365 Wrestling, Day 57: No DQ, AJ Styles vs. Sandman (NWA-TNA, 2/26/03)

365 Wrestling, Day 57: No DQ, AJ Styles vs. Sandman (NWA-TNA, 2/26/03)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling

The early years of Impact Wrestling provided a method of storytelling we haven’t seen yet, or since, from a major wrestling promotion. Then known as TNA (or NWA-TNA, specifically, since it was affiliated with the National Wrestling Alliance), the promotion aired a two-hour pay-per-view each week, in the middle of the week, for about 10 bucks.

Did it work? Financially, no. As he wrote in his book, Jerry Jarrett — the longtime promoter in Memphis who started NWA-TNA in partnership with his son, Jeff — observed that the pay-per-views needed to generate 55,000 buys a week for the company to break even. The first three events yielded 50,000 boys — total. “We have been producing shows, but the public, in large part, does not know we exist,” Jarrett wrote.

As a business, the weekly pay-per-view model didn’t work well. Creatively, however, it yielded some interesting stuff. Each event was its own standalone product, but the goal was to get people to come back and buy the next one, and the next one, and so on. It always reminded me of old Memphis wrestling: except, rather than trying to use a studio show to induce fans to come out to the Mid-South Coliseum on Monday night, these pay-per-views were a larger-scale version of the studio TV and a smaller-scale version of the arena event, all wrapped into one.

In this entry of 365 Wrestling, we look at a match from this era that only happened once: the only match ever between AJ Styles and Sandman from the 34th weekly NWA-TNA pay-per-view, held on February 26, 2003.

You can watch this match on Impact’s YouTube channel. For your convenience, it’s also embedded below:

The Context

All of the weekly pay-per-views aired from the same location, the state fairgrounds in Nashville, TN. TNA called this venue The Asylum and it had a raucous crowd with a good share of regulars.

Vince Russo is part of the creative team at this point and, surprise surprise, he’s also a prominent character on screen, heading up a faction called Sports Entertainment Xtreme (or SEX for short, get it?) Russo is trying to recruit as much top talent to his faction as he can. Earlier on this event, both AJ Styles and Raven want to be part of SEX (and hey, who wouldn’t, right?) Aj and Raven get into an argument about which of them, and which style of wrestling, is better. And so Russo puts Raven in a match with an X-Division wrestler and books Styles to wrestle Sandman. This is all pretty solid except for the group name, which is like hanging a neon sign that says “Look how edgy we are!”

AJ is probably one of the top five wrestlers most synonymous with the TNA name. He appeared on the very first of these weekly shows and stayed with the company for more than 12 years, through the end of 2014. Sandman made his name in ECW and at this point he’s been engaging in his cigarette-smoking, beer-drinking, cane-swinging shenanigans for TNA for a couple of weeks.

The Match

I like seemingly random, unique matches that don’t happen often. The pairing of AJ and Sandman is definitely an odd one, but it works. They show good chemistry working together. After a flip dive to the floor to abruptly end Sandman’s length entrance and beer-spraying circumnavigation of the ringside area, AJ gets to show off his amateur background early on, wrestling circles around Sandman on the mat.

They don’t get a lot of time here, but they make the most of it. Most of the highlights consist of AJ taking a beating: the Sandman blocking a drop toehold into a trash can, then bouncing said can off Styles’ face; AJ launching for a top rope splash to put Sandman through a table on the floor and coming up empty; and Sandman propelling Styles into a chair wedged in the corner with enough force to put AJ through the seat. One of my favorite moments was watching AJ flip, duck, and dodge his way out of attempted Singapore cane shots by the Sandman.

Sandman gets a lot of grief in certain circles for a perceived lack of wrestling ability, but here’s the thing: he knows his limits and stays within them. He’s already got the crowd with him before any physicality happens here. Once the match starts, he struggles just enough during AJ’s mat wrestling to make you buy in, and he uses the weapons as a structure for the rest of the match. AJ is out of his element using this type of plunder in a match, giving the edge to the veteran.

Things go off the rails a bit at the finish. The referee takes a bump that is awkwardly set up, for no reason. And speaking of no reason, Raven runs in and wallops Sandman with a chair, helping his rival Styles position himself for the win. The actual finish, however, is pretty spectacular. Styles hooks and delivers a Styles Clash from the second rope. Note how Sandman struggles and flails before getting dropped to the mat… a nice little accent.

Random Thoughts

–We are deprived of “Enter Sandman” because of good ol’ music copyrights and so instead we get the video game load-screen version of Sandman’s theme song. If that’s not awkward enough, Sandman’s entrance reaches full cringe level in a hurry. You see, at this point, The Asylum featured dancers who would gyrate in these small cages adjacent to the wrestling stage. Sandman gets right in one of these cages with one of the dancers, Lollipop, grinds against her, makes out with her, gropes her, and then heads for the ring. Later camera cuts to Lollipop show her smiling at Sandman but this screen shot captures her initial reaction, and mine:

Eww.

–That referee bump is one of the more nonsensical ones I have seen in a while.

Final Rating: 5.9

This is a brisk little match that goes less than 10 minutes and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The matchup is unique and they played off their contrasting styles (no pun intended) well. The handful of high spots are memorable, especially the second-rope Styles Clash. There’s plenty to like here in spite of the bad booking. I also noticed all three TNA/Impact matches I have watched as part of the project have ended up with the same final rating. It sums up a lot of this company’s wrestling for me: good enough to watch, but not memorable enough to stick with you or really break into higher tiers of excellence.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

Up Next

We look at one of the early excursion matches of one of the current New Japan Dads.

Got something to say about this match, or the project, or anything wrestling-related? Reach out on Twitter or fill out the contact form on the site.

