Having survived a gruelling Six Sides of Steel war against Abyss at Lockdown, A.J. Styles challenges Jeff Jarrett for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship at TNA’s fifth pay-per-view of 2005: Hard Justice! Elsewhere, Christopher Daniels defends the X Division title and TNA pays homage to the late Chris Candido with an NWA World Tag Team Championship match between The Naturals and America’s Most Wanted.
TNA Hard Justice, May 15th 2005:
The show begins with a 10-bell salute to Chris Candido, who sadly passed away on April 28th 2005. Shortly prior to his passing, he helped The Naturals (Andy Douglas & Chase Stevens) to NWA World Tag Team Championship glory. A title belt, accompanied by a pair of his boots, his signature towel and a framed picture are presented in the centre of the ring.
The opening video package, which is typically dramatic, explains how passion is central to our humanity and therefore an integral aspect of all conflict. Later on the same show, we’ll see a man dressed as a shark bite another man’s ass. Our boys Mike Tenay and Don West are on commentary again, live from Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.
1: Team Canada (Eric Young & Petey Williams) (w/ Coach D’Amore) vs. Apolo & Sonny Siaki in a Tag Team Match:
Apolo and Siaki are a recently-formed tag team who were victorious in the opener at Lockdown last month. The Canadians, who have struggled since dropping the NWA World Tag Team and the X Division Championships at Final Resolution, attack the babyfaces from behind to start. Regardless, they are soon overwhelmed by the power of Apolo & Siaki, who nearly launch Eric Young into orbit with a huge back body drop. Williams bends the rules to give his team the advantage – they work over Apolo briefly until he makes a lukewarm tag to Siaki. The faces are bland personalities, resembling generic create-a-wrestlers, so there’s little heat to this despite its position as the opener. Nonetheless, Siaki executes an impressive pop-up powerslam before the match breaks down. He counters Williams’ attempted Canadian Destroyer, triggering interference from Coach D’Amore, who distracts the referee long enough for A-1 to hit a Jackhammer for the pinfall.
Winners: Team Canada in 8:06
UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Tito Ortiz arrived at Universal Studios earlier in the evening. He’s here to officiate tonight’s main event, the NWA World Heavyweight Championship bout between Jeff Jarrett and A.J. Styles. Although in 2005 UFC wasn’t quite the behemoth it is now, he seems a great get for TNA.
2: Chris Sabin & Traci vs. Michael Shane & Trinity in a Mixed Tag Team Match:
Traci and Trinity have been feuding for months, likely because they’re the only women on the roster. It’s about time they’re featured in an in-ring capacity on PPV. They are crucial components of this story, particularly Traci, who low blows her own partner, allowing Shane to superkick both Sabin and even Trinity for the win. The heels evidently masterminded this plan and celebrate together afterwards. Traci couldn’t care less about losing the contest, although I suppose there’s no women’s title, so why would she? The swerve wasn’t massively shocking, albeit nicely executed; commentary alluded to Shane & Traci’s past relationship beforehand, arousing suspicions. Sabin and Shane work nicely as opponents but they lack personality, it was smart to intertwine them in a story involving the ladies to add flavour.
Winners: Michael Shane & Trinity in 10:19
A promo is aired for Slammiversary, TNA’s upcoming PPV event that will celebrate the third anniversary of the company.
Dusty Rhodes, the Director of Authority, meets with Tito Ortiz backstage to hand him his referee shirt. He wants the mixed martial artist to call the match fairly and encourages him to handle the situation “by any means necessary” if proceedings get out of hand. The Huntington Beach Bad Boy says Hard Justice will be served. Smooth.
