Hardcore Justice: “Bad call” leads to new champ

Madison Rayne challenges Miss Tessmacher for the TNA Knockouts Championship, hoping that she has the ace in the hole by swaying the affections of the referee in her favour.

The Background
• For months, Rayne has been talking about the crush that’s making her all gooey-eyed, and it was finally revealed to be referee Earl Hebner. Since then, he has been smitten with her. This has been demonstrated by controversially awarding her the decision in matches, though it could be argued they were bad calls rather than favouritism.
• The latest instance came in a 4-way match to determine a new top contender when Rayne beat Gail Kim, Mickie James and Tara. Madison was the one being pinned but was awarded the victory.
• Rayne also kissed Earl right in front of the Knockouts Champ on last week’s Impact Wrestling to make it seem that she had the ref in her pocket.

The Match
• At the start, Hebner was being the law – admonishing Rayne for pulling hair, which led to a sequence of flash pin attempts which ended up with the challenger scooting out of the ring. As she returned, she took control using the cheap heel tactics that Madison is known for. Nothing flashy, just punishment.
• A quick flurry from the titleholder comes to nothing, but she is able to mount a bigger comeback after Madison takes a moment to yell at Earl for not counting faster during her pinfall attempts.
• An attempt at a Tess Shocker fails when Rayne rakes the eyes of her opponent mid-move, but the Champ is able to recover to hit a neat top rope elbowdrop. However, Rayne breaks the count by putting her foot on the rope.
• As Tessmacher argues about the count, Rayne sneaks up from behind with the O’Connor Roll, holds onto the ropes and gets the three-count to begin her fourth reign as Knockouts Champion. Earl Hebner claims that he didn’t see Madison holding the rope.

• The match was what it was. At 5 and a half minutes long, there was nothing particularly wrong with it, but all the life was taken out of it because we were all waiting to see what Earl Hebner would do.
• Rayne’s slow, deliberate pace did help for when Tessmacher mounted her faster comebacks though.
• The way the pinfall occurred is really quite clever, as it is totally plausible with an O’Connor roll that a ref would miss holding onto the ropes or a grabbing of the tights because those infringements would not be in your line of sight if you’re looking at someone’s shoulders. It is a possibility that Earl Hebner made a bad call, rather than a biased one.
• However, the real sticking point is the title change itself. I have no problem with Rayne being the Knockouts Champion, but the timing leaves a lot to be desired. Tessmacher only won the belt two months ago and was still trying to establish her credibility as a titleholder. This was her first title defence on pay-per-view too, so it was pretty important to make sure she was taken seriously.
• The Rayne/Hebner storyline should always have reached this point with her winning the belt because of something he did – but that point has arrived too soon, and has cut Tessmacher’s legs off before she had a chance to really run. The same thing happened last November when Velvet Sky‘s first and only singles reign was ended after a month. It’s a second case of right result, wrong time.

- Lee Burton