In its nearly 15 year history so far, TNA has been home to some of the biggest names and most talented performers in the world of pro wrestling. From WCW stalwarts to former (and future) WWE headliners, and major behind-the-scenes players to promising young stars finally getting their chance to compete on a national TV show, the company has made use of a diverse crop of talents in its path to becoming the number two wrestling promotion in the U.S.
Of course, contractual relationships in pro wrestling are quite often of a fleeting nature – an organization’s top dog today could be struggling for TV time tomorrow, replaced by the new flavor of the month. And, when that happens, there’s the distinct possibility that the overlooked talent will leave. While this is sort of a two-way street, and has led to TNA signing its fair share of big names over the years, the company has also left a bad taste in the mouth of more than a few of its former employees.
From embittered ex-champions to reluctant retirees, here are fifteen big names who, while sporting prominent TNA sections on their resumes, are highly unlikely to ever make a return to the company.
Despite spending such a length portion of his in-ring career with the company, it’s pretty unlikely fans will see Sting in a TNA ring ever again. And no, it’s not just because his career was “on the line” in his final match at the 2014 Genesis event. It’s more a case that The Stinger was clearly in it with TNA for the long haul – having made his debut with the company way back in 2003 – and, when he finally signed with WWE, it signaled the end of an era.
At this point, it seems unlikely Sting will wrestle again for any company. Following a serious neck injury incurred at Night of Champions in September 2015, the writing was on the wall. Despite the fact that he wanted to compete again, a diagnosis of cervical spinal stenosis convinced The Stinger that continuing to wrestle would be a bad idea. He formally announced his retirement the weekend of WrestleMania 32, as he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame (nearly four years after being the inaugural inductee in TNA’s Hall of Fame).
14. Sarah Stock
Sarah Stock, formerly known to TNA fans as Sarita, had a memorable run with the company that began in the summer of 2009. Not long after her debut, she found an ally in Taylor Wilde. The two women entered a tournament to crown the first ever Knockouts Tag Team Champions. After defeating two other teams, Sarita and Wilde bested Velvet Sky and Madison Rayne in the finals to win the title.
Though the pairing wouldn’t last long, Stock had established herself as a force to be reckoned with in TNA. The following year, she joined the Mexican America faction. While part of that group, she captured the Knockouts Tag Team Championship for a second time with Rosita. They’d hold on to the belts for the next three months.
Though Stock remained with TNA until 2013, the rest of her run with the company was a bit less eventful. After leaving TNA, she kept busy competing in various promotions, including in Mexico and Japan. Since 2015, she’s been under WWE contract, working as a trainer in NXT. It’s hard to imagine Stock willingly leaving such a cushy gig. And, even if she did, there are plenty of options for her (both training and wrestling) that might be more stable.
13. Booker T
When Booker T left WWE for TNA back in October 2007, he said it was to protect his own reputation. Booker had been named in the Signature Pharmacy scandal, as a purchaser of performance enhancing drugs. When WWE suspended him under its Wellness Policy, despite his claims that he was not using drugs nor had he purchased any, he asked for his release. Had the incident never occurred, it’s entirely possible Booker would’ve never left WWE.
After signing with TNA, Booker had a memorable run as part of The Main Event Mafia. As self-proclaimed “Legends champion” (a title that later became The King of the Mountain championship) and one-half of the TNA Tag Team Champions with Scott Steiner, he was a fixture of the company’s weekly programming. Though he reportedly didn’t get along with everyone backstage, there was little sign that he had any bad feelings toward the company when he left. In fact, after his “final” match for TNA in October 2009, he was willing to return for a single match the following May.
The reason Booker wouldn’t return to TNA has more to do with the passage of time. After fulfilling several non-wrestling roles for WWE following his return to the company in 2011 –color commentator, Smackdown General Manager, and, eventually, an analyst at pay-per-views – Booker has firmly established himself as a loyal, long-term WWE employee. In July 2016, he announced his retirement from active competition. And, between his WWE appearances and his worker as a promoter (he co-founded Texas’ Reality of Wrestling), Booker T has little need to make a TNA return.
