By Big Dawg
Follow me on Twitter @BigDawg801
Follow me on Twitter @BigDawg801
Let me start by saying it is EXTREMELY odd and surreal to be in the IMPACT Zone after watching IMPACT on Spike TV every week for the last 6 years religiously. Was I excited? Hell yes, I was excited. For those that don’t know me I write the BigDawg articles here on TNAsylum.com. I was the guy that held up the TNASYLUM sign, as reported here, during IMPACT on Oct. 25th and the most recent Xplosion. The reason I dragged around a sign all day (shielded from rain and humidity and crowds of people) at Universal Studios Orlando is because I am a huge TNA fan and a HUGE fan of TNAsylum. My intentions were genuine and intended to garner more traffic to the site and promote the best TNA website on the net. Here I am the day before IMPACT outside of the Soundstage at Universal Studios where TNA is filmed in front of the sign on that particular building.
After being in the IMPACT ZONE in person for the 1st time, I am more convinced about this than ever. TNA MUST make leaving the IMPACT ZONE its top priority and goal by 2014 or 2015 at the latest, or they will unfortunately end up being “The engine that never could”. How many years will that really take? Well for WCW it took from November 1988 to September 1995 to go from the NWA/WCW days on National T.V. with Ric Flair in 88’ on TBS to the debut of WCW Monday Nitro on TNT in 95’. That’s basically a 7 year period of growth to develop into a big enough company to be a distinct #2 wrestling company on national T.V. (and eventually #1 for a while). The situations are not identical, but very similar.
TNA has been on national T.V. (Fox Sports and then SPIKE) since June of 2004 which is just over 8 years. Similar time frames for the companies, but the main difference right now between the 2 parallels is money. Ted Turner was convinced by others to really open his checkbook up and throw millions of dollars at top talent to compete with the WWF. TNA has not made that jump yet but I can see that slowly happening, starting in 2013 or 2014. The financial commitment to leave the IMPACT ZONE when that does happen, will launch TNA into a distinct “reality check” type period. Then the real test begins as does the vengeance and competition of Vince McMahon. A lot of the faces in WCW exist now in TNA (Hogan, Bischoff, Borash, Tenay, Sting, etc) and WWE will only be able to ignore those old foes and the rest of TNA for so long. TNA has to make that much-anticipated jump of taking IMPACT on the road full-time and the sooner the better. When that day comes, watch out because wrestling will be more popular again and competitive again, and the product will be A LOT better for both companies.
The reason I have delved into some of the WCW comparison is because the IMPACT Zone experience was awesome but also sobering. Now, don’t get your undies in a bunch people, but the IMPACT ZONE is way smaller than most people think or envision. The camera-work does a really awesome job of making it seem big-time and special for its size but it is only 1,000 or so capacity venue that seems to feel smaller than that. Half of the crowd that attends the show has NO CLUE about who most of the wrestlers are or what TNA is. I will explain how I observed that point later on. However, there are definitely some passionate, loyal TNA fans that are regulars, and they do get vocal at times but are extremely spoiled and have been over-exposed to the product in person.
I am sure if I had attended a different IMPACT show than the show on CHAMPIONSHIP THURSDAY that that crowd would have been lackluster to say the least. I did my part to be loud and rowdy, and as I re-watched the show when I returned home I could actually hear my voice on the telecast prompting chants several times and it seemed like a more fan-involved show than usual most of the time. The point is TNA needs more rowdy fans to get the noise going.
The most visual point of my IMPACT adventure comes when my orange sign gets a brief close-up during the Bully Ray/Devon promo. I must say it was very cool to see myself and the sign on SPIKE TV, and somewhat gratifying after being a loyal fan for years! Don’t get me wrong, I would recommend anyone to go see an episode of IMPACT in person if you have the chance, just don’t expect to have your socks blown off in the IZ. The unique appeal of TNA in person is the personal interaction between the fans and the wrestlers. It is a family-type feeling and very different from WWE who basically is very corporate and cold in person with their shows (like FK9 has also expressed previously also).
