If you’re a true professional wrestling fan, you tend to not ally yourself with one wrestling company over another. Oh sure you may have a personal favorite, but your heart is always open to great wrestling wherever it may come from.
Even still, it’s hard to fault the legion of wrestling fans out there who approach the idea of TNA wrestling the same way that you may approach a shadowy figure at the end of a dark alley. When the ultimate history of TNA is written, it’s easy to imagine that a good bit of it will be devoted to telling stories of the company’s legendary missteps. TNA Wrestling has not only made traditionally awful business decisions such as poorly considered contracts and trying to make a weekly PPV revenue model viable, but they have also gone above and beyond the realm of traditional awfulness by filling their air time with such quality content as jokes involving midgets pleasuring themselves in trash cans. If you were somehow able to stretch the entire history of TNA content across a giant wall and threw a dart at it, the odds are quite good that you would hit one of the worst booking decisions this side of late ‘90s WCW in the process.
However, occasionally you may find yourself surprised to land on an all-time great match.
As awful as TNA has been throughout much of their run, the company was notorious for providing matches that were as great as any other wrestling promotion can lay claim to. While we’d all like to forget about such rousing storylines as Abyss’ magical Hall of Fame ring, you can’t talk about the bad of TNA without balancing it with the good.
Here are 15 matches that help remind us that TNA wasn’t all bad.
15 The Wolves vs. Team 3D vs. The Hardys - Impact Wrestling (10/8/14)
In 2014, these three teams engaged in a prolonged war over the TNA Tag Team Championship that led to some of the very best matches in the history of the promotion. However, they would save the best for last in this epic Full Metal Mayhem match. While Full Metal Mayhem is essentially an off-brand phrase for a TLC match, there was nothing off-brand about the action itself. Featuring a series of callbacks to all previous matches, as well as a few spots nobody saw coming, everyone involved in this contest pulled out a match that could easily stand toe to toe with any WWE tag contest.
14 NWA World Heavyweight: Christian Cage vs. Samoa Joe - Destination X 2007
There’s a funny story that gets floated around from time to time that the reason Christian returned to WWE is that he got tired of everyone asking why he didn’t wrestle anymore, even though he was a member of TNA. Christian’s time in TNA actually helped to elevate him to the status of main event player, and much of that acclaim resulted from this match. Playing off the story that Christian could not beat the monstrous Joe in a straight contest, the champion instead used every dirty tactic available to him to survive Joe’s onslaught. By the time that Christian turned Joe’s submission finisher into a rope-assisted pinfall victory, he was cemented as a true star.
13 Steel Cage Match: AJ Styles vs. Abyss - Lockdown 2005
Abyss is a strange part of TNA history. Though a participant in some of the absolute worst storylines the company ever wrote, he also happened to enjoy a run as one of the best monster performers in recent wrestling history. The best match of that run would have to be this steel cage showdown with AJ Styles for the no.1 contendership. Locked in a cage with Abyss, Styles endured a beating on par with the famous one that The Undertaker gave Shawn Michaels in their Hell in a Cell encounter. Only through landing two super finishers on a bed of thumbtacks was AJ Styles able to win.
12 Kurt Angle Vs Samoa Joe - Lockdown 2008
Samoa Joe and Kurt Angle had been feuding for nearly a year and a half before they met in this steel cage match. Though they had participated in a number of great matches during that time, they used the steel cage stipulation to turn this contest into an MMA-style affair that played off of both men’s considerable mat skills.
While their chain wrestling was great as always, the real highlight of this one was both men’s determination to show how hard they could hit each other while still being able to carry on. This is a simply brutal match that ranks among both men’s very best.
11 Kurt Angle vs. Desmond Wolfe - Final Resolution 2009
Desmond Wolfe made his name on the independent circuit as Nigel McGuinness and, along with Daniel Bryan, was believed to be one of the top wrestling prospects of his time. Although injuries would derail his career, he got the chance to show off on the national stage with this match against Kurt Angle at Turning Point 2009. Built around the story of Wolfe trying to prove he could match Kurt Angle in wrestling ability, these two engaged in a back-and-forth contest that eventually forced Wolfe to turn to his brawling abilities in order to keep up. It’s an exceedingly clever match that proved to be the perfect way to introduce Wolfe, despite his eventual loss.
10 Texas Death Match: James Storm vs. Chris Harris - Sacrifice 2007
Given that TNA started off as an NWA company, perhaps it should be no surprise that they’ve got plenty of old-school, southern-style violent wrestling matches to their name. Still, this match between former partners James Storm and Chris Harris managed to surprise just about everyone with both its quality and brutality. As the follow-up to a truly awful blindfold contest, these two went out and absolutely manhandled each other with straight punches and a variety of weapons. So much blood was spilled in this contest that they had to change the ring gear following the bout but, at the end of it all, these two gave us an instant classic.