12. Eric Young
One of the organization’s longest standing and most loyal employees, Eric Young seemed sure to be a TNA lifer. Ten years into his time with the promotion, Young’s continuous hard work and charisma was finally rewarded, as he captured the TNA World Heavyweight championship in 2014. But while he wasn’t always at the top of the card, Young was always somewhere in the mix. At various points, he held the TNA Tag Team Championship, the X Division Championship, and even co-held the Knockouts Tag Team Championship with ODB. And he was popular with fans throughout his entire run.
But Young also had the potential to do well elsewhere. In 2015, he reportedly signed a new deal that he was ultimately unhappy with. For all his time with TNA, Young’s contract was said to be less lucrative than talents who’d put in much less time. The two parties reportedly negotiated a release for Young, leaving him free to pursue work elsewhere.
At a May 2016 taping of NXT, Eric Young made an appearance at an NXT taping – much to the shock of wrestling fans everywhere. It wasn’t long before he’d signed with WWE, officially debuting as the head of the SAnitY faction in the fall. His potential for success in WWE appears to be very high. Regardless of what happens, though, Young probably won’t come back to TNA. If reports regarding his departure are true, he likely would have a hard time trusting the company in the future.
11. Rob Van Dam
Though he was immensely popular throughout his initial six-year run in WWE, it’s no secret that, by 2007, Rob Van Dam was ready for a change. After five years of never quite getting to the top of the mountain, RVD finally had his chance in June 2006 – defeating John Cena for the WWE championship at the second One Night Stand pay-per-view, then quickly being awarded the top title for the new ECW brand. But less than one month later, after being found in possession of illegal drugs at a traffic stop, Van Dam was forced to lose both championships.
Though he remained with the company until the following June, he left WWE after defeating Randy Orton at One Night Stand 2007, citing burn out. After spending the better part of the next three years making occasional appearances on the independent scene, RVD inked a three year deal with TNA in March 2010. For a time period, it appeared to be the right move – Van Dam captured the TNA World Heavyweight Championship shortly after his debut, and held it through most of the summer.
And while he never quite replicated the main event status that followed his debut, Van Dam still had a pretty decent run in TNA. In October 2012, he won the X Division Championship and managed to hold it for an impressive 137 days. But when it came time to re-sign with TNA the following March, the company reportedly dropped the ball by being unorganized about Van Dam’s new deal. He later told Chris Jericho, on the Talk is Jericho podcast, that TNA’s inability to firm things up led to his 2013 WWE return. After having to deal with such shenanigans the last time around, Van Dam probably isn’t itching to go back.
10. Eric Bischoff
As if TNA hadn’t already been compared to WCW enough — both favorably and unfavorably – the 2010 introduction of Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan to the Impact Zone certainly invited such comparisons. Everything about Bischoff’s arrival, from the circumstances under which he was introduced to his true role within the company, seemed to mirror in some way his earlier presence in WCW. And for wrestling fans pulling for TNA to become a legitimate threat to WWE’s industry dominance, this was welcome news.
After helping TNA negotiate a deal with both Hogan and himself, Bischoff and Hogan officially made their debuts with the company in January 2010. Two months later, on the heels of what was unquestionably a major coup for the promotion, TNA announced that Impact would be going head to head with WWE Raw on Monday nights. As TNA attempted to mount a Monday Nitro-esque threat to WWE on-screen, Bischoff was even working behind the scenes as a producer (much as he’d been both a talent and executive in WCW).
While TNA’s offensive didn’t do much to close the gap between itself and WWE, Bischoff remained a visible fixture of the company for the next two years and continued to work behind the scenes until 2013. In 2015. The Bisch and his associate Jason Hervey filed a lawsuit against TNA for unpaid wages. When asked in a 2016 for comments about the company, Bischoff declined, stating that his ongoing lawsuit prevented him from doing so. Suffice to say, the two parties aren’t on great terms.
