On Sunday evening I went to TNA Wrestling’s pay-per-view extravaganza Destination X, held live at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. I went to one of these years ago and didn’t really have a good time; tonight I had a blast. I’ll be the first to admit professional wrestling is plain stupid but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit. The documentary Beyond the Mat sums it up the best when it states, “professional wrestling is theater at its most base.”
The Crowd and the Experience
You’re probably wondering why I’m writing about a live event and the reason is simple: it’s on television. Wrestling relies on a live audience; otherwise it’s just a bunch of drugged out men fake fighting in an empty room – where’s the fun in that? A mutual friend of my girlfriend and me (who attended the same university we did) expressed an interest in going before she moves to another town and I took her up on the invitation. Why wouldn’t I? A chance to see professional wrestling live with another wrestling fan amidst a sea of morons sounded incredible. Let me state here that I don’t believe all wrestling fans are dim (I’m a fair-weather wrestling fan and consider myself of average intelligence) but those surrounding us in the “Impact Zone” were definitely the recipients of too many recessive genes. They’re the butt end of humanity, a group of socially awkward men who compile self worth by outsmarting (to an extent) a scripted combat television series.
We were sitting behind a group who has dubbed themselves “The Goon Squad” and normally sport various signs at Impact tapings and TNA pay-per-views. Their chants were uninspired and their failed attempts to score with the middle schoolers sitting nearby teetered into embarrassing territory. In short, I felt like an asshole for thinking they’re behavior was silly and their intelligence was lacking but I couldn’t help it. They were kind of stupid.
What’s great about TNA tapings is they’re free, unless you want front row seats. All you have to do is show up and if you get there early enough to get onto the stand-by list you usually get in. We arrived at Universal at 11am, put our names on the list, and hightailed it back to my house to watch Showgirls for the tenth time. My partner-in-crime for this adventure (let’s call her “A”) used to attend Impact tapings regularly a few years back and she said it was much more disorganized then. If that’s the case they must’ve done some quite hideous things in the past because the organization for yesterday’s event was quite slipshod.
A hefty man in a yellow shirt was going through the crowd of hundreds shouting orders; the only problem was he was inaudible. It’s like we were playing a giant game of telephone, where the man would bark orders into the wind and the crowd would send back word, incorrectly most of the time, about what was happening. Ending up in the wrong line on several occasions testifies to the ineptitude of both TNA’s crowd staff and the audience members. Hell, even I was quite bungling at this point.
Add to this the heat. Florida, especially Central Florida, during the summer is an exercise in endurance. Even though the sun was hiding behind rain clouds it felt like I was wading through soup. I can’t imagine anyplace worse during the summer – I’d venture to say Saudi Arabia is more intense but at least they have air conditioning almost everywhere (at least, everywhere where rich people congregate). After a few hours of enduring Florida’s elements (along with half a dozen bathroom trips just to cover my head with water) we were finally admitted into the building. I felt like a cow being ushered by a bunch of dimwits raised on bad sitcoms.
The matches themselves were actually pretty decent. The pay-per-view wasn’t a five star event – I was expecting a great deal from an all X-Division event – but none of the matches were complete stinkers. The evening began with Samoa Joe versus Kaz – a match where Joe provided most of the offense and ended with Kaz scoring a quick pin out of nowhere. There were a few decent spots and it was a good opener but I expected more from these two. It was also about this time that I noticed how fake some of the moves look when witnessing them in person. I’ve always known professional wrestling is like a magic show: it’s all about sleight of hand and the correct angles. On television the directors utilize their many cameras just right so the tricks of the trade aren’t given away; unfortunately this doesn’t work with the naked eye, which can take in much more and from unflattering angles. I’ve been to live wrestling events before (and will never attend a WWE event again) but my lackluster seats have made the small, half naked men always look better; when you’re less than 40 yards away the subtleties of professional wrestling are more apparent.
Next was some British guy versus an unknown wrestler. This match was decent, contained a few good spots (especially from the new guy) but didn’t really do anything to get the crowd going. What I saw was decent but it didn’t really tell a story and was basically filler. After all, TNA has almost three hours to fill up. Following this was a tag team match featuring two self obsessed millennials called Generation Me versus Eric Young and the returning Shark Boy. I’ve always liked Shark Boy – he’s both a shark and a boy: how can you go wrong here? It was a decent match but other than a few interesting athletics it was just a gimmick match.
The Ultimate X match was up next and this didn’t compare to past incarnations of this contest. Basically, Ultimate X is like a ladder match but instead ropes are suspended from metal posts surrounding the ring and the objective is capturing a giant red X suspended about ten feet over the ring. The wrestlers shimmy across the ropes and hopefully capture the X. The match featured a litany of X-Division performers notorious for filling up the events second act and this was won by Alex Shelley – a Michigan native with hair like a skunk. The Amazing Red (a white trash looking guy who does incredible Luchador style moves) intensified the match and was the highlight of this bout. I’d give the match three and a half stars.
Next was the first of two main events: Rob Van Dam versus Jerry Lynn – an old ECW rivalry brought into the second decade of the 21st century. Both of these guys are over 40 now and after watching a match between these two, AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels on Impact the other night I was a little concerned. Although Lynn hasn’t lost much of his skills RVD has slowed down a little bit. That doesn’t mean Van Dam isn’t still capable of incredible in-ring work but he’s in the declining years of his career and the stunts he pulled in ECW (or WWE for that matter) might not be possible. The match featured some great spots and a pretty impressive Van Daminator (where RVD kicks a chair into his opponents head) but didn’t recreate the magic these two had in the original ECW. Van Dam won with a Frog Splash after taking a few very impressive bumps onto a chair – he was also bleeding by the conclusion. Overall I’d give this three and a half stars.
