I swore off going to WWE shows back in 2005 when I decided that they weren’t worth my time. I felt that the ratio of entertainment to investment wasn’t good enough, so after having gone to at least one WWE show a year since 1996, I walked away. Since then, I have been to smaller shows, and avoided events from the bigger wrestling companies.

That is, until this Thursday, when after seven years away, I headed to Nottingham’s Capital FM Arena for the first UK date of the TNA Maximum Impact IV European tour.

To be honest, I was looking forward to it, as I had always heard good things about TNA house shows, while the Impact Wrestling shows are more hit and miss. Buoyed by my interview with Tara earlier this month, I was confident that I was going to enjoy myself, even though I’m not as much of a TNA viewer as have been in the past. So along with fellow wrestling fan and work colleague Tom Campbell (the voice of the infamous Big’Un in Wigan), we hopped into my car and – barring an unscheduled stop because of my brakes almost catching fire – made the 90 minute drive to Nottingham.

The first thing you notice about the setup that TNA has for these UK house shows is that it is pretty grand. They could have settled for having the ring and left it at that, but elected to also have the giant screen above the ring to show off the entrance videos and make the festivities feel more special. First impressions were a big thumbs up, and given some of the names on the poster – many of which I had never seen live before – I was anticipating some quality wrestling.

I got exactly that, with Douglas Williams and Gunner having a fun opening match, Austin Aries, Alex Shelley and Mark Haskins engaging in a frenetic 3-way, and Bully Ray and AJ Styles hamming it up for 10 minutes before even locking up in what was my pick for match of the night. Bully Ray was tremendous – winding up the fans, inviting one to jump the rail only for security to send him packing, and then entering a popularity contest war with Styles, with ring announcer Christy Hemme and referee Earl Hebner getting involved. Ray played the miserable bastard to a T, and it was brilliant.

Throw on top of that not just an appearance by Hulk Hogan, but also him wrestling in the main event, and it was one hell of a memorable match. Hogan’s first contest in the UK since defeating Ric Flair in WCW in 1994, his first match since Bound For Glory last year, and possibly one of his last ventures into a ring in this country. Fair enough, he’s nowhere as mobile as he has been in the past – not even as energetic as when I saw him at WrestleMania X8 a decade ago, and he was struggling then – and his back surgery means that he can’t take bumps, restricting him to punches, throws and delivering a big boot, but for fans of his who had never seen him live before, it was a great experience. The crowd (no idea of its size as I didn’t do a rough head count) gave him the loudest ovation of the night, ahead of Sting, who got a sizeable pop himself, and their tag partner in the main event James Storm, who also got a hearty welcome.

But this is Ringbelles, a site about women’s wrestling, so I’m sure you want to know what the Knockouts match was like. Well, it was pretty darn good – a four-way match between Gail Kim, Mickie James, Tara and Madison Rayne for Kim’s Knockouts Championship. Going 7:31, it didn’t outstay its welcome, saw some sweetly executed spots, a little teased dissension between Rayne and Kim when Madison went for a pin that would have made her the Knockouts Champion, and also allowed the girls to do what they don’t get as much of an opportunity to do on the TV shows – wrestle. Granted, they are getting more time these days, and hopefully that’s a trend that continues, because when you take women like this who can go out there and entertain, don’t burden them with too much booking and let them just go for it, it’s a lot of fun. Kim nailed Tara with a thumping missile dropkick at one point, only to eat a James Thesz Press from the top immediately afterwards in one of the highlights, and seeing Mickie and Tara tangle was great to watch too.

The end came when Tara nailed Rayne with the Widow’s Peak, but then got nailed by Kim with her title belt for the three.

As side observations on the Knockouts, most of their music is great. I mean, really great. Mickie James’ music – while not to my taste – suits her, Tara’s theme is catchy, and Rayne’s may be the best music in the Knockouts division right now. It took me a long time to get used to it, but now I have, I can’t get it out of my head – her entrance video could do with being made a little more intricate though. Unfortunately, Kim’s isn’t as catchy, and could do with lyrics, or something to make it a bit more dynamic.

While we were there, Christy also informed the crowd that TNA will return to the UK next January, with shows in Nottingham, Manchester and London again, as well as an extra date in Glasgow, Scotland between January 23-26. The presale starts on Monday for seven days with the ticket prices being the same as the 2012 dates – after that, they are expected to rise when the rest go on sale in April or May. Click here for more information.

Overall, I had a great time at the TNA show. Great wrestling, enjoyable comedy, new faces, legends and a Hulk Hogan match, all in two and a half hours? That’s a win. If TNA rock up to your town, check them out – even if you’re not a fan of the TV show, give a live event a chance, as without the angles, talking and storylines, there are some quality wrestlers doing their thing. Watch them do it.

- Lee Burton

Results:

1. Douglas Williams pinned Gunner with a Chaos Theory German Suplex
2. Samoa Joe v Crimson ended in a double DQ
3. Gail Kim beat Tara, Madison Rayne & Mickie James in a 4-way
4. AJ Styles pinned Bully Ray
5. James Storm b Bobby Roode by DQ
6. James Storm, Sting & Hulk Hogan defeated Bobby Roode, Kurt Angle & Bully Ray