After interviewing Team Canada, Terry Taylor is joined by Raven, who reveals that Jeff Hardy is absent tonight ahead of their match. Raven has an interesting message for Hardy’s replacement, Sean Waltman, promising to “make sure you leave the building in so much pain, in so much agony that you are forced to be stretchered out and they’re gonna have to get a stretcher for the stretcher. They’re gonna load you in an ambulance and then I’m gonna blow that up”…
3: Raven vs. Sean Waltman in a Clockwork Orange House of Fun Match:
The stipulation is an elaborate hardcore match, the unique features are the weapons hung in chains around the ring and the cage fencing on the opposite side. Despite being in Raven’s wheelhouse, Waltman takes the early initiative. He draws blood within a minute of the bell by grating his opponent’s face on the fence, however Raven soon returns the favour. After hitting a Bronco Buster and the X Factor, Waltman drives Raven through a table on the outside with a somersault from the ring post. Cool, I guess. It lacks feeling due to the lack of heat between the two. Regardless, the bout dramatically kicks into a higher gear when Raven abruptly tosses his adversary off the ramp, through a table down beside the stage! That’s followed by a convincing near-fall. Raven handcuffs Waltman to the ring post before striking him repeatedly with a kendo stick. Waltman calls him a pussy and asks for more but Dusty Rhodes has seen enough. He instructs the official to free Waltman, unbeknownst to Raven. The former X-Pac makes a comeback, utilising a stapler to pierce Raven’s forehead! The finishing spot is unexpected but fantastic: Waltman charges at Raven, who back body drops him into the fence, which crashes to the floor! There’s no kicking out from that.
Winner: Raven in 13:00
This understandably lacked the heat to warrant its brutality in the early stages. Nonetheless, that was covered effectively by the simple story that Raven is sadistic and loves inflicting pain, with Waltman fighting for survival. This improved as it progressed, it was enjoyable from the table spots onwards and the finish was especially creative, unique and well-performed. It was pleasing to see Raven win, he’s like Bray Wyatt in the sense that he loses the majority of his meaningful matches despite talking a big game.
4: Monty Brown & The Outlaw vs. Diamond Dallas Page & Ron Killings in a Tag Team Match:
B.G. James was originally scheduled to team with D.D.P, however Page received a voicemail from James moments prior, blaming his absence on travel issues. There had been signs of James having an affiliation with his old partner, The Outlaw, who has driven a wedge between the 3 Live Kru. D.D.P is understandably suspicious as a result. This is an important match featuring main-event level talent, unfortunately its execution falls far short of that billing. The action is pedestrian – it drifts by as we await the arrival of B.G. James, which surprisingly never comes. Instead, Phi Delta Slam interfere and attack D.D.P right in front of the official. This doesn’t lead to a disqualification, which makes absolutely no sense. Nevertheless, Page overcomes the odds and hits Diamond Cutters on both men, including a top rope version on Big Tilly. Outlaw takes one too before Brown nails a POUNCE for a rather hollow, undeserved win. This was hardly PPV worthy, the stories didn’t progress in a meaningful way and the match quality was disappointingly poor.
Winners: Monty Brown & The Outlaw in 8:55
Ahead of their upcoming title defense, a pre-taped interview with NWA World Tag Team Champions The Naturals is shown. They discuss Candido and reveal that a “true legend” has helped them since his passing but they’re not ready to disclose their identity…
5: The Naturals (Andy Douglas & Chase Stevens) (C) vs. America’s Most Wanted (Chris Harris & James Storm) in a Tag Team Match for the NWA World Tag Team Championships:
This bout is dedicated to the memory of Chris Candido; the champions pay a touching tribute to Candido during their entrance and the crowd chant his name as the opening bell rings. This begins in a sporting manner and there’s little to split the teams initially. It devolves a brawl when the action spills to the floor and the referee completely loses control. All four men repeatedly throw each other into anything solid. Douglas even uses a chair – this is now effectively a Texas Tornado match. An eternity passes before they make it back into the ring, where chaos continues to reign. All four competitors are involved in an unconventional tower of doom that sees Storm powerbomb Douglas from the bottom rope on his knees. Harris attempts Catatonic, which Stevens counters into a nasty Death Valley Driver. The champions look to capitalise by hitting Natural Disaster following a slick set-up, though A.M.W battle back. The challengers try for the Death Sentence but the Wildcat is knocked off the top rope, allowing Douglas to stack up Storm, with feet on the ropes, for the pinfall victory. The fans chant for Candido as the champions celebrate retaining.
