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Year in Review: Evaluating TNA Gut Check & All of Its Participants

Gut-Checl

Today, April 26, marks the one year anniversary in which TNA’s Gut Check concept made its televised debut.

For those who somehow don’t know (It’s been a full year now, c’mon), Gut Check allows unsigned and hungry talent the opportunity to showcase their skills on the main stage in IMPACT Wrestling.

Win over the judges, and this unsigned wrestler may land a spot on the IMPACT Wrestling roster.

Before making its worldwide TV debut though, Gut Check can be dated back to 2004 and has given countless aspiring wrestlers the chance to prove themselves worthy of competing on a global stage such like TNA.

Before its TV debut, notable talents such as Crimson and Jesse Sorensen ran the Gut Check trials and proved to be worthy of a contract when all was said and done.

With Gut Check being on TV, we’ve seen a plethora of wrestlers (Joey Ryan, Christian York, Wes Brisco, Jay Bradley, et cetera) step up to the challenge. One year later, 11 TV Gut Checks later, eight participants were deemed worthy of an IMPACT Wrestling contract.

And now, to celebrate its anniversary, I’ve decided to give my opinion on every televised Gut Check participant regardless of whether or not they received a TNA contract in the end.

April 2012: Alex Silva

GutCheckBioSILVA

On November 7, 2011, Ohio Valley Wrestling officially became the developmental territory of TNA. Upon hearing that news, I jumped head-first into the OVW product.

Several wrestlers grabbed my attention upon my first impression, one of which would become the first Gut Check winner, Alex Silva.

Silva had a look about him, and from the OVW crowd in attendance to various wrestling websites I visited, just about everyone liked Alex Silva.

It was reported last year that Alex Silva, initially, was supposed to be denied a TNA contract. Silva himself has stated these reports to be true on his personal Twitter account. However, something altered the planned outcome of Silva’s Gut Check.

Wrestling legend, Ric Flair, decided not to follow the script and voted in favor of Silva landing a spot on the roster. The Nature Boy saw something within Alex Silva and decided to go against the original plan. And I’m glad he did.

Alex Silva has great potential, and is one of my favorite Gut Check participants. Since winning his Gut Check, it’s sad that he hasn’t been featured on TNA TV too much (Thanksgiving IMPACT and X-Travaganza ONO Special), but he has had great success upon returning to OVW.

Silva won his Gut Check, returned to OVW, and had a reign as the OVW TV Champion and multiple reigns as OVW Southern Tag Team Champions with Sam Shaw.

May/October: Joey Ryan

 RyanSnow_display_imageWidely popular with internet and Indy wrestling fans, California’s own Joey Ryan was the second person to tackle the Gut Check challenge.

Despite garnering 87% of the IMPACT Wrestling audience’s ‘Yes’ votes, two of the three judges fell into that 13% of no votes. Much to the dismay of internet fans, Joey Ryan was denied a contract with IMPACT Wrestling.

However, Joey Ryan wouldn’t take no for an answer and provided one of the best (and only, really) storylines to come from Gut Check.

Joey would show up in the IMPACT Zone and run a muck. He distracted other Gut Check segments and matches, and even punched judge Al Snow in the face. All of Joey’s efforts would pay off in the end, as he was granted a rare second chance.

At Bound For Glory, with help from Matt Morgan, Joey Ryan beat Gut Check judge Al Snow to earn himself a spot on the TNA roster.

Joey has easily been the most utilized talent to come from Gut Check. He’s had several pay-per-view matches, title opportunities, and been seen on IMPACT much more than other Gut Checkers.

The 87% said that Joey Ryan would be TV-ready hot off the heels of his Gut Check, and they weren’t wrong.

June: Taeler Hendrix

GutCheckBioTAELER

 Up until February of 2013, Taeler Hendrix was the only Knockout in Gut Check history. And, I believe, she received the highest ‘Yes’ vote ever from fans, that being 91%.

For anyone who was unimpressed by Hendrix on IMPACT, she’s proven to be more than just a pretty face in OVW. Since winning Gut Check, she’s been a multi-time OVW Women’s Champion and has proven to be the top female heel in OVW.

