June 19, 2002, TNA Wrestling held their first-ever show. In celebration of their upcoming 13th birthday, we’ll have a number of TNA-centric articles celebrating the good, the bad and the ugly of TNA/Impact Wrestling over the last 13 years.
Today is TNA’s birthday. 13 years ago today TNA came into existence and since then at the very least they’ve never been boring. Being that today is a day of great celebration (TNA have survived another year after all) I figured I’d take a glance at TNA’s past. Using ten matches, I’m going to take a look back at the last thirteen years including the successes, the failures, the pivotal moments as well as the little things they got both right and wrong. While on the surface these ten matches appear only to offer a snapshot in time, delving deeper they provide something of a broader narrative. They encapsulate TNA in a variety of different ways, be it hopeful (like around the time Hulk Hogan debuted) or less so (the last couple of years) and offer insights into many aspects of the company (from the core business down to the individual divisions). So without further ado, here’s the history of TNA in ten matches!
Jeff Jarrett vs. Raven
April 30, 2003
The Nashville days were an unusual time in TNA. Because of their propensity for bringing people in for one-off appearances, many things happened only to never be acknowledged again. Tony Schiavone would show up, have a huge argument with Mike Tenay, walk away with Vince Russo and never be seen again. It was a revolving door for the likes of Nikita Koloff, the Road Warriors, Lex Luger, Terry Funk, the Rock and Roll Express, Vampiro, Dave Taylor, Vader and many, many more. It added a pretty unique element of surprise; you never knew who was going to show up, and you never knew if you were going to see them again when they did show up.
One of the most notable matches from that period was the Jeff Jarrett/Raven NWA World Heavyweight title match. Partially because, more than any match at the time, it felt like a big deal. These were the two biggest names in the company at the time facing off. And partially because it essentially summed up every trope that plagued TNA at the time (and that would continue to plague the company for years and years afterward). Trite brawling, needless overbooking and Jarrett being attacked by a group of ex-ECW wrestlers (New Jack, Justin Credible, Sandman and Perry Saturn) in an angle that went absolutely nowhere. As usual, it was clear without all the nonsense Raven and Jarrett could have delivered a match that lived up to the hype. If TNA learned the lesson of this match at the time, their main events for years to come would’ve been much better off.
Triple X vs. America’s Most Wanted – Six Sides of Steel
December 5, 2004
When thinking about the problems of the tag team division in TNA’s history, the first word that comes to mind is consistency. TNA has never managed to maintain a consistently strong tag team division. Just two months before the Motor City Machine Guns and Beer Money had their much vaunted Best of Five Series, The Band (Kevin Nash and Eric Young) defeated Matt Morgan (holding the belts by himself) to become champions (and not too long after the Series we had the awful Mexican America composed of Hernandez and Anarquia as champions). In 2012/2013 after a year of rock solid tag team work from the likes of Samoa Joe and Magnus, Bad Influence, A.J. Styles and Kurt Angle, Aries and Roode, and Chavo and Hernandez, the titles bordered on inactive while Gunner and James Storm were champions. During the Nashville days, for every Triple X there was also a Red Shirt Security. For every AMW, we had a 3 Live Kru. It’s always been peaks and valleys.
But those peaks could be oh-so high. None more so than Triple X vs. AMW at Turning Point 2004. No titles on the line, just two teams settling an 18-month-old grudge once and for all with the losing team disbanding for good. An ultra-violent, ultra-heated war managing even to vastly exceed the quality of their excellent 2003 cage match. And to top things off the match also featured the now iconic Elix Skipper cage walk. This was about as good as tag team wrestling got in TNA. A shining example of how brilliant things could be when they did tag teams right.
AJ Styles vs. Christopher Daniels vs. Samoa Joe
September 11, 2005
More than anything else in the first four years of TNA, it was the X-Division that helped TNA stand out. It offered something different from what WWE was providing at the time, and it turned into a well-branded division centred around fast-paced action and athleticism. It helped elevate the likes of A.J. Styles, Samoa Joe, Austin Aries and Christopher Daniels as established acts in the company and should have produced many more. Toward the end of 2006, the X-Division lost its way. It was no longer a focal point of the show, but rather a peripheral element. Investment in new talent slowly trailed off. The division became unfocused —an afterthought — and as a result, it lost any luster it once had.
