Sunday, 21 February 2016

Live Event Review: TNA Maximum Impact VIII Tour - Birmingham (Gauntlet Battle Royal)

*DISCLAIMER - This article contains spoilers for the 607th and 608th episodes of Impact Wrestling. These will air on the 1st and 8th March on Pop! in the USA and 6th and 13th March on Challenge in the UK. There's also spoilers for the upcoming One Night Only: Joker's Wild PPV and episodes of Xplosion* 

On 31st January 2016, TNA concluded their eighth tour of the United Kingdom at the Barclaycard Arena in Birmingham with a double TV taping for Impact Wrestling and more! The likes of Jade, Will Ospreay, Bram, Tigre Uno and Mandrews battled it out in Gauntlet Battle Royal, The Wolves defended their TNA World Tag Team Championships against Beer Money, Kurt Angle said goodbye to TNA with the roster at ringside and Angle wrestled his last match from TNA against Lashley...but was it any good?

full card

Match 1 - Tag Team - Big Damo & Jimmy Havoc vs. Drew Galloway & Mike Bennett

Match 2 - Singles - Jessie Godderz vs. Tigre Uno

Match 3 - Unsanctioned - Ethan Carter III vs. Rockstar Spud

Match 4 - Tag Team - The Beautiful People (Madison Rayne & Velvet Sky) vs. The Dollhouse (Marti Belle & Rebel)

Match 5 - TNA King of the Mountain Championship King of the Mountain - Big Damo vs. Bram vs. Eric Young (C) vs. Jimmy Havoc vs. Will Ospreay

Match 6 - TNA Knockout's Championship - Gail Kim (C) vs. Jade

Match 7 - TNA World Tag Team Championship - Beer Money vs. The Wolves (C)

Match 8 - Singles - Kurt Angle vs. Lashley

Match 9 - Gauntlet Battle Royal - Bram vs. Drew Galloway vs. Eddie Edwards vs. Eric Young vs. Grado vs. Jade vs. Mandrews vs. Matt Hardy vs. Mike Bennett (with Maria) vs. Rockstar Spud vs. Tigre Uno vs. Tyrus vs. Will Ospreay

drew galloway and mike bennett defeat big damo and jimmy havoc

Created under the "Joker's Wild" format (and supposedly taped for that PPV) this was decent opener, that focused on the on-going issues between Drew Galloway and Mike Bennett that had played out for the last few days of the tour, whilst also showcasing the talents of IPW:UK's Jimmy Havoc and SWA's Big Damo. Both Havoc and Damo were allowed to show off what they had to offer with technically sound sequences with the Feast or Fired briefcase holder. It was a shame that slip by Damo whilst trying to hit a Bret's rope White Noise saw the crowd turn on him slightly, with more than a couple of comments being made around me. This is a move I've seen the Irishman have trouble with before. Galloway and Bennett ended up advancing to the final, with a fun finish that saw Bennett steal a pin cover from Galloway after the former EVOLVE Champion had leveled Havoc with a Claymore Kick.

ethan carter iii challenges rockstar spud to a fight

This was one of my favourite talking segments of the weekend, if not my outright favourite. Considering that the majority of the Birmingham crowd wouldn't have seen Rockstar Spud turn on Ethan Carter III during his Steel Cage match with Matt Hardy, the previous night in London, I thought all involved did a great job in getting Spud heat. After Jeremy Borash had explained to the crowd what had happened the night before, Matt Hardy was out before Spud in another clever piece of booking. Having Spud side with a Matt Hardy who has proved to be a hated TNA World Heavyweight Champion across the entire UK tour, allowed the former 2 time TNA X Division Champion a great platform on which to portray his new heel character, with the Barclaycard Arena happy to shower their hometown boy with boos. Spud's promo was glorious as he called back to losing his hair to EC3 a year ago, and how he felt the fans didn't have his back, going as far to call himself a "National Treasure". My only complaint about the segment, that ended with a vicious promo from EC3 challenging Spud to a fight, was that the timing of Spud's turn seemed a little off, coming off Spud being announced as an ambassador for the Starlight Foundation.

jessie godderz defeats tigre uno

Undoubtedly the worst match of the tour here, as Jessie Godderz and Tigre Uno stumbled through a bout that struggled to connect with the crowd. A number of notable botches throughout, and featured some heat scratching pieces of offence. Uno landing belly first on the top rope and Godderz shaking it a little (as if Uno had landed balls first) was one of the strangest bits of action that I've seen live in all of wrestling. I'm not sure what happened here, as both guys had seemed a least competent in the ring at the previous two tapings, but here looked like they'd never stepped into a ring before. The finish of the match wasn't much better, as Godderz botched a Boston Crab attempt somehow, and had to lock it in twice, whilst Uno lay there. Just awful. The only saving grace here was that Uno was, at least, mildly over with the Birmingham crowd.

