The Five Count: Top TNA Rivalries

Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe

In its decade-plus of existence, like any company, TNA—or Impact Wrestling—has done many things wrong, but also a lot right. They’ve been on the forefront of tag team and women’s wrestling, they introduced the X Division and they’ve created some lasting new stars. However, a positive aspect often overlooked about the promotion from their inception in 2002 to the present day has been their ability to craft classic rivalries.

In an era where many feuds come about without much build or feel unimportant due to the crunch of weekly television and monthly pay-per-views, TNA has often managed to bring an old school feel in terms of building bad blood between adversarial competitors, teams and factions.

With the 2013 edition of Bound for Glory coming up this Sunday, we examine the greatest rivalries in TNA history.

Ben Morse


One of the first true blood feuds in TNA, the Triple X trio of Christopher Daniels, Elix Skipper and Low Ki chased after the beloved pairing of Chris Harris and James Storm in 2003, desiring their NWA World Tag Team titles. This would lead to the first steel cage match in TNA history, a classic that saw AMW emerge triumphant.

A little over a year later, despite Ki having departed the company, Daniels and Skipper reunited to once against go after AMW. This time, the rivalry would cap off in the first ever Six Sides of Steel contest, featuring Skipper’s breathtaking hurricanrana off the top of the cage and one of the best matches in TNA lore, still remembered fondly in 2013.


At Bound for Glory in 2007, after two years of being a manager and occasional competitor, Gail Kim became the inaugural Knockouts champion, kick-starting a women’s wrestling renaissance in TNA by putting on matches that could stand up against any contested by men. But every great hero needs a seemingly insurmountable obstacle standing in their way, and for the new queen of the Knockouts, it came in the form of the mammoth Awesome Kong.

An international star, Kong stood out in any women’s division, a true spectacle and tremendous athlete who pushed Kim to her own impressive limits. Their feminine take on the David vs. Goliath story would push the Knockouts to the forefront of TNA in 2008, leading to some of the highest segments in the company and matches still talked about to this day.


In the summer of 2009, TNA’s founder, Jeff Jarrett, abruptly disappeared from television. Rumors swirled and eventually gained confirmation: Jarrett had married Kurt Angle’s ex-wife, Karen, and the powers that be decided a little space between the two men would be for the best.

Nearly a year earlier, Jarrett had returned to TNA following a lengthy hiatus where he had remained behind the scenes after the sad death of his first wife, Jill, and engaged in a pair of great matches with none other than Angle. The Olympic gold medalist seemed to elevate the veteran’s game, and, to his credit, the one-time “Double J” showed he still had it, delivering some of the finest performances in his lengthy career.

Flash forward once more to 2011, and Karen Jarrett made her return to TNA television at the side of her new man, Jarrett, one of the company’s most hated heels once more, to torment Angle. Their private issues had been made very public, and while it may have been momentarily uncomfortable for fans, all parties involved showed unwavering professionalism in another lengthy series of excellent matches, even better than their prior outings.

Who knows how Jeff Jarrett and Kurt Angle feel about each other outside of the ring at this point, but if hard feelings exist, they have the impressive ability to put them way aside when it’s time to do business, and they work great together.


From the moment a video promo revealed that Kurt Angle would be coming to TNA in 2006, fans salivated over many intriguing possibilities for the Olympic gold medalist in a new landscape, but none more than an impending showdown with Samoa Joe.

Joe had debuted in the company the previous year and established himself as a dominant force both in the X Division and as a World title competitor, remaining undefeated for well over 12 months. Both men had the intensity and athleticism to ensure unforgettable showdowns. When Angle finally debuted and hit Joe with “the headbutt heard around the world,” the early promise had been delivered upon with more assuredly to come.

Angle and Joe would feud with few pauses for the next year and a half. Their first three-match series on a trio of consecutive pay-per-views yielded the rugged combat hoped for, concluding with a classic Iron Man match. After a brief détente, the two clashed again in the summer of 2007 with every title in TNA on the line, only adding to their legend.

After Angle claimed the World title as his own and knocked Joe temporarily out of contention, the “Samoan Submission Machine” would spend over half a year working his way back into the championship picture, setting the stage for their ultimate encounter inside a steel cage at Lockdown 2008. It would be TNA’s most successful show to that point financially and end with Joe at last claiming his spot as top dog in the company.

