01 January 2014

Ringside: Impact Wrestling Year End 2013 Review

Welcome to a special edition of Ringside, where the TNAMecca staff collaborate to share with you their thoughts on the year that was 2013 in TNA and Impact Wrestling.  As many of you know, Ringside is a weekly staple here on TNAMecca which features not only a review of Impact but our Favorite Moment, Least Favorite Moment, MVP of the Night, and final Grade.  For this special edition, we will also be including our Bold Prediction for 2014 to keep things interesting.  As always, we encourage you to share with us your opinion of TNA in 2013 in the comments section below, as well as your favorite/least favorite moments, MVP, etc.

Chris Regal
Unfortunately for TNA, 2013 will be looked back on as an underwhelming year for the company.  And rightfully so.  It was a year that saw the company fall back into bad habits by pushing the older wrestlers at the expense of the younger ones, and more importantly, of the top talent that made 2012 such a successful year.  We also saw a tired gimmick - the dreaded heel faction invading Impact - return to disastrous effects.  I hate to say it but history will not judge the Aces and 8s story kindly.  It was an ill-conceived gimmick that essentially took stranglehold of the show and wouldn't let go until Mr. Anderson, thankfully, turned on the group.  It only took a year and a half however.  In the meantime, top talent such as Austin Aries, Bobby Roode, James Storm, among others, were relegated to the midcard in order to accommodate the atrocity that was the Aces and 8's angle.  Let me repeat - Aries, Roode, Storm, Styles, Bad Influence, Samoa Joe, and others were, by design, given less TV time so Bully Ray, DLo Brown, Devon, Mr Anderson, Wes Brisco, Garett Bischoff, DOC, Knux, and the Hogans (Hulk and Brooke) could get more airtime.  That's the Aces and 8's angle in a nutshell.  And that's why TNA fans will look back on 2013 and literally cringe.  What made the angle even more perplexing is the fact that the protagonists, at the end of the day, were Hulk Hogan and Sting.  It's truly horrific just thinking about it.  And I'm not even going to get into the writers' futile attempt to incorporate the MMA guys into this storyline simply because it was such a transparent ploy by SpikeTV and TNA to get us to watch Bellator that it's really not worth evaluating.  Interestingly enough, on a list of the most horrible things about the Aces and 8's angle, Rampage Jackson and Tito Ortiz are nowhere near the top.

In other developments, Austin Aries and Bobby Roode, the two men that carried TNA on their backs in 2012, were essentially turned into a comedy gimmick and languished in the Tag Team Division for half of the year, to feud with the likes of Chavo Guerrero and Hernandez.  What's mind-boggling about this is the fact that the writers never truly gave us the feud we had been asking for: the Dirty Heels vs Bad Influence.  I'm not sure why that is but it's one of the worst decisions of the year and that's saying something.  

James Storm was essentially a non-factor all year, as was Samoa Joe, minus his stint in the Main Event Mafia.  The X Division ebb and flowed in 2013 like it does every year it seems.  The Knockouts Division, surprisingly enough, had more good moments compared to the rest of the roster.  The Taryn Terrell vs Gail Kim feud was easily one of the best feuds of the year that culminated in two brutally violent matches, including the Match of the Night at Slammiversary.  Mickie James was also enjoyable as Knockouts champion for much of the year.  

As bad as the Aces and 8's angle was, I think the biggest disappointment of 2013 for me was the disaster that was the Bound for Glory series.  Coming off of a good year in 2012 where we thought the writers had finally fixed all of the problems that plagued the series in 2011, I had high hopes for this year's edition.  But what we saw was an uninspiring snoozefest that even the writers gave up on midway through, resulting in its abrupt halt.  In an unprecedented move, TNA opted for a gauntlet to determine the final four standings, essentially rendering the tournament completely useless.

But then October arrived...and everything that was so wrong about the show seemed to be coming to an end, and in their place were actual storylines, feuds, and characters that genuinely piqued my interest.  What once was the Aces and 8's vs the Hogan family borefest had morphed into a fast-paced, character-driven, fun-filled TNA of old.  Back were the fun moments, the brutal feuds, and the interesting stories and characters that brought them to life.  As tedious as 2013 had become, there was a light at the end of the tunnel...the one that Hulk Hogan walked through on his way out of TNA.  I had said a while back on Twitter, if there's one moment that can lift the morale of every single TNA fan, it's Hogan leaving the company, and like clockwork, everything was right with the world again.