9. Mick Foley
In retrospect, Mick Foley’s nearly three-year run with TNA seems like something out of a bizzaro universe. At this stage in his life, Foley seems so at home with WWE – working as General Manager of Raw and appearing on the WWE Network reality show Holy Foley! –that it’s almost easy to forget he spent three years working for the company’s top domestic rival. But not only was Foley a fixture of TNA television, he was also its World Champion.
That’s right…at Lockdown 2009 in Philadelphia, Mick Foley defeated Sting to win the TNA World Heavyweight Championship. He only held the title briefly, but it would go down as Mick’s fourth (and final) World heavyweight Championship – assuming he doesn’t attempt a return to the ring anytime soon. Later that summer, Mick even managed to have a run with the now-defunct TNA Legends Championship. Not bad, considering his active wrestling days were waning, to say the least.
Though he began his TNA career as a wrestler, by 2011, Foley had developed into a full-on authority figure – portraying the role of a network executive. By that point in Mick’s TNA run, he was openly unhappy with his place in the company. He even spoke out against some of its business decisions and made clear that he didn’t intend to re-sign once his contract expired that June. Considering the bad feelings on his way out the door, as well as his current, comfortably position with WWE, Foley would probably be one of the last people we’d see ink a new TNA deal.
8. Bobby Roode
Speaking of former TNA World champions who left the company with a bad taste in their mouths, what about Bobby Roode? Like fellow recent WWE signee Eric Young, Roode debuted with TNA in 2004 as a member of Team Canada. Through a run with the company that lasted almost 12 years, Roode was popular as both a singles competitor and tag wrestler, and as a heel and a babyface. He held the NWA Tag Team Belts twice with Eric Young and the TNA World Tag Team Championship on six different occasions. He was also World Heavyweight Champ on two separate occasions and still holds the record for the longest title reign (256 days).
When listing stars who were truly allowed to shine in TNA, Bobby Roode has to be near the top of the list. When Roode finally left TNA in early 2016, it was reportedly due to issues establishing a new contract, as well as supposed back pay that he was still owed. Due to his great importance to the promotion in previous years, he was said to be one of the company’s highest paid talents – well paid to the point that the company was having a difficult time affording him. So, after a long and undoubtedly successful stint in TNA, Roode was gone. Before long, he was under WWE contract and he quickly established himself as one of NXT’s fastest rising stars.
Could Roode return to TNA at some point in the future? While most in the wrestling business refer to the old adage “never say never,” it’s arguable that Roode has nothing left to accomplish in TNA. His WWE career, on the other hand, is only just beginning.
7. Jay Lethal
Though today he’s sitting pretty as one of the top names in Ring of Honor, Jay Lethal had a long road to get there. When he made his TNA debut in December 2005 (at the tender age of 20), Lethal seemed to have big things in his future. And he made the most of the opportunity, impressing fans and critics alike with some stand-out X Division performances.
When it was determined that some of the X-Division stars needed colorful characters to stand out, Lethal proved to be a team player – using his uncanny Randy Savage impression as the basis for a parody character named Black Machismo. Though many argued that Lethal didn’t need the character to succeed, he was devoted to making it work. As reward for his efforts, he finally won his first X Division Championship at Slammiversary 2007.
Lethal would go on to hold that title five more times (upsetting Kurt Angle to begin his second reign), as well as the TNA Tag Team Championship (with Consequences Creed, who WWE fans know as Xavier Woods). When he was released by the company in 2011, he didn’t let that get him down – instead, making his return to his old ROH stomping grounds. Within a few years, he was the man to be beat in the company. He captured the ROH World title and held it for an astounding 427 days, while also simultaneously holding the ROH Television championship for part of that period.
