TNA may get a lot of stick for relying on ex-WWE stars, but the truth is they booked many of them far better than the bigger competition.
Once upon a time, talent would jump somewhat frequently from WWE to TNA and vice versa. Whilst the giant that is the WWE were usually celebrated when they picked up new talent from their rival, before being lambasted for wasting them, TNA were typically criticised for picking up a perceived cast off and placing them above their own talent.
The truth is Dixie and co. often out-booked McMahon’s House of Muscle when it came to the talent who worked both sides of the line. Be it in the case of talent that started with them and moved on to bigger things, or those who came to them from the big leagues, the gulf in booking quality is often very clear.
A notable and somewhat amusing example of this comes in the form of Chris Harris. The tough, athletic wrestler was one of the oft-touted TNA originals and spent some six years with the promotion before having a cup of coffee in WWE.
Whilst in TNA, Harris was best known as being one half of the wildly popular America’s Most Wanted tandem with James Storm. The pair held the NWA World Tag Team Championships on six different occasions and competed in the promotion’s Match of the Year in 2004 against Triple X. They were even named the Tag Team of the Year in 2005 by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
Once the pair split in December 2006 following a brutal attack by Storm on his former partner, Harris and Storm began a lengthy singles feud. They fought in bloody wars across multiple Pay Per View events, ending things at Sacrifice in a Texas Death Match.
Sadly, his singles career petered rather quickly after that and Harris was done with TNA at the beginning of 2008.
Shortly thereafter it was announced that The Wildcat would be signing with WWE and on July 8th 2008 he made his TV debut on ECW under the name Braden Walker. If you don’t remember that happening then it is entirely possible that he knocked your brains out, please consult your physician if this is the case.
It was a short stay that saw him defeat Armando Estrada and James Curtis before being released in August of that year.
Looking at the poor physical shape Harris was in when he finally got to WWE, it is of little wonder that his run ended up being so short and uneventful. Still, it is quite remarkable that the company could think of nothing more to do with him that have him throw out the worst knock-knock joke in history. This was, after all, a man who had been one half of the best tag team in the industry just years earlier.
He was never going to be a big star for WWE but one would have thought that he might have been pushed with a little more care than he was. Especially considering how well TNA had used him for over half a decade.
It is tempting to assume that had Harris been more successful as a singles star in TNA that WWE might have treated him better. That idea falls apart when you consider the usage of Austin Aries in WWE.
Over the course of three runs with TNA, Aries crafted a legacy for himself in the promotion that is undeniable.
Starting as a member of the stacked X-Division in 2005, Aries quickly wowed fans who hadn’t seen his remarkable work in ROH. He may well have received more of a push during that initial run had he not received a pair of suspensions for arriving late for 2006’s Against All Odds PPV, and later for attitude related issues in April of 2007.
Following his release from the company during the second suspension, Aries returned to ROH and wouldn’t be seen again in TNA until June of 2011. This time, there would be no hold-ups in his rise to prominence as he quickly rose through the ranks of the X-Division and captured the title in September of that year from Brian Kendrick.
What followed was a run of unparalleled dominance that eventually saw the champ cash in on his X-Division gold in order to receive a shot at Bobby Roode’s World Championship at Destination X in 2012. In a slightly shocking turn of events, Aries won that match against a red hot Roode and became the champion. Though this spell with the belt only lasted 98 days, it was one that cemented Aries as a top star in the company.
What followed was a successful tag team with Bobby Roode that saw the pair win the Tag Titles from Chavo Guerrero Jr and Hernandez in early 2013.
A Double turned his attention back to the X-Division Title in the hopes of once parlaying it into a World Title reign but was unable to do so despite winning the belt back briefly. He would then win the title on two more occasions and reunite with Bobby Roode before finally departing the company in the summer of 2015.
At the start of 2016, he made his debut in NXT and rose through the ranks by defeating Baron Corbin at TakeOver Dallas. He made clear his intentions to win the NXT Championship, but these plans hit a major roadblock when he suffered an orbital socket injury at a live event against Shinsuke Nakamura.
He would then join the commentary booth on 205 Live and the Cruiserweight segments on Raw whilst he recovered.
In March of 2017 Aries made his return to action by attacking the Cruiserweight Champion on 205 Live. This led to the pair competing on the Wrestlemania 33 Pre-Show, something that neither man was happy about. Neville won that match as well as two subsequent PPV encounters.
Aries was released from WWE in July of 2017 amidst conflicting online reports.
Unlike Chris Harris, Aries returned to TNA, now Impact Wrestling, in 2018. Due to his enormous post-WWE Indie success, he became known as the Belt Collector and added the Impact World Championship to his collection in short order. He traded the belt back and forth with Pentagon Jr before adding Killer Kross to his act as his insurance policy.
