Welcome back to the Best and Worst of TNA 2016. We already covered plenty in Part 1. And with Impact running another recap show last night, no better time to finish things up. Let’s get to it.
Best: Eli Drake
This year’s breakout star for TNA may have been Eli Drake. Surely, he has competition: Rosemary, Allie, Maria, and Mike Bennett all had great years. But Drake has to at least be in the conversation.
While Drake started the year in a feud with Grado over the Feast or Fired briefcase, he soon won the now defunct King of the Mountain championship. The man was so good on the microphone that he had his own talk show dubbed “The Fact of Life,” where he’d run down all of his foes by simply calling them Dummies. (He’d also add a “Dummy Button” that he’d hit that would say his catchphrase for him.)
He eventually lost the King of the Mountain title to James Storm (who turned around and lost it to Bobby Lashley), but that didn’t slow Drake down. He was able to win the crowd with his silver tongue. Even though Drake remained a heel this year, the crowd couldn’t help but chant along with his catchphrases.
Drake continued to get better as the year went on. In fact, the best feud TNA ran after Bound for Glory was Eli’s program with Ethan Carter III. EC3 was just coming off his biggest loss and Drake, who resented Ethan for having everything handed to him, had no problem rubbing it in. With two of the best promos in the company on opposite sides, they were bound to deliver and they did.
The feud capped when Ethan Carter put the title shot he just earned up against Eli Drake’s voice. It was a really fun match that Drake lost and therefore was he not allowed to use his voice for the rest of 2016. The most disappointing part of Drake’s year was the fact that given their taping schedule, Drake was barely featured after this big match. Because of that, he wasn’t able to get creative with his silence.
If Drake continues on the path he’s on, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t hold the TNA title at one point next year.
Worst: A lost James Storm
At the end of 2015, we thought James Storm was going to be a regular NXT talent. The Cowboy had a couple matches in the WWE yellow brand. But then he signed a big contract to return to TNA instead.
The first thing they did was reunite the Beer Money tag team of Storm and Bobby Roode. While they were an all-time great TNA tag team, their reunion didn’t have that spark that they had during their original run. And they never got a chance to find it because while James chose TNA over NXT, Bobby Roode did the opposite. This left Storm with nothing to do.
He won the King of the Mountain title from Eli Drake in order to lose it to Bobby Lashley in Bobby’s “Collect all the championships” phase. The next week, they ran an angle that he was upset at the officiating. This led to a big argument with then President Billy Corgan, who suspended the Cowboy indefinitely.
Storm went missing for a good chunk of the second half of the year only to return as part of the DCC trios team. However, the man who he last had an issue with, Billy Corgan, had since left the company after a real life legal battle with Dixie Carter. It’s unclear how much that derailed Storm’s next set of plans and the direction of the DCC. Whether it was a factor or not, the DCC never got off the ground given their lack of creative direction.
It may have been better for Storm to stick around in NXT where fellow TNA alumni Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, and Eric Young are all doing quite well for themselves. But if Abyss can reinvent himself into something fresh, surely the Cowboy can in the upcoming year.
Best: Ex - Ring of Honor talent
When Mike Bennett and Maria Kanellis left Ring of Honor, they opted to come to TNA as the next stop in their pro wrestling journey. It wasn’t too long before both were big time heels in their respective divisions.
The Miracle, as Bennett would declare himself, was an arrogant opportunist heel who would use any advantage. He ended up in a big feud with EC3 in the first part of the year and he would be the first man to pin Ethan Carter after over a year in the company. He’d use his wife Maria as a distraction at any turn. While EC3 would win the feud, Bennett became a top tier heel during it.
Bennett’s next feud didn’t go as well, which leads us to the other big Ring of Honor signing: Moose. There was rumor Moose could have headed towards WWE, but he ended up in the Impact Zone and immediately got a push as a big deal. In fact, they started building a feud with Lashley while Lashley was still in a feud with EC3 heading in to Bound for Glory.
While the Moose push seemed to halt after the BFG PPV when Moose lost clean to Lashley in an unannounced match, he capped off his year winning the Grand Championship in seconds from Aron Rex.
And of course there’s the Miracle’s wife, the First Lady Maria Kanellis, who we covered when naming the Knockouts as one of TNA’s best this year. She immediately became a big time heel and the focus of the women’s division, giving it a much needed spark.
