The show starts with Kurt Angle in the ring. He delivers the timely line “tomorrow we celebrate our countries independence,” which had to be confusing to those who were their live watching this last month. Angle brings out Earl Hebner, who is dressed like Kenny King was in my week one review. Angle reinstates Hebner as an official. Then Angle announces the following matches for show: ECIII v. Bully Ray, American Wolves v. The Menagerie v. Bro Mans, Angelina Love v. Gail Kim, Bobby Lashley v. Eric Young. This segment is really here to set the table for the show, but it’s a painfully bad segment, as Angle comes across as the biggest phony on earth doing this sort of thing. As a guy interested in Bobby Lashley’s “pipe” you can sort of buy him, but as a super excited, Gavin Loudspeakeresque hype man, for a horrific product, he just doesn’t work. Really this portion of the segment only served to make me miss Don West who was excellent as the “guy who might possibly think this stuff is real” pitch man.
Angle is about to leave the ring, when Samoa Joe’s music hits. Joe has slowly been getting some of his aura back over the last year, and crowds are really into him, so of course he cuts a quasi-heel promo here. The gist of it is that Kurt Angle had everything handed to him in the wrestling business, while Joe had to bust his ass, working his way through the indie scene to get where he is at. I actually don”t mind the idea of this exchange, though I’m not sure Kurt Angle should be talking about Joe as a guy who “half asses it.” Still, the problem here was the execution, delivery and timing of this. If you want to run this sort of angle it can work, but what’s Joe’s motivation here? Why is he starting a fight with the new boss? Why is he taking shots at Angle? Who is the heel and who is the face? Joe was okay as your “Austin Aries doesn’t make the Tough Enough cast and loses his mind on social media” guy, but these sort of angles don’t work when there is no purpose and the other guy is as terrible on the mic as 2014 Kurt Angle is.
Backstage we see MVP on crutches challenging Bobby Roode to a fight. Kenny King comes in from off camera and ambushes Roode. I have been watching TNA for four weeks and it seems like they have run some variant of this angle every single week, including the shaky camera work, and the awful selling by the person who is attacked.
Back from break Kurt Angle is in the back and asks Bobby Roode what happened. Bobby explains he was attacked by MVP and Kenny King. This leads to one of the most ridiculous exchanges of dialogue I’ve ever seen as Bobby talks about how grateful he is that Kurt rehired him. Then Kurt says he doesn’t like him but he respects him, which not only sounded phony, but comes across as a really shitty thing to say in that situation. Bobby then says – in the most transparently fake way possible – that he came back for a purpose and he wants a match with MVP and Kenny King. They end up walking off together. This sucked.
The Menagerie v. The Bro Mans v. The American Wolves: Watchable, short, spotfest. As spotfests go there was nothing in this that would really stand out aside from DJ Z getting launched wildly over the top rope onto a bunch of people. In some ways it’s probably best to keep these guys in a short match, and the pacing of this was decent, but even in a bad week there are ten WWE t.v. matches as good or better than this. It’s also worth noting that the Wolves finish (basically a suplex throw into a weak Davey Richards kick) looks absolutely awful.
Backstage we see Bobby Roode screaming at Kenny King and MVP. Kurt Angle mediates and sets up a street fight between Kenny King and Bobby Roode. This was a very brief buffer segment before commercial, but what was telling here is how much better King and MVP are in this setting than Angle or Roode. When MVP mocked Roode for being a tattle tail I was actually nodding in agreement, which I don’t think was the desired effect.
Kenny King v. Bobby Roode – Street Fight: Both guys are in their street clothes from the earlier segment. Before the match King cuts a promo saying he and MVP are going to break Roode’s neck, so of course Kurt Angle comes out and ejects MVP from the ringside area. I actually thought this match badly exposed the TNA agents. In a smartly worked street fight you start in the ring or around the ringside area and brawl up the ramp and/or into the crowd. Here they started on the ramp and brawled into an off camera area for a couple of minutes. This pretty much killed the opening minutes of this with the live crowd as no one is going to react to something they can’t see. More than that I think it hurt the rhythm of the match, as the bell didn’t even ring until they made their way to the ring several minutes into the match. Then to make matters worse they didn’t even try and build any drama in this at all. Bobby Roode’s shoulder had been hurt in the backstage segment, they made note of it, and yet there was no work done on the shoulder in the match even though Roode sold it. No big spots were milked, let alone delivered. There wasn’t even a feeling of a raw, impassioned violence here, which is the bare minimum you want out of a street fight. I thought Kenny King did a good job heeling, and tried to do some interesting things, but this was poorly laid out and Roode was pretty bad. The end result was a heatless, uninspired, pedestrian brawl, with no build and no drama. I wasn’t expecting a match set up in the previous segments on the show to have a ton of depth, but you’ve gotta do better than this, especially for Roode’s return match to the promotion.
Backstage Ethan Carter III cuts a brief promo saying he and Dixie will never go through tables.
Back from break Bobby Roode cuts a a promo saying that he needed tonight’s match to get back into the game. He ends the promo by saying he’s destined to be world champion again.
Backstage Austin Aries is talking to Kurt Angle. Aries appeals to Angle for a singles match against Sanada for X Division title. Angle grants Aries the match for next week. As Aries walks away Angle says he and Aries need to have a match one day. I have no interest in seeing Kurt Angle ever wrestle again, but planting the seeds for Angle v. Aries is probably one of the smartest things they’ve done on this show so far. What’s funny is that it may be a match they never deliver on.
