Sunday 2 November 2014

TNA Bound For Glory 2014 review

It’s tough to know where to begin with the 2014 Bound For Glory show. So tough, in fact, that it’s taken me several weeks to get around to writing about it. The event has historically been promoted as TNA’s premiere event. Technically that didn’t change this year, but there were so many idiosyncrasies and caveats attached to the claim that it was tough to view it as the major event we were supposed to.

First of all there was the decision to promote the show in Japan. On the one hand, yes, Japan is a country in which professional wrestling is an accepted and relatively popular thing. Presumably TNA has some level of following there as they have a TV presence and managed to sell tickets. But it wasn’t a sell-out. In fact, it very visibly wasn’t a sell-out. There were seats available with decent proximity to the ring, which did not help the show seem like the major occurrence we were told it was or, more broadly, TNA look like a company that has a future. Any future.

Then there was the distinctly odd decision to omit many of the regulars. To an extent I can understand this. For example, Jeff Hardy is a very popular wrestler and I imagine the popularity extends to a certain type of Japanese fan, but his criminal record makes entry to the country troublesome at best and impossible at worst. So I can understand TNA not using him on the show.

I could understand Austin Aries or The Wolves or Bobby Roode or Lashley or Eric Young not finding themselves booked too. After all, even the biggest show of the year can’t necessarily feature everyone. But for all of those names to be missing is an absurdity. They are amongst TNA’s biggest names. In fact the only TNA roster members of note that were booked for the show were EC3, MVP, James Storm, Bully Ray and Samoa Joe. Everyone else either plays a minor role or was a guest performer.

That there were so many omissions from TNA’s line-up made the show feel more like a house show than the biggest event of the year (which, let’s not forget, it was meant to be). This is not a complaint about the Wrestle-1 performers who fleshed out the show. For the most part they did what they could. But realistically that was never going to be enough because the wrestlers mean very little within the context of TNA.

An extension of that omission point was that TNA failed to feature their world heavyweight champion. Okay, so Bobby Roode had defeated Lashley for the championship at a TV taping which hadn’t aired at the time of BFG. It’s a problem but a minor one, and certainly not something that couldn’t be sorted out with ease. Lashley could have been booked for the show and walked out with the belt, for example. If it’s true that Lashley was unavailable because of commitments to bargain bin MMA league Bellator then Roode could have appeared as champion and Tenay could have acknowledged the tape delay. Or, here’s a simpler idea still, TNA could have gotten their act together months earlier and planned their biggest show of the year, and the run up to it, well enough to have their top championship on a performer who was able to appear and their TV product sufficiently up to date.

As it was the two men possible to view as the current champion were both omitted. That was poor move from TNA. An appearance from the champion is an expected thing on cards such as this.

The final major issue was the main event. Put simply The Great Muta and Tajiri, at 51 and 44 respectively, were not capable of producing a main event calibre match opposite James Storm. Yeah, Sanada seems like a capable lad, but he’s not good enough to carry two opponents and a partner to anything particularly worthwhile.

I may seem biased, being a Brit and all, but I can’t understand why TNA didn’t hold the show in London or Glasgow. They’ve recorded television in both cities to great success in the past. They filled arenas significantly larger than Korakuen Hall with fans more knowledgeable and more passionate about the TNA product. Any argument that Wrestle-1 helped to cover costs and therefore made it worthwhile for TNA to hold the show in Tokyo is pretty much invalid, there are multiple British promotions that would have helped finance Bound For Glory in exchange for use of TNA talent on shows around Britain. Going to Japan was an egotistical move from TNA and one that didn’t pay off for them.  

For all the problems it had going in Bound For Glory was, at points, an enjoyable show in terms of match quality. That wasn’t enough to salvage it, but it was something. People just looking at this show as a show, not as part of the ongoing saga of TNA’s downward spiral, probably would have felt they got a decent offering.

