It’s going to take a lot of getting used to, but the name “TNA” is, according to Bruce Prichard, dead. The company is now known simply as Impact Wrestling, and it remains to be seen whether the name change will help the struggling company have a good year in 2017 for a change. So far, things don’t seem to be looking good in this new Anthem-led promotion, as the company has recently seen Drew Galloway, The Broken Hardys, Mike Bennett, Maria Kanellis, and Jade leave Impact, all in the span of about a week. Ouch, that’s got to hurt.
Then again, Impact Wrestling pulled a fast one and proved the original rumors to be true, adding Alberto El Patron (formerly Del Rio) to their roster, five months after he told WWE, in no uncertain terms, that he had had it with MexAmerica, the League of Nations, and the lack of creative direction he had since his late-2015 return. With that, El Patron now joins Cody Rhodes, Aron Rex, Ethan Carter III, and Tyrus as a WWE castoff who may (or may not) revive his career with the company.
Meanwhile, WrestleMania season is beckoning in the land of MeekMahan, and after that comes the company’s annual “spring cleaning” session. And Jack Swagger has apparently decided to cut ties with WWE before they cut ties with him, having announced recently on MMA star Chael Sonnen’s podcast that he’s working out terms for his release. With a talent-packed main roster and many NXT talents waiting in line to be called up, there’s a chance of many more releases to follow in 2017.
Seeing that Impact has many holes to fill following the last mass exodus, we’ve decided to list 15 Superstars whom we just may be seeing on Impact Wrestling within the year, ranked on how likely they are to defect. And since we like a little spoiler or two before proceeding, you’re also going to see how likely it is we’ll be hearing Jack Swagger, or should we say Jake Hager, say “We, The People!” on Thursday nights.
We really feel for the Australian wrestler known in real life as Tenille Dashwood. Emma debuted with a not-made-for-the-main-roster comedy dancing gimmick, got injured just as she was getting things right as a heel, infuriated fans with those weekly Emmalina vignettes, and ended up announcing the makeover from Emmalina to Emma because she just couldn’t get that “traditional Diva” gimmick right. It’s a pity because she’s clearly talented, but bad luck has plagued her for most of her main roster run.
Three years ago, WWE fired her because she was arrested for shoplifting, only to rehire her when it was revealed to be an honest mistake where she had forgotten to pay for the item. This year, she might not be too lucky, what with the expected female call-ups from NXT and the planned women’s tournament. If Emma finds herself in WWE’s spring cleaning list, she may find a new home, and hopefully a much better push, in Impact’s Knockouts Division.
14. TOM PHILLIPS
Okay, so he’s not really a wrestler, so we’re cheating it a bit here. But you are probably aware that Tom Phillips is involved in a major PR nightmare, as a woman had recently accused him of having an online affair with her despite him being engaged. Worse for Phillips, his embarrassingly NSFW sexts were posted on social media in screenshot form, and he’s been the object of ridicule for many a wrestling fan this past week.
As Phillips reportedly got in trouble for using his company phone to conduct this affair, we’d imagine WWE officials losing patience with him. And since WWE loves David Otunga despite his oftentimes shoddy work on SmackDown Live commentary, it won’t be surprising if the company decides they’ve got one man too many on the blue brand’s announce team, and cuts Phillips loose. If so, he may find himself helping out on commentary and backstage interviews on Impact Wrestling…not to mention in good company with Josh Mathews, who’s been known to post some embarrassing stuff himself on Twitter, in and out of character.
13. MICK FOLEY
Now this may be a rather touchy entry, but let’s take a look at Mick Foley’s complicated relationship with the WWE. Yes, he’s got a reality show on the Network and his son Dewey is part of the company’s creative team. But he’s also been very critical of the product at times, and while he’s been careful not to throw shade at the ‘E with regards to the topic, he is on a handshake deal with the company, which means WWE won’t be paying for his upcoming hip replacement surgery.