gail kim calls out maria 

The first Women's segment of the evening, started with TNA Knockout's Gail Kim cutting a promo about being a wrestler. Despite having the upmost respect for Gail as a performer, after seeing her cringe-worthy mixed tag bout teaming with Lashley against Tyrus and Jade the night before, I found it hard to buy into a lot of what she was saying. However, I did think that Maria's reply was superb. With a long drawn out tete a tete with the Barclaycard Arena, as she kept asking  "Do you want to hear me talk some more?" and got a tremendous amount of heat. The meat of promo consisted of ripping on Gail and pulling apart pieces of promo, questioning why Gail married a celebrity chef and aired their wedding on TV, if she only wanted to be a wrestler and not a celebrity. Finishing off by name dropping Donald Trump and you had another entertaining promo from one of TNA's best signings in recent memory. The segment concluded with Gail chasing Maria up the entrance ramp, only for Jade to attack the Knockout's Champion and challenge her to a match later on in the night. 

ethan carter III "defeats" rockstar spud in a birmingham street fight

This was a bit of a weird one and didn't quite hit the mark for me. Firstly, I couldn't get my head around their not being a referee for the bout...well, I understand the concept, but don't think it really paid off here. EC3 battered Rockstar Spud for 8 minutes or so, with Spud getting in minimal offence throughout. There was some cool spots here, like Spud getting powerbombed through a table, but nothing that managed to trump anything that happened in the tag team Monster's Ball in Manchester or Jimmy Havoc vs. Abyss in a No DQ in London. For a feud that has so much depth I was a little disappointed with what was presented here. The finish of the match that saw EC3 have to be pulled off Spud after locking in a Chicken Wing submission, was another strange piece of booking, with the crowd having no idea how to react to their new hero refusing to let go off a hold on someone they hadn't actually seen turn heel.

tna talents pay tribute to kurt angle

Numerous TNA talents surrounded the ring, as TNA said good bye to one of their best ever performers and 6 time TNA World Heavyweight Champion, Kurt Angle. Dixie Carter was the first to thank Angle for his time with the company. It was a shame that the Birmingham crowd decided now was the time to pull out the "What?" chant as Dixie's emotional speech was pretty much ruined because of it. I'm hoping that it can be rescued for TV. Drew Galloway also took the time put over Kurt Angle and thank him for choosing the wrestle him twice on Angle's farewell tour. The last person to get involved was Lashley, who continued his slow-burn heel turn, well, I think he did, as you could barely hear what he had to say as he mumbled some words down the mic and buggered off. A good idea to build towards Angle's final match with the company, that unfortunately came off a bit flat in the arena.

the beautiful people defeat the dollhouse 

This match seemingly put the Beautiful People's feud with The Dollhouse to bed, as Velvet Sky and Madison Rayne dominated a fairly basic women's tag team match. Velvet and Madison were put over as the stronger duo for the most part, with the Dollhouse managing to get in some offence on Madison with numerous underhanded tricks. The crowd seemed very into the Beautiful People here, especially once the hot tag was made to Velvet and this buoyed the match a little bit, with Velvet winning the match for her team with a Stunner. For a feud ender, especially after the Lethal Lockdown match the previous night, this could have a little more oomph behind it to truly satisfy. Obviously, women's programmes for the tour had to changed, due to Awesome Kong being sent home, and considering that TNA did a decent job of shuffling things up throughout the tour.

eric young defeats bram, will ospreay, jimmy havoc and big damo to retain the tna king of the mountain championship in a king of the mountain match

The real success of this match for me was that it offered a good showcase for the British Indy talent. IPW:UK's Will Ospreay and Jimmy Havoc, and ICW's Big Damo both looked comfortable in front of the 3000+ crowd and working alongside two accomplished TV performers like Eric Young. Havoc's dive of the top of the Penalty Box cage and Ospreay taking a Neckbreaker off the ladder from Young stand out as the two best spots of the match. It was a shame that the match never had me convinced that Young would be dropping the title, as the format of the contest held things back a little in that sense. Bram and Eric Young eventually going at it provided a cool moment, that the crowd was more into than I would have expected, getting behind fellow Brit, Bram, before Young would eventually hang the title for the victory. Not the greatest example of the gimmick this one, but still will hopefully have had anyone new to Ospreay, Havoc or Damo looking to find out more about these three talented wrestlers.

