TNA Impact Wrestling in Nottingham - The Review

This past Saturday, TNA ended their UK Maximum Impact tour on a huge high, filming back to back episodes of Impact Wrestling at London's Wembley Arena. But this review isn't about that. Let me take you back to the beginning of the tour, which kicked off in a little town called Nottingham, where the Canned Heat crew just happened to be on hand!

Deciding to make a day of it, we arrived rather early to the arena...four hours early! After some initial wandering around trying to get our bearings, we stumbled across the Capital FM Arena, snugly tucked away in a little corner, a rather unassuming entrance for a sizeable venue. Walking past the back door, we noticed a small crowd of fans had already begun to mass, awaiting their favourite stars arrival for the show. One of the them went so far as to be dressed in complete Jeff Hardy garb. Clearly he hadn't realised Mr Hardy was unable to attend due to a minor legal snafu in the US, preventing him from leaving the country.

Making our way back after a solid mooch around town (highlighted by a rather nice dinner at the Pit and Pendulum), night was falling and a healthy sized crowd was sauntering in, eager for the evening's upcoming entertainment. The first thing we immediately came across were the merchandise stands. Having been browsing the TNA online store the night before in anticipation of buying a quality t-shirt and maybe even some DVD's, my naivety was stopped dead in it's tracks, as I found everything priced to double it's online equivalent! Eventually, I decided to give merchandise a miss for the sake of my wallet, but our own Robbie G stumped up for a rather nifty James Storm t-shirt with "Cowboy" on the front and "I've got 99 problems, but the beer ain't one" on the back. A nice choice, if not for the impromptu striptease to check it was the right size!

Finally entering the arena itself, we were immediately struck by what a nice set TNA had erected at the far end. Being a house show, I'd accepted we were likely to only have a black curtain through which wrestlers would appear. However, we got a sizeable video screen, a proper ramp and a light show to rival the best of them. Finding our way to our seats in the stands, I was initially worried by their steep nature, but soon came to accept the height and it just went to prove there was no bad seat in the house! Even the fans at the very back of the arena felt as though the stars were achingly close and they were getting an intimate show of their own.

Kicking off proceedings was the ever excited Christy Hemme, who had an extra special spring in her step (I assume because this was the start of the UK tour, I'd be worried if she was that hyperactive all the time!). After getting the crowd riled up (probably from her impossibly shiny short shorts you couldn't take your eyes off), she began the ring introductions. In a rather unfortunate technical glitch, the first people out were in a rather jumbled fashion, with the wrong music playing at the wrong time and the referee Earl Hebner coming out in between competitors. It was an oddly flawed start to the night, but I don't think anyone would hold technical glitches against them. Better during the curtain-twitchers than in the main event!

(1) Douglas Williams defeated Gunner via pinfall

As you can imagine, TNA were smart and got their British wrestler out there right off the bat. It's rather cheap  to rely on a fellow countryman to get the crowd warmed up, but it's a proven method and did a nice enough job here. Gunner relied heavily on his current TV gimmick and threatened to give Williams another DDT on the exposed concrete floor, but this time he was unsuccessful. The match itself was nothing spectacular and ended with Williams picking up the hometown win after a worrying Chaos Theory that almost didn't have enough momentum to go over. Still, the patriotism did the trick and the crowd were ready for more!

(2) Samoa Joe and Crimson fought to a double disqualification

This match turned out to be the true wildcard of the event. Absolutely no one in TNA could have guessed that  Samoa Joe would've received as big a reaction as he did. If not for Hogan and Sting at the end of the night, Joe could've been considered the star of the show! Similarly, apart from us, who'd have thought Crimson would be downright despised by a live audience. During the match, it was fairly evident that the wrestlers had to rethink their approach on the fly. There were undeniable chants of "Joe's gonna kill you" that was impossible to ignore. Joe wisely relented and took the role of face, while Crimson didn't really understand the notion of adapting to being a heel and instead became Joe's punching bag. Towards the end, Joe took a beaten down Crimson and sat him in a chair at the corner of ringside, proceeding to give him a brutal kick to the face, followed by a hilarious lap of honour around the ring, set to crowd chants of "ole ole ole ole". Eventually, the ringside brawling became so fierce, the referee called for the bell and had the match thrown out on the basis of a double disqualification. The fans were decidedly upset that their hero Samoa Joe was unable to beat the so-called undefeated Crimson, starting a rash of "let them fight" chants. The pair fought up the ramp and disappeared behind the curtain, making a damp squib of a potential star-making performance by Joe.

(3) Austin Aries defeated Mark Haskins and Alex Shelley to retain the X Division Championship

Having followed such TNA house shows in the past, Canned Heat was fully expecting a fast paced X division triple threat and were anticipating it to be the highlight of the night. While not quite the best match, it was highly entertaining and did the division proud. In a similar move to the the first match, Mark Haskins played the role of the "local boy" (although his true origins seem to be somewhat in doubt). To open the match, Austin Aries wisely decided to sit out proceedings on a well placed chair at ringside, preferring his opponents to duke it out first. The majority of the match was made up with a series of innovative highflying cruiserweight moves, usually coming at the expense of the X Division Champion Austin Aries, who can easily switch between cunning strategist and mugging buffoon. As you would imagine from a title match at a house show, the champion eventually hit a well timed finisher (in this case Aries' rather brutal brainbuster) on Mark Haskins and made the pinfall to retain his championship. Despite the crushing loss, Haskins stayed out in the ring for several minutes to receive support from the fans.