I’ve been talking about examples of things done right, and there is no greater example of TNA at its best than this match. Three of the best wrestlers in the company given loads of time with the X-Division title on the line in a PPV main event for the very first time. Too often in their 13 year history, TNA have failed to put wrestlers in positions to succeed. Not during this match. Matches like this should have been TNA’s legacy when all is said and done. Matches like this are what convince people to buy PPVs. Matches like this are what encourage people to buy tickets and watch TV shows. Matches like this are what happens when you put wrestlers in positions to succeed. Take the shackles off and have faith in the talent of the wrestlers. Nothing else is needed.
Kurt Angle vs. Samoa Joe
November 19, 2006
Billed as the “Dream Match of the Decade”, you can’t write about the history of TNA without mentioning the Kurt Angle vs. Samoa Joe feud. Angle arriving in TNA seemed like the final piece of the puzzle (a theme I’ll return to in a moment when discussing Hulk Hogan). One of the most recognizable wrestlers in the world, an Olympic Gold Medalist still capable of producing world class performances, Kurt Angle should have been TNA’s silver bullet. The shot of credibility that should have helped take TNA to the next level.
Rushing straight into the Samoa Joe feud may have seemed short-sighted, but who cares? They had Kurt Angle. Having established former WWE star be the one to end Samoa Joe’s undefeated streak may have seemed short-sighted but who cares? They had Kurt Angle. And the Angle/Joe feud was both critically and commercially successful, producing great matches and some of the best PPV numbers TNA had ever seen. All was rosy, they had Kurt Angle!
Gail Kim vs. Awesome Kong
January 6, 2008
TNA’s women’s division seemed like something special at the start. Gail Kim was as good an ambassador for the division as possible while Awesome Kong played unstoppable monster to perfection. The chemistry between these two single-handedly justified the existence of the whole division, and this match was their very best together. Supplemented by a strong supporting cast (like Alyssa Flash, Taylor Wilde, Sarita, Hamada and ODB) the division looked like it was capable of sustaining its strong start. However, things began to change after Gail Kim left. The face of the division was gone and TNA never properly replaced her. They tried for a little while with Taylor Wilde, but eventually gave up.
For years TNA simply paid lip service to their women’s division. Crowing about how they have the best division in the world and how the women on the roster get an opportunity to shine, with that rarely actually being the case. Even bigger names like Mickie James and Tara only got sporadic opportunities to show what they can really do. It’s been as if TNA are still living off of that initial six-month period. Occasionally, there are brief revivals like the Gail Kim/Taryn Terrell feud, but the division predominantly remained a secondary concern. TNA has nearly always had a talented division, like most of their problems it’s nearly always simply been an unwillingness to give the division a real opportunity to excel.
Kurt Angle vs. Samoa Joe
April 13, 2008
A year and half after their first encounter, it was clear Angle alone wasn’t going to be everything TNA needed. In the period between the first Angle/Joe match and this one, TNA signed Booker T while the likes of Kevin Nash and Scott Steiner became more prominent parts of the program at the expense of the likes of A.J. Styles (who was demoted to comedy sidekick for much of the period), James Storm and Abyss (who was pigeonholed solely as TNA resident hardcore act). There was still Samoa Joe! Not quite the same Samoa Joe as in 2006, but you wouldn’t have known that watching the build to this match.
Unlike the previous matches, this one had a very serious, very compelling sports-like build up. The match itself was unlike any match in the history of the company, attempting to merge MMA and pro wrestling into something new, and it succeeded for the most part. Along with the first Kurt Angle/Samoa Joe match this was one of the most commercially successful matches in TNA history. It should have provided a template for all big title matches for years to come, but TNA ignored the success and never used a similar approach again. Angle’s star power waned (like every big star that TNA has ever signed, TNA was unable to maintain and capitalize on their star power in the long run) and while Angle continued to deliver top quality performances, he never really moved the needle.
Hulk Hogan and Abyss vs. AJ Styles and Ric Flair
March 8, 2010
When Hulk Hogan arrived in TNA on January 4, 2010, it seemed like Hogan was the final piece of the puzzle. Hogan was one of the biggest stars in the history of the industry, a household mainstream name. The shot of credibility that Hogan provided should have helped take TNA to the next level. Sound familiar? TNA’s underlying problems were never addressed. Legacy acts were still preferred to young wrestlers with oodles of talent and momentum. Hogan’s first match in TNA was on the night TNA officially re-launched the Monday Night Wars (after their trial run in January). And from that match alone it’s clear to see why Hogan didn’t have the effect on TNA that he could have.
