TNA has had a lot of issues over the years. Just when it looks like they’re going to break out, they suffer some setbacks, financial or otherwise to drive them down. A key problem is that rather than building their own identity, the company is obsessed with reaching the same level as WWE in the short term. That includes how they’ll grab most any WWE castoff and push them, often right off the bat. The highlight of this attitude was the signing of Hulk Hogan, meant to skyrocket TNA but instead the signing massively hurt them. That’s also hurt the careers of those who went as they failed to make anywhere near the same impact.
However, others are the opposite as they end up doing great in TNA. Indeed, every so often, they do better in TNA than they ever did in WWE, as they're given the opportunities and better booking to shine more. For every career that’s failed in TNA, there’s another that’s been given new life and even improved. Here are eight major former WWE stars who actually succeeded in TNA and seven who failed with the company which shows how tricky it could be to start over.
15 SUCCEEDED: The Hardys
Matt and Jeff Hardy were already two major stars. In WWE, they had risen fast as tag team champions with the classic battles with the Dudleyz and Edge & Christian. Each was soon a singles star in their own right with runs with IC, US and other titles and getting over with their unique styles. Jeff was the first to travel to TNA in 2004 and a decent run but his personal issues led to his exit. He would return to WWE with runs as champion and he and Matt both teaming and feuding with each other to retain their stardom.
Back in TNA, Jeff would have his bad moments (Victory Road 2011) but still had multiple reigns as champion and wowed with his daredevil style. Matt would finally join with him for runs as tag team champion and their own feud reignited. However, in 2016, Matt remade himself massively with the “Broken” persona and the bizarre videos that became the talk of wrestling. Jeff joined him as “Brother Nero” and they dominated again as tag team champions. They then toured various indies to win more gold before their abrupt departure for ROH. But the skills and personas of the Hardys were as hot in TNA as they were in WWE, if not hotter.
14 FAILED: MVP
It should have been a bigger deal. In WWE, Montel Vontavious Porter was pushed as a star athlete with a hip-hop style and great attitude. He had runs as US and tag team champion and rumors he could have been pushed more but left suddenly in 2010. After time in the indies, MVP was given a big entrance into TNA as the “investor” in the company. That made him the on-air authority figure and he handed that role well. After time as a good guy, he turned on champion Eric Young and named himself number one contender.
MVP then joined with Lashley and Kenny King as The Beat Down Clan, yet another attempt by TNA at a heel supergroup. The plan was for MVP to beat Young for the title and push them more. But on a tour of Europe, MVP suffered a real leg injury so Lashley got the belt instead and MVP was stuck on crutches for a while. There were plans to push him with his recovery but then the mess with Hernandez and Lucha Underground went down and MVP (who had pushed for Hernandez to be signed) was made the scapegoat and fired. So MVP’s TNA run turned into one major flop.
13 SUCCEEDED: Drew Galloway
From the beginning in WWE, Galloway was pushed hard as Drew McIntyre. Vince McMahon really intended to make him a huge deal, complete with calling him the “chosen one” and a future world champion. The problem was, the fans turned against this hard sell and never accepted McIntyre anywhere near that level. He had a run as Intercontinental Champion and tag team champ but faltered more and more to finally being part of the laughable 3MB stable. After time on the indies, Galloway joined TNA in 2015 under his real name and was soon pushed much better. He was sold as a real technical master and great on the mic to push his arrogant style.
Galloway was in the main event scene with several title shots and this time really showed himself as believable in the role. He finally cashed in his Feast or Fired case to beat Matt Hardy for the TNA World title. He was soon doing a good job touring and defending it to give the title more meaning. He lost it after a few months to Lashley but remained in the title hunt for some time. However, like so many others, lack of pay led to Galloway leaving after his contract expired earlier this year. It can’t be denied that Galloway finally became the main eventer in TNA he never was in WWE to be a success.
12 FAILED: The Nasty Boys
Even at the height of their fame, The Nasty Boys were better known for their brawls and promos than their ring work. Brian Knobbs and Jerry Saggs were believable as these tough guys who brawled their way to multiple WCW World tag team championship reigns and a good run as WWE tag team champs. They were basically semi-retired, keeping up on the indie scene when, in 2010, TNA signed them up. It was because both men were long-time friends of Hulk Hogan and as he was now TNA’s big gun, they went with whatever he said.
So, at the age of 46, the “Boys” were brought in and pushed right off with intentions to get into the tag team scene. It was soon obvious both men were in no shape to be wrestling and couldn’t even cut a promo without sounding winded. Even having Jimmy Hart return as their manager wasn’t enough as it took an incident at a network meeting for the Nasties to get their walking papers. But even trying to push these guys in their condition is another reason it’s easy to mock TNA.
