Bobby Roode vs James Storm
In a rare display of long-term booking, the saga of Bobby Roode and James Storm ran an entire year and could even be picked back up today with a minimum of difficultly. Hostilities broke out in the wake of James Storm's impromptu World Heavyweight Title win in late 2011, as Bobby Roode's jealousy got the better of him. The feud peaked with matches at TNA's biggest shows of the year - Lockdown and Bound for Glory. In the initial bout, they headlined the all-steel-cage pay-per-view, battling it out for the World Title and bringing life to an otherwise dead crowd. Their latter encounter, while not for the Championship or even in the main event, showed a rare intensity, left both men bloody wrecks and stole the show.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Starting out the year working for TNA's Indian side project, Ring Ka King, Joey Ryan was already well on his way to a debut at Orlando's Impact Zone. The big day finally came in the form of a Gut Check match against breakout star, Austin Aries. Rather than greener than grass rookies the Gut Check competition had been founded upon to that point, Ryan was a tried and true indy veteran, with a decade in the ring already under his belt. But what was meant to be a formality quickly became a nightmare, as the contest's judges didn't like Joey's attitude and promptly kicked him out of the competition, minus one contract. But rather than disappearing (like the Gut Check "winners"), Joey Ryan rightfully aired his grievances on any and all social media platform that would listen. 87% of the Impact Wrestling audience were for giving him a contract and through hard fought feuds with Taz and Al Snow climaxing at Bound for Glory, Joey finally earned his spot on the roster.
Austin Aries goes "off script" on Jeff Hardy
Heading into their eagerly anticipated Bound for Glory main event, both the World Champion Austin Aries and his challenger Jeff Hardy were fan favourites. While not unheard of, every good story needs it's villain. Put in the unenviable position of going up against Jeff Hardy's legion of "creatures", Austin Aries took to that role with zeal and relish. On the final Impact before the pay-per-view, the Greatest Man That Ever Lived hit the ring and decided to air his grievances with the Charismatic Enigma live to a global audience. Visibly throwing the show's "script" to one side, Aries pointed out all the insincere glad-handing that came with being the World Heavyweight Champion. Management told him how to act, how to present himself, how to suck up to fans and from that moment, it was done with. Taking issue with Hardy as a focal point, the Champion went on an impressive tirade, bringing to light his challenger's rap sheet, his poor health and how everyone caters to his every whim without a second thought. But not only did he verbally run rings around Hardy, he also cheapshotted the challenger and hit his signature Brainbuster, acting as the ultimate fullstop and ending any confusion as to who was the villain of the piece.
WORST WRESTLER(S) & WORST MATCH
Garett Bischoff & Wes Brisco
Words cannot describe just how bad these rookies are, both in the ring and on the mic. You simply have to see it for yourself. Go, check Youtube, right this second, I'll wait.... Did you see? Oh my god, it's terrifying isn't it. Why either of these men think Professional Wrestling is the career for them, I don't know. I can only imagine the immense pressure that comes with their family names. Being a Bischoff and a Brisco in this industry must come with as much stigma as it does benefit. Up until recently, they'd mercifully been kept to the background of scenes, usually behind the Olympic Gold Medalist, Kurt Angle. Bischoff only rarely ventured into the ring, typically for terrible Xplosion matches not seen in America (yet the horror is entirely visited upon we Brits). Brisco, on the other hand, wasn't even on the roster, instead being this disturbing sycophant following Angle around like a lost puppy. Unfortunately, that all changed with a recent Gut Check match between the pair. For several ungodly minutes, we were subjected to the worst display of nepotism in the history of the business. Now not only does Wes Brisco have an Impact Wrestling contract, but he has the distinction of being the only Gut Check contestant to win his respective match. Not that beating Garett Bischoff looks particularly difficult...