With Foley having gotten himself insured again, he’s due to have that surgery soon, and WWE appears to be working on writing him off his TV role as RAW GM. That would put him out of commission for several months, and one has to wonder if he’ll use that time off to decide whether he wants to return to Impact or not. With old-school guys like Jeff Jarrett and Dutch Mantel running the creative side of things, such an arrangement may be copacetic to the Hardcore Legend.
12. ANDRADE “CIEN” ALMAS
All things considered, Andrade “Cien” Almas had enjoyed a pretty solid run in NXT. But pretty solid isn’t something you would expect from a guy who got so much advance hype ahead of his debut. A big star in his native Mexico and in Japan under the name La Sombra, Almas didn’t get the hot reception that many had hoped for. And while the good thing is that he didn’t turn into a botch-happy joke like OG Sin Cara did after his much-anticipated WWE debut, he’s close to following in his footsteps as another hyped Mexican who hasn’t lived up to expectations.
Almas currently isn’t making much of a difference in NXT, and there’s a chance that may change once more wrestlers get called up to the main roster. But if it doesn’t, Impact may be waiting with open arms and eager to sign him with the promise of a better push. (That is, if Lucha Underground doesn’t get to him first.)
11. MULTIPLE UNDERUTILIZED CRUISERWEIGHTS
We’re not naming any names here since “multiple underutilized cruiserweights” could refer to any two, three, four, or maybe five wrestlers who don’t get as much exposure as current champion Neville, former champs The Brian Kendrick, TJ Perkins, and Rich Swann, or even that Alicia Fox-loving, oftentimes-jobbing Noam Dar. Heck, not even those fellows may be safe if and when WWE realizes they’ve done a piss-poor job of promoting their cruiserweights and decides to get rid of some dead weight.
The problem with the Cruiserweight Division is that WWE hasn’t done much to make fans, especially casual viewers, care about them after the Cruiserweight Classic. And we don’t know if Neville’s revelation as a nasty heel with underrated mic skills and the current storyline with Kendrick and Akira Tozawa is too little, too late. Since creative head Dutch Mantel and executive producer Jeff Jarrett are the types who’d like to see some good wrestling on the Impact product, they’ll have several nifty choices to pick from WWE’s Cruiserweight Division.
10. ADAM ROSE (a.k.a. LEO KRUGER/KRUGAR)
It’s been quite a while since we last saw Adam Rose in a major promotion, but could 2017 be the year that Impact Wrestling comes knocking? A WWE return might not look too plausible, considering how he took to Twitter last year to protest his innocence following a Wellness Policy suspension, and how he was soon arrested for domestic violence and fired by WWE for the bad PR that arrest had brought on. But the man has had some interesting ideas for his gimmicks, ideas that may have arguably been hamstrung by WWE’s PG rating.
Although the Jarrett/Mantel regime may very likely be less gimmick-driven than how it was in the Dixie era, Impact Wrestling might want to give Ray Leppan, who turns 38 this year, what could be his last big chance to make good in a major promotion. And since Leppan had recently “killed” his WWE main roster character, his previous Leo Kruger gimmick (since renamed to Krugar) might be right up Impact’s alley as something that won’t take away too much from his wrestling as Adam Rose did.
9. SANTINO MARELLA
Wrestlers who can play comedy gimmicks often aren’t asked to stop being funny, and it affects their position on the card. Santino Marella is another example of this, and while we don’t argue with how he was such an entertaining part of WWE’s midcard, he was also a talented worker who wasn’t pushed as well as he should have. And when WWE released him in 2016, he was already retired as an active wrestler due to chronic neck injuries.
If Santino makes his way to Impact, we won’t expect him to return to the ring. But maybe a role as an on-air authority figure could work for the onetime Milan Miracle — assuming this happens, it may be a chance for Anthony Carelli (Santino’s real name) to drop the fake accent and show more of his real-life no-nonsense side, something that the likes of Jeff Jarrett and Dutch Mantel certainly would respect if they think he’s a good fit for Impact.
