This past June 4 marked the 14 year anniversary of the debut episode of Impact Wrestling, which aired on Fox Sports. While the company was actually founded sixteen years ago (on June 19, 2002), the first two years saw the company, then known as Total Nonstop Action (TNA), run weekly pay-per-views instead of a traditional weekly show format. In those fourteen years, Impact has seen a lot of changes – mostly in management and ownership – but in its roster as well. It’s seen some stars slip through their fingers before becoming megastars elsewhere – such as CM Punk, Seth Rollins, and Kazuchika Okada – but they’ve also managed to establish many early indie stars into household names (at least with wrestling fans) and put life into the careers of former WWE or WCW stars who many thought were past their expiration date. With that in mind, here’s our picks for fourteen wrestlers who helped define what Impact Wrestling was all about, and whose tenures with the company have proven to be invaluable additions to the roster throughout the years.
14 years ago today the very first episode of IMPACT aired.
In that 14 years there have been over 700 episodes, 3407 matches and countless memorable moments. It's been quite a ride.
To everybody that has ever watched a second of the show in the last 14 years – THANK YOU! pic.twitter.com/HDHFW6TQ9L
— IMPACT (@IMPACTWRESTLING) June 4, 2018
Author’s Note: This list is clearly subjective and while fourteen names were chosen, they were chosen for the direct impact on the brand (no pun intended). Many wrestlers not listed had great runs in TNA/Impact Wrestling, some maybe even more memorable than those mentioned. But many of those were more for show than actually pushing the company forward, and others were simply to further other agendas. We have also left off any on-screen personel that had a hand in ownership (such as founder Jeff Jarrett, Dixie Carter, Scott D’Amore or Don Callis), simply because they’re influence is already undeniable and we’d prefer to showcase more of the names that were a bigger part of it’s national (and international) identity.
Impact Wrestling: Honorable Mentions
Cutting a list of fourteen years of names down to fourteen is no easy task, and while we feel that the ones listed are the cream of the crop, there are some others who had above average runs with TNA/Impact and deserve to be recognized: Allie, Amazing Red, The Beautiful People (Angelina Love, Velvet Sky & Madison Rayne), Bully Ray, Christian Cage, Eric Young, Low Ki, Sting, Petey Williams, and many more. Many will claim Jeff Hardy deserves to be on this list and while he was a huge brand name with TNA, his run is hugely mired in controversy over his battles with substances that some would argue perhaps his time there tarnished the company when they needed him most. So without further adieu, here’s our picks for Impact’s most important fourteen names in Impact Wrestling history.
Impact Wrestling: 14 Stars Who Defined The Company
This list is not ranked in order of importance, but alphabetical.
ABYSS (2002 to present)
Initially dismissed as a Mankind ripoff in TNA’s early days by WWE fans, Abyss has proved the naysayers he was much more than that and has remained an Impact Original his entire career, working any spot in the roster, from World Champion to Tag Team Champion, to master of the Monster’s Ball match. He’s reinvented himself multiple times over, including spells as his “brother” lawyer Joseph Parks, and while he’s not on television these days, the man behind the mask continues to be an invaluable member of Impact’s roster, working in creative alongside Sonjay Dutt, Scott D’Amore and Don Callis.
KURT ANGLE (2006 to 2016)
Many assumed when Kurt Angle left the WWE in 2006 that his once bright wrestling career was on a rapid decline. But he soon debuted with TNA and became one of the most important members of the roster for a decade, longer than he’d worked for the WWE. While his WWE run was always wrapped in some sort of comedic angle, his no-nonsense wrestling machine persona on Impact Wrestling rejuvenated his career and his work alongside the likes of AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and others produced some of the best ring work of his career. Angle’s presence also legitimized TNA for many people and helped propel TNA to it’s greatest heights.
AUSTIN ARIES (2005 to 2007; 2011 to 2015; 2017 to present)
“The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived” is currently in his third run with Impact Wrestling and he continues to be a staple with the company. His first one was sporadic, as he worked with ROH at the same time, competing for TNA as Austin Starr. But it was his second run where he became one of the top stars in the company and one of Impact’s “must see” characters. He won the X-Division title an astounding six times during that run, as well as his first run as Impact World Heavyweight Champion, before leaving for the WWE/NXT in 2015. He made a shocking return to the company in late 2017 after departing the WWE and has reclaimed his spot at the top of the company, with two more runs as World Champion. His new “Belt Collector” gimmick has him representing Impact around the world, including IPW:UK and Defiant in the UK, World Series Wrestling (WSW) in Australia, and even back in Ring of Honor.
