Friday, February 6, 2015

Group Project: The TNA Dispersal Draft

Bobby Roode went first overall. Who'd follow him?
Photo Credit: Lee South/
For the last two years or so, TNA has been the subject of closure rumors and reports. Each time, the promotion has bucked those reports and stayed open. While TNA ridiculously still has a rep as America's #2 wrestling promotion with a portion of the fanbase, it has been majorly downsized in scope in the last five years. Yet, Dixie Carter still is able to pay competitive wages if one were to exclude WWE, so maybe the ship isn't taking on too much water. Still, I can't think of a company that has a roster full of notable wrestlers that has absolutely no buzz whatsoever. It's almost as if wrestlers like Austin Aries, Samoa Joe, and Kurt Angle are cryogenically frozen in time, let out only to wrestle in one-off indie shows. The current climate led me to ponder this hypothetical; would the wrestling landscape significantly suffer a loss if TNA went out of business? What if the rumors did come to fruition, and TNA did shut down?

With the TNA roster in diaspora, I recruited four people to draft wrestlers previously under contract to draft them to one of four worldwide wrestling companies:
  • World Wrestling Entertainment
  • Lucha Underground
  • Ring of Honor
  • New Japan Pro Wrestling
I recused myself from drafting and left the duty to four intrepid volunteers from Twitter:
Their names were put into a hat and drawn at random to select the first round, and then from there, the draft was conducted in a serpentine fashion. The draft was conducted via e-mail, and lasted eight rounds. The following is how everything went, including blurbs from each drafter.

Round 1
1. NJPW - Robert Roode Niel says, "Roode's experience as a multi-time tag champ as well as a decorated singles competitor makes him perfect for helping rejuvenate our stale heavyweight tag scene, as well as a singles competitor, possibly contending for the NEVER or IC belts."

2. ROH - Samoa Joe Sammy says, "First round pick and it is very tough. There was really two options for the #1 ROH pick. What I was looking for was someone with a history in the company, someone with immediately interesting matches available, and someone that fits into the company landscape. Samoa Joe ticks all those boxes. Joe is a similar case to AJ Styles in my eyes. He is a great wrestler who could have had a dramatically more critically acclaimed career if he hadn’t been in TNA. Samoa Joe would have a ton of interesting matches coming in against Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish, ACH, Cedric Alexander, and clearly big money matches against Styles alone or heck, against Styles and Daniels. One of the 'forgotten' classics in ROH history vs. Jay Briscoe could be met with a full on feud for the belt that Joe established in 2015."

3. Lucha - Ethan Carter III Mat says, "While a lot of Lucha Underground's acclaim rightly comes from the excellent, fast-paced matches they put on every week, to me the most exciting thing they've managed to do is create an intriguing, fully-formed world in only about three months worth of shows. So for my first-round pick, the most important thing to me was picking the best possible character to insert into that world, and that's ECIII. He's the perfect villain to be thrust upon this world because Lucha Underground is built so heavily upon the importance of tradition, both of lucha libre and that of Mexico itself, and here's this arrogant one-percenter who's been handed everything he's ever wanted, who couldn't be even remotely bothered to know or care about. He's everything that Lucha Underground's ace, Prince Puma, is not, and while there might be an adjustment period with the wrestling matches themselves, what he can offer to every other aspect of the show completely overcomes those potential drawbacks."

4. WWE - Magnus Jamie says, "A few years, the idea of a TNA dispersal draft would have been a gold mine for WWE. But many of those stars have left Dixieland, so the pickings for ready-made WWE talent are slim. While Magnus isn't particularly outstanding at this stage in his career, he's young enough (28) and has the look, charisma and presence to be a main roster star. Wade Barrett's 34 and has been injury prone the last few years, so there may be a slot for a English hero coming sooner than later, and Magnus is as good a choice as any to fit that bill."

Round 2
1. WWE - James Storm Jamie says, "In the interest of full disclosure, I really wanted Ethan Carter III, just to prove that the WWE can admit when it makes a mistake on somebody. At first blush, James Storm isn't an obvious choice - at 37, he'd be one of the oldest performers on the main roster - but look closer. Can you honestly say that there's another wrestler in TNA that seems a more obvious fit than the Cowboy-slash-Revolution leader? He's a good enough worker, a great talker, and is one of the few TNA top stars that hasn't been in WWE, so he'd be fresh to that audience. Even if I get only four or five good years out of Storm, it's probably worth the pick."