Winners and still NWA World Tag Team Champions: The Naturals in 14:10
This provided a nice, respectful tribute to Chris Candido. There was obvious pressure on this match to succeed – we were sold a classic by commentary, but not shown one. The alignments felt off as the Naturals were in a sympathetic position and acted like babyfaces on occasion, conversely they used weapons and won in underhanded fashion. Clearer alignments should have been solidified early on to properly engage the crowd (who seemed unsure at times) behind one team. Additionally, the rules were entirely abandoned mid-way through the match, which happens semi-regularly in TNA and leaves the viewer unsure of the rules. Regardless, moving away from the conventional tag wrestling formula allowed the teams to provide a reasonable, action packed affair that finished strongly.
6: Shocker vs. Christopher Daniels (C) for the TNA X Division Championship:
Shocker won the Xscape match at Lockdown in a photo finish with Sabin, prior to defeating Sonjay Dutt on iMPACT. He has undeniable momentum, yet no discernible character beyond being Mexican, as indicated by his sombrero. Shocker throws the hat into the crowd, which a woman facing the hard camera wears, much to the clear displeasure of the guy sat behind her. This bout lacks the excitement of previous X Division Championship matches; likely because the fans didn’t appear to buy the threat of the challenger. The contest is well worked (aside from Daniels awkwardly missing a BME on his stationary opponent), with a nice blend of mat-based wrestling and high-flying action. It has an aura of athletic competition but there’s moments of grittiness too, with Daniels biting Shocker’s hand to escape submission holds. There’s also a stiff striking exchange, which energises the crowd. It’s prime Christopher Daniels and Shocker himself is no slouch, but there’s nothing memorable about this besides the finish. Nevertheless, they absolutely nail that conclusion. The Fallen Angel perfectly executes a top-rope Angel’s Wings to retain his spot atop the X Division.
Winner and still TNA X Division Champion: Christopher Daniels in 11:58
7: Twenty-Man Gauntlet for the Gold for Number One Contendership to the NWA World Heavyweight Championship:
Bobby Roode of Team Canada starts, his opposite number is Zack Gowen, who is making his return to TNA. The rules are simple: a wrestler enters every 60 seconds and eliminations occur after a competitor is thrown over the top rope, with both feet touching the floor. The final two compete in a straight singles match to determine the winner. Team Canada are unfortunate to have all four of their participants (Eric Young, A-1 & Petey Williams join Roode) enter early, however this allows them to work together – eliminating Shark Boy, Cassidy Riley and Elix Skipper between them within minutes. They’re broken up when the increasingly popular Lance Hoyt (there’s even a “Hoyt Section” fan club) eliminates Eric Young. Despite that, the Canadian trio continue to look strong, working together to eliminate Jerrelle Clark with an assisted Canadian Destroyer, which sends the rookie flying over the ropes. It had no right looking that smooth and spectacular.
Chris Sabin, who earlier kicked five men at once whilst performing a Tornado DDT, sacrifices himself to eliminate Michael Shane on sight. They brawl into the crowd, whilst Sonny Siaki is overwhelmed and disposed of by the numbers of Team Canada. Trytan later suffers the same fate, as does Lance Hoyt. After eliminating Roode, the Canadian grabbed Hoyt’s hair from the outside, assisting A-1 in dumping him out. Young Mikey Batts’ entrance is followed by The Outlaw, who destroys him in front of the bizarrely bloodthirsty fans. Outlaw also eliminates Apolo before B.G. James finally arrives! The remaining Canadians interrupt their face off but are dumped out with (almost disrespectful) ease when the former New Age Outlaws briefly co-operate. They’re both eliminated moments later by the final entrant, Abyss!
