On July 24, 2002, NWA Total Nonstop Action aired their sixth show, and first from the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, a place that just three episodes later Ron Killings (WWE‘s R-Truth) would coin as the “TNA Asylum.” It’s a name the arena still goes by today. On January 6, 2019, IMPACT Wrestling will be returning to said asylum for the first time in eight years, with a PPV aptly titled, “Homecoming.”
While IMPACT Wrestling got its start in Huntsville, Alabama (the first two shows took place there), the home of the company has always been Nashville and more specifically, the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. Initially starting out at the Nashville Auditorium after the move from Huntsville, (episodes 3-5 took place there), IMPACT moved to the Fairgrounds, which would become the promotion’s home for the next two years. It was at this very venue that IMPACT Wrestling as we know it today was born.
They say you can't go home again? We disagree!
We're delighted to announce our return to where it all began – The Asylum in Nashville, TN on January 6th for our next live PPV event Homecoming. pic.twitter.com/InunQhnxb9
— IMPACT (@IMPACTWRESTLING) October 15, 2018
The history of the Asylum is a rich one. In 1922, the Tennessee State Fairgrounds opened as a flea market but in the 1960s and 70s, promoter Nick Gulas used the intimate space as the perfect location for NWA Mid-America shows. In 1979, NWA Mid-America shut down after holding its last ever show at the Fairgrounds on January 17. The NWA didn’t run in Nashville again for 10 years and it was even longer until they made their return to the Fairgrounds in 2000 for the 52nd Anniversary Show. Returning for anniversary shows would become a theme as the NWA held their 57th and most recently 70th-anniversary cards at the Fairgrounds.
With the main NWA largely abandoning the arena in the early 2000s, that left it open for IMPACT Wrestling, then TNA, a new NWA property, to run in its place. And up until June 2, 2004, when the last episode of NWA Total Nonstop Action aired, the company ran exclusively at the Asylum. TNA continued to run their weekly PPVs from Nashville but had started running weekly TV as well from Orlando Studios, the home of TNA iMPACT. On September 8, 2004, the last episode of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, now no longer under the NWA banner, aired and the same night the final episode of TNA Xplosion to take place at the Asylum was taped and aired three days later. This marked the end of what IMPACT now refers to as, “The Asylum Years.”
Every single NWA-TNA Asylum Years PPV is now available at https://t.co/I9VP8ooje8 or the GWN App.
— IMPACT (@IMPACTWRESTLING) May 15, 2018
IMPACT Wrestling moved their operations permanently to Orlando that September. It wasn’t until three years later that the company would return to Nashville at the auditorium, their first, albeit very brief, home in Tennessee for 2007’s Slammiversary. As IMPACT became a touring brand, they’d return to Nashville again once in 2008, 2009 and 2010, which marked their first time back at the Asylum in six years. The reason for the return was that Nashville Mayor Karl Dean had announced that the Fairgrounds would be closing down in 2010, thus marking IMPACT’s last chance to run a show at the arena. 1,200 people were in attendance to watch Jeff Hardy successfully defend his world heavyweight title against D’Angelo Dinero (WWE’s Elijah Burke), Madison Rayne successfully defend her Knockouts title against Velvet Sky and the Motor City Machine Guns (Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin) successfully defend their titles in a three-way against Beer Money (James Storm and Robert Roode) and Ink Inc. (Jesse Neal and Shannon Moore). The other matches on the card saw Raven defeat AJ Styles, Abyss defeat Eric Young and Jeff Jarrett defeat Samoa Joe. For Styles and Storm, they were part of history that night as the two were the only IMPACT wrestlers to take part in the first and what had been presumably the last card, to take place at the Asylum.
