There has been a bit of discussion in our comments section regarding the talent relations department of TNA. Some of our readers have felt that while Bruce Pritchard has been successful in the booking department, his talent relation duties from the past year have been lackluster. This column will look at who has left and joined TNA and whether TNA is better off because of it.
There are a few important notes I want to make:
#1) Many top level talents have left TNA throughout the years before Bruce Pritchard arrived. Names like Monty Brown, Christian Cage, Petey Williams, Awesome Kong and others have left the company over the years before Bruce Pritchard ever came on board. Big names will leave the company no matter who is in charge. That is a fact!
#2)We don't know all the details of why a wrestler has departed the company. We don't know what TNA offered the talents, what the talent wanted or what the company can offer the wrestler. Without knowing all of these details and whether a wrestler was released, quit or contract negotiations fell through is a black cloud over this conversation.
Now to get into the debate:
Traci Brooks- Traci is the original Knockout and yet wasn't a loss. She will always have a place in the TNA mythos but the facts are, she isn't a wrestler and there weren't any plans for her. When Karen Jarrett's character was "fired" by Sting, Traci Brooks didn't have an antagonist to fight against. While I would have liked to see a payoff of sorts, we didn't get it.
Jesse Neal- Ink Inc was an entertaining undercard act. It looked like they could win the Tag Team Titles following Bound For Glory. Pritchard decided that a shakeup in the tag team division was needed. An offer was made to Neal to join Ohio Valley Wrestling for some polish but for financial reasons, he turned it down. At this time the two parties severed ties. Dixie Carter made it known to Jesse that they could work together down the line. The loss of Jesse wasn't a major one even if the tag team division suffered for the next several months.
Toxxin- Toxxin only had a few appearances in TNA but from what I remember, she was very stiff. With the departure of Jesse Neal and later Shannon Moore, there was no value of Toxxin being in TNA as her departure made no ripples at all.
Scott Steiner- Big Poppa Pump was a veteran in TNA and had been with the company for a good number of years. He became a member of Immortal in 2011 after returning earlier in the year. With the change in creative, issues arose surrounding Pritchard, Bischoff and Hogan and Scott Steiner. While he was a key player in the Ring Ka King project, Steiner soon left TNA afterwards and let the heat fly on Twitter. I was a fan of Steiner while he was in TNA but his departure has freed up money. It also made no sense to keep Steiner around when there was major issues between the two parties.
Anthony Nese- Nese was signed following Destination X 2011 and unfortunately was never really given an opportunity. He had a short series of matches with Zema Ion but soon faded away. Nese requested his release after TNA declined to allow him to wrestle in Japan. While his departure wasn't felt, it was unfortunate that he was never really used.
Brian Kendrick- One common trend with many departures on this list is that they happened after the wrestler hadn't been on TV for months. Kendrick had an advocate in Vince Russo, who made him X Division Champion. As a matter of fact, Kendrick was champion just months before he disappeared from TV. He claims to have offered up a few creative ideas but TNA's creative team clearly didn't have him in their vision.
Shannon Moore- When Jesse Neal left months prior, one of the main directions for Shannon Moore disappeared. Moore was a veteran who likely commanded more in money than what TNA could get elsewhere. While Moore was a good hand to keep around in the division, his departure had no impact. It is also good for him as he and his wife are trying to have a baby and now Shannon can focus on his successful tattoo parlor.
Anarquia- There are departures that hurt TNA, departures that made no impact one way or another and departures that helped TNA and this departure helped TNA. Anarquia just wasn't ready for national TV. He was part of a hated tag team in Mexican America and never made any real progress in the ring. In reality, he looked like a cheap knockoff of Chavo Guerrero. Since TNA would be getting the real thing later in the year, they didn't need to keep Anarquia around.
Matt Morgan-The Blueprint is a guy who was heavily featured in TNA, including during Bruce Pritchard's regime. He grazed the main event multiple times and held the World Tag Team titles on a few occasions. The problem is that I think Matt wanted to be World Champion. While I enjoyed Morgan as a talent, the would not be in my top five potential World Champions. TNA's main event scene is stacked. While Morgan was a good TNA player for years, it seems like he was disgruntled with how things ended up. There is a possibility that this is all storyline-related but Morgan has indicated a return to the WWE.
Ric Flair- When Ric Flair's release was announced, the first thing I said to myself was, "why didn't this happen six months earlier?" Flair is a WWE guy through and through. He trash talked TNA before he arrived in the company and made it clear that his heart was with WWE while he was there. He had a number of backstage incidents where he acted like a drama queen. The best thing that came out of the Flair run is that TNA got a Christian Cage appearance by allowing Flair to appear at the Hall of Fame.
Alex Shelley- This one hurt TNA! In 2011 when Aries won the contract and Alex Shelley won the X Division Title shot, I kept thinking that Aries vs Shelley was the program that could sell the X Division. Shelley is a guy with the mic skills to elevate the division. TNA decided to use him for a few weeks and then he disappeared until earlier this year. We did end up getting a short program between Aries and Shelley (which resulted in a Match of the Year Candidate) which should have been longer. His partner, Sabin returned a few weeks later but before long Shelley was gone. Shelley is a guy who I felt was underutilized for years. It makes sense that he would want to move on.
