It seems to be an ongoing vicious cycle – a wrestler debuts in IMPACT/TNA, they build up a huge following in the wrestling world, WWE pounces on this following and then proceeds to do nothing with the talent they have plucked from the ‘Impact Zone’.
Why is this a thing? I know the obvious answer is the monetary benefit, but if WWE invest so much money procuring talent from a rival company, surely they should use them to the best of their abilities? I’m going to explore some class IMPACT/TNA to WWE transfers that did not work out well and see what went horribly wrong for these people.
Trinity and Monty Brown – From Rising Stars to Retired What Ifs
I’ll start with the two earliest victims in this vicious cycle in the form of Trinity and Monty Brown. As you will have read in my Lockdown Reviews, you will know that I am a massive fan of both Trinity and Monty Brown, which is why I’m putting them together. Both showed great potential to be top stars in TNA, with both breaking the boundaries of what is possible for people of their size.
Brown had the stature of Ahmed Johnson with the abilities of a cruiserweight, and Trinity made Lita look like a scared mouse with her high-flying antics in TNA (despite the limited feuds she could have at the time she was on the TNA roster).
So why did two of TNA’s biggest original stars not make it in WWE? Well the answer for this is simple – after a very short stint in OVW, both were called up to the main roster to be part of the newly revamped ECW. Monty Brown was renamed to Marcus Cor Von and did not last a year in ECW. Meanwhile, Trinity was the caution-tape clad valet of the Fully Bodied Italians. Unfortunately, both were destined to fail due to the lackadaisical approach to the newly formed WWECW.
Their experiences with WWE were so bad, neither have been involved in the wrestling scene since.
Gail Kim – From TNA Knockouts Champion to a Love Square
Gail Kim was the face of TNA’s women’s division when it launched in 2007. With a plethora of strong talent at her disposal, Gail proved to be unstoppable as the first ever Knockouts Champion. She was receiving the treatment that can only be likened to Trish Stratus in her heyday in TNA and she headed up the charge in showing the wider wrestling audience that women can main event pay per views and be the highlight of a wrestling show (sorry Stephanie McMahon – you didn’t invent that).
It seemed that this wave of momentum was going to flow over into WWE when she re-signed in 2009. However, it went downhill faster than a speeding bullet when she made her debut on Smackdown, attacking Michelle McCool and staking her claim for the Divas Championship. She was met with meek applause from the few fans in the live crowd that knew her and before you knew it, she was pushed into assisting guest hosts of Monday Night RAW, a multitude of meaningless battle royals and 14 Diva tag matches.
Why did Gail’s return to WWE fail? It is simple – WWE could not and would not provide the women in WWE the time they needed to establish themselves in the same way TNA did. It is a shame, but things did work out well for Gail. I mean, being married to a millionaire chef, returning to TNA, having great matches with a new crop of Knockouts and then becoming a producer for the current group of IMPACT Knockouts? That’s alright, I suppose.
EC3 – From the Top 1% to the Bottom 1%
Much like Gail Kim, Derrick “EC3” Bateman was released from WWE without any real chance to shine, but IMPACT gave him the platform to develop and succeed as Dixie Carter’s nephew. The charisma that could only be seen on NXT Redemption was finally brought to the forefront thanks to the confidence the people within IMPACT gave the former Bateman. EC3’s reign as IMPACT’s World Heavyweight Champion provided fans with one of the most entertaining title runs in recent memory and you could see EC3 was having the time of his life, especially in his slow-burning feud with Rockstar Spud. When news came out that Carter had re-signed a contract to NXT, fans thought this was the right time to gain redemption for his first WWE run…
Boy were we all wrong.
EC3 started off hot in NXT; involved in the ladder match to determine the first-ever NXT North American Champion, but then he was suddenly called up to the main roster as part of a shakeup involving the debuts of himself, Heavy Machinery, Lacey Evans, Nikki Cross and Lars Sullivan. Small and short promo packages were used to hype up these debuts, and while he was initially successful in defeating Dean Ambrose in his first outing, EC3 was left to the wayside and found himself on Main Event and being part of the huddle that chased the 24/7 Championship.
It blows my mind how they dropped the ball with someone of Carter’s abilities, but why did this fail as badly as it did? Honestly, a rushed call up and a string of losses in NXT meant that any work EC3 had done in IMPACT was undone in a matter of months. Why root for someone if they are constantly being portrayed as a loser? It is a massive shame to see how WWE drained the passion and enthusiasm out of EC3, but let’s hope that greater things are on the horizon.
