Last week, Grado fangasmed over the Hardy Boys, Grado tried unsuccessfully to coexist with Al Snow during a match, Grado called Al Snow a dick, Grado challenged Al Snow to a match on next year's UK tour and Grado was eliminated from the competition along with two others, leaving us with three remaining finalists that almost feel like strangers now because none of them are named Grado, who for the past seven episodes, was the only contestant the show was overly concerned with, making me wonder why, if he wasn't going to go the distance, they were focusing on him so much in the first place, instead of the person who was ultimately going to win the contract instead. I suppose there are just some things I'm not meant to understand.
Anyhoo, season finale. Let's do this thing.
As the episode begins, I'm immediately confused as we hear unfamiliar voices speaking to us over footage of people entering an arena. It takes a moment for me to realize that the voices are those of the remaining three contestants. I didn't recognize them, you see, because none of them sound like Grado, who was previously the only contestant who was allowed to speak for the most part.
Okay, seriously, though... This is what I was hoping the entire season would be more like. We're finally getting to hear from all the contestants about how they feel about the opportunity they've been given and what it means to them. It sounds like such a trivial thing, but getting this makes a big difference and it's something that was severely lacking in the first seven episodes due to the constant focus on all the worked Grado feud with Al Snow. Now that he's gone, I'm hopeful that TNA has decided to get serious with the final three.
We see highlight reel video footage of Mark Andrews, Rampage Brown and Kay Lee Ray showing their stuff in the ring and it makes them all look like a million bucks. Really nice job from the production team with that.
And from there, we head straight into the matches. With the finale being an hour long, I was hoping we'd actually get pre-match comments from the finalists this time as that's another big thing that's been missing this season and there was a lot of interesting stuff I was hoping to hear them chime in on.
Okay, okay. I'm sorry. Enough snark. On to the matches.
We're given the closest thing I guess we're going to get to pre-match comments in a momentary talking head segment as Rampage makes his way to the ring. He hastily says that he and Bram know each other from back home... and that's about it. It's up to JB and Spud on commentary to fill in the blanks for us, telling us that these two actually grew up together, trained together, were roommates, etc. It's a great backstory. I just wanted to hear it from Rampage, not secondhand from the announce team.
Shorter match than I expected. I would say Rampage was a bit more impressive physically while Bram showed more personality and better facial expressions. But the two men seemed very evenly matched for the most part and that might not be a good thing for Rampage.
When the episode began, we were again shown the clip of Dixie Carter telling the contestants that their job was to steal the spotlight from the TNA stars, and in that sense I wonder if having Bram as an opponent may have hurt Rampage because they are so similar. It gave us a match with two big guys grunting and screaming at each other, working a similar style, behaving much in the same manner. Rampage needed to stand out here and instead he kind of came off like Bram with buzzed hair and a shorter beard. The match was solid, though. It made me think these guys would make a good potential tag team.
Post-match we get to hear from both men. Bram says that he, Magnus and Rampage all grew up together, and that if the three of them were together in TNA, nobody would be able to touch them. Rampage says that Bram is a hell of a competitor and that if the match they had wasn't enough to get him noticed, he doesn't know what is.
Impressive match from these two that went a bit longer than the first, which I appreciated. But it was similar to the first match in that it also had the Bootcamp finalist looking like the more impressive physical specimen, but the TNA star showing more of the intangibles that are sometimes lost on a lot of people. Andrews had superior agility, a generally more exciting move set and bumped very well, and he also used the dimensions of the 6-sided ring in some innovative ways, but Ion was the one showing all the personality.
I think Andrews has the personality factor in him if the writers gave him a gimmick to work with and there seemed to be something there with the announcers talking about the rock band he's a part of back in Britain. Maybe if they packaged him with a babyface version of Rockstar Spud's old gimmick, that would do the trick, but the point is, Andrews needed to show that here and he didn't. Nevertheless, the crowd reacted favorably to him, they counted for the finish and I thought the match was generally better than Bram vs Rampage, so I'd say Andrews did well for himself here.
Post-match, DJZ has high praise for Andrews, who is only 22, saying that it's scary how good he could be by them time he's DJZ's age. He thinks Andrews could be a future X-division champion. Andrews is confident that he won over the crowd, saying that the fans only make with the "TNA!" chant when they're impressed with what they see.
I have to admit, I'm freaking giddy to see this one. Kay Lee Ray vs Gail Kim is a match I have wanted to see for years. YEARS. The first time I saw Kay Lee Ray wrestle, it was in a fatal 4-way for Pro Wrestling Eve ages ago, and I thought her and Gail Kim was a women's match that needed to happen in TNA someday, but I had little hope that I'd ever actually see it. So watching this now is kind of a surreal moment for me. Dream match? You better believe it!
In her talking head spot, Ray says that if she could pick one woman to wrestle, it would be Gail, who she calls the best in the world. She knows she has her back against the wall in this match, so she's going to have to bring it. JB and Spud point out that Ray is the only contestant to be facing one of the judges in the finals and that Gail won't want to be shown up. Knowing the way Gail is, I tend to think it's the opposite and she'll do whatever she can to make Ray look like a star because that's what Gail does.
I think Ray really lucked out getting to work with Gail here. Not only because Gail always brings out the best in her opponents, but because Gail has always been more of a wrestler than a character, so Ray won't need to worry about getting outshined in the personality department. In this case, her daredevil ring style may be enough to set her apart. None of the other Knockouts wrestle like she does, and that's even more true now that Brittany has left the company, so proving she can deliver something that none of the other Knockouts can is what Ray needs to do here. And since she does that in pretty much every match, I'm confident that this is going to kick ass.
