TNA is one of the most divisive topics in the wrestling world. When I published my last article on TNA here a few weeks ago, the comments seemed torn between outright TNA supporters, and people who refused to believe that the company could be praised for much of anything.
And while the detractors may be louder on the Internet these days, I wanted to take another moment to reflect on the moments in TNA history that made the company such a lightning rod for emotion to begin with.
So here are the 10 moments in TNA history that brought people together, and made them dream of a day when TNA ruled the roost in the wrestling world. It may never have worked out the way we all hoped, but when you see these moments, you'll understand exactly why we were hoping.
In the fall of 2008, Samoa Joe was riding high, and so was TNA. Coming off their successful PPV in April, the company had ridden through the year with the company firmly perched on the back of Samoa Joe.
With his mentor, Kevin Nash, guiding his steps, he mowed through all opposition on his way to Bound For Glory, and it seemed like he was eventually destined for a rematch with Kurt Angle that would have been one for the ages. First, though, he had to get past Sting, who was on a winning streak of epic proportions when it came to winning the title at Bound For Glory.
Leading up to the match, they heavily hyped that Sting never lost in Bound For Glory title matches, and was coming to teach Joe some respect. But Joe wasn't afraid one bit and pretty much obliterated Sting from bell to bell, right up until Kevin Nash turned on Joe, causing Sting to beat him and win the title.
On the following Impact, Nash, Sting, Scott Steiner, Booker T, and Kurt Angle stood together in the ring and announced that a new stable had formed to keep the legends on top, and it would be called the Main Event Mafia.
TNA would never be the same.
Now it would be easy to criticize the angle for what followed after, with the whole "Originals/Frontline" storyline becoming incredibly watered down and confusing, and leaving the Mafia with no one to face and no real satisfying conclusion.
But with the shock of Joe losing the title coupled with this stable of absolute Hall of Fame legends, (who were all former World Champions), an unprecedented, well, precedent had been set. The Mafia had come to TNA. And every single thing that has happened since can be traced back to this moment.
The month before the Kurt Angle/Ken Anderson feud happened, I said this about Ken Anderson:
"A lot of people will tell you that he never got a fair shake in WWE, and that he had the potential to be a top star. These people apparently weren't watching him from week to week as the man simply is not entertaining in the long term, and might very well wrestle the most boring style of anyone WWE has pushed since the '80s. Does anyone think he'll ever do anything good?"
By the time this feud reached their match at Lockdown I had already fallen to my knees begging forgiveness for being so wrong; as Kurt Angle brought something out of Ken Anderson that I had never seen before.
Their feud was so hot, so incredible, and so ready to burst, that Lockdown was the only place to settle it, and settle it they did. For 25 minutes, these two men put on what may be the greatest match in TNA history.
In a bloody, barbaric brawl that made Kurt Angle look like the greatest in the world, and made Ken Anderson the greatest heel in the wrestling world in one night, they stole the show, and the year, from everyone.
This may well be the climax of both men's careers, and it set Anderson off on a rocket that flew him to the TNA World Heavyweight Championship and made him TNA's biggest babyface star (briefly).
In one night, TNA crafted the star that could have carried them for years, and cemented the legacy of arguably the greatest wrestler who ever lived. So yeah. It was pretty good, all things considered.
Its hard to make people really care about wrestlers anymore.
In this day and age of professional wrestling, it is harder than ever for anybody to get over as a good guy. The clean-cut heroes of yesterday come off as cheesy and lame, and the anti-heroes of today are cool but they don't inspire love from the fans. As a result, WWE and TNA struggle to push any babyfaces that anybody would pay to see.
But TNA has had one for all the years of its existence that the fans never wavered in their support for. He is the face of TNA, its heart and soul, and as trueborn and loyal to his company a wrestler as we've seen in modern days.
AJ Styles had been rewarded for that with many titles in TNA, but his World Championship wins had come before TNA had had a real main event, and he had never made it to the peaks of the company, which many feel was built on his back, since it had become a big deal.