Brittany is in the ring on the mic. She calls Madison Rayne to the ring. Madison wants to fight, but Brittany says she came into the Knockouts division looking up to Madison, and then apologizes for her previous behavior. Madison accepts the apology and hugs Brittany, but Brittany turns on her with a nasty short arm clothesline, a pretty brutal looking punt to the gut and a reverse DDT on the floor. I had no interest in either of these two ladies coming in, and Madison’s promo work here was sub-Kurt Angle, but I thought this was one of the better executed angles I’ve seen out of this promotion in the last five weeks. It was kept simple, it was done in the ring, and the heel delivered a very straight forward line before the turn that people will remember (“never meet your heroes, because they always disappoint”). It should also be said that Brittany’s offense here looked much more violent and mean spirited than anything in the Roode v. Kenny King street fight, which says a lot about both segments.
Backstage Bully Ray is in a stairwell repeating “over my dead body.” This ends up being a good promo setting up the tables match with Ethan Carter III.
Backstage MVP is standing with Bobby Lashley. MVP cuts a promo saying Lashley will be the most dominant champion in the history of the promotion. MVP is a better Paul Heyman than Paul Heyman at this point.
Bully Ray v. Ethan Carter III – Tables Match: I really liked Bully Ray’s slow walk to the ring here. It was the complete opposite of the Street Fight, as the pacing of Bully’s entrance was designed to milk the big moment when he got to the ring and started beating on Carter. Naturally the end result is that the crowd popped big for that and was more into this match than anything on the last two weeks of television. In the end this match was really about the angle that finished it. Up until that point I thought Bully did a good job controlling the crowd, and they did a decent job with the powerbomb tease before Rockstar Spud came out to break things up. Still the purpose of this was to set up the returning Rhyno, who came out, teased that he was saving Bully Ray, and then turned on him setting up the Ethan Carter win. This wasn’t anything special, but it was decent, got over live and progressed a storyline, all of which are rare happenings in TNA.
Backstage Bobby Roode is talking to Eric Young. EY is down on his odds against Bobby Lashley who he is 0-3 against. Bobby tries to fire him up and the goal was to make the viewer believe that Bobby’s pep talk had succeeded it getting EY amped for the match. The problem is that Bobby Roode isn’t very good in that role, so I left feeling like EY was probably doubting himself more than ever.
Backstage Rhyno cuts a promo saying he doesn’t owe anyone anything, sometimes he does things just because he wants to. I guarantee that promo will be ridiculed and mocked many places tomorrow, but that was basically Seth Rollins explanation for why he turned on Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. So if you were a fan of the Seth Rollins heel turn, objectively you ought to love this one.
They show a video montage of Sam Shaw’s struggles. This leads to a backstage segment with Gunner talking about how Sam needs to ask for peoples forgiveness. They run into Anderson backstage who is pissed to see Sam, but Gunner cuts this incredible promo talking about how great of a guy he is for working with disabled vets and PTSD victims like Sam Shaw. Really a great promo, in large part because as a viewer you both sympathize with Gunner’s point and think he’s a self absorbed asshole for making it. This leads to Anderson walking Gunner and Sam back to Christy Hemme’s locker room, where Sam apologizes for his previous behavior. I have no interest in watching Ken Anderson do anything, but Gunner as the self congratulatory, PTSD counselor is really entertaining.
Backstage The Beautiful People are buttering up Referee Brian Stiffler who is the official for Angelina’s title defense against Gail Kim. This went on way too long.
Back from break Kurt Angle stops Brian Stiffler on the way to the ring. So he’s not going to be the ref for that Knockouts title match.
Another backstage segment, this time Knux is lecturing the rest of The Menagerie about how this is the wrestling business, not the carnival business. Obvious filler segment that goes nowhere and served no purpose. TNA has four or five of these (minimum) per show, but they never cease to amaze me.
Gail Kim v. Angelina Love: This was not a great match, or even close to it, but I did think both of these ladies worked hard and the psychology was good. The early portion of the match was built around Velvet Sky interference spots being the only means in which Angelina could get an advantage. Gail was really good bumping for these spots, not all of which looked good. The key here was that this was well established so when Velvet got banished to the back it felt like a huge moment. From there they worked it smart with Gail looking like she had this all wrapped up before eating a pretty sick looking head kick from Angelina while she was on the ropes. Gail ended up winning shortly after this with her finisher, but the pacing and build in this match was good, and by TNA standards, great. The Knockouts segments on this show have been much stronger than the men segments.
Backtage Kurt Angle announces the titles will be up for grabs next week.
Bobby Lashley v. Eric Young: Bobby Roode is ringside for this. Early on MVP grabs at Eric Young’s legs, so Roode grabs at Lashley’s to get over the fact that interference won’t be the deciding factor here for either man. This match would have been a lot better if it was five minutes longer. I don’t particularly want to see fifteen minute Bobby Lashley matches, but if you are going to build a match around an underdog babyface injury, you need time to build the heat, time to do some nice hope spots, time to deliver on the comeback, and time for the big finish to feel like the finish of something significant. Instead this was a rushed version of the injured underdog babyface match, which meant that what we got was generally good work, that didn’t quite equal a truly good match. Having said that, give credit to Eric Young who’s selling of the leg injury was great, and who took yet another awesome bump for Lashley’s spear finish. It’s just a shame they can’t cut some of those pointless backstage bits to give matches like this the time they need.
The bad on this show was really bad, but the good on this show was actually good and not just “good for TNA.” The problem they have is that they manage their time very poorly, and as a result their main events often fall flat, and the bad backstage talking segments stand out in your mind more. Still this was much more watchable than any of the previous four shows I’ve seen. I wouldn’t recommend anyone go out of their way to watch it, but everything after the street fight was at least decent, and the second half of the show was borderline good.