This is it.  This is supposed to be the best episode of TNA Impact of this set of tapings, and in fact a legitimately good show across the board.  I thought last weeks show had a solid second hour, so the real question is “can TNA have three consecutive hours of above average television content?”  Let’s find out.

This weeks show opened up with a very nice video package outlining the status of all the titles in TNA and giving a brief sketch of some of the potential challengers.

Kurt Angle came to the ring and said that the show would be a TNA title showcase.  He announced tag, X-Division and Knockouts title matches.  He then announced a battle royal to determine a number one contender for the World Title, which will look bad for those who see TNA aping the WWE in everything, though it should be noted “tonight’s” TNA battle royal was taped before Wade Barrett’s arm got wrecked.

He then called Willow to the ring.  I admit that at this point I was fearing the worst.  Willow is possibly the most cringe worthy promo in a modern wrestling landscape littered with face palming garbage.  To make matters worse Angle was absolutely wretched last week delivering basic lines, and his poor man’s Teddy Long routine as the serious GM is already something that is looking bleak at best.  Having said that, this was kept mercifully short and to the point.  Angle pointed out that Willow was born out of the necessity.  According to Angle, in a TNA without Dixie Carter or MVP at the helm, the character of Willow is no longer needed.  He called for the return of Jeff Hardy “at least for tonight,” arguing that Jeff Hardy is who the fans wanted.  Angle’s delivery sounded about as impassioned and authentic as a Bob Dole stump speech, but the message he was delivering was on point and the direction the company needs to move in with Hardy.  Willow is terrible and Hardy is the biggest star they have.  It makes sense that the director of operations would want the big star back.  It makes sense that Jeff Hardy is a mall metal kid who retreated into some sort of bobo Cradle of Filth act to cope with being bullied by female authority figures that are representative of his darkest fears as a man child.  Going further one could argue that it makes sense that post-rehab Kurt Angle would take aim at a character defined by psychedelic themes likely fueled by prolonged drug abuse.  So while neither of these guys can cut a promo to save their life, this segment at least made sense.

Backstage Austin Aries is interviewed by the annoying nameless cameraman.  He is asked about his X-Division title match against Sanada and cuts a solid promo saying he’s going to beat him for the title and keep all of his options open.  This was a rare TNA backstage segment that had meaning as they are teasing that Aries is going to win the title tonight and invoke “Option C” to get a World Title match at Destination X.

The American Wolves v. Magnus and Bram

Boy Davey Richards is bad.  I understand a substantial portion of the readers of this blog are fans of Richards, but I really want someone to watch his performances the last few weeks and point to a single thing he does well.  His selling looks forced, he threw some kicks in this that barely connected at all, and nearly everything he does looks phony.  I’m not an Eddie Edwards fan, but he comes across as a guy who could go through WWE developmental and come out as a perfectly solid worker, with a decent upside.  Richards comes across as a guy who you would never want to book on a live T.V. show, though WWE jump cut production tactics would hide his flaws very well.  Anyhow this not any good.  It wasn’t awful or anything, and they worked a sound enough tag structure where the match had a decent flow to it.  Still the heels heat section was not compelling at all, and the babyface comeback didn’t have the fire you hope for out of a good traditional tag.  I will say that the jacknife pin out of the backslide was not a bad idea for a finish, but the timing didn’t work out like you’d hope. At one point Tazz said he dared anyone to find a tag match of this quality on national t.v., which left me wondering when the next R-Truth/Xavier Woods v. Rybaxel match was airing.  Then I thought about it and realized those guys have never had a match this weak.  Skippable.  Post-match the heels beat down the faces, which means we get more of The Wolves v. Elephant Show feud.  Great.

Backstage the anonymous interviewer tracks down Bobby Roode.  Roode points to the spot where he was jumped backstage last week.  I know it doesn’t really matter, but there is something amusing to me about TNA admitting that they ran the same building the week before, which was really the same day.  Maybe a kid reared on Primetime wrestling and pre-taped title changes that were protected for months before they aired just can’t process this new world, but I found Roode’s acknowledgment of TNA’s sedentary nature to be ridiculous.  It’s a minor thing, but the sort of thing a major wrestling promotion should never allow on it’s show.  Anyhow the segment was okay, but was really just TNA backstage filler to set up the other side of the commercial.

Back from the break we have a Bobby Roode in ring promo.   This is the best promo Roode has cut since his return by far. Nothing outstanding, but a decent, basic promo, that ended with him calling out MVP.  MVP came out on the stage in a wheel chair and talked about how Roode’s behavior had made his condition worse.  Roode had enough of MVP’s ranting and went to attack him, thwarting a Kenny King sneak attack in the process. He ran MVP down the ramp in his wheelchair and attacked him but King made the save with a sick chairshot.  This led to Eric Young coming out for the save, and Lashley hitting the ring to take out Young again.  This segment was fine for what it was, but I wanted more Kenny King showboating.

