On Sunday, the 11th annual Slammiversary pay-per-view is set to take place featuring a main event between TNA World Champion Bully Ray against ‘The Icon’ Sting. It is the second pay-per-view since TNA’s decision to reduce their schedule of pay events to four, and theoretically the first where we have been able to see what TNA’s latest ‘new era’ really looks like. Since Lockdown took place in early March, TNA have ended their lease with Universal Studios, leaving the Impact Zone and taking the show on the road. Now, just a few days out from the event, we evaluate just how well TNA have done building towards their anniversary event, and whether or not TNA have done enough to make fans part with their hard earned cash and order the show.
When TNA announced earlier this year that they were cutting back their schedule of pay-per-view events to just four per year, they did so under the pretence that it would allow them to put more effort into building those shows and provide better, more meaningful feuds and matches leading into them. Of course, the truth is that had TNA been making a profit from their monthly pay-per-view business they would have continued to promote them, but their buy rates had fallen to such a level that it was no longer financially sensible to continue. Taking heart from the regular bump in buy rates the company gets from their showcase attraction Bound For Glory, TNA decided that logically, if they reduced the number of pay-per-views they would receive more buys for each, therefore making them more profitable. That being said, their official statement was not wrong- with greater time to prepare for each pay-per-view, and less pressure to build to a big main event each month, TNA pay-per-views should in theory, be more attractive and highly anticipated for pay-per-view customers.
That was unfortunately not the case at March’s Lockdown pay-per-view, where Bully Ray’s challenge to then TNA World Champion Jeff Hardy was not announced until only a couple of weeks prior to the event. Given that the previous pay-per-view had taken place on January 13th, it was sloppy of TNA that it took them 5 weeks to be in a position to announce the following pay-per-view’s main event. Furthermore, despite the ongoing Aces & Eights storyline and the involvement of both Hulk and Brooke Hogan as part of Bully Ray’s ongoing character development, Hardy and Bully Ray themselves had barely been near each other and when they were, their match was built on the prospect of this being a respectful match over TNA’s main singles title. Unless you consider the TNA World Title to be the most over and prestigious in the world, this scenario was little to build a pay-per-view around.
Thankfully TNA made sure they announced the main event of Slammiversary well in advance of the event happening, when 5 weeks ago, Sting defeated Matt Morgan in a number 1 contenders match. Unfortunately for TNA the circumstances behind Sting’s victory will live long in the memory for how poorly it was executed. The match itself was awful, with Sting and Matt Morgan putting forth a dreaful effort that demonstrated just how far Sting has fallen, particularly in the last few years. Even worse than that though was that the finish was absolutely abysmal. Sting, at age 54, was unable to lock in a convincing looking Scorpion Deathlock on the 6’8 Morgan. Indeed, the move was so badly applied it made The Rock’s attempts at a sharpshooter during this year’s Wrestlemania look like the finest Bret Hart executed manoeuvre in his prime. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they had Morgan refuse to submit and pass out from the ‘intense pain’ of the move, a la Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 13. Ultimately, in their attempts at protecting Morgan by having him pass out from the pain rather than tap out, they made him look like a total clown, and their product completely phoney.
Strangely, Morgan had not been receiving a major push from the company prior to the match (and had done nothing to earn a no.1 contenders match in the first place) and has not been seen on television since this match, so the question has to be asked, why did TNA bother to try and protect Morgan in this way anyway? Having him tap out would have made very little difference to the way the audience perceives Morgan and as such, this was a wasted finish which could have been used to get somebody decent, and on the rise, over in a big way. The fact that they attempted to protect one of their younger stars in the first place was a bit of a surprise given what they had done on the previous week’s Impact.
