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The Best and Worst of TNA 2016 (part 1)

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It’s the end of the year, and with the final couple of episodes of Impact recapping their 2016, we figured it was time to take our own look back at TNA these last 12 months. Like any promotion, there was some good, and there was some bad. So what made the best list and what made the worst list? Let’s take a look, shall we:

Best: The Decay

In January, TNA debuted a new trio with a scary movie motif and these three would go on to captivate the crowd at every turn. The two male members of the group were TNA stars who were floundering with nothing to do. The third would be a woman from the indie scene who would end up stealing the show.

There was Crazzy Steve, who debuted as a kooky clown alongside Mike Knux’s menagerie. With much of that stable long gone, there was nothing left for Steve. His comedic clown was a dead end. So in a year that would see clowns become a major villain, TNA got started earlier by simply transforming the funny clown into a scary clown. And that’s all it took. Steve embraced the role, which fit like a glove.

At his side was the monster Abyss, who has been in TNA so long that there really was nothing left for him to do. He seemed as stale as can be. But this new gimmick rejuvenated the Monster. He ended up losing the mask and donning some face paint so he matched his teammates. The Decay has given Abyss new life and a character that is perfect for the veteran.

Leading the charge is TNA newcomer Rosemary. She debuted on the stage that January episode wearing an old dress, creepy face paint, walking with a gait right out of a horror movie. This ghoulish gal would become the voice of Decay and the heart of it as well.

This year, this captivating group has held the tag titles, including a big feud with the Broken Hardy brothers, and Rosemary won the Knockouts title at the end of the year.

In a year with a bunch of good characters in TNA, the Decay may have stolen the show.

Worst: The Tag Team Division

While Decay was a great addition to the tag division, the division as a whole had a pretty down year. Early in the year, Beer Money reunited just to have Bobby Roode leave for NXT. The Wolves were riding high until Davey Richards suffered a leg injury that kept him out for the year. The Helms Dynasty (Andrew Everett and Trevor Lee) were rarely used as a team. The new team of the Tribunal (Baron Dax and Basile Baraka) never got a chance to get off the ground.

While the Hardys and Decay had a great year, they pretty much were the entire tag division. That’s not a recipe for a successful long term tag division.

Best: More Room at the Top

There was a lot of talent who ended up parting ways with TNA this year. But for the promotion and for that talent, it ended up being a good thing.

In the men’s division, Bobby Roode, Kurt Angle, and Eric Young all decided to make their exit from TNA. Roode and Young ended up in NXT and seem reinvigorated there. Angle still works independent dates (or is sitting next to his phone eagerly picking it up on the first ring in case it is WWE). But Angle had gotten stale in the company as well.

With room at the top, new young talent could take those spots. Guys like EC3 and Drew Galloway, who were already near the top, could settle in there. A newcomer like Mike Bennett made the most of the opportunity given to him. And of course, Bobby Lashley was able to reinvent himself in his best year.

The same happened with the women. Awesome Kong was released and Velvet Sky left on her own. Instead of creative trying to find something for the veterans to do, focus was shifted to the new brand of Knockout: the likes of Jade, Maria Kanellis, Sienna, Allie, and Rosemary.

This new batch of men’s and women’s talent has given TNA new life in 2016 and showcased new talent to fans who may not have seen these wrestlers in other promotions prior.

Worst: Galloway’s Injury and its effect on the Grand Championship

Drew Galloway sustained a serious enough injury to keep him out of action from wrestling for a couple of months. Unfortunately, the timing of this was right before Bound for Glory, where he was to have a match with Aron Rex (the former Damien Sandow) for the new Grand Championship. This is a secondary title that is defended in a World of Sport/MMA style, with timed matches and judges deciding the rounds unless the competitors won by pinfall or submission. It was a title that needed a big talent to support it.

Given TNA’s taping schedule, Drew’s injury caused him to miss the rest of the year (even though he was able to resume wrestling about a month earlier). Though even if it were taped live weekly, Drew was going to be gone too long to be involved in the early days of the new title.

The Grand Championship could have used Galloway in that title picture to give it some legitimacy. Drew is a former TNA champion and even if the plan was always for Rex to go over at Bound for Glory, Galloway being in the title picture would have given the title a bit of a boost. Instead, Aron Rex ended up feuding with Jessie Godderz for the title in a feud that made that title feel like it wasn’t that important. Rex is not the technical wrestler that this belt is made for and Godderz is a wrestler who is most known as being part of the BroMans tag team.

Luckily, Drew returned on the last taped Impact in a non-contact role to set up a feud with the current Grand Champion, Moose, for when TNA returns in 2017. (Moose won the title the episode prior in the first round.) That sounds like more of a feud to help give the Grand Championship some meaning.

Best: Bobby Lashley

This was Bobby Lashley’s best year of professional wrestling, and that includes on the microphone.

I bet that’s hard to believe for people who just remember him from WWE, wrestling as Donald Trump’s WrestleMania surrogate. But the man was a top promo in TNA this year.

Lashley started the year as babyface, but after defeating Kurt Angle in the Olympian’s final TNA match, he immediately turned heel. This created a cool, calm, confident Destroyer who knew he could beat anyone and didn’t mind telling his opponents with a wry smile.

He won the TNA title from Drew Galloway at Slammiversary and then went on a tear. At the Destination X special, he convinced X Division champion Eddie Edwards to go title vs. title and won the X Division title. He then beat James Storm to win the King of the Mountain title, holding all of the men’s singles titles in the company at once.

He ended up getting stripped of the lesser titles since he wouldn’t defend them, but that didn’t stop him. He was poised for another big feud at Bound for Glory against one of the company’s biggest stars: EC3. Carter is known for his fiery promos and Bobby Lashley was able to go toe to toe with him without problem.