With today’s Knockout division in dire need of some new blood, Taeler Hendrix maybe just what the doctor ordered. It should be only a matter of time before she finds her way into the TNA spotlight.

July: Sam Shaw

GutCheckBioSHAW

 Admittedly, I had no previous knowledge of who Sam Shaw was until his Gut Check. I was familiar with Silva, Ryan, and Hendrix, but Shaw?

After watching him in action, I could definitely say that I like Sam Shaw. He’s got great athleticism and is just fun to watch in the ring. Many fans, myself included, want to see Shaw on the main stage in IMPACT Wrestling. He’d make a great addition to TNA’s X-Division, as seen during TNA’s recent X-Travaganza ONO Special.

For a guy that, “came out of left field”, Sam Shaw definitely impressed and is another one of my Gut Check favorites. He has enormous potential and should be a fixture in TNA’s X-Division.

August: Kris Lewie

Kris Lewie was the very first Gut Checker who didn’t even need to hear a third judge’s opinion. After getting rejected by the first two judges, we never saw/heard from Kris Lewie again…. til now.

I apologize.

September: Evan Markopoulos

Coming into his Gut Check at only 18 years old — I’ll say that again: Coming into his Gut Check atonly 18 years old, Evan Markopoulos seemed like the perfect person to join the ranks of TNA’s developmental territory (It being September, it was no secret that all the Gut Checkers were sent to OVW during this time).

However, Evan’s match was more of a squash match if anything. Former X-Division, Tag Team, and Television Champion, Douglas Williams, just beat Markopoulos from turnbuckle to turnbuckle.

Despite that, many fans saw the potential in this 18 year old kid, and he won a good percentage of fans over on TNA’s Twitter poll.

In perhaps the first of many illogical decisions, the Gut Check judges actually denied Markopoulos of a contract. Al Snow even called Evan the, “epitome of what Gut Check is all about” before ultimately denying the kid a chance on the TNA roster.

This decision was upsetting. With all of the Gut Check winners at this point in time reporting directly to developmental, why wouldn’t TNA sign & send the 18 year old with them? This is a decision that still confuses me to this day.

November: Christian York

GutCheckBioYORK

With TNA’s biggest show being in October, there was no Gut Check for that month as all efforts were put into promoting Bound For Glory. However, on the very 1st of November, Gut Check returned with one of its most experienced participants to date.

Christian York actually participated in TNA’s very first weekly pay-per-view event back in 2002. York came back to prove that he’s worthy of another shot and, after his match, had the support of many fans.

In fact, a lot of internet fans actually thought he outshined his opponent, Zema Ion, and should’ve been the first Gut Checker to defeat their TNA opponent. Opposite of Kris Lewie, Christian York passed his Gut Check with only two of the three judges’ decisions.

York is definitely in the top three when it comes to Gut Check winners being seen on IMPACT, but some fans seem to be changing their opinion about this guy….

One of York’s biggest criticisms is that he’s slow in the ring. Well, slower than most X-Division guys (Ion, King, Dutt, etc). While this maybe true, York did have good matches with the likes of Jeff Hardy and Bobby Roode.

TNA’s best solution would see York placed in either the tag team division or the TV title hunt. Meanwhile, that underdog character he displayed in early January could be passed along to a younger, more believable (how’s an underdog gonna be a 10+ year veteran?) guy like Sam Shaw or Alex Silva.

Also November: Wes Brisco

GutCheckBioBRISCO

Wes Brisco, of the famous Brisco wrestling family, had been seen in TNA for almost the entire summer before his Gut Check. Finally, his mentor Kurt Angle was able to convince judges into giving Brisco a chance.

On Thanksgiving night, Wes Brisco became the first and only Gut Checker to defeat his TNA opponent (that being Garett Bischoff, which led to plenty of “who’s Gut Check was it?” jokes).

Alongside Joey Ryan and Christian York, Wes Brisco is another Gut Check graduate who is finding a considerably good amount of TV time. Hell, he even had a pay-per-view match against Kurt Angle at Lockdown…. and he won.