After the Aces and Eights had pretty much destroyed everybody else in the company, including Jeff Hardy, Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe, Magnus, Bobby Roode, Austin Aries and others, Hulk Hogan decided to confront the gang on his own in the ring (and with a bad leg). Just as the Aces and Eights were about to give Hogan an almighty beating, the lights went out and Sting appeared, then, in cooperation with Hulk Hogan, took out Bully and his cronies before they scuttled off back to their little hideaway. The only message one could take from such an angle was that where all of TNA’s bright young hopefuls, who can still, you know, perform in the ring, had failed and been dominated by the evil Aces and Eights, the two old men with a combined age over a hundred managed to clear the ring of the entire roster despite one of them suffering from a recent hip operation (and not even being an active wrestler). I guess if you’re going to bury your entire roster, you may as well go all the way with it.
TNA attempted to continue the hype a couple of weeks ago on Impact by having a Bully Ray and Sting ‘match signing’ where the stipulation was added to their match that this would be a ‘no-holds-barred’ contest, during which time, blood was promised by the Stinger. Attempting to hype the intensity and brutality that would surely take place at the pay-per-view, the two men then came to blows, unfortunately, again most probably due to Sting’s advancing years, the exchange of blows was so slow and looked so staged that with them still brawling as the camera faded out, you couldn’t help but think that again they had achieved the opposite of what they were shooting for. Since then, a further stipulation has been added to the match that says that if Sting loses at Slammiversary he’ll never receive another World Title shot. On top of this a complication has been added by Bully Ray’s claim that he still loves Brooke Hogan.
Though TNA has put a lot of time and effort into promoting the match between Bully Ray and Sting, the way Sting won the no.1 contendership in the first place convinced me that Sting is no longer capable of having a match worthy of a pay-per-view main event. Given Sting’s recent performances in the ring it is ridiculous that TNA should place him in a match of this importance (even more so now that they only have to book 4 pay-per-view main events per year), which makes their decision to present Sting as the only person capable of standing up to the Aces and Eights back in April, all the more baffling. What’s more, I find it hard to believe that Sting is going to win the match, given that Bully Ray has only defended the title once on television since his victory over Jeff Hardy at Lockdown, it would seem wasteful of the company to have him lose the title this quickly into his reign given the generous build he has received. There is some intrigue to be had in whether Brooke Hogan is being manipulated by Bully again, or that she is going to fully turn heel, but that my hopes for the main event are reliant on her involvement says it all about the way TNA have built up to this contest
In the number 2 slot on the pay-per-view is the clash between Kurt Angle and AJ Styles. Though Angle hasn’t been at his absolute best as of late (and may finally be on the decline) and Styles hasn’t worked a big televised match since December last year, you can still almost guarantee that this will make for a worthy pay-per-view bout. The back story to this match has been the mystery surrounding whether AJ Styles was set to join the Aces & Eights or not (which is almost a carbon copy of the storyline Sting did in WCW back in 1997 with the NWO). For weeks, Styles refused to make his intentions clear and refused to answer the overtures made to him by several members of the TNA roster. Going into last week’s episode of Impact, it had been the intention of TNA to make its audience believe that Styles was going to join Aces and Eights, and not to trust the silent AJ Styles. The main problem with that is that Angle had instigated most of the tension between the two by trying to force AJ to make a decision, ranting that “you’re either with us or against us” and in general being a bit of a jerk about the whole thing.
Despite Angle’s near heel antics, we were supposed to boo when AJ Styles accepted Bully Ray’s offer to join Aces and Eights and hit Angle with a hammer. In all fairness, the hammer shot was a pretty darn heelish thing to do except, then Styles exposed the ruse by attacking Aces and Eights with the same hammer. So, if you’re still with me, I’m not really clear- are we supposed to cheer or boo the ‘loner’ Styles? After all, whilst choosing to stay out of the fight and not align himself to either the faces or the heel biker gang, is perfectly forgivable and understandable, hitting someone in the leg with a hammer is most definitely not. What’s more, I can’t help but feel like TNA revealed the ‘big surprise’ a little early; wouldn’t it have been prudent to save this storyline development for the pay-per-view, and give their audience a further hook to buy the show? Finally, what significance does this latest chapter leave the Angle versus Styles match with now that we know where Styles allegiance lays?