Worst: Ex- WWE talent
When Damien Sandow was released by WWE, it seemed like everyone was hoping he’d end up in TNA to prove himself like other ex-WWE talent such as Drew Galloway and Ethan Carter did years back. So when he got his chance after his WWE non-compete ended, people were pumped. And then likely, they were disappointed.
Sandow, now christened Aron Rex, started with an impassioned promo that sounded more like complaining about his former employers. This would start a lackluster face run that never got off the ground. All of Rex’s good guy promos came off as whiny. He won the Grand Championship, a title defended with World of Sport style time limit rounds. While an intriguing idea, Rex’s wrestling style didn’t fit the title. To be fair, after Bound for Glory, they changed course and started turning him heel which seemed to fit much better for the former Savior of the Masses. If they stay on that course, it’s very possible his 2017 will be a successful one.
Sandow’s former tag partner, Cody Rhodes, also made his way to TNA and that didn’t live up to billing either. He was granted a title shot out of the gate without earning it (which is something faces don’t usually get) and most of his time was spent in a lackluster feud with Mike Bennett. His wife Brandi joined him and while she proved have the beginnings of a good character, she has next to no in-ring experience and much of the story was built around hiding the fact.
To cap off the lack of success of ex-WWE guys is the Tribunal, who were former NXT talent Marcus Louis (now Basile Baraka) and Sylvester LeFort (now Baron Dax.) While the promise of a new tag team was exciting, they were immediately saddled with a feud with comedy act Grado and low carder Mahabali Shera. These two were already feuding with Al Snow, who served as the Tribunal’s coach. It was a feud that they’d inexplicably lose. (It’s never a good sign to lose your debut feud.) They’d have a run as a more vicious Tribunal, but ended up losing another feud to Al Snow and Mahabali Shera in an absolutely terrible strap match.
Best: Long Form Story Telling
TNA stories were the best when they had a long arch, and that happened often this year. Despite doing frequent title matches, the major stories were built over time.
Matt Hardy’s transformation into Broken Matt was a good part of a year in the making. Drew Galloway’s Slammiversary match against Lashley stemmed back months from when Lashley attacked Kurt Angle after his retirement match. (This was also the first tease of Lashley/Carter which was the Bound for Glory main event.) Ethan Carter’s feud with Mike Bennett, which also concluded at Slammiversary, had its seeds planted in early January. Maria’s problems with Allie spanned much of the year.
While they would run many smaller feuds throughout, they gave care to the major angles. This resulted in certain feuds feeling like a big deal throughout the year.
Worst: The Announcers
Of all their issues this year, the most consistent one for TNA is likely their announcing duo. Josh Mathews and the Pope D’Angelo Dinero are just not good. Or at the very least, not good together.
Mathews wasn’t a bad announcer in the WWE so it’s unclear why the drop since his move to TNA. While he’s pretty good when just calmly telling a story or when he does the YouTube recaps, things go downhill when the action gets heavy. His “things are exciting!” voice feels forced and grating. If you don’t tune it out, it can weaken the big moments it’s meant to accent. The Pope doesn’t add anything on color, instead giving us something eye rolling or pointless. (I enjoy the Pope as the character and even his brief feud with Lashley this year.)
The biggest problem with having a questionable announce table is they are your first impression so often. Sure, there are probably some who don’t mind the announcers, but I’m not alone in my dislike of them. And that’s a problem when you’re trying to get new eyes to the product.
My boss Geno tuned in on the first episode of 2016 and was soon inspired to write this post. More people tuned into the Final Deletion than any other episode this year. There were people on Twitter and even in the live blog commenting about how dreadful the announcing was.
The announcers are always there, the constant of the entire show. Because of that, they can’t be turning people off. It’s a point of weakness that can definitely be addressed in 2017.
Best: Broken Matt Hardy
TNA was Matt Hardy this year and that was great for the brand.
Who would have thought that would be a sentence we’d all be in agreement on this year? Not me, that’s for sure. When Matt Hardy won the TNA title at Bound for Glory 2015, I panned it. I wrote, “Also, there's the whole thing about taking the title off your white hot young talent and put it on 41 year old who's best days career wise are behind him.” Or that was the catalyst for one of the hottest characters of 2016.
Hell, the episode where he unveiled the Broken character is the only episode that got a D grade from me this year. But that dude proved me and everyone else who thought that way wrong. So wrong.