In 2011, the Nashville City Council voted to keep the arena open until 2012 with a further referendum on the ballot passing, making it very difficult for the city to close down the historic Fairgrounds at all. Wrestling made its return to the Fairgrounds the following year and in 2014, Ring of Honor utilized the arena for a set of TV tapings, which just so happened to feature AJ Styles making his Fairgrounds return and last appearance there as he defeated Roderick Strong. ROH returned that June for Best in the World, which was their first-ever live televised PPV. After this, Nashville and specifically the Fairgrounds, briefly became part of ROH’s regular TV schedule as they taped there both in 2015 and 2016, which was their last time at the Fairgrounds to date. Though, they did return to Nashville in July of this year for Honor for All, which emanated from the Nashville Auditorium.
While IMPACT only ran at the Fairgrounds for two years, some of the company’s defining moments occurred at this venue, perhaps none more important than the rise of AJ Styles himself. A TNA Original in the truest sense of the word, Styles career was born and molded in IMPACT and specifically, the Asylum. During the Asylum Years, of which Styles was positioned front and center, the future Phenomenal One tended to be in title pictures more often than he wasn’t. He won two of his six X-Division titles, including becoming the first ever X-Division champion, a tag team championship with Jerry Lynn, a man who he also had his first great feud with, and the first world title of his career when he defeated Jeff Jarrett and Raven in a triple threat on TNA #49. Styles held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship for 133 days, successfully defending against Dusty Rhodes, Jonny Storm, Jerry Lynn, Raven, Low-Ki, D-Lo Brown, Frankie Kazarian, Chris Sabin and Paul London among others. All of those matches took place at the Asylum.
And while Styles was no doubt Mr. TNA back then (he even has the distinction of being voted Mr. TNA from 2003-05 to prove it) and the Asylum was truly the first house that he built, his wasn’t the only career that was molded and shaped at the historic Asylum. IMPACT Wrestling offered a national platform and brought to prominence tons of young indie wrestlers just starting out or slightly more experienced ones looking for their big break, guys like James Storm, Frankie Kazarian, Abyss, Bobby Roode, Alex Shelley, Petey Williams, Low-Ki, Eric Young, Chris Sabin, Ron Killings and Christopher Daniels. Veteran pro wrestlers, some of whom were absolute legends, also helped build TNA in those early years, guys like co-founder Jeff Jarrett, Jerry Lynn, Sting, Dusty Rhodes, Ken Shamrock, Sabu, BG James (WWE’s Road Dogg), Raven, The Sandman, Konnan, Jeff Hardy and CM Punk.
To celebrate its time in the Asylum, in 2010, IMPACT released the first volume of its Best of the Asylum DVD, which featured the top matches from those first two years. Included were a slew of Styles matches, 10 to be exact, along with some of the company’s early classics. In 2016, IMPACT released a follow-up that included tons more Styles matches as well as several Punk and America’s Most Wanted (Chris Harris and James Storm) bouts and even more classics from 2002-04. Earlier this year, the company announced that the entire Asylum collection is now available on the Global Force Network.
The return to Nashville and specifically the Asylum is just one of many ways that IMPACT’s new management team continues to move the company forward and away from the near disasters of recent memory. Co-VPs, Scott D’Amore and Don Callis, both of whom wrestled in the Asylum with IMPACT, have taken the company back out on the road since taking over the reigns in 2017 and it’s been to a great level of success. While the company’s home base is now in Canada, since D’Amore and Callis joined the leadership team, IMPACT has done major shows and TV tapings in New York, Orlando and Mexico City for the first time. They’ve also done co-branded shows in England, Louisiana, New Jersey, California, Iowa, Illinois, North Carolina and Tennesee. This weekend, IMPACT will be going to Las Vegas, Nevada and the famous Sam’s Town Casino for a set of TV tapings as well.
As IMPACT continues to move forward, both D’Amore and Callis clearly recognize the need to marry the present with the past in order to create a great future for the company. Returning to the Asylum, where it really all began and where so many great memories and wrestling stars were made, is just another step in accomplishing that. TNA legends wrestled there and now, the next generation of the company’s stars will have the same opportunity to step onto hallowed ground and to become part of the Asylum story. The Asylum will always be a treasured part of IMPACT’s history and to see it have even a small role in the company’s present is truly something special.