365 Wrestling, Day 47: Monster’s Ball, The Wolves vs. Decay (TNA, 2/16/16)

365 Wrestling, Day 47: Monster’s Ball, The Wolves vs. Decay (TNA, 2/16/16)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

Finding the match for this date was a bit of a quest. First off, February 16 is a Tuesday, which meant choosing a tag match by my self-identified and not-at-all-enforceable “rules” of the project.

In addition to trying to hit various eras, and not repeat the same wrestler and/or promotion on back-to-back days, I’m also trying to hit as many different years as possible. So first, I chose a New Japan tag match from their Australia tour in 2018 but it honestly wasn’t noteworthy enough to write about at length … as is the case with a lot of New Japan house show and “Road To …” tags.

Next, I picked a Rockers vs. Brain Busters match from Saturday Night’s Main Event. Thanks to the WWE Network getting assimilated by Peacock, and no sign of the SNME archive appearing on the latter yet, that one isn’t available online.

After that I chose a ROH Tag Title Match from 2007… which, you guessed it, also is not available anywhere that I can find online.

Hmm. OK then.

Necessity is the mother of invention and in this case I suppose what I needed was 12-ish minutes of plunder and chaos.

With that, ladies and germs, here’s the Monster’s Ball TNA World Tag Title Match bewtixt The Wolves — Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards — and the Decay duo of Crazzy Steve and Abyss from the February 16, 2016, episode of Impact.

You can watch this on Impact’s website.

The Context

This is actually the first big match for the Decay faction, which formed just a few weeks earlier as Rosemary debuted and joined in a 3-on-2 beatdown of the champs, Richards and Edwards. Decay then stole the tag title belts, leading to this moderately awkward promo segment:

Richards and Edwards made their names in Ring Of Honor, where both held the ROH World Title in addition to two previous reigns as tag champs there, known as The American Wolves. After a few appearances on the independent circuit at the end of 2013 and a WWE tryout, they came to TNA where they were known more simply as The Wolves.

Abyss now works behind the scenes in WWE but for nearly two decades he was a fixture on TNA programming even while the roster around him had a constant ebb and flow. The Monster’s Ball is his specialty, at least in storyline.

The Decay group might be new to TNA here, but Steve isn’t, as part of the roster since 2014. We’ve written about Rosemary and our appreciation of her and her gimmick, previously in the project.

The Match

When the Monster’s Ball concept first debuted in TNA, it was a twist on the old concept of a No DQ match with weapons, in that the participants (in storyline) were locked away for 24 hours prior to the match without light, food, and water. Goofy? Kinda. But at least it was an attempt to do something different. That pretext has gone long by the wayside by the time of this match. By 2016, Monster’s Ball has just become synonymous with a hardcore match, although with the weapons Abyss is known for: tacks, barbed wire, etc.

Richards and Edwards get the early advantage, and then start bumping around for Decay. Momentum shifts when both Wolves are on adjacent top turnbuyckles as Rosemary hops on the apron and blows red mist in Richards’ face. Abyss, meanwhile, hurls a chair at Edwards, who plummets through a conveniently placed table at ringside. Steve is smaller and athletic so he’s the guy who gets thrown around by the Wolves, with Abyss the heavy hitter.

Abyss seems to get a lot of grief in online circles for a perceived lack of wrestling ability. I think it’s important to note that, in the latter years of his in-ring career, his body was really starting to break down. The Abyss who is in this match looks like he is wading through molasses compared to the guy who first came into the scene in TNA, eventually dethroned Sting as world champion, and also made waves in ROH as part of The Embassy led by Prince Nana. If you want a true picture of Abyss’ talent and potential, seek out some of his work from the 2000s decade and you will have a very different take.

With all that being said, Abyss takes the two nastiest bumps in this match. First, he eats a sunset bomb by Edwards onto a pile of chairs topped with a trashcan. Next, Abyss is on the floor, staggering right in front of Chekhov’s barbed wire board, ominously propped up against the ringside railing behind him. Edwards goes for a suicide dive, but Abyss grabs him and teases a chokeslam… only to have Richards deliver his own suicide dive and put Abyss into the wire. It’s a small bait and switch in the midst of the chaos, but added to the moment for sure.

The finish is creative as well. Steve has Edwards’ head trapped on the seat of an open chair and is getting ready to wallop him with a steel chair when Rosemary brings Abyss’ bag of tacks into the ring and proceeds to pour it over Edwards’ head. It’s smoke and mirrors, but a spectacular visual, and Edwards sells it like he’s being tortured. Steve whiffs on the chairshot, however, and Richards comes back in the ring to block a second misting by Rosemary by literally sucking face and using her own mist against her. Steve eats a suplex/brainbuster-onto-a-chair-with-tacks-on-the-seat combo to end it.

Random Thoughts

–There sure are a lot of low blows in this match. A more juvenile mind would make a joke related to the Monster’s Ball moniker. Not me, though. Nope.

–There’s a funny line by The Pope on commentary where, after Abyss produces his ever-present cloth bag, he says, “We know it’s the tascks but it could be anything!” (Spoiler: It was tacks).

Final Rating: 5.9

You’ve seen plunder matches like these a hundred times and you know what you’re getting. I thought there was a good effort by all involved (The Wolves and Steve worked hard; Abyss did what he could) and a couple of unique moments — the tacks being poured on Edwards’ head and the reversal of the mist by Richards — make this worth watching.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

Up Next

Twelve women confined to co-exist within the same structure. Is it a reality show or an Elimination Chamber match?

Send me any and all feedback on the 365 Wrestling project. Just reach out on Twitter or fill out the contact form on the site.