After an opening video which got us up to speed on the origins of the main event tag team match (Sanada turning on Keiji Mutoh) we were whisked into the partially filled Korakuen Hall where Jeremy Borash welcomed us to the show. Taz and Mike Tenay chimed in on commentary… from Nashville. That they’d stayed in the US was another example of TNA’s cost-cutting. It also seemed to have irked Taz enough for him to become increasingly belligerent throughout the event.

Manik v Minoru Tanaka opened the show. The match started out looking like a smooth, competent affair and nothing more. It gradually built to incorporate bigger moves and a faster pace, including a particularly impressive moonsault from the turnbuckle to the outside by Tanaka. It was a very good choice for the opener. Tanaka won with a Fujiwara arm bar.

That was followed by the first of several flashbacks to old Team 3D footage (because they’d gone into TNA’s meaningless Hall of Fame the night before). It was from a Team 3D versus Rick Steiner and Road Warrior Animal match at Slammiversary 2007. The section we were shown saw Steiner and Animal make a comeback on 3D before Ray and Devon turned things around and won with the 3D. It was an unspectacular clip. No idea why it was chosen.

That was followed by an EC3 promo recorded earlier in the day, in a hotel by the look of things. Carter III said Spud had been on borrowed time since Dixie went through a table. He announced he'd secured himself a new PA (who would turn out to be Brodus ‘Tyrus’ Clay) then said he'd continue his undefeated streak at BFG. That was followed by a hype package that reminded us of all the guys Carter had beaten in his year in the promotion. That included Sting, Bully Ray, Kurt Angle and EY. TNA have done a good job building Carter up with what’s been available to them.

EC3 v Ryota Hama was preceded by a patronising, verging on racist, promo from Carter. It did at least get the desired reaction from the crowd, so that was something. He reminded us he'd beaten every inductee into the TNA Hall of Fame and declared that he would slam Hama. This promo coming straight after a backstage skit and before a match resulted in an overdose of EC3.

I’d previously been unaware of Hama’s work. His gimmick is basically that he’s a fat lad modelled on Rikishi circa 2000. If you’re into slabs of gammon that slap their backsides during matches there’s probably something to like with this character, but it was not for me.

EC3 mocked sumo wrestling mannerisms for some cheap heat. He got overpowered, stepped on and rolled over. He also took a running arse to the face and a traditional Stinkface. He came back with a kick to the genitals (which the ref somehow missed even though it happened right in front of him) and then hit the One-Per-Center for the pinfall victory. Carter's undefeated streak continued but he didn't deliver on his promise to slam Hama. He tried a few times though. Maybe that counts for something with someone.

Team 3D flashback number two came from Lockdown 2009 where they were opposite Beer Money in a cage match. 3D took a beating then 3D’ed Roode through a table to win. Not exactly a great example of their tag team prowess.

Backstage MVP talked about leaving his employer (he meant WWE and I’m astonished he didn’t namecheck it, considering how often Tenay does) to wrestle in Japan and talked about preferring wrestling to sports entertainment. Basically he put over Japanese promotions and Japanese wrestlers at the expense of TNA, not only his employer but the promotion people were watching, because TNA identifies as sports entertainment as much as it does anything else. He finished by saying he wasn't overly familiar with his opponent. It was a wonderful bit of subtle burial by ‘Mr 305’.

Kazma Sakamoto v MVP followed. MVP played the powerful, fiery babyface. Sakamoto played the cowardly heel. Tenay noted that Sakamoto had been Tensai’s “follower” in WWE. That did Sakamoto less favours than MVP’s promo. Sakamoto got the advantage after an eye rake then gave MVP a kicking. MVP made his comeback when he elbowed Sakamoto as he mockingly performed a Balling Elbow. MVP did the move properly and then scored with a shining wizard for the win. It was a decent enough match but not anything special.

Backstage Samoa Joe (wearing his dad's shades and suit) talked about making the X Division the best division in wrestling. He told his opponents to raise their game and prepare to be disappointed in their hopes for gold. It was a standard Joe promo, really. It was also kind of sad to see him lumbered with the X title in 2014. At this point TNA should have had him established as a permanent headliner alongside AJ Styles. They have, as has been noted by many people, made so many mistakes.

