Total Nonstop Action Wrestling has been as divisive an international professional wrestling organization as the world has seen since the company was first introduced to the public back in 2002. There have, over the years, been a plethora of forgettable and even embarrassing moments that have made up the history of TNA. Nonsense title changes. Ridiculous gimmick matches, including one that featured a barbed-wire Christmas tree (it happened). Different television stations buying in before choosing to abandon the product. It would be a massive understatement to suggest that the road has been rather bumpy for TNA Wrestling over the past 13 years.
The current state of TNA Wrestling remains up in the air for those of us on the outside. Wrestling Observer creator and editor Dave Meltzer reported in May 2015 that TNA was but several months away from being out of a national television deal in the United States, and there have since been rumblings that talent on the roster has seen the writing on the wall and begun to make other arrangements for their careers and/or for their lives. While TNA may not yet be dead and buried, all indications are that the promotion is struggling to remain on life support as the fall months approach.
Things were not always this way for the company. There have, over the years, been moments stuck in time when it appeared as if TNA could possibly be on its way to becoming a legitimate second option for wrestling fans who no longer wanted to watch only what was being presented on weekly World Wrestling Entertainment programming. Other instances that are featured in this piece are, for lack of a different description, just plain cool to watch. In the end, it would only be a negative for the industry if TNA were to go under at some point in 2015, as it would mean fewer jobs in the business.
20. Bobby Roode Needs a Manager
TNA Wrestling was never going to get a performer such as John Cena during the height of his popularity, and thus the company has had to try and create stars on its own. Such a storyline occurred in the summer of 2006 when Booby Roode was made to be one of the “most in-demand heavyweights” in the profession today. Roode was front and center in multiple entertaining vignettes that aired on TNA television, but the conclusion to the story was ultimately a letdown. The same, fittingly, can be said for Roode’s push at that time, as he was quickly turned into just another guy.
19. TNA Announces Signing of Kurt Angle
All that was known by wrestling fans in 2006 was that Kurt Angle had parted ways with the WWE because his body was in such a bad state that the former Olympic Gold Medalist could not “even think straight.” Such problems did not prevent TNA from almost immediately acquiring the services of the talented wrestler, a transaction that was heavily criticized by fans and by journalists. Angle has defied the odds and kept on performing inside of rings up through the summer of 2015, and he has not been shy about the fact that he would be willing to make a return to the WWE for at least a brief run.
18. Jay Lethal vs Ric Flair: Woo Off
The confrontation between Jay Lethal and “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, during which Lethal performed a spot-on impersonation of the all-time wrestling legend, could be mentioned on a best of and worst of TNA list. This segment is worth several laughs on its own, most notably as Flair loses it more and more with every line that Lethal spouts off without ever dropping the “Nature Boy” character. It is unfortunate, however, that the feud did not do much to elevate Lethal with TNA. No worries, however, as Lethal is currently the top man and the world heavyweight champion in Ring of Honor.
17. Bobby Roode vs Austin Aries: Destination X 2012
A funny thing happened en route to setting up a world heavyweight championship feud involving Bobby Roode and James Storm: Austin Aries got over huge among audiences as the company’s X Division champion. An example of when long-term booking is not always the best strategy for a professional wrestling company, TNA instead called an audible and booked Aries to face off with Roode at the 2012 Destination X show. The result was an incredible singles match, one that gave fans a fulfilling ending at time when TNA was not known for always being worth investments of time and money from viewers.
16. Jeff Hardy Debuts
One thing that some have forgotten is that Jeff Hardy probably would not have become a singles superstar worthy of winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship if not for his initial run in TNA. That run began in June of 2004 when Hardy showed up at the TNA second anniversary show to take on A.J. Styles in an X Division Championship showdown. The match itself was a bit underwhelming all things considered, but the reaction that Hardy received from the in-house audience coupled with what this night would mean to his career and to multiple wrestling companies makes the moment worthy of being mentioned in this piece.
15. TNA Spike TV Debut
It is easy, if not also a little lazy, to look back on the era of TNA Wrestling on Spike TV with contempt considering all that has occurred over the past ten years. What has to be remembered and even emphasized is that the company may not exist as it does today without that national television deal, one that gave TNA a true cable home and one that also provided other opportunities for the organization to expand its brand to further global audiences. Will Destination America be able to replicate this, or will that channel merely serve as the coffin for TNA? We will find out in time.
14. Sting Inducted Into the TNA Hall of Fame
There will eventually come a time, rightfully so, when Sting has a bigger Hall of Fame induction on a bigger stage and in front of a larger audience that will give him the reaction that he deserves. TNA was the first company to give him this honor, and he was fittingly the first ever performer to be inducted into the TNA Hall of Fame. It is difficult to imagine where TNA would be without Sting, as he carried the flag for the organization when not many others who had his respected status in the business were willing to take that journey.
13. First TNA Match
World Wrestling Entertainment was the last company standing following the famous “Monday Night Wars” when TNA arose out of the ashes of that real-life battle. Fans were not sure what to expect out of the upstart organization when those who were not diehard followers of the industry were introduced to performers A.J. Styles and Low-Ki. All six men involved in the tag match were given opportunities to shine and to show what they could do inside of the ring, and the contest gave a preview of what was to come – both good and bad – from that version of TNA.
12. Raven Wins the Title
The harsh truth of the matter is that there is plenty wrong with the concept of the King of the Mountain match, most notably that it is a reverse ladder match. That silliness aside, this match was highlighted by Raven making the climb up the ladder and winning the championship, a moment that was the conclusion of a storyline involving the destiny of the former Extreme Championship Wrestling performer. Some of Raven’s best overall work outside of the former ECW occurred in the early days of TNA, and fans who missed out on them should take a look back when possible.
