Wednesday 5 June 2013

Slammiversary XI review

TNA's eleventh Slammiversary may not have done much to excite me during its buildup but it certainly delivered once the first bell rang. There wasn't a single bad match on the card, even the worst entry (Devon v Abyss) being perfectly adequate thanks to its brief time and an enthusiastic crowd. Even more impressively the show's final three matches were perfectly laid out. That's never a bad way to top off a pay-per-view.

The card kicked off with the X Division championship Ultimate X match. Kenny King defended the belt against Suicide (played by TJ Perkins) and Chris Sabin. They had as good a match as possible with what is quite a restrictive gimmick. The standard offering of flips and dives were on display. It was entertaining. It earned itself a "This is awesome!" chant fairly early on.

Towards the start of the match we were told it was the thirtieth ever Ultimate X. As soon as Tenay furnished us with that fact I remembered just how overused the gimmick was at one point. WWE hasn't reached that number of Hell in a Cell matches yet, and that's a gimmick that predates Ultimate X by well over half a decade.

King removed Suicide from the match in the closing moments by trying to remove his mask. Seconds later Sabin leapt up to join him in the centre of the crossed wires and booted him until he fell down to the mat. The former Moror City Machine Gun then unhooked the belt for the victory and the opening match pop.

Before Sabin could get backstage he was accosted at the top of the ramp by Hulk Hogan. 'The Hulkster' did his typical apathetic routine of trying to get a young guy over: saying his name and the name of the city they were in repeatedly, presumably in the hope that it would continue to generate enough of a reaction to make Sabin look like a star. It didn't. People can see through Hogan like a window in 2013.
The new X Division champ: endorsed by Hulk Hogan

Once the token attempt at turning Slammiversary into something special for Sabin had failed Hulk hobbled down to the ring and continued wittering about Boston, name dropping André the Giant for good measure, before Mr Anderson, Garrett Bischoff and Wes Brisco interrupted him.

Anderson uttered some thoroughly clichéd material which prompted 'The Immortal One' to call Aces and Eights terrorists and pussies. The crowd lapped it up but it still felt a very strange thing for him to say. Hogan also referred to Sting as the greatest wrestler in the business. That's not going to help make new stars, is it? Once again I feel compelled to advocate stricter rules when it comes to old hands cutting promos in TNA.

That segment led into the evening's second match, a six man tag pitting the Aces and Eights members against Magnus, Samoa Joe and Jeffrey Nero Hardy (who'd grown a beard during his time off). The match was a solid effort that gave everyone something to do.

The faces won, which I feel was the wrong result. Had Garrett or Wes pinned any of their opponents it could have been a big moment for them. Instead Brisco caught Magnus with a low blow and a rollup, only to be hit with a Swanton by 'The Charismatic Enigma'.

Backstage JB interviewed Joseph Park about the TV title match he'd have later in the night. The segment existed solely to have Park assaulted by Devon and Knux.

Match three was the Gut Check tournament final between Sam Shaw and Jay Bradley. Shaw played face but had received a bye earlier in the tournament while heel Bradley had won all his matches. That's another curious booking decision to add to the list.

Neither man got much of a reaction when they entered. The crowd had been hot earlier in the show and would liven up considerably later, so the logical conclusion to draw is that they were interested in the Gut Check participants. Perhaps it's time to retire the concept and go back to introducing new faces in a more traditional manner. A generic but inoffensive and competent match was won by Bradley after a poke to the eye, a shove to the turnbuckle and a clothesline. After winning Bradley told Christy Hemme it feels "good" to be in the BFG series. He said he'll win it and go on to become champ. I'll be honest, I don't like his chances.

A backstage promo from Aries and Roode was followed by Devon retaining his television championship by count out. Joseph had been so thoroughly duffed up earlier that he was unable to make it to the ring, you see. Devon then got back onto the mic to run his mouth about Abyss.

That prompted the monster to return. The referee rang the bell to signal a title match. As Taz rightfully pointed out no bout had officially been made. This would be fine in ECW but TNA so often goes out of its way to emphasise tedious rules and regulations that it just seems off when they're disregarded like this. Abyss won the match and the title. No mention of how he and his brother have remarkably similar builds was made.

Dixie Carter came to the ring, completely oblivious to the fact that she is not well suited to an on-screen role. The woman seems determined to be the TNA equivalent of Vince or Stephanie McMahon. She's no Stephanie and she's certainly no Vince.

Anyway... Dixie recited a well rehearsed pro-TNA speech and invited the roster out onto the stage. Everyone bar Aces and Eights members was shown filing out. Kurt Angle was then announced as the second member of the TNA Hall of Fame. He's a good choice, particularly when you consider that he's been saying nice things about WWE again lately (because this could placate him and sway him to stay a bit longer, plus TNA are inducting him while he's under contract). A well produced video package of Angle's Olympic win and TNA career was shown after which he said a few words about the announcement and thanked the fans. Although I don't see the need for a TNA Hall of Fame I think it was a very well put together slice of television and Angle's a deserving inductee.

Backstage Bad Influence made fun of Jeremy Borash and claimed credit for making the tag team titles valuable again. I think they have a point. TNA's doubles belts meant very little until the Bad Influence v Angle and Styles feud last year. Daniels and Kazarian did help to restore meaning to the gold.