In final, 2013 will be looked back on as a year that TNA completely lost its soul and its identity.  But hopefully, it will also be remembered as the year TNA returned to its roots and managed to pull itself out of the hole that the Hogan/Bischoff era created.  Because the truth October of 2013, we saw the end of the Hulk Hogan art of Impact Wrestling and the return of TNA: the wrasslin' company.

Favourite Moment - For me, it was the Aces and 8's funeral simply because it was as cathartic a moment as any I had experienced in pro wrestling.  It was the moment that TNA finally rid itself of its demons.

Least Favourite Moment - Many to choose from but I will go with the horrific Hulk Hogan promo in late August in which he botched the Aces and 8's name, repeatedly, and announced a Bully Ray vs Sting world title match for "tonight" even though the match was neither a world title match (because Sting could not compete for the world title ever again) or "tonight".  The match had been booked for the following week.  In my opinion, TNA had hit rockbottom at that point and it was clear to me that Hulk Hogan needed to go, or at least be removed as GM.

MVP of the Year - I realize Magnus had a good year but in a year that saw so much inconsistency, the one constant all year was Bad Influence.  They simply were the must-watch act of 2013.

Grade - It's tough to grade the year simply because I look back on everything and I want to pull my hair out but it never seemed as bad while it was happening in real time.  But in the end, I don't think 2013 deserves a good grade.  I will give 2013 an overall grade of C- as I think the shenanigans that went on for most of the year did quite a bit of damage to the product.  Luckily for everyone involved, TNA seemed to turn the corner late in the year, at least giving us hope for 2014.

Bold Prediction for 2014 - I predict that AJ Styles will not return to TNA in 2014.  I truly believe there's a changing of the guard going on in TNA and at this time next year, the roster for Impact Wrestling will look much different.

It's been a very mixed year for TNA. We've seen some highs and lows both on and off screen throughout the year, from the record setting attendance at Lockdown, to the mass release of talent during the Summer. We've had some new concepts introduced such as the One Night Only series and #Impact365, and also seen some concepts pulled such as Open Fight Night and Gutcheck. It's certainly been a very testing year for TNA.

The product this year has been a mix, it really picked up excitement in March after Bully Ray revealed himself as the President of the Aces & 8's, shortly after the buzz was created it disappeared, and things started to get boring. It wasn't until Destination X where things started to pick up. Up until then the BFG Series had been poor, and the Aces & 8's were doing nothing new and becoming stale. Gradually the influence of a new creative direction seeped in, and by the time Bound For Glory was said and done, things were firing on all cylinders. The back end of the year has been great for Impact, constantly good shows have really been a positive for TNA's 2013. New characters such as EC3, Rockstar Spud & Samuel Shaw have been a breath of fresh air, and the AJ Styles storyline and the crowning of Magnus as the new World Champion have given many fans optimism for TNA's direction in 2014.

From a business side it doesn't seem to have been a good year. We started with the new approach of 4 live PPV's and 7 taped One Night Only events. Unfortunately the One Night Only concept has been hampered with problems. The majority of them were taped in March, and most suffered for being so outdated. They were also taped in-front of a burnt out Impact Zone, which really affects the viewing of the shows. Fortunately it seems that as we end the year some of the issues have been addressed, with the taking the ONO tapings on the road and hopefully doing them closer to air date than this year. 

The on the road era also seems to have failed for TNA. At the start of the year they announced they were leaving the Impact Zone and going on the road permanently, but as we end 2013 TNA are back in the (new) Impact Zone. Going on the road drained a lot of cash from TNA, and the majority of the tapings had average-sized crowds that didn't grow as the year went on. The product did come across better at times, crowds like Chicago, Jonesboro, Salt Lake City, Louisville and others really gave a good feel to the show. It seems like the move permanently was a little premature, but TNA has returned to the Impact Zone to regroup, it looks like we may get the PPV-Impact's on the road in 2014, which would get them on the road regularly, but also still use the Impact Zone and have that safety net in-case a money losing situation arises again.

