It was with a degree of excitement and mild uncertainty that the author of this column took in his first live wrestling show in nearly six years, as TNA Wrestling visited the Bournemouth International Centre in my home town of ‘sunny? Bournemouth on the night of January 26th 2010. Despite my altogether thorough enjoyment of the live wrestling experience, the travel and accommodation coupled with the event costs generally preclude me actually attending events in the United Kingdom. Add to that the relatively infrequent visits by the various promotions and you have a recipe for inactivity. Happily then, the arrival of TNA in Bournemouth removed most of the aforementioned obstacles and afforded me the opportunity to experience the TNA product first hand.
Upon arriving at the BIC, my two companions and I were greeted by the usual scrum for merchandise and refreshments. After briefly surveying the scene we headed to the arena’s main hall where the event was situated. The main hall of the BIC is relatively small, seating approximately three thousand souls when full. The promise of the live TNA experience was sufficient to ensure a swollen if not quite capacity crowd who nonetheless seemed lively from the start. It soon became clear the card was to be divided into two parts with an intermission, and was anchored quite expertly by the always-animated Jeremy Borash, who promised backstage passes for the loudest individual fans at regular intervals throughout the evening. This went over quite nicely with the cheapskate Englishmen (and women) in attendance.
The card proper started with an appearance from the British Invasion, who after initially appearing humble and welcoming snatched the backstage passes and tore them to shreds. This act, coupled with a predictable but energetic promo from Brutus Magnus (who was bombarded with ?Gladiator? chants) established the Invasion as heels. They then departed to allow the first contest of the evening to proceed; an energetic number one contender’s X-Division encounter between Amazing Red, Chris Sabin and Suicide. This was a short, sharp and breathless match that boasted flawless timing, a red-hot crowd and a refreshing winner: Chris Sabin. It was 50-50 between Sabin and Suicide in the popularity stakes, and it was the opportunistic Sabin who claimed victory after Suicide incapacitated Red. As a curtain-jerker and crowd-warmer, this was nigh on flawless.
TNA cleverly anticipated the negative reaction Earl Hebner was likely to receive and in true pro wrestling fashion, capitalised on it. After a suitably grandiose introduction by Jeremy Borash, Earl made his entrance to Alice In Chain’s ?Man In A Box? sporting a leather bomber jacket and Bret Hart-style aviators, mimicking Bret’s mannerisms as he went. The crowd responded with booming chants of ?You screwed Bret?. Earl for his part replied with the world’s most unsettling crotch chop. Who says professional wrestling personalities are devoid of a sense of irony?
Global Champion Eric Young joined us for match number two, an impromptu intergender contest pitting the dastardly Young against Hamada. Young did a modest job of inciting the crowd prior to the match with a cheap heat promo that mostly grated. Hamada did the rest with her precise exchanges with Young and surprisingly well-honed babyface reactions. It is a pity Hamada ? who was billed as one half of the Knockout Tag Team Champions and carried said belt to the ring ? has been left in the lurch by Awesome Kong’s decision to place principles before financial well-being. Hamada did rather well in a scenario explicitly designed to benefit her, but she will struggle without such generous composition in the future. Young naturally triumphed after punching Hamada in the face. He was unsurprisingly booed out of the building.
Someone in the TNA office apparently saw fit to haul Rhino out of his exile, specifically to put over the increasingly popular ?The Pope? D?Angelo Dinero, who was sporting some quite bizarre ring attire. Adding to the bemusement was a young female fan sat about six feet behind my party. She was apparently so overcome by the mere sight of ?The Pope? that she saw fit to scream at the very top of her ample lungs on more than one occasion. This was a rather shrill but undeniably amusing situation. The match itself was as close to disappointment as the card veered all night, thanks mainly to a very basic performance from Rhino. There was a definite lack of motivation and over-reliance on chinlocks, which dulled the crowd and hurt the flow of the match. The irony of two ex-WWE performers having the night’s worst match was not lost on this writer, who fears greatly for Rhino’s long-term TNA future on this rather tepid evidence.
The final contest before the intermission essentially played second fiddle to the crowd’s desire to honour certain performers with their cheers and appreciation. It featured four tag-teams and was fought under tag turmoil rules. The British Invasion was roundly booed, owing largely to their earlier escapades. Beer Money and Team 3-D were both treated to loud ovations, and the ?Beer? Money!? chorus was warmly embraced by two rather inebriated gentlemen, who took it upon themselves to entertain the crowd on several occasions with their personal rendition of the chant.