In the years since, Joe and Angle have met several more times, and regardless of what either man has going on at the time, their matches feel important and always deliver. They have a chemistry that can’t be replicated and know how to bring the goods.


While I’m not sure when they first met one-on-one, the AJ Styles-Christopher Daniels feud exploded in earnest in 2005 when they fought over the TNA X Division title. Newly solo after the dissolution of Triple X, Daniels relentlessly pursued then-champion Styles, willing to use any tactics to counter the uncanny athletic prowess of “The Phenomenal One.”

Over the course of the year, they would have countless classic contests, including Iron Man matches, Ultimate X matches, and perhaps the best exhibition of professional wrestling in the history of TNA—and I’ll go ahead and put it on the all-time pantheon across the board—when Samoa Joe entered the mix at Unbreakable. They traded the belt back and forth and engaged in a 12-month battle of wills that could have landed them on this list had it stopped there.

It did not.

In 2006, Styles and Daniels would become allies, putting their differences aside to win the NWA World Tag Team titles and have great matches with America’s Most Wanted and the Latin American Xchange.

In 2009, Daniels returned from a TNA exile to aid Styles and the Frontline against the Main Event Mafia, but by year’s end, the two old foes would be battling for the latter’s World title, both with Joe once more and one-on-one.

In 2011, after leaving TNA for a year, Daniels again re-emerged to stand up for Styles, joining the Fourtune faction against Immortal. By the summer, the enemies-turned-friends once again turned enemies and proved that time had not softened their need to outdo each other; the current incarnation of their feud has raged strong for over two years now, drawing the likes of Kazarian, Dixie Carter, Kurt Angle and more into the ever-growing mythology.

When they began competing over eight years ago, the X Division title and a need to be the best drove AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels, but as they’ve circled one another, feuding and teaming and feuding again, it has broadened. An underlying theme seems to be resentment on behalf of “The Fallen Angel” that AJ gets the breaks he doesn’t, World title shots and preferential treatment from TNA. Both men play their parts perfectly, Daniels as the conniving and resentful villain, Styles as the hero who wants to cut past the political and personal BS to just fight.

To have a rivalry lasting nearly a decade that not only sustains its intensity but continues to evolve marks a great achievement for the promotion and especially the competitors involved; to have one that has produced the body of incredible matches this one has elevates it that much higher. AJ Styles vs. Christopher Daniels truly stands as a benchmark not only for TNA, but for professional wrestling.

Kurt Angle and Jeff Jarrett
Kurt Angle and Jeff Jarrett

Andrew Riche

Honorable Mention: VINCE RUSSO vs. THE FANS

Okay, this is more of a cheat than the ones that actually cracked my top five, but there is a lot of history between Vic Venom himself and the lurkers of the IMPACT Zone. He was first hired as a writer and figurehead during its Nashville days in 2002 before leaving the company two years later. But in September of 2006, the same month that Kurt Angle was signed, Russo took the book again, to the disdain and spewing insults of the Orlando fans. Every swerve or wacky finish at a TNA pay-per-view was met loudly with chants of “Fire Russo.” By the time he stepped down in late 2011 and left the company for good a few months later, not only were fans relieved, but so was Russo. The animosity between what the fans wanted out of TNA and the bad storylines that Russo was always credited for making (fairly or unfairly) never ceased until he was gone.


This may have been a retread on the Icon’s years-long rivalry with the nWo back in the late 90’s, but it had its own positive moments. When Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff first came to TNA to run things, Sting was booked as the heelish loner who was determined to take Hogan down by any means necessary. But what people saw as an evil dilemma turned out to be a prophet after Bound For Glory 2010 as Hogan, Bischoff, Jeff Hardy and what felt like every heel on the TNA roster pulled a coup and formed a heel super stable called Immortal.

