TNA has been criticized for many years for putting too much emphasis on hiring former WWE talent and relying on names made elsewhere rather than building their own stars. While that is a fair and accurate criticism, it isn’t always the case when hiring stars from WWE’s past. Sometimes the best talent on the market happens to be talents leaving WWE. Many former WWE wrestlers turned out to be complete busts and hurt the overall future of the company, but some of them ended up positively improving TNA.
There’s also the case of WWE signing stars that were first in TNA. This has yielded more success recently with buzz behind adding free agents Samoa Joe and James Storm to the NXT brand. Before those two, WWE rarely would go after former TNA stars. There were rumors that the company was actively avoiding anyone that spent time on TNA television with the belief that the TNA brand harmed the wrestler’s value. Due to this, we’ve seen very few TNA talents make the jump to WWE but the ones that do, usually end up achieving less success.
Many wrestlers have wrestled for both WWE and TNA. This list will look at the stories of the wrestlers that have been put in a position to achieve more success in TNA. Every wrestler on this list is quite talented but it just shows that not everyone can fit in well and succeed in any scenario. Some wrestlers struggle to find themselves in the WWE bubble and had an easier time showcasing their talent in a smaller pond with more belief in them. For once, we’re going to celebrate some of the positive things TNA has done as we look at the top fifteen wrestling stars that TNA used better than WWE.
15 Drew Galloway
The first person on this list is one of the more recent stories of a former WWE star performing well in TNA. Drew Galloway was pushed very early in his WWE career and wasn’t ready for the opportunity. The push failed and he was never given another true chance at success in the company as he matured. Following a release, Galloway became one of the best talents on the independent wrestling scene and eventually started working for TNA. Galloway has been spotlighted as a top star and was in the main event of the company’s biggest 2015 show, Bound For Glory.
14 Jeff Jarrett
It’s questionable to say Jeff Jarrett was used better in TNA considering he was the one using himself as the man in charge during its early days. Many fans would say Jarrett abused his power by putting himself in the main event picture and champion position too often but he did at least get heat from the crowd. Jarrett did well as a top heel in TNA. During his WWE days in the 90s, Jarrett achieved midcard success but was never anything special. TNA was able to use him as a main eventer and he's one of the most important on-air performers in the history of the promotion.
13 Chris Harris
Chris Harris was half of TNA’s first successful tag team and one of the best in their history. Harris and James Storm were America’s Most Wanted and they helped create the positive reputation for TNA of young talent that worked hard and would become the future of the business. After AMW split, Harris was given a small singles push in TNA before agreeing on a release. WWE signed Harris and introduced him on the ECW brand as Braden Walker. Things didn’t go well as he looked less impressive after gaining weight and was used ineffectively. Harris’ WWE run was looked at as a joke and he was shortly released from the company.
12 Brian Kendrick
WWE employed Brian Kendrick for many years and did some decent things with him, as Kendrick and Paul London were one of the better tag teams during the era of the brand split. The best singles push he received was with the interesting new look and character as The Brian Kendrick. The problem is nothing ever was given the booking to turn into a big success. TNA signed Kendrick during the Hulk Hogan/Eric Bischoff regime and made him one of the faces of the X-Division. Kendrick was actually allowed to showcase his free spirit and it led to humorous promos and impressive character work. While it didn’t blossom into more than X-Division matches, Kendrick was at least able to leave an impact on the viewer.
11 Low Ki
Low Ki was one of the first young stars to bring attention to TNA, as fans were talking about matches between Low Ki, AJ Styles and Jerry Lynn during the first few months of TNA PPVs. This was the birth of the X-Division and it would not have worked if Low Ki was not one of the first men to participate in it. With multiple runs through the years, Low Ki would be a consistent source of action in the X-Division. WWE tried using him as Kaval in the original concept of NXT as a contest to win a main roster spot. Kaval won the spot but was never used much on television aside from one very good match with Dolph Ziggler.
10 Awesome Kong
The way TNA used Awesome Kong during her original run with the company was one of the best things they ever did. Kong was a monster heel that ran through the entire Knockouts division. Gail Kim was the brave face to stand up to her and it resulted in some of the greatest matches in female wrestling history. WWE eventually picked her up and renamed her Kharma. She would come out during matches and destroy the other Divas but there was no interesting backstory or purpose to it. Kharma’s greatest WWE moment was having a fun appearance in the Royal Rumble, but she should have achieved more.