Matt told a long story that would draw people in and bring new eyes to the product. It started when he had to relinquish his TNA title the day after winning it over a year ago because EC3 threatened a lawsuit. So Matt did the right thing, gave up the title, and fought through a tournament to win it back, to meet EC3 in the finals. He lost.
Since doing the right thing was fruitless, Matt decided to break bad. He turned heel on EC3 in a double turn becoming Big Money Matt. In a year where he ruled with Broken Matt, it’s easy to forget how great Big Money Matt was. He was such an arrogant douche that you loved to hate.
However, Jeff didn’t care for the new Matt Hardy and stood against his brother. The Iconic Matt Hardy felt betrayed by Jeff and they met up in an I Quit match. At the end of the match, Jeff performed a Swanton from atop the stairs onto his brother, leading to him being stretchered out. Matt was broken by his brother... in more ways than one. Broken Matt Hardy was born.
Matt returned with a white streak dyed into his hair wearing ridiculous clothing and talking with a ridiculous accent that even he couldn’t keep up with. It was a unique new character that was quite the shift from the Matt Hardys of old. It was a character that you wouldn’t see anywhere else. And it was insane. In so many cases, this would have failed miserably. But Matt had the charm and the exact right amount of outrageous to make this work.
They unveiled the true vision of Matt during the contract signing that was filmed completely in Matt Hardy’s house. It ended with Reby throwing a fake baby at Jeff and then Matt delivering a side effect through a circular table. People loved it. In 2016, where people consume more on the internet than TV and love dumb silly videos, Hardy had found the perfect formula. More people were seeing this craziness than were tuning into Impact weekly. But it had them intrigued.
Matt and Jeff had a couple in-ring matches but they couldn’t live up to what Matt would do next whether it be making sounds in a hotel room or moaning in bed. But the Broken One had an answer: The Final Deletion. It would be a match between him and his brother filmed completely off site on the Hardy Estate. Everyone who loved his silly videos that they saw on-line and his completely kayfabe Twitter account would tune in.
It wouldn’t be for everyone, but it was for many. It was easily TNA’s best ratings this year and it started expanding Matt’s Broken Universe with more characters entering the lexicon. We’d get Señor Benjamin, Matt’s trusty gardener and battlefield preparer. We’d meet Vanguard One, one of Matt’s army of aerial assault drones. Just Matt shouting “It’s a dilapidated boat!” in that video created fanfare, leading to the character of Skarsgard the dilapidated boat (who broke up a pin attempt in Total Nonstop Deletion weeks ago).
And despite all this silliness, they continued to tell a solid story, which was the anchor to this insanity. Matt’s descent into madness was a 6 month story that made sense. He broke bad because doing the right thing didn’t work. When that failed due to his brother, he finally lost his mind. He defeated Jeff and deleted his essence, which led to Jeff becoming Brother Nero, leading to the Broken Hardys and their eventual tag team championship win.
He filmed two more major off site matches: Delete or Decay and Total Nonstop Deletion (which was all 2 hours filmed in the Hardy estate in an ambitious undertaking). And 2017 looks to continue expanding the Hardy’s world and with it, TNA’s.
In a year where we saw things we never thought in pro wrestling, Matt Hardy may take the cake. Last year, he seemed like he didn’t have much left to give. This year, he gave TNA the most. It was his magnetic madness that got people talking about TNA in the positive, something that was rarely happening any more. People would talk about TNA’s problems or not talk about it at all. Broken Matt changed that. And while he wasn’t the only good thing in TNA this year (there was actually plenty) he was the catalyst that got people tuning in. Then fans got to see how good Lashley was doing this year, to meet the Decay, or to check out the women’s stories.
Matt was the MVP of TNA this year.
That concludes our “Best and Worst of TNA 2016.” This year was a stronger one for the franchise than in years past. Sure, they had their typical “We’re out of money” scare and their out of ring problems. But what ended up on television was consistent and often entertaining, with good stories and great characters. Bobby Lashley had a great year. Young talent like EC3, Mike Bennett, Drew Galloway, and Eli Drake shined. The women told some great stories. And of course, Broken Matt Hardy expanded the genre using TNA as the platform.
Hopefully, despite creative changes and ownership shifts, they can continue to improve and put on a strong product in 2017.
Is there anything you would have put on the list? What was your best and worst? Sound off below.