Immortal dominated the TNA programming for months on end until a hero reemerged. Sting came back in 2011 to win the TNA World title from Hardy and continue his feud with Hogan, this time in old school WCW fashion with Sting as the face and Hogan as the authoritative heel. Sting even took on likeness to Heath Ledger’s Joker character in “The Dark Knight” in an attempt to goad Hogan out of retirement and face him in the ring. 14 years after their not-so-epic encounter at Starrcade 1997, Hogan and Sting did just that in a match that many believe will go down as Hogan’s final one. Hogan saw the error of his ways after wrestling Sting and effectively ended Immortal after Bound for Glory 2011, but the buildup to TNA’s version of Hogan vs. Sting was drawn out for over a year and actually paid off in a weird way.


I really wanted to put the breakup of Beer Money (which consisted of James Storm and Bobby Roode) a year later in this slot because those two produced a great, emotional rivalry, but I wanted to emphasize the great tag team wrestling that TNA has produced over the years, and this one was my favorite. The Motor City Machine Guns consisted of Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin, two X Division wrestlers who had attained a lot of individual success but melded into an amazing swift-kicking duo with high spots to spare. Storm and Roode had also made names for themselves in other tag teams (Storm with America’s Most Wanted and Roode with Team Canada), but it was together that they became one of the best tag teams ever.

A stand-off between the fan favorite, high-impact Machine Guns and the heelish, old-school Beer Money was inevitable, and after wrestling off and on for a couple of years, they finally got their date with destiny in 2010. The most memorable stretch between the two teams was in the summer of 2010 when they ensued on a best of five series that amazed fans and won over casual viewers. Their elimination bout, a 2-out-of-3-falls match on Spike TV, is still one of my favorite tag matches ever. All four guys have gone their own ways, but that rivalry may have been the highlight for each of their careers.


Although he has not won over many people with his downward spiral outside of the ring since joining TNA, there are a slew of great rivalries involving the Olympic gold medalist to choose from. It pained me to leave off his short but sweet feuds with the likes of AJ Styles, Mr. Anderson, and Desmond Wolfe, but he is well represented already on this list, and this rivalry had a lot going for it. Angle joined TNA and entered the main event scene when Jeff Jarrett, who co-founded of the company, took a backseat after losing the TNA World title to Sting at Bound for Glory 2006.

After a lengthy absence on TV, Jarrett returned in 2007 and eventually bumped heads with the power-hungry Angle a year later. Things got quite personal when Angle insulted Jarrett’s children and mentioned his wife, who had recently died from breast cancer. That led to two terrific matches between the two: An emotionally charged victory by Jarrett at Bound for Glory IV after not wrestling for over a year and a phenomenal, violent brawl at Genesis a few months later. Then in 2009, things got damn real. Word had gotten out that Jarrett was dating Angle’s ex-wife Karen in real life, causing president Dixie Carter to give Jarrett a leave of absence.

Like all juicy dramas in pro wrestling, that also became television fodder as Jarrett and Angle renewed their rivalry, this time with Angle as the face and Jarrett and Karen as the conniving couple. That feud culminated in 2011 during a Parking Lot Brawl on IMPACT that remains one of the best segments TNA has ever performed. Jarrett lost and forced him to move to Mexico, where he has been since in terms of storylines. Although Jarrett was well past his prime and Angle had better matches with younger TNA talents, the King of the Mountain and the Wrestling Machine never disappointed when they locked up in the ring and were definitely not afraid to go there when it came to personal vendettas.


Angle makes another appearance on my list, and not only was this his first ever rivalry when he debuted at TNA, but it also stands the test of time as his most memorable with the company. Angle stunned the wrestling world at No Surrender 2006 when he announced he had signed there after being released by the WWE, putting anticipation at a fever pitch. When he finally debuted on IMPACT, he came face-to-face with a man who had dominated TNA up to that point, the submission specialist Samoa Joe. And they butted heads, literally, as blood trickled down Joe’s pissed-off face and sparked a rivalry for the ages.

It was Angle who, one month after his scintillating debut, gave Samoa Joe his first singles loss in a TNA ring. The two would continue to wrestle each other and trade wins on pay-per-view before Angle won a variety of championships in 2007 and 2008 (one of which was the Tag Team titles, which he shared with Joe). They finally met up in a fair fight for the TNA World title at Lockdown 2008 in one of the most unique matches you will ever see, which included several minutes of MMA ground game and submission wrestling without a break. Joe defeated Angle for the title that night, but they always seemed to cross each other’s paths over the years.

