With Slammiversary rapidly approaching, and a showdown between Bully Ray and Sting for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship on the horizon, Impact Wrestling hit the Spike TV airwaves from Tampa, home of general manager Hulk Hogan.
What would Aces and Eights have in store for the Hulkster, his daughter Brooke and "the Icon" Sting in the second-to-last Impact Wrestling episode before the annual June pay-per-view event? Would this be the week that TNA finally gained the upper hand on its aggressors?
With so many tag teams focused on taking the TNA Tag Team titles away from Chavo Guerrero and Hernandez, who would James Storm choose as his partner for the massive Fatal 4-Way match at Slammiversary? Would it be someone from his past, a hot young star or an unexpected surprise?
Suicide was set to make his return. Would it be a successful one? And, more importantly, which X-Division performers would challenge champion Kenny King at Slammiversary?
With all of that on the slate, as well as a Knockouts title match between Velvet Sky and Mickie James, Impact Wrestling was sure to be jam-packed.
What was good, great and awesome? What was most successful in building to the 11th anniversary of the No. 2 promotion in sports entertainment?
Find out inside.
Magnus Stars in Match with Brisco
If TNA has one legitimate young breakout star on its roster, it is Magnus. On this week's show, he showed why, delivering a strong promo before calling out Aces & Eights' Wes Brisco.
The match that followed was solid, if unspectacular, but it was Magnus' control of the crowd and the ability to keep the hot Tampa audience invested that really stood out. At only 26 years of age, and with less than five years of experience on the national stage that comes with being a TNA wrestler, the fact that he is able to do so is impressive.
There is a lot of real talent on the TNA roster, but few have the makings of a legitimate main event star like Magnus.
Chris Sabin Offers His Partnership to James Storm
One thing TNA is really good at is paying attention to its history. On Thursday's Impact Wrestling, Chris Sabin offered to be James Storm's tag team partner at Slammiversary; The two great TNA stars momentarily reminisced about their former tag teams, the Motor CIty Machine Guns and Beer Money, before Storm respectfully turned Sabin down in favor of letting him go through with his scheduled X-Division title match.
It was a small moment during a backstage segment that means nothing in the long run, but it was a nice touch for long-time TNA fans that remember some of the truly magnificent tag team wars Storm and Sabin were apart of.
Suicide Returns to TNA, Earns X-Division Title Match
Suicide was a completely original character TNA invented for its video game release in the late 2000s. He played a role on the company's programming for a year or two, portrayed by Christopher Daniels and Kazarian on different occasions, but he never was really able to click with the audience and soon disappeared from television.
On Thursday, he made his return to the company and was impressive in a triple threat win over Petey Williams and Joey Ryan. While the man under the mask is unknown at this time, whomever it was did a really solid job of feeding off the crowd energy, delivering high-impact spots and picking up an impressive win over a game Williams and, well, Ryan was there, too.
AJ Outsmarts Aces and Eights
Rather than simply revealing from the get-go that AJ Styles was playing Aces and Eights for fools, TNA took it a step further.
AJ assaulted Kurt Angle with a hammer, drank a beer with Bully Ray and put on the Aces and Eights colors before revealing to the world that he was still going rogue, apart of neither side in the battle that has been waged for the last year.
As Impact Wrestling concluded, AJ made his way up the ramp, flashing the P1 logo on his gloves and reminding everyone involved just who he is really looking out for.
Bully Ray Continues to Play the Game
This week's Impact Wrestling started with Sting and Brooke Hogan joining Hulk Hogan in the ring, each of them taking blame for TNA's misfortunes at the hands of Aces and Eights. This brought out Bully Ray, who, in classic heel form, told the three of them that it was his fault for the current situation. It is his fault that he stabbed Sting in the back and that he played Hulk for a fool.
Then he turned his attention to Brooke and said he does blame her for one thing: falling for her. Bully said that, despite pulling the wool over her and everyone else's eyes, he still loves her. It was a statement that took everyone by surprise, including D-Von, who questioned the statement later in the night.
Unless there is some sort of twist, which is not out of the realm of possibility, this was a classic mind game being played by Bully Ray against the biggest threats to Aces and Eights' domination. Bully created some uncertainty that will likely be played up in the coming weeks and may play a role in Sunday's main event at Slammiversary.
Kurt Angle vs. Mr. Anderson
At Lockdown in 2010, Kurt Angle and Mr. Anderson delivered one of the truly great matches in TNA history, a steel cage match that saw Angle get a measure of revenge against his rival. Since then, the two former WWE Superstars have competed against each other on a number of occasions and rarely fail to deliver a quality match.
