Word ‘Round The Inn: 20 Years, The Impact of IMPACT Wrestling

20 years is a long time.

When Impact Wrestling (formerly TNA Wrestling formerly NWA Total Non-Stop Action) had their first show on June 19, 2002, the top song on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40 Chart was“A Thousand Miles by Vanessa Carlton, the top movies were Minority Repor” and Scooby-Doo, Lennox Lewis was coming off a knockout victory over Mike Tyson eleven days prior, and just one week before Impact (then NWA-TNA) premiered on pay-per-view, “American Idol” premiered on FOX.

Now I feel old.

When Impact first launched as a weekly PPV product, it was interesting. I was curious about the first show and kept tabs on them online; I figured it’d be like some of the other promotions that popped up to try to fill the void of WCW and ECW like World Wrestling All-Stars, WXO and the XWF. The majority of the promotions that popped up in that time frame lasted anywhere from one show to several years and multiple pay-per-views. I expected Impact to be about the same.

Time has gone on and Impact/TNA has chugged along full of ups (Spike TV, signing Kurt Angle) and downs (the Hogan/Bischoff era, nearly going out of business before being purchased by Anthem), but has stayed pretty constant throughout the years. As Impact turns 20 this year (but not old enough to drink in the US yet), it was the perfect time to gather together some of the crew here at Wrestle Inn and reminisce about our memories of Impact/TNA, our favorite matches, moments, and more.

The panel:
Libby Cadman
Corey Michaels
Steve H

When did you first discover Impact/TNA? What drew you in?
Alex: I started watching TNA around 2009. WWE had gone PG and their matches had slipped into the ‘5 moves of doom’ format. It was no longer a product aimed at me. I wasn’t as aware of the industry as I am now, so I guess the main draw was they had some big names, like Angle, Jeff Hardy, Team 3D, and Sting. They were also doing more hardcore/ECW-style matches, which was definitely important to me as a viewer back then. 

Adam: I first heard about TNA when they launched in 2002, I followed them online and was excited when they had stars like Ken Shamrock, Ron Killings, Scott Hall and whatnot at the beginning. The first time I actually saw a TNA pay-per-view was a “best of” special that was priced at 1 cent on PPV. I thought it was so cool. I don’t remember exactly what drew me in to begin with but over the years I felt like they were a good alternative to WWE when they really started to hit their stride around 2005.

Steve: It was when they first got a TV deal in the UK in the mid 2000’s. I knew some of the names and had read about TNA in the Observer and PWI. I had to check it out and have watched every week since. There has been no other company that has had the roster TNA/ Impact has had – Hogan, Flair, Nash, Hall, Savage, Cody, Sting, Omega, Jarrett, Mickie, Okada, Angle, Styles, Joe, Gail, Punk, Lashley, Drew, somebody stop me!

Corey: I believe my brother had shown me what TNA was like. I’d wonder where various stars from WWF/E and WCW had gone, and he’d often say they went to Japan, Mexico, some other places, or TNA. Once I got around to watching it with him, I understood why he was excited. He was miffed, absolutely miffed at the direction that WWE had been heading in, especially with Triple H’s reign of terror. I vaguely remember being captivated by the usual people you’d see people tout – Samoa Joe, Kurt Angle, Christian Cage, AJ Styles, Sting, Jeff Hardy, Shark Boy, and Abyss (I always wanted a match between him and Mankind).

Libby: I’ll be honest, I most likely came to discover TNA/Impact the last out of everyone here. Where there was no way for me to watch wrestling growing up, the internet provided me with a back catalogue of content I had missed. I found myself discovering so many of those who I loved had indeed run through the company at some time, for better or for worse. My viewing was driven around past must-see moments, the creative endeavours and talents that would go on within the promotion in the last few years, and eventually it left me no choice to see what’s going on week to week.

Credit: IMPACT Wrestling

What are some of your favorite Impact/TNA matches and moments?
Alex: Motor City Machine Guns versus Beer Money (2010) had a best of five series, in which every match had a different stipulation. The best of those was a 2/3 falls match, and it was the best I had seen until DIY vs The Revival. 

Adam: Wow, there are really so many! I’ll go with the first match I heard about in TNA being an absolute must watch, the cage match from 2003 with America’s Most Wanted (James Storm & Chris Harris) against Triple X (Christopher Daniels & Elix Skipper). I watched it on a “best of” DVD and it was bloody, violent and really, really good. Then those two teams went and topped themselves at the Turning Point 2004 pay-per-view which featured the famous Elix Skipper cage walk.

