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TNA Breakdown: Kenny King vs. Zema Ion at Hardcore Justice 2012

Kenny King and Zema Ion.

In the last few weeks on Impact Wrestling, fans have seen Bound for Glory matches, the continuation of AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels‘ vendetta, and the increasing emergence of a mysterious heel stable known as ‘Aces and Eights’.

Amid all this, the X Division Champion and his first real opponent have flown somewhat under the radar. There is, arguably, less interest in them, their match, and their rivalry than there is every other on the Hardcore Justice card.

Sometimes, that is for the best.

Austin Aries vs. Bobby Roode is a rematch anticipated with bated breath, while the BFG ladder match involves four of the most beloved and talented competitors in TNA history.

Zema Ion vs. Kenny King, by comparison, is a match fans may not particularly care about.

For that reason alone, both men have the opportunity to put on a good wrestling match and imprint themselves on the mind of every TNA fan, catapulting themselves to stardom in the same way their high-profile compatriots had to.

The future begins here. 


Trailblazing his way into the consciousness of wrestling fans during the X Division Championship tournament, Kenny King has come a long way in a short amount of time.

It all started rather controversially for him, though, when his contract with Ring of Honor expired; having wrestled Lars Only on the July 5 episode of Impact, ROH determined that he had reneged on a verbal agreement not to wrestle for another company, and his affiliation with the company has been severed.

Judging from the beginnings of his TNA career, he won’t come to regret it.

Despite losing out on his chance to become X Division champion at Destination X, he nonetheless gave another performance that highlighted his potential to headline the division for years to come.

What’s more, he has been given the ultimate endorsement; none other than Austin Aries earmarked him as a future star on Impact:

“You keep wrestling like that, you’re gonna have a championship before you know it.”

Austin Aries is the current TNA Heavyweight Champion, and is formerly the longest reigning X Division champion ever; he was undefeated, no less, vacating the championship in June to pursue the Heavyweight title.

If Kenny King wins the X Division title this early in his TNA career, he would would not only validate the opinion of Aries, but also propel himself to a new level of notoriety.

Losing, however, seems like it would only be a temporary setback in what could be a tremendous career.


Zema Ion has arguably the most difficult role in TNA.

He must validate a championship that is intrinsic to the history, success, and very nature of the company, while at the same time validating himself as a competitor.

What’s more, he must do this under the shadow of the last champion, and perhaps the most adored wrestler in TNA at this time, Austin Aries.

No easy task.

For Zema Ion, though, it should be all about creating his own legacy rather than replicating, or trying to outdo, the legacy of Aries. For Zema Ion, this reign is a chance for him to solidify himself as an intrinsic cog in the TNA machine.

Someone they can rely on to deliver when it’s most needed.

That is what makes a star.

In his favour are several elements; he is a decent wrestler, good talker, and is currently the recipient of some red hot heat. That last factor course, is as a result of him inadvertently breaking the neck of Jesse Sorensen.

The incident has been integrated cleverly into a kayfabe storyline that could help both men; Sorensen returned at Destination X and cut a heartfelt promo about getting revenge on Zema Ion.

Undeterred, Ion would go on to win the X Division championship that same night, and had his say:

“A year ago, I was here at Destination X fighting for a contract. One year later, full circle! I’m in TNA, I’m in Impact Wrestling, and I am the new X Division champion. I’ll turn heads, break necks, cash cheques, and keep championships.”

Arrogant, cowardly and narcissistic, Zema Ion is learning to embody the heel characteristics perfected over the years by the likes of Rick Rude and Chris Jericho.

If he is to take the championship to new heights, he will need that and more.

If he loses the championship to Kenny King, he will need that and more just to stay relevant.


Again, it all comes back to Austin Aries.

It was definitely the right time to push him into the main event scene. The overyjoyed reactions to his historical victory over Bobby Roode, and his current reign as Heavyweight Champion, completely validate that.

It was not, however, a good decision for the X Division Championship.

There weren’t many established contenders waiting in the wing to plug the gap left by Aries and his decision to vacate the title. Subsequently, TNA used a tournament to help create competition and develop new characters that can take forward the division.

This rivalry is the beginning of that.

Kenny King, the challenger, is exactly the sort of wrestler that suits the division, and is a good choice as both the first major opponent of the new champion, and as someone to push as a star.

Zema Ion, the champion, is a talented individual who has a lot of time on his side to become a great overall performer. In the ring, on the microphone, as a character, and as a champion.

Unfortunately, the story begins and ends there, lending it little intrigue or suspense. It would perhaps have been better to highlight more of a rivalry between the two competitors, and to emphasise the face and heel characteristics of both men.

Most importantly, though, there does exist the feeling that both men are hungry for success as champion. Zema Ion seems willing to do anything he can to hold on to the title, while Kenny King looks ready to scratch and claw his way to success.

Their task is simple.

To put on a good match, and rekindle some interest in the X Division. It’s still there, of course, but much like the tag team division in WWE, the lack of characters and legitimate rivalries at this point means fan interest is dormant.