The idea was fairly straightforward: Put Styles and Abyss (whose characters were both adjusted to mimic Flair and Hogan respectively) in there to get a rub from Hogan and Flair. But that wasn’t to be. That match, and Impact in the three years following it, became the Hulk Hogan show. Hulk was the star and everybody else was the supporting cast. Instead of using Hogan as the sizzle on top of a great steak, Hogan became the sizzle and the steak and everybody else suffered for it.
Hulk Hogan vs. Sting
October 16, 2011
Like Kurt Angle, the novelty had worn off after a year and a half into Hogan’s time with TNA. Bound For Glory 2011 was Hogan’s second match with TNA (third if we’re being pedantic because, technically, he wrestled twice on March 8th), wrestling Sting in a rematch of the biggest match in the history of WCW. A match TNA built up to since Sting turned on Hogan on the March 8th show mentioned above. Two of the biggest names in wrestling finally wrestling after over a year of build-up…and nobody cared. Any positive effect from Hogan had already worn off and TNA appeared worse off than they were before they signed him.
The match was remarkably fine, and the crowd came unglued for a bit of Hulk Hogan magic when he turned face and helped Sting beat up his old Immortal goons, but none of it mattered. In the build up to the show, Bobby Roode – winner of the 2011 Bound For Glory Series and going into the biggest match of his career – played second fiddle to Hulk. Hogan was still the star of the show even as TNA was in the process of trying to get behind their new homegrown babyface. Hogan simply hogged all the attention and limelight for himself, leaving scant little for everybody else.
Austin Aries vs. Bobby Roode
July 8, 2012
TNA had a bit of a creative renaissance in 2012. Roode, Storm, Aries and Bully Ray were emerging as fresh headliners. Joe and Magnus and Bad Influence were tearing it up in the tag division. A renewed Jeff Hardy was having one of the best years of his career while Styles and Angle were still pillars of consistency. For the first time in an age it seemed like TNA had a little momentum. The shows were good, the PPVs were the most consistent since 2005 or 2006 and the crowd in the Impact Zone was hugely responsive during TNA’s summer live run. Even nonsense like an overbearing Garett Bischoff push and the Claire Lynch angle (thankfully anchored by good matches and strong performances by Kazarian and Daniels) couldn’t hold things down.
That wasn’t to last, as the Aces and 8s was a black hole that sucked every bit of momentum up and the company screeched to a halt again as a result, but the highlight of that period was the elevation of Austin Aries to World Heavyweight champion. Winning a contract a year earlier in a tremendous four way match (that also featured Low Ki, Zema Ion and Jack Evans), Aries spent much of that year putting the X-Division on his back and elevating it singlehandedly. He nearly always had the best match on the show, he very rarely lost and credibility boosting victories over Samoa Joe and Bully Ray put him in a position where he could challenge Bobby Roode for the World Heavyweight title.
The execution of it all was pretty masterful in truth, they couldn’t have done a better job if they tried. Aries defeated Roode in a great match and it felt like a legitimately big moment. Aries went from the bottom to the top in exactly one year. Sadly, his title reign got mixed in with Aces and 8s nonsense, all the momentum he spent a year building up was soon squandered and TNA felt the need to turn him heel right before his Bound For Glory match with Jeff Hardy. Aries hasn’t been used well since. They made a mess of it in the end, but it just shows that they can do things right if they stop getting in their own way.
AJ Styles vs. Magnus
January 9th, 2014
The significance of this match only seems to amplify with time. On the surface, it merely displays many of TNA’s worst qualities. Overbooked to the degree that it bordered on satire, what could have been a great match was simply an opportunity squandered. What made the match more notable is that it was A.J. Styles’ last match with the company. A.J. was always the wrestler TNA could fall back on. No matter how bad things got, A.J. was always the reliable pillar that TNA could go back to. But now A.J. was gone. The one man synonymous with the company, the man considered the face of the company, had left.
What does that say about the brand? The individual who people most associate with your brand considered it no longer worth it to toil away in TNA for less money and instead opted to go elsewhere. It turned out to be a great move for A.J., he had a tremendous year in 2014. For TNA though, they’ve been stuttering along ever since. Losing Hogan, or RVD, or even Sting was always going to happen eventually. Losing A.J. would have, at one stage, seemed unfathomable. TNA without A.J. Styles was a brand on its last legs. It should have been a wakeup call that something needed to change, that longstanding problems needed to be addressed, that the company needed to take a long, hard look at the way they did things and learn from the mistakes of the past. Those changes never came, and just look at what’s happened to TNA since.