A lovely Knockouts match from these two and the longest match of the finals. Ray did a great job in showing what she brings to the table that the current Knockouts don't with her high flying arsenal of suicide dives and springboard maneuvers. We also had some attempt at story-telling here with Ray constantly trying to go high risk until it backfired when Gail started scouting the moves. There was one really cool spot where Ray went for a springboard dropkick and Gail caught her with a dropkick in midair that I don't know if any other two Knockouts could pull off.
Gail was really generous here in selling for Ray as much as she did. She put over the frustration of her opponent not going down easily more than Bram or DJZ did, almost to the point that it might have been overkill. I think the fans may have been a little unsure how to react to Ray because she almost came off as the aggressor at times with Gail selling like she was. There was a moment early on when Ray dodged a Gail splash in the corner and Gail went tumbling to the outside, which almost seemed like she got hurt. The crowd wasn't going to root against Gail after that, and she was already playing a babyface in this match in the first place. I think if Gail had been a heel, the character dynamics might have worked better.
Still, this was a far better contest than we'd get from most of the current Knockouts, it got the crowd chanting "TNA!" and they counted for the finish, which, again, doesn't always happen with the women's matches. In a really nice moment, Gail helps Ray up, hugs and applauds her. That was very classy of her and I'd expect nothing less of Gail Kim.
Post-match, Ray says this is the biggest thing she's done in wrestling thus far and she went out there to prove a point. She thinks she and Gail knocked it out of the park and just hopes that she did enough. Gail says she was impressed with Ray's heart and wondered what it was going to take to beat her. She doesn't know who's going to win the contract as all the contestants are bringing their A-game and she loves everybody.
But just when you thought we were actually going to get a Grado-less finale to wash the taste out of our mouths, Dixie has a surprise for the final three as Dave Mastiff, Noam Dar and, Hollywood Hulk Haggis himself, show up for a visit. They all have a seat and Dixie explains that the original plan was the only bring four prospects to America, but the talent was so good that they just couldn't role with less than six contestants, and all of them will be booked on the Maximum iMPACT Tour in January. Sweet.
Dixie says that they'll all get to wrestle on the tour in front of their home crowds, but ultimately there can only be one who will do it as a member of the TNA roster. It's rather suspicious that they keep saying how only one person can win, and yet continue to stress how split they are between the contestants because all of them have what it takes. At this point, I will be stunned if at least half these finalists don't end up getting signed during or after the UK tour, and IMO, most of them really should be.
In an interesting development, Dixie says she's still torn on who to award the contract to, so she's going to speak privately to Rampage, Andrews and Ray individually to hear their thoughts on why they should be the winner. I like this twist a lot. If ever we were going to learn how much this really means to them, this is it.
Mark Andrews says that he has so much to offer the X-divsion. He wants to reinvent the X-divsion as a way of giving back to the fans who have given so much to him. It's an admirable stance to take, but I imagine Dixie has heard similar rhetoric from just about every X-division wrestler that she's signed over the years.
Kay Lee Ray says that she's worked hard to make pro wrestling her career and that working for TNA would be the biggest thing she'd ever do. Good point to make, though I think Ray would have a better chance of shaking up the Knockout division than Andrews would have of reinventing the X-division and it might not have been a bad idea to point that out.
Like in his original audition, Rampage has some trouble getting the words out. He says he's doing this for his daughter, the WWE missed the boat on him, the other contestants have nothing on him, he's here to make money for himself and for Dixie, and that he's ready to go. He tried to say an awful lot here, but the poor guy just didn't speak very eloquently and none of the points he made came across very well. Also, in his zeal to show how eager he was to work for TNA, he may have come off a tad arrogant.
Dixie tells Andrews that the X-division is a priority to them (that might be fudging the truth a bit TBH) and he does things that she hasn't seen anywhere else, but she's not convinced that he could maintain that physicality on an ongoing basis. She says she sees fearlessness and excitement in Ray, but the Knockouts are the most elite group of female performers in the world -- a statement that is probably not as true as it once was -- and she isn't sure if Ray is ready (Oh, please! She's more ready than at least half the Knockouts TNA have employed for years!). She says she sees amazing physicality and aggression from Rampage, but the business is personality driven and she doesn't know if he can show that same aggression outside of the ring. I think this is an awkward way of saying that she questions his charisma, which is a pretty fair point.
Dixie insists that this is not an easy decision as all three of them bring something special to the table. My gut says she chooses Andrews, but it really could be any of them.
And the winner is...... Grado.
I'm sorry. I had to. But you probably believed me for a second, didn't you? Sigh...
And the winner is...... Mark Andrews.
Kay Lee Ray is crushed and in tears, but she's happy for Andrews and thinks he just wanted it the most. Rampage says he's going to keep wrestling, Andrews is a great kid and he's happy for him. Andrews says it's everything he ever wanted. He's always been told that he couldn't make it this far, but now he has. We see him calling his mother to tell her the news and Mrs. Andrews seems unusually blase about it; maybe she's not a wrestling fan? Season two closes out with Andrews saying that positivity pays off.
My thoughts about the winner? It's not the choice I would have made and I think the jury's out for now on whether or not Andrews can really separate himself from the pack in the X-division, but I'm happy for him. I'm hugely disappointed that Kay Lee Ray didn't win, but the beauty of season two was that there were really no bad choices here. Besides, at this point, I think it's practically a sure thing that several of the other finalists will get signed in the near future anyway, so this is really an embarrassment of riches.
That notwithstanding, season two was highly entertaining, (when Grado wasn't being focused on) a big ratings success in the UK and it landed TNA a very promising new young star, so all parties should be pleased. I can't wait to see the finalists on iMPACT when the UK tour kicks off in January and look forward to several them probably joining Andrews on the roster in the not-too-distant future.
Until then. Peace. Out.