We’re down to Abyss and Ron Killings, who largely laid low in the battle royal. Nonetheless, he’s nowhere near as fresh as the Monster, who initially dominates. Abyss tries to use his signature chain but referee prevents him, allowing Killings to utilise a steel chair behind the official’s back for a near fall. The referee is inadvertently taken out, meaning he’s unable to count for Killings after his axe kick from the top. Abyss hits a chokeslam on the chair but Killings is able to kick out of the laboured count. Killings forgets to counter a chair-assisted splash attempt by Abyss, so they re-do the spot. Truth goes for a move from the top but Abyss impressively catches him and smoothly transitions into a sick Black Hole Slam for the win.
Winner: Abyss in 26:45
It’s hard to go wrong with this tried and tested format. The battle royal section was dependable fun; like I said previously, it felt like a Royal Rumble on fast forward. These 26 minutes flew by. It was wise to have Team Canada anchor the bulk of the match as they’re reliable workers and provided an ongoing story thread. Its conclusion was disappointing however, as they were brushed aside for the former New Age Outlaws’ storyline. This show exposed TNA’s lack of roster depth beyond the regularly featured acts, many of the competitors pulled double duty and there were only a small handful of viable winners.
8: A.J. Styles vs. Jeff Jarrett (C) for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship with Tito Ortiz as Special Guest Referee:
The pre-match package hypes up Styles massively – could this be the night that the 11-month reign ends? It certainly feels like it. There’s a sense of anticipation in the arena as a result. The special guest referee manhandles Jarrett early, reminding him who’s in charge. This establishes a recurring theme of tensions gradually escalating between the two, particularly when the champion tries to use the guitar as a weapon. Styles wrecks the instrument before taking the fight to his opponent, sequencing signature moves including the springboard forearm and reverse DDT. They each counter finisher attempts, so Jarrett resorts to executing the Styles Clash! Styles replies with Jarrett’s Stroke – stolen finishers are fun but the second one is always predictable. The challenger goes for his own Styles Clash but Monty Brown intervenes to stop him, which backfires when he accidentally POUNCES Jarrett! Ortiz evicts the Alpha Male, though he subsequently misses Styles’ cover. Not to worry, here’s another referee to make the count. He counts 1… 2… but Ortiz drags him out of the ring! He’s determined to officiate this match alone. Styles, who is justifiably heated, takes his eye off the ball, allowing Jarrett to execute a low blow. The champion fails to capitalise as remonstrates with the guest referee. Double J shoves him, provoking Ortiz to respond by knocking out Jarrett! Spiral Tap by the Phenomenal One for three. We finally have new champion! He has his arm raised in victory by Tito Ortiz beneath the pyro.
Winner and NEW NWA World Heavyweight Champion: A.J. Styles in 19:30
This felt like a genuinely significant occasion with the cliché “big fight feel”. That seemed to be owed to two major factors: a genuine belief amongst the audience that the title could change hands and the presence of a UFC Champion as the official. The story of a legitimate badass serving as the mediator in order to prevent Jarrett’s usual tricks was effective en route to a satisfying payoff, following months of shenanigans costing babyfaces in world championship matches. The ending was reminiscent of Mike Tyson and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin at WrestleMania 14. The match itself was stripped back in comparison to previous main events. This benefitted the contest, which was decent but unspectacular. It didn’t need to be a classic because the story and closing moments were spot on.
Fortunately, this show was headlined by an enjoyable main event (***1/4) that supplied the most significant moment we’ve seen on TNA PPV to date. We were long overdue an NWA World Heavyweight Championship match that delivered. It arrived at an ideal time, making an otherwise uneventful show worthwhile. Elsewhere, the X Division Championship bout featuring Christopher Daniels and Shocker (***) was solid and Raven versus Waltman (***) provided a real sleeper hit on short notice following Jeff Hardy’s no-show.
Much of the undercard would not have been out of place on an episode of iMPACT. That’s not to say it was bad – besides the oddly booked tag team match (*1/4) – it was simply uninspiring; neither here nor there. There’s an argument suggesting that bang average is worse than terrible in wrestling. Having reviewed Destination X 2005 a few weeks ago however, I’ll take this every time.