Welcome, cats and kittens, to yet another Sunday Supplement to perk you up and help you get those crooked abs that the ladies like so much. Today we’re going to be looking TNA and more specifically at the good side of TNA, which is not always an easy thing to do but which occasionally needs to be done. Now last year we did a countdown list of the Top Ten Greatest Moments In TNA History (Part 1 and Part 2) which helped to shine a light on the good times in the history of this much maligned company, and tonight we’ll do it again, focusing instead this time of the 5 best feuds that the company ever produced. In all probability at least one of the feuds on this list is the reason why you have stuck through TNA through thick and thin , hoping all the while that things will get better (mine is number 1), and for the rest of you, these will serve as incontrovertible proof that even if TNA died tomorrow, they still accomplished things to be proud of.
Hey, even a broken clock is right twice a day, right?
The Main Event Mafia storyline could have easily been a crowning achievement in TNA history. The premise was simple. Take 5 former world champions who are on top but getting older, and join them into a group to hold off the young guys trying to take their spots. With the emergence of huge up and coming fan favorites like Samoa Joe and AJ Styles, this seemed like a license for incredible television and an incredible way to cement the younger guys as permanent stars in the world of professional wrestling. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. But what did happen was an epic conflict that changed TNA and is the root of almost every significant storyline TNA has done ever since even up to today.
In 2008, Samoa Joe had finally defeated Kurt Angle and was enjoying a nice title reign. He was beating guys like Booker T and had Kevin Nash mentoring him on how to stay on top now that he was champion. This led to a title match at Bound For Glory against Sting, the basis of which was the fact that Samoa Joe had no respect for anyone or what they did in the past. Respect is a word that would become the rallying cry for this movement and it started here. At Bound For Glory, Joe absolutely decimated Sting, and beat him half to death, only for Joe’s mentor Kevin Nash to betray Joe and give Sting the victory. On Impact the following week, Sting, Nash, Booker T, Scott Steiner and Kurt Angle publicly joined forces to keep their generation of respect on top, and keep TNA out of the hands of young punks like Joe. Over the next few months, the Main Event Mafia, as they christened themselves, laid waste to TNA, ruthlessly putting down any pretenders to their thrones. They injured Joe, bullied Styles and drove Christian out of TNA. They were dominant, they were successful, and this storyline was getting OVER.
Seeing their company stolen from them and being controlled by a bunch of power hungry old men, a group of younger guys formed and named themselves The Frontline. The group was originally started by Samoa Joe and AJ Styles, who put aside their noted differences to take on this threat to their livelihoods. A number of younger guys followed their lead such as Jay Lethal, The Motor City Machine Guns, Petey Williams and Eric Young and they declared war on the veterans. For a few months, this feud was the hottest thing in wrestling, as the two groups fought anywhere and everywhere and took over whole segments of Impact with these fights springing up all over the arena.
Of course, the trouble began when Rhino joined the group and became its leader and mouthpiece, seeing as he was neither young, nor upcoming, nor a good mouthpiece. He was followed soon thereafter by Team 3D and Mick Foley, causing the actual people the storyline was meant to get over to be pushed to the back, and eventually Kurt Angle and Sting’s personal feud overshadowed the conflict with the Frontline altogether.
The feud ended with a whimper, and the young guys didn’t really benefit much from it. But for those few months in the winter of 2008/2009, this feud was electric, and is by far the most ambitious storyline that TNA has ever attempted.
Prior to 2007, there wasn’t a whole lot for women in TNA to do. They could cozy up to some male wrestlers and become a valet (which Gail Kim did with America’s Most Wanted), you could have scantily clad pictures of yourself taken for the website (which Gail Kim did as well) or you could be violently assaulted by men to get your clients over.
To what i’m sure is your great surprise, Gail didn’t find this overly stimulating after training for years to be a professional wrestler. So after appealing to Jeff Jarrett and Dixie Carter for months, she finally convinced them to launch a women’s wrestling division in TNA. On October 14th, 2007 Gail won a ten woman gauntlet match to become the first TNA Women’s Champion. She was riding high and rolling along as the beloved face of the company. Unfortunately, out of her darkest dreams walked a nightmare with dreads named Awesome Kong.