The concepts in TNA have changed. We entered the year with Gutcheck and Open Fight Night as some of TNA's premier concepts. As we end the year both have been discontinued, and we now have a monthly Impact-PPV approach, which has proven to been a success. The innovative #IMPACT365 was introduced this year, and seems to be something that the company will stick with long term. From a concept standpoint, the ones that are successful have ended the year intact, while the failures have joined the likes of the Steel Asylum and the TNA Top 10 Rankings in a high security room at the Carter mansion. 

It was a big shake-up year roster wise. We saw some releases here and there for the first half, then came to big release of talents in July. There's not been many signings in 2013, but the combination of new signings and new characters has given the product a breath of fresh air. Names like Hulk Hogan, AJ Styles, RVD, Mickie James, Devon, DOC, Crimson and many more have departed this year, but the introduction/re-packaging of talents such as EC3, Manik, Rockstar Spud, Samuel Shaw, Jay Bradley, Lei'd Tapa, partnered with the elevation of Magnus, Chris Sabin, The BroMans & Gunner gives the product not only a fresh, young look, but a plan that looks to unfold for years to come. While some future stars have left this year, TNA has invested into the talent of tomorrow, which gives a bright outlook for 2014 and beyond.

Favourite Moment - I'll go ahead and say the funeral of the Aces & 8's. It was a brilliant segment that wrote a hilarious final chapter to a story that didn't reach the level it could have. Honourable mentions to the EGO Hall Of Fame, Bully Ray's Reveal, and AJ Styles leaving with the World Title.

Least Favourite Moment - I'll say the mass releases in July. It really was a sad time, and some releases really shocked/disappointed me. Hopefully this will be the only time we see this in TNA.

MVP of the Year -  I'm going to give this one to my fellow countryman and someone who I think has had a consistently good 2013, Magnus. From his triumphant return in Manchester in January, to his dominance in the BFG Series, and of course to ending 2013 as the World Champion, this year has been a good one for the Mag Daddy. Names like AJ Styles come to mind for this award, but when I look back at this year, I think Magnus is the guy who can say 2013 was his year.

Grade - It's been a mixed bag for TNA this year, but I’ll go ahead and give them a C. Like some students, they started out the year well, had a lull midway through, but bucked up their ideas for the final part of the year. If 2013 was anything, it was a big lesson for TNA, it taught them to make the tough decisions, to work within a budget and to have a long term plan and regain an identity.

Bold Prediction for 2014 - I think my bet is that by the end of 2014, Ethan Carter III has at least had a main event World Title match, if not become the World Champion at some point in the year.

2013 was an odd year for TNA.  The ups and downs for fans of the company were pretty drastic at times.  However, I'd like to think that the positives still outweighed the negatives in the end.  It all took a little turn of direction here in the last few months of the year to end with the arrow pointing up.  Coming off the road was perceived by many as a huge failure but it was a necessary, fiscally-responsible move for TNA to survive.  The changes to the PPV format from 12 monthly events to 4 BIG PPV's seemed like a wise move at the time, and I think it still can be if they treat those 4 PPV's as grand events.  The 2013 ONO PPV's that became the remaining 8 PPV contract obligations were not executed well, and that seemingly is being rectified as we speak, with the 2014 versions being higher-quality shows on the road.  There were so many IMPACT Special PPV-themed shows on SPIKE TV in 2013 also.  Some of these Spike PPV-themed shows were awesome and some felt like just another IMPACT.  Until we hear otherwise, it's safe to assume that the same show formats will exist going forward (except for Genesis not being one of the 4 Big PPV's).

Much of 2013 was focused on The Aces and Eights and even though I was an outspoken fan of the faction, I agree more in retrospect that they overstayed their welcome by at least 2-3 months.  If they had no plans to repackage the group with more quality wrestlers, then it was a poor decision to let things linger on.  Someday a different version of Aces and Eights may resurface in TNA, just like the Mafia did in 2013.  Bully Ray was a good heel champion, but the main event was missing Austin Aries and Bobby Roode this year.  Those 2 wrestlers are the best 2 overall performers currently under contract and one of them needs the World Title sometime in 2014.  The 2013 BFG Series was poorly executed and I'd be fine with them scrapping the idea for the coming year. 