Backstage James Storm approaches Sanada.  He tells Sanada that if he loses the title he will bring disgrace to his culture and his mentor The Great Muta.  The deal here is that Storm is sowing seeds of doubt in Sanada, while also talking him up as someone who is good but needs to step out of Muta’s shadow.  This is TNA so it was probably an accident, but they had a red lighting focused on both guys throughout this segment, giving off the vibe of the “devil on your shoulder” whispering lies into your ears.  Artistically that’s a smart choice and can be reasonably juxtaposed with the “white room” presentation of Gunner during his counseling sessions with Samuel Shaw.  What is interesting here is not that both of those guys kind of lookalike, but rather that since their feud – which was almost certainly the best thing in TNA all year – they have split off in different ways that seem to lead to the same endpoint.  More important than the fact that both guys are working veteran counselor to troubled upstart gimmicks,  is the nature of what they are saying and who they are working with.  Gunner is putting himself over as a man of unparalleled virtue, and has committed himself to reforming the character of a sex criminal, who he may or may not be trying to take advantage of.  Storm is giving good business advice to a talented young wrestler who could be severely damaged by the ego and backstage politicking of his controlling promoter and boss.  The whole thing has potential to be a brilliant and nuanced look at modern concepts of good and evil, and I could see this resulting in some great stuff based on Process Church and/or Holy Terror Church of The Final Judgment propaganda, but instead I think this is all just a happy accident that TNA will fail to capitalize on.

Back from break they show Angle’s pitch to Willow from earlier in the night followed by a brief interview of Angle in the back saying he thinks he reached Hardy tonight and that we should expect Jeff in the battle royal and not Willow.

Austin Aries v. Sanada

Pretty good match, that was hurt by the crowd.  Generally speaking crowds can only enhance a match for me (i.e. I almost never think less of a match because of a crowd reaction…) but this crowd just came across as completely bored and disinterested until the very end of this.  I actually felt bad for these guys as they worked hard and did a good job building to the big spots in this without throwing anything away early.  Some of the stuff on the front end of the match didn’t look as organic as I would have liked, but for a match that was largely built around spots, they did a good job with the pacing and stayed away from egregious no selling.  Sanada escaping after the first corner drop kick was a good spot, and his moonsault near fall was legitimately great.  I also really liked the finish itself, with Sanada getting to kick out of one big finish before being put away by another, though Aries came up noticeably short on the 450.   I would recommend people seek this out, though don’t expect it to be near the level of what some have been suggesting it would be, and you may want to watch it with the sound off if you don’t want to get depressed.

Backstage Bully is approached by the phantom interviewer in a stairwell asking about Rhino.  Bully says “of all the times to ask about Rhino you pick now?” and then they cut to a commercial.  This was the literal definition of a filler segment as it served no purpose other than to eat a few seconds of extra time they had coming off the last match.

Back from break they show a video clip of Rhino attacking Bully Ray from the week before.  This leads to the full backstage response that they teased before the commercial.  That’s right TNA did a cliff hanger for a backstage promo in a stairwell.  Unbelievable.  Even better this led to nothing other than Bully Ray saying he was going to talk to Rhino in the ring.  Then they cut to ECIII with Rhino saying that Rhino had a lot to say.  I get that people will think I’m nitpicking, or relentlessly whining at this point, but this was completely ridiculous.  Bully said nothing, Rhino said nothing.  This was all to set up a face-to-face in ring encounter that was coming in the very next segment.  Meanwhile the Sanada v. Aries match could have really benefited from two extra minutes.  I can’t imagine anyone thinking this was a good use of time.

Bully Ray comes to the ring and after talking about the rarity of friendship in the wrestling business he called out Rhino.  Rhino, Rockstar Spud and Ethan Carter III come to the ring.  The crowd erupted into a “You Sold Out” chant which is pretty funny.  Rhino cut a hilarious promo talking about how Bully had used Devon to make himself a star, and talking about how Bully conned “Paul E. Heyman.”  Then he talked over everything Bully was trying to say.  Bully said Rhino got himself  fired from WWE and TNA and called him a bitch.  Thankfully ECIII stepped in and tried to save the segment by pointing out that Rhino had a real family he needed to feed and take care of and Bully stealing the spotlight had prohibited this.  Meanwhile in the background Rhino is calling Bully “Bubba.”  Bully goes to attack Ethan, but Rhino hits a sub-Edge level spear and the heels put the boots to Bully until Dreamer makes the save with a Singapore Cane.  The segment ends with a halfhearted ECW chant which is actually strong foreshadowing for the television that will come out of the Manhattan tapings.  Rhino was laughably bad in this, though I could see him and Bully having good matches, and this got a bigger response than anything on the show up to this point.

