Yep. I did it. I, Lonestar, brought my girlfriend to a TNA house show, what might possibly be the rotting toenail of the wrestling universe. But that’s a bit of a harsh statement about TNA and by saying it I’m skipping over all the gritty, sublime details. We should probably just start at the beginning.
I work at a business in the greater Philadelphia area and like many businesses we occasionally get free and discount tickets to places that are then raffled off in an attempt to boost employee morale and make us momentarily forget how much (or how little) we get paid. Somehow we got ten tickets to a TNA house show in Bethleham, Pennsylvania, which is probably a good 90 minutes away. I entered the raffle and did not win, but my co-worker did and gave his pair to me. Now, I could have taken said tickets, given one to another wrasslin’ fan co-worker, switched shifts to get off early and gone to the show on time. But that’s not how we do things in Lonestar-land. Nope. Instead I asked my girlfriend, who would much rather watch Korean sitcoms than wrestling, if she wanted to travel to the boondocks of Pennslyvania to watch grown men pretend to fight each other while wearing a mixture of spandex and vests. Strangely, she said yes.
The thought of 90-plus minutes of driving there and back didn’t sound like a big deal at the time. But when I was planning out the logistics of our little adventure I momentarily forgot that I now live on the East Coast, a labyrinthinian maze of toll bridges, cyclone-shaped highway exchanges and nonexistent left turn lanes designed before the advent of intelligent city planning to bring psychotic drivers from their tiny apartments to their workplaces AND NOWHERE ELSE! The ramifications of this oversight meant that before we got to see our sweet wrestling action I had to get off work, drive home, feed the highly disappointed cat, shower, pack two dinners, drive back to work, pick up the girlfriend, figure out how the hell to get to the arena, plan a different route, pay two bucks to cross the cheaper bridge, drive through Philly (I made a right turn to get on the same road, going the same direction…..I think?) and then further and further into the countryside. In fact, by the time we got to the eerily nice looking college in the middle of the woods it was already 7:30 and we were half an hour late. Except I thought the show started 30 minutes earlier, so we ended up being on time after all that.
Sure enough, the first thing I saw when we got to the parking lot was a bunch of fliers for an independent wrestling show stuck to peoples’ windshields. I can’t tell you how much I marked out when I saw this:
Your eyes don’t deceive you. That’s 80’s era Honky Tonky Man headlining the shitty local wrestling show that may or may not have gotten permission to hand these fliers out. AND Shane Douglas is gonna be there! And somebody named “The Red Scorpion” who has to be awesome because his name is “The Red Scorpion!”
By the time we got inside what I assume was a basketball arena the show had already started and I could hear the familiar sounds of human bodies crashing onto a ring from all the way out on the concourse. I then had that awkward moment where you see the guy watching the merchandise stand and ask yourself, “Hey, is that Sal Rinauro?” Before that very important question could be answered we made our way to our seats and sat down in front of the living embodiment of a pro-wrestling stereotype.
And now we’ve entered the part of this column where I reaffirm that I do not believe all wrestling fans are terribly off-putting, negative people incapable of enjoying anything presented to them in the form of the entertainment product they chose to partake in. I’ve met chill wrestling fans before. I know they’re out there. But good lord, my section of the crowd will not be remembered for its rational, level-headed, quiet people.
Roving through my part of the arena were a band of four 8ish-year old kids. They started off in the seats printed on our tickets and migrated their way around the stands from there, at one point sitting in the furthest and highest row in the audience and at another point appearing to our left for some reason. Everyone who walked through the curtain before AJ Styles couldn’t wrestle, in their very worldly 8-year old opinion, and they let us know by chanting it incessantly. Gail Kim? Can’t wrestle. ODB? Can’t wrestle. Mr. Anderson? ……okay there’s a difference between can’t wrestle and won’t wrestle, but they’re still 8 years old and equate flips and shit with wrestling and should shut the hell up.