On the surface, at least, Tara (known as Victoria in WWE) seems to have fared better in TNA than she ever did in WWE. While she had an impressive initial run with the latter, establishing herself as an impressive foil for Trish Stratus, her WWE ended with more of a fizzle than a bang. True, she won the WWE Women’s Championship on two different occasions. But, as time wore on, the physically dominant Victoria was presented in a more bubbly, less badass way.
All that changed when she went to TNA. Rechristened Tara, she seemed poised to take over. And Tara did, in fact, do a good job of dominating the other women – capturing the Knockouts Championship on five separate occasions. On top of that, she portrayed a character that truly stood out. Early on, she’d place a tarantula on fallen opponents (a la Jake Roberts and his pet snake).
But the good times didn’t last. Tara was used less frequently and, in July 2013, TNA released her. She later acknowledged that, though she’d enjoyed her time with TNA, it also made her realize she missed certain things WWE. She was also confident in the knowledge that she wouldn’t be a Knockout again in the future, telling F4Wonline, “They say never say never in this business. But I’m comfortable saying I will never return to TNA.”
5. Hulk Hogan
Though Hulk Hogan probably wouldn’t want to return to TNA, the feeling is quite likely mutual. When The Hulkster arrived in TNA at the turn of this decade, company brass had high hopes that he’d be the catalyst of a new Monday Night War – or, at the very least, that he’d take the promotion to untold new levels of success. And though Hogan did draw some new eyeballs to the TNA product, his presence didn’t create the same “lightning in a bottle” impact it did back in his WCW days.
Unlike some of the other WWE legends on this list, Hogan didn’t win any titles while in TNA. In fact, he’d later say that he wasn’t particularly proud of his TNA matches, as he was struggling with injuries and far past his in-ring prime. Still, unlike his friend Eric Bischoff, The Hulkster said he held no ill will toward TNA when he left the company. He simply needed a stable gig that would allow him to support himself and his family.
Between 2014 and 2015, Hogan was once again under WWE contract and even made several prominent appearances for the company. But then in July, the website Gawker released footage from a leaked sex tape where Hogan repeatedly used a racial slur. Despite Hulk’s apology and insistence that the words didn’t reflect his true feeling, WWE released immediately him from his contract. Whether or not TNA would want to work with Hogan after this scandal. But, even if they did, there’s still the question of paying Hogan the princely sum he would mostly likely seek.
4. Samoa Joe
While he arguably made a name for himself in Ring of Honor – putting on five-star matches and holding the ROH World Championship for a record 645 days – it was with TNA that Samoa Joe first established himself with a national television audience. And as impressive as he was from the moment of his 2005 debut with the company, it’s arguable that Joe could’ve been even more impressive.
From the time of his first TNA match at that year’s Slammiversary, Joe embarked on an unbelievable undefeated streak, where he didn’t lose by pinfall or submission for 18 months. During that time, it seemed nobody would be able to get the better of Joe. But due to matches with multiple participants and various other stipulations, he never managed to win the TNA World Championship during that time period. And though he would eventually become champ in April 2008, the timing just wasn’t right.
In no way can Samoa Joe’s TNA run be played off as anything less than special. On top of the undefeated streak and eventual world title win, he was a two-time Tag Team Champ, five-time X Division Champion, and the winner of numerous tournaments. But when it was finally time for Joe to leave in 2015, it was pretty clear that he was putting his TNA days behind him. He claimed to be very happy with his decision and, soon enough, found himself under an enviable WWE contract that briefly allowed him to appear in both Ring of Honor and NXT. Following a four month NXT title reign in 2016, it seems to be just a matter of time before Joe is a member of WWE’s main roster.
While parsing the intentions of some of the other names on this list involves a certain amount of guesswork, Konnan has never been once to mince words. From his dealings with promotions including TNA and Mexico’s AAA to his feelings on behind the scenes happenings in WWE, he’s long been an open book. And though he played an important role within TNA in its first few years, there’s very little to indicate Konnan would ever want to go back.