Steve: The first storyline that really had me invested was the Jay Lethal, So Cal Val and Sonjay Dutt relationship. It probably hasn’t aged well, but at the time was very entertaining with some solid in-ring matches as well. In terms of matches there are lots, the first Samoa Joe and Kurt Angle match was such a different style to anything I had seen previously. Angle also had some great matches with Desmond Wolfe (Nigel McGuinness). Two title changes particularly stick in my mind: firstly Taylor Wilde dethroning Awesome Kong in a really underrated match, and my home county wrestler Magnus (Nick Aldis) winning the World Championship. The one that really stands out as ground-breaking though was the Final Deletion. I loved, and still love, everything about it – Vanguard 1, Skarsgard, Senor Benjamin, and everything else about the Broken Matt universe.   

Corey: There are a couple. One of them is the Six Sides of Steel cage match from Lockdown 2009 between Mick Foley and Sting. Foley exudes the mythic Cactus Jack while holding back the WCW stalwart as they fought for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship. Not knowing much about ECW, of Foley and Sting’s rivalry in WCW, this instead felt like two sides of my childhood coming together – Attitude Era vs Nitro Era, as Foley became violence incarnate and Sting was the ace we all knew him as. The other match is the unforgettable, legendary triple threat match from Unbreakable 2005. When my brother watched this, I didn’t know who these guys were, but Samoa Joe looked different, and I wanted him to win. While I didn’t exactly remember the plot points in the match until I watched it as an adult, I remember that I was hooked from bell to bell.

Libby: Kurt Angle ending Samoa Joe’s unbeaten streak at Genesis 2006, The Final Deletion, Deonna Purrazzo’s growth into a star, and the match that replays forever in my mind – Generation Me vs The Motor City Machine Guns in an empty arena. No audience, no entrances, only a new level of sour violence epitomized by using their high flying abilities in inventively brutal fashion. My jaw still drops when Max (Matt Jackson) shouts ‘Is that all you got, huh?’ and spits in each of the MCMG’s faces, only to be kicked into another dimension. I have to say, discovering the Generation Me gimmick after watching the Young Bucks in Japan was hilarious but equally insightful. It’s worth watching just to see how Bucks have grown into who they are today, plus you get to see MCMG’s in action if you haven’t already!

Who would you consider “synonymous” with Impact or TNA?
Alex: TNA are always ahead of the curve. Things happen in TNA before they are popularised elsewhere. Before Mox kicked open the Forbidden Door, TNA had working relationships with Shimmer, ROH, NJPW, etc. The X-Division was a pathway to greatness in TNA, regardless of whether wrestlers had a bodybuilder physique. A lot of the industry’s biggest stars have gone through TNA, and they got their start in the X-Division. TNA arguably had the best tag team division in the world in the 2010’s. The matches between Beer Money and MCMG are still amongst the best I have seen. They were positioning tag wrestling as important, when most western promotions treated it as a side show. Women were always positioned strongly. They were all given time to get their characters and stories over, and time in the ring to tell a story. While Gail Kim was eliminating herself from WWE battle royales and AJ Lee was championing the #GiveDivasAChance movement, TNA women were in the main event and their Knockouts Division was presented as a main draw. 

Adam: A.J. Styles and Kurt Angle are the first that come to mind when I think of TNA. Then there’s also the Knockouts division and people like Gail Kim and Awesome Kong, who had an amazing series of matches together.

Steve: A.J. Styles is still who I associate most with TNA/Impact (even though the next name that then comes to mind embarrassingly is Claire Lynch). Gail Kim was the standout of the Knockouts division having amazing matches with Awesome Kong and Taryn Terrell. The Motor City Machine Guns had some of the best tag team matches of all time and helped elevate a young team called Generation Me (Young Bucks). The final name I want to mention may be a surprise due to his history with Ring of Honor, but for me, Eddie Edwards helped save Impact during it’s darkest days in 2016/2017 by being a standout performer when so many top stars had left the company. 

Corey: For better or worse, to me it is synonymous with its own past. For some, it was the glory days of an unreal roster of people who were to become stars, who were already stars, and those who were legends. For others, it is remembered for bad booking and moments when wrestlers were just not having the best time in terms of fan expectation. The Bischoff and Hogan run, the Dixie Carter era – it’s really a mixed bag, which is a shame because the talent is there, the passion is there, and the fanbase is still there, through thick and thin. Impact just feels like there’s nothing it can do to please anybody anymore because the stench of what went wrong will blind everyone with its fumes while great wrestlers put on a great showing. But, the memories of the glory days will always shine as everyone sticks with it. Maybe Impact will see a Renaissance once again, maybe not, but it’s here to stay.