Worse than the random kids was this guy, displayed here in the only photograph my girlfriend took that randomly caught him in all his sweaty, douchey glory.
That’s him on the left, with the double chin, depicted in one of his few moments of happiness. The rest of the time he was cursing loudly about the wrestlers and how much they sucked to the guy on the right, who was either his brother or his son. Who knows. There was also a child with him, young enough to be led around by the hand, who was definitely his offspring. I bring this up because the things this man said were absolutely terrible to hear and the fact that he was saying all of this right in front of his son’s young and impressionable ears made it even worse. He had absolutely no time for the women’s match, loudly yelling to “get some men in there” but also finding the time to shout “Whip those tits out!” and “Yeah, eat her pussy!” as Gail Kim and ODB wrestled a perfectly fine match. Later on this big, fat, balding, white guy would see Christopher Daniels and Kazarian hug each other on the ring apron and respond with a simple but elegant “Fags!”
Now, having to sit next to a disgustingly opinionated white-trash redneck in a Kurt Angle t-shirt is usually a pretty humorless experience but there was one series of circumstances I found quite hilarious. After Mr. Potato-face up there spat out his first sexual slur, James Storm and Gunner, who were two of the few wrestlers he liked, got in on the hugging game by embracing random male members of the audience. Did Turd Ferguson call them “Fags!” for hugging dudes? Why no. No he did not. Instead he sat there in silence, whirring his single gear, coming oh so very close to learning a valuable lesson. Sadly his repeated use of the term “fags” to describe Daniels and Kazarian later on in the match confirmed my suspicion that he wouldn’t wisen up and stop being such a vulgar asshat.
You might notice at this point that I haven’t talked about the actual in-ring wrestling all that much. There’s a reason for that. Of the five matches we saw, all featured significant stalling to pad out their run-time and none of them really flirted with any rating beyond passable. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed some of the matches but what happened at my house show was worlds away from what I can see on Raw, Smackdown or even NXT on a weekly basis. Part of that might have been a consequence of the show’s low attendance. Here’s a picture from my vantage point, during the aforementioned gay match.
I’m a terrible judge of crowd size but even if we’re being generous with our numbers there’s only a few hundred people in that picture. Gun to my head I would have said 250-300 people showed up to this show and who knows how many of them actually paid money for a seat. That’s not a lot of people and with absolutely zero eyes at home watching there’s no reason for the wrestlers to bust their asses when they’ve got other shows coming up and future, non-crippled lives to lead. Consequentially all the wrestlers played it safe and did just enough in the ring to get by. That AJ Styles/Bobby Rhoode match the Rajah.com live report claimed was an “Excellent match that was given plenty of time”? Yeah, I would call that match the perfect example of the coasting prevalent throughout the show. After all the BS to start the match, the beat the count-out spot and everything else, AJ peppered in his dropkick, springboard clothesline, Pele kick, Style Clash, and a new submission move I’m unfamiliar with and pretty much called it a day from there. I guess you could say for a company named Total Nonstop Action or Impact Wrestling, there wasn’t much action or impact, or even any moves to the outside. Maybe all the planchas happened during the X-division match I missed but compare this to when ROH comes into town with no cameras and busts out the crazy moves anyway and TNA and its wrestlers just look kind of lax.
That’s not to say I didn’t have fun. Watching sub-par wrestling with my girlfriend was like watching it with a fresh set of eyes and a different, hilarious, completely unattached prospective. Her theories and observations about the wrestlers and their fans were probably the most entertaining aspects of the show for me. Like how the male wrestlers really want you to look at their butts because they’ve got writing there and how AJ’s haircut looks stupid. And by going to this show I can also officially that say I’ve seen AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, Samoa Joe, both parts of Beer Money and Bully Ray, none of whom I really expect to show up in the WWE and enter my viewing patterns any time soon. Would I go to another TNA house show if I had to pay for the tickets? Imma quickly say no, but I at least was able to check it out for free once and I got to make this face after Bully Ray denied some kid a high five.