In 2009, Samoa Joe was originally one of the leaders of the youth-oriented TNA Frontline in a feud with the Main Event Mafia, led by Angle and Sting. He shocked fans by joining Angle in the Mafia later that year with a new face-painted look and a more sadistic attitude. Since then, we have yet to see the Angle/Joe interactions flare up to the level it did when Angle first collided with the Samoan Submission Machine, but they have wound up having several matches whether it be for Destination X or the Bound for Glory series or teaming together in the newly minted Main Event Mafia this year. One way or another, when you mention Samoa Joe or Kurt Angle, you will always remember their hard-hitting encounters with one another.


As the homegrown hero and perhaps greatest performer in TNA’s history, AJ Styles has duked it out with pretty much every wrestler who laced boots in the six-sided (and now four-sided) ring. His Ultimate X matches in the first few years were revolutionary. His feud with Samoa Joe continues today and has produced one great match after the next. He and Kurt Angle have achieved greatness teaming together as well as dueling against one another. He is the Phenomenal One for a reason, but to go with the top rivalry in TNA’s history, I pick the rival whom Styles has battled for almost a decade, and that is the Fallen Angel (and Place To Be Podcast guest!) Christopher Daniels.

Daniels and Styles’ connection with one another is so deep that it even goes further back than their TNA days. The two first met at NWA Wildside, where Styles got his start, and continued their matches together at Ring of Honor. They became such close friends that AJ gave his first son the middle name “Covell,” which is Daniels’ last name in real life. They kicked off their TNA feud in 2005 over the X Division Title, and they did not disappoint. Their first big match against one another was an excellent 30-minute Iron Man match at Against All Odds that Styles won in extra time. At the very first Bound for Glory show later that year, Daniels and Styles did an encore, with Styles winning 1-0 as time expired.

Between those two matches, Daniels won the X Division belt from Styles and went on to have a match with Styles and Joe in September of 2005 that still goes down as the greatest match in TNA’s history. That match was so great, that Joe, Angle, and Styles were asked by TNA to do it again in late 2009, this time for the TNA World title, in hopes of recapturing greatness, which they did. When they weren’t bitter rivals, which they usually were, Daniels and Styles would routinely team up and have fantastic tag matches with the likes of America’s Most Wanted, L.A.X., and the Motor City Machine Guns.

Styles and Daniels are not known as magicians on the microphone, but their personal history and close ties have resulted in probably their best promos while confronting each other, lately with Daniels and Kazarian (aka Bad Influence) trying to make Styles’ life a living hell. But the very best that TNA ever has had to offer can be found between these two guys, from tag team goodness like Angle and Styles against Bad Influence at Slammiversary 2012 to beautifully crafted X Division matches like Unbreakable 2005, to dramatic stories like their “I Quit” match in Bound for Glory 2011. You just cannot go wrong with Styles vs. Daniels.

The Motor City Machine Guns and Beer Money

Greg Phillips


From the moment Kurt Angle was announced as the latest TNA signing in the fall of 2006, this was the potential rivalry that made fans salivate. In what was one of TNA’s most expertly built matches, Angle and Joe met up in a brutal encounter at Genesis. The build-up was amazing, as it was one of the few wrestling feuds of the modern era to receive the “real sports build.” Without hyperbole, Angle-Joe I had the proverbial big-fight feel that few encounters (in TNA or WWE) have had in the last 10 years. What’s often forgotten is that the two went on to top their Genesis encounter in two subsequent PPV matches, and they continued to feud off and on throughout 2007.

Their feud culminated with a divisive but, in my view, amazing steel cage match at Lockdown 2008. Fitting for a feud that had so often relied on an air of legitimacy, the match featured a blend of pro wrestling and mixed martial arts that had almost never been seen before or since in North America. Every time these two guys hook up, a great match is sure to follow.


This was just a good, old-fashioned southern revenge feud. When Bobby Roode betrayed his longtime tag team partner, James Storm, it kicked off one of TNA’s longest and strongest feuds. The twists and turns along the way, from Roode avoiding Storm to Storm coming up short in his hometown, built a drama and tension that was often missing in the company during Vince Russo’s tenure as head writer.