So here is the experience broken down into 3 sections: Pre-Impact, Impact During the Show and Post-Impact with some accompanying pictures. Hope this sheds some light and please let me know what you think in the comments section:
The 1st issue I ran into was making sure I was there early enough to get good tickets and ensuring entrance. I had a late night Wednesday because of attending a Halloween Horror Nights event that went past midnight (awesome event btw if you like getting scared), so 11:15 was as early as I could make it given not having a rental car, having to take a shuttle bus to Universal again on Thursday and trying to get enough sleep to survive the day. So on Thursday morning at 11:15 there were only a few names on the V.I.P. list ahead of me when I arrived, so I felt secure in getting a decent seat. The old man giving out the tickets at Blue Man Group area said to come back to get in line at 5:30-5:45 p.m. So my friend and I had 6 hours to waste and didn’t want to spend full price for another day at Universal, that would be cut into a half day, so we decided to go to the City Walk area. If you do a similar plan, there are ways to waste your time there at Universal City Walk. It is a free outdoor mall-type of set-up with tons of restaurants, shopping and a huge movie theater. So after eating and seeing Paranormal Activity 4 in IMAX, we had wasted enough time to go back to the V.I.P. line.
Then the REAL waiting began. We were in the first 10 people who lined up and the others didn’t all have V.I.P. tickets. I honestly thought the line-control staff did a decent job, but the rules/protocol can be somewhat confusing and unfair. Firstly, they give numbered tickets when you pick them up initially (earlier in the day or at your time of arrival prior to show-time). However, they don’t enforce the lining up stuff by the number order on the tickets, they solely go by V.I.P.’s that come back on a “first come, first serve” basis.
Patience was the key and you kind of have to pay that price to get good seats. Also, people that have a regular V.I.P. status or are cast members (can’t tell which with some of them I saw that are ALWAYS in the IZ crowd) get in before everyone into the pit area by the guardrail with special ID’s. The 2nd section is IMPACT Wrestler Family and Friends tickets that wrestlers give out to people they know or have in town. 3rd section in is Universal Park ticket holders that get the V.I.P. tickets the day of. 4th section is where I was, which again were non-Universal park attendees (the day of) V.I.P.’s that picked up from Blue Man Group. After that is people who just walk up on a line for a show or didn’t know about emailing ahead to get a V.I.P. email (which you have to exchange for the tickets).
The park “Line Control Team” tried to pump up the crowd from time to time, but overall it was a boring, long wait. A random staff member came over to the entire lined up crowd and pulled a few people out to be in the pit. There was really no rhyme or reason to who got chosen, but those that were got to go in 15 minutes before our line did (another thing that didn't make complete sense to me). People around me were not super friendly or talkative either. Some were recognizable from being on IMPACT (guy that paints his face like Sting frequently was walking around for instance & some of the regular crowd that are in the IZ crowd were there). So my suggestion is to come back early as possible to avoid being pushed to the back of long lines. There are restrooms and a water fountain close by, but not a lot else in close proximity.
At some point during the 2 hours of wait time, 2 girls came around to the lines and offered a meet and greet with RVD for $20 after IMPACT, which I of course paid and took part in. I am an RVD mark so I got pretty excited for that. Finally after the other 3 sections were let in to the IZ starting at 7:10ish, they led our V.I.P. line at 7:35 all the way to Sound Stage 21 and into the IMPACT ZONE, via the way that Aces and Eights walk into the building currently. We were in and ready to get rowdy!
IMPACT LIVE DURING THE SHOW!
So for a while after quickly selecting a seat on the IZ bleachers, which was disorganized and chaotic at times for the fans, things started to get confusing. The communication with the crowd from the TNA on-air staff was sub-par. You could tell that Taz and Tenay were not at the announcers booth but they did not let us know why. You could tell that Christy Hemme and SoCal Val were winging it and not as comfortable in that role as J.B. is. Also, Borash was running back and forth from the backstage area to the announce booth right up until the show went LIVE so something was causing issues for sure. I have been to the LIVE IMPACT in Las Vegas 4 years ago and also another LIVE event in Boise/Nampa, Idaho but this was the worst communication to the crowd out of the 3 TNA events that I have now attended. Now understandably they switched the announce team duties around for the 1st time in 3 plus years at this show but never the less the crowd communication sucked.
Now, I know a lot of RVD haters are out there, but the dude is over HUGE right now as X-Division champ in the IZ. The loudest it got all night was during the main event of Angle/Hardy but RVD vs. Zema Ion was definitely the 2nd loudest match of the evening. The people in the pit were mostly into it all, but only a hand-full of fans in the bleachers above the ground-level were really into the matches, minus the 2 segments I just mentioned. The Kaz/Daniels promo when they were alone was probably the 3rd best reaction. Chavo and Hernandez didn’t get much pop at all, which isn't surprising. Tessmacher got some reaction with her butt-and-crotch-in-face routine. People didn't dig the making out of Tara and Jesse, but it didn’t get a lot of heat either.