(4) Gail Kim defeated Tara, Mickie James and Madison Rayne to retain the Knockouts Championship

In the second championship bout of the night, the Knockouts title was put on the line in a fatal fourway. Unsurprisingly, Mickie James was the clear crowd favourite, receiving an astounding pop from the crowd upon entering. The other contenders couldn't muster much of a reaction in comparison, even the champion herself. The running theme of the match turned out to be sowing the seeds of discontent between Gail Kim and Madison Rayne. The match began with a sequence where Gail comforted a scared Madison, only to push her into the waiting fists of the faces. Also, on several occasions, Madison attempted to make the pinfall, only to be thrown to one side by Gail. It would have the makings of a quality feud, if only I could imagine Madison Rayne as a face! The finish came after Gail nailed Tara with the title belt behind the referee's back. After a quick pinfall, it was all said and done. Mickie James and Tara stayed out in the ring to pose for the crowd as we entered the intermission.

(5) AJ Styles defeated Bully Ray via pinfall

Returning from the intermission, we were greeted not with a wrestling match, more a show of theatrics. AJ Styles was hugely over with the crowd, whereas Bully Ray was downright despised from the word go. Of course that may have something to do with the ten minute pre-match promo by Ray, where-in he heeled on every subject imaginable. The highlight of which was him picking on a fan, going so far as to invite him into the ring, only to chicken out and order security to remove said fan. This was the first in a series of cowardly acts that earned Ray the affectionate nickname of "Pussy Ray", something that was chanted from this point till the end of the show. After much procrastinating, Ray finally entering the ring and attempted wrestling a clearly amused Styles. In a strong display, Ray genuinely dominated the majority of the match, only giving AJ breaks for his signature spots. The match ended abruptly after Styles turned a Bubba Bomb into a surprise rollup and subsequent pinfall. However, that was not the end of the segment, as Bully Ray proceeded to attack a celebrating Styles with the chain he's taken to carrying recently on air. It wasn't entirely successful though, as Styles was soon back on his feet, acknowledging the cheering crowd.

(6) James Storm defeated Bobby Roode via disqualification (Roode retains the World Heavyweight Championship)

In what we saw as a surprising move, Storm and Roode were up next, giving a potential glimpse into the culmination of their sure-fire feud. As TNA have done everything in their power to keep the two of them apart during recent episodes of Impact Wrestling, the last thing we expected was their big match given away at a house show. We shouldn't have taken it quite so seriously though, as it was blatant setup for the eventual real main event of the evening. For what it's worth, the former tag team partners put on a nice little performance before the supposed "real" stars took over. Storm was particularly over with the crowd, his beer drinking cowboy gimmick really taking off. Roode received a muted reaction (except for the Canned Heat crew hollering), but as the heel, we shouldn't look too much into that. The finish of the match came rather quickly as Bobby Roode proceeded to low blow James Storm right in front of the referee, calling for an immediate disqualification i.e. retaining his World Title with minimal fuss!

In no time at all, the General Manager aka The Icon Sting came rushing down to ringside (his music hitting a little too late in our opinion). He's sick and tired of Bobby Roode's attempts at cheating to retain the World Heavyweight Title and he's going to restart the match right now. However, before he can do so, he's interrupted by Kurt Angle, with issues of his own, wanting to make this a tag team match - Bobby Roode and Kurt Angle vs James Storm and Sting. But before even that can begin, we're treated to our second appearance of Bully Ray for the evening, making it a three on two handicap match. Finally, Sting reveals he's got a tag team partner on standby to make this an even fight. The tag team partner's name? Hulk Hogan!

(7) Hulk Hogan, Sting and James Storm vs Kurt Angle, Bully Ray and Bobby Roode

After the Hogan cheers finally die down, the match begins with Hulk Hogan squaring off against Bully Ray. At least momentarily, as he rather sharpishly tags out to a shocked Bobby Roode (bringing about another round of "Pussy Ray" chants). The pair stalk each other around the ring before finally locking up, a mistake by Roode, which sees him being thrown clear across the ring by the sixty year old legend. At this point, the rest of the heels hit the ring and are summarily hit by blows from the Hulkster, leaving them all lying. This was pretty much the main sequence featuring Hogan, the rest being a typical tag team match between the usual suspects. Still, it was nice to see him make the effort, for a house show no less. The heels spent almost the entire of the match acting as punching bags for the faces, as they all hit their big moves. A special note goes to Sting hitting splashes on all three in their respective corners. The finish came as Hogan tagged back in, hit the trademark three blows and big boot, only to hand off to the Cowboy James Storm for the match winning legdrop! All three faces posed in the ring for the crowd, Storm even getting on the microphone to praise his elders, saying the industry wouldn't be around today if it weren't for Hogan and Sting. After a celebratory victory lap, they disappeared behind the curtain and that was the end of the show.

Overall, it was a fantastic show. It featured wonderful wrestling, magnificent mic work and allowed us to see stars both old and new. In the weeks leading up to the show, we'd been convinced that Nottingham was the weak leg of the tour and that no matter what we saw, we'd always come up short against what TNA were serving up for Manchester and Wembley. I'm pleased to say this was not the case, as they provided a fantastic show that could've been on PPV if only they'd have taped it. Not recording episodes of Impact Wrestling may've even benefited us in the long run, as there wouldn't have been such an emphasis on the wrestling and we never would've seen Hulk Hogan and Sting wrestle what's sure to be one of their final matches together. I can't recommend TNA house shows highly enough and we're already thinking of booking our tickets for next year's show!


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