SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
In a surprise major title change during an era where surprise major title changes rarely occur, Eddie Edwards defeated Bobby Lashley for the TNA Heavyweight Title last week on Impact. This came on the heels of TNA’s Bound for Glory pay-per view, one of their two big shows during the calendar year, in which Lashley successfully defended the title in the main event against Ethan Carter III.
Eddie Edwards also appeared on the show, in a losing effort to Aron Rex in the finals for the new TNA Grand Championship Title (Edwards was subbing for the injured Drew Galloway – he had been eliminated earlier in the tournament).
The plaudits received by Edwards from the wrestling community on social media in the hours and days following the title switch show how well-liked and respected Edwards is among his peers. I’ve always felt Edwards has been underutilized in TNA, often paired with Davey Richards in The Wolves tag-team, a spot that tends to box in talent and restrict them to the label of a “tag team wrestler.”
The surprise wasn’t so much that Edwards won the title, but rather that it was he who ended Lashley’s reign of terror on Impact. Since winning the TNA Title in June at Slammiversary, Lashley has been portrayed as an unstoppable force, defeating all top competition that has come his way.
In fact, just two-and-a-half months earlier, Lashley defeated Edwards to win the X Division Title that Edwards held, in a storyline that saw Lashley acquire all of the male singles titles on the brand. It was yet another show of dominance for a wrestler who had finally come out of his shell and was doing the kind of work, both in the ring and on the mic, that WWE had in mind when they gave him such a big push almost ten years ago.
So why now? And why Edwards? It’s no secret that TNA has been struggling financially, to the point that the Bound for Glory PPV was in danger of being cancelled if the company didn’t round up the proper financing for it and the subsequent TV tapings.
Giving Edwards the win attempts to change the narrative. It’s big enough news that, for at least a little while, rather than talking about TNA’s financial situation, fans and doomsayers alike could opine about the Edwards title victory. It’s also been speculated that Edwards winning could’ve been a goodwill gesture to the locker room, most of who apparently have been as in the dark about what’s going on with the company as anyone.
This isn’t the first time an underdog babyface X Division wrestler has won the TNA Title, halting the momentum of a major heel. Three years ago, Chris Sabin traded his X Division title for a shot at Bully Ray and the TNA World Title in the special Destination X episode of Impact Wrestling.
Ray was in the middle of the Aces & Eights storyline, a storyline in which many an Impact episode was built around. Like Lashley, Ray had come into his own and found a character that really worked for him. Bully Ray was often the highlight of Impact, and while the Aces & Eights storyline ultimately petered out, it did bring us the Ray character. The loss to Sabin after being champion for four months didn’t hurt him a lot, but in the short term, his credibility took a bit of a hit.
Sabin was never considered in the class of a World Title contender, and may have been lower on the totem pole than Edwards was when he won the title. His win never felt like it was meant to be anything more than a short-term reign, and less than a month later, he lost the title back to Ray on the Hardcore Justice episode of Impact, losing in a convoluted steel cage match that saw interference by the likes of Tito Ortiz and Mr. Anderson in aiding Ray.
Even with the loss, fans wondered if this would mean a significant push was still in store for Sabin, or if this win was a one-time aberration necessitated by the institution of Plan C for X Division champions (where they can cash in their X Division title for a shot at the World Title at the Destination X PPV, later Impact special episode).
It turned out that not only did Sabin not sustain that push, but he wasn’t much longer for the company in general. Following a heel turn and brief team-up, then feud with Velvet Sky, Sabin ended up leaving the company in early 2014. Sabin had his fans, but didn’t get a great reaction as champion, likely because of the too much, too soon push he received.
It was difficult even for the TNA die-hards, who had seen how successful Sabin had been in his niches as X Division and tag wrestler (with Alex Shelley as part of the Motor City Machineguns), to seriously accept him as their top champion. Unfortunately, that’s also a description that, to this point in his TNA run, fits Edwards.
Later in 2014, another shocking TNA Title win took place when Eric Young defeated someone who was considered an up-and-coming talent in TNA, Magnus. There were even those who advocated TNA building the company around Magnus. But EY, one of a handful of wrestlers strongly identified with the TNA brand, had just come off teaming with Joseph Park in a comedy role.
Going back further, before getting involved with Park, Young had a run teaming with ODB, including holding the Knockouts Tag Titles with her. Young won his title in April on an episode of Impact after winning a battle royal to earn the shot, earlier in the show.
Young’s title win felt like a reward for somebody who had stuck with the company for so long and was more of a ceremonial gesture than anything else. Young’s title reign did last longer than Sabin’s – by one month. He ended up losing the title to Lashley in June.
After losing the title, Young turned heel and went crazy. To some, his character was too over-the-top and difficult to take seriously. However, I enjoyed it for what it was, and Young certainly went all the way with the gimmick. You have to wonder if Young, a year after he actually won the title, would’ve had more success were he to have won the championship with the gimmick he developed after he lost the belt.
So far, as of this writing, only Edwards’ title win has aired, though many more weeks of television have been taped. I always try to avoid spoilers when I can, so for all I know, Edwards may have already dropped the title at those tapings.
With Richards injured, Edwards has been given more of a push as a singles on TV, but nothing that would lead you to believe he was a real World Title contender. The story around Edwards’ title win was that Lashley’s hubris came back to haunt him; it was Lashley himself who chose to face Edwards for the title on that fateful Impact.
His choice was among Edwards, Moose, and ECIII. Lashley had a history with all three men, and with Moose and ECIII being higher on the roster depth chart than Edwards, the story was that Lashley likely felt he’d have an easier path to victory by choosing Edwards.
Edwards won in under eight minutes, and for those watching via DVR, much of the limited celebration shown was cut off. But like all shocking moments like this, so much of its success depends on the follow-up. Will Edwards simply be a placeholder, an attempt to put the title on another heel without having that heel beat Lashley?
Will he follow in the footsteps of Sabin and Young before him, short-term champions who are looked at by history as undeserving, an attempt by TNA to cause a minor sensation amongst their fanbase, ultimately doing more damage than good to the wrestler in the long run?
Or will the Edwards win lead to the long-awaited reigniting of the X Division, showing that a wrestler of their ilk can in fact reach the top of the mountain without having to invoke Option C? Can Edwards be another top babyface, created organically in the mold of an ECIII, who broke the mold of WWE mid-carder to break out at the top in TNA?
It would be a surprise if Edwards was a long-term champion for TNA, a company that suddenly finds itself awash in viable main eventers. The elevation of Edwards gives TNA another top babyface to rotate in at the top. And if he doesn’t settle in there, he’ll have credibility as an X Division or tag team wrestler should he return to those ranks.
(Greg Parks has been covering WWE Smackdown every Friday night for PWTorch.com since January of 2007. He hosts the “Moonlighting with Greg Parks” VIP Audio show every weekend. Follow him on Twitter @gregmparks. Comments, questions and feedback are welcome, and can be sent to email@example.com.) ###