Where do I begin. Let's start with a positive shall we. Clearly TNA management recognised the skill and talent of AJ Styles and Christoper Daniels and wanted to give them a bigger spotlight. As entertaining as their pure athleticism is, this sport often needs a small injection of soap opera sensibilities to keep the casual viewers interested. But this was no small injection. This was an overdose. Thinking back, I struggle to remember all the twists and turns of this debacle, as my mind has most likely blocked them out. Something to do with Daniels insinuating AJ was having an affair with TNA President Dixie Carter, only they were really helping a family friend kick drugs. Then Daniels paid off that family friend and made it look as though AJ had impregnated her. I mean truly, WTF? Daniels plan was basically bragging about how many women Styles has had sex with and how verile he is. Thanks buddy, can you do me next, sounds like great PR! The true sign of how bad this angle had become was in it's dying days, when the actress TNA had employed to play the role of Clare Lynch actually refused to return and finish out the story. She'd received so much hate-mail and scorn from TNA fans over the course of the summer, it was literally destroying her career.
SURPRISE OF THE YEAR
Austin Aries wins the World Heavyweight Championship at Destination X
Going into the Destination X pay-per-view, Austin Aries was riding an unprecedented wave of popularity. At the time, he'd been the reigning X Division Champion for damn near a year, he'd defeated a string of larger opponents in impressive fashion (Bully Ray, Samoa Joe, etc) and it all built to a frenzy which Hulk Hogan couldn't ignore. Offering Aries a once in a lifetime opportunity, Hogan gave A-Double the chance to relinquish his X Division Championship in exchange for a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship, then held by the IT Factor, Bobby Roode. While the fans were firmly behind Aries in spirit, all logical thought pointed towards Roode retaining the belt and going on to defend against James Storm at Bound for Glory a couple of months later. The Roode/Storm feud had been the centerpiece of Impact Wrestling for almost the entire of 2012. It was their money match they'd spent a year building to. There was no way in hell someone could derail that sort of momentum. Only they could and they did. That man was Austin Aries. Taking on Bobby Roode in the main event of Destination X, he surprised everyone by succeeding where so many others had failed and became the new World Heavyweight Champion. Giving us the feel good moment of the year in the process.
BEST TAG TEAM/FACTION
Christopher Daniels & Frankie Kazarian aka Bad Influence
Long have professional wrestlers feared the moment Creative turn around and tell them "sorry, we don't have anything for you". To look at Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian, you'd imagine they've had that message alot over the years. After the dissolution of their former group Fortune, they watched as AJ Styles, Bobby Roode and James Storm went on to bigger and better things, while they were left to languish in the undercard. Rather than despair, Daniels and Kazarian saw this as an opportunity...to have fun. Forgetting the Clare Lynch nonsense, these two took the Tag Team division by storm and soon became the World Tag Team Champions of the World (not redundant). Instead of indulging in the angst of a traditional feud, they seek simply to amuse themselves. Just last week, they called out Santa Claus for a promo. If that doesn't say it all, I don't know what will. Whether they have the championship belts or not, Daniels and Kazarian continue to be the most impressive tag team in all of Impact Wrestling and deserve no end of credit for turning nothing into something.
Joey Ryan and the 87%
As I mentioned earlier, Joey Ryan had a tumultuous time breaking into TNA Wrestling via Gut Check, but never fear, social media is here! Ironically, my favourite angle of the year, didn't actually take place on Impact for the most part. In being rejected by the Gut Check judges, Joey Ryan pioneered a subversive smear campaign against his haters. Taking to Youtube for a series of scathing promo videos, Ryan tore the judges a new one. First focusing on Taz and slowly transitioning toward Al Snow. I never entirely knew when or where the next installment of this feud would be. Hell, for the longest time, I didn't know whether it was a work or a shoot. The Gut Check judges DID have an agenda in saying no to Joey and it's only right that he be pissed off about that. So it's not unthinkable that he would make these videos against the powers that be. It's not even unthinkable that he'd turn up in the crowd of the Impact Zone. It's a free country! Due to Joey Ryan's involvement, every further Gut Check segment was must-see-tv. You never knew when he'd appear at the guard rail, how many 87%'ers he'd have in the building that week or if he may finally get his hands on his targets. It's tough to pull off the "outsider" gimmick without giving yourself away as a work, but "Hollywood's Own" did it with aplomb.