The company to use Rhyno best was obviously ECW but TNA did a better job with him than WWE. As a physically impressive brawler, Rhyno had a lot to contribute but was barely able to get anything going in WWE aside from a forgettable midcard feud here and there. TNA signed him for a few years and he delivered more interesting matches and segments for them. Rhyno was made TNA Champion at Bound for Glory 2005 and it was a wonderful moment. One of TNA’s best feuds involved Rhyno vs. Christian Cage and it culminated in a great match at Bound for Glory 2006. Rhyno was allowed to play a big role for TNA and he excelled for most of his time in the company.
8 Monty Brown
Monty Brown was a former NFL player who was trying his luck as a professional wrestler in TNA. Brown was one of the first new "TNA-made" stars to enter the main event picture and was apparently being groomed to become the next World Champion before Christian Cage signed. After that, Cage would win the title and defeat Brown. Many people still believe that was a big error by TNA. Brown would let his contract expire and walk away from the company before WWE tried to utilize him by signing him to the ECW brand as part of The New Breed vs. ECW Originals storyline. Brown would never get a chance to do anything of note and was quickly out of the WWE. At least TNA let us know he was capable of doing impressive things.
WWE never understood how to use Raven. Maybe it’s because he worked best when given more creative freedom but he was always used as a bit player, usually in the hardcore division. You were never given an insight into the Raven character and he was never put into a storyline of substance. TNA signed Raven during its early stages and instantly made him a main eventer. Raven vs. Jeff Jarrett was one of the few properly executed feuds of the early years. TNA actually did a good job putting together a story leading to Raven winning the World Championship. Unfortunately, that was when they were in between television deals and he didn’t get a noteworthy reign.
The popular belief for current-day R-Truth in WWE is that he’s a terrible wrestler that needs to go away. While it isn’t generally wrong, we have seen R-Truth contribute positively in TNA. The work of Ron “The Truth” Killings helped TNA grow as a familiar face and a talented wrestler. He achieved success in the main event picture, the tag team division and even at one point in the X-Division, as TNA did a nice job getting the best out of him in various situations. Currently in WWE, R-Truth is past his prime with a very stale gimmick. In both his current run and his K-Kwik tenure in the early 00s, they never were able to accentuate his strengths and hide his weaknesses.
5 Bully Ray
As a tag team, Bubba Ray and D-Von were much more successful and effective in the WWE but as singles stars, it was a different story. WWE tried breaking up The Dudleys after the brand split and Bubba Ray was pushed as a singles star, but it just wasn’t the same without D-Von. TNA tried the same but this time it actually worked. Bubba started going by Bully Ray and became one of the best heels in the industry. Between slimming down and adding a new edge with his heel character, Bully was putting on great matches and getting genuine heat like he did in ECW. His work was so impressive that TNA ended up putting the World Title on him.
4 Bobby Lashley
WWE viewed Bobby Lashley as one of their faces of the future. With an instant push, Lashley achieved success in the company as the ECW Champion and was involved in a big WrestleMania storyline with Donald Trump and Vince McMahon. Despite the belief in his potential, his push eventually faded and he was out of WWE. TNA signed him and after a lackluster first stint from 2009-2010, Lashley returned in 2014 and has been outstanding. Perhaps it is due to experience and maturity, but Lashley has emerged as one of the best talents currently in pro wrestling and would likely do very well if given another chance in WWE.
3 Gail Kim
Gail Kim’s time in TNA is among the best bodies of work a female performer has ever put out in North American wrestling. WWE had her win the Women’s Championship on her first night in the company but she was never presented as a credible star. After her first push with the title quickly ended, she was always used as a secondary female wrestler during her two runs in the company. Kim has always been respected and spotlighted as an elite women’s wrestling star in TNA. In 2007, she was the first Knockouts Champion and the face of the female wrestling movement they were starting. Currently, she’s still the star of the division and will likely end up in their Hall of Fame.
Christian had an excellent career in WWE but most of his success was in the tag team division with Edge or as a consistent midcarder. While it was great and may be enough for a Hall of Fame spot one day, he was never booked as someone that could realistically be a main eventer. His matches were stellar and his promos were hilarious but management just didn’t believe in him selling tickets. After letting his WWE contract run out in 2006, Christian went to TNA as their first big signing of a former WWE star. Using the name Christian Cage, he did a great job as a main eventer and provided some of the best moments and matches in company history.
1 Ethan Carter III
It is mind boggling to wonder how WWE missed out so badly on Ethan Carter III. As Derrick Bateman, he was stuck in developmental for far too long and when on the main roster, he was never utilized on television. The absolute best story of a released WWE wrestler trying his luck in TNA has been the success of EC3. After finally being put in a position to succeed, Carter became one of the most entertaining performers in all of pro wrestling. Unfortunately the bad decisions made by TNA has put them in a spot where many have given up on the company, but for those that still watch, just about every viewer would admit EC3 is carrying the company on his back.