11. Sting Returns: Final Resolution 2006
As was mentioned earlier in this piece, Sting meant as much to the first decade of TNA as did anybody else who worked for the company. That includes wrestlers such as A.J. Styles, Samoa Joe and Kurt Angle. He could have done just about anything that he wanted at that stage of his wrestling career when, instead of taking the easy way out and the money that would have come with signing for WWE, Sting bought in to the idea of TNA being a true No. 2 promotion. Whether or not TNA ever got to that level could be a matter of opinion. Sting’s contributions to the company, however, can never be discounted.
10. Hulk Hogan Debuts
It is the hope that kills you, or so the saying goes, and the hope that TNA could possibly mirror what World Championship Wrestling achieved during the 1990s made Hulk Hogan appearing at Impact must-see television for pockets of wrestling fans. We, of course, know better years after, as Hogan’s time with the company did nothing to make it anything close to an equal of the WWE. There is no longer any such golden carrot that can be floated out there in front of investors who may wish to save TNA, as the Hulkster has made a return to WWE, most likely for good.
9. Motor City Machine Guns vs Beer Money: Victory Road 2010
TNA Wrestling had jumped the shark for portions of audiences that had given up on the product in 2010, viewers who missed out on an entertaining feud involving two of the best tag teams in the company at the time. Customers who had paid to watch this event live at home and also those in attendance could not help but groan when it first seemed as if TNA had elected to go with a false finish. That proved to be but part of a larger swerve, however, and those who had invested in this feud and in the match were at last awarded with a suitable conclusion.
8. The Beautiful People
There was once a brief era when the women’s division was one of the only positive aspects of TNA Wrestling. Two of the key members who were often in lead roles of women’s storylines were Angelina Love and Velvet Sky during their first run in the company as “The Beautiful People.” While they were not always responsible for the best matches during TNA shows, the act got over with fans and also with those inside of the wrestling community. It is widely believed by wrestling insiders that the “LayCool” tandem seen in the WWE was a direct ripoff of The Beautiful People gimmick.
7. Desmond Wolfe Debuts
TNA Wrestling was not always about taking WWE castoffs and trying to turn them into main event characters. Desmond Wolfe, more so known on the independent wrestling scene as Nigel McGuinness, was given one of the best debuts in the history of the company, one that involved him taking it to Kurt Angle both behind the curtain and then later on inside of the ring. While Wolfe was made out to be a big deal right out of the gates, his push in TNA would, for the most part, stall out after his first appearance, and his time in the company never came close to matching the excitement of his TNA debut.
6. Kurt Angle Confronts Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe was holding the World Heavyweight Championship hostage when Kurt Angle made his first in-person appearance on TNA Wrestling television since leaving the WWE. Angle and Joe stood eye-to-eye inside of the center of the ring before Angle struck first with a headbutt that has since routinely been mentioned on TNA programs. Joe, bloodied for real by that contact, was then hit with an Olympic Slam by Angle, but Joe would have his revenge not soon after by delivering a kick to his opposition. That one showdown would set up a series of matches involving the two performers.
5. A.J. Styles vs Christopher Daniels: Against All Odds 2005
TNA had to of the best overall wrestlers in the business in 2005 in A.J. Styles and Christopher Daniels, and the two were all but guaranteed to have an instant classic when they battled each other in a 30-minute iron man match at the Against All Odds 2005 event. The duo delivered in putting on a show for those in attendance and for those who purchased the pay-per-view, even going so far as to enter an overtime period. Both men had their reputations bolstered by their work in the ring on that night, and this remains one of the best singles match to ever occur in TNA.
4. Samoa Joe vs A.J. Styles: Turing Point 2005
TNA took a page from the original Extreme Championship Wrestling organization by making a secondary title, the X Division title in this case, just as important in storylines as was the world heavyweight championship. Samoa Joe and A.J. Styles were feuding over the belt in 2005 when they met for what has been called the best match that the two had while working for TNA. If only the company would have ever learned how to capitalize on having such thrilling encounters ten years ago before the idea of NXT had ever entered anybody’s mind. If only.
3. Triple X vs America’s Most Wanted: Turning Point 2004
The TNA Wrestling tag team division was far and away better than that offered by the WWE back in 2004 when Triple X and America’s Most Wanted stepped inside of the cage to settle their rivalry. This match brought with it the stipulation that the losing team would never again be allowed to team together while underneath the TNA umbrella. TNA diehard fans will forever remember this match because of the famous jaunt that Triple X member Elix Skipper made atop of the cage. That may, to this day, be the greatest single spot to ever occur during a TNA contest.
2. A.J. Styles vs Samoa Joe vs Christopher Daniels: Unbreakable 2005
Those going back and looking to choose their favorite match in the history of TNA Wrestling may decide to put this atop the list. TNA Wrestling was, at time, attempting to differentiate itself from main event programs being put together by the WWE at the time, and this triple-threat match happened to feature three of the best overall performers in North America in 2005. Dave Meltzer was so impressed by this match that the wrestling journalist who is widely respected as the best in the business gave the contest a perfect five-star rating. It is a match that holds up ten years after the fact.
1. Kurt Angle vs Samoa Joe: Lockdown 2008
It is widely viewed as the greatest singles match in the history of TNA Wrestling, one that involved two of the top wrestlers to ever work in the company. With that said, Samoa Joe versus Kurt Angle at Lockdown 2008 will also forever represent an opportunity wasted by the company. TNA went a different route with this match, combining mixed martial arts elements with pro wrestling. Just when it seemed as if the company had turned a corner and realized it would not get anywhere being WWE Light, TNA almost immediately reverted back to storylines and a brand of wrestling that failed to attract attention.