After a couple years of relearning what it means to be a wrestling fan, starting with a plunge into a Hulk Hogan-run TNA and followed shortly by keeping up with RAW and SmackDown, I’ve picked up a few things. First and foremost, I’ve realized that I consume almost six hours worth of wrestling programming a week, a substantial chunk of time that could and probably should be spent otherwise. Second, while I’ve come to terms that no one in the near or distant future will challenge the boys in Connecticut at wrestling supremacy, Orlando-based Impact Wrestling has quietly stayed afloat thanks to some shining stars.
I’m not saying the writing is great or anything; in fact, it’s downright frustrating sometimes. I’m also not saying their business acumen is 100% sound, as evidenced by paying a flighty ring announcer substantially more than a lot of the actual wrestlers. Throughout all the bumps, though, there are always a couple of great segments that remind me why I spend 90 minutes each week taking in this nonsense, highlighted by some people that could find themselves in the big league if certain cards are played right.
Now, I’m not so brash as to say ‘x’ and ‘y’ should be signed by the WWE less immeasurable opportunities be squandered. Right now, the timing isn’t right for a lot of these guys. Others may not be interested in the company. But when the WWE finds themselves fishing for new talent and fresh faces to supplement the transitional front line they have now, all they need to do is head north on Interstate 4 to sure up the starting rotation. Here are ten of the most viable Impact performers who are good enough or will be good enough to perform on the biggest stage of ’em all…
[adinserter block=”2″]10. Crimson – While I’d like to see him take a more conventional route with this undefeated streak and absolutely wreck kids while holding the TV belt, having at least some gold on him proves he does have marketable ability. Amazing Red’s older brother has some freakishly athletic ring presence, highlighted by dynamic moves like the Red Alert or Red Sky. He already has the build and look of a not-quite-as-charismatic Randy Orton, which also means he could work well as either a heel or face down the line. Still not 27 years of age, Crimson still needs a little mic work, but in a couple of years he has the potential to be one of the hottest free agents out there, especially if Impact screws up his current gimmick.
9. Bully Ray – I don’t really care about the guy’s backstage antics because Ray can flat make anyone look good when he’s on his game and his current “I’m From New York City” character has worked on many levels. After doing the inevitable break-up feud with Devon, all Ray has done has made guys like Bobby Roode, James Storm, AJ Styles, and even Abyss look like prime time performers. Now that he’s ushered along the latest crop of Impact stars, Ray’s talents could definitely be used elsewhere, like making guys like Daniel Bryan, Wade Barrett, or Brodus Clay look like main eventers up north. If his sluggish game out of the gate was one of the reasons you stopped tuning in, get back in the game, pronto; Ray is pulling some of his best work right now.
8. Bobby Roode – Speaking of the next crop of guys, Bobby Roode has officially graduated from the ranks of the tag team division and his matches against James Storm (and some against Jeff Hardy) have made me almost forget about Beer Money. As a champion, though, Roode may have taken too hard of a heel turn when he started randomly putting his family and friends on blast and he started referencing the fans as “you people.” Still, Roode is in peak physical condition and if the time ever comes he can really revitalize a stale WWE mid-card division.
7. Magnus – Kind of forgotten after his British Invasion runs with Desmond Wolfe and Douglas Williams, young Magnus has reemerged as a force in the tag division, teaming up with savvy vet Samoa Joe to terrorize Matt Morgan and Crimson in what’s been one of the better angles of 2012. Not to be outdone, TNA’s critically acclaimed India-based Ring Ka King has gotten off the ground and crowned Magnus as their Heavyweight champion. It seems like only a matter of time before the kid is running main events for his current company or Vince comes calling with a fat check. Couldn’t you imagine Magnus as a WWE villain, under the tutelage of someone like William Regal?
6. Madison Rayne – A revamped women’s division in WWE is coming…I can feel it. The boys up north are taking a lot of heat for their terrible handling of the current field, which is sometimes boiled down to 45 second matches stuffed with a whopping two wrestling moves between two Dillard’s models. While other names have been talked about as competent WWE hires such as Cheerleader Melissa or Internet favorite Sara Del Rey, why not the Queen Bee of the Knockouts Division? She’s somewhat physically imposing, has a unique move set and puts in tons of quality mic work. And doesn’t Vickie Guerrero deserve a Diva in her wrestling stable, especially one that can scream right along side her?