But in 2009, he started a run to the main event that gave him the chance to get on top of a much bigger mountain than ever before. In a fatal four way with Matt Morgan, Kurt Angle and his mentor Sting, Sting climatically helped AJ win the title, ushering in a new age for TNA. The Age of Styles.
The resulting celebration between AJ, Christopher Daniels and the fans that flooded the ring is one of the greatest feel-good moments in TNA history.
Misspelling aside, on the day "They" arrived, TNA changed forever.
Its funny to think about things in retrospect, when you're in possession of all the facts. Going into Bound For Glory, the whole "They" storyline of Abyss yelling about "They" and Sting, Nash, and D'Angelo Dinero proclaiming some vague conspiracy really seemed like a failed build. Sting, Nash, and Dinero came off as crazy, paranoid heels going crazy for no reason while business as usual progressed, and Abyss was, well, Abyss.
But on the night of Bound For Glory, something happened. Brilliance happened.
First Jeff Jarrett turned on Samoa Joe, proving Sting, Nash and Dinero right all along, and totally throwing people for a loop. If Sting was right about the conspiracy, how far did it go? It didn't take long to find out, as in the triple threat main event between Ken Anderson, Kurt Angle and Jeff Hardy, Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair interfered to help...Jeff Hardy?
Jeff proceeded to annihilate the other two, win the title, and turn heel for the first time in his career and the group we now know as Immortal flooded the ring to congratulate him. It was shocking, it was unexpected, and it was incredible.
In the following weeks, Hardy would prove himself to be an uncommonly good heel, TNA's direction and focus would shift utterly to Immortal, and the entire main-event scene of TNA shifted completely. Not bad for a company that employed Cheex.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
By 2005, TNA had been around for a solid three years. First they tried a weekly PPV format which, while allowing them freedom to air whatever they felt like, just wasn't practical for getting large numbers of viewers or for giving them the opportunity to really promote their product.
Then they got a deal with Fox Sports Net, which was a step in the right direction, but the vast majority of the country didn't even get the channel. Then they got a monthly PPV deal instead with all of the big PPV outlets, but had no way to sell the PPVs without a national television show.
Then, finally, after signing recognizable talent and moving into the comfy confines of the Impact Zone, Spike TV finally made TNA's dreams come true. On Oct. 1, 2005, they hit the ground running with a match midway in progress between Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels and the rest, as they say, is history.
Over the years, the bond between Spike and TNA has grown very strong indeed, with Spike supporting them in every endeavor and allowing them to expand to two hours, then to move to prime time, then to move to Monday night prime time (and back again), and it is entirely thanks to Spike that TNA has been able to achieve the nationwide branding and awareness it possesses.
If not for Spike accepting this deal, there may not be a TNA anymore, and if there were no TNA, well, this list would seem kind of irrelevant, wouldn't it?
Despite that old saying about the industry "anything can happen in professional wrestling," there are some things that the majority of us reasonably expect to not happen. Funaki will not make a surprise return to WWE to break the Undertaker's WrestleMania streak, Repo Man wont make it into the Hall of Fame, and Ring of Honor will not employ The Ultimate Warrior.
But one of these certainties was turned on its head in 2010 as Hulk Hogan and Dixie Carter reached an agreement to bring him into TNA, and to essentially hand him the company on a silver platter, in a whirlwind month, that resulted in none other than Hulk Hogan himself walking to the ring on the very first Monday Night Impact to resounding cheers, and widespread interest.
Maybe moreso than any other moment in TNA history, this moment caused people who had no interest in TNA, or people who had tuned in to see Hulk Hogan arrive in TNA, and for once people were buzzing about TNA and what they might be able to do, or what their plans might be.
It was a hotly hyped moment that went astray later, but for that moment, as Hulk Hogan walked down the ramp to the ring in the Impact Zone, everything was right in the world.
Everything has to start somewhere. For TNA, everything started on June 19, 2002.