It’s time for Zema Ion and Kenny King to wake it up.

About Paul McIntyre

From Gaijin Classics to Golden Promos, Paul McIntyre is without a doubt a one of a kind writer. No one possibly displays more passionate and thought-provoking work regarding wrestling than he does. With a love for championship prestige and Everton FC, he remains to be one of the very best writers on the staff.
  • SiD

    Great article, kept me interested throughout! Kenny King, meh, I dislike him, and Ion, well, let’s just say that he’s good. I wanted to see Sonjay Dutt face Ion and win, because it makes much more sense, since Zema sprayed the thing on him. Anyway, Ion’s winning, no doubt!

    • http://twitter.com/Paul_Mc7 Paul McIntyre

      I agree, Zema Ion is most likely to win, though I doubt it will be clean. I think they’re pushing Kenny King strong to be the next big guy in the X Division. He seems talented, though he’s going to have to develop more strings to his bow.

      • SiD

        Meh, he shouldn’t be the next guy. Aries was brilliant, King, however is not. 

  • http://twitter.com/Blair_LucasWE Blair Lucas

    All I’m going to say is that from what I’ve seen, Zema Ion is complete and utter garbage on the mic.

    • http://twitter.com/Paul_Mc7 Paul McIntyre

      I don’t think he’s too bad. He’s got character, which always helps on the mic. Whereas a guy like Dolph Ziggler, who I honestly think isn’t a bad talker, is let down by the fact he has little to no persona.

  • Sean Linhares

    This match will certainly be the most underrated match of the night, unless that tag match comes through, which it may. It hasn’t gotten much hype, but King is excellent in a ring and Zema can hold his own. Hopefully they can pull it off.

    Kenny King is one of the best wrestlers today and is pretty over for just entering the company a month or two ago. The man has talent, pure talent.

    Zema is honestly underrated IMO. He’s not great at anything, but he can work a decent match and cut a meh promo. His character is what makes him and he plays it to perfection.

    I’m expecting to see Zema win dirty, probably with hairspray to the eyes of King. The feud should continue for at least another month or two. Should be a decent match at worst.

    • http://twitter.com/Paul_Mc7 Paul McIntyre

      Exactly. I quite like the persona Zema Ion is portraying; like I said in the article, it’s a little bit Rick Rude (ego) and a little bit of Chris Jericho (cowardly). He’s not nearly at that level, of course, but he’s knows the basic way of playing those characters.

      A little character can take you a long way.

  • Judas Thundersteel

    ROH is based out of Bristol, Pennsylvania.

    A very nice way of selling this match, mentioning that they have to get fans’ eyes on them. They are working with not much steam and have to create steam. While these are different matches, it hit my mind, and might as well share it. At Over the Limit, Daniel Bryan and CM Punk went into their match with little steam, but they were able to leave the arena, creating more fire, after an awesome match. Essentially, making wrestling matter. As TNA has that as a slogan, and with two guys that need momentum, letting them just go crazy for about 10 minutes, cohesively mind you, will be enough to get steam on them. What makes me more interested in this matchup is that this confirms Kenny King will stay in TNA, which is a good thing. While Ion will have the X-Division title upon Jesse Sorensen’s return, my belief is that if anyone can perfectly follow up the new tradition of Option C, it’s Kenny King.

    Option C being the Christmas gift card handling of the X-Division championship come Destination X. While the words of Jesse Sorensen was nice, I honestly shudder to think of him having the X-Division title and trading it in for a world title shot. Much worse if he actually won. Zema Ion? Could he pull Option C? It’s possible, and this being his first PPV title defense, it would give a good start to his foundation. I considerably have favor of Ion. He’s a good wrestler, talker, has personality. He has the opportunity to not only improve his solid ground, but as you said, make himself into a reliable superstar. What I didn’t think about though is how Ion does have to follow Aries’ title reign. Jeez, in that perspective, he’s got a crap ton of work to do. It’s up to creative and himself to make it so. Part of that also relies on who he faces. Ion’s still pretty fresh on actual TV, and while his opponent isn’t blessed with this kind of TV exposure due to ROH, one thing’s certain, and this is just my opinion. That thing being that Kenny King’s a better performer than Ion. With Chavo in TNA and assuming he gets a crack at the X-Division title, and potential in Sonjay Dutt, Ion can work with these more veteran (to him at least) talent. He’s good, but he can be better. Typically one gets better by working with a wrestler superior to them. Another thought that just popped to mind. I’m sure John Cena got to be a better in ring performer by working with Kurt Angle way early into his career. Ion seems to be a guy willing to learn and grow each passing day, as was my interpretation from his Art of Wrestling podcast interview from May of this year. So I’m sure he will try and deliver and grow, with Hardcore Justice being good proving ground. Meanwhile, King has an opening to make more good first impressions on the fans. Technically this is his biggest match to date, and with the need of steam being added, he can certainly take this as a special occassion, and work very hard.