AWESOME KONG (2007 to 2010; 2015 to 2016)
As Amazing Kong, she was already making waves in Japan and in SHIMMER, but when she joined TNA as Awesome Kong in 2007, she became part of a Knockouts Division that redefined what women’s wrestling in the modern era could be. She became the monster of the KO division, combining athleticism with savage brutality, and alongside Gail Kim created one of the greatest women’s wrestling rivalries of all time. Kong was a huge part of the Women’s Revolution in TNA and wrestling, and her first run with Impact Wrestling was a huge reason why.
CHRISTOPHER DANIELS (2002 to 2014)
A 4x X-Division Champion, Christopher Daniels was one of the names that helped establish the X-Division in its earliest days, with an iconic rivalry against AJ Styles. His involvement went far beyond his own “Fallen Angel” persona, as he also portrayed masked wrestlers Curry Man and Suicide at various points. His work was fluid and always mesmerizing and as he aged, he transitioned into a tag team specialist, teaming with Frankie Kazarian in Bad Influence and winning the Impact Tag Team titles twice. He departed Impact in 2014, returning to Ring of Honor, but his influence in establishing the X-Division’s identity early on is undeniable.
EC3 (2013 to 2018)
An indie star with the likes of AIW, Michael Hutter joined WWE developmental in 2009 and spent five years with Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) and then NXT as Derrick Bateman. In 2013, he departed the WWE and headed to TNA, where he was rebranded as the spoiled rich nephew of then-owner Dixie Carter, Ethan Carter III. As EC3, he became a legend killer, running through such veterans as Tommy Dreamer, Curry Man, Eric Young, Sting, Doug Williams, Bobby Lashley, and ultimately Kurt Angle, during a massive push to becoming the company’s top heel. He became a 2x TNA World Heavyweight Champion and one of the most entertaining characters on television during what many perceived as Impact’s low points, but EC3 persevered and became more popular than ever. He departed the company earlier this year and has returned to NXT, but there’s no denying that EC3 was a huge part in keeping Impact afloat through some dark times.
“BROKEN” MATT HARDY (2011; 2014 to 2017)
He may be “Woken” in the WWE now, but he was “Broken” first in Impact Wrestling and for a year, he was arguably the hottest character in all of professional wrestling. Following two runs as Impact World Heavyweight Champion, Matt Hardy was defeated, physically and emotionally, and disappeared for weeks, only return as a seemingly mad version of himself, driven by delusions from beyond the universal realms. His hunt to fix his brother Jeff Hardy, followed by the Expedeeshun of Gold to claim tag team titles around the world, made “Broken” Matt Hardy the most popular he’s been since his Team Xtreme days during the Attitude Era. The cult following flocked to Impact Wrestling to watch the ongoing Broken saga, during a time that almost saw Impact close up due to conflicts of management and ownership. But thanks to the Broken Universe, Impact survived long enough for Anthem Sports to assume control and begin the healing the brand so desperately needed, and Matt Hardy’s bizarre creation was one of Impact’s ultimate saviors.
MICKIE JAMES (2010 to 2013; 2015)
From 2005 to 2010, Mickie James was one of the WWE’s most popular and successful women’s wrestlers, winning the WWE Women’s Championship five times, plus another run as Divas Champion. But by 2010, the WWE’s women’s division had been taken over by the Diva’s Division, so James departed for more wrestling pastures. She found it in TNA, joining Impact’s strong Knockouts Division, where she immediately fit right in and began some of her best work of her illustrious career. Her arrival opened up more feuds for the other Knockouts and, much like Kurt Angle’s arrival a few years earlier, helped to give TNA more credibility to outside eyes. She became a 3x Knockouts Champion in her short run, and helped TNA continue a high standard of excellence in women’s wrestling while WWE was still playing dolls and catch-up.