On the mid card of Slammiversary, Brother Devon will defend the TNA Television title against Joseph Park in a match that seems to be built around whether or not it will finally be revealed that Park and Abyss are in fact the same person- not brothers as has been presented in the storyline. A couple of weeks ago Abyss made his triumphant return, after over a year off of our screens to help Sting and Kurt Angle against the Aces and Eights. The following week, Park turned up claiming that he wanted to speak to his brother, but that Abyss wouldn’t speak to him. Park then fought D-Lo Brown on that week’s episode of Impact, and after taking a shot to the head was busted open, at which point, Park lit up and pummlled his opponent en route to taking the ‘w’ (as he likes to call it). As if this wasn’t a big enough wink to the audience, Sting openly commented on last week’s Impact that Park was ‘kayfabe-ing’ him when he claimed not be able to get hold of Abyss. Whilst Abyss’ return a few weeks ago, did elicit a decent response from the crowd, Park himself has never played before anything more than mild amusement, so how any of this is supposed to sell a pay-per-view, god only knows.
Whilst Hogan, Sting, Angle and Abyss (you know, the really important people in TNA, the one’s who all have their best years behind them) deal with the Aces & Eight’s menace, the rest of the roster has been thrown into minor feuds and issues to keep them busy. At the forefront of this is the 4-way match for the TNA Tag Team Titles between current champions Chavo Guerrero & Hernandez, Bad Influence, Bobby Roode & Austin Aries and James Storm and a mystery partner. When it was first announced that Storm would have a partner of his choosing a few weeks back on Impact, I was under the impression that this was another announcement that would be left for Slammiversary itself, but TNA seemingly couldn’t help themselves and it was announced that the returning Gunner would be the man to team with James Storm in the 4-way match. The indifference of the live crowd was second only to the indifference your writer felt when this was announced on television last week, but more importantly, another opportunity for TNA to create some intrigue and sell a few extra pay-per-views had been squandered.
In addition to these 4 main matches TNA is serving up a Knockouts match that should conclude the long running feud between former referee Tarryn Terrell and Gail Kim, an X-Division Title match between Kenny King, Chris Sabin and Suicide, and Jay Bradley against Sam Shaw in the final of the Gut Check Tournament to see who will progress to the Bound For Glory series. On top of that, the company has also promised to announce who be their second inductee into the TNA hall of fame at the show and I would also imagine that Magnus and/or Samoa Joe will face some combination of Aces and Eights members in a further match yet to be announced.
Don’t get me wrong, Slammiversary is shaping up to be a decent enough card of action with plenty to suggest that from an in-ring standpoint the show should be at least an average pay-per-view event. The problem is, that now TNA has switched to just 4 pay events a year, they really should be offering up more than just average. Slammiversary should feel like a must-see, can’t-miss show but the build-up and manner in which they have presented the wrestlers and the scenarios they find themselves in have betrayed this, Sting became the no.1 contender to Bully Ray’s title in one of the lamest ways imaginable and the side issue that now exists between AJ Styles and the Aces and Eights almost renders his match with Kurt Angle obsolete.
On too many occasions, TNA have given away key plot developments prior to, rather than during, the big show. Whether it is AJ Styles intentions or James Storm’s mystery opponent, these things didn’t have to be revealed until the event had begun. Furthermore, the one match that would have benefitted from a clear run, with nothing but the result at steak, the main event, has been complicated by the potential for Brooke Hogan to in some way get herself involved. In order for TNA to increase the value of their individual pay-per-view events they need to ensure that in time for Bound For Glory, the company’s equivalent of Wrestlemania, these issues are ironed out and TNA can present a pay-per-view that truly is unmissable. Only once they have done this will they really see the benefit of the decision earlier this year to reduce their pay-per-view schedule to 4 per year and begin to truly grow their business.