In this case, the booking team was patient and let the agony build for Storm fans. Every time it looked like he might get his payback on Roode, the It Factor would somehow gain the upper hand. While it probably stretched a bit too long, the payoff made up for it. Not only did Storm give Roode an all-time beating at Bound for Glory 2012, he finished it off by blasting the bloody Roode with the very beer bottle that started the rivalry in the first place. It was old-school pro wrestling storytelling and symbolism.


This will likely be the most controversial addition to my list, but it’s one I feel passionate about. While the two wrestlers involved always have good matches with one another, I included them highly here based solely on their brief feud in 2010. For that two or three-month stretch, they provided captivating television every Monday night during the brief Monday Impact experiment. It was enough to distract from Sean Morley and the Nasty Boys taking up TV time every week, because Anderson excelled at playing a supremely annoying villain while Angle made me believe there was a legitimate hatred between the two individuals.

Both guys deserve credit for the feud. Angle has always played a great, compelling babyface, and he was never better at it than in this feud. Anderson, meanwhile, seemingly had the fans in the Impact Zone ready to jump the rail and attack him, no easy feat for a heel in TNA. And, as is a trend with most of the feuds on my list, it had a defined beginning, middle and end. The blow off match, a bloody and violent cage match at Lockdown 2010, remains one of my five favorite matches in company history. And Angle getting his ultimate revenge by choking out Anderson and then literally walking over his unconscious body was an image that belongs at the top of TNA’s memorable moments.


I love tag team wrestling—legitimate, honest-to-God tag team wrestling, not four singles wrestlers fighting to prolong their feuds. And the two best tag teams in either of the two nationally televised wrestling promotions during the last 10 years were the Motor City Machine Guns and Beer Money.

The skills of the performers are obvious; Alex Shelley, Chris Sabin, James Storm and Bobby Roode have been in a large number of the best matches, interviews and storylines in Impact Wrestling’s relatively brief history. All are strong in-ring performers, and both teams had defined characters based on aspects of their real-life personalities.

The Machine Guns were the prototypical “pretty boy” babyface team, and Beer Money excelled in the role of the classic dirty southern heel team. Like peanut butter and jelly, these teams simply meshed on every level. Storm and Roode were bigger than Shelley and Sabin, which made the heat segments that much more believable, but they could keep up with the Machine Guns’ breakneck comebacks and finishing sequences. They had a handful of matches near the end of their feud that rank among the best I’ve ever seen on free TV. When their best-of-five series concluded with a fantastic two-out-of-three-falls match on Impact, it ended a wonderful era of tag team wrestling and cemented the legacies of all four men.


No two men more epitomize TNA at its best than AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels. No two men have provided more great matches, moments and memories than Styles and Daniels. From their epic Unbreakable match with Samoa Joe to their tag team battles with and against one another, Styles and Daniels have feuded for the majority of TNA’s life span.

And the awesome part? Almost all of their matches have been fantastic. They’ve had emotionally volatile rivalries, such as when AJ turned heel and battled Daniels, and they took that to new heights last year. While there were certainly some storytelling bumps along the way (Claire Lynch comes to mind), the two guys got the nonsense out of the way when it came time to talk or wrestle.

Perhaps what stands out the most in this decade-long rivalry is the fact that they wrestled in the TNA Match of the Year on at least two occasions (2005 and 2012). These are two guys who continue to be MVP-caliber players on Impact. And just when you think they can’t get any more mileage out of each other, they up their game and take the rivalry to new levels, as witnessed in last year’s fantastic Last Man Standing match.

Gail Kim and Awesome Kong
Gail Kim and Awesome Kong

Chad Campbell



Bobby Roode may not have become the overarching superstar TNA wanted when they gave him the belt, but he did a damn fine job as champion and the feud with the Cowboy as the former partners splitting up was very well done. These two guys had a lot of history together based on their partnership and the way it broke off reminiscent of Jon Jones and Rashad Evans from the UFC world was a nice touch. Roode was an arrogant prick and Storm was left soul searching. This only became amplified when Storm lost his bid to become champion at Lockdown 2012. The vignettes of Storm down and out at home were some of the best babyface promos of 2012 and him coming back for revenge at Bound for Glory set the stage for the blow off on TNA’s biggest PPV. That ended the feud for all intents and purposes now, but this does feel like a feud with some miles left in the tank that TNA could go back to if the timing was right.