Shortly after Wes was revealed as a member of Aces n 8s, it was revealed that his Gut Check was all a fix. His opponent, Garett Bischoff, was also a member of Aces n 8s in disguise and allowed Wes to defeat him in order to impress judges. To ensure that he gets a contract, D’Lo Brown, Aces n 8s VP to-be-revealed, filled in as a judge and was the deciding vote for Brisco.

Having watched Brisco be able to hang with Kurt Angle at Lockdown, I started to like the guy. Plus, he’ll be featured in a pretty good amount of TNA ONO Pay-Per-View Specials to come.

January 2013: Brian Cage vs. Jay Bradley

January debuted a revised version of Gut Check. Rather than having an unsigned talent face a TNA wrestler, two unsigned 398016_10151276056981026_1820831146_nwrestlers would face each other for a spot on the roster. The first two guys to take part in the new method were Brian Cage and Jay Bradley.

Cage, with a bodybuilder physique, worked more of an X-Division style but would have no problem, say, superplexing Jay Bradley from the apron, over the top rope, and off the second turnbuckle. Cage is a freakishly strong and agile guy.

Jay Bradley, on the other hand, is an equally strong, smash-mouth kind of wrestler. Bradley made a name for himself in Billy Corgan’s Resistance Pro Wrestling, and was able to defeat Brian Cage with his famous Boomstick clothesline.

The match left most internet fans pleading for TNA to sign them both, and with good reason. The X-Division was in dire need of new blood, and Jay Bradley was the ‘complete package’. To make the decision even tougher, both guys were ready for TV right out of the starting gate.

In the end, TNA opted to sign Jay Bradley to a contract…. maybe. I mean, here it is April 26th and Bradley doesn’t even have a profile on IMPACT Wrestling’s official roster page. He has reported to OVW though, where he’s been inserted into a feud with two of OVW’s top two faces.

Despite not getting a contract, I think there’s a good chance we’ll see Brian Cage in a TNA ring again; Especially with the new X-Division rule, and the fact that it allows unsigned wrestlers a chance at becoming X-Division Champion.

February: Lei’D Tapa vs. Ivelisse Velez

 This was another one of TNA’s illogical, confusing decisions. While both women had something unique to offer the Knockouts division (Tapa with her size and strength, Velez with her MMA background), TNA decided to award a much greener Lei’D Tapa with a TNA contract. Not to mention the fact that Tapa actually lost the match to Velez.

TNA declined the TV-ready Ivelisse Velez for Lei’D Tapa, who has yet to be seen even in OVW. Tapa will be a great Knockout in the future, but Velez is currently a great Knockout.

Some fans have speculated that Velez will eventually become the first lady of Aces n 8s, but that has yet to be seen on TV.

March/April: Adam Pearce vs. Magno

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 Adam Pearce, multi-time NWA World’s Heavyweight Champion and 17-year veteran, took on Magno, a 13-year veteran luchador in the latest and most illogical Gut Checks to date.

Adam Pearce cheated to defeat Magno and, because of that (I think it’s because of that… I missed their reasoning for denying Pearce), got denied like I said.

Then Magno got to face the judges, and was told by Pritchard he’s not experienced enough and “needs a little more seasoning” before he can get a TNA contract…. So why’d they eliminate the 17-year veteran immediately, give the 13-year veteran a chance at the contract, then vote no?

Even before this Gut Check, internet fans almost everyone were saying that Adam Pearce didn’t need this Gut Check. He’s a proven talent, and was probably as TV-ready as Desmond Wolfe.

Both men were denied a contract, and a good amount of fans are waiting to see if Adam Pearce will get a Joey Ryan-like storyline where he gets a contract, or is revealed as the latest member of Aces n 8s like the fantasized Ivelisse Velez angle. Either way, TNA dropped the ball with this Gut Check in a major way.

Gut Check started off with mostly mixed reviews from fans, but kind of caught on and fans got familiar with the concept. The biggest pet peeve with Gut Check is the fact that a large amount of the winners are sent to OVW, and TNA has yet to really change that.

