It was fun to pretend for one night at least that it was the late-1990s and that Monday night was as much about business as it was who pinned whose shoulders to the mat. We may never see another rivalry the likes of WWF vs. WCW again, but Monday night, January 4, could be as close as we ever get.
Truthfully, player-for-player, TNA stacks up well with WWE, so this was anything but a mismatch from the perspective of talent. But as Mrs. McMahon will find out in November, it's not easy to topple the incumbent.
Frank Ingiosi's column at pwi-online.com presents an entertaining and informative timeline of the night's matchup. He even has a running scorecard and I won't ruin it by telling you his final tally. But I will say this: January 4, 2010, was far more about TNA than it was WWE. Raw has its audience and doesn’t need to do anything special to impress (though bringing Bret Hart in as guest host was not an accident of timing). Impact was given an opportunity to make a first impression on Monday night channel surfers, and while we have no idea at this moment how well they scored with the Nielsen families or if this night will indeed change the course of the company’s history, here are a few things that I jotted down on my notepad:
Impact could not have gotten off to a worse start. Presenting an X division match was a great call, but putting eight of them in a bright orange cage with thick bars was a huge production blunder. On long camera shots, you could barely make out what was going on in the ring. Close-ups made the wrestlers more visible, but only Super Director could have made sure we didn’t miss the best spots. The no-contest conclusion was made even worse by the fans’ chant that had to be bleeped. It was altogether embarrassing. Fortunately, Jeff Hardy came out, and even more fortunately, TNA was running unopposed for the first hour.
Things could only get better. In some ways they did. In others, they did not.
The positives: Kevin Nash’s interview with Christy Hemme was refreshing. It’s not often you get to hear a wrestler just speak and not go into promo mode … The TNA Knockouts tag team match pitting Sarita and Taylor Wilde against Awesome Kong and Hamada was superb, and a stark contrast to a very weak Maryse vs. Brie Bella offering on Raw … Sneaking in a commercial for Impact on USA Network was incredible, especially considering TNA had done the same thing a week earlier, albeit not when the two shows were going head to head … Hulk Hogan looked and sounded very good … Eric Bischoff has not lost a beat … A.J. Styles vs. Kurt Angle was tremendous, though the wrestlers went to the well with their finishers a bit too often in a match that may have been a tad long. The ending was conclusive and very satisfying.
The negatives: Everybody loves the finale of a fireworks display; Impact looked like it tried to be the fireworks finale for the full three hours. There was a lot of neat little surprises, but maybe too many. By the time the show was half over, I wasn’t even thinking about Jeff Hardy anymore. He is more important to pro wrestling in 2010 than Scott Hall and Sean Waltman and The Nasty Boys, etc., and left no impression. Truthfully, TNA tried to cram so much down our throats that much of the good food lost its flavor … Speaking of Hall, he needs to go far, far away. He looked awful and sounded worse. At least he and Waltman were there to party and not to wrestle - I hope … Maybe my mind was a little numb last night, but didn’t we discover Beer Money Inc. assaulted back stage and then find them in the same condition an hour or so later? … Strip poker? Ughh! … Val Venis, The Nasty Boys? Bubba the Love Sponge? Pure cronyism. Can Jimmy Hart, Brutus Beefcake, and Jason Hervey be far behind? … Finally, we saw Dixie Carter in the stands and it’s kind of understandable why she did not have a role. TNA was intent on trying to build new WWE fans with characters they were most familiar with. But I think we need the TNA president to step forward and make us understand this power shift within her company. How did Hulk become her “partner,” and what exactly does that mean? If Hogan is the new law in town, was Eric Bischoff deputized matchmaker? What happened to Jeff Jarrett’s power? You know what he did wrong, I know what he did wrong, but what about the majority of TNA fans? One minute he’s in the ring being cheered by the fans for beating the odds and keeping TNA alive; the next he’s being sent to the back of the line by Mr. Hogan? What gives? How far can Hogan go before he usurps whatever authority Dixie apparently has bestowed upon him? Might he go too far (storyline and otherwise)? I’ll tune in to see TNA straighten out this mess. I guess TNA would consider that a plus.
As for Raw, nothing much to report. I watched as much of both shows as I could and can’t really say anything bad about WWE’s offering. Bret Hart was far better than I could have imagined. His encounters with Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon were predictable, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. One last note: The tribute to Steve “Dr. Death” Williams by Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler, while brief, was heartfelt and classy.