Libby: There’s an element of disaster that comes to mind when thinking about the tales of TNA, mostly told by its frustrated performers, but there’s no denying its strength as a trailblazing platform for talent outside the WWE confines, and its connections with other promotions. Particularly, the X-Division, women’s division, and now intergender competition, were built from the ground up through highlighting diverse devoted talent and making bold creative choices.

Credit: IMPACT Wrestling

If someone was a first time viewer to Impact, where would you recommend they start?
Alex: As with any promotion, start with the most recent PPV until you’re caught up. The next big one is Slammiversary (June 19th). Then go back and watch their best ever matches. 

Adam: I’ve always found when I’m a first time viewer to a new promotion, to watch the best matches or a “Best Of” compilation, of which there are several uploaded to Impact Plus, including all the old DVD releases. It all depends on taste too. If you like more hardcore wrestling then watch the “Bloodiest Brawls” compilations, high-flying then one of several X-Division compilations. There are also ones for Kurt Angle, Christian Cage, A.J. Styles, etc. Those are probably the best place to start.

Steve: If you like the Monday Night Wars period, I would start with the March 8th 2010 episode of TNA Impact. This was the show where TNA first went head to head with Monday Night RAW. If you favour great wrestling, however, I would start with Bound for Glory 2007 featuring the Steiners versus Team 3D (Dudley’s), Samoa Joe versus Christian, and Sting versus Angle.

Corey: I’d say to start with 2005. To my memory and in some of the free pay-per-view events from the past shown on YouTube, the early years were hit and miss, with the typical early 2000’s culture prevalent in outdated mindsets and attitudes and styles. From 2005 onward to somewhere in the 2010s, TNA/Impact had been a great alternative, while straying away from the image that WWE had been intoxicated with when unchallenged. 

Libby: While there are so many iconic matches of the past, I would be eager to show the beating heart and calibre of what Impact offers now, the stars of now and the future: Josh Alexander, Ace Austin, Chris Bey, Speedball Mike Bailey, Deonna Purazzo, Jordynne Grace, Tasha Steelz and Rosemary (just to name a few!). If you’re unsure about talent you haven’t seen before, I would say one of the recent compelling starting points for many fans was, and is, Kenny Omega’s title reign and the NJPW appearances as of late. Give those full episodes and PPVs a full watch through, and through faces you may recognise, you might just discover your new favourite or be taken on a journey through Impact’s juicy past. 

One of the novelties of TNA/Impact was the six-sided ring that they’ve used on and off over the years. Did you like the six-sided ring?
Alex: There were some great matches in the six-sided ring, and it was certainly unique. However, most wrestlers who have spoken about it have said the ring is the worst to bump on. Not sure I would say the novelty is worth that.

Adam: It was interesting to see and was a curiosity for sure. I think the six-sided ring also sort of defines TNA and gave them an identity to a point prior to the Hogan/Bischoff era beginning in 2010. I know they went back to it for a time too, but that’s when I wasn’t really keeping up with Impact/TNA so I can’t really speak to that. But from 2004-2010, I thought it was pretty cool.

Steve: I was never the biggest fan of the six sided ring, although it did lead to some unique dives and spots in X-Division matches. It must have been so difficult for wrestlers joining TNA to adjust having been used to performing in the traditional squared circle.

Corey: Not only was it exciting for the X-Division matches, but it was just a cool and weird visual that I hadn’t seen before. You know what? If they bring that back, that’ll single-handedly improve the product. Don’t even worry about doing anything else, just gimme dat six, baby! All jokes aside, it’s probably for the best that we inch away from that.

Libby: It was totally unnecessary and yet, I always found myself endeared by it. Wrestling, at its best, is when it challenges itself to seek new developments in creativity. Tradition is entrenched, and fundamental, to wrestling. The 6 sides provided a need for a different approach to angles of attacks or big spots. Was it just a ploy just to ‘look’ different to WWE and provide a unique talking point? Absolutely. However, I enjoyed the camera exploring different angles it could capture action from, but I’m not so sure the wrestlers would agree. 

Credit: IMPACT Wrestling

On the topic of novelties, there’s been some unique gimmick match types in Impact over the years like King of the Mountain and Ultimate X. What gimmick match that Impact has come up with is your favorite?
Alex: Definitely the Ultimate X match, Bound for Glory 2009 had my favourite. Amazing Red picking up the win vs Christopher Daniels, Suicide, Homicide and MCMG. That match had some crazy spots and interesting psychology, with MCMG competing as singles against each other.

