While it might seem a little strange to write a beginner’s guide to a company that’s thirteen years old, TNA seems to have fallen out of the public consciousness in the last year or so. With their move to Pop TV in January potentially offering them a new lease on life I figured I’d do my best to give you as much information as possible to decide whether or not you want to jump in and give TNA a go on January 5.
A Brief History of TNA
TNA was founded in 2002, following the death of WCW, by Jeff and Jerry Jarrett. They began by running a weekly PPV model producing a weekly event priced at $9.99 without any television support. TNA was producing what was akin to more serialised PPV – mixing heavy story elements with wrestling while repeatedly trying to offer a hook for the viewers to buy the following week’s show. Due to a lack of PPV sales, this model quickly ran into financial trouble and a controlling interest of TNA was purchased by Panda Energy, owned by the Carter family. Jeff retained a minority interest right up until he was finally bought out in the summer of 2015.
TNA continued the weekly PPV model until 2004. They made their television debut in June that year on Fox Sports Net (FSN) before switching to a more traditional monthly PPV format in November 2004 with Victory Road. The deal with FSN only lasted a year, but after three months off of television (new episodes of Impact continued to air on the internet and through local stations) TNA landed a deal with Spike TV, who had just lost WWE Raw back to the USA Network. TNA saw steady growth for the next few years, moving from a one hour late Saturday night slot on Spike to a prime time two hour Thursday evening slot.
Not content with this however, TNA sought to make a major play at the beginning of 2010. Having acquired big name stars like Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff, Jeff Hardy, Rob Van Dam and Ric Flair, TNA sought to recreate the Monday Night Wars by taking Impact, now spearheaded by and built around Hogan, head-to-head with WWE Raw. It was successful for all of one night. TNA achieved their highest ever rating on January 4, 2010 with a three-hour show featuring the debuts of Hogan and Flair as well as the return of Jeff Hardy.
That Monday night success, however, was simply a trial run. Impact continued to air for another two months on Thursdays before officially moving to Mondays full time in March. Not only that, TNA’s next show following the Monday night special wasn’t aired until ten days later. It was less striking while the iron was hot and more heating the iron only to wait for it to cool for fear of burning their hand. While TNA would certainly have failed head-to-head anyway had they struck full time in January, it was still a bungled launch.
The Hogan regime was a strange time. Naturally, he brought in a bunch of his pals, many of whom were gone just as fast as they arrived. The Nasty Boys showed up, worked a program with Team 3D (Bully Ray and Brother Devon) and left. Val Venis debuted, beat Christopher Daniels on PPV, beat Jeff Jarrett in a toilet and disappeared. None of this achieved anything for TNA.
TNA moved to Mondays full time on March 8, 2010 featuring a Hulk Hogan and Abyss (who was playing dress up as Hulk Hogan) vs. Ric Flair and AJ Styles (who was doing his best Ric Flair impersonation). Two months later, Impact returned to Thursdays after being utterly crushed by Raw.
TNA sought a variety of brass rings as a “one size fits all” fix to push the company to the next level. Impact was rebranded as Impact Wrestling (with the painfully ironic slogan “Wrestling Matters”) in 2011, taking Impact live in the summer of 2012, and finally taking Impact outside of its long-time home of Soundstage 21 in Universal Studios to tour on the road through the United States.
The decision to take Impact on the road was the catalyst for many of TNA’s recent woes. A lack of demand meant the road tapings were a money losing proposition. By the time TNA returned to Universal Studios later in the year significant belt tightening was necessary. Hogan, whom the company had been built around for three years (with very little payoff, he wrestled two televised matches – once in the March 8 tag match and again against Sting in a remarkably good match at Bound For Glory 2011), left and many followed over the next two years. Big names like Ric Flair, Rob Van Dam, Mickie James and Sting left along with TNA stalwarts like James Storm, Christopher Daniels, Chris Sabin, Samoa Joe and AJ Styles. Ratings declined and Spike TV opted not to renew Impact. TNA landed on Destination America but never gained any traction there and the result put them where they are now – debuting on Pop TV on January 5th.
Titles and Divisions, Big Shows, Traditions and PPV
TNA currently has five active titles. The TNA World Heavyweight title, established in May 2007 after TNA opted to no longer use the NWA titles, was last held by Matt Hardy and is currently vacant after the controversial ending to the Bound For Glory main event. The longest reigning champion is Bobby Roode and most reigns belongs to Kurt Angle at six. Other notable former champions including Sting, Mick Foley, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Jeff Hardy and Rob Van Dam.