While ordinarily women’s feuds in mainstream wrestling are met with indifference by crowds or even catcalls, this feud drew the attention and respect of eyes from all over the wrestling industry. The firey and beautiful Kim defended her title for the first time against the imposing and brutal Awesome Kong at Turning Point that year in a match that surpassed perhaps any women’s wrestling match that decade and completely stole the show. Gail managed to retain when Kong got disqualified, but despite her determination and resolve, she still wound up broken and battered on the mat. When Kong got a rematch in a no disqualification match at Final Resolution Kim again brought everything she had in a valiant attempt to beat a foe nearly twice her size, but just could not do enough damage to this tank of a woman to get the job done. Kong broke her again and walked away with the title. So it came down to one more match. Gail trained harder than she had for anything in her life and came at Kong with everything. She used weapons, new moves learned in training and staggered Kong, beating her nearly senseless. But in the end even this wasn’t enough. And with one final Awesome Bomb, Kong ended Gail’s dreams of being the queen of the division she created once and for all.
On paper, this may just look like a new heel squashing the champion and that Gail didn’t look good in these matches but nothing can be further from the truth. The saga of the determined but overwhelmed champion going against the wrecking ball of a challenger was massively compelling and not only resurrected Gail Kim’s career in one go (WWE came calling not long after and offered her sacks of money to come work for them) but a star was also born in Awesome Kong, who went from complete unknown to one of the most significant wrestlers in TNA history in one feud. Oh, and their Impact main event to close the feud? Only one of the three highest rated segments of Impact in history.
Not too shabby at all.
Raven was always one to do things his own way. I don’t think its news to anyone here that he was often on the outs with the management of various companies he worked for and it was a significant part of his career that despite his great popularity and skill, he never won a World Championship outside of ECW. Not in WCW, where he rose nearly to the main event and hit the glass ceiling, and not in WWE where he was little more than a jobber for reasons known only to Vince McMahon. So when he came to TNA in 2003 he was often known to remark that his ultimate goal and his destiny was to become the NWA World Heavyweight Champion. He spoke of it constantly for years, only to get distracted by side feud that diverted him from his ultimate dream of holding the title held by such old school and traditional legends. Now this was his dream for two key reasons.
1. Because it would validate him as one of the great professional wrestlers of all time and show that his career since ECW hasn’t been a waste.
2. Because holy shit would it piss everyone off.
So in 2005, when he finally got his opportunity at the World Heavyweight Championship in a King of the Mountain match against 5 other guys including the champion AJ Styles, he didn’t waste it. Completely completely against the expectations of everyone, and to the horror of TNA commissioner Larry Zbyszko who had been trying to fix it so Abyss would win and be a controllable champion, Raven won the title and celebrated to the approval of the fans in attendance.
Yes, times were good for Raven, but one man was about to intervene who would prove to be perhaps Raven’s greatest foe in TNA.
See, while Raven got about the business of defending his title and upping his wrestling game higher than it had been at any point in his career, the NWA Board of Directors was breathing down Zbyszko’s throat to get the title off of this madman who they could never possibly approve of as their champion. Larry, under a huge amount of pressure and feeling entirely disrespected by Raven, called in the assistance of Jeff Jarrett to get the title back. In a match in Border City Wrestling, Raven was goaded into putting the title on the line against Jarrett, and Jarrett managed to steal it away due to huge amounts of interfence from America’s Most Wanted. Upon hearing of this, Zbyszko had a choice. Either strike the title change from the record books, since it was not a sanctioned NWA title match and featured a huge screwjob, or to acknowledge Jeff Jarrett as the new champion and deal with the consequences.
He chose poorly.
