Thanks to Ryan for sending in the following:
Thursday night saw TNA roll into Nottingham for their fourth UK tour. There must have been around 2,500 in attendance. The upper decking of the arena was curtained off, but the floor seats – which went for around £82.50 a pop – were completely sold out. I’ve been to WWE events before but this was a much older crowd. A lot of people wore Hulk Hogan t-shirts, this being his first time in the country for nearly two decades is a pretty big deal, and there were others with Sting and Jeff Hardy face paint. Even spotted one guy dressed as Ric Flair, complete with ceremonial robe and platinum blonde wig.
Christy Hemme was our master of ceremonies, but didn’t really do a lot apart from ring announcing and let us know about merchandise.
First match was Gunner against Douglas Williams. Pretty much zero reaction for Gunner until he started getting in the faces of fans. Douglas Williams got the usual English-wrestler-wrestling-in-England reaction. Halfway through the match, Gunner went to life up a ring mat and expose the floor, as he has been doing on TV, which led to a suicide dive from Williams which got a decent “TNA” chant. Williams won with a roll-up after a decent match that went back and forth.
Match two was Samoa Joe against one half of the tag champs, Crimson. Crimson and Joe came out playing the face and heel respectively, but a minute into the match, the whole arena turned on Crimson and started a Joe chant. I’m not saying it was quite like The Rock vs Hogan incident, but they quickly realised they needed to switch roles. There were some pretty nice spots with some action outside the ring. At one point, Joe sat Crimson down on a chair near the steel ramp, stepped back and hit him with a running knee. He then did a victory lap around the ring and slid on his knees in front of some fans.
I have my reservations about Joe… I mean, someone who’s billed as a “Samoan submission machine” didn’t actually pull off, or even attempt, any submission moves… but he can hit some pretty decent moves for a man of his size, including a nice overhead kick (ala AJ Styles). But he seems to be a man who realised his career has peaked and is now just resting on his laurels to get a paycheque. He got more and more into the match as it went on though, and the crowd loved him. No joke, probably the second-biggest face reaction of the night (after Hogan).
Anyway, the match surprisingly ended after Hebner disqualified them both for fighting outside the ring too much. They fought up the ramp and to the back with the crowd chanting for Joe – although no one really cared for the finish. Quick note – Hebner was announced to the ring after Crimson and before Joe and he got the usual “you screwed Bret” chants which led to him revealing his “damn right I did” t-shirt and putting on some Hitman shades. Is this schtick a little old now? You can’t complain about nostalgia when Hogan and Sting are billed, but we’ve got to let go of this one.
Match three was for the X Division championship and saw Alex Shelley take on Austin Aries and a locally-billed wrestler Mark Haskins. You knew what was going to happen here – the title wasn’t going to change hands on a house show and they don’t want Shelley to get pinned. I was looking forward to this match – this was my first-ever TNA show and I’ve always heard good things about the X Division. Shelley and Haskins team up on Aries to begin with which leads to the champion ducking out the ring and taking a seat, watching from ringside. Haskins and Shelley go at it and Aries picks his spot to return to the match in a typical heel style. There were some nice spots including some dives outside the ring and Shelley hitting a suplex onto Aries, onto Haskins who was down on the mat. But in honesty, I was expecting a little more from this division. Not that it was a badly-worked match, but maybe my expectations were just a little high. Obviously Aries got the win after pinning Haskins.
The next match was a fatal four-way for the Knockouts title with Madison Rayne, Gail Kim, Tara and Mickie James. As far as a women’s match goes, you have three of who are considered the best” in this match (Kim, Mickie and Tara), so it could have been worse. Kim kicks things off and shoves her partner into harm’s way and Tara and James team up. The usual match where the faces take on the heels, the heels take on the faces, until eventually Tara and James are left to face-off against each other in that friendly-competition kind of way. At one point, Kim runs James into the ring post outside of the ring, which looked pretty decent. Tara hits her Widow’s Peak on Rayne – which is a pretty phenomenal looking finisher – and looks like she’s going to get the pin, until Kim hits her with the Knockouts title to sneak a victory. Heels retreat to the back while James and Tara get a decent ovation in the ring. Biggest reaction was for James, though.
We have a short intermission, which gets some boos and a TNA chant, before we’re welcomed back by Christy who introduced Bully Ray for our next match facing AJ Styles. If you’d have told me five or ten years ago that Bubba/Bully would be as good as he is today, I wouldn’t have believed you. He’s in pretty decent shape for his age and absolutely solid on the mic. He had the loudest heel reaction by the far, and spends a good ten minutes berating the crowd. At one point, he even picked a guy out and invited to jump the rail and get into the ring with him. As he got to the topes, Ray calls for security and backs out. Some standard mocking of the English accent, as all Americans like to do, and proclaims that he’s better than everyone simply for being from New York. There’s a lot of “we want Devon” chants and, my favourite chant of the night “pussy Ray”.
