Saturday, July 20, 2024
EditorialReview: Impact Hard To Kill 2020

Review: Impact Hard To Kill 2020

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What’s up everybody? It’s the day after Impact’s Hard To Kill PPV, and as always I’m here with analysis, feedback, and grades! Hey, I used to be a teacher, so I’m gonna hand out grades, not ratings.

What a week it’s been for Impact. When I wrote my Hard To Kill preview, I was using what was up to date information at the time.

And then… the rest of the week happened.

Ethan Page got salmonella poisoning.

Rich Swann got injured.

Brian Cage supposedly got signed by AEW. And injured. And then perhaps not signed? All of this was just after the PPV, but still… confusing.

Tessa Blanchard got embroiled in controversy.

And while there were travel issues, it apparently didn’t affect the talents.

And you thought the NFL playoffs were wild?

Anyway, let’s move on.

#1. Ken Shamrock vs. Madman Fulton (w/ The Crist Brothers*) – Winner: Ken Shamrock 

Predicted Winner: Madman Fulton (0-1)

First off, I’m surprised that they’d have Shammy go over on Fulton. No offense to Shamrock, but the man’s ready for the AARP, not the IWGP. Having him go over on a young talent who’s been showing a ton of improvement recently is the wrong pick in my eyes.

Onto the match itself. There was another very surprising start in that instead of these two just brawling, Fulton showed a lot of his amateur wrestling background before the two swapped submission holds.

Things picked up when Shamrock went for a top rope tope suicida, and Fulton caught him out of the air. That’s right, 56 year old Ken Shamrock flung himself over the top rope like he was Ricochet’s grandfather. Soon afterwards the Crists get ejected for attempted interference, and Fulton shows off both his strength and technical game some more before Shamrock catches him in a desperation Kimura lock. A dislocated shoulder, Fulton refuses to quit, and moments later Shamrock wins via what sort of looks like the Rings of Saturn.

This match was a lot slower than I expected. While Madman Fulton got to display parts of his game that he’s not shown before in Impact, I’m not sure if Shamrock was the guy to show it against. Still, a decent start to Hard To Kill, and the fans enjoyed Shamrock’s win.

Grade: C+. A decent start, but a pretty average match. Still, a few bonus points for Shamrock’s dive.

Note: What the hell’s with the commentary team having them doing what sounds like PA duties as well as TV commentary? Strange. On the other hand, nice rundown of what happened to Rich Swann.

#2. [X-Division Championship] Ace Austin (c) vs. Trey Miguel – Winner: Ace Austin

Predicted Winner: Ace Austin (1-1)

Ace’s new ring jacket looks like it was made from Luster The Legend’s haircut.

This match started just the way it should have, with Trey wanting to basically beat the hell out of Ace. Not that he gave up on his acrobatic style, but each flip, each maneuver was done intensely and done simply to give him another chance to beat on Ace some more.

Of course it’s typical for the enraged babyface to have that emotion work against them, and Austin breaks Trey down, working over his limbs and slowing things down. From there things turn into a very good X-Division style match.

I’m going to give a lot of props to this match for style. The X-Division can often turn into a flippy-floppy no-sell schlockfest. This wasn’t one of those matches. While both men did plenty of acrobatic maneuvers, the moves always had intent behind them, and both men did a good job of selling moves throughout the match.

I’m still not a fan of the MILF Hunter storyline, to be honest. But it’s been done well, and has allowed both Trey and Ace Austin to develop as characters. And the match was just what it should have been at Hard To Kill, an escalation of their feud without ending it just yet.

Grade: B. The match was exactly what it should be, and I’m looking forward to these two beating on each other some more.

 

#3. [Knockouts Championship] Taya Valkyrie (c) vs. ODB vs. Jordynne Grace – Winner: Taya Valkyrie retains by pinning ODB

Predicted Winner: Taya Valkyrie (2-1)

I said in my preview of Hard To Kill that having ODB in this match was to protect Jordynne Grace, and Impact did that to perfection. Pinning Taya in a non-title match the night before, having a ‘cheated pin’ due to Johnny Bravo’s interference, and having ODB take the pin here? Perfect.