Next was a match between four potential future TNA wrestlers, all vying for a contract with the company. In short, the winner would receive a “contract” with TNA. Aside from Austin Aries I didn’t really know who anybody else was and the finale, where Aries captured the win, wasn’t that surprising. I remember him from the earlier days of TNA and his time in Ring of Honor has made some buzz online over the last few years. Granted, I haven’t seen Aries wrestle in years but he’s still quite the performer. Everybody else in the match did their part and put on a good show and the match concluded with a good portion of the audience chanting, “Sign them all!” The match also featured audience chants where a definitive favorite was indeterminable and the crowd just yelled “Everybody!”
Next was Brian Kendrick (one of Shawn Michaels’ protégés) against Abyss: a 300+ pound guy who goes around quoting Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. The match featured a few excellent spots by Kendrick. I’ve always thought Abyss is a good wrestler to pair with little guys because the smaller performers can jump great distances and use him as a cushion. Bubba Ray Dudley, Kane, and Big Show in WWE are great examples of why ladder matches with numerous competitors always have a big guy: they can take it when a 200 pound guy falls on them; Abyss is no different and actually takes a bit more punishment than McMahon’s stable of large lunkheads. The match ended with Kendrich beating Abyss and capturing the X-Division title, which Abyss kept claiming was dead and buried on free television.
Finally the evening concluded with AJ Styles (TNA’s golden boy) versus Christopher Daniels (who did the stunts in the first Spider Man film). In the past these two wrestlers put on some great matches – falling from great distances, falling on their heads, crashing onto various weapons, etc. – but it seems like they don’t have the energy they once did. Professional wrestling, although fake, does slowly erode one’s physical health (not to mention their mental well being also) and performers who were incredible half a decade ago don’t have the same finesse they once did. Where these two would put on 40 minute matches in the past without showing any signs of exhaustion I could see them taking breaks in-between moves here and there, pausing for a quick breather and gaining their composure before another onslaught on fancy footwork. My friend Justin claims they did over 10 arm drags in the match, demonstrating their reliance on simple moves to supplement their treks into high impact choreography. Styles took the victory in the end but not after Daniels performed a large amount of trademark moves (including the aptly named B.M.E.: Best Moonsault Ever…or possibly Bowel Movements Everywhere).
Although the wrestling was entertaining – and the reason for attending – the crowd was the best part of the experience. I saw and interacted with intelligent people and complete dullards. My favorite example of America’s failing education system was a sign saying “RVD U Sux.” What?!?!? Has our public education fallen that far behind? There is a part of me that feels bad for analyzing the negative aspects of wrestling fans (and, believe me, there are plenty of those) but I’m not leaving out the positives. I met people who enjoy the spectacle of professional wrestling, fascinated with how it’s reminiscent of Rome’s gladiatorial games; I met people who know full well it’s sub-moronic, base entertainment but just don’t care (wearing their love of professional wrestling on their sleeves); I met teenagers who dress like Jeff Hardy; I met people from other countries completely fascinated with how the characters are larger than life. It’s a very diverse crowd and relegating all wrestling fans to a substandard category isn’t exactly honest.
My favorite attendee was a man wearing a Monster energy hat, a pair of Jnco’s with a long line of handkerchiefs, and sporting a grenade tattoo with the word “Grenade” on the inside – as if the picture of a grenade wasn’t enough? Is it possible somebody thought it was a pineapple? I figured it out without the seven letters confirming the quite distinct shape of a grenade is, in fact, a grenade. Maybe it’s a statement I’m not aware of. After all, I didn’t know what Juggalos were until about six months ago (thanks It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia). Even though I’m illiterate regarding some of contemporary youth culture I’m usually knowledgeable of the larger movements bandied about with the youngins – and I’m incredibly unfamiliar with “Grenade” style. Maybe I’m just getting old.
Although I wasn’t within close proximity to this man, my second favorite attendee, I did capture a fantastic picture of his back, revealing much about this person’s sense of style:
Like Ric Flair, this man has platinum hair and the shirt saying “Nature Boy” followed by the number one. He had front row seats for the pay-per-view, leading me to believe he’s quite the wrestling aficionado and his wardrobe reveals even more. Judging whether faux Nature Boy is a good person or not is possible but I have to admire his personal style; I’m certain this man is pushing 50 but he doesn’t deny it. The platinum blonde hair, which is thinning but not too much screams he’s acknowledging his age but not embracing it with resignation. Instead of becoming what Bill Hicks calls a “goober,” (wearing sock garters and easing embarrassingly into old age with aplomb) this man’s lifestyle is active – I’m sure he’s been skydiving and enjoys a healthy dose of outdoor activity. However, he sports a mullet and wears wrestling shirts at 50 years old. Maybe he’s a former wrestler; maybe he’s an enthusiast; maybe he’s both – I don’t know. I do know that I enjoyed looking at the back of his head for three hours.
And that, in a three page nutshell, is Destination-X. It only happens once a year and it didn’t feature Hulk Hogan and only a few brief moments of Eric Bischoff. I enjoyed the wrestling, people watching, the churros, and the experience. I doubt I’ll attend TNA again in the near future but it was a fun time. Just be warned: attending these events in the flesh means long lines, many hours standing around in the heat, and meeting many interesting people. Proceed with caution and have fun.