By John Moore
In the end of the year spirit, I’ll be doing a few end of the year editorials that look back on the one-year TNA Destination America Era. Today’s article features my TNA MVP rankings for 2015.
1. Drew Galloway: It took him the whole year to settle down, but once he did Galloway proved to be the best overall act on the TNA roster due to the effort he put all across the board. Initially, he was a bit heavy handed with his “I love pro wrestling” promos and allusions to WWE’s booking of Roman Reigns during his debut. It also didn’t help that MVP was pointing out the truth that he was essentially TNA’s chosen one due to him being Vince McMahon’s chosen one in his past. Then he was handed a poor man’s shield known as “The Rising” which had a strange feud with the Beat Down Clan. All seemed lost when he had to carry two wrestlers as his sidekicks, but Galloway really shined in the latter part of the year once TNA scrapped the faction, and he proved to be a great babyface face of the company.
What at first seemed very manufactured and overbearing came off as genuine and endearing once he toned things down about 20 percent. He was possibly one of the only bright spots out of that awful TNA vs. Global Force Wrestling angle due to him being passionate about protecting his company. His feuds with EC3 and Matt Hardy leading up to Bound for Glory also transformed him into being the nicest guy in the world, and that’s not such a bad thing for a company poster boy. Forget Roman Reigns, TNA has the potential to make Drew Galloway their John Cena in terms of being an ambassador of the brand. His passion resonates both in his promos and in his in ring work which has gone from boring (in the Drew McIntyre vs. R-Truth days) to very dynamic. His overall work throughout the year, from matches against Low Ki to his matches against Lashley, helped give Galloway the nod in the top spot.
2. Bobby Lashley: Lashley might have been TNA’s 2014 wrestler of the year due to his great work with every single main eventer on the TNA roster, but how do you follow up that great year? You continue to deliver great matches with whoever they place in front of you. Lashley has continued that streak by having good to great matches consistently. Lashley also brings a unique style to the ring where he incorporates martial arts into his repertoire of believable power moves, which make him look like a legitimate force. His match against MVP earlier this year was a good showcase of what Lashley is capable of. The guy seems to really put effort into telling a story in the ring with whatever opponent he’s against, and the World Title Series was a good showcase of that. He’s had good matches with Austin Aries, Kenny King, Drew Galloway, Mr. Anderson. Eric Young, and the list goes on and on. Lashley is the prototype fighter of Impact Wrestling, and there’s only one small thing that kept him from getting the nod ahead of Galloway, and that’s his promo/character ability.
This is not even entirely Lashley’s fault, as I blame TNA for putting him in the situation to deliver promos in front of the live crowd. The bad one that stands out in my mind was the one he had with Kurt Angle after his disputed TNA World Title loss. He cut this awkward promo about his video tape evidence and his signature mannequin facial expression stood out in full force. A more recent example is TNA putting him in that roundtable last week, only to have him not connect with the viewing audience during his awkward promo. Lashley is good. Heck, Lashley is amazing, but all TNA has to do to capitalize on this is avoid accentuating his flaws because his strengths are astronomical. I said throughout the year that Lashley is TNA’s best wrestler, but only if you keep the camera focused on his ring work and 45 degrees from his back as to make this guy look like the dominator that he is billed as.
3. Rockstar Spud: Spud really deserves a lot of credit for the year he had. It all started off with his feud against Ethan Carter III that continued from the previous year. Usually when TNA convolutes their storylines (such as adding Jeremy Borash or Mr. Anderson to the feud for no reason), it comes off as just that, but Rockstar Spud really has the gift of gab and can sell you on a match thanks to his gift of gab.
Every time it seems like the guy is about to get lost in the shuffle, he gets the microphone for just the slightest moment and makes you care about what he’s going to do next regardless of whether it’s a throwaway X Division match or a World Title feud. I always quote what Paul Heyman said on The Steve Austin show regarding the late Dusty Rhodes once asking him “where’s the money?” when it came to a promo. Spud is money in every promo he does and Dusty would be proud of the work this guy is doing. What gives him the slight edge over the next person on this list is his rise to not only being one of the best talkers in TNA, but one of the best talkers in all of professional wrestling. I’d actually put him up there with Paul Heyman in 2015 as the person you can count on to sell anything on the microphone.
