Victory Road 2012 came and went last night... and it wasn't terrible. TNA has been growing on my a LOT lately, and I really like a lot of things about the way they do their pay-per-views now. The generic show music is growing on me. Somehow, not having a band you know is raking in millions playing a well-known song at you all the time makes the product feel more pure to me. I like the video packages they showed highlighting the important points to the story. I like the pre-match title cards that make every match sound important. Heck, I was even enjoying the announce team cutting loose and having a bit of fun with each other. So, TNA has quite a few things going right for them in my book. Let's break down the individual matches now and see how they fared.
1. James Storm v. Bully Ray (#1 contender for the Heavyweight Championship) - 2 out of 5. This is the second pay-per-view in a row where the opener has been a #1 contender match of some kind. Bully Ray threatened to hold the whole show hostage if he didn't get a shot at being #1 contender, and James Storm was all too happy to put it up for grabs. Unfortunately, what could have been a really good match only went a little over a minute to end with Storm superkicking Bully. I hate that this is what Bully Ray is doing right now. He's consistently one of the best overall talents the company has to offer, and he deserves the spotlight he's been seeking so heavily since Against All Odds.
2. Austin Aries v. Zema Ion (X-Division Championship) - 4 out of 5. SO many things to like about this match. The fact that Austin Aries exists is a big one. I was happy to see the title retained here, as I don't particularly care for Ion. The kid put on a pretty good performance though, especially considering he was in the ring with The Greatest Man That Ever Lived. Aries had time to lounge, taunt his opponent incessantly, and even live Tweet during this match. And did I mention? He won while blind. Ion hit his hairspray spot, which only served to give Aries a challenge. He seems like the kind of guy who likes a challenge. Far and away this was the best match of the night.
3. Samoa Joe & Magnus v. Crimson & Matt Morgan (Tag Team Championship) - 3 out of 5. Eh. The match itself wasn't terrible, but the Crimson/Morgan breakup story that was happening completely distracted anyone from noticing that there was a match going on. Crimson insisted on being in the match for the entire duration, which infuriated Morgan, and then inevitably Crimson walked away from his partner and left. The drama detracted from the deadly force that is Samoa Joe and Magnus (remember those guys? This is a match about Joe & Magnus). The other problem here is of course that there are no tag teams in TNA at the moment. A promo later on announced the return of the Motorcity Machine Guns, but it just said "Coming Soon", which honestly could mean anything.
4. Devon v. Robbie E. (Television Championship) - 2 out of 5. The good thing to say about this match was that it was as short as it should have been. However, TNA made up that time by having Team Robbies come out and cancel, and then uncancel, and then re-cancel the open challenge. That lasted probably for a good five minutes, during which Robbie E. insulted a variety of fans, hit on SoCal Val, and was generally not funny. Devon showed up and Brian Hebner answered Robbie E.'s protests by declaring the challenge still open and instructing him that this would be a match. Isn't it fun to see refs with so much power? Anyway, that's about all there is to say about that.
5. Gail Kim v. Madison Rayne (Knockouts Championship) - 4 out of 5. This match was a lot better than I was expecting. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I'm certainly not used to seeing Madison Rayne actually use wrestling skills so much as I am seeing her use underhanded heel tactics to get her BFF the win. Madison emphatically stated mid-match that she and Gail weren't friends anymore, which was fairly obvious, but still a nice touch. Gail ended up beating the ever-living hell out of Madison and rolling her up nice and tight, even adjusting her grip during the count to hold on tighter so Madison couldn't get up. After that match, the fallen contender looked genuinely dazed.
6. AJ Styles & Mr. Anderson v. Christopher Daniels & Kazarian - 3 out of 5. Again, eh. At least in this match, the drama of one team wasn't overshadowing the prowess of the other. We've been watching this story develop for a couple of months now. Now that AJ has smoothly pinned Daniels, I think the perfect time has come for a confession. Don't let us down, TNA!
7. Kurt Angle v. Jeff Hardy - 2 out of 5. By the Halls of Valhalla, where to start? The match I cared least about on the card ended up being the one that went the longest. There was nearly 20 minutes worth of these two battling back and forth at each other. Kurt Angle won via rope leverage, but I don't think I would have been very happy with this either way. This just isn't where either of these men need to be right now. I'm not sure what would work for Angle, but Jeff needs to remain with Garrett (who, by the way, was not even mentioned last night). It's his Destiny, man! No? Okay, fine.
8. Bobby Roode v. Sting (Non-title; No Holds Barred) - 3 out of 5. I can't pinpoint exactly what it was that makes me indifferent to this matchup. Maybe it's because I'm new to Sting and don't know how I should feel about him right now. I'm sure if I'd been watching him throughout the 90s, I would have a stronger reaction now to simply his presence here. I can tell you what I did have a strong reaction about: all that bullshit that happened after the match was over. Roode was so ruthless to both Sting and Dixie Carter, it prompted me to muse to Mehe why it is that Dixie doesn't apparently have the authority go fire him. Of course, as soon as I said that, the crowd started chanting "FIRE BOBBY", so I felt pretty satisfied with that.
I'd like to point out here that in both the X-Division Championship match and in the Knockouts Championship match, we had essentially two heels facing each other. In the girls' case, I doubt Madison will still be a heel with Thursday rolls around. But neither Aries nor Ion are converting anytime soon. It's something that's not explored in today's formulaic story-telling. These days you have to have a good guy fighting a bad guy. Always. But by putting the focus on the title, and not on alignment, TNA has found a great way to elevate a guy like Aries. And the crowd can cheer for the better wrestler, and not who they are told they are supposed to like. It's a good dynamic, and a refreshing change from the routine.