Joseph “Abyss” Parks – From Championship Monster to WWE Agent
If there was a character that was terrifying on the levels of Undertaker and Kane, it was the monster Abyss. His run in TNA was nothing short of incredible – in a world where character work isn’t sacred anymore, Abyss proved that the audience love nothing more than a character that was out of this world. Having been one of the most prolific characters TNA ever created, you would think that WWE would want to showcase someone with (in my opinion) the best character abilities since Mick Foley to a modern audience. Instead of Abyss terrifying the WWE roster, he is in the role of a producer in WWE.
I put this example in my article for one reason – it is a great loss to the wrestling world that we do not get to see Abyss in his shining glory. He is a fantastic wrestler with the ability to invoke strong emotions through his matches, but he is now just a producer in WWE? While I understand that Abyss is now 46 years in age and the matches he has fought in (and at least a million tacks into his body) have probably caught up with him, it is sad that we cannot continue to enjoy his work in this modern age of wrestling. I’m sure that being a producer is working out fine for Parks, but wouldn’t it be great to see him back in a ring in some capacity?
Rockstar Spud – From Plucky Underdog to Confused Mess
I love Spud and I am sure most of you reading this have a soft spot for one of British Wrestling’s strongest stalwarts. His work in IMPACT Wrestling with the aforementioned EC3 was some of the most entertaining parts of wrestling in the late 2010s, and I cannot be the only one who lost the plot when Spud got a World Title shot against Kurt Angle and almost won. Much like others in this article, Spud has a magical way of connecting with the audience he is performing in front of, but unlike others, Spud saw the chance to go to WWE as his last act as a wrestler.
While he may not be a complete failure of a call up, the most notable parts of Spud’s time in WWE have been his feud with R-Truth for the 24/7 Championship and the fact he is currently competing for the NXT Cruiserweight Title after being released from his WWE contract as part of the pandemic.
I refuse to say that Spud being in WWE didn’t work out – I’m going to say that they failed to capitalise on someone whom the WWE Universe clearly want to see succeed. Maverick has proved his chops in the entertainment part with his run as 24/7 Champion and he is currently proving he can perform on a WWE level as a wrestler. I hope that this week’s NXT is not the last we see of Maverick on WWE television but if it is, WWE has just let a gold mine slip through their corporate cracks.
Samoa Joe – From Undefeated Submission Machine to RAW Commentator
This one stings the most for me. At a time where I felt WWE was failing in terms of wrestling, the discovery of Samoa Joe was one which enlightened me as a wrestling fan. His work in TNA is a masterclass in the art of wrestling and it helped that Joe oozed charisma – for such a badass, Joe could talk and put himself over without having someone else be their voice. As a multiple-time champion, WWE had a bonafide star ready to launch to the main roster.
So how can someone as brilliant as Samoa Joe fail to find his footing on the biggest wrestling stage? With hindsight, it started when he joined the NXT roster instead of getting the straight to main roster treatment that fellow IMPACT legend AJ Styles did. In spite of them being on par with each other for years, WWE made it clear from the get-go who was superior in their eyes.
Whilst he had a fantastic reign as NXT Champion, a stop-start approach to Samoa Joe on the main roster means he has been unable to connect with the WWE audience on the same level he did in his TNA run. In addition to this, being part of the reason why beloved WWE Superstar Tyson Kidd is no longer able to compete may have not curried favour when he joined WWE. With the announcement that Joe is now a permanent commentator on RAW, is this the end of the Samoan Submission Machine’s in ring career? I sure hope not because it would be a gargantuan waste of one of the greatest wrestlers in the 21st century.
There are many other names that can be documented in this article – Eric Young, Bobby Roode, Chris Harris and James Storm are just some of the other IMPACT stars WWE dropped the ball with.
Looking back, I believe there is one fundamental reason there have been very few TNA/IMPACT stars that have successfully transitioned into WWE: they are not able to mould to the WWE shape. There have been those who have got close (such as Maverick), but for the most part, WWE is known for breaking down a wrestler before repackaging them in their image. With wrestlers who have already had a taste of success on television, how easy is it to adapt and change something you have seen work so well? It is basic psychology that change is hard for the vast majority of us, so to be told that what got you to the dance is not what is wanted of you has got to be tough to hear.
In spite of their falls from grace in WWE, life in wrestling does not end when you are released from the Connecticut based company. There is a big wrestling world out there now where people who were told they were not good enough for WWE thrive. I just hope that the stars of TNA/IMPACT who have taken a chance by going to WWE remember that.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @ShirleighShirlz. Thanks for reading!