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By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Kurt Angle vs Christian Cage vs Chris Harris vs AJ Styles vs Samoa Joe
TNA World Heavyweight Title Match
As they sought to break away from the NWA name and install a major title with their own brand front and center, it was probably to little surprise in the eyes of many fans that TNA would crown a champion in a less than clear way. Having severed ties with the NWA, a match between Kurt Angle, Sting and Christian Cage would be for the newly minted TNA World Heavyweight Title. The end would see Sting tap out to the ankle lock as he had Cage pinned for three; two referees seeing different aspects of the decision only adding to the confusion. The new title, rather than being given to a dominant champion to begin to build a legacy, was already in limbo.
A month later – a new belt being left vacant for a month seemingly not an issue – Angle and Cage would be joined by Chris Harris, AJ Styles and Samoa Joe to crown a new champion for the company, one that in years to come would be retroactively considered the start of the belt’s lineage, though some recognition was still given to what is loosely considered Angle’s ‘first’ reign. Not only would the match aim to solve the championship puzzle, but it would be contested in one of TNA’s trademark gimmicks – a King of the Mountain match. A convoluted ruleset effectively amounted to a reverse ladder match, with the goal to hang the title up after a pinfall or submission allowed you to seek victory and banished the fallen to a penalty box for two minutes.
The fans watching on PPV had voted that Samoa Joe was most likely to win the match, but it was an alliance between Cage and Styles that initially took control of the contest. This arrangement almost led to the first pinfall as Style was willing to lay down for Cage, only for Angle to break up the count at two. The arrangement didn’t last long as Cage refused to repeat the offer for Styles, though Styles would use a roll-up to almost steal the pinfall anyway.
As Cage and Styles attempted to reconcile in the ring, Joe was smashing through the opponents at ringside. Styles would end up getting sent into the guardrail by Joe head first, but it would be Harris that managed to snaffle the first pinfall with the Catatonic on Styles after throwing Joe out of the ring. Any thoughts Harris had about getting the title were quickly curtailed by Joe throwing a ladder over the top rope, wiping out both Harris and Cage.
Cage somehow survived a joint Coquina clutch/ankle lock submission but would end up crotched on the ladder that had been jammed between the apron and the guard rail. It was Styles who had all the momentum at the time, only for a misjudged charge at Harris seeing him get launched onto Cage on the ladder. Harris not only had the first pinfall, but also made the first attempt to hang the belt, yet Angle would not only stop him, but take him down for three with an Angle slam off of the ladder.
A muscle buster threatened to give Joe eligibility but Angle broke up the pinfall. A ref bump meant that the referee missed Angle tapping to the Coquina clutch, whilst Cage took advantage, dropping Joe with a ladder and pinning Angle to give himself the ability to win the gold. It was still Harris that was coming closest though, and it would take a springboard dropkick by Styles to stop the Wildcat from winning the gold.
Not content with just the ring, Styles and Joe would take the fight on top of the penalty box, a brawl that saw Styles get flung off the top and through a table. Joe would also get knocked off the top by Harris, which would leave the three eligible wrestlers fighting it out in the middle of the ring. After Harris was once again stopped, it would be the Wildcat’s decision to spear Cage off of the ladder that would hand the title to Angle as he hung the belt to win the contest.
Considering the poorly thought out booking of the ‘first’ reign, at least TNA learnt its lesson when it came to Angle’s first proper title run. In a bid to start building a legacy, you couldn’t go too far wrong with keeping the belt around Angle’s waist at this time. There would be blips in the future – this is TNA after all – but at least at this point, the TNA had finally managed to move in a direction that sought to develop themselves as a brand apart.