The tag team title match that followed was very good. Even Hernandez and Gunner, two men I'm not especially keen on, looked good. With so many guys involved I'd expected the match to be a mess but it was one of the better tag matches TNA's put on this year. I suppose having so many veterans in one bout helped keep the quality high.

Daniels and Kazarian were the first team eliminated when 'The Fallen Angel' was caught lamping Chavo with a title belt. Seconds later that act resulted in Chavo getting pinned by Austin Aries. Having the first two eliminations occur at the same point in the match helped the pacing. It's not a trick that could be used all the time because it would become boring and cheap but it worked well here.

The closing portion showed Gunner to be the equal of the three more high profile performers he'd been left with. It culminated with him kicking out of the 450 splash and getting the win for his team by making 'A Double' submit to the Gun Rack. TNA passed up quite a few star building opportunities at Slammiversary but they took care of Gunner. That's better than nothing I suppose.

Presumably Gunner and Storm will feud with Aries and Roode. That will be great for Gunner but a comedown for the other three men, all of whom were headlining cards last year. Hopefully some new teams are created so that they can return to singles roles.

We went back to JB for the final time to find him with Brooke Hogan. She was there to discuss the Knockouts division that she's still in charge of yet knows nothing about. Her stupidest claim was that the division has been "grown like never before". Maybe she should watch some KO footage from 2008, when the division boasted Awesome Kong and the Beautiful People along with Gail Kim and was often the most enjoyable thing about iMPACT. That was the division's golden age and should be something TNA emulate now.

When quizzed about whether she still loves Bully Ray Brooke said she'd have to end the interview. Thank heaven for small mercies.

That was followed, fittingly, by the Last Knockout Standing match between veteran Gail Kim and referee turned grappler Taryn Terrell. The match the two women had was astonishingly good. It was the best Knockouts offering I've seen for quite some time and far better than anything the WWE Divas will be allowed to produce anytime soon. It bettered the Ryback v Cena LSM from Extreme Rules too.

Memorable spots included: Taryn narrowly avoiding a Kim spear, which sent Kim tumbling into a chair out of the ring; a cross body onto a steel chair from Taryn to Gail; and the match winning running cutter from the entrance ramp to the floor for Terrell. It was an intense, believable and crisply executed match. If Taryn Terrell can wrestle like that all the time she deserves a spot in the division.

AJ Styles had new music when he headed to the ring to face Kurt Angle. People have been going crazy for it. It did nothing for me.

Styles and Angle produced a match that was predictably superb. They did everything from high spots to mat wrestling. In a break from the norm of pay-per-view wrestling Angle won after an exchange of pin attempts stemming from an attempted Angle Slam. The result surprised me. I thought they'd want to keep 'The Phenomenal One' strong for whatever push is planned for him later in the year. Apparently not. It doesn't matter really. AJ's so well established that a loss to Angle won't harm him.
Look at the intensity!

A poll that JB had introduced in one of his many backstage segments was revisited after that. Viewers had been asked to vote (via TNA's high-tech Facebook page) on who they thought would win the title match between Bully Ray and Sting. Sixty four per cent of voters believed Sting would become the new TNA world champion. I thought that was high at first, but perhaps viewers were swayed by the stip that Sting would never challenge for the belt again if he lost.

Bully cut a pre-match promo telling Sting he was going to beat him with the most feared move in wrestling: the piledriver. He wanted to break 'The Stinger's' neck. To begin with I thought Bully was talking about the 3D. A no DQ match would have made interference from Devon perfectly legal. But then I remembered the Motor City Machine Guns kicked out of that and lost interest in the idea.

I do like the idea of TNA building up the piledriver. It's gained a reputation as a legitimately dangerous move due to WWE's ban of the move in the late nineties, which influenced many other wrestling groups to follow suit. It's a move that could meab a great deal if limited to special occasions.

The match started out as a pretty decent brawl. Bully predictably connected with the piledriver eventually. Just as predictably Sting kicked out. He also kicked out of a power bomb through a table. Moments later Bully easily avoided a Stinger Splash and piledrove Sting on the exposed boards of the ring. Sting kicked out of that too, at which point I begun to think that the piledriver's credibility was being sorely tested.
You may have noticed that Bully Ray's new move of choice is the piledriver

Bully got dropped with a Scorpion Death Drop on the boards and appeared to have been beaten. Aces and Eights naturally made the save. Sting made a comeback against group jobbers Bischoff, Brisco, DOC and Knux. Devon tossed a chain to Bully but Sting grabbed it, nailed the champ and went for the pin. Devon did the old yank the ref from the ring routine and so Sting, stupidly, left the ring to chase the Aces member around ringside. That allowed Mr Anderson to hand a hammer to Bully, who landed 'The Icon' with it as he sailed back into the ring from the top rope.

Yep, Bully Ray won a PPV main event via hammer shot. Again.

I've nothing against screwy finishes to main events usually. As long as they don't happen all the time I tend to be fine with them. But because TNA's only producing four pay-per-views a year now they should be trying to avoid this sort of thing. If it has to be done they should at least vary things a little.

I liked the main event. It was a match built around brawling and false finishes and was very effective for what it was. It provided a fitting end to an enjoyable, productive and well-paced card. If TNA can thread some decent stories together between now and Bound For Glory and then replicate the in-ring action of this card on the night they'll be doing something right.

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