5. AJ Styles – I’d be lying if I said AJ Styles, for the duration of my couple year excursion with TNA, hasn’t been my favorite wrestler for the company. He was great as Nature Boy, Jr., excelled when he downshifted to the midcard and dominated the TV belt, and commanded the spotlight as the unofficial leader of both heel and face Fortune. If there is one person on this list who I think might turn down a modest WWE contract, it’s AJ, who’s pretty much been TNA’s “guy” for almost a decade. However, I’ll mark this as “never say never” because, really, have you seen the Pele Kick? One of the best moves in wrestling today.
4. Motor City Machine Guns – I know I’m cheating a little here with a tag team (and if you want to go all Kings of Wrestling here, I’d say Chris Sabin for sure, closely followed by Alex Shelley), but this is exactly what the tag division in the WWE needs for a kick in the butt. Neither is noticeably great on the mic, but both guys still have the tools to open a show with a frenetic pace. With Air Boom currently in danger of extinction, the landscape of what’s left of the tag world is almost a blank canvas. The Usos and Primo & Epico are a decent starting point, but adding a high flying, well known American team to the fold? Do it, Vince. As for Shelley and Sabin? They’ve been busting their humps for other companies while also competing in TNA…why not get paid and work exclusively for the top dog?
3. Eric Young – When I first experienced Eric Young, I was introduced to his constant turning on any combination of X-Pac, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash, and the vibe I got from the viewers was that this gimmick was a tired, dead end. He didn’t stand out at first when those guys left, but then something happened. Something magical. On an episode of Explosion (that’s a real show), Young bumped his head and became a happy-go-lucky wrestler who would wrestle his opponents, his teammate, or even the ref. It was really good stuff, guys. They pretty much gave him free reign to film bizarrely funny promos out in “Hollywood” and stir up trouble, all while conjuring up some laughs (him declaring Sid and Mongo as the two memorable Horsemen, while talking to horses, was some kind of site). He’s also a team player, having recently entered into a tag team with a woman for the past month or so and taking it in stride. For my money, the guy’s a funnier, less racist version of Santino and a more versatile character than Brodus Clay.
2. Austin Aries – If there is one guy currently on the show whose matches are a must see right now, it’s Austin Aries, who has seemingly erased any memory of other people holding the X Division title. The guy is so technically sound in the ring, his charisma is contagious and his ability to elevate the entire division is unmatched. His emergence couldn’t have come at a better time. Brian Kendrick is still a draw, but cutting Jay Lethal and Generation Me really left a void that has yet to have been filled by the seemingly mass hiring this past Summer. Honestly, I’m surprised this guy hasn’t been given a chance yet in the big time, but some signs are promising: Aries provided the main character voice work for the newest WWE game, WWE ’12. Hopefully he made a good impression on those guys.
[adinserter block=”1″]1. “Cowboy” James Storm – If the WWE has any plans of shifting from a PG show to a rough PG-13 program, James Storm could fit right in. He’s always been the personality in Beer Money, but since going single he’s really been allowed to shine, despite having a week long joke of a World title run a couple months back. And when he’s smack-talking guys in the ring, doesn’t he remind you a little of Stone Cold Steve Austin? He’s not the most athletic wrestler in the world, but his brawling mentality and distinct signature moves mesh nicely with his beer-swilling character. Despite him also being a TNA guy like Styles, I could also see Cowboy getting lost in the shuffle when Jeff Hardy re-establishes himself and Kurt Angle strong-arms his way back into the title picture. If that happens, I could definitely see Storm wanting to take his Tennessee game up north.
Honorable mentions…Velvet Sky – Her Beautiful People persona is a great fit in the Divas department and I actually think she’s slowly been improving with her in-ring skills over the past year. She’s just getting up there in age, that’s all…Frankie Kazarian – I don’t blame him for the lackluster breakup between him and Styles, but it’s disconcerting that the writers gave him the dreaded “mysterious silence” as an answer to the motive label. While I still find him exciting, his personality can be a little flat at times…Jesse Sorensen – the guy is cut beyond belief and was able to hang with Aries in the ring during their feud. We just haven’t seen enough of him to give him a guaranteed bright future.
As always, I welcome all of CCB reader feedback. Any of your favorite TNA guys left off the list? Am I way off base with some of these picks? Honestly, if three of these selections made it, that’d be kinda cool. We can all dream, though, can’t we?
Joe Leininger lives in Jacksonville, FL via the greater Philadelphia area. He dabbles in all things sports, pro wrestling, and television, and more of his work can be found at The Playing Field Blog and DestiGeddon.