GAIL KIM (2006 to 2008; 2011 to 2017)
Behind AJ Styles, perhaps no other wrestler is as important to Impact Wrestling than Gail Kim. When she arrived in TNA 2006 after three years of being underutilized and underappreciated in the WWE, it signaled a dramatic shift in the way women’s wrestling was perceived in North America. While SHIMMER was already creating women’s wrestling on the indie circuit, mainstream audiences were still accustomed to the more Diva centric presentation of the WWE. Gail Kim helped create the TNA Knockouts Division that became the benchmark of women’s wrestling in North America, with feuds against the likes of Awesome Kong, Taryn Terrell and many others. She’s since retired a record 7x Knockouts Champion and taken a position in the company as producer of the KO division, ensuring women’s wrestling continues to be one of Impact’s strongest areas.
BOBBY ROODE (2003 to 2016)
Before he was “Glorious” in NXT and the WWE, Bobby Roode was one of Impact’s longest tenured veterans. Debuting with Team Canada in 2003, Roode emerged as the star of the stable and upon it’s dissolution, became one of Impact’s most reliable stars for over a decade. His 256-day reign as Impact World Heavyweight Champion still stands as the longest reign of a World Champion, and he was just as comfortable dominating the tag team division as he was a singles competitor. He won five Impact Tag Team titles as a member of Beer Money with “Cowboy” James Storm as well as one with Austin Aries in The Dirty Heels. His departure from the company in 2016 caught many people by more surprise than AJ Styles’ did, but he was a main event player for nearly his entire tenure with the company.
ROSEMARY (2016 to present)
Since her arrival in Impact Wrestling in 2016, few have captivated an audience like Rosemary has. Debuting as part of the faction Decay alongside Crazzy Steve and Abyss, Rosemary quickly emerged from being simply, winning the Knockouts Championship and holding it for 266 days. Upon Decay’s split, Rosemary became one of the most popular wrestlers in the company, a distinction she still holds to this day. The evolution of her Demon Assassin has entranced her a legion of faithful fans and sadly, she was injured earlier this year just as Impact Wrestling began to make huge strides in reclaiming its spot in the wrestling world. But her popularity is still at an all time high and when she returns, expect the Knockouts Division to be on notice.
SAMOA JOE (2005 to 2015)
A 5x X-Division Champion, 2x Tag Team Champion, TV Champion and World Heavyweight Champion, Samoa Joe was one of TNA’s most imposing figures. Whether he was redefining what a bigger athlete could do in the ring with his constant presence in the X-Division, to his legendary battles against the likes of AJ Styles and Kurt Angle, Samoe Joe was one of Impact’s biggest stars throughout their high points (and low points). A legit indie superstar (he held the ROH World Championship for 645 days), Joe was a major signing for TNA and never let the company down. Another shock departure, Joe left the company in 2015 and headed to NXT, where he won the NXT Championship twice before heading to the main roster.
“COWBOY” JAMES STORM (2002 to 2017)
Perhaps no one has shed so many blood, sweat and beers with TNA as “Cowboy” James Storm, who dominated the TNA/Impact Wrestling tag team division for over a decade. As one half of America’s Most Wanted with “Wildcat” Chris Harris, they were TNA’s first major tag team sensation, winning the tag team titles five times. He’d win another five tag team championships alongside Bobby Roode in Beer Money as well, all the while still growing his presence as one of the company’s most dependable singles wrestlers as well. He won his only World Championship with TNA in 2011 and was an Impact Original, until he departed the company at the end of 2017 and returned to the indies.
AJ STYLES (2002 to 2013)
While Jeff Jarrett may have won more World Championships in TNA (six to Styles’ five), no one personified TNA as the face of Impact Wrestling more than “The Phenomenal” AJ Styles. A 5x World Champion, 6x X-Division Champion, 6x Tag Team Champion, and 2x TV Champion, AJ Styles gave TNA its first bonafide star not associated with a past in the WWE, WCW or ECW. He excelled and stole the show no matter where in the company he was positioned, becoming as synonymous with TNA as John Cena was with the WWE. He left the company during some of TNA’s darkest times in 2013, where he extended his legacy with NJPW and Bullet Club before joining the WWE in 2016, where he’s added two more World Championships to his resume. AJ Styles defined Impact Wrestling for a decade and his legacy still remains a blue print for the company’s work ethic.
Who are your favourite wrestlers from Impact Wrestling 14 years on television? Let us know in the comments below!