With exception to Joey Ryan, Christian York, and Wes Brisco, every other Gut Checker (minus Tapa) is floating around OVW in a time where many internet fans consider them (Silva & Shaw for the tag or X-Division, Hendrix for the Knockouts, Bradley for the mid-card or in Aces n 8s) ready for primetime television on IMPACT.

If you ask me, Gut Check kind of reached its peak in January with two internet faves in Jay Bradley and Brian Cage. The last two Gut Check decisions (Tapa/Velez & Magno/Pearce) seem to have really turned fans off of the Gut Check concept in a major way.

TNA is going to have to pull out some more popular Indy names (Like Bradley, Pearce, Velez, Cage, etc.) and make the correct decision (Cater to the internet fans this one time, just to stop us from complaining) on who gets what in TNA.

While it maybe a flawed system, Gut Check is a great way of introducing new wrestlers to the TNA audience. Gut Check has plucked some great current and future talents out of the independent scene, now it’s up to TNA to utilize them.

About Charlie Groenewegen

TNA Writer For Three Years Now. Written here since the beginning. Once witnessed a lobster commit suicide. Undefeated in lucha libre, but only in a dream I had. Above all else, an enigma.
  • http://bleacherreport.com/users/553639-rafeal-phoenix Rafa Phoenix

    A lot of these guys could do wonders for TNA (you know, if TNA actually decides to build any of these guys up and utilize them properly).

  • Brett Chandler

    You pretty much summed up my thoughts, although I disagree with Sam Shaw. He seems Meh to me, but maybe he’ll get more of my attention in the future. Ivelisse and Adam Pearce should have definitely gotten signed.

    • Charlie Groenewegen

      Thanks, but to quote the botch-tastic Jaykub, “Sam Shaw is Sam Shaw which makes him the best. He’s Sam Shaw.”

      I’m still holding out some hope for Ivelisse based on those TNA ONO Knockouts Special PPV (if ya read em, you might know), but I think Pearce’s schtick was just that – one & done. Gut Check appearance, then goodbye. I hope I’m wrong about that though.

  • http://bleacherreport.com/users/647623-kevin-berge Kevin Berge

    I’ll just together all the OVW winners. Alex Silva, Sam Shaw, and Taeler Hendrix are all people I really don’t care for, but they could be something someday I’m sure.

    I don’t even need to talk about those earlier losers as there needed to be some people losing to make GutCheck seem more prestigious.

    Wes Brisco’s win was pointless story-building. Joey Ryan was the only successful GutCheck star. Christian York has been totally miscast since his win.

    Finally, I thought all three weeks of two challengers in GutCheck were slowly degradations of an already dying concept. Don’t care much for Jay Bradley. Ivelisse and Adam Pearce got robbed.

    Overall, it’s been a year, and I can’t find a reason to care about the concept.

    • Charlie Groenewegen

      Yeah, unless you follow OVW I don’t see why anyone would really care for/about Silva, Shaw, and Hendrix. Of the three, I’d say Shaw is most TV ready as of right now, but I’d like to think that they’ll have a good future in TNA (if they ever appear on TV ever again).

      And yeah, same could be said for Jay Bradley since he’s kinda fell into the same hole as the three mentioned above. And, based on spoilers for the TNA KO ONO Special, I’m still holding hope a shred of hope for Ivelisse in TNA. Not sure if Pearce will ever be back, but I hope I’m wrong.

      Gut Check started out hot, but kinda died off in August maybe (with exception to Joey Ryan’s angle, for me at least). Christian York’s match made Gut Check somewhat exciting for the 2 weeks that lasted & it remained pretty blahh til the new rule introduced in January, but even that died down after stupidly denying Ivelisse & Pearce.

      Here’s my latest & greatest revolutionary idea for Gut Check:

      1.) Grab 32 aspiring wrestlers – Already done with the online Gut Check Challenge. Hell, they have like, over 100 wrestlers listed in that thing… They can even keep the “Gut Check Challenge” name for this.

      2.) Steal the NFL-style schedule & use it to book/create a 22-week long tournament similar to the NFL and whatnot.