Samoa Joe is a master of the craft and gets fans excited. Anderson and Aries got mediocre reaction during their match, with Anderson playing the face role. The Devon/Bully Ray promo was very passionate and came across well to the LIVE crowd, even for those fans who were clueless or seeing TNA for the 1st time. The Hardy/Angle reaction from the crowd was classic TNA fan reaction. At least 2 strong TNA chants, 2 “This is Awesome” chants, and several dueling Hardy and Angle chants. There was energy in the crowd, but not nearly as much as the 2 shows I had been to before outside of the IZ. I had a lot of fun during the show and was pretty sure my sign I had made got on T.V., even before I found out it actually did afterwards.
The thing about being in the IZ is that the hard camera side is set-up like a T.V. studio with a few fans in front on that side, so it seems kind of weird when the wrestlers speak to the main camera. The camera work and production makes the IMPACT ZONE look more special and bigger than it is in person. Knowing that it was LIVE and that there were 4 Championship matches made it feel more important than usual so don’t expect a lot of crowd reaction if you go to the IZ, unless it’s a PPV and even that doesn’t always happen either.
It worked perfectly to sneak down there and be right on T.V. I think some of the TNA/Universal workers there must have missed orientation that day or something because even the IZ workers didn’t know exactly why the pre-show matches were happening post-IMPACT. A lot of the crowd didn’t give a care that they were happening and off they went. The half that stayed were the more energetic fans but the Xplosion show is going to look bush-league and half-ass with a tiny crowd and empty seats for that episode. The bright side though is that my sign was in plain view until a security guy finally came over after 4 or 5 minutes, and explained that he had been instructed to make me take it down. As a loyal reader and contributor to this web-site I was proud to hold that sign. There is a cool sense of community here with TNAsylum and maybe other people will also come be a part of that from seeing the site address? Not to get too sappy that is! Just felt good to have my plan work and help out.
The coolest thing of the night, which etched my loyalty to TNA in stone afterwards more than ever was the personal interaction with the wrestlers afterwards. Hernandez, Chavo & Taryn Terrell (which was supposed to be Tara and that pissed people off too) also came out to sign stuff ringside. The disorganization after the dark match and Xplosion match was back again from the staff, but the wrestlers still made it work decently, despite the incompetency of the IMPACT ZONE staff that night. The line was not in order and there was no line control for the meet and greet with RVD. Then they forgot his X-Division belt so a few fans started taking the $20 pics with the 2 picture girls minus the belt. Then all the sudden the belt showed up magically with another staff member bringing it to the ring. They decided to have the fans who took the RVD pics without the belt retake all the pics again with the belt now. So it lingered on and moved slowly and out of order. I was losing my patience at this point because I had a shuttle bus to catch back to my hotel and I had to leave at 11:15 to make it in time. Suddenly they got order restored and I got into the ring with RVD. I had a nice little conversation with RVD and even made him laugh which was awesome. I marked out big-time and was super happy about the $20 that I had spent on that.
I didn’t have time to go to the merchandise stand since they got us in so close to show-time and I didn’t want to miss anything happening (it also was not open after the show).
Everything they had there is also available on the ShopTNA website so no biggie there.
So as I was waiting in another area of the IMPACT ZONE to pick up my developed meet-and-greet pic with RVD, the most frustrating part of the IMPACT ZONE experience happened. The staff member girl that was printing out the pics for people had something go wrong with her computer. They couldn’t pull up the pics or something I had gathered from her reaction. I waited for another 35 minutes from that point to get the printed picture. I nearly missed my shuttle bus that I had to pay $20 for, but made it just in the nick of time. The picture printing debacle was one of those moments that pisses me off with poor customer service stuff. No explanation was given to the fans standing there as to what was going on. We put 2 and 2 together eventually but they never told us anything really. No time-frame was given for how long it was going to take or what the problem was or if it was even being resolved. So irritating to have something like this happen after being so pumped up from a good show.
The building staff needs to sharpen up honestly, but the wrestlers are comfortable there and performed well. The T.V. production gaff of “Cut” during the Aries/Anderson backstage segment was a classic gaff, and will ever be a part of Botchamania which is hilarious. It seems like as a growing company that some details with TNA are lacking. Maybe they need to hire some better staff for the IMPACT ZONE. It looked like they were UNIVERSAL STUDIOS employees and not directly TNA workers, for the most part, that were screwing up according to their shirts and name badges. The split TNA staff of those going to Missouri could explain some of what happened that night I’m sure. Those employees who were not there to assist in the IMPACT ZONE, but instead were setting up the LIVE event in Missouri could have surely improved the total experience and maintained more order. I give the whole thing a 7.5 out of 10 on overall ranking.