He ended up defeating Carter, continuing on as TNA’s unstoppable force. He was a man who had the look, could wrestle in the ring, delivered on the microphone, and had a legit MMA background.

That’s why it was so disappointing that they just dropped it.

Worst: The abrupt end of the Lashley story

Unfortunately, on the Impact after he defeated EC3 at Bound for Glory, Lashley suddenly dropped the title to Eddie Edwards.

While Edwards isn’t a bad choice to be champion, they invested so much time into building Bobby Lashley as an unstoppable force that there was no reason not to take their time building to a payoff. If they wanted Eddie winning to be that payoff, that would have been fine. But after creating an unbeatable force in the Destroyer, they should finish telling the story and not abruptly end it.

In October, Lashley dominated his competition at Bellator 162, making the move even more curious. They could have had a man who dominated not only in scripted pro-graps but also inside an octagon.

After building a great character and telling a great story, the sudden end to it was a major letdown.

Best: The Knockouts Division

Despite turnover and a rather thin division, the Knockouts made the most of what they had. They lost Awesome Kong, who was let go due to a confrontation with Reby Hardy. Velvet Sky then decided to part ways with the company.

However, those two leaving opened up some room and it was filled was some superb characters and talent. Maria Kanellis entered TNA and brought her fire on the microphone to become the top villain of the division, despite rarely wrestling. She added new talent to her stable and they performed well. Joining Maria’s team was her muscle Sienna, another TNA newcomer, who held the KOs gold this year. Even former Tough Enough contestant Chelsea Green displayed good character work as the spoiled, entitled rich girl.

Jade was no longer saddled with the Doll House gimmick and was allowed to flourish as a badass. Gail Kim, a long time Knockout, had the honor to be the first woman inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Rosemary turned heads as the captivating leader of Decay. With a creepy character, she was magnetic in TNA all year. She debuted in January and left 2016 holding the Knockouts title.

And then there’s Allie (the former Cherry Bomb) who started as Maria Kanellis’ bubbly but clueless assistant. Originally meant as a heel who’s shrill announcements were aimed to annoy fans, they soon fell in love with Allie. Playing a character who had no clue how to wrestle, she accidentally defeated her ally Sienna in a match to win the Knockouts championship to the crowd’s delight. It wasn’t long, however, until Maria forced her employee to lay down for her so she could pin her for the title, igniting a strong feud that will continue into 2017.

Hopefully, TNA can add a few more ladies to the division and build off what they did this year and continue to put forth a growing women’s division full of potential.

Worst: The X Division

The X Division continues to be the forgotten stepchild of TNA. While Josh Mathews loves to talk about how you can’t see this type of action anywhere else (which isn’t true), there’s no care put into the division.

Like the women, they have talent. But they never have any direction or stories. More often than not, it’s just matches for the hell of it. There were only a few real stories. Braxton Sutter and Rockstar Spud had a brief program that ended in an empty arena match, and they pretended to care about the division around the Destination X special, but there was little to remember. In fact they ended the year with random trios matches for no reason.

They’ll need to learn that flippy stuff alone isn’t a draw any more. They’ll need to actually work on building characters and storylines if they really want the X Division to be a success going forward.

Best: Improved public opinion

It’s obvious that TNA has a poor reputation amongst wrestling fans. Years of poor booking decisions and mismanagement has given way to some very negative opinions of TNA, and many deservedly so. LOLTNA is a stigma that the company continually has to fight against.

However this year they seemed to have some good press surrounding them. Yes, they had their typical rough ride (more on that in just a bit). But with the unique world that Matt Hardy created with his Broken Universe, fun characters such as Decay, Eli Drake, EC3, and Allie, and some good longform storytelling, some people started to realize that TNA was often putting on a fun show.

Of course, not everyone is going to give TNA another chance. That’s inevitable. But just a quick look at comment sections on article posted here about TNA and on the Twitter feed, there’s been much more positive feedback regarding the promotion in 2016 than years past.

Unfortunately, given a management shake up yet again, that’s not guaranteed to continue into 2017.

Worst: Their annual bad press

While public opinion may have improved somewhat, they weren’t without their typical problems.

Going into Bound for Glory, there was word that they didn’t have money to run the show. Billy Corgan had already loaned them a bunch of money to keep taping, but his goal was to own the company and he didn’t want to continue without some assurance that he would be able to buy the company. Out of all of the “TNA is out of money” scares, this one felt the realest. As the person who does all the prep for the promotion’s pay-per-views, I was legitimately wondering if I should bother to start writing early or if their doors would close prior to BFG.

Of course, this is TNA and they found a final influx of money from a third party.

But all was not well. Billy Corgan was getting frustrated about his position in the company. Realizing that Dixie Carter would never sell to him like he believed, he decided to take her to court. Citing a clause in the contract that if TNA was insolvent, he would become owner, he tried to win the company in the court. However, that clause was not deemed legal in Tennessee and eventually he was bought out by Anthem, who was the third party that funded Bound for Glory. Anthem, the owners of the Fight Network, have become TNA’s new financial source with restructuring of the company coming if it has not happened already.

Losing Corgan could be a big loss. He said he was the one who pushed for Matt Hardy’s Broken vision. (In character, Matt seemed to back up that claim or at least say that he’d be happy with Corgan owning the company.) Mike Bennett was a big supporter of Corgan and seemed a bit miffed when he lost the suit.

With Anthem very possibly in charge in 2017, the fate of TNA is unfortunately just as big of a question mark as it has been in the past.

We’ll be back next week with part 2 of our look back at TNA this year. We’ve got plenty more to cover, including which talent flourished and which floundered, what creative strengths they had, and what made TNA tough to watch at times.

Until then, sound off below!

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