Angelina Love- Love is a pioneer of the Knockouts Division. She was one of the cornerstones of the division for years after it was created. At one time she was one of its top players. Love was part of a lesbian zombie storyline along with Winter that put her in the Knockouts Title scene. She was also a victim of the Pritchard creative change as Bruce Pritchard didn't have anything in store for Love. The Love-TNA separation was said to be amicable as Love looks on to future projects. She accomplished many things but sadly, creative had nothing for her.
Velvet Sky- This release shocked me! Velvet Sky was a knockout who was heavily featured during the Pritchard era. TNA built her up as a top challenger leading into Lockdown and even had her featured in a Montgomery Gentry music video. The rumor is that Velvet and TNA's contract negotiations broke down as Velvet didn't like what TNA was offering her. This loss hurt TNA but the company is trying to rebound with Brooke Tessmacher as champion and the new hire of Taryn Terrell.
Vince Russo- I think the departure of Russo probably made the biggest impact on the company. Russo had been booking TNA since late 2006 and the company had a very Russo-esque flavor for over five years. Without going into details comparing Russo and Pritchard, it should be noted that both had completely different booking styles.
To Be Determined-Losses
Bully Ray- Bully Ray is the top heel in TNA and one of the top heels in all of wrestling. He is currently in negotiations with TNA over a new contract but they are coming down to the wire. It seems that by recent booking of putting Ray over Storm on IMPACT and the Tables Match at Hardcore Justice, they are confident or stupid. Losing Bully Ray after building him up and featuring him as one of the top acts will easily be their biggest loss of the year and would hurt the product.
Devon- The Television Champion is likely part of a package with Bully Ray. While the loss of Bully would definitely hurt TNA, I don't think the loss of Devon would do much. He remains the TV Champion, which seems like an indictment that the team is staying. Devon is in good shape and would be an excellent agent but as a wrestler, his release would not do harm to the product.
Chris Sabin- It would seem that with Alex Shelley and Velvet Sky leaving and with Chris Sabin's contract ending very soon, that the former Tag Team Champion is out the door. Sabin has been sidelined for nearly a year until recently where he got sidelined again for what will be over nine months. It will be about 2013 before Sabin is back; and even then we don't know what kind of performer he will be. TNA set up a possible return with the recent Bobby Roode vs Chris Sabin segment. With that said, I think Sabin is out the door. I always liked the dude but that's reality.
Winter- Another victim of the creative change. Winter was Knockouts Champion heading into Bound For Glory, then lost the title and completely disappeared. TNA seems to be focusing on a lean Knockouts roster which leaves Winter and other Knockouts sidelined. The rumor is that Winter will be finishing up with TNA in September. While I will miss her theme music, TNA wasn't doing anything with her.
Sarita- I might get crap for this but I was never a Sarita fan. On her debut, she was outshined by Alissa Flash. She is a talented wrestler but her promo skills sucked. I didn't like her as part of Mexican America either. Sarita has had small roles here and there since BFG (most notably the EY-ODB Wedding) but has been sparingly used. While there aren't solid rumors of her leaving, it would make sense as she is following a pattern.
THE SCORE: Of the departures so far, only Matt Morgan, Velvet Sky and Alex Shelley have been featured players. The remaining wrestlers weren't being used or weren't benefiting TNA (Ric Flair). While I will miss some of the above wrestlers such as Winter, Angelina Love etc, aside from Sky, Morgan and Shelley, the losses haven't been great. I am of the philosophy that if you don't plan on doing something with a talent, then let them do their own thing elsewhere. Both parties will benefit.
The departure scale will turn considerably depending on the departure of Bully Ray. Devon is a midcarder and Sabin hasn't been a key player since 2011 (and may not be top notch when he returns) but Ray is a key player who has been at his best. If he leaves then TNA has lost some great talent.
Gail Kim- Alot of critics of Pritchard's talent relations past have completely overlooked the addition of Gail Kim to the roster. Kim was champion for over six months before she lost the title to Tessmacher. She has worked her ass off since returning to TNA and because of that, has had some pretty good matches. While she isn't featured right now, he arrival already paid off.
King Mo Lawal- This signing is a Dixie Carter/Spike TV deal. As a company, you have to oblige to your business partners and I have a feeling that is what TNA did here. The plan is to use King Mo as a crossover TNA/Bellator star who does both. We haven't seen what Mo is capable of. The good news is that the Mo signing indicates a better partnership between TNA and Bellator which could lead to other opportunities. It will be interesting to see what Mo has to offer and to see how TNA will present him to the wrestling fans.
Brooke Hogan- Critics have used the Brooke Hogan trade-off as a negative on the company. Apparently TNA traded Angelina Love, Velvet Sky and others for Brooke Hogan. Hogan isn't a wrestler but I don't think TNA is benefiting as much as they'd like to think they will from Brooke. She is supposed to be used to get promotion for TNA, which might be the case but so far it hasn't paid dividends. She does okay in her role and doesn't take up alot of screen time. Her presence doesn't bother me as a fan. It would be interesting to see how much she is paid as I guarantee its more than any of the departing knockouts are making.
