Welcome to Week 3 of wrestling-based reality competition that's so entertaining, it makes Tough Enough look like a puddle of puke. Last week, the Manchester auditions produced a fine physical specimen with lamentable mic skills, a dime-a-dozen masked wrestler who doesn't talk, a guy with a nice body and not much else, and Mark Andrews, who just might be worth paying attention to. I saw no one as charismatic as Nikki Storm from Glasgow, or as unique as Kay Lee Ray (also from Glasgow). Also, Grado showed up again, which generated some conflicting opinions about whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. Personally, I was leaning toward the latter.
Now's your time to shine, London. Hit me with your best shot.
-Dave Mastiff- I don't know about his look and ideally I'd like to see him drop some weight, but physically, the guy can move much better than his appearance suggests; a man that big who can do a kip-up is nothing to sneeze at. He's like Tyrus, if Tyrus were agile and athletic instead of slow and boring. His promo on Samoa Joe wasn't bad either. I do wonder if some fans might look at him and think, "B-grade Kevin Steen," but he did well here. No complaints about him going through.
-Martin Stone- WWE creative had nothing for this guy? Well, that was stupid of them. Without even seeing what he could do in the ring, I wanted him to make the final 6 just based on his terrific promo. Great mic skills this guy has and he conveyed emotion brilliantly. Plus, he looks like a believable badass, which isn't always easy. I liked his audition better than any we saw in Manchester and nearly all the ones we saw in Glasgow too. Keep your eye on this one.
-The Owens Twins- I'm seeing double here... FOUR Owens Twins! (I'm sorry. I had to.)
I've always liked these girls. While not as cute as the Blossom Twins, they're just as attractive, and a step ahead on the mic and in the ring. Also, I think they'd be less likely to opt out if they were to get contracts. They came off very well in their promo package, but stumbled a bit in front of the judges. However, they didn't freeze up and didn't let it keep them from showing how badly they want this.
They didn't have the nerves completely under control during the wrestling portion, though, so that may be something to consider. They weren't on the same level as Nikki Storm and Kay Lee Ray, but they were head and shoulders above any of the women who auditioned in Manchester (granted, that's not saying much). They showed that they're not 100% ready for TV here, but I think there could be money in Kasey & Leah down the road as an Anti-Blossoms act. Plus, they're twins; there aren't many of those in pro wrestling and it could be a nifty marketing gimmick.
They looked shaky today, but I've seen them do quite well elsewhere, and they were the only women in Manchester or London who could add any depth to the female side of the semi-finals. They're probably no threat to the ladies from Glasgow, but I was happy to see them make it to the next round. They were spotlighted more than most of the other hopefuls this week, so TNA may see something in them.
-RJ Singh- Not bad. He seemed nervous at first, but the nerves abated when he had to cut a promo. However, like with Melanie Price last week, I didn't really believe him when he talked. His promo lacked conviction. He delivered it well, but it felt very rehearsed rather than something that came to him naturally. Still, it would be nice to see an indian wrestler on TV that wasn't stereotyped like others have been before him (then again, TNA just signed one of those). I question his natural charisma, but he did well enough to make the semi-finals, so we'll see if he improves from here.
-Richard Parliament- Would he work on TV? Maybe as a Sharkboy-esque enhancement guy. Otherwise, probably not. But, God help me, I laughed at his audition. And unlike some of the others, this time I was supposed to laugh. Sue me, the guy was funny. Parliament has no chance of winning, but I smiled when he made it through the audition round, so that's something. Yeeeeaaaahhhh!
-Joel Redman- Seems like another Rampage Brown. He's got the look, he just didn't back it up on the mic. He was hesitant and passionless when he had to cut a promo, and I didn't believe a word that came out of his mouth. Though, to his credit, at least he didn't stumble over his words like Brown did last week. He might be able to learn better mic skills, but I didn't see a great deal of affinity for the personality side of the equation. Still, he did well enough to squeak by to the wrestling portion, but just by the skin of his teeth.
-Sha Samuels- I worry for the safety of his poor wife and kids, but this was another audition I laughed at and another guy who would be entertaining to watch in the short term even though he has no chance of winning, so I was fine with the judges letting him stay. Samuels and Parliament are the type of characters they can keep around for a bit because they make for good TV without damaging the integrity of the selection process by giving Grado another opportunity after he blew his first one. Speaking of which...
Uh oh... I spoke too soon...
-Grado- Really? Again? Sigh...
I believe I said everything I had to say about Mr. Grado in the first two editions of this review, but I have one thing to add: Please wear a shirt during your matches, man. At the very least don't pull your straps down. Kurt Angle can pull the straps down and make it work, but it's really not a good look for Grado.
And just FTR, any wrestler who admits that he gasses out just by doing his entrance is not someone I care to see wrestling on TV for any length of time. He might be entertaining to some people in small doses, but ask yourself if this is a guy you really want working 10+ minute matches on iMPACT semi-regularly.
Once again, we don't get to see a whole lot of what the contestants bring to the table in the ring because all that gets shown is quick clips. Mostly they focused on the twins fouling up a bit, but then improving when they had to, and Samuels beating Grado all over the ring, about which Al Snow's reaction was priceless.
And then they tell us that every contestant made it through to the semi-finals, which I found kind of surprising. I think that happened mainly because they needed enough talent to actually put on a show for the semi-finals episode and this was the only way it was going to happen. Based on their time in front of the judges, (and without more wrestling footage, that's mostly what I have to base this on) I would say that Martin Stone was far and away the most compelling prospect, although I wanted to see more of Dave Mastiff. I also thought the twins were worth keeping around for now, provided they can keep the nerves at bay when they face off against Ray and Storm next week.
I'm calling bullshit on this Grado storyline. Giving him another chance to audition was one thing, but him making the semi-finals is a load of crap. They're trying to set him up as some kind of lovable underdog and I'm not buying it for one second. For the life of me, I can't figure out what they think is so fascinating about this clown. Personally, I just want him to go away. If TNA want to use him on the tour, so be it, but this is not a guy who should be winning the contract for a multitude of reasons.
From a production standpoint, this was the most enjoyable episode so far for me. They focused more on highlighting the contestants and less on making fun of them. Yes, there were some laughs to be had, but it didn't feel like they were padding the show out with them, probably because there was more promising talent this week. I doubt I would have put everyone through if it were up to me, but again, TNA wouldn't have a full card for the semi-finals otherwise.
After 3 weeks of auditions, I think we have a pretty good idea of who the final 6 will be, although the list of people that have a realistic chance of winning the contract is probably shorter than that. I'm still rooting for Kay Lee Ray and Nikki Storm, but my personal favorites now include Martin Stone and Mark Andrews, with Dave Mastiff as the dark horse. I'm not sure any of the others are ready yet, but a lot can happen next week.