A new champion will be crowned on the first Impact on Pop as the winners of Eric Young vs. Matt Hardy and Ethan Carter III will face off in the main event.
The X-Division title is currently held by Tigre Uno with Austin Aries is the longest reigning champion.
Chris Sabin has the most reigns at eight while notable former champions include AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Jay Lethal, Christopher Daniels, Low Ki, Austin Aries and Jerry Lynn. The X-Division was ostensibly TNA’s cruiserweight division, built around smaller wrestlers and high flying, but with the tagline “It’s not about weight limits, it’s about no limits!” Some saw the need to fiddle with the X-Division, adding weight limits and daft three way rules, but the division was always at its best when it simply allowed great wrestlers to have great, competitive matches. When executed properly, the X-Division served as a launch pad to the heavyweight division for the likes of AJ Styles, Chris Sabin, Samoa Joe and Austin Aries.
Notable Matches: AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe vs. Christopher Daniels – Unbreakable 2005, AJ Styles vs. Petey Williams vs. Chris Sabin – Final Resolution 2005, Chris Sabin vs. Alex Shelley – Genesis 2009, AJ Styles vs. Psicosis vs. Jerry Lynn vs. Low Ki – Weekly PPV #2, Kurt Angle vs. Jay Lethal – No Surrender 2007
The Knockouts title is currently held by Gail Kim, who was the first ever champion and is tied with Madison Rayne for most title reigns at five. Taryn Terrell holds the record for longest reign. Prior to the inception of the division women were primarily used as window dressing either as managers and valets or, more literally, dancing in cages next to the stage. The division was officially established in 2007 and built around Gail Kim. The acquisition of Awesome Kong was a masterstroke as her chemistry with Kim cemented the division as a worthwhile endeavour within months. TNA have paid lip service to women’s wrestling more than they actually tried to provide them an equal platform but for the most part through the years it has seemed like they’ve at least been trying.
Notable Matches: Gail Kim vs. Awesome Kong – Final Resolution 2008, Gail Kim vs. ODB vs. Awesome Kong – Destination X 2008, Gail Kim vs. Taryn Terrell – Slammiversary 2013, Gail Kim vs. Taryn Terrell – Impact July 2013, Hamada vs. Roxxi – Impact December 2009, Mickie James vs. Tara – Impact December 2010
Tag Team Division
The current tag team champions are The Wolves (Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards), they also hold the record for most reigns at five, whereas Beer Money (James Storm and Bobby Roode) holds the record for the longest reign. While many tout the X-Division, I’d make the case that TNA’s largest contribution to wrestling over the last 13 years has been through the tag team division.
Teams like Beer Money, AMW, The Motor City Machine Guns, LAX, Triple X, The Wolves, Team 3D, The British Invasion, Team Canada, AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels, The Young Bucks, Bad Influence, and many more have delivered more than their fair share of tag classics through the years. Yes there have been peaks and valleys (with teams like The Red Shirt Security and Mexican America holding tag team gold in TNA) but those peaks were great.
Notable Matches: Triple X vs. AMW – Turning Point 2004, Team Canada vs. AMW – Final Resolution 2005, Motor City Machine Guns vs. Beer Money – Impact August 2010, LAX vs. AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels – Bound For Glory 2006
The newest title is the King of the Mountain championship, currently held by Bobby Roode. The title was introduced in the summer of 2015 with Jeff Jarrett, PJ Black and Roode being the only men to hold the belt to date.
Prior to 2013, TNA ran 12 PPVs a year with Bound For Glory (TNA’s equivalent of WrestleMania), Slammiversary (their anniversary show) and Lockdown (their all steel cage match PPV) being considered their big three. TNA has since consolidated their PPV’s year after year with most shows, including Lockdown, now being deployed as TV specials while Slammiversary (in June) and Bound For Glory (in October) remain as regular PPVs. TNA also produce One Night Only PPVs in the months where they don’t have regular PPVs (to fill international television commitments) – these are the pro wrestling equivalent of mass produced, quantity over quality content which should be avoided at all costs.
Specialty Matches and Traditions
Yearly traditions and ideas tend not to last in TNA.