2. Lucha - Awesome Kong Mat says, "Lucha Underground has rightfully gotten credit for being, sometimes-shady commentary aside, the most progressive wrestling show on TV when it comes to breaking down the gender barrier. That continues by taking advantage of Awesome Kong's recent TNA return with pick #2. And unlike Sexy Star, who has to constantly overcome the strength advantage possessed by her male opponents, Kong likely has the edge in power over all but three people on the Lucha Underground roster. She can work as either a no-nonsense, badass tecnico or a monster rudo depending on whatever the roster needs more. And besides, the 2012 Royal Rumble gave me the joy of watching her murder mouthy dudes with double underhook facebusters and it's been too long. Pro wrestling needs this. You cannot convince me otherwise."

3. ROH - Austin Aries Sammy says, "Shockingly, the other possible #1 pick for Ring of Honor was still on the board for the second round. Austin Aries is another wrestler with obvious ties to the history of ROH. This is someone I would bring in and reward old fans. Whether it be teaming with former Generation Next members, Roderick Strong and Matt Sydal, or having them all face off, there are a couple of very interesting directions you can take Austin Aries."

4. NJPW - Low Ki Niel says, "As a multi-time IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champ, he would help breathe life into a neglected jr. heavyweight singles division."

Round 3
1. NJPW - MVP Niel says, "Not only is MVP a distinguished competitor in New Japan history, having been the inaugural IWGP Intercontinental champ, he's also an enthusiastic fan of Japanese wrestling, and would make a great commentator in one of our ventures towards growing an American audience."

2. ROH - Manik/TJP Sammy says, "While I’m drafting him as Manik, he won’t stay that once he comes back to ROH. Never really got a big run in ROH and honestly that probably wouldn’t change. TJ Perkins would be the utility player in the promotion and I think every promotion needs a few guys you can plug into numerous situations. Whether it to be leading a youngster via team or series of matches, scramble matches, or tying down the TV title for consistently good wrestling, TJP is the guy."

3. Lucha - The Great Sanada Mat says, "Real talk, I was going to give a whole spiel about the El Rey Network's love of old-school martial arts movies and how Low Ki's old 'It is not the the size of the man in the fight but the size of the fight that he will bring' act finally having somewhere where it doesn't feel really out of place, but then he got picked! Whoops.

Instead, that spot goes to The Great Sanada, whose Muta-inspired character is equally at home in a company where characters like the bile-spitting, actual-dragon-in-luchadore-form Drago are the norm. He'd serve as a great ally to Pentagon Jr., whose backstory involves splitting from Mexico and lucha tradition to go train in the dojos of Japan, and I honestly can't think of anyone on the roster who you could put Sanada up against where my reaction wouldn't be 'Oh, hey, that sounds pretty fun.'"

4. WWE - Gail Kim Jamie says, "I know that Kim's been in WWE twice, and it didn't work out well either time. But this era of WWE is much more interested in a viable women's division, and Gail Kim almost immediately becomes no worse than the fourth-best female in-ring performer. She can slide easily into main roster feuds with the likes of Natalya, Paige and the Bellas, or play the same role Tyson Kidd did in NXT - be the in-ring leader to get great matches out Charlotte and Sasha Banks. Plus there's a wildcard - Gail's got a quasi-celebrity husband (celebrity chef Robert Irvine) and you know that WWE could find a way to work THAT into a certain reality series."

Round 4
1. WWE - Jeff Hardy Jamie says, "This is the ultimate high-risk/high-reward pick. Yes, he would come back to WWE with two strikes in the Wellness Policy, and the risk of a flameout is great. But of all the ex-WWE stars in this draft, Hardy is arguably the only one (save perhaps Kurt Angle) that was a legitimate main event draw there. In fact, you could argue that Hardy was the biggest star in WWE in 2009 before his departure. I'm pretty sure there's a fanbase that would pay money to see him if he came back, and there's a slew of "dream matches" with the likes of Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan or Sami Zayn that would be pretty amazing. In the fourth round, I'm willing to roll the dice to see if I can't catch lightning in a bottle with Hardy again."

2. Lucha - Tigre Uno Mat says, "In round four, Lucha Underground finally goes for the obvious and drafts the actual luchadore on the TNA roster. It's just valuable roster depth; Tigre Uno would probably be a tier below the top guys, but would serve as a good foil for the likes of King Cuerno and Drago, though giving him a run as a Black Tiger-esque figure against Prince Puma is a possibility as well."

