TNA Impact returned to SpikeTV last night (Mar. 21) with a taped show coming out of the Sears Centre Arena in Chicago, IL.
It was about as great of a show as TNA can put on.
Click here to get full results and the running live blog. But now, let's get to the reactions!
♠ Bully Ray opened the show promising to explain the entire nine-month plan to become the TNA World Heavyweight Champion. And, shockingly enough, throughout a series of videos during the show, he delivered in spades (sorry, couldn't resist). Aces & 8s started as the Bound For Glory series was rolling along. Bully made sure that the fingers were pointed at James Storm, his opponent at No Surrender (Sept. 9). Roode interfered in the match, allowing Bully to move into the finals against Jeff Hardy.
However, Hardy proved too strong an opponent, so Bully had to move to Plan B; winning Hulk Hogan's trust. He wooed Brooke Hogan, which Hulk did not approve of. Which of course only made Brooke want him more. He fooled Sting, allowed himself to be beaten by his brother, Devon, and finally stood strong against Aces & 8s. Hulk finally accepted him, gave him a championship bout after Brooke and Sting vouched for him, and had his gang interfere to guarantee the victory.
As crazy as it is to write, TNA basically tied together every loose end.
It's this attention to detail that makes me respect this promotion and its storytelling ability. I hated the Aces & 8s angle as much as anyone. But TNA actually proved that it had a plan, or at the very least was smart enough to work backwards after the fact.
In either case, this was beautifully and intelligently done.
♣ That being said, this does not excuse TNA for putting out crap for that past few months. Nine months was far too long to stretch this whole thing out. I understand the need to build around pay-per-views (PPV's), but there has to have been another way. Bully's exposition certainly helped soften the memories.
However, it does not remove the suffering that was sitting through oh so many awful episodes. I don't know how many [former] fans there are who won't ever see the explanation, because they tuned out long ago.
A good ending does not excuse a crappy path.
♦ Jeff Hardy, Samoa Joe, Magnus, and Kurt Angle put on a good Fatal Four-way to determine the #1 Contender, which Hardy predictably won. The set up was very simple; Hogan wants the title back on TNA's side, so he set forth his four best talents to battle out who will get a shot.
Hardy gaining his rematch makes perfect sense. He lost the belt because he was bopped in the head with a hammer, so he deserves a fair shot to regain the title. He certainly shouldn't win it, of course. In fact, each of these four men should get a shot at Bully Ray down the road.
This is a really simple and fun story to tell. I'm looking forward to how TNA weaves this together. For the first time in a long time, I have full faith in the promotion.
♥ The man who will eventually take the title, AJ Styles, continues to do his best Sting impression. Mike Tenay asked Styles what was going on. Styles stayed quiet. Taz told Styles that Aces & 8s had an opening he could fill. Styles stayed quiet. James Storm came down to demand an answer for Styles attacking him last week (March 14). Styles stayed quiet and walked away.
Again, this is an obvious ripoff. But the story is seventeen years old. It will be very interesting to see the differences that could make this a fresh take.
♠ The Dirty Heels -- Austin Aries & Bobby Roode -- successfully defended their Tag Team Championships against Chavo Guerrero & Hernandez when Bad Influence -- Christopher Daniels & Kazarian interfered and sent Chavo flying off the top rope. Bad Influence then proceeded to beat down the champions. I can't imagine a more entertaining feud than Aries, Roode, Daniels, and Kaz all going back and forth.
However, I would rather if Chavo & Hernandez weren't involved, but I understand the need for a face team. Plus, Hernandez actually looks damn impressive in the ring as the big man. So I'm really just saying I wish Chavo would find somewhere else to go.
♣ The X Division added new rules, because whomever is running it is basically my mother during that magical time of month. Why they feel the need to clean house is beyond me, but once I accept it I'll stop getting yelled at.
To summarize, a 230-lbs weight limit was added -- which is dumb, because it's not like the wrestlers can fake their weights -- every match will be a Triple Threat -- which is one of those ideas that sounds really good in the conference room, but is going to cause problems down the line -- and the wrestler who is pinned or submitted, goes to the back of the line -- which would work better if there were actually more than four people currently in the X Division to begin with.
There's no reason to constantly be throwing stipulations around, and there is a fear it will be forgotten in two weeks. But it's an interesting addition as of today.
♦ Speaking of the X Division, Kenny King defended his title against Sonjay Dutt -- who ate the pinfall, and will be moved to the back of the line -- and Zema Ion in a really fun match. It was a bit shorter than I would have liked, but it was good for what it was. I do hope TNA goes out and finds some more talent to restock the division, but there is a good base to build on here.
♥ Brooke Hogan -- who is still in charge of the Knockouts -- fired Taryn Terrell for violating her duties as referee when she attacked Gail Kim. Brooke immediately hired Terrell as a wrestler instead, which allowed Terrell to lay out Kim with an awesome spear (shown above). It's nice to see a legitimate feud in the female division, and I'm actually excited to see how these two work together.
♠ Matt Morgan killed Joseph Park. It was slow, deliberate, and awesome to watch.
♣ Hogan had the line of the night, telling sting to, "hang out in the rafters and go disappear for a couple of years". The fact that Hogan is openly referencing the "Crow vs. nWo" gimmick is brilliant. The fact that he's making fun of Sting makes me very happy, especially in light of this parallel AJ Styles mock-crow angle.
All told, just an amazing episode of Impact.
Although, there are certainly some complaints about their only being time for four matches -- one of which was a quick beat down -- I can't be too hard on the show in that respect. There was nothing I would want them to have edited out, and a quick squash match wouldn't have done anyone any good. I think TNA found a nice balance last night.
Grade: A -
It's impossible to watch pro wrestling in a vacuum, and it's been tough to get through the live blogs while that other promotion turns out garbage night-in and night-out. So, I needed this episode, and it's nice to know TNA can still surprise its fans.
What say you, Cagesiders? Am I giving too much love for the Orlando-based promotion? Or was last night everything a fan could have hoped for? Let me know how right -- or how wrong -- I am in the comments.