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

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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

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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

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 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

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 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

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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

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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.