The match itself was a fun but slightly disjointed affair that was overshadowed by the thunderous and perpetual ovation afforded Kurt Angle. ?The Olympic Hero? was serenaded by deafening ?we want Angle? chants whilst on the apron and his short, sharp exhibition of offence – taking in all his trademark spots ? prompted an almost feverish reaction. The rather unfortunate Hernandez (Kurt’s partner) barely elicited a murmur, and Angle seemed genuinely stunned by the reaction. It was really quite something. Angle/Hernandez were naturally triumphant.
Post-match, ?Big? Rob Terry displayed his extraordinary physique prior to being blasted through a table by Ray and Devon. The clueless Terry was roundly booed after taking an age to accomplish the seemingly simple task of setting up a table. He achieved partial redemption when he at least took the planned bump with aplomb. Beer Money then joined Team 3-D in a spot of TNA cheerleading; inviting two youngsters into the ring to each receive an autographed piece of Terry’s splintery grave. Hilariously, one of the two was an absolute natural playing to the crowd whilst the other young man seemed utterly petrified. All things considered, it was a charming scene that went over magnificently with the partisan throng.
After an intermission enlivened considerably by the sight of the Beautiful People at the merchandise fixture, the card resumed with a corking ?I Quit? match between the frighteningly over Samoa Joe and super-worker Daniels. The two worked a classically structured wrestling match made by Daniels? perfect heel performance and Joe’s vigorous offence. Joe, second only to Angle in the reaction stakes, wheeled out all his hard-hitting spots to a loud response. After fifteen minutes plus of formidable quality, Joe exacted the submission via Kokina Clutch and soaked up the cheers with a large smile on his face. Daniels departed to a very generous ovation, job extremely well done. For this writer, this was the match of the night.
They say every cloud has a silver lining and if that maxim applies to Awesome Kong’s TNA exit and her subsequent withdrawal from the TNA Maximum Impact Tour, then the aforementioned lining was attired in lingerie as Velvet Sky and Madison Rayne ? The Beautiful People ? graced Bournemouth with their salacious presence. They were one half of an undeniably decent Knockouts tag match against Sarita and Taylor Wilde. The success of this match was a triumph of simplicity over ambition. The women kept things simple, adhering to the tenets of classical tag team wrestling and allowing each other the time to shine. As a consequence, the match was of a higher quality ? and better received ? than any WWE women’s contest I?ve personally witnessed in several years. The finish came after Velvet sprayed Sarita in the eyes with cosmetics and Madison pinned her.
The emphasis TNA placed on the arrival of the Beautiful People telegraphed their likely victory. There can be no doubt the gals were exceedingly over with the horny males in attendance, who aired their collective appreciation with a succession of lewd and amusing, sexual innuendo-laced chants. At the halfway point, when Madison Rayne decided to place Taylor’s head between her legs and ?hump? the canvas, those chants became deafening. Highbrow it wasn?t but it was intended to be good, raunchy humour and it was undeniably amusing. After the match ended, Sarita grabbed the microphone and led the crowd in an impromptu ?happy birthday? sing-a-long for Taylor Wilde, who was celebrating her birthday that very night. Like the events that proceeded it, it was all splendid fun.
The introduction of Desmond Wolfe marked the first time I?ve ever heard several thousand British people bellowing ?wanker!? as a show of support. This was the initial backdrop to Wolfe’s gripping main event collision with AJ Styles, which was a fitting conclusion to a fine card of action on the night. The two technical marvels wrestled a clinic that thoroughly entertained the crowd and prompted the TNA trademark ?duelling chants? as the crowd were split down the middle as far as popularity was concerned. AJ deserves credit for slickly shifting gears mid-match from ?tweener to fully-fledged heel and working hard to establish Wolfe as babyface. They went back and forth in aggressive fashion, gradually building to a climax stuffed with near-falls and trademark manoeuvres from both men. Wolfe’s ?Tower of London? was particularly well received, as was AJ’s Styles Clash, which brought the match and the card to a finish as the assembled masses rose to show their appreciation in a loud and sustained ovation that echoed long into the night.
After Jeremy Borash thanked us all for supporting TNA and advised us to ?drive carefully?, the people of Bournemouth departed into the sub-zero night. As I scanned the smiling faces and acknowledged my own hoarse voice and splitting headache, I realised I?d thoroughly enjoyed myself. So had my friends, and that was all we had asked for, to be entertained. On January 27th 2010, TNA Wrestling delivered.
Daniel R. Browne.