His latest and potentially last run with Impact came to end in less than ideal circumstances when Johnny Impact won the World Title from him and Aries responded by no-selling the finish, flipping off the crowd, and leaving. He hasn’t been booked by them since.
Despite that controversy, it is clear that Aries was treated so much better in TNA than he ever was in WWE. Whether it was due to backstage heat or the latter company not wanting to push the relatively small worker, Aries deserved better than what he got under McMahon’s control.
It is safe to say that Aries’ sometimes tag partner hasn’t fared much better in WWE either. Bobby Roode spent 12 glorious years in TNA and went from Team Canada rookie to main event kingpin.
Roode’s TNA career started in May 2004 as the enforcer for Team Canada but, and this may be a tad unfair to say, it didn’t get interesting until 2008 when he formed Beer Money Inc. with James Storm.
The pair set the Tag Team Division on fire with their immediate chemistry. Matches with LAX, The Motor City Machine Guns, and Team 3D took centre stage at TNA events and brought the two performers newfound popularity that clearly pointed them out as stars.
Over the course of four TNA World Tag Team Title reigns, the duo secured their legacy as one of the best teams in company history and shot up into the main event scene against the likes of Jeff Hardy and Immortal.
In 2011 Roode made his first real waves as a singles performer by winning the Bound for Glory Series and earning a World Title match with Kurt Angle. Despite looking strong in the match, Angle cheated to defeat Roode and subsequently Roode was announced not to be eligible for a rematch with Angle for the title.
Instead, James Storm challenged for the gold and became World Champion. Meanwhile, Roode defeated Samoa Joe to become the number one contender for his tag partner’s title. In their Impact showdown for the title, Roode betrayed James by smashing a beer bottle over his head to claim the title. It was the crowning moment of his run and established him as the top heel in TNA going forwards.
Much of what happened next has already been discussed as it ties in with Aries own TNA career, but a second World Title reign, as well as a fifth Tag Title reign for Beer Money, serve as the highlights of the last years of Roode’s TNA tenure. He left the company in 2016.
That same year the robe-wearing veteran debuted in NXT with the most over theme song this side of Fandango.
An early pairing with Tye Dillinger did nothing much for him but he soon broke out as a singles force and defeated Shinsuke Nakamura for the NXT Championship. His reign was, to be truthful, a little flat, and ended when the returning Drew McIntyre defeated him at TakeOver Brooklyn 3.
Since then Roode has been ever-present on the main roster and has had throw away reigns with the United States and Raw Tag Team Championships. He is now settled in a serviceable pairing with Dolph Ziggler, the pair often aiding Baron Corbin.
You can see which run has more highlights, right?
TNA built up Roode from being a bright eyed rookie to taking the company by storm as a dastardly World Champion. He was the man there. In WWE he is a footnote. The title reigns he has had are meaningless and his immense talent is wasted on idiotic programmes concerning dog food and Roman Reigns.
Perhaps WWE have a secret loathing for former tag partners of James Storm? It’d explain why Gunner is languishing in a nothing act on NXT.
As stated earlier, stars didn’t just hop from TNA to WWE and one prime example of a talent who made the opposite journey to great success is Christian Cage.
Debuting in the then WWF in 1998, Christian earned the Light Heavyweight Championship in his first match by defeating Taka Michinoku. He followed that hot start by joining Edge and Gangrel as a member of the vampiric Brood. The late 90’s clichés were heavy with this team and their theme music remains popular to this day. In fact, it’s almost enough to distract from the fact that Christian lost that Light Heavyweight Belt to Gillberg. Almost.
The unit aligned with Undertaker and his Ministry of Darkness, aiding in the Wrestlemania hanging of The Big Boss Man from the Hell in a Cell structure. They left Undertaker’s side after he tried to sacrifice Christian and soon after E and C left Gangrel too.
As a tag team, they showed more of their natural charisma and became the beloved goofy duo we all remember so fondly.
They pioneered the TLC match with the Hardys and Dudleys, gave those with the benefit of flash photography a reason to live, and became seven-time tag champs along the way.
Not wanting to become stale after presiding over the greatest era of tag team wrestling in WWE history, the duo went their separate ways after Christian betrayed Edge.
Whilst Edge would go on to become the main event marvel and one of the biggest stars the company has ever had, Christian went on to become a mid-card mainstay in his 2000’s run. He joined with the Un-Americans, held numerous Intercontinental Championships, and even worked with John Cena during his first WWE Title run. Still though, he was never recognised as being a main eventer himself despite obviously having bags of charisma and top tier in-ring skills.
So, it wasn’t too surprising when he decided to depart from WWE in 2005 and showed up in TNA at Genesis that same year.
He immediately made it known that he was there to become the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Champion. He made short work of this goal, taking out Monty Brown at Turning Point to become number one contender before taking the title from Jeff Jarrett at Against All Odds, just three months after first appearing in the promotion.