If you think back, the climate for wrestling was a strange one back in 2002. Vince McMahon had vanquished any and all pretenders to his throne by then, and really the only American company with an inkling of national attention was the short lived Major League Wrestling in Florida.
So, on a fishing trip, Jeff Jarrett, his father Jerry, and Bob Ryder discussed an idea for a wrestling company to skip television and go straight to weekly PPVs. Jeff took this idea and ran with it, and before long NWA: TNA was born.
The show was a mixed bag, with many kinks still being worked out (and a ring that was being rebuilt on the air while the announcers were introducing the show), but in the end, as Ken Shamrock won the Inaugural Battle Royal for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and confetti fell, it was thought to have been a success.
Nobody knew how long they would be able to survive, or if they would ever be able to compete with WWE, but a new thing was born that day, and here we are nearly a decade later discussing it.
The scope of Kurt Angle coming to TNA is almost impossible to imagine at this point, now that a great many big names have come through their doors.
But prior to Kurt Angle's entry into the company, this was a company whose biggest mainstream star was Christian, a guy who had never even made it to the main event in WWE.
Now, TNA had not only gotten a former multi-time World Champion and a man who had main-evented WrestleMania, but they got a man universally respected and adored by their fanbase.
The reaction was immediate and deafening and when he went nose to nose with Samoa Joe, the future of TNA clicked into place, and I still get goosebumps just thinking about it.
Kurt Angle was the last piece to the puzzle. TNA had arrived.
So TNA had some stars, they had some attention, and they had the platform to show their product to the world. But what they truly needed more than anything else, was something that money could not buy them. They needed credibility.
At TNA Unbreakable 2006, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels gave it to them in spades, dazzling everyone watching with an unbelievable display of athleticism and skill that no less an authority than Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer was moved to give his highest honor of 5 stars to. Making it only the second American match to earn that distinction in the decade to that point.
Many people still look on this moment as the greatest in TNA's history, and I cannot blame them. The sheer excitement of a match this great, and the upward momentum of the performers involved was a rush of excitement.
And inevitably, it led one of them to, well...
....to the single greatest moment in TNA history.
See, ever since that match at Unbreakable, Samoa Joe had made an unstoppable run to the top of TNA, bashing the brains out of anybody who stood in his way. Similarly, ever since Kurt Angle had entered TNA, he had knocked down everything in his way and established his dominance over everyone.
But for both men, the only obstacle keeping them from completely ruling the entire promotion was each other, and they clashed numerous times in amazing matches and heated feuds, showing themselves to be the hottest and most enduring feud in TNA's history.
Finally, after a few years of neither man being superior, Samoa Joe stood ready to challenge for Kurt Angle's World Championship after knocking down every obstacle Angle could put in front of him.
A brash and cocky Angle prepared for their fight with MMA expert (and Kurt Angle doppelganger) Frank Trigg, for a match billed as MMA meets Wrestling. Only one man would leave this match with the title and eternal bragging rights as the very best TNA had to offer.
After a lackluster card (including a blindfold cage match of all things), these two got in the ring, and made magic together, tearing the house down in the process. Finally, Samoa Joe hit Kurt Angle with the Muscle Buster, covered him and put all of the doubts to rest. He was the King of TNA.
This PPV is still one of the the most purchased shows in TNA's history, and it earned that on the strength of this incredible rivalry, and the promise of seeing the next big thing (sorry Brock) come to fruition. They got all they asked for and more, and if you ask a TNA fan which TNA shows he or she has bought, this will never fail to be among them.
It was TNA's shining moment, and whatever the fortunes of the company, it will never tarnish.
I hope you enjoyed this walk down memory lane. For as much fault as many of us find in TNA from time to time, it's important to remember the things that they did that keep us coming back for more.
Oh, and if those last two felt a little familiar, that's because they should be the top two entries on any list related to TNA.
But don't just take my word for it. What do you guys think is the greatest moment in TNA history?