrong with the dynamics of the sport. So, it’s great to see him get this run as world champion and the credit for the talented performer that he is. That said, it made sense for Moose to win the championship as a way to have a fresh start for the organization. Still, I’ve never quite seen Moose as a performer that is as well-rounded as you’d expect a main event talent to be. Granted, for some of his Impact tenure, you could say it was inexperience, but at this point, he’s been in the business for more than a decade. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great athlete and an asset to the company, but his matches often lack a certain polish to the performance. This bout was fine, but went almost 25 minutes and could’ve been about 10 minutes shorter. The finishing sequence was well done with the flash pin for Moose to claim the title.

Nic Nemeth made his TNA debut, and while this was promoted as a big deal from the organization, as it should’ve been as they are in the business of selling the audience on the product, I don’t see this as nearly anything earth-shattering. As I wrote just a few weeks ago in an article that discussed Nemeth’s New Japan appearance at the Tokyo Dome, he’s one of the most talented and underutilized guys of his generation. That’s no doubt that he deserved more of an opportunity to be a main event star before concussions derailed his progress and he was labeled as injury prone. However, he spent years as a secondary competitor in WWE and was rarely on television. At certain points, he took a hiatus from the organization since the office simply didn’t have anything for him to do on the show. The audience knows how talented he is, but he was content to make great money in the WWE for the prime of his career when it offered him very little exposure or opportunity. You can’t blame him for taking the cash, especially when the office was willing to keep him under contract because they know how good he is, but being under the radar for so long puts his star power at a very low level.

Is 43-year-old Nemeth really the guy to kick off a fresh start for an organization?

Either way, despite the solid showing from the company on pay-per-view, as there wasn’t anything subpar on the card, I’m not sure it truly changes anything with the status of the organization within the industry. It’s still going to be a relatively small organization that is primarily a Canadian product, which is completely fine because Anthem has made its purchase of the promotion serve its purpose for The Fight Network, but that doesn’t mean that it will make a dent in the overall business in The United States. Quite simply, the major names sign with WWE or AEW because that’s where the most money and the biggest opportunities can be offered. That’s not to say that Anthem should try to change their business model, especially if it works for them, but rather to point out that TNA isn’t going to suddenly be able to sign the top free agents because they changed the initials. If Drew McIntyre left WWE, he’s not going to return to TNA because his market value is more than Anthem could realistically offer so he’d take the hefty contract from Tony Khan.

That being said, it’s possible that TNA could still have more of a productive role in the sport in 2024. With the increase in working agreements from different organizations, specifically that Charlie Dempsey, the son of the legendary William Regal, worked an event for All Japan, it wouldn’t be too surprising if TNA became a place where the WWE could send talent for some added TV experience. The fact it was years since WWE worked with a Japanese company prior to Nakamura’s involvement in The Great Muta’s retirement tour and then the All Japan match for Dempsey, it opens the door for more working agreements than in the past. Endeavor, the parent company of WWE after the merger, recently announced a streaming deal for TNA content so it’s possible for more to be added to the partnership in some form or fashion. In truth, TNA is such a small scope that they aren’t any threat to WWE’s massive corporation so perhaps there’s a scenario where everyone can benefit. Maybe a few NXT stars work a TNA pay-per-view or some of the X-Division guys compete at an NXT TV taping? It would get noticed and the more buzz made by TNA, it continues to chip away at the stalling momentum of All Elite Wrestling. If nothing else, the relaunch of TNA creates some interesting scenarios for the dynamics of the industry.

What do you think? Share your thoughts, opinions, feedback, and anything else that was raised on Twitter @PWMania and Facebook.com/PWMania.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

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