Despite his team losing to Jeremy Borash’s last week, Josh Mathews is still commentating for Impact Wrestling, coming out to announce on last night’s Bobby Lashley vs. James Storm main event. Just when I thought I was out… I won’t go too much into spoilers, as TNA, Impact Wrestling, and Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Bonanza whatever you want to call it – returns to UK television tonight. After finishing up with Challenge late last year, Impact will now be airing on Spike UK every Friday at 9 pm. To make the time continuities even more confusing, though, the latest batch of TNA tapings started last night and will run nightly until Sunday for their TV in May. And it was during those tapings where two big TNA returns happened.
The next part contains spoilers for the as-yet-unaired episodes of Impact Wrestling, so skip ahead if you want to avoid them. Spoilers in 3…2… Shortly after Karen Jarrett announced that Global Force Wrestling had now merged with Impact Wrestling, GFW wrestler and producer Sonjay Dutt came down to the ring to be added to the promotion’s X Division. WWE reportedly offered Dutt a trainer position at their Performance Center after he led several guest sessions there, but he signed with Impact because of not wanting to relocate. Dutt first debuted for TNA in 2003, where he was one of the original X Division pioneers alongside Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels and Amazing Red. Dutt was inserted right away into a six-way match for the X Division Championship against Andrew Everett, Dezmond Xavier, Suicide, Trevor Lee and another big TNA return – four-time X Division champion (and the first ever ROH World Champion, trivia fans) – Low Ki.
The match was said to be “really good…with lots of innovative and wild action,” which Low Ki ended up winning, making him a five-time champion. He wore his incredibly cool Agent 47-inspired ring attire throughout. For those unaware, WWE commentator Mauro Ranallo hasn’t been on Smackdown Live since mid-March because of a reported bout of depression. The Wrestling Observer claims Ranallo’s absence is because of WWE’s corporate culture of bullying, specifically from Mauro’s broadcast partner JBL, all the more shocking because of the company’s anti-bullying campaign B. A. Star, and that Ranallo is a well-known sufferer of bipolar disorder. Mauro isn’t expected to return to WWE for the remainder of his contract.
Dave Meltzer is continuing to expose more and more of the backstage bullying culture seemingly embedded in WWE, revealing in his latest Newsletter several more examples: When Ranallo was working with Jerry Lawler on Smackdown, The King would call him ‘M. R.’ – a play on Mauro’s initials, just like how Jim Ross used to be ‘J. R.’. Unfortunately, it seems there was likely another meaning to this, as in the 70s, when Lawler and Vince McMahon were growing up, “M.R.” was considered one of the worst playground slurs, similar to gay slurs in their generation, as it was short for “mental retard.” The nickname was dropped after a few weeks. This came at the same time Vince reportedly started to sour on Ranallo. Several months after hiring Mauro at the start of 2016 to bring in a new, more sport-like voice to Smackdown, McMahon seemingly decided he just wanted Ranallo to announce like Michael Cole, which is why Tom Phillips was soon added as the fourth man commentator. And with Mauro’s “insane memory of knowledge of certain subjects that either left people in awe or threatened. He was tabbed as weird.” The last straw incident for Mauro appears to have been JBL’s shoot comments during the WWE Network’s Bring It To The Table show, which the Wrestling Observer say was actually a management-endorsed burying of Ranallo, “not Layfield going off on his own” with either Vince McMahon or Kevin Dunn planning the segment.
The backstage environment has been described as high-school-like, with the ‘cool kids’ frequently berating ring announcers and other commentators who weren’t wrestlers first. And Byron Saxton. “It was far more than just Layfield.” The Mauro situation has caused many other victims of WWE bullying to come forward. In one of the most shocking stories recounted in the Newsletter, a non-wrestler employee in WWE had two weeks off because of a close family member dying. On their return, it’s claimed JBL harassed the person for missing the dates, “and he didn’t stop until the person was in tears.” Should WWE fire JBL?
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