The early days of TNA (now Impact) Wrestling's existence saw the promotion aired events in the Fairgrounds Arena of Nashville Tennessee from July of 2002 until October of 2004 in a period known to some as 'The Asylum Era' after Ron "The Truth" Killings aka R-Truth cut a promo on one of the early weekly pay per views and proclaimed the Fairgrounds arena as 'The TNA Asylum'.
During this time period, a combination of the old school ideals of the NWA from the 70's and 80's would collide with the over the top style of action and storytelling that TNA would be recognized for and this would result in a combination of past and present coming together in a way that at times felt special and other times a little nonsensical.
Some of the best things to have defined the company occurred during this era and today I be mentioning the ten best things about this underrated and underappreciated era.
10. The Surprise Factor
After Vince McMahon 'Bought His Competition' in 2001 following the shutdowns of ECW and WCW, many wrestlers who worked in those promotions were left without a place to compete and collect a paycheck.
While some names were able to find success and longevity in the WWE others didn't, so when a new promotion like NWA TNA arrived on the scenes, many of those wrestlers saw this as a new place to call home.
Names like the Road Warriors, Raven, Jerry Lynn, Ken Shamrock, Dusty Rhodes, The Sandman, Ricky Steamboat, Sting, Vader and Larry Zbyszko as just some of the famous wrestlers who appeared in the early days of TNA and their name recognition helped to get new fans interested in the product.
Almost similar to Impact and AEW during the Covid-19 era, many fans and critics were kept in the dark on whether or not a wrestler/s would be appearing on future shows, which added a sense of intrigue to see who would be showing up and this got the company some mainstream attention and helped in it's longevity.
9. The World X Cup Tournament
There have been a few memorable tournaments in TNA/Impact's history like the Bound For Glory Series from 2011-13, but perhaps the most famous tournament that the company has ever done is the World X Cup Tournament.
The World X Cup was a tournament made to get wrestlers from across the globe who wrestled in that cruiserweight style of wrestling a platform to show off their skills and to get a shot at the X Division Championship.
In 2003, the first tournament saw wrestlers like Juventud Guerrera, Jerry Lynn, Frankie Kazarian, Teddy Hart and eventual winner of the inaugural tournament, Chris Sabin taking part in matches that proved that the company had a winning concept on their hands.
Fast forward a year later and the company would have not one but two X Cup tournaments with the American X Cup tournament being the a preview of sorts for the World X Cup which would see teams representing America (also NWA TNA), Mexico, Canada, Britain and Japan to gather enough points to make it into the end. The finals saw Petey Williams, Chris Sabin and Hector Garza (Father of Garza Jr. aka Angel Garza) compete in a triple threat Ultimate X match which saw Sabin once again picking up the victory for NWA TNA and the U.S.A.
The company would continue to using the World X Cup Tournaments from 2005-2008 until bringing it back most recently at Genesis 2021 which was won by Ace Austin, former X Division Champion in his own right.
The tournament was used as a launching pad for some of the company's future stars and it also allowed the company to expand it's reach across the globe by gathering all of this international talent to participate in these events.
8. Mike Tenay And Don West
It's no secret that commentary in modern day pro wrestling isn't as good as it used to be, with many now sounding scripted and almost emotionless when delivering their lines for moments that should the best thing on TV or pay per view.
For fans of TNA Wrestling back in the day however, the commentary was one of the great things about the show thanks to Mike Tenay and Don West.
On their own both Mike and Don bring something special to the commentary table with Tenay being the serious, bookworm type of guy ready to inform the fans and viewers at home what their watching, who's wrestling and what exactly is going on...hence his nickname "The Professor".
Don West, despite having no experiencing in calling pro wrestling matches did have a background in broadcasting and being a pitchman, he knew how to sell the audience on what they were watching or why they should come back next week to watch more; It also probably helps that DW's reactions to the matches were similar to that of the viewers and his soundbites like "WHAT!...You've Got To Be Kidding!?!" have become legendary.
The two men played off each other wonderfully on commentary with Tenay being more of the straight man to West's energetic nature, in fact the duo worked so well they had their own mini segment on the pay per views called "The Interrogators".
