Saturday, 19 July 2014

TNA Impact Wrestling Episode 523 Review (Lashley vs Jeff Hardy)

It's been a very long time since I've watched, let alone reviewed an episode of TNA's Impact Wrestling, but with the return of the six sided ring, the begining of the taped shows from New York City and a big World Heavyweight title main event all on the cards, I thought I'd dip my toe back into the murky water that is Dixieland. Let's see what how it went.

The show kicked off with a well put together video package, that focused on the upcoming main event between LASHLEY and JEFF HARDY, it was a good way to start the show, laying out what was on offer and filling in the gaps for anyone (like myself) who hadn't been paying much attention to TNA recently.

KURT ANGLE was the first to appear in the Manhattan Center, up in the crowd, as he introduced everyone to the show. This was an awkward Angle, who looked uncomfortable in this presenter type role, it's clear this isn't an Angle who is motivated by his current situation.

Over the other side of the building, TAZZ appearred, putting over Angle is his new role as Director of Wrestling Operations, before reminding us that "Wrestling is important". Tazz then compared TNA to ECW. I do wonder how much water is left in the ECW well, which seemed to have been dredged about five years ago with the failing of WWE's relaunch. The crowd however enjoyed it a lot, reacting nicely to Taz's catchphrase finishing his sentence, in a nice moment. Whilst this promo did work the crowd up nicely, it perhaps could have been cut from this broadcast, meaning the wrestling that is apparently so important would happen earlier on the show.


I would have started with BULLY RAY and TOMMY DREAMER's entrance into the arena. Ray always delivers on the microphone, and here was no different. Continuing his feud with Dixie Carter, Bully reminded the audience that he had promised to put Carter through a table. Dreamer also had some mic time, reminding us of his NYC roots and putting over the lockeroom as hungry and talented. What he was saying needs to be backed up by the guys in the lockeroom, they need to Dreamer's promo as a springboard and inspiration to really pushing forward with their matches. 

ETHAN CARTER III and RHINO were the party poopers, interupting to some decent heat. I really enjoyed the pairs new act, with Rhino working as the Carter family's hired gun (a nice reference for any Ring of Honor fans). The two really hammed it up on the mic, with Carter using the crowd chants of "You can't wrestle" to get even more heat, replying "I'm very good". Finishing up his promo with the cheesiest pun in wrestling called New York "the big crapple" would have been cringeworthy, if the crowd hadn't reacted to it so well! 


The crowd were very hot for this one, and it was a passable tag team match. The early part of the match was a back and forth affair, with both teams exchanging the momentum, until that pesky Brummie ROCKSTAR SPUD got involved to give his team the advantage. As the heels worked over Dreamer, it was clear that Rhino was in much better shape to the last time I saw him, seeming to have dropped a fair amount of weight, which helped his performance no end. At times it felt like the six sided ring was harming the match as it lead to some awkward exchanges as the competitors got used to the new ring.

Another mind-boggling moment saw Bully Ray tag in Dreamer even though Dreamer was already inside the ring. Instead of making them redo the tag (which surely could have been edited in post-production) the referee allowed the tag to stand. It's things like this that will make TNA look bush league. Luckily, the finish made up for this, keeping the heat on Carter and Rhino, whilst allowing Ray and Dreamer to look strong, as Dreamer hit an awkward looking Dreamer Driver on Carter, only for Spud to cause the distraction that would eventually allow EC3 to get a school boy roll up victory. Not a bad TV match, that keep the story ticking over nicely. The one person that needs to come out of this feud smelling of roses is Ethan Carter III, he's the young guy that TNA will need going forward, hopefully we'll see that in the coming weeks. 


Backstage we saw the arrival of MVP's group that could really do with a name and Jeff Hardy. For some reason EC3's music was still playing, despite the caption reading "Earlier Today". 

The music continued to play as Angle went to speak to X Division Champion AUSTIN ARIES. Angle info-dumped lines reminding the audience of the upcoming Destination X special and made a Gauntlet match for Aries' title later tonight. Aries' being up for the challenge of seven other men gunning for his title was a refreshing change, especially with Angle not playing the evil boss role that has been prevalent in wrestling over the last few years.

The backstage segments continued, as JAMES STORM had a chat with SANADA. Storm was on top form as he bullied Sanada around, making references to the Japanese people's reserved nature and Sanada's mentor The Great Muta. With the delivery of intriguing lines like "Be careful who you listen to", it's clear TNA has some plans, what they are exactly I'm not quite sure.