11 SUCCEEDED: Mickie James
It’s forgotten sometimes that James started in TNA as Alexis Laree, a goth follower of Raven. She was cut then began training in OVW to get attention. That led to WWE where her turn as Trish Stratus’ stalker made her an unlikely fan favorite. She had five reigns as Women’s Champion and one as Divas champ, showcasing herself as a fantastic worker and a winner. But James was hurt by the “Piggy James” angle that mocked her on her weight which many fans felt was in very poor taste and soon left the company.
In 2010, James came to TNA, sending up her country gal roots and was instantly over. She soon won the Knockouts title, the first of three reigns. James had great matches against Tara, Madison Rayne, Brooke and others and an interesting heel turn where she set herself up as an arrogant country music “star.” She had two more runs as champion. However, her later run was marked by the controversial angle of her being “pushed in front of a train” that everyone hated. While she’s now back in WWE, James’ tenure in TNA was a highlight of the worker to set herself up as a major star.
10 FAILED: Rikishi
For years, Solofa Fatu was stuck in various bad gimmicks: A Headshrinker, a hip-hop guy and The Sultan. But he hit it big finally as Rikishi, known for sticking his big rear end onto people but his dance moves made him a hit. He had a run as IC champion but was marred when WWE had him be the guy who ran over Stone Cold Steve Austin, marking a terrible heel turn. He had some success after turning back face before being let go and on the indie circuit. In 2007, he joined TNA as Junior Fatu and was pushed against Christian and AJ Styles.
Reports were that TNA had plans for Fatu to face more guys and get over with his moves. But just a month after his debut, Rikishi had a big falling out with the company regarding a pay increase. His entire tenure was only five weeks, a lofty standard of failure even for TNA.
9 SUCEEDED: Bobby Lashley
It was obvious that Bobby Lashley was someone Vince McMahon wanted to push. Big, beefy, a great build and a former college wrestler, he looked like just the guy to make a star. He had runs as US Champion and ECW champ but his rough mic skills didn’t quite make him endearing to fans. Not helping were Lashley’s injuries and his breaking the wellness policy and after spending six months on the shelf for an injury. He was released in 2008. He spent time in MMA and had a run in TNA in 2009 but it didn’t work out.
In 2014, Lashley returned to TNA, seemingly a face but then going heel. He joined with MVP in the Beat Down Clan as the company finally began to push him as the monster worker he should have been in WWE. Improving on the mic and in the ring, Lashley won the TNA world title and did a pretty good job defending it. He’s had four runs in total and his powerhouse offense is winning fans over. It took a while but Lashley proved himself in TNA.
8 FAILED: Booker T
After a few rough years in WWE, Booker finally clicked as “King Booker,” winning the World championship. He rode that into TNA in 2007 and was pushed right away, feuding with Bobby Roode and others. Booker talked a lot of wanting to challenge the younger talent and give them the rub but many in the company felt he wasn’t as passionate as he promised. His feuds were lackluster, his tenure as tag team champion and the “Legends” champ was forgettable. The Main Event Mafia was hated for the wrong reasons, being a bunch of older guys keeping the top slots and eating up too much screen time.
That’s without mentioning Booker bringing in wife Sharmell who had the infamously horrific match with Jenna. Booker’s entire TNA run was just lackluster and indicated Booker was just collecting a paycheck. He left suddenly in 2010, ruining plans for a Mafia reunion to later return to WWE. Sadly, Booker’s TNA run was hardly what one could call royal.
7 SUCCEEDED: Bully Ray
The Dudley Boyz were already huge stars in ECW and WWE, winning the tag team titles in each company multiple times. Their jump to TNA in 2005 was a big deal as they feuded with America’s Most Wanted before finally winning the tag team titles over LAX. They kept it up with joining Immortal and holding the IWGP titles as well. Then Ray turned heel by attacking his partner and becoming “Bully” Ray. While some weren’t sure at first, he turned into one of the company’s best performers, was terrific on the mic and improved in the ring.
It paid off with the epic Aces & Eights storyline as Bully won the TNA World title. He did a great job holding the belt against numerous challengers, was a fantastic heel champion and one of the biggest stars at the time. His feud with the Carters and putting Dixie through a table turned out to be his swan song before a WWE return. However, Bully proved himself as a solo star in TNA, a chance WWE wouldn’t have given him and benefited majorly in the company.
