The Gut Check segments were introduced to Impact Wrestling as a means of showcasing potential future talent while capitalizing on a live crowd for feedback. Ever since the initiative’s debut in April 2012, seven contestants have been granted TNA contracts, most of them even managing to get over in that first tryout match. What is the issue? Almost every Gut Check newcomer is brought to TV without any long-term creative plans for their characters, usually resulting in a lengthy absence which kills the wrestler’s entire momentum.
The high-flying Sam Shaw has been among the more impressive Gut Check winners, yet he has only had around five televised matches over the last year. Alex Silva, the first participant to earn a contract, wrestled the same number of matches before getting removed from the company’s roster page. Jay Bradley may have recently been included in the Bound For Glory Series, yet when it comes to creative plans, no attention has been paid to the need for a character. The one thing uniting the aforementioned names is that none of them have been put in a position to get over for the long term.
That brings us to the roster cuts from several days ago. Three of the names released began their TNA runs as Gut Check winners. Christian York was initially hyped as a big deal, a very talented guy who finally had the opportunity to break out. Joey Ryan started out strong, defeating Al Snow at Bound For Glory last year, yet after he had performed on TNA’s biggest stage, creative had nothing for him. Taeler Hendrix, despite how over she was, is also no longer a part of TNA after only wrestling a handful of matches. All three of these workers have been praised for their work, with Ryan and York being among the best on the independent scene.
These releases have nothing to do with talent, as they are viewed as a cost-cutting measure. Nevertheless, they highlight some serious flaws behind the curtain. If the company is struggling financially, why continue using the Gut Check program to sign talent on a regular basis? More importantly, if these workers are not considered important enough to keep, how come TNA was confident enough to bring them in just months ago? In addition, if it was because someone actually saw potential in them, why did the creative team abandon their characters shortly after their respective debuts?
It is a mentality that Kyle has referred to in the past as “Throw it at the wall and see what sticks”. TNA seems to be more focused on throwing a big number of angles and gimmicks on the table and hoping that some of them will work, as opposed to taking a few and investing all their efforts in them. The result is a blatant lack of creative direction, which is evident in most aspects of TNA programming, including the ever-changing main event scene. Ideas are constantly being discarded after they have been in motion, pushes end abruptly while others begin spontaneously. The mentality Kyle mentions also results in an inefficient use of talent.
Perhaps the most frustrating example is TNA’s treatment of another recently released worker, Crimson. Upon debuting in December 2010, he went on to team up with Kurt Angle in the on-going war against Immortal and later have a 470-day undefeated streak, including victories over the likes of Samoa Joe and Rob Van Dam. His momentum toned down after he turned heel in March 2012, and his streak ended at Slammiversary in the hands of James Storm. Following the loss, Crimson returned to developmental, where he was repackaged under a military gimmick. Like many others, I was eager to see him come back and have another reign of dominance, yet his return only consisted of a loss to Joseph Park in a Bound For Glory Series Qualifier. Less than a month later, Tommy “Crimson” Mercer is no longer under TNA contract.
The significance of Crimson’s undefeated streak was flushed down the toilet when it was ended by James Storm, a man who was already established as a top guy. What is more mind-boggling, however, is that TNA could have still capitalized on the remainder of the powerhouse’s momentum, bringing him back as “the Red Baron of Ruthless Reconnaissance”, and been on their way to creating a huge star. Instead, the last tad of relevance left in him was erased by his final loss and release.
Use of talent becomes inefficient in the absence of planning and creative direction. Surprisingly, it seems like even WWE, with all the high demands and politics involved, has been more patient with its workers than TNA as of late. Performers like Ryback, Damien Sandow and Fandango have all had failed runs in the past, but the company is committed to trying once again to make them shine. Why? Because when someone earns a WWE contract, that means a particular talent has already earned some respect by management and the company might as well make the best of what it has.
TNA employees, on the other hand, tend to be put in a position where they can only rely on themselves to get over, even when creative is uncertain as to what their roles are.