The now titleless Raven came back to TNA in a storm of vengeance aimed directly at Larry. Zbyszko, for his part, spared no expense in hiring any wrestler he could find to try to stop Raven from getting to him, but no matter who he found, Raven went through them and often in the messiest way possible. Finally, with his back against the wall, Zbyszko made a match where if Raven won, he would get a match with Larry himself and if he lost he’d be fired from TNA. But the fix was in, because when the ref got knocked out, Zbyszko abused his authority to make the count himself and blatantly ignored Raven’s foot on the ropes. Raven was now out of a job, and was robbed of his revenge. But not long after, the Board of Directors themselves issued a proclamation that Zbyszko had overstepped his authority and was suspended from his position. And then they reinstated Raven. Raven then finally got the match he had always wanted, in a hair vs. hair match with Larry legend. And if you don’t know how that match went for good ol’ Larry Zbyszko, well…
When the X Division was established in TNA they went out of their way to make it clear that the title and vision were more about a particular style than about just crusierweights instead of heavyweights. It was about a breakneck pace and excitement at all times and a generally more athletic and move oriented wrestling style. Of course, since the only people who really fit that style were the same kind of people who had always been relegated to crusierweight divisions, none of this really meant anything. That is, until the day Samoa Joe walked into TNA.
Now Joe has earned his stripes keeping up with the best young talent on the indy scene, and was not only able to keep up with them but he often ran circles around them despite his imposing size. When you add to that a completely unprecedented ferocity what resulted was a beast of a man who walked into the X Division and almost casually took it over. For months he absolutely broke and humiliated anyone who was unlucky enough to draw his name on the run sheet and finally drove all the way to the X Division Championship as an undefeated and untested monster. At the top he first ran into Christopher Daniels, who saw him as a tool to use. Joe went along with it exactly as long as he felt like it, and the second he got bored he viciously destroyed Daniels, putting him out for weeks. But once he rose to the top of the X Division he ran headlong into his greatest adversary, AJ Styles. Now Styles had been the golden child of TNA and the ultimate example of the X Division style for years, but Joe wasted zero time with respect. Joe battered AJ again and again, making AJ madder and madder until their feud exploded into one of the greatest matches of the decade and perhaps the greatest in TNA’s history as AJ gave everything to unseat the monster and came up short.
But the feud took on a new twist when Christopher Daniels came back in defense of his fallen friend and came right at Joe, only to be completely dismantled himself. I cannot overstate the level of dominance Samoa Joe represented at this point. I don’t think anyone in modern day wrestling history has ever even approached it. He was unstoppable. But with their backs against the wall and a company to reclaim, Daniels and Styles continued to come after Joe, and finally began engaging in a series of Triple Threat matches that are, to this day, generally considered the greatest achievement in TNA’s history. Hell, one of them even got 5 stars from Dave Meltzer, and that guy gives out 5 star reviews like they’re thousand dollar bills. When the dust finally settled, Styles and Daniels had reclaimed their division, but paid in blood for it, and Samoa Joe moved on to the heavyweight title scene. And i’m damn glad he did because…
…that’s when this happened.
If you read out other list about TNA being great, you’ve seen us heap platitudes on this feud before. But while that credit was simply for the match that represented the culmination and conclusion of this great feud, it was the feud itself that is the greatest thing TNA ever produced. To explain why, let’s flash back to 2006. See, this was during Jeff Jarrett’s reign of terror as the TNA champion and he was on his way to the main event of Bound For Glory against Sting, when an enraged Jim Cornette booked him against Samoa Joe in a “Fans Bring The Weapons” match. Joe completely decimated Jarrett and took his title with him because he fucking felt like it. In the weeks to follow, Cornette tried everything to convince Joe to give the title back so Sting and Jarrett could fight for it at Bound For Glory but Joe wouldn’t budge, and every attempt by Jarrett or his associates to get it back resulted in a lesson in bruises. Meanwhile, the announcement had been made previously that Kurt Angle, recently released by WWE, had joined TNA and would be be the guest enforcer for the title match at Bound For Glory. So when Cornette called out Samoa Joe and told him to either give the title back or be fired, a confrontation that had been growing in the hearts of fanboys everywhere for months finally came to fruition. And what followed is perhaps the best television that TNA ever produced.
Again, Angle won the match, though with interference as an excuse, and again Samoa Joe was foiled from conquering his ultimate equal and becoming the TNA World Heavyweight Champion for the first time. But after months and months of build up and hype, these two men decided to settle matters between them one final time inside of the Six Sides of Steel for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship. They both trained with MMA specialists to get ready for the fight of their life, and when they clashed it resulted in the most commercially successful pay per view in TNA history, and tens of thousands of people tuned in to watch Samoa Joe finally defeat his foe and take his place at the top of the mountain.