Overall, it's thanks to their chemistry as a team at the commentary table that has helped to make them such a memorable duo in the company's history.
7. Memorable NWA World Title Wins
In the early days of NWA TNA, the company focused on tradition much like the original NWA and it was during this period when some of the most iconic title wins in the company's early history would take place.
On the very first show former UFC fighter and WWE Intercontinental champion, Ken Shamrock won a battle royal to not only win the vacant NWA World Title and also becoming the first ever world champion in company history. While Shamrock's reign may not have been all that memorable after winning the belt, it was his title match against Ron Killings that led to another historic moment.
On August 7th 2002, the future R-Truth got himself a shot at the NWA World Heavyweight Championship with the end result seeing Truth become the first African American wrestler to be recognized as NWA World Champion, at title Killings would hold two titles with his first reign clocking in at 105 days.
While the title would end up around the shoulders of Jeff Jarrett for a majority of the Asylum Era much to the dismay of the audience, those first two reigns with Shamrock and Killings plus another one that I'll be mentioning later are considered highlights when it comes the NWA Title in the early days of TNA.
The early days of TNA saw a large number of factions rise to prominence with many of them leaving their mark in the company's history for good and bad reasons.
One of the first and most recognizable teams to emerge in the early days of TNA was the Disciples Of The New Church; Led by Father James Mitchell, the group consisted of Crowbar, Slash, Malice (aka The Wall in WCW), Sinn and Brian Lee among countless others and the stable was basically that era's version of Decay as the group was wildly popular with much of the audience whether they were heels or antiheroes.
Other groups like The Diamonds In The Rough and 3 Live Kru were also successful around this time as well with both team winning tag team gold during their runs however, much like the New Church, the 3 Live Kru was majorly over with the crowd thanks in large part to the personalities of BG James (Road Dogg), Konnan and Ron "The Truth" Killings.
This time period also saw the rise of two of the most memorable factions in company history: Triple X and Team Canada; the former saw three of the best X Division wrestlers in the company take the tag team division into new heights (before methodically and literally), meanwhile the latter was beginning to develop it's own identity in finals months of the era.
While teams like The Flying Elvises, The New Generation, The Dupps and the later months of S.E.X. are seen as unremarkable when comes to stables during the Asylum Era, the other teams that were previously mentioned more than enough make up for that especially seeing how many of those factions are still regarded today as some of the best in the promotion's history.
5. Female Wrestlers and Personalities
Long before the Knockouts Division was created back in the late 2000's, the company did have a number of females who stood out and not just because of their sex appeal but their toughness in the ring.
The Asylum Era saw valets like Trinity, Athena and Desire become wildly popular with the fans thanks to their charm and athletic abilities before eventually stepping into the ring with some of them making history along the way.
Meanwhile names like ODB, Angelina Love, Traci Brooks and Mickie James were making their presences known with the time they were given in matches before eventually becoming the legends they would end up being in women's wrestling.
But, for more information regarding these ladies and many others that came before the Knockouts Division check the link to the article below:
While it would take some time for the women's division in TNA/Impact to begin, the seeds for what would be the Knockouts Division were being shown around this time period.
4. Raven's Run In TNA
After a three year period in the WWE that didn't lead to anything other then a dozen reigns as the Hardcore Champion, Raven appeared in the final moments of episode 29 of NWA TNA where he dropped Jeff Jarrett in the middle of the ring with a DDT before heading up the ramp doing his signature pose and holding the NWA title in his hands much to disbelief of fans in attendance.
As it turns out, Raven's appearance in TNA came just two days after he was let go by the WWE as the former WCW and ECW star didn't sign a 90 day no compete clause (something that wouldn't happen nowadays with WWE); Raven made it clear from the beginning what his intentions were and that it was his 'Destiny' to become the NWA World Heavyweight Champion.
In the months that followed, Raven vs. Jarrett for the NWA title in one of the most highly anticipated world title bouts in the company's then short existence and on April 30th 2003 that match would take place inside a TNA Asylum so filled with ruckus fans that the company had to turn away around eleven to thirteen hundred customers because the building was so filled up.