That was the case again on Thursday night, as the two locked up in a featured bout on Impact Wrestling. A late-match appearance by AJ Styles would provide just enough distraction for Anderson to deliver a low blow and roll Angle up for the three-count, continuing Aces and Eights' success over TNA.
Gail Talks, Taryn Attacks
The cameras caught Gail Kim backstage and asked her about her upcoming match against Taryn Terrell at Slammiversary. Gail brushed the match off, called herself the best woman's wrestler in the world and claimed that she should be the one getting the Knockouts title shot. From out of nowhere, Taryn attacked and a pull-apart brawl ensued.
The women, Taryn in particular, did a fantastic job in creating further interest for their Last Knockout Standing match on June 2. Terrell showcased great intensity and Gail took a nice beating to put over that the beautiful blonde is more dangerous than she may appear to be.
Taryn has been far better in the ring than anyone could have expected, and Gail is consistently one of the best female performers of this generation. They could, and should, have an excellent pay-per-view bout.
It was only a matter of time before someone on the TNA roster figured out that Joseph Park and Abyss were one and the same, and it looks like "The Icon" Sting was that someone on Thursday's show.
Sitting down with the attorney in the locker room, Sting hinted at the fact that he needed Park to get his brother Abyss to show up next week, strongly hinting at the fact that he knew that the monster was inside of Park. Joseph was hesitant, telling the TNA Hall of Famer that his brother was dangerous and it may not be a good idea.
Sting made reference to Park "kayfabe-ing" him, a sign that he suspects Park may know he is also Abyss.
Joseph Park continues to be one of the more interesting characters in all of sports entertainment and the fact that someone has finally suspected that he is actually Abyss and not his brother shows great storyline progress and a potential post-Aces and Eights story for Sting.
"Give Me a SHELL YEAH!"
Shark Boy made his return to Impact Wrestling on Thursday, campaigning to be the tag team partner of James Storm for the Fatal 4-Way tag title match at Slammiversary. Entering the ring and grabbing the mic, he brought his Steve Austin impersonation out of mothballs and was legitimately entertaining for the few moments he had to address Storm and the TNA fans.
Comedy characters such as Shark Boy work in small spurts and it was nice to see him back on TV, getting an already hot crowd to react the way they did. He may not have a place on the full-time roster anymore, but small cameos like the one on Thursday night will always work.
Gunner Impressive in Return
As the aforementioned Shark Boy and Robbie E. argued over who James Storm should select as his tag partner for Slammiversary, Gunner made his return to the company and laid both men out. He then stood face-to-face with Storm, intensely staring into the eyes of the former Heavyweight champion. Moments later, Storm named him his partner.
There are some that may be understandably disappointed with the revelation—Gunner's return and addition to the tag title match at Slammiversary is very much like Curtis Axel being introduced as Paul Heyman's newest client this past Monday on WWE Raw. In this case, TNA stayed in-house, just like WWE, and elevated one of its young stars to a relevant spot on the show. It is the break Gunner needs, and now it is up to him to make a name for himself.
Mickie James Hints at Heel Turn
In a backstage segment early in the evening, Mickie James checked on Knockouts champion Velvet Sky, asking her if she was sure she wanted to go through with their scheduled title match. She even offered to go to Brooke Hogan and have the match postponed until Velvet's injured knee was healed.
Velvet refused to put the match on hold, saying that if she was unable to go through with the match, Gail Kim would win. After all, it was Gail who applied the figure four around the ring post that did more damage to the already injured leg.
Mickie seemingly understood, but there was something in the way she was talking to Velvet that seemed a bit disingenuous.
Later in the night, the two popular Knockouts locked up with the top prize in the division on the line. Mickie controlled the early portion of the match before Velvet made a comeback that would make the pluckiest underdog happy. Feeling a bit of desperation late, Mickie teed off and delivered a chop block to Velvet, taking that injured knee out from underneath her and finishing the champion off with the DDT.
The most telling sign of Mickie's inevitable heel turn came post-match, when referee ODB was checking on the injured former champion and assessing the damage to her knee while Mickie merely stood by, grasping the Knockouts title and failing to show any sympathy whatsoever.
Mickie has been so good for so long and has excelled as the energetic babyface for the last seven years that it is easy to forget how truly great she was as a heel during her early days with WWE. While the crazed stalker gimmick is unlikely to be in her future, she could bring a fresh face to the heel side of the Knockouts roster and create new matchups in the months to come.