8. BUBBA RAY DUDLEY
A few months after The Dudley Boyz ended their elder statesman/jobber-to-the-stars WWE run in August 2016, D-Von announced his retirement as an active wrestler. He’s now working backstage for WWE like so many retired wrestlers have done. But what about his kayfabe half-brother Bubba Ray? Could a return to Impact Wrestling interest the man who worked for the company in the TNA days as Bully Ray?
At the moment, Impact appears to be looking for younger, cheaper talent for the most part, and Bubba/Bully Ray’s age of 45 certainly eliminates him from the “younger” category. But he was mainly a tag team guy in WWE, as opposed to the strong singles pushes he got — that’s two World Heavyweight Championships during the Dixie Carter regime, mind you. He’s also part of the TNA (or Impact Wrestling?) Hall of Fame, so bringing him back, even on a part-time basis, might not be a bad idea as Impact seeks to rebuild its roster.
7. JACK SWAGGER
He isn’t officially gone from WWE as of this writing, but it may be a matter of time before the company announces that it has just wished Jack Swagger, a.k.a. Donald Jacob “Jake” Hager Jr., the best in his future endeavors. He’s told Chael Sonnen that he wants out of WWE, and we are not the least bit surprised — this former World Heavyweight Champion has dropped so far down the card after a few brief main event pushes, and he’s currently exploring his options, both in the worlds of pro wrestling and mixed martial arts.
None of those reports have quoted Swagger as mentioning Impact Wrestling as an option, but what if the price happens to be right? That’s what may have lured Alberto El Patron to Impact after he had turned them down in favor of a WWE return in 2015. You should also know that Swagger’s got a ready-made mouthpiece to make up for his always-abysmal mic skills — Dutch Mantel, or Zeb Colter as he was known in his last WWE run.
At some point, you’ve got to wonder when Fandango will be having his last dance in WWE. Then again, he doesn’t do much dancing anymore as one-half of Breezango, a.k.a. The Fashion Police/PoPo. This especially metrosexual take on Fandango has been one of many comedic gimmicks foisted upon Curtis Hussey in his years in the WWE — we also saw Johnny Curtis and his bizarre vignettes where he’d literally interpret popular expressions prior to his repackaging as a ballroom dancer.
Fandango is an example of what happens when WWE Creative notices that a younger talent has a good sense of humor and a talent for playing comedy roles — the comedy roles don’t stop, and the wrestler never rises past the midcard. We, for one, would like to see Impact Wrestling snap him up (if he gets future-endeavored this spring) and allow him to work a more realistic gimmick, or at least give him an outrageous gimmick that works, such as Derrick Bateman’s transformation into EC3.
Could it be that Paige, despite WWE Studios and The Rock working on a movie based on her famous family’s story, ask that WWE release her so that she can join her fiancee Alberto El Patron in Impact Wrestling? Granted, there will be complications, as her WWE deal has her signed to the company until 2019. But the motivation will certainly be there for the Anti-Diva, who had a 2016 that, save for her relationship with El Patron, was fraught with challenges and setbacks.
We might as well face it — when Paige returns from injury later this year, she’ll likely be an afterthought in a RAW lineup that features Bayley, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Nia Jax. She is younger than all four of those women, and even with the injuries in mind, she’s got years and years of top-level wrestling to look forward to. Maybe a trade to SmackDown Live would do her good, but if she returns with a similar push to what she had pre-injuries, you can expect her to be wanting out of WWE, and possibly heading to Impact, who probably won’t mind her relationship with El Patron like WWE did.
