I took my seat for the third of TNA's double tapings in as many days in the UK with a great deal of interest. TNA's popularity in the UK, per person, is almost jarringly bigger than that of the US – as evidenced by a crowd at Wembley Arena in London that I would estimate in the 3,500-4,000 range in a building that was probably 60% full.
The compare the evening was Jeremy Borash; whatever TNA are paying him isn't enough as he does sterling effort to keep the crowd going on what even on a good day I suspect can be tapings that drag once you get into the fourth hour.
One thing that struck me about tonight was the high percentage of "TNA own" stars – other than MVP, Angle, Anderson and Bully Ray (who's character is so unrecognisable to that of his work prior to TNA it almost doesn't count), this was a show very heavily reliant on stars that had never worked in the company. It didn't seem to affect the live crowd – if you think this was 4,000 WWE fans who fancied watching a few old WWE faces in London – you'd be wrong, strikingly so.
The show opened with a contract signing between Magnus and Samoa Joe for the match at Lockdown (the two shows taped will air immediately prior to the PPV). Magnus was booed by a large proportion of the audience, much to my surprise, and Joe probably got the back reaction of the night.
One thing that I think a lot of the crowd struggled with throughout the night was the three Impact shows that had been taped since the live Impact on Thursday. Borash did his best to insert some key storyline information where it was needed (somewhere between the end of Thursday and Saturday James Storm turned heel). There's presumably a production reason for it, but I'm not entirely sure why you need commercial breaks in a show that won't air for a month – taking some of them out would've cut down on a 3 and a half hour taping.
I think the theme of the tapings, from a crowd perspective, were a real indication of where the TNA roster is right now. A lot of fat has been trimmed since they last toured the UK, and I think it's actually very difficult to look at any member of this current roster and argue that someone doesn't deserve their place, something that might have been far more easy in the past. The problem with so many changes in such a short space of time is that you end up with a lot of talent that are relatively new to the TNA audience – and not over to any real degree.
But the signs were good. The Wolves – who we probably saw four times during the evening, struggled to get a big reaction but certainly showed some talent. ECIII had two very competent segments with Kurt Angle, Gunner didn't get much as a face and Sam Shaw's creepy gimmick would've struggled more had it not have been some very good work from Mr Anderson.
That was exacerbated more, perhaps, by the decision to have a lot of TNA's more "familiar" faces playing heels. Austin Aries turned during the show (although he was probably the one occasion where the fans really went against the reaction they were supposed to). The reaction to Storm was lukewarm at best – although without seeing his heel turn that was understandable.
But the crowd went with the big faces. Angle's induction into the TNA Hall of Fame was over big time. Eric Young didn't appear on the first taping, but the crowd showed him some great love when he came out midway through the third hour. Bad Influence during a match taped for Xplosion played homage to the British Bulldogs as "The Dynamite Kaz" and "Daniels Boy Smith" – that was a lot of fun. The reactions certainly softened to what was going on as the show went on – only so many times you can pop for MVP. But I wouldn't describe it as a crowd that was, necessarily burned out. Bully Ray appeared right at the end (in a segment I would guess might not even air) and the crowd went with that.
But it's certainly a weakness of the double taping format. As is TNA's (I would argue) slight imbalance of in ring action to talking segments. OK – these were the two shows before, Lockdown, but at times it felt like each match was just a filler to get to another in ring promo (bare in mind – we didn't see any of the backstage action, which will unbalance the match/promo split even more).
The action was good, if somewhat not that important, but at times we really suffered from a lack of context. At the beginning of the second taping, we had a showdown between Team MVP and Team Roode for what I would assume it a Lethal Lockdown match. A brawl broke out, then Earl Hebner ran down and started to count a pin attempt. So a match formed – then Robbie E gets pinned and we hear "Robbie E has been eliminated" – nope, we weren't even aware there was a match, let alone that it was an elimination one! That was much confusion.
But my qualms aside this was a fun show, and I think when it's put together for TV it will look really good. Magnus is really accomplished on the mic these days, and they did a great job in suggesting his vulnerability headed into the show. The fans were into a lot that went into this show, and it seemed to be knowledgeable TNA crowd too. I think in twelve months time, returning with what I imagine will be a largely similar roster, there will be some names that people are more familiar with. But TNA has a lot of good building blocks to work with now, if they work hard they should be in a stronger position this time next year.
All in all, a very worthwhile event if you're on the fence about going to a TNA event in future. Borash works so hard and the fan interaction and backstage passes stuff is a real cool touch. One story I will end with, was there was a fight that broke out in the crowd during a match. Two or three guys were escorted out of the arena by security. After the match was over and we hit the "commercial break", Borash came out and said "All right, we just brought a few lucky fans backstage to meet Velvet Sky" – unintentional hilarity!
Tickets for the Impact Tour next year go on sale next Friday for dates at the end of January 2015 in Glasgow, Manchester and London.