4. Ethan Carter III: TNA gets a knock most of the time for not producing home-grown stars (a huge contributor to this is it feeling like TNA never truly invests 100 percent in a wrestler once they decide to push him/her). Ethan Carter III is an exception. The company handed him the ball day one and never took it away from him. His gimmick with the unpinned streak has an awesome mechanic of him being protected in every single match he competes in. TNA also hasn’t done anything to damage him throughout the year by spotlighting him on a weekly basis and letting him shine.
TNA not only deserves the credit for making this character the nephew of Dixie Carter, but ultimately the man behind EC3 deserves a bulk of the credit for being a believable and credible heel. He plays the entitled prick very well. People chant “you can’t wrestle” but that’s due to the genuine heat that he draws with his entitled persona. When called upon, EC3 can take things to another level and his feud with Rockstar Spud was a huge example of that. Look to that promo after his Luchas De Apuestas hair vs. hair match for a great example of this guy’s ability to deliver material and make you both love and hate him at the same time. Yes, there are still remnants of Derrick Bateman within him, but he delivers the material so well and in a heelish way.
Carter is simply good with the psychology aspects of matches and one of his great talents is when he is put in a situation of desperation, he pulls out the credibility. The matches I would have you look up are his matches against Kurt Angle and Mr. Anderson. The babyfaces in these situations put Ethan in a situation where he’s at the disadvantage due to them taking away his cheating methods. He then pulls out the desperation mode of going into what he calls “God Mode” and pulls out the victory out of nowhere. He also doesn’t forget to gloat about his legit, wins which makes him a heel even more. I would have placed him above Spud, but he got pushed only a notch down due to TNA really underplaying his World Title run in favor of Dixie Carter and Jeff Jarrett. EC3 has the potential to be their number one or two act in 2016 if they continue to protect him.
5. Bobby Roode: This was my hardest choice due to Matt Hardy also having a solid year, but Roode was stellar wherever he was slotted. Whether it be in the mid-card (against Eric Young), the main event (against Lashley), or even the tag division (with Austin Aries against The Wolves), Roode can guarantee a well wrestled and smart match. Every time he starts a feud you can’t help but get prepared for high expectations that he and his opponent will deliver. For an awesome series of matches that all told great stories, I’d recommend you catch the best of five series between the Dirty Heels vs. The Wolves for the TNA Tag Titles. All of the matches were different and were all fun to watch. Another Roode standout match is the submission match he had with Eric Young earlier in the year.
Matt Hardy: An awesome workhorse for the company. He had the task of covering for Jeff Hardy’s absence on several occasions and was able to do it in a solid way. Hardy also had a good year on the microphone when paired with a complementary foil to work off of. Hardy vs. James Storm was a hidden gem, and Hardy vs. EC3 was solid (even though, TNA didn’t feature it like they should have).
James Storm: The lone bright spot of the Revolution, Storm proved why he should be a main eventer from a character standpoint. I mentioned his solid feud with Matt Hardy, but where he shined the most was his feud with Mickie James and Magnus where he was putting on some amazing exchanges. Ironically, that awesome feud was derailed off the train tracks by a lame choo choo train.
Eric Young: Turning heel on the first episode of the DA era was classic TNA overbooking and most people would question whether Young could survive as a heel given how good he was as a comedy act. His last heel run as the leader of World Elite had him cast as a Chris Jericho clone. However, what he did with his character this time around was amazing. He actually evolved his “Crazy” Eric Young character into a “World Class Maniac” and just went all out, which came off as extremely natural. This drew genuine heat and crowds learned to hate this guy in all of the proper ways.
Austin Aries: Aries and Bobby Roode are TNA’s ultimate utility players. Aries deserves a lot of credit for being the person that TNA could always rely upon for a great match. It was great that they got him in the World Title Series as he really brought up the in-ring quality of that tournament with his performances.
MVP: During the first part of this year, MVP was probably TNA’s most reliable talker. He also tried his best to make the Beat Down Clan work by adding his own personal touches. Sadly, a lame feud with The Rising and TNA’s contractual debacle with Hernandez ended both the BDC and MVP’s TNA career.
I will be be back next week with some superlatives to cover what didn’t fit in with today’s list.