When Gut Check first debuted, we were being given a peek behind the curtain at how TNA acquired its talent. Not only that, but it was a clear sign that TNA was casting wider nets in order to restock a thin roster. Of course, there was a bit of controversy surrounding the first Gut Check winner, Alex Silva, when Ric Flair went off-script and gave him the “yes” that ultimately forced TNA to give the kid a job, but they went on to sign talent like Christian York, a definite fan favorite, and Sam Shaw, a product of the 3D Academy with a lot of promise. They also got a great story line out of Joey Ryan’s elimination and his ensuing bid for a contract that culminated in a great feud with Al Snow. Without a doubt, Gut Check started out strong and kept rolling that way for a while.
Of course, all good things must come to an end, and it seemed to start when the Gut Check format changed from one hopeful rookie challenging a contracted veteran to two hopeful talents being pitted against one another. The first such match between Jay Bradley and Brian Cage was great, enough so that I wanted TNA to ditch the Gut Check format for one night and hire them both. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but I believe that we got the better talent signed in Jay Bradley. From that point forward, however, things went downhill: Lei’D Tapa lost to Ivelisse Velez but got the contract anyway; Magno lost to Adam Pearce after a less than stellar performance but went on to the judges round despite that; and Ryan Howe didn’t even get in any real offense against Adam Ohriner before being squashed, yet he went on to the judges round, as well. In all three of those cases, the more experienced and clearly superior of the two talents was eliminated before even facing the judges in the ring, and the question must be asked: why? Why in the world would any company, let alone one as starved for new talent as TNA, turn away heavily decorated stars like Ivelisse Velez and Adam Pearce? These are wrestlers that can command any independent venue they want – talents that any non-televised promotion would kill to get their hands on – but TNA is going to turn their noses up at them, look at guys like Magno and Ryan Howe, and say “Now THAT’S what I’m talking about”? That’s disheartening, to say the least.
Let’s not forget, either, that by now TNA has cut most of the Gut Check winners from the roster, and given the fact that the last two winners of the Gut Check matches have been rejected for contracts of their own, the future looks bleak for what was a very promising avenue to bring talent into the company. Lei’d Tapa may have gone on to win her Gut Check, but she has yet to appear on the roster, much less on an episode of Impact; instead, she’s languishing in OVW. Since then, Adam Pearce and Adam Ohriner have beaten Magno and Ryan Howe, respectively (and in commanding fashion, to boot), and they’ve both been cast aside in favor of wrestlers that looked sloppy and ill-prepared for the big time, wrestlers that were ultimately turned away. The last time we saw a Gut Check winner actually stick around and make anything resembling an impact was Christian York, who immediately challenged Bobby Roode and Jeff Hardy in very competitive matches, then proceeded to make a strong running for the X Division title. That same potential does exist for Jay Bradley, who earned a spot in the Bound For Glory Series, but he has yet to pick up any points after five weeks since the series began. Since then, Gut Check has failed to provide any promising talent for the company, and the coming months don’t promise any real change, aside from a potential shot in the arm to the Knockouts Division in the form of Lufisto, but considering her veteran status in the industry and the way in which veterans have been utilized in past Gut Checks, even that is doubtful.
What is the answer, then? How can TNA right the ship and reset its course with the Gut Check program? For starters, I think that the preliminary elimination round needs to be scrapped. It’s completely pointless to take the results of a match, then completely disregard them by eliminating the winner and continuing on to evaluate the loser. Have the match, then take the results into account for the final judgement with both competitors. That would leave the door open for an ending where one wrestler gets the contract, or both wrestlers get a contract for putting on a stellar match, or neither wrestler gets a contract because they just don’t have what it takes. For a guy that did not get a contract, let him return and get one last match in the original Gut Check format, but with a twist: have the match on Open Fight Night and let him call out a wrestler of his choosing. If he wins, he gets the contract, and if he loses, he walks away forever. Call it the Joey Ryan clause. That way, we get to see wrestlers like Adam Pearce, guys that can hack it in the big leagues, in action more than once so we can form a better opinion of them instead of getting one glimpse and losing them forever.
Another change that Gut Check needs is meaningful audience participation; in other words, give the fan vote some credence. TNA already asks for our opinions on whether a wrestler deserves to get a contract based on his performance, so let that fan vote replace Bruce Pritchard’s vote, since he’s leaving already. That way, the fans get to feel like their vote actually means something, and if the fan vote runs counter to TNA’s interests, Al Snow and Danny Davis can still vote the opposite and control the outcome. There is literally no downside for the company here, and they get to say that their fan vote actually means something, something that the WWE and their bug-infested app cannot do.
The bottom line is this: TNA has to change something about Gut Check. The program has lost all credibility, and they cannot afford to let what talent they have left from the program rot in development hell. They need to bring in credible, viable talent that is ready for the big time, and they need to overhaul Gut Check to do it, or else it will fail and just be more dead weight around the neck of TNA.
What do you think? Is Gut Check really as bad as all that, or do you think that it can forge ahead through this rough patch and be labeled as a success? Are there other ways that you would improve it? Join the discussion, won’t you? Give us your thoughts in the comments below or in any of our various social media groups!