In so doing he proved Vince McMahon wrong. Christian was capable of carrying the main event programme and doing so very well indeed. His work with Abyss during this time made for some interesting viewing and more than justified Cage’s spot at the top.
After his World Title reign came to an end, Cage turned heel and went on to lead the Christian Coalition which consisted of him, Tyson Tomko, and Scott Steiner. Abyss and AJ Styles would also find themselves allied with Cage during this time.
He would go on to win the NWA Title for a second time and continued to be featured in the company’s headline stories right up until his departure in late 2008.
Yes, Christian then returned to WWE and became an ECW Champion as well an eventual two-time World Heavyweight Champion – though at no time was he presented as being a star. He was at the top by happenstance and shown to be secondary to Randy Orton when he reigned with the Big Gold Belt.
Vince still never saw him as anything more than a good hand who could keep the IC Title warm for him, while in TNA he was a star and presented as such. He may have had a relatively brief run in the latter promotion, but it was better for him than all of his years a singles talent in WWE combined.
Christian wasn’t the only wrestler to have had success as a tag team in WWE but never even glimpse his full potential on his own. Bubba Ray Dudley had a similar change of fortunes over in TNA, though his path to realising his never before suspected singles destiny was not as immediate as his compatriot’s.
Having dominated the tag ranks in ECW alongside his career-long partner D-Von, Bubba found himself moving on up to WWE/F in 1999. After surviving a welcome beating by the APA, The Dudley Boyz went on to compete against The Hardy Boyz and Edge and Christian in a scintillating series that defines tag team wrestling to this day.
The pair set themselves apart from their rivals by embodying the extreme spirit of their former promotion in a more violent manner. They put female performers through tables, including the ancient Mae Young, and became synonymous with that particular piece of furniture. Not even the Invasion angle could knock them off their stride as they ended that particular slice of misbooked misery with the Tag Team Titles in hand.
A 2002 split for the duo led to Bubba finding himself a part of the Hardcore Division, albeit a dying version of it. He enjoyed 10 reigns with the title before being reunited with D-Von at the tail end of the year. It is possible that Bubba could have gone on to enjoy some real singles success during this run had D-Von’s preacher gimmick not failed and necessitated a reformation of their team.
From there, it was business as usual as they racked up title wins to become nine-time WWE Tag Team Champions (10 if you count the WCW Tag Title run).
By 2005, they left WWE for pastures redder. Showing up in October of that year, it was more of the same for a long while as they picked up the NWA Tag Titles and became the first TNA World Tag Team Champions. If that is how things had remained then it would be hard to argue that TNA did any better than WWE when it comes to booking Bubba. However, things changed in a major way once Bully Ray was born.
The Bully turned on his partner during a retirement angle and kickstarted the most profitable run of his career.
Ray quickly rose through the ranks of TNA and even won a feud against homegrown hero AJ Styles by downing him in a Last Man Standing Match at Slammiversary IX.
A not brief enough interlude with Joseph Park and Abyss (same guy) did little to derail the surprise rise of Bully Ray, who turned face to help Hulk Hogan against Aces and Eights. Bully and Hogan’s daughter Brooke began to develop a romantic interest in one another, and it led to a wedding between the pair. As this was a wrestling wedding, shenanigans ensued with the biker based stable attacking everyone involved.
Ray would go on to receive a World Title show against Jeff Hardy by virtue of being in Hogan’s good graces. During the match Aces and Eights interfered on behalf of Bully and handed him his first World Title whilst also revealing him as the president of the group.
Say what you will about the angle as a whole, it’s true that the stable was not booked as one might have hoped, but it led to Bully becoming a two-time World Champion and established him as the most effective heel in wrestling at that time. No one could have expected how popular he would become and just how talented he truly was when given the opportunity to shine.
Even after the storyline ended, Bully remained a main event mainstay as he feuded with Dixie Carter and eventually had the honour of powerbombing her through a table.
Quite rightly, he and D-Von were inducted into the TNA Hall of Fame in 2014. Bully then left the company due to dissatisfaction in 2015, ending an amazing decade long stint with them.
A return to WWE in August of that same year proved to be nothing more that a play for the nostalgia pop on the WWE’s behalf. The Dudleys were wasted and Vince even went to the ECW levy once more only to find that the levy was quite dry.
It is telling that it is the Bully Ray name that he uses these days in ROH. That is the name that brought him his greatest success despite accounting for a relatively short portion of his overall career.
It would be wrong to say that the WWE didn’t utilise The Dudleys properly as they were positioned as one of the top teams in the world during their first run. Where they failed is being unwilling or unable to recognise Bully’s singles potential, even after he proved himself in TNA.
Dixie and co. may have gotten a lot of things wrong over the years, but Bully Ray as World Champion was not one of them.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @Impers0nalJesus. Thanks for reading!