mike bennett and drew galloway continue to clash

The feud between Mike Bennett and Drew Galloway continued to grow, as the two had a war of words. Bennett opening the segment by claiming that he deserved a world title shot, citing that Kurt Angle leaving TNA and Ethan Carter III now being unable to challenge for the World title as reasons for this. The Birmingham crowd was once again on the Miracle's back, and Galloway heading out got a decent pop. The former ROH World Tag Team Champion has quickly aclimatised to the TNA enviroment and this feud with Galloway should leave him a position to become a major star for the promotion, he's got all the tools to do it, just as this segment proved.

gail kim defeats jade to retain the tna knockout's championship

Gail Kim and Jade are two of the best Women's wrestlers on TV and it was a shame that the crowd didn't seem particularly into what they had to offer. Although I'll be the first to admit that this match could have been a hell of a lot better, it was still a solid slice of women's wrestling. Certain elements of the match could have done with emphasising for me, as there were a lot of ideas here that could have done with being spotlighting more. Gail locking on a Figure Four on the ringpost, for example, seemed to be thrown away when it could have been used to really drive the story of the contest. A highlight of the action for me was Jade turning Gail's rana attempt into a powerbomb, which looked brutal and was timed very well. A bit of a scrappy finish as Gail got the win, which was seemingly to set up a rematch between the two. Hopefully a rematch get's a little bit more time and attention, as this only scratched the surface of what the two talent should be capable of together.

beer money defeats the wolves to win the tna world tag team championship

The best match of the night for me here, as two of TNA's best tandems a very good tag bout for the Birmingham crowd. The match went back and forth, with both sides afforded exciting hot tag sequences, that made use of having two babyface tag teams in the ring together. This kept things a great tempo throughout, whilst allowing the crowd to stay lively with things pretty much split down the middle for the two sides. The closing sequences of action were superb as both sides traded big moves with all four guys getting involved and the pace rising and rising. It was a real shame that Davey Richards seemed to suffer a leg injury as he came off the top rope to take James Storm's version of the Codebreaker. This meant that Eddie Edwards had to finish the match alone, and lead to the finish feeling a little flat when Beer Money hit their D.W.I. tag finish. A rematch once Richards' is fit again certainly wouldn't go a miss, it's just a shame that it might be a while until they get to do it again in front of such a captive audience as they had here.

grado steals eli drake's feast or fired briefcase

The Grado vs. Eli Drake feud continued, as after luring Eli Drake and Jessie Godderz out into the arena, Grado was able to use a distraction from his pal, Mahabli Shera to nab Drake's Feast or Fired briefcase for a shot at the TNA King of the Mountain Championship and run up the entrance way. Whether we'll finally get to see what Grado's proof that he was screwed was or not, I have no idea, but this was a short piece of comic relief, nothing more, nothing less.

lashley defeats kurt angle

I think pretty much everyone in the arena had decided that Kurt Angle was going to win his final match in TNA, but that was with everyone thinking with their heart, rather than their head. Angle has always come across as the traditionalist and would surely have wanted to give back to company, by allowing someone to get some heat from defeating him. This was another good match on Angle's "Farewell Tour", up there with the bouts with Drew Galloway and Bobby Roode from the previous two nights. Certainly, the match had a lot of similarities to those contests, being heavily based on Submissions with Angle locking on the Ankle Lock a number of times. A highlight of the match for me was Lashley pulling himself to ropes whilst Angle had a Grapevined version of the hold on, only for Angle to pull him back into the ring and try to lock it on again. Lashley's selling following the hold was some of the best that I've seen from the former WWE United States Champion. Whilst there was some sweet amatuer style action on offer, I felt the bout suffered from an over-reliance on the pairs finishers, with Lashley hitting a number of Spears before getting the pin. Whilst none of his three matches on this tour would be up there with some of Angle's best work, in my opinion, the fact that he managed to wrestle 3 matches back-to-back of this quality at this stage in his career is a testament to the true talent that Kurt Angle is. TNA will struggle to replace him.

