TNA have started 2010 with a bang. Their big January 4th Impact began a new era within the company, with legend Hulk Hogan at the helm. They welcomed back the likes of Scott Hall, Sean Waltman and Jeff Hardy and said hello to the former Val Venis and Mr Kennedy. Certainly the future looks to be an exciting one for wrestling’s number 2 organisation.
So I thought what better way to get myself acquainted with the company than by attending their house show in Bournemouth last week.
The first port of call for the day was to attend the meet and greet. After arriving there around 30 minutes before the scheduled start time, there was already a healthy queue of a few hundred fans. From foam fingers to Hulk Hogan shirts, there was a good buzz throughout. One thing that wasn’t good was the planning. After about 45 minutes waiting, we finally got close to meeting the wrestlers. Their support staff were clearly worried though as they were badly overrunning and everything was turning into a bit of a rush job. Unfortunately that meant we didn’t get much time to say hello and for the hundreds of people behind me, who knows if they even got to meet anybody. But the wrestlers themselves were in good spirits. The Pope took a fancy to my girlfriend and was enjoying himself (even though he was feeling under the weather). The likes of Chris Sabin, Sarita, Taylor Wilde and The Amazing Red were also all very pleasant. Hernandez was in great form, with a big smile on his face and posing for many photos (from head locking teens to gorilla pressing infants). Last but not least was The British Invasion, who were also very accommodating, chatting away and shaking hands galore for pictures. Oh and Earl Hebner was there too, looking like he’d heard one too many you screwed Bret chants. All in all though a thoroughly warming experience and certainly many fans came away pleased if not wondering the obvious (more on this later)…
After some alcoholic refreshments and feet resting, the doors were opened for the show. The TNA crew were appearing at the BIC in Bournemouth, in a hall which could seat around 5000-6000 people. Once everybody had filed in, the building was nowhere near full with a lot of empty seats in the balconies and one section of the arena completely empty. However my first impression was not of the scattered attendance, but of the famed 6 sided ring. It was unbelievably tiny. I was amazed at how small it looked and would guess you could probably get the Motor City Machine Guns to lay head to toe across it and their feet might dangle over the edge. It just looked very small-time (in more ways than one) and I’m glad they’ve gone back to 4 sides.
And so the show began with Jeremy Borash (who was also at the signing, have you spotted a theme from that yet?) to open the show to rapturous applause and get the ball rolling. Within just a couple of minutes, the British Invasion interrupted him and after getting a great initial home crowd response, proceeded to turn heel on their country. I hate it when they do that, it’s always a dumb idea. The proper action then began with an X-Division 3 way between Chris Sabin, The Amazing Red and Suicide. One of the great things about WCW PPV’s between 1996 and 1998 was that they invariably started with a cruiserweight clash which really got the crowd going and set the wheels in motion. While this match wasn’t at the level of many of those bouts, it was a decent opener with a few nice high risk manoeuvres and a couple of creative spots. Suicide was the crowd’s choice for the match but it was Sabin who took the victory.
The next man to come to the ring was the aforementioned grumpy Earl “You Screwed Bret” Hebner but boy did he make up for his earlier bad mood. My initial confusion as to why Earl would even be introduced was soon put to bed as he came out doing his best (or worst?) Bret Hart impression with the shades and leather jacket combo, throwing his hands in front as the boos rained down. I couldn’t help but smile and think that’s probably the best response TNA could have given to Bret Hart’s WWE return (rather than just repeating the screwjob itself…never mind). Earl’s entrance was for the next match where Eric Young was to defend the Global Championship (remember that belt? No?). In a recurring heel theme of the show, Young put down us Brits and said there’s nobody to face (as he only faces foreigners and he won’t face the Invasion, remember? Oh you don’t…). Using detective skills superior to Columbo (or just thinking who’s the only non-American who’s a face and isn’t a top star) I guessed it would be Hamada and I was right. The two then had a short match finished by a Young punch (Big Show it was not) for the 3 count.
The following match pitted two former WWE employees in Rhino and The Pope D’Angelo Dinero. Rhino again ran down the UK. Now you’re probably reading this wondering why all the heels so far have done exactly the same thing. The principle reason was that none of them (Eric Young excluded) got a heel reaction. Everybody on the show was treated like a star with decent to great reactions. It felt like the whole crowd had thought “oh I know you off TV”, and given them an ovation. But of course the matches needed distinct heels and faces, so out flooded the insults to our poor wrestling starved country. They would then be followed up by boos reminding me of World of Sport in its prime. You had to giggle because while TNA ultimately aim to be an edgy and innovative promotion in Britain (apparently where nobody is a heel) it turns into post-Christmas panto. Made you think back to the Pallo’s and McManus’ of yesteryear.
