The story of TNA is one of the saddest in wrestling history. The company debuted with great potential and promise as the only legitimate threat to WWE after WCW. That didn’t last very long. TNA went to the horrible route of trying to copy the WWE formula, but couldn’t do it as well. The signings of former wrestling stars from the 80s and 90s added more negativity to the reputation of the company being a retirement home. Poor content and the rumors of not being able to pay their employees have made TNA an irrelevant product despite the shows recently being more entertaining.
A big reason for TNA ending up in this spot was their lack of faith in young talents. The company has employed many of the best wrestlers in the world who were not even in their prime yet, but those wrestlers were always put in silly gimmicks or stopped with a ceiling limiting their potential. TNA chose to go to the bank for guys like Sting, Mick Foley, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and many others rather than just slowly growing their own brand. That plan will always lead to failure and, unfortunately, it screwed many talented performers along the way, as well as the promotion.
The underutilized TNA talents have mostly gone on to success in other promotions. Many of them have ended up making livings in Ring of Honor or on the independent wrestling scene. Self-made and independent stars are being rewarded after CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins and many others became important pieces in WWE history. Sadly, not all of the wrestlers TNA sabotaged have been met with success and a few are struggling to get active bookings or are no longer in the business. We’re going to take a walk down the dark history of TNA failures and look at the top fifteen most criminally underused wrestlers in company history.
15 Sonjay Dutt
The X-Division featured many great young and talented stars but very few of them would get the opportunity to be used well. Sonjay Dutt may have been used worse than any of the other promising prospects. Dutt’s guru gimmick ruined his chances with the stereotypical character killing all of his credibility and diminishing his in-ring skills. TNA never saw anything special in Dutt other than a secondary X-Division talent best served to put over other wrestlers or get thrown into comedy segments. Dutt actually never won the X-Division Championship despite his long tenure in TNA and is one talent they dropped the ball with.
14 Kazuchika Okada
The language barrier can prevent foreign wrestlers from achieving success in North America. TNA never did anything with Kazuchika Okada due to this, aside from throwing him in Xplosion matches or horrible skits with Samoa Joe where he played Okato, a rip-off of The Green Hornet’s Kato. Okada was originally sent to TNA by New Japan Pro Wrestling as a learning experience but they were rightfully livid with TNA’s use of him. Since the relationship ended, Okada has become one of the biggest stars in Japan and NJPW has seen a huge increase in popularity. The company wants nothing to do with TNA and may have a bigger presence in America than TNA does today.
13 Joey Ryan
Wrestling has room for everyone and there are so many different styles that can add to a show with various forms of entertainment. Joey Ryan’s success on the independent wrestling scene is proof of this. His unique ideas such as Lego and gummy candy death matches or using his privates as a weapon has led to viral success and Ryan becoming one of the hottest free agents on the market. TNA signed Ryan after he had an on-air tryout with their Gut Check concept but did absolutely nothing with him. Ryan’s character was watered down and he was restricted from showcasing his wacky strengths but TNA was the one to miss out considering where both parties are today.
12 Jimmy Rave
Jimmy Rave was arguably the top heel in Ring of Honor around the time TNA signed him. You can’t fault his decision since TNA was clearly the bigger promotion with their Spike TV television deal and a hope at competing with WWE. Unfortunately, Rave would achieve very little success with TNA and was used most majorly as a goof in the Rock 'n' Rave Infection, where he played a terrible musician with Christy Hemme and Lancy Hoyt. Rave would get the boot after working the horrible character until his final day in TNA. The sad part is Rave likely could have found more success if he stayed in Ring of Honor. The company was on the cusp of its hot run and Rave was their most hated villain before heading to TNA.
11 Luke Gallows
Aces and Eights will go down as one of the most disappointing and embarrassing factions in wrestling history. Part of the reason fans intensely hated the group was due to having high hopes when it was teased. A mysterious group of wrestlers in masks invading is going to spark excitement, but with great expectations needs to come great payoffs. Most of the talent in Aces and Eights were below average wrestlers with no chances at success but Luke Gallows should have been more successful. The big man has an impressive skill set that did not get spotlighted in TNA. Gallows is heading back to WWE and is another story of TNA failing to use a good talent properly.
Daffney should have represented everything TNA wanted from a female talent. She was talented, gorgeous and had a unique presence that shined any time she was on television. Unlike many of the other Knockouts, Daffney could handle herself in storylines involving big names like Kevin Nash and Mick Foley. TNA not only underused her great potential as a performer but ended up ending her in-ring career. Daffney would sustain very serious injuries in TNA matches and the company refused to pay for her medical bills. Law suits and an ugly ending gave Daffney’s time in TNA a bitter ending to a bittersweet overall tenure.