This feud I am probably higher on than most. I do think it can be inconsistent with the real life stuff getting in the way of the wrestling angle. However, when it is just these two guys in the ring wailing on each other, I love the dynamic. Their Genesis 2009 match is my pick for most underrated TNA match in history and is a great car crash style match filled with crazy bumps.  The personal stuff with the daughters I could have done without but it did create stakes in the match and there was a sense of overall hatred between the two men. Ditto for the Karen Angle implications. Overall this is the most inconsistent feud on my list but the highs are enough for it to place for me.


The Knockouts was another stroke of genius for TNA. These two ladies were able to go out and change the perception of what a U.S. women’s match would look like. An emphasis was placed on wins and losses and not on how many garments were torn off. Kong was a great bully heel in the vein of Vader and Kim was right there with her doing her best Sting and Ricky Steamboat impression. One of my favorite match-ups in wrestling is big vs. little and these ladies utilized that template to the maximum and gave the Knockouts the highest ratings on TNA television shows.


In looking at ways TNA differentiates itself from the competition, an emphasis on the X Division is one of the big advantages in the company. Having it not be confined to a specific weight limit but more about the “style” of the match was a thought provoking decision that has had extended dividends. The Unbreakable 2005 match is worthy of all its praise that it receives and one of the best three-way matches in the history of wrestling. The Turning Point 2009 rematch is not far behind. My favorite thing about this feud is the way that all three individuals can be mixed and matched against each other to create a fun dynamic. They possess three distinctive personalities that can be utilized to fill out any wrestling card. This at times may not have the intensity and hatred you see in some blood feuds, but it makes up for it in the amazing display of athleticism within the matches.


This was the first time I truly paid attention to TNA and I was rewarded with a fabulous feud that took the best shoot-style aspects of an evolving wrestling landscape and interspersed them throughout the feud without it seeming forced.  Samoa Joe was seen as a golden boy based off his hugely successful ROH run. Kurt Angle really felt like the first “difference” maker star that TNA poached from WWE regardless of the situation that caused his exit. This had all the makings of a great feud. Angle made his big debut going after Joe, stakes were raised when Angle ended Joe’s undefeated streak; a yearlong rivalry with numerous stipulations and components being added followed. The blow off to the feud at Lockdown is one of my favorite TNA matches in history and brought together all the elements of their feud to a stunning conclusion with Joe winning his first TNA World Championship. It is sad the trajectory both of their careers have taken since then but this feud remains as the cornerstone of my favorite year in TNA history.

AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels
AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels

And now, our overall Five Count…


TNA has been able to keep their women’s division a cut above since its inception, and the groundwork laid by these ladies provided the base.


The most memorable tag team wrestling in the better part of a decade came courtesy of four tremendous competitors who gelled like few others in every situation.


Despite off-camera personal drama, this pair of professionals have been able to put their differences aside and do business. Eventually weaving in their history only heightened the drama.


Two of the most intense competitors in the annals of not just TNA but wrestling as a whole have waged an incredible war that sparked from their first unforgettable encounter. They have grappled with every manner of stipulation and never put on a less than stellar show.


The most enduring feud in TNA history has raged for nearly a decade and produced a wealth of spectacular matches. As rivals and partners, Styles and Daniels have helped up one another’s games and put their company on the map. What began as a purely athletic showcase has evolved into a fully fleshed out mythology between a great hero and his perfect villainous foil.

Place to Be Nation has you covered for TNA’s Bound for Glory 2013 PPV. We have Scott Criscuolo’s BFG preview, the live blog for the show on Sunday night and next week’s Place to Be Podcast Headlines episode will feature an in depth breakdown of the show, with guest hosts Greg Phillips and Nate Milton!

To read more about TNA, all check out these great pieces:

Callum Leslie rebooks the Bound for Glory series

Ben Morse examines TNA’s role to in the wrestling world

Andrew Riche looks at TNA’s legacy

Scott Criscuolo reviews each and every Impact episode

Justin Rozzero issues a plea to Kurt Angle

Scott & Justin chat with Christopher Daniels