      3.) Time flies by & the top 2 wrestlers who outlast the rest of the competition meet in the “SuperBowl” of the tournament (Final match) during the live Countdown to Bound For Glory on SPIKE TV where the winner gets a trophy & a TNA contract. Losers could either try again next year, or get an ‘under the table’ deal from TNA (An OVW contract).

      They could renew their contract w/ Universal Studios in Orlando, FL to tape this kinda shit & have it as a .com exclusive. I’m so goddamn smart…

  • Jacob Stachowiak

    You dickhead bringing back up Kris Lewie………disgusting.

    Sam Shaw is Sam Shaw which makes him the best. He’s Sam Shaw.

    Taeler Hendrix…..to quote the late, great Charlie Groenwegen “Taeler’s ass………………………………………………………………….. :) ”

    Joey Ryan is a good contributor to the midcard, could be a cool tag team with someone pretty quickly. Just not a guy like Morgan, who had a serious gimmick and didn’t match up with him well at all.

    Silva is Canadian so his neck will break before he’s ever back in TNA.

    Evan’s Gutcheck pissed me off for only one reason. He was supposed to get a “No” because he’s 18 BUT Al Snow, and all of them, put him over as what Gutcheck is all about and how he did perfectly and showed all his guts…..but naaaah, fuck you Evan. That was so stupid.

    C…..h……r…….i….s……….t…..i……a…….n………Y……..o……..r……..k that’s how he spells his name out because it takes him ten minutes to do so. Slower than………a very slow thing. He’s also got a zzzzzzz personality. Meh as fuck to me. Still should have beaten Ion though.

    Brisco sucks but they book him as a rookie bitch like Garrett so it works. The duo work a hell of a lot better as heels, and it’s odd that they have probably the best win/loss record out of any Aces & Eights member. That’s fucked up.

    Brian Cage was meh to me but whatever, good guy for the X-division..if he makes the weight limit. Jay Bradley is freaking awesome and we’ll never see him on TNA television again. FOR SHAME.

    We can just forget about Valez ever coming back, it’s a lost hope, and I GUARANTEE that Tapa will NEVER become a KO on Impact.

    It would help if TNA catered to internet fans for once when it comes to Gutcheck…then again, it would be nice if they catered to fans in general with the Gutcheck angle. They just fucking run it however they please and it’s stuuuuupid. Adam Pearce not even facing the Gutcheck was boo’d like crazy by casual fans and panned by us…you know why? Because it was stuuuupid. The whole concept is SHIT. I used to love it but it needs to die or be completely fixed and there are OVER 9000 ways to fix it but TNA won’t do any of them.

    • Charlie Groenewegen

      I know :(

      Brett doesn’t like Sam Shaw… said he’s meh. The idea of bringing the Suicide character back to IMPACT & having Shaw work under the mask is great though. Fuck you, Brett.

      Yes :)

      Lulz, Morgan & Ryan was such a weird team… Sign one of Joey’s friends from NWA Hollywood or PWG, or just put him in the X-Division. I agree with what you’re saying.

      Fuck you, cuz it’s kinda true :( …he already got a concussion in OVW & is injured right now :( :( :(

      Yeah, that would’ve made more sense… “You’re 18 & green as goose shit! NO!” not the “You’re 18 & PERFECT for Gut Check! …..I gotta vote no :(”

      I remember reading someone say that York is a pretty good heel…. I doubt it though. He’s best suited for a tag team. Him & RVD seem fairly similar in slow-pace and Zzzzz…. personality.

      All of that seems true, so I could agree. Doc & Knox should really be the real A&8s tag team while B&B just run around like small children.

      Yeah, Cage had the Zzzzz… personality from what we saw, but is great in the ring. Jay Bradley is just fuckin awesome (like ya said) and it’s too bad he’ll never be back on IMPACT.

      I actually think Ivelisse still has a better chance of being a TNA KO than Tapa does lol. I’m still holding out a shred of hope for Velez, while I think Pearce in TNA is a lost cause.

      Haha, that’s true.. every fan in attendance was booing judges, Lei’d Tapa, and Magno. I came up with the #1 greatest idea to ever fix Gut Check in a reply to Berge, so there’s that I guess.