Backstage The Beautiful People are complaining about how their attempts to gain favor with referee Brian Stiffler were for naught.  They do their usual routine, with Angelina noting that she is going to win her title back tonight and become a seven time Knockouts champion.

Backstage we have another segment with Knux trying to explain the wrestling business to the rest of The Menagerie, especially Crazy Steve.  Are they building to a Knux v. Crazy Steve feud already?

Brittany v. Gail Kim v. Madison Rayne v. Angelina Love

This started with Madison Rayne getting ambushed on the way to the ring by Brittany and The Beautiful People.  Gail Kim made the save and the match was on.  This sucked.  I hate multi-person matches as a rule, but you can usually count on them to deliver with at least one or two memorable spots.  This had nothing of note other than Brittany and Angelina Love working as heel tandem and then turning on each other mid-match, and Madison Rayne laying around selling awkwardly in between the couple of spots she had.  Then Gail Kim won clean.  They kept this short, but not short enough.

Back from break Austin Aries is in the back holding up the X Division title talking about his options for the future as the X Division title holder.  Aries says the X Division is once against “relevant” and “great.”

Invisible interviewer catches Bobby Roode on the way to the battle royal and asks him if MVP and Kenny King are a distraction.  Does this cameraman work for TMZ?  What kind of asshole follows around talent and harasses them like that when they are on the way to the ring?

Next is a pre-taped, MVP narrated, video package of Lashley working out.  MVP salivating at Lashley’s back, was not as homoerotically glorious as The Genius getting pumped for Curt Hennig’s diving technique, but it was still good.  They did show Lashley doing presses with the title belt on which was pretty great, though again not at the level of Rick Martel’s video from the Montreal promotion where he is working out to “Careless Whisper.”  Still I am a fan of these sort of segments, and Lashley is a guy they really need to hammer home as a monster if he’s going to work as champion, so I was pretty happy with this.

They had a few of the guys in the Battle Royal come to the ring and then went to commercial.

Battle Royal

2014: The Year of the Battle Royal!  I don’t like battle royals and there is no way in hell I’m going through all the eliminations in this.  Here were some of the notable things from the match.  Jeff Hardy was the last person announced, and did in fact appear as Jeff Hardy.  Christie Hemme’s announced every elimination with the same vocal inflection and cadence of the female robot voice from The Purge movies.   Abyss showed up half way through the match and was allowed to fight with Bram.  Spud took a crazy bump over the top straight onto his shin.  Bully accidentally eliminated himself while he was eliminating ECIII.  The final four were Kenny King, Bobby Roode, Eric Young and Jeff Hardy.  That’s right, TNA booked a battle royal where the final four guys were three babyfaces and one heel who is affiliated with the heel champion.  MVP ended up interfering leading to Roode’s elimination, but while King was hot dogging he got eliminated by EY.  This left EY and Jeff Hardy as the final too.  EY did his flip over the ropes/Fargo strut spot which is incredibly stupid in a battle royal.  The finish was decent with EY saving himself barely on one over the top tease, only to eat a dropkick from Jeff while standing on the apron, leading to the Jeff win.  Post-match Jeremy Borash interviewed Jeff Hardy, who talked himself up by saying he was “tougher than most,”  a classically awful Jeff Hardy line if there ever was one. The show ended with Lashley hitting the ring to hold the title up in Hardy’s face.  This got a ton of time by TNA standards, as the battle royal and post-match got almost the entire last half hour.  I have been clamoring for more time for the matches but that’s not what I meant.  Still I will say that the Lashley v. Hardy showdown was well built to as a result, and the title came across feeling like a big deal.

Final Thoughts:

Aries v. Sanada was a solid match and is worth watching.  But the rest of this show wasn’t very good.  Yes there were some segments that worked well enough, but there was also some really bad stuff.  Of the four matches on the show, only the X Division title match was any good.  There are interesting dynamics at playing leading into the New York shows, but the time management of Impact  is still nightmarish, and when you look at the slate of feuds the promotion has lined up it’s hard to get excited about anything.  There is always the possibility that James Storm shows up next week and starts quoting Integrity lyrics to Sanada (actually a Dwid v. Melt Banana feud would be interesting, and might open up a door or two for Crazy Steve), but if this was supposed to be the “great” show from the Bethlehem tapings, I’m not going to feign enthusiasm about the up coming “great” New York shows.