3. ROH - Matt Hardy Sammy says, "This is someone I could have easily let WWE scoop up but think he would be a valuable asset to bring back into the ROH fold even without Jeff. The Kingdom is doing alright for itself I suppose but I’d really like to tie Hardy back into the mix. Hopefully be able to deliver a definitive series with the Briscoes, possibly becoming a pretty major heel champion."

4. NJPW - Kenny King Niel says, "King's youth and athleticism makes him a prime candidate for IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title contention, and with most of our current jr.. stars either making the jump to heavyweight, approaching old age, or being heavily featured in the jr. tag division, this would help us separate the singles and tag title scenes."

Round 5
1. NJPW - Eddie "Eddie Edwards" Edwards Niel says, "See below."

2. ROH - Drew Galloway Sammy says, "Starting to get to people that need more of a case for them to be drafted for their brand. Well Galloway is my first pick that doesn’t have ties to ROH. I think El Patron, a bigger star of course, would be the most similar case here with Galloway. Galloway actually would most likely be able to appear more thus deliver more. Good old Drew has established his wrestling prowess and that plus his intensity would fit in well with ROH. His series with Roderick Strong in EVOLVE has proven that. He would also be a lovely addition if ROH wanted to take a pit stop in the UK, like they did with PCW last year."

3. Lucha - Homicide Mat says, "As anyone who's read Lucha Underground proprietor/obligatory heel authority figure Dario Cueto's Twitter feed can attest, there's nothing he appreciates more than violence, and Lucha Underground's fifth-round pick brings it in spades. Homicide's best days are perhaps behind him, but he can still acquit himself well in multi-man matches, an area where The Crew are starting to break out themselves. With a couple of his old running buddies (Cortez Castro and Bael, a.k.a. Ricky Reyes and B-Boy) in the group already, adding Homicide gives them a recognizable name and makes them an even greater threat to anyone who gets on Cueto's bad side."

4. WWE - Gunner Jamie says, "Gunner is my nod to the "WWE prototype" in that he's got good size and a good physique. But in TNA he's also shown flashes of being a very good worker and has more than acceptable skills on the mic. While I don't think he's a legitimate singles star on the main roster, I could certainly see him being successful as part of a tag-team. Replace the ungodly boring Connor O'Brien with Gunner in the Ascension, for example, and while the act might still be a dud it would be a significant step-up in the ring."

Round 6
1. WWE - Khoya Jamie says, "I haven't seen enough of the former Mahabali Shera, other than a few bits on Ra King King, to know if the raw potential is there for him to be a good professional wrestler. But I do know that with Great Khali and Jinder Mahal gone there's a huge opening for an Indian superstar. Popularity in India is a huge priority - it's got a huge population and there's no secret that the WWE think it can make big money there. Why not take a flyer on a guy who might end up meaning something for you there?"

2. Lucha - Zema Ion Mat says, "At this point it was primarily a matter of picking the guy who I felt could fit best out of who was left, and Zema 'DJ Z' Ion stood out as a valuable utility midcard heel. Not only does he have significant experience wrestling in lucha promotions, but he's also proven equally adept at playing ridiculous comedy gimmicks (insert irritating DJ sampling noise here) or playing a more straightforward, dastardly heel a la his run as X-Division Champion a couple years ago."

3. ROH - Eric Young Sammy says, " First pick that might be a stretch for ROH. Young is a quality wrestler but not quite in the vane of other roster members. That being said, more workers in the vein of wrestler of Mike Bennett mixed with some of the 'athletes' of ROH is a plus in my opinion. If nothing else Young could be a comedy guy like he's been for so long."

4. NJPW - Davey Richards Niel says, "The American Wolves are one of the most decorated tag teams available, and would make a great addition to our jr. heavyweight tag division, which has started to become stagnant and revolve around three or four teams wrestling each other again and again."

Round 7
1. NJPW - Abyss Niel says, "Again, see below."

2. ROH - Rockstar Spud Sammy says, "Spud has undeniable charisma but might not seem like the perfect fit for ROH. He could easily be a lighthearted undercard act that blows away the Romantic Touch. I think Spud also could be valuable in a dastardly heel manager role who occasionally wrestles. A foil for Robert Evans? Why not? At the very least he has a couple of directions the act can be taken and I am a big fan of flexibility, especially with so many wrestlers in ROH that currently could be moving around on the card."

