As an older pro wrestling fan, I grew up on Jim Crockett Promotions/NWA in the 1980s. I loved WWF and “Hulkamania” during that same era as everyone else did. Teenage me was re-energized by the NWO in WCW and the ECW phenomenon at the same time. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the rasslin’ business reach its greatest heights in the WWE “Attitude Era” led by “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock and D-Generation X.
By the mid-2000s, the WWE had conquered the entire industry. Ring of Honor was putting out a quality product as an ECW-successor of sorts, including featuring some wrestlers that are now top WWE stars today.
But in the mid-2000s, I was all about Total Nonstop Action wrestling (aka TNA). The company founded by Jeff Jarrett and his father Jerry in 2002, sought to capitalize on a Southern wrestling market abandoned once WCW went under in 2001, but also an alternative to WWE at a time when Vince McMahon had overtaken the entire industry.
TNA became hot for smart fans quickly with AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels standing out as the top stars who would define the company in its early years. One of the most significant and most memorable TNA matches was AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe vs. Christopher Daniels at “Unbreakable” 2005:
TNA would later acquire Kurt Angle, Sting, Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and Ric Flair. Former WCW head Eric Bischoff would take on booking and creative.
But the heyday of TNA for pro wrestling diehards, was that sweet spot in the mid-2000s when TNA originals Styles and Joe ruled the roost.
The revelation Tuesday on Smackdown that AJ Styles will defend his WWE title at SummerSlam against Samoa Joe is a fantastic match on its face – two of the greatest performers in the business squaring off on the biggest platform of them all (WWE) still in their prime:
But for longtime fans, it’s also a long time coming: Both of these wrestlers were passed over a decade ago by the WWE for various reasons, yet still made a mark for themselves in other companies, whether TNA, ROH or New Japan.
The first time I ever heard of AJ Styles or Samoa Joe was in TNA, and after enjoying their work on that brand, I couldn’t help but wonder back then why two guys so talented weren’t working on top in the WWE.
Come SummerSlam; they will be. The main event world title match. They deserve it. So does every fan who ever followed them, ten years ago or ten minutes ago. AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe could be the match of the night at WWE’s second biggest PPV of the year.
Get ready for the “This is awesome” chants on August 19th. I would also add, especially looking at their prospects through a TNA rearview mirror, “You deserve it.” They most certainly do.
And we fans, deserve it too.