Big props to Taya Valkyrie for her 101 Dalmatians inspired gear. She’s a flat out beautiful woman, and this gear works perfectly with her current character. I also wonder if the design elements also were a nod to the recently deceased CMLL La Parka. Taya’s got deep lucha roots, after all.

Knockouts action!

The match worked very well. Taya’s heel mannerisms, from her evil smile to calling ODB ‘lunch lady’ was done with just that right level of melodramatics that shows just how damn good Taya Valkyrie is. Even the way she stole the win works perfectly for La Wera Loca.

ODB got her moments, and showed not just the fire and pride of a former Knockouts (or Knocked-Up) champ, but the smarts of a veteran. She picked her spots, and fought hard before taking the pin.

Of the trio, Jordynne Grace was, as I suspected going in, the weak link. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see anything special about her. Her charisma is lacking, and there were quite a few moves that looked sloppy. And what is it with people doing super high-impact sentons recently? That top rope drop onto ODB damn near looked like it could have broken ODB’s ribs, and she certainly had the wind knocked out of her legit.

Still, Taya and ODB more than elevated the match, and while it’s not the best match I’ve seen the Knockouts have in the past year, it was good enough.

Grade: B-. While I’m still not sure if Impact should be protecting Jordynne as the big threat to Taya’s reign, the match itself was good.

#4. Brian Cage vs. Rob Van Dam (w/ Katie Forbes) – Winner: No Contest 

Predicted Winner: RVD with shenanigans (2-1-1 NC)

Well, combine this with the stories of Cage not only getting injured but also signing with AEW, then Melissa Santos denying those rumors, and this was a weird mess.

On one hand, seems Brian Cage made his silent statement in support of Tessa Blanchard in the recent controversy, wearing a ‘Diamond Machines’ hoodie to the ring. But Jesus Brian, can you please, please, please lay off the ‘sauce’ and stop getting injured? You spend just as much time on the bench recovering from muscle tears as you do in the ring.

Also, I’m slightly confused. How is a match that goes on for four minutes, involves numerous outside interferences, and more be a no contest? Even the announcers were confused when the ref said there was ‘no match.’

This just confused the hell out of the fans, the announcers, and me, too.

Grade: F. While it showed Rob as a scumbag, the whole segment’s a mess. Hard To Kill? No. Hard to stomach.

#5. Rob Van Dam (w/ Katie Forbes) vs. Daga – Winner: Rob Van Dam

Predicted Winner: Since this wasn’t on the card, No Prediction (2-1-1)

Was this the Hard To Kill match that planned at first for RVD and Cage? Was this Impact management calling an audible with Cage’s injury?

If so, they should have just gone with this match from the beginning, writing off Cage via backstage attack or something similar.

Unfortunately after the last segment, it took the fans awhile to get into this match. Daga did his best to elevate and fire up a confused, dead crowd… but honestly watching the RVD post-match midlife crisis trainwreck was just painful.

Grade: D. Daga did his best, but everything on RVD’s side of the match, including Katie Forbes and their girlfriend Jennifer Barlow, was stupid. And apparently they’re planning on Jennifer being on screen more? No. No. Noooooooooooooo!

The People’s Champ agrees with me.

#6. [Call Your Shot Trophy] Eddie Edwards vs. Michael Elgin – Winner: Eddie Edwards

Predicted Winner: Eddie Edwards (3-1-1)

Backstage in the Gorilla Position, I can only image how these two felt seeing the crowd’s reaction to the last match. “Oh crap, we’re gonna have to turn it up to 11 just to get things back on track.”

And they did. This match was brutal. Hard hitting. Well paced. One negative note: Eddie Edwards, PLEASE GET SOME BETTER PANTS. I don’t know what those skinny capri jeans are about, but they’re just wrong.

Forget the move by move breakdown, they brought the crowd back into things. Fans were yelling for Eddie, and legit pissed at Michael Elgin. There were even ‘that was awesome’ chants. Considering how poor Impact is with crowd noise, if this had been WWE it would have sounded like the main event at Wrestlemania.

