Bully Ray will need to defend his title twice in the next fortnight if he is to remain the TNA World Heavyweight Champion.
Ray, who was not due to fight again until the winner of the Bound for Glory Series became his mandatory challenger, was given the news in a stunning announcement from company chief Hulk Hogan.
The 60-year-old once known as ‘Super Destroyer’ told an appalled Ray that in two weeks he could have to defend his title against a ‘member of his own family’, a member of the Aces & Eights club of which Bully is president. But only if he can defeat his first challenger this week: four-time World Champion, the Icon: Sting.
It was not the only surprise news from the General Manager, who announced that the Bound for Glory Series, seemingly completed with this week’s three one-on-one matches, is in fact not over. A 12-way gauntlet match offers the winner a final 20 points, meaning that several wrestlers could still gate-crash the top four.
At the start of the night’s action on ‘Must Win Thursday’, the current leaders of the series included Magnus (with 39 points), Bobby Roode (34), Christopher Daniels (30) and Austin Aries (28). The top four will advance to ‘No Surrender’ in two weeks’ time, where the competition to find a challenger to the Heavyweight Title will continue.
But with ten points available for a submission win, and seven points for a pin win, several fighters still had ambitions of making a late surge for a finals spot.
The first match paired Jeff Hardy (in seventh place with 24 points), against Kazarian (ninth, 22). Kazarian, one third of the Bad Influence trio, was warned ahead of the match that any interference from his cohorts Daniels and Roode – as seen regularly over the last fortnight – would result in instant disqualification.
Hardy dominated the early stages, coming close to a leg-lock submission before Kazarian managed to grab the rope. Kazarian was slowly working his way back into the match, until Hardy pulled off his specialist move – the ‘Twist of Fate’ – to trap his opponent and claim a seven point pin win.
Following the match, the Main Event Mafia came to the ring to thank AJ Styles for his part in last week’s victory over the Aces & Eights, which saw Devon removed from the TNA Company.
Styles accepted the thanks, but turned down Sting’s offer to ‘join his family’, claiming that he wants to continue forward as his own man.
“I must do this myself… I respect what they’re doing and I hope they get rid of Aces and Eights, but it’s just not me,” Styles commented.
“I’ve developed some trust issues, when two of my best friends stabbed me in the back, it made me realise the only person I can trust is myself. I am with no one…. Although I love what I do in this ring, I have to understand that this is just a job.
“I’ve realised over the past year that I deserve better. I’ve been your go to guy for the last 11 years, and for what. Every time I’m there to bail this company out and put it back on my shoulders. I kept hoping you would fire me so I wouldn’t have to quit. But I’ve stayed here and done my job, so I can take care of my family. That is my job and that is what I do.
“I like being your go to guy, the guy you depend on, the guy who can steal the show and send the fans going home happy. I will win the Bound for Glory Series and become your new world champion.”
Styles, well adrift of a top four spot with 22 points ahead of his match with Roode, knew that only a submission win would give him the required points.
Roode was victim of a series of unsuccessful submission attempts from Styles, whose intentions were made clear when he pulled out of an attempted pin to instead lock his opponent in a headlock.
But Styles was denied maximum points by his own instinctive winning desire, dodging a Roode attack and rolling him into a pin, collecting a seven point win and leaving him fifth in the series.
In the final match Austin Aries, who turned down an offer to join Bad Influence last week, was on top form as he defeated Daniels.
A ‘suicide dive’ first sent Daniels sprawling outside the ring. Aries slung a dazed Daniels back onto the canvas before putting together a stunning combo against his dazed opponent, following up a flying drop-kick with an earth-shaking ‘brain buster’ – grabbing the pin and a seven point win.
The results left a top four of Magnus (39 points), Aries (35), Roode (34) and Hardy (31), but following the announcement of next week’s gauntlet match, Daniels (30), Styles (29), Samoa Joe (26), Mr Anderson (24), Kazarian (22) and even Joseph Park (17) can still reach a place at No Surrender.
It could be a busy couple of weeks for Aces & Eights vice-president Anderson, who has been shown voicing his discontent at Bully Ray’s attitude, and could yet be revealed as the second of Ray’s title challengers.
At the start of the night Ray described Devon, his partner and friend of over 15 years, as a ‘disappointment’, a ‘loser’, his ‘co-star and side-kick’, before revealing that Tito Ortiz would replace Devon in the Aces & Eights.
His decision did not go down well with Anderson, who reminded his fellow club members that no one man was bigger than the Aces & Eights and that if Ray was not going to give them a vote in such matters that he would have to be removed.
In the only other match of the night, ODB defeated Gail Kim in a ‘2 out of 3 falls’ match by a score of 2-1 to become the #1 contender and mandatory challenger for current World Champion Mickie James.
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