Championship Crossroads, Post-PPV Problems | Takes, Takes & More Takes #23

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Yes indeed folks, ‘Takes’ is back…again! Though maybe not quite as consistently as before, I do want to keep this series around, for better or worse. AEW has its own weekly project now so alongside that, I intend to use this format to cover the other products and promotions that interest me. This week, that has me analyzing ROH and IMPACT’s post-PPV efforts as well as NXT’s divisive build towards TakeOver. Three different shows, all chasing eyeballs and running into brick walls along the way. In fairness, I can relate, so let’s get this show on the road!

ROH

Less than a month removed from their critically acclaimed Best in the World PPV, ROH finds themselves in a familiar position. Moderate buzz was gained and then immediately lost, as the promotion’s television product remains a non-factor in the industry’s daily discussion. Wrestling is red hot right now in that sense, with shocking news every other day and yet, ROH couldn’t feel further distanced from the excitement. They just feel isolated, which is a complete contrast to their prior place as the wider wrestling world’s US home.

That’s a real shame too, as the product itself continues to impress. I’ve actually been out of the loop slightly and so, this most recent return was my first viewing of the TV in a few months. Once again, I found myself engaged by the palpable contrast between Shane Taylor Promotions and The Foundation. I don’t think this has been an actual story really, just an obvious clash that they’ve used for some good TV content. It works, could just probably be more, though I understand that story-wise, Violence Unlimited have been The Foundation’s more direct opposition.

That’s fine, as they appear to be an awesome act also but I must say, Shane Taylor Promotions is something special. This is the act that makes ROH’s lack of traction most obvious, as this thing should be an absolute smash hit across the board. It isn’t just Taylor either, as Kaun and Moses, the Soldiers of Savagery, are a money tag team too, one that’ll make a lot of money for years to come. They are an imposing, visually striking tandem but there’s range between them also, with Kaun the more flashy counterpart to Moses’ brute force.

In this particular 8-man tag, STP’s championship trio were joined by their own O’Shay Edwards, who eventually scored the win here. Edwards is a potential star in his own right, making this one of the more complete ‘acts’ around, a truly can’t miss pro wrestling faction. That’s not to take away from The Foundation either, who I still love even if admittedly, this whole thing seems to have been less interesting than it probably could’ve been. I do love the usage of those on the outskirts though, like ROH Dojo product Joe Keys here, established as Jonathan Gresham’s student.

In other news, ROH dedicated this week’s television to the Women of Honor title tournament, featuring three first round matches. This wasn’t a home run or anything, but it was a good start for a revived division that’s previously been infamous. Up first, Miranda Alize advanced opposite Alex Gracia and I probably would’ve placed this in the middle, as it wasn’t the strongest start to proceedings. Gracia has had better showings and for now at least, Alize’s base style is a little rough around the edges. Her strikes looked great at times though, and there’s certainly promise on both sides.

Perhaps my personal favourite performance of the night came second though, as Nicole Savoy defeated Mazzerati. The latter has some raw ingredients for sure but this was the Savoy show, which is telling as I actually think she was working well within herself here. Savoy is a building block for this division, the kind that should be a constant as this project takes shape. Finally, ROH established Rok-C as a ‘Prodigy’ indeed, eliminating a former champion in Sumie Sakai. Guided by a veteran, I thought Rok-C mostly lived up to the hype, producing this episode’s best match in my view.

Either way, credit to ROH for actually committing to the women this time around, which was the main issue last time. We can analyse the many prior problems, both unavoidable and self-inflicted but at core, that’s the reality. They just didn’t care enough and it showed, whereas this already feels different on intention alone. I’m quietly confident honestly, as this line-up looks promising but more than that, this thing has Maria Kanellis behind it internally which thus far, appears to be a positive for all involved. Rooting for the women and rooting for Ring of Honor, important months ahead.

NXT

Suddenly tasked with a momentary return to taped television and on a different network also, NXT’s time isn’t getting any easier. After years of being almost protected from the pressures of pro wrestling, this brand is now dealing with an onslaught of issues, many of which are out of their hands. For example, it’s not ideal that their unbeatable champion is losing flat on Monday Night RAW, nor is it helpful that multiple key players in the women’s division were called up overnight. It’s a struggle now, things have changed.