TNA use a six-sided ring (after beginning with a four sided ring, they switched to a six sided ring, Hulk Hogan didn’t like it so they switched back to a four sided ring before switching to a six sided ring once again in the summer of 2014). TNA’s current announcers are Josh Mathews and “The Pope” D’Angelo Dinero with Christy Hemme doing ring announcing. Every year at Destination X the X-Division champion can invoke “Option C” which allows them to cash in the X-Division title in exchange for a World title shot. Four men have cashed in to date with a 50% success rate. Past ideas such as the Bound For Glory Series, World X-Cup, TNA’s weird yearly tradition of having somebody wear a turkey suit at Thanksgiving, championship rankings, TNA 365 and more tend not to last. TNA have a Hall of Fame, into which new people are inducted yearly. Current inductees include Sting, Kurt Angle, Team 3D, Jeff Jarrett, and Earl Hebner.
When it comes to specialty matches, TNA’s most notable is the Ultimate X match. High wires crisscross the ring with a title (or in the event of a non-title match a comically large foam X) hanging from the centre. Wrestlers must climb hand over hand toward the centre and grab the title to win. The sole rule is no ladders though that has bizarrely been relaxed in recent years. The other notable specialty match is the King of the Mountain match, the rules of which are as follows:
“In order to win you must become eligible and hang the belt. To become eligible you must score a pinfall or submission. Falls count anywhere. If you are pinned you must spend two minutes in the penalty box.”
The match was dropped after 2009 but revived for Slammiversary 2015 after Jeff Jarrett returned to the company. There is also the Feast or Fired match, which is in essence Money in the Bank on steroids. Four briefcases hang from poles with three containing title shots (which can be cashed in at any time) and the fourth containing a pink slip. There is also Monster’s Ball but that’s simply a fancy way of saying Hardcore match.
Notable Matches: Triple X vs. LAX – Bound For Glory 2007, Jeff Hardy vs. Rhino vs. Abyss vs. Sabu – Bound For Glory 2005, Feast or Fired – Final Resolution 2008, Kurt Angle vs. Samoa Joe vs. Christian Cage vs. AJ Styles vs. Chris Harris – Slammiversary 2007
Ethan Carter III: EC3 has been one of TNA’s shining lights over the last two years. The former Derrick Bateman cast off his WWE past and reinvented himself as the self-entitled son of TNA president Dixie Carter. Initially presented as a timid coward who only got where he was because of who he was related to, he steadily grew into something more and eventually became the focal point of the show. EC3 has yet to be pinned or defeated in TNA, and while the booking of his World title run left an awful lot to be desired he has consistently been one of the most enjoyable parts of Impact over the last two years.
The Hardys: Both Matt and Jeff Hardy’s time in TNA has been something of a redemption story. Both appeared for TNA in 2011 during dark times for each and both have turned their career around. Jeff’s career best work in 2012 somewhat flew under the radar (as stuff that happens to TNA is wont to do) but he has been tremendous ever since. Matt returned to TNA in the summer of 2014 and has delivered admirable performances ever since. Matt is currently a focal point of TNA programming, a semi-finalist in the World Title Series, while Jeff has been out injured for the last seven months and is expected to miss a considerable portion of 2016 too.
Notable Matches: Jeff Hardy vs. Austin Aries – Bound For Glory 2012, Jeff Hardy vs. Kurt Angle – August 2012, The Hardys vs. Team 3D vs. The Wolves – September 2014, King of the Mountain – Slammiversary 2015
Drew Galloway – Drew Galloway made his TNA debut in February and while it’s been clear that TNA think highly of him, it would appear that they don’t have the slightest clue really what to do with him. He’s mostly been wandering around the midcard shouting about how much he loves wrestling or being shoehorned into the title picture in ways that don’t feel earned. He fronted the short-lived Rising stable but that’s about it. He is no doubt a tremendous asset to TNA but it doesn’t seem like they know how to make the most of him.
Rockstar Spud: Spud has been an utter delight throughout his TNA run. The winner of season one of British Boot Camp; Spud excelled in his initial role as EC3’s goofball sidekick before developing into a man of his own, the ultimate underdog. His performances in matches against Austin Aries and particularly EC3 were some of the highlights of TNA in 2015 as Spud delivered fiery, dynamic performances full of passion. The question going forward is whether he is a perennial underdog or evolves into something truly more. The sky should be the limit for somebody as talented as Spud.
Notable Matches: Rockstar Spud vs. EC3 – Impact March 2015, Rockstar Spud vs. Austin Aries – Impact August 2015, Rockstar Spud and Bully Ray vs. Mr Anderson and Bully Ray – One Night Only Jokers Wild 2014
Bobby Roode: Roode has been TNA’s Mr. Consistency for the last decade. Ever since breaking out in 2011 as TNA World champion he has reliably delivered over and over again when called upon. He’s also one of the few old heads left on the TNA roster, considering the recent level of turnover. Roode is the current King of the Mountain champion and seems like the perfect choice to try and help elevate that title in the same way Cena did the US title or Shinsuke Nakamura did the IC title. He is more than capable of delivering the performances necessary to do that and there are worse things TNA could do with the King of the Mountain title than making it a workhorse title.