At times the X-Division seemed ultra-important (like at Destination X) and other times the division disappeared for weeks on end.  The KnockOuts had a great reputation for the first 7 months this year or so, and now are mired in mediocrity and have no depth.  Lei'D Tapa looked like a game-changer initially but even I am starting to wonder if she is progressing quickly enough.  No doubt that EC3, Rockstar Spud and Samuel Shaw are wonderful new characters with tons of potential.  Jay Bradley and Kenny King also have that same potential but TNA used them so inconsistently this year.  Consistency is the key going forward as certain divisions, like the Tag Team Division, are just too hot and cold.  There is lots to look forward to in 2014, and things should start off with a bang on the annually-successful U.K. Tour.
Favourite Moment - My favorite moment from 2013 was the Bully Ray reveal as the President of A's &8's/World Title win at Lockdown in front of a big crowd in the Alamodome. 

Least Favourite Moment - Chavo & Hernandez beating Austin Aries & Bobby Roode for the World Tag straps.  That should never happen.

MVP of the Year - At one point this year I would have said AJ Styles, but Magnus being the youngest and 1st British World Champion in 100-plus years trumps everything. 

Grade - Lots of ups and lots of downs.  I will give 2013 a C overall.

Bold Prediction for 2014 - AJ Styles will return to TNA by Slammiversary 2014 or before.

Nick Mann
Much can be written about TNA in 2013; most of which would have to do with the business end of things and behind the scenes drama. From major departures (RVD, Hulk Hogan and AJ Styles) to failed experiments (Impact on the road, One Night Only PPV series), most of which would be discussed is negative. I cannot deny that 2013 was not a good year for TNA Wrestling; my overall grade will reflect that; but I would like to discuss what I saw on screen as opposed what I read online. There was some really good stuff from TNA this past year and some really bad stuff, I’m going to keep this short and sweet so here it goes:

Favourite Moment - Gail Kim vs. Taryn Terrell from Slammiversary. I loved this match and it remains my favorite TNA match of the year and that is with some HEAVY competition from Kurt Angle and Bobby Roode as of late. This reminded me of the Knockout matches of old and made me a fan of Taryn. Honorable mentions go to the Bully-Brooke Hogan Wedding, the ending of Lockdown, and the EGO Hall of Fame segment.

Least Favourite Moment - “#August1Warning.” When they started this I thought it was going to be Low-Ki, then I thought it might be Bobby Lashley and then in the back of my mind I thought “oh no, it might be Hardcore Holly!” When Tito Ortiz was revealed, I wished it was Hardcore Holly. This was one instance when TNA deserved the hate it got from the fans and while I grew to like Tito in his role as Bully Ray’s heavy, the disappointment of August 1st still leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

MVP of the Year - Bully Ray. His awesome promos, bad ass, old school matches, and making the pile-driver effective again makes Bully Ray the MVP of TNA in 2013. He was exactly what TNA needed this year: a REAL heel that could help make the baby-faces look good while still having credibility as a tough guy. We know who he is, oh yes, we know who he is!

Grade - D+. I hate to do this, I really do, but facts are facts. I may have liked the Aces and Eights, but I was almost alone in that respect, the faction dominated Impact every week and it led to fans being bored to tears. Impact going on the road put TNA in a bad financial state because someone thought it was a good idea to book big arenas when TNA couldn’t fill them. AJ Styles has left, at least for now. Some of the damage was repaired after Bound for Glory, and the rise of Magnus is something that will be looked back on as significant as he is a star in the making. New characters like EC3 and Samuel Shaw have people talking. Kurt Angle vs. Bobby Roode, Mr. Anderson vs. Bully Ray, Sting vs. EC3 are all feuds that seem to have peaked some interest from TNA fans who were cold on the product previously. 2013 may have been a bad year for TNA, but for 2014, there is nowhere to go but up.

Bold Prediction for 2014 - EC3 main events Bound for Glory and wins the TNA World Heavyweight Title! I know it’s crazy, but I can see it. Remember you heard it here first!

Lewis Harris
I think it is fair to say that 2013 has been somewhat of a rocky year for TNA.  Early on in the year we saw Impact hit the road, which sounded like a good idea on paper but the financial strains it was placing on the company soon became apparent with the very visible scaling back of the three man announce team and barely a week going by without news of someone from the roster leaving or being released from the company.  If you were going purely on crowd reaction then the road experiment probably sounded like a success to those in charge, which could be why it was allowed to go on for so long.  For us watching at home, the crowd erupting whenever the Immortal one's music kicked in soon became very tedious.  The storylines became stale, and booking for most of the road experiment was terrible.