Beginning in 2003, Konnan found himself the voice of a number of TNA’s most prominent factions. First, he led a group called The Authentic Luchadores. And though that stable didn’t last long, he soon teamed up with Ron Killings (R-Truth) and B.G. James (Road Dogg) to form 3Live Kru – a trio that co-held the NWA Tag Team Championship and defended it under the “Freebird Rule.” Later, after turning on the two men, he formed L.A.X. (the Latin American Xchange). Though the lineup changed a few times, its most prominent version would feature Konnan, Homicide, and Hernandez.
By 2007, Konnan needed hip surgery. And, not long after he’d had it, he and TNA parted ways. Konnan told the New York Daily News that his hip degeneration had likely been caused by years of wrestling, along with steroid abuse. That summer, he also underwent a kidney transplant. And though he’d eventually get back in the ring, Konnan increasingly took on important roles as a mentor, booker, and non-wrestling on-air talent.
Since his departure from the company, he’s been pretty outspoken about problems within the wrestling business at large. And he’s certainly had no shortage of complaints about TNA, notably saying in an interview that Chairman and Chief Strategy Officer Dixie Carter “doesn’t know s–t about wrestling.”
2. A.J. Styles
For years, wrestling fans wondered what might happen if TNA’s golden boy A.J. Styles departed for WWE. In 2016, there’s nothing left to wonder about. After an electric reception at this year’s Royal Rumble, Styles began his ascent of the WWE ranks – culminating at Backlash, when he defeated Dean Ambrose to capture his first WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Until recently, though, the odds of Styles ever having a meaningful WWE run seemed slim to nil. After all, if there was one wrestler synonymous with TNA, it was A.J. Styles. He made his first appearance for the company on June 19, 2002, on the company’s first ever show. At the time, TNA was a small company that only aired weekly pay-per-view shows, in lieu of a weekly national cable show. And from the get-go, it was clear that A.J. was something special.
On the second show the promotion ever aired, Styles defeated Psychosis and Jerry Lynn to become the first ever TNA X Division Champion – beginning the first of six reigns atop the division he’d held put on the map. Before long, Styles was the most popular act on the show, necessitating that the company put in marquee matches. Throughout his 11-year TNA run, he’d become World Champion on five separate occasions.
Reportedly, Styles ultimately decided to leave the company due to financial concerns. TNA supposedly was looking to reduce his pay, which caused him to seek work in Ring of Honor and New Japan. While with New Japan, Styles revitalized his career and invited the attention of WWE. While a guest on The Sam Roberts’ Show, Styles made his feelings toward TNA clear, saying he “didn’t shed one tear” after leaving the company. Ouch.
1. CM Punk
Between all of the excitement and drama surrounding CM Punk’s abrupt exit from WWE and transition into the world of UFC, it’s somewhat easy to forget that Punk is also a TNA alumnus. Yes, it’s more likely that Punk’s accomplishments with Ring of Honor are what put him on WWE’s radar, but his first major national exposure came from TNA.
Punk, who’d already made a splash on the independent scene, briefly teamed with Julio Dinero and Raven as The Gathering. Before long, though, the two men would turn heel, defecting to manager James Mitchell. Punk and Dinero targeted their former ally, reprising Punk’s popular feud with Raven from Ring of Honor. But Punk never really made a splash in TNA and soon found himself at a crossroads. When TNA forbade its talent from performing on Ring of Honor shows (following a 2004 scandal with former ROH booker Rob Feinstein), Punk decided he’d rather leave TNA altogether.
Of course, Punk and TNA parted ways more than 12 years ago and it’s tough to know whether he still holds a grudge. At the same time, Punk’s made it pretty clear that he’s a retired wrestler, focused instead on his burgeoning MMA career. In fact, TNA reportedly offered him a generous sum of money back in 2014, only for Punk to turn it down.
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