The main thing that caught my attention in this bout however, was my girlfriend’s admirer, the former Elijah Burke. Many wrestling fans believe he could be one of TNA’s breakout stars and I’d agree with them based on this performance. He exudes natural charisma and charm and carries himself like a star. WWE certainly dropped the ball with him and the man now known as The Pope picked up the 1-2-3. If handled correctly, 2010 could be a big year for him.
Next up was a big 4 way tag match pitting The British Invasion, Beer Money, Team 3D and Hernandez and Kurt Angle (replacing Matt Morgan). A really fun encounter with the crowd super into everyone but especially Angle, who had a broad smile on his face and seemed to really enjoy the occasion. Naturally the Invasion took the defeat with Angle and Hernandez victorious. Following the match Rob Terry (greeted by a “He’s on Steroids” chant) beat down the former Dudleys, before succumbing to a 3D through a very flimsy table. Brother Ray and D-Von were really on form though, getting two young fans in the ring to have a signed piece of broken table, putting over the Bournemouth fans and then sharing a beer with Storm and Roode. Some great fun had in there and a super way to finish the first half of the show.
Following a 15 minute interval where The Beautiful People took to the merchandise stand (but the bars still had more visitors, what does this prove? Beer over babes folks), Jeremy Borash again greeted us all and welcomed The Beautiful People for their match against Taylor Wilde and Sarita. Only then did I realise we’d met Velvet Sky at the meet and greet (and very pleasant she was). However I wasn’t the only one to not realise this as in the queue at the time somebody asked “do you know who the first girl is?” and received the classic “erm…no”. Poor Velvet. Anyway back to the action and well it was decent enough with the Beautiful team picking up the win. We were then greeted to another sweet moment as Sarita and the crowd sang happy birthday to Taylor, who looked genuinely touched.
We were now down to the penultimate contest which was an I Quit match between Samoa Joe and Daniels. Bournemouth had been promised an I Quit match since the tour was announced and that had always seen Joe involved but his opponents change from Lashley to Angle and then finally to Daniels. It was a very good contest with some great crowd interaction from Daniels and Joe being very over. Daniels though eventually succumbed to the Kokina Clutch.
After the previous British Invasion side switching debacle, it would have been sad to not see a British star celebrated in his home country. It was thus great to see Desmond Wolfe as the babyface in the main event against newly turned AJ Styles. Although clearly many in Bournemouth didn’t know about the turn as AJ garnered a great babyface reaction and had to low blow and then attack Wolfe in the middle of the match to get over as a heel. Another very good back and forth match though with Styles successfully retaining his title following the Styles Clash. He then celebrated with the belt as he gained a majority of cheers and a smattering of boos. To end the theme of the night, he delivered a promo saying it’s all about him and not TNA, and the crowd all booed. He then walked down the aisle turned around, posed to the crowd and got massive cheers. Clearly the crowd didn’t buy into his heel antics.
And so that was that, my first live TNA experience. Overall it was a really fun show that made you feel like a child again with the pantomime villains and energetic excitement. It also had some decent and varied action too, so I’d certainly recommend attending a house show next time they visit our shores. Of course there were some things which were a bit disappointing. As mentioned earlier the obvious glaring point about the meet and greet was where were the likes of Styles, Wolfe, Angle, Joe etc the top stars of the tour? No offence to the likes of Borash, Sarita, Wilde and Red but if you advertised a WWE signing and only the midcarders from ECW turned up, you’d probably feel a little short changed. The top stars in the company were also something which didn’t even make the tour. Half of the talent on this show have barely been featured on TV this year while the likes of dominating TV presences like Foley, Hogan, Bischoff, Flair, Nash, Hall, Waltman, Jarrett, Homicide and Abyss were not here. In many ways with the 6 sided ring added to the equation, it almost felt like Hogan’s arrival had never happened or that TNA is 2 distinct entities; the TV crew and the touring crew, with a few overlapping. While these are little things, it’s something TNA should definitely look at when they next tour the UK. The TV product and the show I watched were almost two completely different companies. Whether you prefer one or the other is irrelevant, the main issue is they have to be a united front and put their best foot forward.
All things considered though, it was a fun night and a good show. Will this lead to a promising future? It is impossible to say as what I saw as TNA isn’t what TNA is turning into and probably won’t be the TNA you next see over here.
Oh and one last thing. Those bloody chants. Unfortunately it was maybe only 1 or 2 minutes into the first bout before we got the predictable “this is awesome” chant, perhaps the most overused and annoying chant in wrestling history. Clearly our American counterparts have rubbed off on the UK’s TNA fan base. Oh well, you can’t have everything…
Pics courtesy of TNAWrestling / Serg Salinas