I don’t think it would be unfair to say that TNA isn’t in the best of shape right now. With their rumored cancellation by Destination America (which would be the second network to cancel them in about a year) to the constant jokes at their expense to their shows not being the most interesting, it’s very easy to take shots at them right now. However, given that they just turned thirteen years old, it’s clear that they’ve done something right over the years. That’s what we’re going to look at today: the things TNA has done right.
I’m going to group these together by subject and of course this isn’t going to be comprehensive because that would be far too long of a column. I’ll limit myself to five entries per section.
We’ll start with the wrestlers. There have been several great performers in TNA history, many of whom don’t have a long resume elsewhere.
1. AJ Styles. Was there anywhere else to start? If any one man can be named Mr. TNA, there is no one else near the top of the list. Styles did it all in TNA, then he did it all again. Five World Titles, six Tag Team Titles, six X-Division Titles, two Legends/TV Titles, more awards than can be counted and a ton of great matches. Above all else though, he’s the guy most fans think of when they think of TNA. He put them on the map and carried them for years. There is no one bigger in TNA’s history.
2. Samoa Joe. Yeah he was a big deal in Ring of Honor, but he was one of the pioneers there. It wasn’t until he made it to TNA in 2005 that the masses started to see Joe as someone more than just an indy sensation. Now you had him tearing the house down for the X-Division Title and doing things that someone his size shouldn’t be doing and walking away when people dove at him because he wasn’t stupid enough to let people hit him. He was a completely different character than you often saw and that got him noticed.
3. Kurt Angle. Angle may not have been at the peak of his career when he signed to TNA, but it’s not like he wasn’t doing anything. Just a few months earlier, Angle had been wrestling for the World Title at Wrestlemania. Now he’s appearing in TNA at “No Surrender 2006.” In a word, this legitimized TNA. It gave them a top name star that would come to their show and said this is the new place to be. Angle made TNA feel like a big deal and has spent a lot more time there than he did in WWE.
4. America’s Most Wanted/Beer Money/Motor City Machine Guns. These teams combined to give TNA a definitive win over WWE in the tag division. Let’s take a quick look at some of the teams that held either version of the WWE Tag Team Titles in the time these three teams held the belts (September 18, 2002 – August 9, 2011):
Hurricane/Kane, Booker T./Goldust, William Regal/Lance Storm, La Resistance, Eugene/William Regal, Hurricane/Rosey, Lance Cade/Trevor Murdoch, Spirit Squad, Colons, Hart Dynasty, Eddie Guerrero/Tajiri, Basham Brothers, Rikishi/Scotty 2 Hotty, Rene Dupree/Kenzo Suzuki, Deuce N Domino, Edgeheads, Cody Rhodes/Drew McIntyre, Corre, New Nexus
Yeah there are some good teams in there and a few good ones I didn’t mention, but this is the majority of the teams that held Tag Team Titles in that stretch. The majority of the names here are average at best and just a step above worthless otherwise. TNA may have had some issues along the way, but their tag division blew WWE away.
5. Austin Aries. He’s called the Greatest Man That Ever Lived for a reason. Aries is one of those guys that just gets wrestling and knows how to look like a star. His size isn’t great but he’s turned himself into a top star in TNA and someone who would likely be snatched up by WWE if he were a bit younger. Aries may not have the size, but he has the it factor, which is one of the most important things to have in wrestling.
Next up we have the matches.
1. Christopher Daniels vs. AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe – Unbreakable. Let’s just get this one out of the way. It’s widely considered TNA’s masterpiece and greatest contribution to professional wrestling. There’s little way to argue against how amazing it really is and it more than holds up today.
2. XXX vs. America’s Most Wanted – Turning Point 2004. TNA took a chance on these guys and let them main event their second three hour pay per view. In a word, this was a war. They fought, they bled, they fell, and then Elix Skipper WALKED ACROSS THE EDGE OF A CAGE. That was TNA’s signature visual for a long time and my goodness it’s still awesome. I mean…..HE WALKED ON THE EDGE OF A CAGE!
3. AJ Styles vs. Abyss – Lockdown 2005. This is a match you should see if you haven’t had the chance yet. It’s my personal favorite match TNA ever put on and they beat the fire out of each other for a shot at the World Title. Before the match started, there’s a sequence where Styles runs around the cage on the floor, baseball slides under the barricade, runs into the crowd and dives over three rows of fans to take Abyss out with a flying forearm. For that one moment, Styles looked like a superhero, flying through the air to attack the monster trying to destroy TNA. It was the perfect visual and a great way to start and outstanding brawl.
4. James Storm vs. Chris Harris – Sacrifice 2007. It’s the best match from maybe the best show TNA ever produced. These two had a horrible match earlier in the year at Lockdown but man alive did they make up for it here in a Texas Death Match. This is another wild, violent war with both guys doing whatever they could to put the other down for the ten count. It ended their feud and made it clear that both guys had a future on their own.
5. Kurt Angle vs. Desmond Wolfe – Final Resolution 2009. If there’s one guy where you had to wonder “what if” in TNA, Wolfe has to be at the top of the list. The guy showed up from Ring of Honor as Nigel McGuinness and stole the show from his first night. His first feud was against Angle, including this 2/3 falls match. These guys had great chemistry together and the drama near the end was incredible stuff.
We’ll wrap it up with a catch all category of stuff.
1. The Knockouts. WWE had Kelly Kelly and the Bellas. TNA had Gail Kim, Mickie James, Tara and Awesome Kong tearing the house down. The Knockouts showed American audiences that women could rock the house and have some great matches instead of just being eye candy. This was a totally different way of looking at women’s wrestling and TNA nailed it.
2. Something different. I’m not getting into the alternative debate, but TNA actually tried some different stuff. From an early focus on the cruiserweight style (which later main evented more than one show) to giving the women a chance to showcase themselves to having an awesome tag division, TNA didn’t always follow the idea of two guys fighting for the World Title to close the show. While that’s definitely the most common kind of main event, TNA remembered that it didn’t have to be the most important thing on the show. That was always refreshing to see.
3. Bound For Glory 2010. This was the night that THEY were revealed after months of teasing their arrival. I know the ending wasn’t perfect, but the buildup to the moment was as well done as anything else TNA has ever done. I woke up that morning and couldn’t wait to find out what was going to happen. That normally only happens on Wrestlemania night but “Bound For Glory 2010” pulled it off.
4. Bully Ray. The man destined to be known as the guy who was one half of a tag team completely reinvented himself and became quite a good heel. His matches were solid enough, but there was a moment at No Surrender 2012 where Ray was about to go to the ring for his Bound For Glory Series match. The promo he gave was very emotional, but the line that wrapped it up was as good as anything that has ever been said in TNA: “I’m Bully Ray. I’m not just bound for glory. I am destined for greatness.”
5. Bound For Glory. The most recent show aside, TNA has made “Bound For Glory” into their be all, end all event of the year. Things happened there that changed the way the company would run for the coming months and the wrestlers made it feel like it was the most important night of the year. So many wrestling promotions come up short on this one, but TNA has nailed it.
It’s a shame that TNA has the stigma it does, because they have done a lot of things right over the years. I could have gone on way longer than five each and didn’t even touch on a lot of stuff. TNA has been around for a long time and while they’re going to be remembered for messing up a lot of things, they certainly had their great moments as well. In case you’ve forgotten them, go out of your way to check out some of this stuff and remember just how great TNA has been over the years.
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