Notable Matches: Bobby Roode vs. Austin Aries – Destination X 2012, Bobby Roode vs. Kurt Angle – Impact January 2014, Bobby Roode vs. AJ Styles – Impact May 2012, Bobby Roode vs. Lashley – Impact September 2014, Bobby Roode vs. James Storm – Bound For Glory 2012
Bobby Lashley: Lashley’s initial run in TNA in 2009 was rather uneventful and his 2014 return seemed to be going the same way before a heel turn and a World title run changed everything. During Lashley’s title reign he seemed to find a new confidence; there was an extra spring in his step. For the first time in his career he seemed to truly own the sheer freak of nature that he is and his performances were buoyed by that. Lashley coupled with MVP as his manager clicked better than anybody could have expected. While not a focal point of TNA for much of 2015, his performances continued to carry that same confidence.
Notable Matches: Bobby Lashley vs. Kurt Angle – Impact March 2015, Bobby Lashley vs. Jeff Hardy – Impact July 2014, Bobby Lashley vs. Austin Aries – Impact July 2014, Bobby Lashley vs. Austin Aries vs. Eric Young – Slammiversary 2014
Kurt Angle: Kurt Angle has now spent reasonably more than time in TNA than he did in WWE. So it’s not unreasonable to consider him a TNA guy as much as you historically would AJ Styles or James Storm. Angle has given his heart and soul to TNA over the last ten years, constantly giving his all for the company. He has delivered for TNA over and over again. This will be Angle last year in TNA – he finishes up after TNA’s UK tour so he will continue to be on Impact until the end of March, give or take a week or two. The next few months should be something of a victory lap for Angle – a well-earned pat on the back for a job well done. TNA have to be smart with how they use Angle in the next few months. Each of his matches should feel special and each of them should serve a purpose. Who Angle puts over on the way out the door is also vital.
Notable Matches: Kurt Angle vs. Samoa Joe – Genesis 2006, Kurt Angle vs. Mr Anderson – Lockdown 2010, Kurt Angle vs. Jeff Jarrett – Genesis 2009, Kurt Angle vs. AJ Styles – Hard Justice 2008, Kurt Angle vs. Desmond Wolfe – Turning Point 2009, Kurt Angle vs. Abyss – Turning Point 2008
Best of the Rest: Currently the X-Division consists of Tigre Uno, Manik, Mark Andrews, Zema Ion, Trevor Lee, and Andrew Everett – a talented bunch who’ve only ever needed an opportunity to start rebuilding something special. The Knockouts division has Gail Kim, Awesome Kong, Taryn Terrell, Jade, Marti Bell, Madison Rayne, Velvet Sky, Rebel and Angelina Love. Kim is the best anchor you could ask for but the division is in bad need of fresh blood. TNA currently have only one active tag team – The Wolves, who have been tremendous throughout their TNA run routinely providing a dose of energy when Impact has desperately needed it. However they need teams to work with. The heavyweight division is filled out by Bram, Mr Anderson, Eli Drake, Micah, Jesse Godderz, Eric Young, Mahabali Shera, Abyss, and Robbie E – all of whom can productively contribute to a solid midcard and some of whom, with some time and effort, could develop into something more.
Jeff Jarrett: The TNA founder was a focal point of TNA for the first four years before taking more of a backseat as the likes of Sting and Angle and Christian showed up. While you could make a case that TNA didn’t have many other options, Jarrett’s overbearing nature and adherence to his formula World title match were a real detriment to TNA in the early years. It’s not that he didn’t occasionally deliver worthwhile performances, he did every now and again but only off the back of being the focal point of the entire company far more often than he should have been. Jarrett left TNA in 2013 to found Global Force Wrestling, but returned in 2015 for a brief programme with Dixie Carter which resulted in a short lived TNA vs. GFW interpromotional feud.
Notable Matches: Jeff Jarrett vs. Kurt Angle – Bound For Glory 2008, Jeff Jarrett vs. AJ Styles – Hard Justice 2005, Jeff Jarrett vs. Rhino – Turning Point 2005, Jarrett and AMW vs. Rhino and Team 3D – Genesis 2005
AJ Styles: For the 11 years AJ Styles spent in TNA he was the face of the company, its standard bearer. Nobody has delivered more top quality performances in a TNA ring than AJ Styles. No matter what TNA asked of him, be it being Christian’s comedy sidekick or being a cheap facsimile of Ric Flair, Styles gave it his all to make it work – which was why it was such a huge blow that TNA lost Styles at the start of 2014. Not just because they lost a performer of his calibre but also because of how it looked, the optics of losing Mr. TNA. Styles leaving TNA gave the impression of a sinking brand, an impression TNA did little to overturn. Styles has since gone on to reassert his position as one of the best wrestlers in the world.
