Believe it or not, there was a time when TNA was the most promising young promotion in North America.
From June 2002 until September 2004 the fledgling company ran their weekly shows from a venue that received the nickname the TNA Asylum.
The crowd, though small, were always electric for the action they were seeing, and the future looked bright for the innovative group.
During these formative years there were countless classic encounters. Some took pride of place at the top of the card, whilst others could be found jerking the curtain. In either case they were instrumental in making TNA a force to be reckoned with. So many of these matches took place that the company has since released two DVD sets featuring some of the very best from the era, though there are notable exceptions.
The Asylum years were exciting, dynamic, and very buzzword friendly. Here are just a few of the best matches from those halcyon days.
The early success of TNA was due to a confluence of many factors, chief among them being the show stealing X-Division. A perfect example of this can be found on the 11th weekly PPV from 2002 which saw AJ Styles, Low Ki, and Jerry Lynn compete in a Ladder Match for the X-Division Championship.
This main even contest is everything that a high spot based match needed to be before the Canadian Destroyer era numbed every audience to such fare. It was fast paced, but thoughtful. Each competitor unleashed some wild moves to bring the audience to their feet but then mixed in a little more traditional wrestling so that the match made sense and had a nice ebb and flow to it.
It’s often overlooked just how talented Jerry Lynn was. He was not only a superb athlete but also a veteran presence who could guide his younger opponents to a better match than they might normally be capable of. In this particular instance he took the talented but somewhat reckless Low Ki, as well as a young AJ Styles who was still honing his craft and led them through a twenty-minute clash that hit all the right notes.
The commentary did their job perfectly too as they built the excitement through their energetic reactions whilst also hammering home the fact that Lynn was the only member of the match to have never held the gold, thus making it clear that this was do or die for him.
If you have an interest in the early days of TNA then you could do a lot worse than checking out this match to get a sense of what it was all about.
Alongisde the X-Division was the unbelievably stacked Tag Team Division in TNA. For years it was unequivocally the best in the business. That was, in large part, thanks to matches such as Triple X vs. America’s Most Wanted from June 2003.
Christopher Daniels, Elix Skipper, James Storm, and Chris Harris went into that ring and proved to the world that, at the time, no one was better than them at what they did. It helps that this was TNA’s first ever Cage Match and so the excitement was dialled up to eleven from the get go.
The pace can best be described as frenetic as both teams utilised their environment to full effect. This match serves as a reminder that Elix Skipper really was a shining star back in the early 2000’s. He springs around with wanton abandon and elicits a roar from the crowd that makes them seem to double in number when he delivers a Crossbody from the top of the cage.
If you ever let Harris’ time in WWE define him in your eyes, then please go and watch this match. He’s agile, impactful, and impressive beyond measure. He and James Storm blended so well as a tag team that it’s a true shame they were broken up in later years.
This is what gimmick match tag team wrestling should be and it is glorious.
We’ve now had ladders and a cage, so up next it’s time for some tables.
At their 83rd weekly PPV, TNA pitted AJ Styles against Abyss in Best of Two Falls Tables Match. Now that may sound like another of their needlessly convoluted gimmick matches but it was in fact a stroke of genius. The added element of two table breaks being necessary to win made for a much more exciting encounter as the tension was ratcheted up due to Abyss taking an early lead.
David versus Goliath encounters make for some of the best wrestling matches going. That is doubly true when the Goliath of the equation is as athletic as Abyss was in 2003. He could bump like nobody’s business whilst still being a terrifying presence in the ring. People like to compare him to Undertaker and Kane but really, he’s more akin to Leatherface (though not the one of Deathmatch fame).
Styles is a more polished version of himself to the one referenced in the first entry. He is still highly athletic, using his speed to his advantage against a much larger foe. With experience though, he has also become a more effective storyteller and that is apparent as he struggles to find a way to put the monster through a table.
Not even the last-minute interference from Lex Luger can detract from this classic. Both men work hard throughout, and the overarching storyline adds meaning and depth to an already excellent match. Abyss always worked well with smaller opponents, and AJ might have been the best of them.
Sometimes in wrestling a match becomes a beloved classic not due to the action that took place in between the bells, but rather due to the emotion and circumstance surrounding it. That was the case when Ron Killings defeated Ken Shamrock for the NWA Worlds Championship on TNA’s eighth show.
The match itself was nothing special. Ken wasn’t all that great in the first place and not even the unorthodox offence of Killings could make up for that. Add to that the fact that there was some really awkward interference towards the end, and you have the makings of a below average match.
However, this was the first and only time that the legendary Ron Killings won a World Title. He’s a man who overcame a hard upbringing in a poor neighbourhood, going to prison, and being cut from the WWF after finally getting there. The crowd were simply happy to see an inspiring figure get his due and be recognised as one of the top talents in the world.
It was a feel-good moment and very little can compare to that. The truth is that you could still get the same reaction if WWE ran the same story with him today, such is the enduring popularity of the incredibly charismatic R-Truth.
Finally, no article about TNA would be complete without acknowledging the contributions of one Jeff Jarrett. In this case its his World Title defence against Raven from April 2003 that takes centre stage.
This features the earliest examples of TNA going back to the ECW well but at least in this case they were doing it before it had run dry.
Raven receives help throughout from Alexis (Mickie James), Julio Dinero, and the Extreme Revolution. It may be overbooked but it’s still a satisfying brawl that features blood, a valiant babyface, and seemingly insurmountable odds. Essentially it has everything a truly good match has ever needed.
Jeff may get a lot of stick for booking himself at the top for so long, but it cannot be denied that he worked his ass off whilst he was there. He made his opponents look good even as he defeated them and never was he quite the level of burial artist that Triple H used to be.
Raven, for his part, has always been a smart worker who knows how to get connect with a crowd and bring them into whatever it is he is doing. That is on show in this contest as he works as a heel more effectively than 99% of current stars.
Overall, this is a fun watch and sent the crowd home happy. It’s well worth checking out even if it isn’t as exciting as some of the other entries.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @Impers0nalJesus. Thanks for reading!