There were attempts to revive the X-Division, which looked quite promising to begin with.  The referee head-cam gimmick fell flat on its face, they introduced some overly complicated and unnecessary three way, you-lose-you're-locked-out type rules... heck I can barely remember the fundamentals.  Ultimately the X-Division faded once more into obscurity, and only recently we've been given the faintest glimmer of hope that it will be coming back to the fore with Austin Aries.

Similarly they went to great lengths to try to give the Knockouts Division more credibility.  Then it transpired the fruit of Hogan's loins needed a job, so Brooke was placed in charge which was a resounding arse-fart of an idea.

Aces and Eights needed a faction to feud with so an insipid reformation of the Main Event Mafia was introduced with little fanfare.  Rampage Jackson was brought into the company.  No-one particularly cared.  Tito Ortiz was introduced as his antagonist.  No-one particularly knew who he was.  A Magnus push failed to get over with the fans despite the amount of times Hogan and Sting were telling us he was the future.  Sabin's return and subsequent World Title grab was a damp squib.

Fortunately 2013 has also been a year of two parts for TNA, which can be clearly divided into the largely negative pre-Bound For Glory months, and the overwhelmingly positive post-Bound For Glory months.  Don't get me wrong, there were some positives in the first part of the year (The Dirty Heels, EGO, the EY and Joseph Park friendship, Taz being given free licence to act like a douchebag via his association with Aces and Eights), but it was after TNA hit the reset button at Bound For Glory that they stepped off their rocky path and found their footing on level ground once more.

As painful as it was to see so much talent released throughout 2013, the result was a very streamlined roster packed with great top-end talent.  The story-telling from creative in recent months has been nigh on superb, giving the fans feuds they can become emotionally invested in and for the most part progressing them in meaningful ways week on week.  With Hogan gone, other TNA faithfuls have been given a chance to shine and we've been introduced to a whole host of great young talent.

TNA have led the way in terms of their use of social media and the introduction of #IMPACT365, and their cross-promotion work with foreign organisations is exemplary and paying dividends with an increasing international fanbase.

There was a time in 2013 where I was watching TNA out of habit, and the hope that things would get better.  These hopes became a reality at Bound For Glory, and once more I watch the show because I am excited to see what TNA can come up with next.

Roll on 2014, I think it is going to be a better!

Favourite Moment - Irrespective of the rumours circulating about AJ's future, the image of AJ Styles driving off in Dixie's convertible with the World Title belt held high is one that will stay with me for a long time.

Least Favourite Moment - Any and all footage involving Brooke Hogan, which should be archived for future generations to dig out and use as a deterrent against nepotism within the wrestling industry.  If I had to pick one particular Brooke moment, it would have to be the closing scenes of her wedding to Bully on Impact.  As Brooke lollops towards the ring to check on her beat up father, Hulk Hogan tells his daughter to go check on her new husband (presumably to get the shot they needed for the closing of Impact).  Brooke then audibly explains to Hulk that her t*ts have popped out, and proceeds to hide her gigantic melons behind her prone father's even more gigantic melon head.  A class act.

MVP of the Year - In my opinion there is unquestionably only one choice; Dixie Carter.  2013 has been a year of poor decision making and unpopular choices amongst the fans, and as President of TNA the buck has to stop with Dixie as she is ultimately culpable for these decisions.  However, a lot of the poor decisions were undoubtedly made on the back of even worse advice from parties that are no longer involved with TNA, brother.  Ever since their departure, Dixie has managed to make the best of a very genuine negative backlash from the fans to fuel a convincing and enjoyable heel persona, which I found to be incredibly business savvy and very brave on her part.  It must have been soul destroying to see so much talent released to fund the bank of Hogan, so bravo to her for finally showing him the door.

Grade - If we were judging from Bound For Glory onwards, 2013 would score very highly for me.  However, despite all the good we've seen since late October, this is a review of 2013 as a whole and the tedium and poor choices of the first 10 months cannot be overlooked.  On that basis, 2013 gets a C- in my books.

Bold Prediction for 2014 - Magnus will still be the World Heavyweight Champion this time next year.  Booyah!

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