The history of TNA has been like very long roller coaster ride. There have been quite a few good moments, but most only remember all of the times they watched on in utter shock at how bad the product really was. TNA’s disappointing decisions over the years have put them in a terrible position today. The company is essentially on its deathbed right now with a weak television deal, money being lost with every show and various lawsuits hitting the company. There was slight hope with Billy Corgan trying to get control of the company for a complete re-branding, but Dixie Carter remains in charge. A rightfully negative perception of the company has made us forget about the good times.
A World Champion can set the tone of a wrestling show. The champ basically becomes the star of the program. Like any other wrestling company, TNA has a fair share of both great and horrible champions. Their stories just happen to stand out on both ends stronger than most companies. The best wrestlers to hold the World Title delivered great work and gave TNA a chance to be relevant again. The worst title reigns did the opposite to help sink TNA to where it is today. We’ll look at both sides of history with the best eight TNA World Champions and seven worst TNA World Champions of all-time.
15 Best: Ethan Carter III
A recent success story in TNA during some of its darkest days is Ethan Carter III. WWE dropped the ball with him as Derrick Bateman. His signing by TNA and new name of EC3 allowed him to showcase his personality. Carter instantly became the most entertaining performer in the company. TNA didn’t mess around and pushed him to the moon as one of the new stars to build the promotion around.
EC3 defeated Kurt Angle to win the TNA World Championship for the first time. This was a huge moment for him as he rebounded from never getting a chance in the WWE to being the biggest star in TNA. Carter carried himself very well as a World Champion looking the part. Matt Hardy eventually defeated him twice to end both of his title reigns. Carter will be remembered fondly among the better TNA champs.
14 Worst: Jeff Hardy
Don’t get it wrong. Jeff Hardy has been the biggest star in TNA for many years now and is one of their top performers. The circumstances under which he won his first TNA World Championship are the reason it went down as a failure. Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff had control of TNA and decided to try to recreate the New World Order angle.
Hardy turned heel to form Immortal with Hogan, Bischoff and a plethora of wrestlers joining the group. His heel run was absolutely terrible. Some wrestlers can only play the face character well and Hardy is one of them. TNA created a new odd looking World Title Belt that just added another corny dynamic to his first two reigns. Hardy had a better third reign years later, but the first two with Immortal were atrocious.
13 Best: Austin Aries
Wrestling is all about moments and TNA struggled to create special moments throughout their history. One of their better moments took place when Austin Aries faced off with Bobby Roode for the TNA World Championship at Destination X 2012. Roode was the hated heel with a dominant title reign. Aries blossomed into one of the most popular wrestlers in the company via his X-Division work.
The moment of Aries upsetting Roode to win the title delivered a massive pop and a rare feel good title change in TNA. Aries did a solid job as champion but didn’t get a long reign. The few months that he did hold the title things went very well until he lost it to Jeff Hardy in another excellent match. Aries defeating Roode is a moment that will be associated with the better memories of TNA.
12 Worst: Chris Sabin
Chris Sabin is actually one of the most talented wrestlers on this list and deserved a World Championship reign. The issue is TNA did it in one of the weaker storylines for a title change. Sabin challenged Bully Ray for the TNA World Championship shortly after returning from a severe injury. You can understand TNA wanting to have his journey end with the biggest win of his career.
That was all fine, but they did nothing to establish him as a champion. Sabin was clearly a transitional champion with the way he was booked. Bully Ray defeated him less than a month later to win back the title. Sabin went back down to the X-Division and the company never treated him like a major player again. It’s a shame because with the right booking and long term planning, Sabin could have been a great champion.
11 Best: Sting
The older wrestlers in TNA did very little to help add interest to the product. Guys like Booker T treated TNA like a retirement home where they collected pay checks for lackluster work and went home. Sting could have easily done the same, in but tried his best to make the company grow. The legend held the TNA World Championship on four different occasions.
Maybe TNA should have tried to build new stars with the title instead of continuously going back to Sting, but he provided a safety net of a credible name to attract casual fans. Sting delivered enough good matches and took pride in his work as the champion. If the WWE ever purchases the library of TNA’s content, Sting’s underrated run there will be remembered more fondly.
10 Worst: Mr. Anderson
One of the worst things to happen to TNA was getting the perception that they were the home for WWE rejects. TNA signed numerous overrated talents and irrelevant names to their company over the years specifically because they once worked for WWE. Mr. Anderson was better than most of those names, but anyone could see he wasn’t World Champion material.
There was a small window of time in the WWE when Anderson was on pace to be a main eventer. His decline in work and injuries affecting him made that end quickly. TNA still tried to make it work by having him win the TNA World Championship on two occasions. Anderson did not come off as a credible champion and just made TNA look like a second rate promotion.
9 Best: Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe should be higher on the list, but that’s a testament to how poorly TNA did with him. Joe's popularity saw him worthy of being the TNA World Champion all the way back in 2006, but he did not win it until 2008. Joe defeated Kurt Angle in the main event of Lockdown 2008 in what was the most successful TNA PPV of all-time. Fans cared enough to pay the $35 to see Joe finally win the title.
Joe had a couple of very good matches during his title reign, but TNA booked him poorly. Instead of working with the more talented stars like A.J. Styles and Christian Cage, he was stuck in a long angle with an unmotivated Booker T for months. Joe tried his best and had a respectable reign, but his talent could have made him the best TNA champion of all-time. At least he’s getting a better chance in NXT today.
