In a recent interview, TNA President Dixie Carter stated that the biggest challenge facing the business was “making new superstars.” The interview in its entirety can be read here:

One particular quote that stands out is this one:

“We have an amazingly talented group of young guys ready to break out in a big way.  It is their time.  They have earned it and deserve it,” Carter said. “The landscape in TNA over the next 12 months is going to change dramatically. Our veterans are here to show that their greatness is beyond themselves and to help create other superstars. These (veterans) are secure enough to know that that’s what is needed for this company to continue to grow. Their leadership in and out of the ring is unmatched.”

No one hopes more fervently than I that Carter’s words are true. If the next year sees a major shift in who the big players are, I’ll be ecstatic. Almost every big name veteran on the roster, from Mick Foley to Kevin Nash to Kurt Angle to Booker T, has claimed lately that his main role is to help position the new guys to carry the torch. Some of it may be true, some of it is laughable (see previous articles), but TNA seems to forget something. Having established veterans who made their names in companies other than yours work with (and theoretically put over) your own talent is only one of many ways to get guys over and set them up to compete with the big company. It’s just one way, and frankly, judging by the failure of any of the established superstars who “jumped ship” to do much for the company beyond an initial interest rating, it isn’t a method to which TNA should stick.

TNA is not entirely responsible for criticisms involving the failure to make and elevate new stars. By all accounts, the powers-that-be of Spike TV demand ratings, and insist that the only way to get those ratings is to heavily utilize major names from the past, whom they believe will draw audiences automatically. TNA does not enjoy the WWE luxuries of an instantly recognizable global name, decades of being viewed as the industry standard, and the ability to channel-hop if they don’t see eye to eye with the network executives. Because they need the tv spot that they have, TNA may not be free to handle their product as they see fit, and the differences between their house shows and episodes of “Impact” testify to this. Even so, a company that has only existed for seven years can’t rely on performers whose career and physical primes were before the company was ever created. TNA promises something different, but doesn’t always deliver. If they would just deliver on tv on a regular basis, and truly provide an alternative instead of rhetoric, they would lure away the legions of fans who have issues with the current WWE product.   

Creating new stars sounds very simple. Fans need to connect with and care about someone, and be willing to pay money to see him beat someone else, or fans need to dislike someone enough that they’ll be willing to pay money to see him get beaten. How this happens depends on the talent involved. TNA’s biggest hindrance to creating new stars seems to be the lack of trust in their own talent to get themselves over. Prior to 2006, this didn’t seem to be an issue, but once the supposed “dream roster” of past stars flooded in, the TNA originals had less and less chance to do what they had done so well for the past several years. This article focuses on twelve “new” TNA superstars, the TNA “Dirty Dozen,” if you will, and their respective portrayals on television. These are by no means the only wrestlers in the company who are worth building up for the future, personal bias has been set aside as much as possible, and the list is in no particular order.

1. AJ Styles

AJ is NOT the future of wrestling. He’s been the present of wrestling since 2003. Few guys seem to be more respected and admired than AJ, and he has already carried the company. He has won the World Heavyweight title, the X-Division title, and the Tag Team titles on at least two occasions each. How is this guy not the face and leader of your company? Oh, casual fans don’t know who he is? MAKE them know who he is! Your job as a wrestling promotion is to help push the talent that you have, not to find other guys who can push them for you. AJ was doing just great until bigger guys with bigger names shoved him aside in the company that he personally helped create. Sure, his time spent as the Kurt Angle/Christian Cage sidekick did wonders for his promo skills, but the idea that AJ Styles is anything less than the top guy in TNA is insulting beyond belief. It’s long past time for him to reclaim his spot.   

2. Samoa Joe

There’s no excuse for what TNA did to Joe. His eighteen-month undefeated streak was just what an unstoppable monster needed. The fans chanted, “Joe’s gonna kill you,” and they meant it. ROH Joe and TNA Joe were pretty much the same, and the fact that most casual fans had never seen ROH Joe didn’t matter. What was seen on TNA was what he was, and had they stuck with it, it could have really taken off. Kurt Angle killed Joe. Rushing three pay-per-view matches in a row between the two served no positive purpose, and Joe losing in the manner in which he did screamed that no matter who TNA had, he couldn’t compete with WWE cast-offs. Yes, Joe has floundered for a while, but joining the Main Event Mafia could signal a major turnaround, particularly with Kevin Nash’s endorsement of “we couldn’t beat him, so we had to buy him.” Samoa Joe should be the most feared man on the TNA roster, and if that can be done over the next several months, all will be right with the world.    