Following the match, Lashley cemented his heel turn, by levelling Angle following initially embracing 4 time WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Lashley got a bucket load of heat for this, and managed to take out both Drew Galloway and Eddie Edwards (seemingly Davey Richards was still too injured to help out) with Spears as they attempted to make the save. The pay-off for the segment was Lashley deciding to back down from Ethan Carter III and leave the ring, with the two ending the segment in a stare down. There's another interesting feud to be had here, if the right heel role is found for Lashley, I'm interested to see exactly where TNA takes this towards the end of March and into April on television.

drew galloway defeats bram, eddie edwards, eric young, grado, jade, mandrews, matt hardy, mike bennett, rockstar spud, tigre uno, tyrus and will ospreay in a gauntlet battle royal

What a strange, strange match this was. After three nights of four hours worth of tapings, I was completely drained, so a 13-man half an hour plus Gauntlet Battle Royal (Essentially a Royal Rumble) wasn't exactly the first thing on my mind to end the weekend. The match was a pretty slow affair for the most part, and wasn't helped by a good proportion of the crowd already gone after the Lashley vs. Angle match, and those that were left absolutely knackered from three and half hours of taping. The start of the bout was a little awkward as Mandrews was quickly dumped out by Mike Bennett (seemingly due to the injury suffered by Mandrews at the London taping) leaving Bennett in the ring alone, before Jade and Tigre Uno botched a Tornado DDT twice.

Someone who's performance deserves a mention was that of IPW:UK talent Will Ospreay who was a beam of light in the middle of the bout. Ospreay put on a display for the Barclaycard Arena, showing just a glimpse of his thrilling moveset as he flew around the ring, including hitting beautiful standing shooting star press. The crowd quickly got behind The Aerial Assassin and it was a shame to see him eliminated before the bout reached it's conclusion and you could feel the crowd deflate as soon as he was chucked out. 

The final moments of the bout were perhaps some of it's finest, as Grado, Mike Bennett, Drew Galloway and TNA World Heavyweight Champion Matt Hardy remained in the bout. The pop for Grado ducking Hardy's charge and sending the Champion over the top rope was surprisingly big considering the arena was at most 2/3's full by this time. After Bennett sent Grado out, Bennett and Galloway put on some fine work going backwards and forwards on the apron. It was a shame that there was nothing of any real importance on the line here, as Galloway and Bennett created some real dramatic spots with both men teetering on the edge, that would have been even better with something behind it.

The show finished with a real party atmosphere as Grado congratulate Galloway and the two had some good banter on the microphone. Grado even ended up handing out a bag of Revels at ringside, what a time to be alive. A number of the babyface roster headed to the ring to have a good ol' dance also. In one of those moments that those who had stuck around will surely never forget, Billy Corgan offered to ring Madonna for Grado and ask her if he could use "Like A Prayer" on TV, only for Corgan to turn heel and refuse to do so, before leaving. The Barclaycard Arena played the song anyway and even Earl Hebner did a cartwheel in celebration. Things closed with Tyrus coming out to tell everyone about the upcoming curfew, refuse to do his Funkasaurus dance and then take a Stunner from Galloway to end the show. One of the strangest segments I've ever watched, but also some of the most fun I've had a wrestling show. Utterly ridiculous stuff.

view from the partner in crime

For each of the TNA tour shows I took a different pal along, just to keep things fresh. For Birmingham, I took work colleague and avid WWE fan, Luke Bowman. Here's his thoughts on the show...

When I was given the chance to represent ATPW on the recent TNA tour, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. But the excitement of being able to watch Kurt Angle's last match [with TNA] was something I wasn’t going to turn down. And believe me it was as emotional and electrifying as you’d expect with Bobby Lashley living up to the occasion wonderfully. Plus the added fact that I’d get to see one of my childhood heroes Matt Hardy, even if he didn’t live up to what I remembered of him, especially during the Battle royale which finished off an overall brilliant night of professional wrestling.

atpw scale rating - 4.83/10

Similar to the other two events on this tour, this was a long night of action and talk that had it's moments, but could have been much better. Rockstar Spud's showdown with Ethan Carter III was some of the best mic work of the entire tour, but was followed up by an Birmingham Street Fight that didn't quite hit the spot for me. Beer Money and The Wolves tore it up over the TNA World Tag Team Championships, only for Davey Richards to suffer an injury that hampered the closing stages of the bout. Kurt Angle's final match in the TNA was a good bout with Lashley, that saw the later return to his role as one of the companies top heels, and produce a storyline with EC3 that could run for months, but Dixie Carter's farewell speech to the TNA Hall of Famer was destroyed with "What?" chants from the Barclaycard Arena. The less said about Jessie Godderz and Tigre Uno's stinker the better!

Finally, the tour closed with a strangely placed battle royal, that featured competitors who had won previously taped "Joker's Wild" tag team matches, only one of which had taken place at this event. A thirty minutes battle royal, the longest match of the entire tour was a big ask for a group of fans that had already gone through three hours of action.

For me, this show was the 2nd best of the tour, coming in behind the London show the previous night, but stepping up just a head of the opening night in Manchester. 

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