6 FAILED: Dustin Rhodes
It’s a shame that a worker as talented as Dustin Rhodes could only get ahead with makeup. He had good runs in WCW with several titles but it was as Goldust he hit the big time. Despite being far better in the ring than father Dusty, Dustin lacked the same charisma on the mic without any costume. He had a run in late 2004 when Dusty was the booker and was pushed but failed to make much impact.
In 2007, Dustin returned and took on the persona of Black Reign, which was basically Goldust with white and black makeup. This led to some frankly insane storylines and segments involving Rellik and the idea of Dustin having a split personality. It was incredibly dumb and showed the limitations of Dustin in TNA. He left to return to WWE as Goldust once more and showed how moving away from WWE and his famous persona rarely worked out well for Dustin.
5 SUCCEEDED: Gail Kim
Kim always had a good look and great ring style but didn’t get much of a chance in WWE. She had a run as Women’s Champion but was lost in the shuffle. So moving to TNA turned out to be great timing as the company was trying to turn the Knockouts Division into the real deal. Kim was soon their champion and did a great job as the women were pushed as serious workers and Kim put on great matches. She had a brief return to WWE in 2009 but it seemed her TNA time worked against her as the company wasn’t ready to push her more.
So Kim returned to TNA and once more had several runs as champion. She’s basically the key reason the Knockouts have continued over the years and Kim has always been a huge hit with fans. Moving to TNA was the best move for Kim’s career to become a star and a six-time champion.
4 FAILED: Scott Hall
Once, Scott Hall was one of the biggest stars in the business. As Razor Ramon, he was a dominant Intercontinental Champion and hugely over with fans. With Kevin Nash, he reigned as WCW tag team champion and was a key member of the New World Order. However, Hall’s addictions and personal demons took their toll so by the time he was 40, he looked far older. As such, his TNA runs were just total messes. He, Hall and Jarrett teamed up as the Kings of Wrestling, yet another “super-heel” group for TNA that had several bad matches before Hall’s demons drove him out.
He returned in 2010 with Nash and Sean Waltman as “The Band” and fans loathed seeing the old NWO guys acting like it was still 1996. They even had a run as tag team champions before Hall left once more. It was just sad seeing this once great figure lowered to this state and while he’s put his life more together since, it shows Hall’s TNA run was a bad one.
3 SUCEEDED: Christian
For years, Christian had been toiling in WWE, reaching major success with Edge as tag team champions. His singles runs included some bits as IC champion but he appeared rather lost and it didn't appear he'd ever be anything more than a midcarder. So he left for TNA, making a huge debut in late 2005. Soon, Christian was in the main event, winning the NWA title off Jeff Jarrett and finally being the major star he wanted to be. He held the belt for some good runs, bouncing between heel and face and cut great promos to elevate himself. He was a bit lost in some stuff in 2007 but still seemed content to be a big fish in a small pond. However, he left in 2008 to return to WWE for a few brief runs with the World title. It’s still notable how Christian’s time in TNA had him at a much bigger level than WWE ever gave him. “Captain Charisma” fit in with the Impact Zone.
2 FAILED: Orlando Jordan
You have to feel for this guy. Jordan had a good shot in WWE aiding JBL in his championship tenure and had a run as US Champion too. However, he was buried after dropping the belt to Chris Benoit and suffering numerous losses in less than 30 seconds. He proposed a program to WWE of playing into being bisexual, but the company turned it down. Jordan took it to TNA, hoping it would make a big splash. Sadly, the company decided to play him up as a total freak coming out to the ring covered in yellow tape. That was followed by wearing masks and squirting oil on himself, which made the fans nervous and the announcers played it up as “uncomfortable to watch.”
Any chance Jordan had was ruined by that idiotic presentation, ruining his runs for the X Division title. He was released after a year of little success and it's a shame a decent worker was saddled with such a bad act.
1 SUCEEDED: Kurt Angle
The obvious choice. Angle was already a mega-star but had issues in WWE with his health being a major concern. Worried about him breaking down, WWE released him in 2006. Angle immediately signed with TNA and was pushed right off by beating Samoa Joe, ending Joe’s unbeaten streak. For the next several years, Angle would dominate TNA with multiple runs as World champion, X Division champion and tag team champ. While he had a few rough bits here and there and run-ins with the law, Angle still put on some fantastic matches mixed with Joe, AJ Styles and more. Injuries held him back now and then but the great stuff outmatched the bad as Angle proved to be as great in TNA as in WWE.
He’s left and is about to enter the WWE Hall of Fame but Angle brought a major star presence in TNA and he remains the company's best signing of all time.