Impact Wrestling has spent most of its time as its existence as the second or third biggest wrestling promotion in North America. The company in many ways rose out of the ashes of WCW, and featured a mix of rising stars who hadn't yet had a chance on the national stage, and veteran stars who were on the outs with WWE.
It can be interesting track the trajectory of Impact's world title, as some of men to hold it became company mainstays for years, while others were only there for a very brief period of time. Interestingly, some of these champions would go on to bigger and better things, including noteworthy runs in WWE, while other peaked with Impact Championship, never making it to any bigger stage, or never accomplishing anything of note once they made it under Vince McMahon's management.
10 Thrived: AJ Styles
For quite some time, AJ Styles seemed like he would go down as the best American wrestler of his generation to never work for WWE. He was the top face for Impact Wrestling on and off for most of its first decade, besides noteworthy runs with Ring of Honor and New Japan.
When Styles did sign with WWE, the jury was out on whether WWE would let this relatively small wrestler with a more technical style do his thing and rise the ranks, or relegate him to a low profile role. To date, he's a two-time world champion, which includes one WWE Championship reign that extended for a full year. Moreover, it's telling that he is four for four when it comes to getting featured singles matches at every WrestleMania since he signed, not to mention that he won three of them.
9 Floundered: Bobby Roode
Bobby Roode was an organic success story for Impact Wrestling, who developed from a competent young wrestler into one of the promotion's top singles stars and an eventual world champion.
When Roode signed with WWE, he got off to a promising start. He garnered a strong push in NXT all the way to a NXT Championship reign. However, things took a turn when he got his main roster call-up. After some initial attention, including a brief US Championship reign, Roode got lost in the shuffle, working the lower card. A tag team with Chad Gable had potential, but they never really got a spotlight, and it was clear that the duo was thrown together for lack of anything better to do with them.
8 Thrived: Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe was one of Impact Wrestling's biggest success stories. He had a monster run, putting on great matches and going undefeated in his early days with the company, before getting a competitive feud opposite the newly arrived Kurt Angle. Finally, Joe wound up beating Angle for the world title in one of Impact's most rewarding early storylines.
Joe may not be as successful on paper on the WWE main roster, but he was booked as a legitimate threat to top stars and world champions including Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and AJ Styles. Moreover, now that his run as a world title challenger seems to be over for the time being, WWE still hasn't forgotten about him, instead making him a central player in the US Championship picture. The fact that Joe got to squash Rey Mysterio at WrestleMania 35 reinforces his status as someone the company takes seriously, and as a reasonable pick to one day go in the WWE Hall of Fame.
7 Floundered: Eric Young
Eric Young had a long tenure with Impact Wrestling, dating back to its very early days. His career saw him take on a wide range of gimmicks, ranging from a cartoonish superhero to a deadly serious heel to world champion.
Young did reasonably well for himself in NXT as the leader of the Sanity faction. However, when the stable got called up to the main roster, they quickly fell out of fashion, scarcely used on television. The group's break up doesn't help matters as Young now has less identity than ever, and when he does appear on TV it's usually as a background player or body filling a spot in a large brawl.
6 Thrived: Drew McIntyre
When WWE released Drew McIntyre, he was coming off a period of less and less momentum as a singles star, leading to his nadir as a supporting player for the 3MB comedic stable. Out of the WWE system, he honed his game, developing as an in-ring performer, taking on a more serious look, and becoming a star whose accomplishments included winning Impact's top title.
Since his return to WWE, McIntyre was booked as the top face and champion of NXT, before working a steady upper card heel role on the main roster. His momentum stalled coming out of a lukewarm WrestleMania match with Roman Reigns, and dull partnership with fellow big man heels Baron Corbin and Bobby Lashley. Nonetheless, McIntyre has the tools and the appeal to WWE management that he's still believable as a world title threat just as soon as the company chooses to pull the trigger.
5 Floundered: Austin Aries
Austin Aries had an inspired run in Impact Wrestling in the early 2010s. After dominating the X Division for nearly a full year, he transitioned to the world title scene. Aries increasingly came across as one of the best talents in the world to have never signed with WWE, and when NXT started recruiting top indie stars, it looked like a match made in heaven for Aries.
Aries had a reasonable NXT run before getting called up to the main roster’s then-new Cruiserweight division. Aries was cast as a challenger to reigning champ, Neville, and looked poised to become the new face of the division, only to come up short in two challenges. Aries left WWE not long after, amidst rumors from sources like The Wrestling Observer that he was difficult to work with and unpopular backstage. In the end, Aries’s WWE run wound forgettable and a big disappointment.
4 Thrived: Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle rose to stardom in WWE, and it was a major score for Impact Wrestling when they managed to sign him—albeit amidst Angle struggling with injuries and substance abuse issues. Even at less than ideal physical and mental condition, Angle delivered at a high level for Impact, and it’s little surprise that he was a world champion there.
Angle would wind up returning to WWE to accept a Hall of Fame induction, play a face authority figure role, and close out his in-ring career. While Angle was in many ways a shell of his former self for this run, he nonetheless garnered the worldwide audience he deserved to celebrate his remarkable career in its twilight.
3 Floundered: Bobby Lashley
Bobby Lashley had a good run with WWE in the mid-2000s, highlighted by his feud with Vince McMahon that included a WrestleMania storyline. Lashley left WWE only to wind up in Impact where he, in so many ways, honed his craft, particularly as a heel world champion.
When WWE re-signed him it, initially felt like a big deal. Surely, we would finally see Lashley vs. Brock Lesnar, besides which a heel Lashley in WWE had promise. Lashley’s comeback tour has been pretty baffling, though. Despite an early push, that included getting to beat Roman Reigns cleanly, Lashley has spent much of his time directionless. When the heel turn did come, The All Mighty wound up planted in the mid-card, squandering his considerable potential thus far.
2 Thrived: Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy rose to national acclaim in WWE, then bounced back and forth between WWE and Impact over the years to follow, including runs as a singles star and reunions to team with his brother Matt.
Jeff’s most recent run with Impact saw his most radical character changes, including a main event heel run as world champion and top in-ring representative of the Immortal faction, and later joining his brother in his oddball Broken Universe. The brothers returned to WWE in 2017 to collect two new tag title reigns, besides which Jeff reasserted himself as an upper card singles performer.
Each of the Hardys are seemingly in the twilight of their long careers, but Jeff has continued to turn heads and make waves in this most recent WWE run.
1 Floundered: EC3
When Derrick Bateman from WWE’s NXT moved over to Impact Wrestling and became EC3, it felt like a revelation. Playing the boss’s nephew, he was a masterful arrogant heel who rose through the ranks and wound up a world champion.
When EC3 returned to the modern NXT, and even got to keep that name, it seemed WWE realized what it had missed out on the first time around, and intended to capitalize on how much he had grown as a performer. NXT quickly proved an awkward fit for him, though, given he was more of a big personality than in ring wizard. While his call up to the main roster felt abrupt, it also felt like the right move to get him on Raw where his mic skills and charisma could do more to carry him.
EC3’s second go round in WWE has been a huge letdown, though. There’s little suggestion it’s his fault, but the powers that be have relegated him to a lower card role with no signs of advancement.