Just a quick nod to my fellow Englishman. For whatever reason, Magnus' stock is most definitely on the rise. Whenever a TNA legend takes to an interview and points out the next generation they are hoping to encourage and work with in future, Magnus' name always comes up. Not just for political reasons though, as Magnus has improved exponentially in the ring also. In 2012, the Samoan Submission Machine, Samoa Joe, clearly took the Brit under his wing. Starting out the year as a curiously mismatched tag team, they gelled surprisingly well and were even rewarded with a reign as Tag Team Champions. Building off that momentum, the pair springboarded into fantastic singles feud with each other over the Television Title. While Magnus never managed to go over and get the big win, he progressively upped his game until in the final pay-per-view bout he physically passed out rather than submit. He's currently "on the shelf" selling a random beating from Aces & Eights, but you can bet that upon his return, he'll quickly attain that brass ring that's eluded him for so long. After that, it's only so long before he sets his sights on the World Title itself.
While I'm not typically a fan of gimmick pay-per-views, this show acts as a much needed spotlight on an often flagging division. TNA was built on the X Division, attracting so much buzz and attention in the early years. Yet for no real reason, it's frequently ignored for long stretches of time. At least having Destination X in place, it guarantees once a year, the company pauses and remembers where it came from. My favourite part of the show for the past few years being the influx of new talent. These men are by no means guaranteed a permanent spot on the roster, but for the month prior and the show itself, they shine like never before. This year's offering included Mason Andrews (shut up Harold!), Rubix, Dakota Darsow, Lars Only, Flip Cassanova and the lone survivor, Kenny King. Also on the card, we had rematches of classic bouts in Kurt Angle vs Samoa Joe and AJ Styles vs Christopher Daniels. Last but not least, the epic main event of Austin Aries challenging Bobby Roode for the World Heavyweight Championship. All in all, the perfect mix of old and new. Everything I look for in a pay-per-view.
WORST TITLE REIGN
Jeff Hardy as World Heavyweight Champion
I simply do not get the appeal of this man to the masses. He's called "The Charismatic Enigma", but as far as I can tell, he has the least charisma of all the active wrestlers. Hell, if we included backstage agents, even D'Lo Brown and Al Snow could run rings around him. But, for whatever reason, the crowd loves him. They go nuts when his MANY musics hit, they go nuts when he nails the Twist of Fate on a badguy. As a result of such unquestionable adulation, TNA don't hesitate for a second to have their cash-cow win the Bound for Glory Series or go on to lay claim to the World Heavyweight Championship.
However, his run with the belt so far has been boring and uneventful. Just like when John Cena wins his umpteenth WWE Championship, there's a distinct feeling of "now what?". There's simply nowhere to go with Jeff's character or even the TNA Title itself. He's a literal narrative dead-end. He's only functioning as a target for the heels to bicker over, who in the process are having far more fun than the champion himself.
But at the end of the day, do you know what Jeff Hardy's title reign will be remembered for? The inner monologues. Due to the Enigma's complete and utter lack of ability on the microphone, he's incapable of cutting even the simplest of promos to back up his claims or to denounce his opponent. Instead of subjecting the Impact Zone (and we at home) to a bumbled attempt at verbalising his feelings on the spur of the moment, TNA have been covering this inherent weakness with pre-taped voiceovers that play at particular moments during a Hardy segment. All motion slows to a crawl, the camera moves in and...OH MY GOD WE'RE INSIDE HIS HEAD! Kinda dirty in here and I don't mean the fun way. Jesus, Jeff, do you never wash off the day-glo paint?
BEST TITLE REIGN
Bobby Roode as World Heavyweight Champion
256 days. Nuff said.
But that'd be a short segment, so let's verbalise a little.
In the modern era of professional wrestling, short uneventful title reigns are the status quo. A wrestler gains a certain amount of momentum and he'll be rewarded with a brief run with whichever title suits best. But a couple of months down the line, their act will grow stale and some shiny new talent will have the pull to swoop in and steal that title away. It's not even a bad thing in the strictest sense. Sometimes divisions do need revitalising. It's all about who's right for that spot at that moment. So to say Bobby Roode was the right man to lead TNA Wrestling forward for 256 days is the biggest compliment anyone can give.