Notable Matches: AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe – Turning Point 2005, AJ Styles vs. Christopher Daniels – Against All Odds 2005, AJ Styles vs. Abyss – Lockdown 2005, AJ Styles vs. Doug Williams – Final Resolution 2010, AJ Styles vs. Bully Ray – Slammiversary 2011, AJ Styles vs. Tommy Dreamer – No Surrender 2010
Samoa Joe: Samoa Joe should have been TNA’s first bonafide star. His work was world class, his promos believable and passionate, and his presence and timing unteachable. From the moment Samoa Joe walked down the ramp in the iMPACT! Zone it was clear that he was something special. But unfortunately after eighteen hugely successful months in TNA Joe took a back seat to the likes of Angle, Christian, Sting, and Booker T. Despite a World title run (which was a disaster on a number of levels) it never worked out for Joe after that and now he’s making waves again in NXT.
James Storm: James Storm was always something of an unsung hero for TNA. While it was the likes of Angle, Styles or Joe that usually got the plaudits in TNA, Storm generally flew under the radar delivering similar quality. More than anybody else he, at times single handedly, gave TNA’s tag team division life with the America’s Most Wanted and Beer Money teams. He never quite got the singles push he deserved; he won the World title once only to lose it two weeks later. Like Styles he was an ever-present working for TNA since their first ever show up until the summer of 2015 when he finally left. He is currently flirting with NXT having appeared there a couple of times.
Notable Matches: James Storm vs. Chris Harris – Sacrifice 2007, AMW vs. Styles and Daniels – Slammiversary 2006, Beer Money vs. Team 3D – Lockdown 2009, James Storm vs. Kurt Angle – Impact September 2011, James Storm vs. Gunner – Impact April 2014, Triple X vs. AMW – June 2003
Austin Aries: Austin Aries has been TNA shining light in the last few years. His brilliantly executed World title win where he went from re-debuting at Destination X 2011 to holding the X-Division title for ten months only to cash it in for a shot at the World title and end Bobby Roode’s eight months reign was a joy to behold. While Aries’ actual reign would turn out to be underwhelming (compounded by a silly heel turn before his Bound For Glory main event vs. Jeff Hardy where he dropped the belt) he’d continue to be TNA’s standout performer all the way up to the end of 2015 (due to TNA strange schedule he continued to appear on TNA TV long after losing a Career match vs. Rockstar Spud).
Notable Matches: Austin Aries vs. Low Ki vs. Zema Ion vs. Jack Evans – Destination X 2011, Austin Aries vs. Kurt Angle – Impact June 2015, Austin Aries vs. Jeff Hardy – Turning Point 2012, Austin Aries vs. AJ Styles – Impact September 2014, Austin Aries vs. Bobby Roode – Hard Justice 2012
Stars of the Past: Many notable names from the past have appeared in TNA through the years. The Nashville days were known for the likes of The Road Warriors or Lex Luger or Vader randomly showing up any given week. Names like Christian, Sting, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Booker T, Scott Steiner, Kevin Nash, Rob Van Dam, Randy Savage, Dusty Rhodes, Roddy Piper, Mick Foley, and more have all come and gone over the years to varying degrees of fanfare. An over-reliance on those names became a crutch for TNA and an excuse not to invest in promising young talent until it was too late.
Notable Matches: Hulk Hogan vs. Sting – Bound For Glory 2011, Sting vs. Kurt Angle – Bound For Glory 2007, Mick Foley vs. Ric Flair – Impact October 2010, Ric Flair vs. Jay Lethal – Victory Road 2010, Christian Cage vs. Kaz – Genesis 2007
What Can We Expect?
I can’t make any promises about what TNA will be like starting on Pop on January 5. History would suggest that they don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. You would think that two cancellations in two years would cause a company to look long and hard at the way they do things but TNA have been stubbornly obstinate when it comes to changing their approach, regardless of the consequences. All we have at the end of the day is hope. Hope that TNA will realise their vast past errors. Hope that they will finally make good on the potential that they’ve had for a very long time. Hope that they will finally start turning things around after two years of steep decline.