For this bout was the match of the night, supplying lot's of fast paced, high flying action that used to dominate the X Division. Following loud ROH chants as Aries and Edwards start the match, the particpants came thick and fast, with DJ Z perhaps having the best entrace hitting a Sunset flip that caused Edwards to hit a German Suplex on Manik. Following a series of series of great looking springboards, the eliminations began, with Manik taking himself and DJ Z out of the match with a hurracanrana. Crazzy Steve continues to be an interesting addition to the roster, as whilst a spot that saw him run against every side of the ring fell flat with the live crowd, they absolutely loved him whipping out the silly string. Whilst Steve managed to eliminate Tiger Uno, he fell fowl of a lovely handspring heel kick from Davey Richards. After Sanada had eliminated The Wolves in quick succession we were down to the final two meaning the match became a regular one on one encounter. 

Aries and Sanada went at it, creating an exciting couple of minutes of action to close out the bout. Both men had their fair share of chances to win the bout, with Sanada surviving Aries' Last Chancery and Sanada pulling out a superb bridging pin off an O'Connor roll. These repeated near falls kept me hooked, with the finish really upping the ante, as Sanada missed a Moonsault before Aries unleashed a barage of attacks, including two discus elbows and a corner dropkick before retaining his title with a Brainbuster in the middle of the ring. The only drawback of the match for me was a dirty looking Tiger Suplex by Sanada that didn't quite look as it should have. I would have prefered to have seen TNA give a new name an opportunity at Destination X, as the last three years have all involved Aries in some way or another. He really should be considered an established main event star these days. 

Winner and still X Division Champion - AUSTIN ARIES

It was then back to the backstage segment, with BOBBY ROODE and ERIC YOUNG chatting about their mutual problems with MVP and his group. This was a nice build to the tag team match later on, again setting out all the threads of storyline that anyone who hasn't been watching needed to know. 

Storm caught up with Sanada again, this time delivering a vicious beating to the former X Division Champion. Storm's repeated ushering of the word "loser" was another interesting development, TNA will have to be very careful here, as this didn't exactly make Sanada look a million dollars. It's possible that both men could benefit from a feud, but it would seem TNA have their sights set on Storm vs Great Muta at Bound For Glory in Japan, so Sanada could end up just being a stepping stone for that feud. 

After seeing Dixie Carter arrive backstage, there was quick interview with Jeff Hardy. This was essentially to fill in the gaps as to why Hardy so quickly stopped being "Willow". It was a paper thin excuse, but I'll take anything as long as Willow is banished from my television screen for good. 

Finally, it was back into the arena, as MVP and King got some mic time. MVP was on crutches to sell his torn meniscus (which must have healed by the time this was recorded). The two were impressive on the mic, getting a good deal of heat out of the crowd. The idea of MVP "wrestling under protest" worked well and played nicely into the match that would follow. 


Another solid piece of tag team action here, with a strong story-driven element that did a good job at advancing the storyline heading forward. Eric Young and Kenny King seemed to have some chemistry in their section of the match, with King flipping off the top rope into a Young crossbody being a particular highlight. The main story of the match was MVP not wanting to fight Roode, and only tagging into the match when King had gained a clear advantage on Young, continuing to sell the injured leg. 

The finish made a lot of sense as Roode finally got his hands on MVP, sticking him in the Crossface, until King made the save. MVP had then had enough attacking Roode with a crutch for the disqualification ending, before the pair worked over Roode and Young with a crutch each. Yes, no one likes an DQ ending, but seeing as this was the only one on the show and this is free TV it worked to have such a finish here. I would have liked to have seen this match get an extra five minutes as it did feel a little short, with perhaps a few of the backstage segments being taken out to make space for the extra time.


Winners by Disqualification - ERIC YOUNG & BOBBY ROODE

Match 4 - BRITTANY vs MADISON RAYNE, No Disqualification No Countout Match

This was the only thing on the show that the NYC crowd literally couldn't give a shit about. They disrepctfully chanted for Jeremy Borash and Christy Hemme throughout the match. In my opinion, if you're not into something at a show, you should just stay quiet and remain respectful to those attempting to entertain you. I am surprised however that TNA didn't just edit these chants out, surely that's one of the bonuses of having your show taped? 

I actually didn't think this was a bad match, with some good character work from Brittany, who reminded me a lot of Mickie James when she first debuted in WWE, and from what I can work out this is a similar storyline to one Mickie had with Trish Stratus upon her debut. There were some well worked spots, like Madison's Crossbody block from the apron to the outside, a back body drop onto the ramp and a Northern Light's Suplex on the outside from Brittany. However, there wasn't much point to the No DQ rule as neither woman even attempted to break the rules and even the spots on the outside could have been worked into a regular match. Madison picked up the win with Package DDT, for a surprisingly clean finish. 



Because there just hadn't been enough tonight, there were some more backstage segments. First Lashley and Hardy continued to warm up for their main event, whilst Dixie Carter interrogated an interviewer to whether he was on the payroll (Surely, the president of the company should know who's on the payroll?) before cutting a surpriingly good promo on Bully Ray comparing Ray to a poodle. 