AJ Styles comes out to a pretty decent reaction. But before the match starts we get ten minutes of Ray and Styles exchanging turns standing on the turnbuckle to see who gets cheered and booed. Styles invites Hebner and Hemme to do the same to prove that Ray is (surely) the most hated in TNA. Personally, I didn’t enjoy this and was looking forward to a classic heel verses face showdown, not a lot of pandering to the crowd. But once they got going, it was a pretty decent match. Ray spends most of it brawling with Styles using his speed and athleticism to counter. There was a nice moment where Styles took Ray around the ring and invited fans to put their leg on the rail so Styles could ram Ray’s head into their boots. Towards the end, Ray goes for the Bubba/Bully Bomb, which Styles counters. He hits his patented kick for a two count, goes for the Styles Clash but Ray powers out (come on, he was never going to hit it on a man that size). Styles eventually wins the match with a roll-up. A decent match – Ray needs to win the heavyweight title this year, seriously. He’s the biggest heel they’ve got at the minute and people were more into booing him than cheering Styles, which says a lot about how well he’s playing his role.
Hemme announced our main event for tonight – James Storm verses Bobby Roode for the world heavyweight title. James Storm gets a decent reaction and chugs beer on his way to the ring. I’m not buying this guy as a main eventer on TV, but I’m willing to give him a bit more of a chance. Roode comes out to an average reaction and has a quick sting on the mic to proclaim that “Beer Money is dead”. Simple, but effective, eh? The match starts but Roode gets himself disqualified after a couple of minutes and tries to leave with the title.
This leads to Sting making his first appearance in the UK in ten-years to set things straight. He says that there’s no way he’s letting Roode get let off that easily and demands the match be restarted (but he’s in his wrestling gear to make this announcement? He’s definitely not expecting an impromptu tag match to get started, oh no). This leads to Kurt Angle coming out, quickly proclaiming that England is a piss poor excuse for a country (or something to that effect) to establish some cheap heat early – the man’s going to get cheered otherwise, he’s Kurt freakin’ Angle. Kurt goes on and says he’s sick of Sting throwing his weight around and that he’s taking control. He makes it a tag match with Kurt and Roode verses Sting and Storm – good job Sting wore that ring gear, eh?
But come on, it’s TNA in Nottingham, right? We can do a little better than that. Ray comes out again for a resounding “pussy Ray” chant, gets on the mic and says he likes the way Angle thinks, but adds himself into the match to make it three on two. Funny moment where Ray hi-fives Roode, Ray grabs the title, holds it above his head and Roode snatches it back. Anyway, we’re left with three heels against two faces… if only there was someone else out there who could come to the rescue.
Cue Eye of the Tiger, cue a massive Hulkamania sign on the big screen and cue Hogan himself stepping out to an actual standing ovation in just jeans and a t-shirt. He walks to the ring doing the usual Hogan signature poses and Sting proclaims it a six man tag – Bully Ray, Bobby Roode and Kurt Angle verses Sting, James Storm and Hulk Hogan. Iconic, no? Surprisingly, Hogan starts off for the face team against Roode, hits a few punches and an arm wrench before tagging out. Sting works the faces for a bit and there’s a nice spot where Roode, Angle and Ray are each in a corner and Sting hits them one by one with his splace. He looks in the Scorpion Death Lock a couple of times as well. Roode is the main fall guy for this match, surprisingly, and works pretty hard on making the others look good. The heels don’t manage to mount much in the way of offence. The win comes when Hogan does the usual “You!” spots, goes for the big boot on Roode (but only manages a kick to the midsection) and looks set for the leg drop. The crowd are going crazy for it, but he goes to tag in Storm, who hits the leg drop on the fallen Roode on Hogan’s behalf and gets the pin. The heels retreat to the back while the faces celebrate in the ring. Storm gets on the mic to heap some praise on Sting and Hogan and they all celebrate in the ring with beers, before going around the ring to hi-five the crowd. Was disappointed Hogan didn’t get on the mic, but hey, we got him “wrestling”, which I think is more than anyone bargained for.
I was terribly disappointed in the showing from Angle. The only thing I remember him doing is going for an Angle Slam before it got countered. He looked old and tired – which is saying a lot when comparing him to Hogan. The reason he’s not going to see out the end of his career in WWE is because he simply won’t be able to hack it. Sting, on the other hand, looked terrific and it’s a shame we only got a limited spurt from him in the match. There was also some EXCELLENT local knowledge from Sting, referencing Nottingham Forest, Robin Hood and football rivals Derby.
Mr Anderson, Rob Van Dam, Matt Morgan and Mexican America were all billed to appear, but didn’t feature on the card. The ECW fan in me wanted to see Van Dam, but I think everyone should have been pretty pleased with that we got. It felt like more of an “event” than any of the WWE house shows I’ve been to, and in all honesty, the crowd wasn’t much smaller. Everyone was fairly hot all night and there’s a real market for TNA over here in the UK. It might be because Impact is on a free channel in the UK, rather than WWE which is on the paid-for Sky Sports, or maybe we just can’t get enough of nostalgia. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how they try and top it with the Impact tour already confirmed for next January.