9 AJ Styles vs. Kurt Angle - Slammiversary 2008
There’s a strong argument to be made that AJ Styles and Kurt Angle are the two best in-ring performers to ever set foot in TNA. Their ability to cut through the thick layer of awful decisions that TNA regularly makes to produce something simply incredible has never been made more evident than it was in this match. Despite the unfortunate love triangle involvement of Karen Angle that diluted their rivalry at the time, Styles and Angle went out there and put on a human highlight reel during this epic showdown that featured the very best these considerable performers have to offer.
8 TNA Contract Match: Austin Aries vs. Low Ki vs. Jack Evans vs. Zema Ion - Destination X 2011
The one thing that nobody ever denied about TNA was that the company’s X-Division was perhaps their greatest contribution to the world of pro wrestling. While the quality of the X-Division had been waning by the time this contract match came about, these four men went out there and restored that name to greatness once more. Everyone involved in this contest is capable of working at breathless speeds, and that’s exactly what we got here in a match that was too fast for even the announcers to call. Best of all, Austin Aries walked away the eventual winner and began his incredible initial run at the top.
7 30 Minute Iron Man Match: AJ Styles vs. Christopher Daniels - Bound For Glory 2005
Christopher Daniels and AJ Styles were performing at such an unbelievably high level in 2005 that TNA was able to essentially use them as a cheat code for success. Whenever they needed to have a great match, they just rolled these two out. This particular bout was something of a coming out party for Daniels who had mostly been featured as a tag-team specialist to this point. At the end of this 30-minute Iron Man match, he had fans everywhere split between who the best overall wrestler in the company really was, even though AJ would grab the win in this one during overtime.
6 No DQ: Gail Kim vs. Awesome Kong - Final Resolution 2008
Well before the “Divas Revolution,” TNA had a women’s wrestling revolution of their own as their Knockouts Division rose to prominence in the mid-2000s. The driving force behind this revolution was the combined efforts of Gail Kim and Awesome Kong who finally got the chance to steal the show in this very rare No DQ women’s match. Awesome Kong used her size advantage to inflict her own brand of violence upon Gail Kim while Kim used every weapon at her disposal as an equalizer.
By virtue of both performers being absolutely fearless, this ended up being one of the most intense hardcore matches of the modern era.
5 AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe - Turning Point 2005
There are few better examples of how to book a wrestler to look strong than the case of Samoa Joe during his first year in TNA. Not only did Joe not suffer a pinfall or submission during this time, but he absolutely destroyed every wrestler that dared to step foot in the ring with him. In fact, it is because of Joe’s level of violence against Christopher Daniels in the match before this one that AJ Styles decided to step up and challenge him. This proved to be an ill-informed decision as Styles would become just another of Joe’s victims, despite giving him the best match of his life until this point.
4 America's Most Wanted Vs Triple X - Turning Point 2004
Along with the X-Division, the one thing that you could always rely on TNA to do better than WWE during the company’s early days was classic tag team wrestling. Interestingly, this match was a combination of both those qualities as the old-school style America’s Most Wanted took on the X-Division-style tag team of Triple X. While America’s Most Wanted would dominate much of this match via simple violence, it would prove to be the high-flying antics of Triple X that stole the show as Elix Skipper performed a tightrope walk atop the steel cage into a Hurricanrana in what is considered to be one of the most dangerous spots in wrestling history.
3 The Latin American Xchange vs. AJ Styles And Christopher Daniels - No Surrender 2006
Though the team of LAX was often hindered by their inconsistent in-ring performances, on occasion they were capable of putting on matches that nobody could follow. There is no greater example of this than their famous showdown against the veteran team of AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels. This is one of the greatest cases of an “anything you can do, I can do better” type of exhibition contest that you’ll ever find, as these teams seemed determined to find out just who could pull off the most dangerous spot. Capped off by a spectacular dive by Christopher Daniels to grab the titles, this is one of those rare matches that leaves you truly breathless.
2 Kurt Angle vs. Samoa Joe - Turning Point 2006
When Kurt Angle debuted in TNA to take on the still technically undefeated Samoa Joe, TNA found themselves as the hosts of a rare modern day dream match. Unfortunately, the match itself would prove to be something of a disappointment, as Angle and Joe were still trying to figure each other out.
Luckily for fans everywhere, these two got the chance to make up for that shortcoming shortly thereafter with this incredible rematch. Samoa Joe went into this match determined not to submit at any cost, and his headstrong approach forced Kurt Angle to enter that next level of intensity that made him so famous. This one was everything that fans wanted from the original bout and then some.
1 Christopher Daniels vs. AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe - Unbreakable 2005
Not only is this match widely agreed to be the greatest match in the history of TNA wrestling, but it is also considered by many to be quite simply the greatest triple threat match ever. Not only did it feature three of the very best wrestlers in the world in their athletic primes, but there were enough storylines going on between them to ensure that emotion fueled every possible pairing. What truly makes this one so special, though is the way that Joe Daniels and Styles refused to fall into the traps of triple threat match clichés, and instead created some of the most innovative three-man spots ever witnessed.