Boston brought out the best in TNA on Sunday night, as they turned in a solid and genuinely entertaining pay-per-view. With only a total of four events on the year's calender, this is more important than ever and I'm happy to report they succeeded.
Opening proceedings was the Ultimate X match for the X Division Championship. Featuring Kenny King, Chris Sabin and Suicide, we were guaranteed a good time. Having witnessed the Champion's tricks in his recent Title defenses, the challengers were immediately wise to King's tactics and refused to let him spectate from the outside. All three men appeared to up their game for the big show, breaking out amazing high-flying moves you wouldn't typically see on Impact. This set the tone for the night, bringing the crowd to life and upping the ante with a frantic pace. I hugely enjoyed the closing image of Chris Sabin hanging upside down with his newly won Championship. It's not the usual type of celebration and stood out as a result.
Before Sabin could make it to the back, General Manager Hulk Hogan sauntered out onto the stage and talked up the new Champion. I couldn't quite decide if it was the aging star trying to steal the the spotlight or genuinely helping the young man get over with the crowd (who could've cared less about Sabin at that moment). Apparently, the deal whereby an X Division Champion is allowed to exchange his belt for an opportunity at the World Heavyweight Championship is still in effect and there's even a Destination X pay-per-view to spotlight this (wait, there's still a Destination X?).
If only Hogan's promo had kept to the positive, as once Aces & Eights hit the ring to confront him, the Hulkster's potty mouth was on show for all to see. In what played like an episode of "S*#! My Dad Says", Hogan proceeded to call the heels every name under the sun. I admit, I sniggered at the "pussies in leather" line, but who knew TNA was skewing quite so adult.
The resulting six man tag team match was, as predicted, largely about the return of Jeff Hardy. With his newfound beard, the former World Champion beat down the entire Aces & Eights posse singlehanded. His partners, Samoa Joe and Magnus, almost had to get in the way, just to get a little attention. For what spotlight they did find, the former Tag Champions displayed a wonderful array of teamwork and I couldn't help but love the indifference Joe showed to the attacking Bischoff. The only member of Aces & Eights to appear remotely effective was Mr Anderson, with Bischoff and Brisco acting as glorified bump monkeys. Once Hardy resorted to his usual bag of tricks, it was Twist of Fates and Swantons all around, giving TNA their first big win in the war against bikers.
The Gut Check finals came and went without much to report. The match itself was technically sound, but as nobody knew who the hell these guys were, it may as well have been a bathroom break. Due to the size difference, it became somewhat of a David and Goliath struggle, with the minuscule Sam Shaw attempting to topple the giant Jay Bradley. Unfortunately, Shaw doesn't seem to have graduated to the advanced class down in OVW, as his offense came in the form of a move set they teach a rookie within the first week of training. In contrast to the green-as-grass noob, Bradley actually carried himself with an ounce of charisma and trounced Shaw in an abrupt ending. Bradley may have had no trouble with his fellow Gut Check contestants, but something tells me his place in the upcoming BFG Series will be giving every other contender a guaranteed win. The next World Champ, he's not.
In the second Title defense of the evening, Devon put his Television Championship on the line for the first time in what seems like forever. Having already jumped his opponent, Joseph Park, earlier in the evening, victory was all but assured. At least against one of the man's personalities, as another popped right back up and stormed his way to the ring in the form of 'The Monster' Abyss. Surprisingly, he wasn't monstrous at all and spent a solid five minutes selling every move Devon threw his way. Never have I seen Abyss take such a beating from a throwaway opponent. Last we knew, Abyss could take out entire groups of people, but now he struggles with Devon?!?! Eventually, the traditional match structure kicked back in and an impromptu Black Hole Slam gave us our new Television Champion. My god, it's about time! Here's hoping the oddly weakened Abyss wasn't indicative of continued terrible booking. Even the announcers commented just how strange this all was!
As with last year's Slammiversary, another inductee for the TNA Hall of Fame was to be announced and who better to introduce them than President of the company, Dixie Carter. Calling the entire roster to the stage to celebrate, she made short of work of naming Kurt Angle as the 2013 nominee. Playing a short video and then cutting a brief promo, Angle was overjoyed at the prospect and humbly honored. The Olympic Gold Medalist was on the verge of tears as the crowd cheered and applauded. In a tremendously classy move, Angle went on to name TNA Originals AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, James Storm and Jeff Jarrett as being instrumental in his tenure and far more deserving.