They even did the pin right. There was no way that Eddie Edwards was going to out strong-style Michael Elgin, no matter how crazy he is. So stealing the win with counter-wrestling? Perfect for his character and this match.

This was more or less a Japanese strong-style match, and it delivered. I can’t give it an A because the match needed better buildup to get that grade, but it was the best match of the night to this point.

Grade: B+. Two pros going out there and putting on a good match. They took a dead crowd and not just brought it back to life, but saved Hard To Kill.

#7. [No Disqualification] Moose vs. Rhino – Winner: Moose 

Predicted Winner: Moose (3-1-1)

Well, the no-DQ stipulation was a small surprise for me. But it adds to the match, removing the limitations that Rhino has to work with at his age and ability level.

Moose’s entrance is much improved. I think his music could use a bit of a remix, be a bit more impactful (har har), but he’s learning how to work his entrance a lot better.

This match had roughly… two wrestling moves. Maybe three. Basically it’s a couple of three hundred pound men beating the everlovin’ sh*t out of each other. Chair shots, outside brawling, tables… it’s your classic hardcore match, and done very well.

There are a few things I think could have been improved. For example, why toss five chairs in the ring? Sure, it’s a classic hardcore spot, and it’s a rest spot for both wrestlers. But I’ve never understood the idea of getting out of the ring, tossing half a dozen or so weapons into the ring where your opponent can pick them up at any time, and then climbing into the ring without holding onto something. As a former Army officer, we didn’t teach people to hand the enemy weapons and then go after them.

Also, like most hardcore matches, especially those involving ECW alumni who are really too old for this sh*t, there’s a lot of rest spots that makes the match plodding at times. While I understand guys like Rhino want to stay relevant, and want to pass on to the next generation, they really can’t be doing this much longer.

But the right guy won, IMO, and it’s a good match for the type it is. And watching Rhino flipping off some fans and still getting a face pop was funny.

Grade: B. Right guy wins, good action, and while it does plod at times, it doesn’t go on too long.

#8[World Tag Team Championship] The North, Ethan Page & Josh Alexander (c) vs. Willie Mack – Winners: The North

Predicted Winner: The North (4-1-1)

Talk about a match that saw itself be put through the blender. I talked about Josh Alexander’s injury hurting the match. Then Rich Swann gets hurt, and Ethan Page gets salmonella poisoning.

Might as well have called this match the ‘Get A Medic Match.’

I feel ya, Ethan. I get the same way after McDonald’s, personally.

However, perhaps the injuries, illnesses and such helped the match and the feud. By making this a handicap match, it was able to protect both members of The North (Alexander’s arm, Page’s illness) by letting them use tons of tags and short spurts of action.

Mack gets his spots in as well. Counter wrestling, picking his moments, and even a top rope electric chair Canadian Destroyer? Well, props to Mack and everyone for some damn good work.

And Willie Mack loses nothing eating the pin here. He lost to the Tag Team champs by himself. This isn’t WWE, where heel tag team champs are pretty much jobbers in handicap matches and matches involving children. This is Impact, where physics and logic get used sometimes. As such, having heel tag champs get the win makes sense.

Although one illogical moment: The North hits Mack with a double team Gotch-style Equalizer, and he kicks out? Cesaro does not approve.

The question is where and when Impact continues this feud post Hard To Kill. A lot of that, I suspect, will depend on how quickly Rich Swann can come back from his ankle injury. Until then though, the window’s open for Willie Mack to get some shine and attention of his own, which will benefit the team when Swann does return.

Grade: B+. Considering the damaged pieces they had to work with, all three men showed heart, professionalism, and passion to put on a damn good match.

#9[World Championship] Sami Callihan (c) vs. Tessa Blanchard – Winner: Tessa Blanchard NEW Impact World Champion!

Predicted Winner: Tessa Blanchard (5-1-1)

Six months of building. Careful storytelling. Characters that are not just believable, but draw you in. And at Hard To Kill, we get the climax.