During this record breaking run, Bobby Roode dubbed himself "The leader of the Selfish Generation" and went on to back up his claims with classic heel victories over the heaviest hitters in Impact Wrestling history. James Storm, Jeff Hardy, Bully Ray, Mr Anderson, Rob Van Dam, Sting, they all fell to "the It Factor of Professional Wrestling" like a line of dominoes. Even when it finally came time to drop the title at Destination X, he put over his challenger, Austin Aries, like a champ. In doing so, Bobby Roode has become the touchstone of TNA. It really does pay to be Roode.
Jeremy Borash is perhaps the unsung hero of TNA Wrestling. He's been there since the very beginning, doing so many undefined tasks under the umbrella of his job, it'd be easy to forget him, as he's such a staple. But you have to give credit to the man, he's a fixer through and through. Fronting episodes of TNA Today, Spin Cycle, Xplosion, numerous backstage interviews and even a short stint commentating on the first hour of Impact Wrestling, JB bleeds TNA. Your good works do not go unnoticed, sir.
WTF OF THE YEAR
Eric Young disappears for months getting KFC for ODB
While more a string of moments than one singular moment, I was forever taken aback by the segments of Impact featuring ODB phoning her missing-in-action hubby, Eric Young. In reality, EY was away fronting a successful nature show on Animal Planet. To explain such long absences, promotions usually just write the character out of storylines and pretend they never existed until they're available again, but TNA weren't going to let this one slide. For month after month, ODB would be seen in the backstage area phoning her "husband", leaving voicemail after voicemail. She'd instructed him to go pick up a bucket of chicken and he simply never came back! No calls, no texts and most importantly...no chicken!
In a year where the Knockouts division has been sadly neglected, Tara continues to be the firm foundation for any greatness to come. She's got the looks, the talent, the title, the valet and the begrudging respect of all those in the locker room. Having entered her forties, you'd think she'd be winding down her in-ring career, but with momentum like this, I see her going for years to come.
Her year started out with an unsuccessful run at Gail Kim's Knockouts Championship, but at the time she was clearly just fodder to establish Gail's dominance of the division. Biding her time, her moment finally came in the beginnings of a feud with her "Boo" Miss Tessmacher. The former Knockouts Tag Team Champions came to blows as Tess challenged her mentor on an Open Fight Night themed episode of Impact. Tara came out on top with ease, a fact which stuck in the craw of her opponent. The pair went back and forth until their matches became for the Knockouts Championship and any semblance of friendship was lost. Finally, at Bound for Glory, the biggest show of the year, Tara defeated Miss Tessmacher to capture the title for a record-tying fifth time.
MATCH OF THE YEAR
Bobby Roode vs James Storm at Bound for Glory
In their second show-stealing PPV match of 2012, James Storm came for his final revenge on former friend and tag partner, Bobby Roode. But no simple wrestling match was going to do his anger justice. This had to be balls to the wall, anything goes, no coming back, finality. This had to be a street fight. And oh my god was it ever. For the best part of half an hour, these two men took strips out of one another...and it wasn't even the main event! Storm and Roode's epic feud spanning almost a year at this point, had built up to such intensity, it surpassed the need for the World Heavyweight Championship. This was about pride, not titles. In doing so, these men took this match to an extreme rarely seen since the days of ECW. James Storm spent 99% of the time with a waterfall of blood raining down his own face. I genuinely worried whether he'd need a transfusion after they were done. But don't let the base brutality fool you into thinking this was a simple hardcore bout. The former Beer Money duo were telling a story, like only they knew how. By the time the thumb tacks came out, I was getting flashes of Cactus Jack and Triple H tearing it up over a decade ago. When you can be mentioned in the same breath as a classic like that, you know you're on the right track. To think this was only the third match of the night, it's a wonder anyone attempted to follow it. They brought their big game to the big show and even though James Storm finally got his victory and this feud is meant to be over, you can tell TNA won't hesitate to revisit it in the future in hope of recapturing the magic. Bravo, gentlemen.
Written by Mark Clements
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