The first four superstars in Ring of Honor were CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Homicide and Bryan Danielson. Three of those men would go on to achieve massive success in their storied careers. Homicide was the other. TNA didn’t see anything special in Homicide to make him anything more than a tag team performer or X-Division act with a ceiling. Terry Funk actually thought so much of the young star that he told WWE to hire Homicide for the new ECW brand but he was forced to stay in TNA. LAX was an outstanding tag team that showed us how good Homicide and Hernandez could be, but once they split, Homicide was squandered.
8 Petey Williams
You never know what creates success in pro wrestling but Petey Williams showed how effective a finisher can be at making someone relevant. Williams was already a very good wrestler without his finishing move but The Canadian Destroyer made him a must-see performer that fans looked for when tuning into TNA. The flipping piledriver was unlike anything we’ve seen in wrestling and Williams was beloved by the fans for it. TNA never did anything of note with him following the early days of X-Division success. Despite giving his all to the company for years, Petey was unceremoniously released from TNA and never got to be used as a stand out performer.
7 Low Ki
Low Ki was one of the first names to thrive in the early days of TNA with classic matches against AJ Styles, Jerry Lynn and Amazing Red. The talented prospect was a top independent star at the time as well with Ring of Honor but TNA didn’t value him as highly. Low Ki would leave and return to TNA many times, but never was treated as a highly valued member of the roster. The work of Ki was prominently featured in the X-Division with no chances at having his great talent spotlighted in a more noteworthy way.
6 Alissa Flash
The TNA Knockouts division has featured a great array of female talent over the years with various wrestling styles and gimmicks. Plenty of women have been given great chances but Alissa Flash was not among them despite having as much talent as anyone else. TNA used her as the masked Raisha Saeed for the most part, where she managed Awesome Kong ,and later repackaged her as Alissa Flash. Her work was wonderful and she showed the ability to become the next star in the Knockouts division but for some reason, the company never got behind her. Flash would be a flash in the plan due to TNA’s inept booking and was quickly forgotten before getting released. Today, she is one of the top female independent wrestling stars as Cheerleader Melissa.
5 Kenny King
Kenny King showed everything a company looks for in a new star. The young talent had a great look, was solid on the microphone and was a pretty damn great worker. King made a huge decision defecting from ROH to TNA while holding half of the ROH Tag Team Championships. TNA did spotlight him as a standout in the X-Division and it was an effective way to debut him, but that was his plateau. King would have a few more highs defeating Rob Van Dam and most recently joining MVP’s Beat Down Clan faction but he never was elevated higher than the X-Division ceiling. With his TNA stock falling, King made the choice to ditch TNA in favor of a return to ROH.
4 Chris Harris
There were quite a few talented performers in the early days of TNA who they hoped would be the future main eventers of the promotion. While it took a while and many bumps in the road, James Storm and Bobby Roode would eventually enter those roles but Chris Harris is an example of one of the prospects failing to get over the hump. Harris appeared to be a star following his split from The America’s Most Wanted tag team with James Storm and a big singles win over Christian Cage, but TNA stopped his momentum. Harris went from being in matches with Christian, Kurt Angle and other stars to completely rubbish storylines with Black Reign and Rellik. Harris’ career would never rebound and his hopes for world title gold ended.
3 Christopher Daniels
TNA's unsung hero for most of their existence has been Christopher Daniels. Everyone rightfully remembers AJ Styles and Samoa Joe as the top stars who gave the company a positive identity as the best wrestling you could find on television for a couple of years. Daniels was equally responsible for the great matches and moments that helped TNA become a rising promotion. Unfortunately, the company never valued him or pushed him in a worthwhile manner outside of the X-Division or tag team work. Daniels deserved a world title reign but was instead saddled with many ridiculous gimmicks and concepts to ruin his credibility until he left TNA for ROH.
2 Jay Lethal
Young talent is a gift for a pro wrestling company and the ability to mold them into a future star of the brand is the end goal. Jay Lethal should have been viewed as such for TNA and marketed as a face of the franchise rather than just a comedic X-Division act. The promotion chose to continue to go after old stars from the 80s and 90s rather than invest in their young prospects becoming main eventers and guys like Lethal would fall into obscurity. Lethal would get coldly fired by TNA and has become the biggest star in Ring of Honor. Sometimes you feel bad for TNA given how far they have fallen but then you remember things like their misuse of Lethal and realize why it happened.
1 Alex Shelley
Many of the wrestlers featured on this list were X-Division stars due to the company not believing they had a high ceiling due to their lack of faith in their size and style. Alex Shelley was dealt the worst card by TNA. Everyone was misused to an extent but guys like AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Chris Sabin at least got to experience world title gold. Jay Lethal, Petey Williams and others had short stints as the premiere X-Division athlete but Shelley never was pushed as such. Shelley was horribly underrated until the incredible Motor City Machine Guns tag team was formed. Shelley was an innovative talent before his time and would be a huge star in NXT or on WWE television if breaking in today, but instead was wasted away in TNA.