With that being said, this product remains steady, a cold, but competent contrast to the discussion surrounding it. In fact, I enjoyed this particular show quite a bit, but perception is reality and unfortunately, that’s NXT’s biggest hurdle right now. Either way, I’m happy to see Hit Row turn babyface after all, as this was a potential issue that I circled only a few weeks ago. Well, think they’re babyfaces at least but if not, they’re certainly framed that way opposite Legado Del Fantasma. That programme opened this week’s show, with a tag match excluding the respective leaders.

Ashante Adonis isn’t there yet but I must say, he’s incredibly striking. I vividly recall first seeing Adonis on 205 Live, as I found myself befuddled at his lack of buzz and hype. Relatively speaking, that’s since changed, or by NXT standards anyway. He’ll improve on his already impressive base in-ring but in terms of star quality, it’s already there, he’s just got something. By contrast, I’m waiting for Top Dolla’s magnetism to translate in-ring but I sense that’s a confidence thing, which will fix itself before long. Nonetheless, he offered an encouraging hot tag here.

Assuming that ‘Swerve’ will eventually retain his North American Title, I’d imagine that this is LDF’s send-off, right? That feels like a main roster act to me, can churn out strong TV action if nothing else. Speaking of such, Bobby Fish and Roderick Strong certainly did that here, producing an unsurprisingly engaging affair. Considering their history, this would ideally mean more than it did but at the end of the day, it’s 3 vs. 4, with Fish now firmly cemented on the tier below even Strong. Regardless, that didn’t stop these two from doing their thing.

It was a bruising battle, intense and physical throughout in a fashion that felt alive in a way that modern TV matches seldom do. This wasn’t following a playbook, it was unfolding in front of your eyes, even in picture-in-picture. That’s not to say it was a special match or even anything beyond “good,” just thought it was worth crediting them on that front. Strong vs. Kushida is the endgame here and that’s a positive, plain and simple. Honestly, I think both guys could be higher on the card but if you want the Cruiserweights to matter, this’ll help.

This may surprise some, but I even like Cameron Grimes’ ongoing antics with LA Knight. I don’t think that any product should be exclusively one thing and with the 2-hour runtime, NXT especially needs variety. I mean, even those glory days that I so often reference had comedy, Bull-Fit comes to mind. It helps that I think both guys are genuinely good in this silliness and the result is something that doesn’t feel a million miles away from your usual wrestling nonsense. Put it this way, I’d much rather turn talent this way rather than just having them work heels.

With that in mind, I’m stunned to see Dakota Kai as the apparent heel of this women’s title programme. Raquel Gonzalez is a bigtime prospect and I get the fascination but your audience isn’t rushing to cheer her at all. Kai on the other hand? She was and still could be a natural babyface, embrace her prior arc and use this feud to complete it. That’d be my play anyway but as is, Kai cut a strong promo here, explaining herself with conviction. I don’t know, just think the match itself has a far lower ceiling in this form.

As the de facto babyface (I think), Raquel will inevitably sell for a lengthy heat segment that if roles were reversed, could be transformative in Kai’s hands. No good crying over spilt milk though I suppose, this is what they’re seemingly going with and thus far, they’ve made a good start in that direction. Elsewhere, Trey Baxter continued his own good start, defeating Joe Gacy and advancing in the NXT Breakout Tournament. This was an effective enough formal introduction for both men, an immediate styles clash that allowed both guys to show their own potential.

Combine much of the above with a decent main event and you have a good television show, but there’s a looming sense of uncertainty to the product’s future. Clearly, NXT’s place in this ‘universe’ is changing and that’s fine, but it’s making for a weird few months. The brand’s main male title is attached to a guy that’s beaten almost everyone, yet already finds himself in the RAW midcard. The answer is seemingly Samoa Joe and well, as much as I love the man, that doesn’t feel like much of an answer at all really.

That’s another topic for another day though, as in a vacuum at least, I still enjoyed this latest edition of NXT TV.

IMPACT

It’s been an eventful month or so for IMPACT Wrestling, producing the encouraging Slammiversary and a range of headlines since. Three TV episodes later, there’s been an onslaught of news and notes but yet, you’re the blink of an eye away from missing them all. If you had any doubt after the viewership boom and then immediate bust of Kenny Omega’s presence, this show feels stuck, even if the many promotional partnerships have provided their PPVs with an extra punch. The TV though? Well, there’s a lot of options and unfortunately, too few people are picking IMPACT.

That’s frustrating as when you actually tune in, you’ll generally enjoy the experience. It’s been especially engaging in recent weeks, with fans finally back also, adding an energy that had been absent for well over a year. I apologize if much of the above overlaps with my earlier ROH opening, but I will say, there is an obvious difference here. I thoroughly enjoy Ring of Honor’s weekly television product, but I’m not delusional, it has no real hook to the modern wrestling fan. In fact, it often feels disconnected from the promotion’s main angles and ideas.