Chavo Guerrero- Chavo is a good wrestler but is another case of TNA thinking they are a bigger star than they actually are. Chavo is being used in promotional material for BFG (which might be a demographic thing) which doesn't suit him. The good news is that he is good on the mic and is a good worker in the ring. He is a suitable tag team partner for Hernandez. I approve of this signing but wonder why TNA took so long in doing it.
Taryn Terrell- I think Taryn is one of the hottest Knockouts TNA has had. I was a huge fan of Lacey Von Erich and Karen Jarrett but Taryn Terrell is up there as well. She joins Brooke Hogan and Chavo Guerrero in being a smaller name than TNA thinks she is. The idea of a female referee is a fine one with the fine Taryn Terrell being a fine choice for it. She has done well so far but we shall see how the role and the person progresses.
Kenny King- Kenny King seems to be the only one signed following this year's X Division Tournament (which is a shame). He challenged Zema Ion at Hardcore Justice in what was a solid match. King was in the news because of how he left Ring of Honor; but most fans don't care about that. Nonetheless, depending on how TNA books him, King could be a big player in the X Division.
Gutcheck Challengers (Alex Silva, Taeler Hendrix, Sam Shaw)- The Gutcheck winners are what you would call long-term investments. Right now they aren't polished enough to be on TNA TV but they could all be great wrestlers in a year or more. Silva, Hendrix, Shaw and Godderz are a great start to a developmental system. While there are a bunch of OVW Guys that don't have the TNA Brand on it, those four are a good core bunch. They are all diamonds in the rough.
Dave Lagana- While TNA lost Vince Russo, they gained Dave Lagana. Lagana is known for booking Smackdown in 2002 and WWE ECW later on. His style if wrestling-focused, which is reminiscent in the product we are getting. While the buck stops at Bruce Pritchard, Lagana should get some of the blame as one of its writers.
To Be Determined- Gains
Sonjay Dutt- The Guru was arguably the most impressive from the X Division Tournament with his veteran prowess and impressive finishing maneuver. Judging by how he was booked leading up to the PPV, at the PPV and afterwards; it looked as if he was sticking around in TNA. Recent rumors are stating otherwise. I still believe the Guru will end up in TNA which would be great for the X Division.
Dakota Darsow-Darsow has a fan in Eric Bischoff; which might be enough to land a contract. While he wasn't the most impressive of the X Division group, I grew to like him more that I saw him. I believe he could be a good ground-based wrestler in the X Division. There are definitely names I would sign before him but it doesn't bother me if he ends up with a contract.
Isaiah Cash/Mike Knox/Wes Brisco/Jay Bradley/Chris Masters- These names have been attached to TNA's Aces and 8s group. Brisco actually made an appearance on IMPACT a few weeks ago. Aside from Brisco and his ugly leg tattoo, I think all of the other names have alot to offer TNA. Cash, Knox, Bradley and Masters are all midcard wrestlers that could turn into main eventers for the company. While all of them worked for WWE, they could become branded in TNA and eventually help lead the company into the future.
Joey Ryan-Ryan doesn't officially have a contract (to our knowledge) but he is involved in a feud with Al Snow. Ryan is the one guy who stood out at the Gutcheck Challenges. I suspect he will earn a contract soon and be a good heel in the X Division.
THE SCORE: Out of the gains, there are many I like. Gail Kim has been good for the Knockouts Division, Kenny King will help the X Division and Chavo Guerrero will be a good veteran. The Gutcheck winners and King Mo have to be seen and developed before TNA gets a return. I like Taryn even if some don't. Brooke Hogan is okay even if she probably makes more money than what others would.
The potential signings definitely help TNA. The Aces and 8s guys are all potential main eventers. Joey Ryan and Sonjay Dutt are good for the knockouts division.
It is clear that TNA lost a few great talents in the past year, however alot of the roster departures were a form of cleaning house. Many talented wrestlers left the company but most of them weren't being used or weren't in TNA's plans. Pritchard cut some big contracts along the way and alot of wrestlers who he had no plans on using. As for Shelley, Velvet and Morgan; all three are names that can and have been replaced. TNA has such depth on their roster that even when big names leave, they don't cause many aftershocks.
There are a few names like Bully Ray that will hurt TNA if he left but at this moment I am leaning on the idea that he is staying. I also believe that Devon will stay as well. Chris Sabin and Winter appear to be heading out which unfortunately won't make much of a difference. Other names will leave but hopefully TNA can minimize the impact.
As for their hires so far; there have been fewer hires than departures. Alot of the hires so far will be easier to judge 6 months to a year from now. Terrell, Chavo, Gail and Kenny King are names that I am liking. Bringing in Brooke Hogan and King Mo are more business-related hirings than anything else.
One factor completely overlooked is the TBD Hirings. If my predictions are right, TNA will be adding alot of talent with guys like Joey Ryan and the Aces and 8s group.
So judging from this, I think TNA will be just fine with their talent relations. Some of our favorites have left the company, but that is how it sometimes works in wrestling.