The X Division championship match saw Joe defend against Low Ki and Kaz Hayashi. During Low Ki’s entrance Tenay put over the X Division title as the equivalent of the IWGP junior heavyweight title. I thought that was rather flattering to TNA. Kaz Hayashi’s entrance was embellished with references to WCW, a company he worked for in a lower-card role before it went out of business thirteen-and-a-half years before this event.

They only got around ten minutes, which was surprising considering Joe’s status and the fact that it was one of only two title matches on the card. But it was also unsurprising considering TNA's general inability to present anyone like a star. The match was solid but seemed to be lacking something. It’s possible it was harmed by going on so early in the running order, fans not being ready for the megastar power of Samoa Joe so early in the night. Joe tapped out Ki to the Coquina Clutch, to an initially mixed reaction that gave way to cheers.

After the match Joe took a mic from JB and told the audience his name before saying something in Japanese. He put over Korakuen Hall and the fans, said his name again, and then said he is pro wrestling. The fans were into this but Joe is emphatically not the embodiment of pro wrestling in 2014. He hasn’t come close to being that for years.

Team 3D flashback number three took a different approach to the first two. It was highlights from a storyline as opposed to a match finish: the four month build to Dixie Carter getting put through a table. Sadly we didn’t get to see the Japanese crowd’s response to this.

Tommy Dreamer was interviewed about inducting Team 3D into the Hall of Fame. He said it was an honour to induct the lads in a country of honour, adding that it was surreal to be in Japan again and wrestling Team 3D. It was a tiresome interview. Dreamer being involved in the show beyond the induction was depressing. That was a spot that could have gone to a TNA regular, or someone more relevant to the sport in 2014.

Match number five was a Wrestle-1 presentation, Jiro Kuroshio and Yusuke Kodoma (representing the Novus stable) taking on Andy Wu and El Hijo del Pantera.  They were all eager guys showing plenty of pace and energy. The match was a little sloppy in places but remained entertaining. It was a good junior tag bout. Kodama won via a twisting corkscrew moonsault on Pantera after Kuroshio had wiped out Wu with a Swanton to the outside.

That was followed by what was presented as the second biggest match of the night: Tommy Dreamer and Abyss versus Team 3D. Bully and Devon wandered into the crowd before the match as Tenay chatted about their 23 tag title reigns. He included the WCW tag titles, which is contentious. They got into the championship lineage but it was booked by the WWF, making the legitimacy of it as a WCW reign dubious at best.

There was a “We want tables!” chant before the match began. Team 3D are still pretty over, making WWE interest all the more likely. Bully and Devon shook hands with Dreamer before the match. Abyss refused and turned his back on the alleged Hall of Famers.

The four started out with some double team wrestling in the ring. That came to an end when the one-time Dudley Boys did the Whassup headbutt and moved into the get-the-tables routine. That broke down into an arena-wide brawl. Weapons used included a bottle of water (by Dreamer), the ring bell, chairs, a hammer, kendo sticks, and various flimsy “metal” items dredged from beneath the ring. Thumb tacks came out after the standard issue brawling. Abyss took a flapjack onto those, selling them by campily waving his arms. The finish came moments afterwards after a 3D to Dreamer.

It came across like a parody of ECW brawls. It had no real passion or reason for happening and lacked basic psychology. Are we meant to believe they used weaponry because they have respect for each other? That’s just about plausible within wrestling logic, but the match needed a better layout and more aid from the commentary team to make it work if that was what they were going for. After the match Bully talked about the HOF and put over wrestling fans in general.

The pre-main event cool down spot went to Velvet Sky and Knockouts' champion Havok. They went with the obvious and most effective story; Velvet doing everything she could to bring down the powerful, imposing monster. It was a good match, superior to the average WWE Divas match because of the time that is invested in the Knockouts division as a whole (although it's nowhere near what it was years ago). Havok won with, of all things, submission to a bear hug.