    It’s cute that this is the first breakdown article for Hardcore Justice, a match that’s not talked about a lot. Leave it to the McIntyre Barrage to get things rolling. They had great exposure on last week’s opening Impact match, so this being the next step, all alone this time, hopefully this match is something to note rather well after the show’s done. Really, hopefully, I mean, the 4 way ladder match alone gets me going nuts. As far as the actual winner? King is more new, and thus has more of a chance to regain anything if lost. Fans are solidly behind him anyways. Ion’s the guy after Aries, and the guy for Sorensen, thus, he needs a legitimate first defense to set him on the path. I’m talking more on safety, as Ion CAN lose the match and regain momentum, but the key word is “can.”

    As a former commentator once said. “It’s gonna be on like schteamin pot of neckbones, dawg.” At least I hope so.

    • http://twitter.com/Paul_Mc7 Paul McIntyre

      Damn it, my mate said ROH was based out of Chicago! And where the hell was Kevin Berge when I needed to find that out? Resident fact checker, you let me down!

      You’re right though, Judas, the McIntyre Barrage has, once again, came through, though at this point it’s come on so far, so quickly, that I think we can safely call it the “McIntyre  Massacre.”

      I took on this Breakdown assignment for exactly the opinions you expressed: there’s little interest, but these guys could actually really make a name for themselves because there almost guaranteed to exceed what is zero expectation.

      Anyway, glad you enjoyed this. Keep them comments coming, brother!

  • http://twitter.com/TheBerge_ Kevin Berge

    Two TNA rookies battling it out for a championship that has spanned most of the company’s history. I really don’t feel like Kenny King now is worthy of the title. He’s a fine character, but, if he was going to win it, he should have done so at Destination X. The only reason he is where he is is Austin Aries. It just feels like they are pushing King as the next Aries.

    Zema has a unique and standout character in TNA, and I have hardly ever seen him put on a bad match in TNA. He is quick and pulls his character along whenever he competes. King is flashy, but he hardly has a character or persona yet that shines.

    I feel the only people who should take the title off Ion are Sonjay Dutt or Jesse Sorenson. Dutt will probably win it at Bound for Glory, so I don’t see Zema losing the title before that. Both guys have a bright future with TNA. Hopefully they make the most of their in ring time on Sunday.

    The X Division needs them to do so.

    Good work here, Paul, you broke the match down really well.

    • http://twitter.com/Paul_Mc7 Paul McIntyre

      Thanks, Kevin. As ever, I aim to please.

  • JacobStachowiak

    I didn’t even think of it, but yeah, Ion’s got it rough and being almost a rookie at this point must be a huge task to try to overcome. Great points made there, Paul

    • http://twitter.com/Paul_Mc7 Paul McIntyre

      Definitely a “baptism of fire”, if you like. He’s gonna have to work hard.

  • https://twitter.com/DragonSagaWE Jason “Dragon Saga” Patrick

    Ion is green, Kenny has been there ten months less and isn’t, Kenny for the win. Ion can go back to Xplosion cutting bad promos.

    Good breakdown Paul, like Jacob I like the format.

    • http://twitter.com/Paul_Mc7 Paul McIntyre

      From what I’ve observed, Ion is pretty green, sure, but I think he’s got some talent. I quite like the guy. Kenny King, meanwhile, seems very talented. Anyway, glad you liked it.

      • https://twitter.com/DragonSagaWE Jason “Dragon Saga” Patrick

        In-ring I won’t take anything away from him, hes not the worst, but nowhere near the best, not even in the X-Div. He’s a victor through circumstance, that being the fact he broke Sorensen’s neck and therefore TNA figured he’d surely gain heel heat, yet he gains no reaction because very few actually care for him.

        I’m finding it hard to adapt to King as a singles guy, but hes made the transition well, has momentum, hopefully they reverse their wrong from Destination X and give him the title.

        • http://twitter.com/Paul_Mc7 Paul McIntyre

          I think Zema Ion’s got some character, which could help him long run. No way is he anywhere near the best X Division competitor, but having a modicum of charisma separates him from most of the others.

          The heat will kick in more when Jesse Sorensen is back on-screen. It worked well when he appeared at Destination X.

  • Charlie G

    Good article, Paul. I’m definitely looking forward to King/Ion and hoping it’s kinda that “wake-up” call for the X-Division.

    And that picture of the X-Division Championship is sexy, haha.

    • http://twitter.com/Paul_Mc7 Paul McIntyre

      Yeah, the X Division could definitely use a spark. This could be it. If not, I think Jesse Sorensen/Ion could do it, because there’s a ready-made story there that the fans will be invested in.

      I too like that picture of the Championship. It’s a mighty fine looking title, actually.

  • JacobStachowiak

    God, I love the format of your TNA articles, Paul.

    • http://twitter.com/Paul_Mc7 Paul McIntyre

      Thanks, man. Just gotta keep it simple and stylistic.