8 Worst: Eric Young
Eric Young's TNA career was great with him playing just about every role in the company. Despite being known for his comedy, Young had great in-ring skills. Fans could have been proud to have him as their World Champion. TNA, of course, found a way to ruin that with the reasoning for the title win. Young had his trademark beard at the time and looked rather similar to WWE’s Daniel Bryan.
TNA had Young win two matches in one night to overcome the odds and win the World Title, just days after Bryan did the same at WrestleMania XXX. The desperate attempt to try to get buzz off of copying the Bryan win did Young no favors. Viewers just laughed at TNA rather than celebrate Young. The company wasted another potential great story in the worst of ways.
7 Best: Bobby Lashley
Bobby Lashley failed to become a main event level performer in the WWE. Vince McMahon wanted Lashley to join John Cena, Randy Orton, Edge and Batista as the five relatively new stars the company was being built around. Lashley struggled and found his way to TNA. His first TNA run was a flop with nothing of note coming. TNA gave him another chance and actually made the right call for once.
Lashley has been TNA World Champion three times over the past two years. All of his reigns have gone well with him playing the dominant heel champion very well. Lashley changed his game to implement more of his MMA style and it worked perfectly when combined with his power moves. His tenure as champion has been among the bright spots in TNA’s last couple of years.
6 Worst: Magnus
Dixie Carter loved Magnus from day one and that gave him quite a few opportunities in the company. With little wrestling experience, he did a good job learning the craft on the fly in TNA. Magnus, however, was never at the caliber of the better performers in the company. The decision to have him as the one to defeat A.J.Styles in his last TNA match to win the TNA World Championship was a surprise.
Magnus was given the ball as the “chosen one” of Dixie on television to match the real life situation. The title reign of Magnus went poorly with him failing to deliver any standout performances. To make matters worse, Dixie was the one receiving all of the heat with Magnus looking like a background player while holding the title. His overinflated ego had to take a hit from having one of the worst title reigns.
5 Best: Bobby Roode
The first TNA World Championship win for Bobby Roode came in a completely different fashion than expected. Roode faced off with Kurt Angle at Bound for Glory 2011 as the determined face looking to accomplish his dream. Hulk Hogan publicly buried Roode and changed the finish for Angle to win. Angle lost it to James Storm days later. Roode turned heel by cheating to beat his best friend Storm to finally win the title.
The delay was worth it with Roode’s character change being for the best. Roode blossomed into the best heel character in TNA history as the leader of the “selfish generation. “ Fans loathed Roode, but he had quite a few great matches during his title reign. TNA put the title on him again years later and he delivered another solid reign. His NXT tenure is adding new star power to Roode’s name, but his current legacy is as an all-time great TNA World Champion.
4 Worst: Rob Van Dam
Wrestling fans were ecstatic about the news of Rob Van Dam coming to TNA. For many years, fans believed RVD could be the man to help take TNA to the next level. They needed someone with name value that could still perform with the best of them. Sadly, Van Dam showed absolutely no passion during his TNA days and he has even admitted it.
In the various podcast interviews he has done since then, RVD revealed he lost his passion at some point in the WWE and it just became a job for him. His lack of effort in TNA made his title run a complete disaster. Van Dam had a reputation in ECW and WWE for putting out the best matches on almost every show he appeared on. TNA rarely saw him ever have a standout match and he flopped as the World Champion.
3 Best: Kurt Angle
Not all of the former great WWE stars to come to TNA suffered a decline. Kurt Angle joined TNA in 2006 and spent almost a decade in the company. His work ethic was inspiring. As a highly paid legend, Angle could have been lazy like Booker T or Rob Van Dam. Instead, he stepped up his game and kept up with the younger stars. Angle had classic title bouts against A.J. Styles, Samoa Joe and countless others.
His record breaking six TNA World Championship reigns helped bring in new fans to the program. TNA could not hook the viewers, in but Angle did his job of adding credibility. Angle was actually the first official TNA World Champion when the company ditched the NWA Championship for a title under their own name. Angle had a legendary run in TNA and served as a great World Champion.
2 Worst: Mick Foley
It is almost sacrilegious to say Mick Foley is the worst at anything in wrestling, but his TNA run was a disaster. Foley did a decent job as an authority figure and a non-wrestling character on the show. The problem appeared when he wanted to get back in the ring. TNA decided to pit two legends of the past against each other with a huge match featuring Sting and Foley.
The shocking result saw Foley defeat Sting to win the TNA World Championship. Foley had no business being in the ring and looked like a shell of the performer we all loved during the Attitude Era. TNA came off as looking like a joke by putting their top prize on someone that struggled to run the ropes due to various injuries throughout his career and age. Foley winning the TNA World Championship strongly damaged the reputation of TNA and did not add any new viewers.
1 Best: A.J. Styles
No one is more synonymous with the better moments in TNA than A.J. Styles. The homegrown talent grew into one of the best wrestlers in the world and was quite frankly the face of TNA. Styles only held the TNA World Championship twice in his career showing how TNA dropped the ball with him. Despite that, both of his reigns felt right.
Styles being the TNA World Champion felt like John Cena being the WWE World Champion. The visual just made sense and represented the company perfectly. Styles always gave his best effort and took pride in being the World Champion. TNA not wanting to pay their top star and forcing him out ended up being the best thing for his career. Styles is now a New Japan legend and is currently a main event star in the WWE. TNA’s greatest World Champion wants nothing to do with the company he put on the map.
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