The main event was preceded by a vignette of James Storm in a church chatting about saving Sanada from Mutoh. It was incredibly clichéd. Storm has basically been turned into a poor Jim Mitchell rip-off. We were also reminded of the formation of Storm's Revolution stable. They're not as entertaining, or as talented, as RPW’s Revolutionists. Sha Samuels alone is better than Manik, Sanada and Storm.

Before the match started Storm introduced himself as a legend. He got the crowd booing him by saying that he had turned a "boy" into a man (a statement that would have different connotations with a Western audience) by having him turn on his mentor. Sanada entered separately and got some decent heat. I suspect that was more to do with his heel turn than Storm’s promo.

A clean shaven Yoshihiro Tajiri wrestled simply as Tajiri. No first names here. Taz childishly shut down Tenay's attempts to get him to talk up his ECW clashes with ‘The Japanese Buzzsaw’. I mean, it's not like Taz is there to put the talent over or anything. He’s just there for his bubbly personality and sense of childlike wonder.

The Great Muta, the biggest star on the card for the live audience, barely got any reaction at all when he entered. His in-ring introduction was only slightly better. That was a worrying sign. Not as worrying, however, as Muta and Sanada starting the match. As the story of the match was that Sanada had turned on Mutoh (presumably forcing Mutoh to feel it necessary to wheel out his once-protected Great Muta gimmick) it would have made sense for the match to build towards a confrontation between them. They were the feud holding the match together and giving their exchange away at the opening bell set the match on a poor course it was never going to recover from.

Another part of the problem with the beginning was that the two bitter rivals didn’t have a particularly spirited sequence together. They rolled around on the mat a bit before Sanada's mist condom burst and started dribbling down face. Tajiri and Storm went in next and a portion of the crowd chanted for 'The Cowboy' (perhaps they were fooled into believing he really was a legend and felt they should show him some respect). They had a short, basic exchange before Sanada tagged back in to jeers. He and Tajiri spilled out to the floor and went under the ring, where they stayed for around thirty seconds as the audience sat in silence.

When they emerged Tajiri’s face was blue, immediately telling us they’d slipped under the ring as a way of working around the planned mist spot that had been ruined by the burst condom. It was a poor workaround that added nothing to the match. They could just as easily not have had Sanada do the mist. From there Tajiri was isolated to set up an eventual lukewarm tag to Muta.

Muta hit some dragon screw leg whips, did a bit of ringside brawling, and then dropped his corkscrew elbow. Storm interfered but got wiped out. Tajiri came in to give Sanada some kicks. His attempt at the mist was avoided, as was Sanada’s, but then Tajiri and Muta got a double mist on the former protégé, Muta following up with a shining wizard for the three. It was an awful finishing sequence to an awful match. It wouldn't have cut it as an Impact main event and was an embarrassment as the main event of what was supposed to be the biggest show of the year.

After the match Storm attacked Tajiri and threw him out of the ring. Then he choked Muta with a noose and screamed for him to die. Team 3D made the save, allowing Muta to mist Storm before he was given a 3D, a sequence that felt like a house show closer as opposed to the end of a pay-per-view.

That Bound For Glory played host to such a raft of problems is indicative of the poor state of TNA in the latter half of 2014. It was frustrating far more than it was rewarding. Much like TNA itself, really. If the company does cease to exist early next year this will not be a fitting end to its life on pay-per-view. It will, however, work very well as an analogue to TNA’s history: mostly enjoyable with flashes of entertainment in its first half before falling to pieces in its second and ending with just about the worst presentation imaginable.
Results summary:
Minoru Tanaka defeated Manik
Ethan Carter III defeated Ryota Hama
MVP defeated Kazma Sakamoto
Samoa Joe defeated Kaz Hayashi and Low Ki to retain the X Division championship
Jiro Kuroshio and Yusuke Kodama defeated El Hijo del Pantera and Andy Wu
Team 3D defeated Abyss and Tommy Dreamer
Havok defeated Velvet Sky to retain the Knockouts championship
The Great Muta and Tajiri defeated James Storm and The Great Sanada

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