Unfortunately Raven was unsuccessful in beating Double J on this night, but his career didn't flounder as he would go on to partner/mentor future legends CM Punk, Mickie James and Frankie Kazarian in TNA while also feuding with names like The Sandman, Shane Douglas, Father James Mitchell and The Gathering just to name a few.
While Raven would have to wait until 2005 to fulfill his destiny as world champion, his debut and work during the early days of the company helped to revitalized his illustrious career.
3. AJ Style's Rise To Success
You can't talk about the early days of TNA Wrestling and not talk about the man referred to as "Mr. TNA" and his incredible journey to the top during the Asylum Era.
AJ's first set of appearances in the company saw him and other X Division pioneers: Low-Ki and Jerry Lynn team up in a six man tag match that has truly aged like fine wine and then the week after competed to crown the first ever TNA X Division Champion, which saw Styles win the title in his first of six times and soon after that he would become NWA world tag team champions with Jerry Lynn making him the first dual champion in company history.
After losing the X Division and tag titles and feuding with Jerry for a number of weeks, AJ would be thrusted into the world title scene while also interacting with names like Vince Russo, Larry Zbyszko, David Flair and D'lo Brown; Styles would become the NWA World Heavyweight champion for the first time on June 11th 2003 and then regain the belt a year later in April of 2004 with both of his reigns adding up to a total of hold it for 161 days
AJ would go on the lose the NWA title and spend the remainder of the Asylum era wrestling against countless names all the way to the company's golden era and the Hogan/Bischoff era until his departure from the company in late 2013/early 2014.
Nevertheless, AJ's success that quickly showed the wrestling world just what kind of a wrestler he was and what a remarkable talent TNA had on their hands.
2. America's Most Wanted
Before AEW was making tag team wrestling feel like an important element in the business again, TNA was doing that in the Asylum Era and without a doubt one of the most important tag teams to compete during this time period was America's Most Wanted.
Thrown together in as a team in the summer of 2002, James Storm and Chris Harris would excite audiences thanks to their chemistry both in and outside of the ring; The duo would win the vacant NWA Tag Team Titles for the first in September of that same year after defeating Slash and Brian Lee of the New Church, which resulted in a rivalry between AMW and Father Mitchell's satanic group that last from September all the way into early January of 2003.
America's Most Wanted would feud with countless other teams like The Naturals, Team Canada, 3 Live Kru and of course the greatest rivalry was with Triple X, which not only saw the tag titles being switched back and forth between both parties but also led to famous cage walk by Elix Skipper...The one I imagine you've all seen at some point in time.
Storm and Harris would win the tag team titles four times during the Asylum Era and would continue this level of success as the company began airing on TV stations like Fox Sports and later SPIKE TV.
Overall, AMW's influence on tag team wrestling has come to inspire numerous tag teams both in and out of TNA/Impact and it's not too surprising to see why as Storm and Harris as a team are pivotal piece in what made the early days of TNA so compelling.
1. The Rise Of The X Division
Without a shadow of the doubt the best thing to come out of the early days of TNA Wrestling would of course have to the division that made the company famous to begin with: The X Division.
From the company's very first match between The Flying Elvises, Low Ki, AJ Styles and Jerry Lynn to the latter three facing off with Psicosis to crown the inaugural champion, the X Division was treated like a big deal in the early days of TNA with the division even becoming more interesting then any of the matches involving the World Championship which really says something...but then again Jeff was champion for a majority of that time so that might also had something to do with it.
The division gave fans the cruiserweight style of wrestling that they've been missing since the demise of WCW and ECW while also helping to launch the mainstream careers of Chris Sabin, Petey Williams, AJ Styles, Low Ki, Michael Shane, Frankie Kazarian, Kid Kash, Amazing Red etc.
While everything about the Asylum Era of TNA would disappear sooner or later as the company was becoming a real alternative to the WWE, the X Division remained the same and in fact by the time Impact was being seen by more people on television the company would see their first and to date only five star match between three of it's best representatives for the X Division title at Unbreakable 2005...These reasons and so much more are why in my opinion the rise of the X Division is the best thing abut the TNA Asylum Era.
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