Adam: That’s a tough one! I think my favorite would be the Ultimate X Match, mainly because it added something new. Instead of climbing a ladder and grabbing something suspended above the ring, you now had to do a high-wire act and shimmy across some cables to grab the object. It definitely made for some stunning visuals and wild spots. The two best ones that come to mind for me are the first one on August 20, 2003 between Michael Shane, Chris Sabin and Kazarian, and then the match from Final Resolution 2005 with A.J. Styles, Petey Williams and Chris Sabin.

Steve: Some of the gimmick matches in TNA were confusing (King of the Mountain) and bizarre (The Lockbox Challenge). The one I enjoyed the most was the Feast or Fired match where there were four briefcases above the corners of the ring. Three of them contained title shots and the other led to the retriever getting fired, leading to some great reveals as the briefcases were opened.

Corey: Either the Ultimate X match or the Six Sides of Steel cage match. Those were incredibly fun to watch! I know the latter goes against what I said in the previous section, but this is my paragraph, not yours. If you have a problem with that, then I’ll add the reverse battle royale. Don’t push me.

Libby: We’re all Ultimate X marks here! A genius small edition to the ring that brought, and still brings, many innovations in offense and defense.TNA often liked to confuse its attempts at gimmick matches with a lack of clarity and abuse of concept, such as an entire PPV in a steel cage which slowly  killed any special feeling that came with a cage match that night. However, later down the line they brilliantly provided the environment to champion the cinematic match. These again really are a credit to the wrestlers story skills and Impact production crew coming together. Comparing Matt Hardy’s ability to have authority on his narrative to the tragic poor edit of Ethan Page v Karate Man (shown after Ethan had actually left for AEW) is like night and day. 

After 20 years, various iterations and different names, what do you feel is the legacy of Impact Wrestling?
Alex: Nearly every promotion has prominent stars who come from TNA/Impact. From the Young Bucks (Generation Me) to AJ Styles, their fingerprints are all over the industry. 

Adam: In the beginning, they were just a place for wrestlers to come and work after WCW and ECW had shut down. Now, they’re one of the leading wrestling companies in North America. For me though, it’s the fact they helped a ton of wrestlers get noticed like Samoa Joe, A.J. Styles and others who went on to have great careers. It’s now also a place where new and upcoming stars can go to get work and experience on a bigger stage. Are they as prominent as they once were when they were on Spike TV? No. But still, they’ve settled into a good little niche as a sort of “under the radar” place and don’t really try to be anything more than they currently are. But overall, they’ve left a great impact (no pun intended) in wrestling as a place that helps develop young stars and get them ready for bigger and better things down the line.

Steve: It has provided an alternative and allowed wrestlers to earn a living during periods where the WWE had a lack of competition. It has been the main reason for the popularity of women’s wrestling in North America. It has given opportunities to so many and has a current roster that includes performers that will become guaranteed bigger stars in the next decade.

Corey: The legacy of Impact will be that it was a home before AEW and was a spot for people like me who didn’t know about Ring of Honor, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Chikara, NJPW, or any other promotion out there. Whether or not it was a failed WWE star, a WWE talent who wanted to shake things up with something new, or up-and-comers, Impact brought something for everyone. It gave that WCW feel while adding what was happening on the independent scene and let fans into a world where not every man had to be a musclebound behemoth or women with objectified assets. Furthermore, Impact wrestling was the groundswell from which sprung talents and match ideas that weren’t as popular yet, all because they were able to give chances, to their advantage and to their detriment. Though people joke now, Impact has had its recent ups, with Josh Alexander eventually getting that title run he deserves, Mickie James representing the Knockouts at the 2022 Royal Rumble (she wasn’t in danger like I was), W. Morrisey appeared on Dynamite, or Kenny’s title defences when he won the Impact and TNA titles before losing them to Christian Cage. Even as the history-making Bullet Club takes up residence there when not in home territory, Impact still holds the image that it is still important to the industry, even today, even among the jokes of certain circles of wrestling fans. 

Libby: The up and downs of its journey have been memorable, iconic, and always innovative. Its power and lasting imprint on the world is embodied by the wrestlers both past and present. They are the walking, talking, fighting legacies. Whether shining bright in the well crafted spotlight or buried beneath completely ridiculous stories, whether it was someone of veteran or indie circuit fame, its ring always laid the foundations for wrestlers to express who they are. Even now, the Impact Zone and all its possibilities still finds a way to surprise me. 

Here’s to another 20 years!