Another backstage segment between Kurt Angle and Austin Aries reminded the audience of Aries' decision on next weeks episode. Whilst there was a decent promo from Aries, there was probably less time consuming ways to get across this information that would have been just as effective. 

Main Event -  JEFF HARDY vs LASHLEY (C), TNA World Heavyweight Championship Match

At the start of this match, I noticed something that I hadn't felt about a TNA match for a long while. This match had a "big fight feel", maybe it was the fact that these two had never faced off before, maybe it was that both men got full entrances with no ad breaks in between or maybe it was just the super hot New York crowd, but there was certainly something different about this one. 

It was by it's very nature, a speed vs power contest, with Hardy attempting to get separation from Lashley who used his powerful offence to keep him grounded, this was embellished by some great commentary from Mike Tenay and Taz who really got over the story that was being told in the ring. I love story driven wrestling and this was exactly what the match needed to be keep me fully engaged from start to finish. 

There were however a few things that niggled at me a little. Similar to Ryback's series of matches with CM Punk on WWE television late last year, any time Lashley was on the offence he looked fantastic, but the other side of his game, taking Hardy's offence, was less convincing. Another draw back for me was something really simple, as Hardy seemed to gain momemtum he hit both a Whisper in the Wind and a Twist of Fate, but didn't attempt a pinfall. These two near falls would have added to the drama of the bout that was almost non-existent when Hardy got a two off a Swanton Bomb. This would then have added an extra dimension to Hardy's missed Swanton Bomb onto the steel steps, with idea being that Hardy had tried everything in arsenal and had to resort to high risk tactics in an attempt to win the match. The finish saw Lashley get a clean victory with a Spear, showing that TNA have faith in Lashley as Champion and I'd expect him to hold onto that title until Bound For Glory as things stand. 

 Winner and still TNA World Heavyweight Champion - LASHLEY

Personally, I think this match should have been the thing to close the show. There's no reason that a World Heavyweight Championship match shouldn't be in final slot on a TV show, in my opinion. 

Instead, we got a few more backstage segments, both involving Kurt Angle. First Angle attempted to stop Dixie Carter from heading out into the arena to confront Bully Ray to no avail, before interupting MVP, Kenny King and Lashley to book MVP against Bobby Roode in a Falls Count Anywhere match next week. This really was becoming overkill with these segments, I thought this was what the Impact 365 Youtube series was for? 

In the main event segment of the show, Rockstar Spud was back to introduce Dixie Carter. Spud is still excellent by the way, with some magnificent charecterisation, that really make you want to punch him in the face. Carter came out flanked by Rhino and EC3 and proceeded to cut a terrific heel promo that garnered a tremendous amount of heat. She shat on New York, she called Dreamer a crybaby and Bully Ray "irrelevant", with some great comedy using Ray's "Do you know who I am?" catchphrase. 

Of course it didn't take long from Dreamer and Ray to make their entrance with a table in tow, clearing the ringing of Carter's cronies. It was clear that Carter wasn't going through the table just quite yet, as Ray climbed to the top rope to deliver his infamous powerbomb, EC3 was the one to make the save, nailing Dreamer with a low blow and allowing Aunt D to escape through the crowd. 

It was unlucky night for EC3, as DEVON made his return to TNA for first time since he was announced as TNA's newest Hall of Famer, assisting Bully Ray in putting EC3 through a table with a 3D as his Aunt looked on. The moment Devon came out got a nice reaction, as did the classic "Get the tables line", and it was great to see Team 3D back together one more time. EC3 will be quick to recover from this, as he has the ability on the mic to pass it off as a vicious three on one assault. We are heading toward Dixie Carter getting powerbombed through a table, just how long TNA will hold it off for I don't know! (I've tried to avoid any spoilers involving the date)

Overall, I actually rather enjoyed this episode Impact Wrestling. The matches were for the most part, entertaining, with the X-Division Gauntlet being particularly impressive. Some feuds, like Carter vs Bully Ray are building nicely towards a conclussion, whilst other, like Sanada and James Storm are just about to get started. It will take time for talents to re adjust to the Six Sided Ring and I would imagine by the end of these NYC tapings we will see an improvement in the comfortability of the talent with their new surroudings.

I would have preferred a lot less backstage segments, as it felt like they were only there for info dumps and to convey things that could really have just been covered by the commentary team. TNA needs to listen to it's own promos "Wrestling is important" and "Less talking, more action", because when they actually do the latter, it actually produces a damn good product.

I will be tuning in next week on the strength of this episode, which is certainly the best outcome I could have hoped for heading into the show. Bobby Roode vs MVP, Falls Count Anywhere has the potential to be a very good match.

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