3. Lucha - Tyrus Mat says, "With the state of the board in Round 7, Lucha Underground moves on to supplementing the first-round ECIII pick by bringing his enforcer along for the ride. I doubt Tyrus would wrestle much, but that's fine. HIs niche is in being a big, tough guy who acquits himself well on the character side of things, and ECIII can't go it alone, right? He's at his best with an entourage or at least one guy to play off of, and ECIII and Tyrus together has been a bright spot for TNA in recent months."

4. WWE - Robbie E Jamie says, "In the interest of full disclosure - I like the Bromans gimmick and think Robbie E is really good in his role. Yes, the whole package is cheesy and way over the top, but sometimes undercard gimmicks are supposed to be. I know the initial complaint about this pick will be that Robbie's just a Zack Ryder clone, but in some ways Robbie's got more presence and charisma even if he's not as good a worker. He's overpushed as a featured act in TNA, but as a comedy opening match guy in WWE he'll be better than most."

Round 8
1. WWE - Kurt Angle Jamie says, "Let's be clear - I don't want Kurt Angle to wrestle full-time in WWE. I'm not even sure I want him to do more than a handful of matches in a 'retirement tour' of sorts. But I believe that Angle should be back in the WWE, because a lot of the great matches of the most popular era in the history of wrestling were Kurt Angle matches. So let him do a few matches, do a retirement stip at Summerslam 2015, and then have Kurt ride off into the sunset on a Legends contract or perhaps as a trainer in NXT. You could do a whole lot worse."

2. Lucha - Madison Rayne Mat says, "With nearly all of the Knockouts Division still on the board, Lucha Underground's final pick is someone I think has been lost in the shuffle there. At Madison Rayne's peak in TNA, she was a brilliantly conniving villain (with a pageant queen motif, because why not) who would take any and every possible shortcut to keep the Knockouts title around her waist. Given the way that Sexy Star and even Ivelisse are depicted, as women who have no fear of throwing down with men and giving as good as they get, having Madison show up and take every single cowardly shortcut en route to winning matches, all the while bragging about being equal to or better than the women who have actually fought on level terms and proved themselves, could be an effective rudo act. It'd be incredibly dependent on nailing the execution, but given the way Lucha Underground has course-corrected on a lot of the problematic elements of the first few episodes, I'd trust them to be able to pull it off."

3. ROH - Bobby Lashley Sammy says, "Couldn’t resist. Lashley is not your prototypical ROH guy but with so many smaller wrestlers on the roster he could have a helluva time throwing them around. Lashley is also someone who is willing to take some big old bumps. Throw Lashley in the main event on arrival and then ease this fella down the card to have the smaller wrestlers moving up, have a giant to conquer."

4. NJPW - Bram Niel says, "While Abyss and Bram are getting up there in years, their height and presence could make them a valued undercard heavyweight tag act, perhaps joining one of our neglected factions."

The draft went somewhat like I had expected with a few exceptions. For example, Bobby Roode going first overall to New Japan was a bit of a surprise, especially since he was pegged as a midcard guy. Then again, TNA may not have many ready-to-main event guys on the roster, no matter how many solid hands exist there right now. Another big surprise to me is HAVOK going undrafted. Sure, New Japan doesn't have a women's division (which, c'mon now, you're the second biggest company in the world, it's time to give the joshis some shine), but all three other companies utilize women. Gail Kim as a WWE pick after she failed there twice before over HAVOK was a bit of a questionable move.

Still, I think each promotion filled their needs and got the superstars that could fit there. New Japan got a bit older, but its roster can absorb the older talent with the younger wrestlers like Kazuchika Okada, Kota Ibushi, and Kenny Omega stepping up into the main event. Also, it seems wrestlers in Japan last nearly forever, so I wouldn't necessarily count out Hiroshi Tanahashi or Shinsuke Nakamura either. WWE got some of its prodigal sons (and daughters) back while getting talent that it could mold for a bit in NXT like Khoya and Gunner. Lucha Underground collected the most vibrant assortment of talent, and ROH bolstered its in-ring roster with some old favorites and new fits.

But the biggest thing this draft showed me is that not only did four promotions get stronger, but the wrestlers within TNA would seem like bigger deals in the wrestling world at large now. Of course, in the real world, TNA will grind on and grind on and probably last until the atomic bombs rain down from the heavens after someone accidentally sets off a nuclear strike that hilariously and appropriately ends the human race. However, a world where its wrestlers are spread around the wrestling scene at large seems a lot more fun, doesn't it?