The Tag Team Title match proved to be extremely busy with six men left to pace at ringside between tags. I honestly believed more of the bout would have descended into outright chaos, but to their credit, it stayed mostly legal. The match featured several tantalising nods towards Bobby Roode and James Storm's past together, with the pair being thrown together more than once. Meanwhile, Storm's new partner, Gunner, was the most surprising addition, seemingly instilling fear into every other wrestler he faced down with. He appears to be in the midst of a substantial push, climbing the ranks at an astounding pace for someone who wasn't even on the roster two weeks ago. The key for the moment is their holding of the Tag Team Championships, after a brutal Superkick/Torture Rack combo to Austin Aries gave them the win. Special mention must go to the Greatest Man That Ever Lived, who pulled off a superb 450 splash off the top rope and had the match all but won. The fact the Dirty Heels aren't the new Tag Team Champions is genuinely mystifying to me.
The biggest surprise of the night had to be the 'Last Knockout Standing' match between Gail Kim and Taryn Terrell. I initially questioned the logic of not featuring the Knockouts Championship itself on a high profile pay-per-view, but even Mickie James would've struggled to keep the pace with these two women. As far as I know, the stipulation was a last minute addition, but damn was it worth it. The pair took to each other in a frenzy from the word go. An early highlight had Gail applying an Octopus submission hold to her nemesis. Taryn, on the other hand, could be quite sloppy at times, but made up for any mistakes with unremitting zeal and enthusiasm. She was intent on risking her body to make this the best match possible and it came across with every blow. There was a particularly nasty top rope cross body onto a chair that had to have left them both reeling. Similarly, the end sequence was just insane. After a series of already brutal impacts on the walkway, Taryn gave Gail a running bulldog, flying straight off it and onto the concrete floor! This display wasn't lost on the crowd, who were hugely impressed and gave both "this is awesome" and "holy s***" chants to the downed women. Taryn got the ultimate win, but both of them deserve a medal. Quite possibly the most intense Knockouts match I've ever seen.
The highly anticipated Angle/Styles match got off to a muted start after Styles entered to a new dour and moody entrance theme that left the audience guessing. However, the action in the ring was anything but. Styles did a fantastic job of adapting his offense to his new persona. He began the match almost by stalking his opponent like an animal. His movements have become all the more deliberate, taking his time between spots, but moving at a lightning quick pace at a moment's notice. Very rarely did he break out the high flying move set he's renowned for. Instead favouring a mat-based bout, which relied on the pair exchanging multiple submission holds. They effortlessly glided from one to the other, switching back and forth. A reversed German Suplex off the top rope even garnered the second "this is awesome" chant of the night. The finish came after Angle rolled Styles up and a double leg pin led to the win. Even with Angle's Hall of Fame announcement earlier in the night, I'm slightly taken aback that he'd go over Styles at such a formative point for this new character. Angle doesn't have a single thing to prove anymore and a loss would've cost him nothing. Whereas Styles is in the midst of a major repackaging and a defeat like this will only show he's not to be taken seriously. What use is AJ's new attitude if it doesn't result in him winning?
Finally, in our main event for the World Heavyweight Championship, the Icon Sting challenged the leader of the Aces & Eights, Bully Ray. A shrewd promo, before the match had even begun, added a new emphasis on Bully attempting to perform a Piledriver. For weeks, the Champion had simply been content with having Sting's future Title shots on the line, but staring down the barrel, he'd reconsidered and wanted to put the legend out to pasture, once and for all. On Sting's side, the match went much as it always does. Lots of jabs and kicks, before a quick brawl around ringside and a reliance on weapons. To Bully Ray's credit, he knew the Icon's limitations and worked around them, creating a truly innovative Sting match, something we haven't seen in a very long time. The most notable spots coming towards the end, as Bully proceeded to cut the ring mat loose and reveal the hardened base below. Several solid bumps to the hard surface later and the Icon was still refusing to give Bully the satisfaction. He even managed to put Sting through his patented table to no avail. What finally put the superhuman to rest was a vicious blow to the head with a hammer, while coming off the top rope no less. At the end of the day, it had taken tables, chairs, hammers, an exposed ring base and an entire group of men to keep Sting down.
8 out of 10