A heel champ who’s not just eye-rolling disgusting, but at times talks in a passionate, convincing way that has you agreeing with him at times. He sounds emotional and almost tears up at times. Seriously, watch and listen to Sami Callihan’s interviews leading up to this match. That masterclass level microphone work.

A babyface challenger who is just as passionate, who’s been knocked down time after time after time. Who exudes intensity, and maybe just a bit of obsessive madness of her own. Regardless of drama outside the ring, within the ropes Tessa Blanchard is still the very best women’s wrestler in North America, and perhaps even one of the top 20 wrestlers working in the United States today, regardless of gender.

Throughout this match the story was the same. These two swung for the fences with every move, every blow. And the fans ate it up. From minute one the fans were cheering, chanting, and pretty much going nuts. They made more noise than WWE crowds twice their size (The Bomb Factory has a maximum capacity of 4,300 when not rigged for pro wrestling).

Quite simply, I loved the work in this match. Callihan was disgusting and passionate. As Don Callis called him, he’s the ‘anti-hero’ that at times you want to cheer because he’s just so convincing in his point of view… but can’t as he spits at people and screams ‘F you too, b*tch!’ to the crowd. He’s The Joker, he’s Hannibal Lecter, he’s Killmonger… he’s the Death Machine.

And Blanchard knows how to work that line involving her femininity. The hardest problem with most intergender matches is the female wrestler often coming off as trying to not be a woman. Blanchard though puts just the right touches in her work to keep it convincing. For example when she cries out in pain, she’s not using some fake-deep ‘masculine’ voice. She sounds like a woman wailing in pain, dammit!

At the same time, the two just went out and had a damn near perfect match. Tessa had to use her speed, to stick and move… but Sami also put her through a friggin’ table.

Sami was hard to kill as well. Tessa hit him with EVERYTHING. 4 Magnums, a Canadian Destroyer, a Panama Sunrise, a kick to the groin, and finally a Buzzsaw DDT to be put away. About the only thing she didn’t do was shoot him with an M16.

#AndNew… but forever changed?

And when Tessa wins, you can feel both the overwhelming accomplishment of what she just did, while at the same time thinking she just might never be the same. She looked delirious, she looked haunted, she looked like a woman on the edge of eternity. The beating she took, the hell she put herself through for that win… but at the same time you honestly feel that she would have rather died than lose to Sami Callihan this night.

She was just too hard to kill.

Grade: A+. January 13th, and I’m already naming it a Match Of The Year candidate. The only thing keeping it from an A++ perfect score is 1-2 slight timing issues that only the strictest of wrestling nerds would even pick up.

Random Thoughts

A few observations I had throughout the night:

  1. What is it with side cuts? Are they the current mullet or mohawk? On tonight’s card we had Madman Fulton, Ace Austin, Taya Valkyrie, Eddie Edwards, RVD (ish, maybe he’s just going bald too)… someone please make it stop.
  2. A good job by Impact management not only in match decisions, but also match placement. It’s like they knew the RVD segment would suck, so they put Eddie v. Elgin afterwards so as not to lose the crowd.
  3. The Knockouts roster is very thin charisma wise once you get past Taya & Rosemary. The only real charismatic threats right now to Taya are heels, IMO. Could Impact decide to give Taya a final face turn before she gives up the title? We’ll have to see.

Final Takeaway

Overall, Hard To Kill delivers, especially for the Main Event. Sure, the RVD segments stunk. And I think the wrong man won in the opener. But Hard To Kill did what PPVs are supposed to do, build towards a crescendo that delivered. Impact grasped that wrestling is about storytelling, and the story told at The Bomb Factory on January 13th, 2020 was exquisite.

Sure, Impact’s not perfect. But on this night at Hard To Kill… they delivered the goods in a way that the big promotions more often than not don’t. In any case, I seriously, seriously doubt that WWE will be able to replicate this level of storytelling in two weeks at The Royal Rumble.

Overall Final Grade: B. Hard To Kill’s damn good night of wrestling. Just fast forward through anything involving RVD.

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