3. Matt Morgan

On paper, Matt Morgan has everything. He’s pushing seven feet tall, he is in fact “genetically jacked and athletically stacked,” and most recently, he has shown that he is a decent talker. What did WWE do with him? Gave him a stuttering gimmick and future endeavored him when that didn’t click with the fans. TNA did a much better job with him. He went from working in Jim Cornette’s office to generic babyface to a bromance tag team with Abyss before finding his stride as a solid heel. His ringwork improves regularly, and he’s a very physically impressive guy. It took a while, but Matt Morgan is firmly established in the “future main eventers” club.

4. Robert Roode
5. James Storm

Both of these guys are “future main eventers,” but the tag team of Beer Money is so successful that they don’t need to worry about that for some time to come. Aside from being terribly screwed over by not defeating Team 3D for the tag titles at the “Lockdown” ppv earlier this year, Beer Money has had an outstanding run since their inception. They were despised heels who morphed into hugely over babyfaces, and now they’re at the top of the tag team heap. Hopefully, they’ll stay a team for a long time, but when they eventually split, James Storm has to be the face. He’s just too funny. No complaints concerning the handling of these two.

6. Alex Shelley
7. Chris Sabin

The gold mine that TNA has missed with these two is astonishing. That the Motor City Machine Guns have never had a TNA tag team title reign after being a team for over two years is just plain wrong, particularly when looking at the teams that have. Their 2008 feud with Team 3D over the existence of the X-Division was great, crowd response was tremendous everywhere they went (not just in Orlando), and the degree to which they were over with the fans was something that couldn’t be manufactured or bought. It was what any wrestling promotion dreams of and would sell its soul to get. TNA chose not to exploit this. Then they got in trouble with management, and were completely buried for months. When they finally started climbing out of that hole, the most popular faces on the roster get turned heel for no real reason, and fans were left confused. Constant vacillation between “We want to cheer you,” and “You’re bad, so we’re supposed to boo you,” led to fans not knowing what to do, and responses at all tapered off. Granted, the MCMG have regularly had some of the best matches on the card (which usually lack any sort of follow-up), and have been given mic time with Mick Foley, Sting, Jeff Jarrett, among others. Is this a sign of good things to come? While they have both been shamefully mishandled in the past, getting back what they once had is still possible. They just have to be allowed to do it.             

8. Jay Lethal

A very athletic young wrestler lacks the over-the-top personality desired by management. He does a great Macho Man Randy Savage impression. He gets saddled with an impersonator gimmick that far overstays its welcome. Jay Lethal can wrestle, no question about it. He would probably generate a much stronger fan response if he ditched the Macho Man gimmick and focused on an aspect of his own personality. Lethal has held the X-Division title, feuded with his best friend over a girl, lost said girl, and formed a tag team with Consequences Creed. He has certainly gotten attention, but the bad gimmick has overshadowed his ability. Once he sheds that, he can be a money player. Sure, he may not be World title material, but everyone on the roster doesn’t need to be.

9. Homicide
10. Hernandez

LAX was the hottest tag team on the roster when they first came out. They were neutered by putting them with Hector Guerrero, and are much better off without an entourage. Word around the campfire was that management felt that Homicide’s promos were “too street” for him to be allowed to speak for LAX, and they needed another mouthpiece. How is a ghetto/barrio thug supposed to sound? In any case, LAX held tag team gold, and both Homicide and Hernandez were on their respective ways to solid singles pushes, with Homicide in the X-Division and Hernandez going after the World Heavyweight title. Injury and family issues have kept them off tv, but when they come back, they have a natural feud with the British Invasion, and both are still owed title shots for the singles belts. The push for both members of LAX has been very stop-start, but once they return, it really won’t take much for them to grab the spotlight and get the fans behind them again.

11. Daniels

Whatever name he uses, this guy has had “main event” written all over him for years. Considering how long he has been in the business, it’s almost an insult to refer to him as “new” in any way. In the grand scheme of TNA things, he hasn’t been back on the roster long enough to do much, but his alignment with AJ Styles is a good start. As the Main Event Mafia story progresses, Daniels should be front and center taking them on. He has held tag team and X-Division gold on multiple occasions, and the one thing he hasn’t done is take the World title. That should only be a matter of time. Daniels has been handled fine since his return, and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t continue on a positive path. 

12. Eric Young

His recent heel turn is the best work he has ever done. The best heels have legitimate gripes, and speak the truths that no one in the audience wants to hear or admit. Young is a solid hand in the ring, and his character now is one of the most compelling on the show. As long as it keeps going in the direction that it seems to be going, there’s nothing to complain about with the use of Eric Young. 

Personally, I live for the day when TNA and ROH provide major league competition to the WWE. Not only do the fans win because the companies must actually compete for our attention and money, but the wrestlers win as well because they have more options. That TNA exists at all on the level that it does today is remarkable, and if these twelve guys are allowed to do what they do best, the next decade could be truly awesome for wrestling fans everywhere.

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