It’s dated in that sense, a complete contrast to the increasingly common approach to US television. They rotate things like AEW but in a far more formulaic fashion, all over just one hour too. I love that, but it’s not particularly exciting, especially for those further distanced from the product. By contrast, IMPACT follows a far more familiar formula, built around its main characters every week and developing their central arcs with each outing also. You’ll be caught up almost immediately, you’ll see at least a couple recognisable faces weekly.

Now, I do think that sometimes, IMPACT’s creative lacks a big picture outlook, mostly specializing in giving purpose to potentially purposeless talent. With that being said, that’s a complaint that I’ll often return to as the major PPV cycles reach their conclusion, but it’s not relevant here. Perhaps it’s just the return of fans, but I really think that over the last three weeks, this product has been consistently interesting in a way that’s seldom been the case. Granted, much of that is fueled by these promotional partnerships but for now, that’s a feature, not a flaw.

Jay White is the obvious example of that, an absolute revelation thus far. Everyone already thought highly of White but wow, he’s made a statement in my view. I knew that the raw ingredients were there but his transition to this style of product couldn’t have been smoother. On arrival, he was one of IMPACT’s most compelling characters and frankly, I don’t think that’d be any different elsewhere either. He’s just got the answers at this point, has figured things out and is the kind of top guy that can successfully slot in anywhere.

This week though, White was a mere plot device really, providing the bridge for Chris Bey’s entry to the Bullet Club. Obviously, that’s a great fit for Bey, who can eventually tour Japan as a premier junior heavyweight. Not only that, but it guarantees a certain protection too, which has been absent from Bey’s booking at times. Most of all though, this is a win for Bullet Club, finally adding an exciting fresh face to their ranks. That faction isn’t untalented of course but the line-up itself certainly isn’t exciting. Bey changes that and tellingly, beat Juice Robinson here.

Elsewhere, IMPACT crowned a king and queen last weekend, with Matthew Rehwoldt and Deonna Purrazzo coming out on top at Homecoming. That was an ideal bonus show for your subscribers by the way, just fun pro wrestling that could easily exist in a vacuum, but felt newsworthy enough too. Either way, Purrazzo is headed to the NWA’s Empower show, with Mickie James revealing her opponent as Melina. This is a strong poster and on name value alone, an understandable play but I do question the match quality element as naturally, Melina isn’t what she was physically.

Ideally, this whole saga leads to Mickie James herself working Purrazzo in IMPACT, as the champion still needs intriguing opponents. Then again, Tasha Steelz may have just joined that list, now backed up by Savannah Evans as Fire ‘N Flava becomes a thing of her past. That’s a real shame by the way, as they’d become a legitimately great team but Kiera has been there for some time now, so it does feel like a logical time for her to climb the promotional ladder. Steelz can be a player in IMPACT either way, teaming with Evans or as a singles.

Honestly, Steelz is one of the promotion’s most underrated performers. Fundamentally sound, versatile and armed with real personality, Steelz should flourish if her spotlight increases, which would help the Knockouts Title scene tremendously. Upon thought though, the division’s tag titles may need her more. Speaking of such, IMPACT’s obsession with multi-team tag matches refuses to relent, now booking a triple threat in which Violent By Design and the Rich Swann/Willie Mack tandem challenges The Good Brothers. I just don’t get it, these matches come with such a ceiling, all following that same tired formula.

Speaking of The Good Brothers, Karl Anderson played fall down man here, taking the pin in this week’s 6-man tag main event. That’s fine, as the champions beat Bey and White last week and frankly, the babyfaces needed this win. Namely, Frankie Kazarian needed this win, taking his Elite hunting antics to IMPACT. That was a natural fit and showed how with even the smallest shift, these partnerships can provide momentum. Ideally, Eddie Edwards and Sami Callihan aren’t your two top babyfaces alongside him, but such is IMPACT.

At some point, you’ve got to let things evolve in that sense, catapulting a few of these newer names forward. That day feels as though it’s coming sooner rather than later but for now, IMPACT television is three for three in my view, yet to miss since the return of fans.

Well folks, that concludes this week’s edition of ‘Takes, Takes & More Takes.’ Got a take? Send it over on the Twitter, @JoeHulbert! Be nice though and try to disguise any critiques as compliments. Thanks pals, speak soon!

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