4. THE VAUDEVILLAINS
Oh, those poor Vaudevillains. It would seem like nothing has gone right for the former NXT Tag Team Champions since they accidentally concussed Enzo Amore at last year’s Payback pay-per-view, and we’d say Wikipedia is being too nice to them when their entry refers to them as “midcard” wrestlers. They’re jobbers, plain and simple, and they’re even lower on the SmackDown Live totem pole than fellow NXT tag champs-turned main roster busts The Ascension, or Breezango, whose two members are listed here individually due to their varying main roster backgrounds.
At this point, Creative doesn’t seem to have anything for The Vaudevillains, and their old-timey gimmick is just the kind of main roster gimmick that doesn’t have much mileage for today’s fans. If WWE pulls the plug on their vintage-era act and cuts them loose, Impact could make better use of their in-ring talents, but probably give them new gimmicks and different ring names. After all, Matt Rehwoldt (Aiden English) doesn’t really roll off the tongue, while John Smith (Simon Gotch) is as generic a name as you can get.
3. MICKIE JAMES
At this point, it’s probably safe to say that Mickie James, who was one of WWE’s top female wrestlers of the past decade, will be tasked to do what so many older wrestlers have done and continue to do for the younger set — put them over and make them look like a million bucks. That’s what she did to Asuka in NXT last fall, and that’s what she has just done to Becky Lynch in recent SmackDown Live storylines. In other words, her role appears to be similar to that of The Dudley Boyz when they returned to WWE in 2015 after several years on Impact.
But how long will it be before James, who is now 37 but still in good shape, has it with jobbing to the stars and decides to return to the former TNA? Rumors have been swirling regarding Impact bringing her husband Magnus back to the fold, and Magnus returning to the company just might give Mickie good reason to ask for her release and give Impact another shot, now that Dixie Carter is no longer in charge.
2. TYLER BREEZE
Although Fandango has been with WWE for much longer, we can’t ignore the possibility that the company may be close to giving up on the other half of Breezango, Tyler Breeze. Despite his male model shtick looking like a millennial version of Rick “The Model” Martel’s most famous WWE gimmick (replace Arrogance with a selfie stick), WWE just hasn’t been too invested in the Canadian youngster. And while Breezango did breathe a bit of life into Breeze’s character, they’re one of multiple SmackDown Live tag teams that may be rendered superfluous once The Revival is ready to be called up. And we haven’t even mentioned dark horses like #DIY and the Authors of Pain, who may be due later in the year, if not in the first half of 2018!
Considering those reports that Impact Wrestling may be after younger, more affordable wrestlers as they try to beef up their lineup, Tyler Breeze fits the bill perfectly, as he’s just 29 and should be in the prime of his career. He’s got charisma, isn’t bad in the ring, and is just the kind of WWE lower-carder (see: EC3, Drew Galloway, etc.) who could make a bigger name for himself in Impact.
1. DOLPH ZIGGLER
It finally happened earlier this year – Dolph Ziggler had finally turned back into a heel, not long after his epic Intercontinental Championship win over The Miz at No Mercy scotched rumors that he’d be jumping ship and made to lose that career-threatening match, but only proved to be a false dawn for the Show-Off’s push. Surprise, surprise – Dolph is still mired in the midcard, and with SmackDown Live showcasing some pretty hot feuds on the road to WrestleMania (Cena/Nikki vs. Miz/Maryse, Wyatt vs. Orton, Ambrose vs. Corbin, possibly Styles vs. Shane), Ziggler vs. Kalisto and Apollo Crews is getting crickets from fans by comparison.
The WWE Universe loves Dolph Ziggler for his work ethic, his impeccable ability to sell, his overall skill in the ring and on the mic, and his penchant for speaking his mind. The latter has arguably affected his push in a negative way, and 2017 may be the year we have to admit that Ziggler, whether face or heel, won’t get another chance to become a top guy in WWE. If his contract’s up for renewal this year, it won’t be a shocker if a wild Nick Nemeth appears on Impact Wrestling, here to show the world that he’s still got what it takes to top-bill a card, even as he turns 37 in July.
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