Midway through the 2000s, the lack of bright young stars to carry the wrestling industry into the next generation was becoming more and more noticeable. Sure, John Cena and Batista had risen to the top of the industry, and Edge was as strong a heel as any, but past that, there was little to be excited about.
In the fall of 2006, an athletic young star set out to change that. A former collegiate wrestler who was prepared to compete in the Olympics were it not for an injury, Bobby Lashley was a freakish athlete who tore through World Wrestling Entertainment like a wrecking ball early in his career.
He was competing in pay-per-view main events a year into his run on the WWE roster and by the spring of 2007 was involved in one of the marquee feuds in the entire company. Lashley's program with Vince McMahon both elevated him and made the Colorado Springs native one of the top babyfaces in the company.
Unfortunately, injuries and a conflict with the creative team led to Lashley's departure from the company
Two stints with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling and appearances for independent promotions across the country, not to mention a stop-off in the Mixed Martial Arts world, have kept Lashley busy, but fans may never know what could have been had he opted to stay in WWE.
As he, MVP and Kenny King continue to reign over TNA, here is a look back at the greatest moments and matches of Lashley's still-young career.
Lashley made his debut on September 23, 2005 during an episode of SmackDown. His opponent that night was exercise guru Simon Dean, who was a glorified jobber at that point. A solid wrestler, Dean made Lashley look very good in his first match, bumping around the ring and putting the more powerful Superstar's offense over strong.
The rookie competitor picked up the win and began a journey that would take him to the top of professional wrestling in short order.
At No Mercy in October 2005, he again defeated Dean for his first pay-per-view victory.
First Loss, King of the Ring and the United States Championship
In any sport, how one rebounds from a loss is an indication of future success or failure. At No Way Out in February 2005, Lashley lost his first match in WWE at the hands of former WWE champion John Bradshaw Layfield. He rebounded by competing in Money in the Bank Ladder match at WrestleMania 22 and making it to the finals of the SmackDown brand's King of the Ring tournament.
Lashley would square off with Booker T in the finals of that tournament. With the SmackDown brand in desperate need of a legitimate main event villain to help guide the brand in the absence of a strong babyface, Booker was given the win.
Again, Lashley was forced into a situation in which he had to overcome a defeat. Again, he did just that, defeating JBL to become United States champion.
He would hold the title for less than two months.
World Heavyweight Championship Contender
On the September 14 episode of SmackDown, Lashley became No. 1 contender by defeating Finlay by disqualification.
Many wondered if the still-inexperienced Superstar was over enough to carry a pay-per-view as the top babyface challenger to King Booker's World Heavyweight title. Doubts eventually crept into the mind of management and rather than running with the proposed Lashley vs. Booker main event for No Mercy, the match was changed to a Fatal 4-Way bout that included Batista and Finlay.
Lashley performed admirably. He never looked out of place against the three veterans he was sharing the ring with and hit all of his spots perfectly. Booker retained the title, but Lashley won over those in power.
He would carry tremendous momentum throughout the rest of 2006.
By December, Lashley's career would get extreme.
ECW December to Dismember
Lashley debuted in ECW on November 14, 2006, and it became clear that he was Vince McMahon's hand-picked choice to lead the relaunched brand. There had been a great deal of turmoil within the new ECW, as McMahon and Paul Heyman disagreed on the direction and philosophy of the brand.
The product that was being presented to the fanbase looked little like the ECW it remembered and cherished. Resentment became prevalent.
Lashley did what was asked of him, however, and quickly emerged as the favorite to dethrone Big Show and capture the ECW title at the December to Dismember pay-per-view.
With support from management and momentum on his side, Lashley knocked off Show and four other competitors to become ECW champion at one of the worst events ever produced by McMahon's wrestling empire.
Despite the rocky start, Lashley reigned as champion for five months.
The man who beat him for the title would go on to become the least likely ECW titleholder of all time.
The McMahon Feud
The road to WrestleMania 23 was an eventful one for Bobby Lashley.
On March 19, 2007, he became the first Superstar to break the Masterlock, Chris Masters' version of the full nelson, a move he claimed to be unbreakable. Shortly thereafter, Lashley was handpicked by Donald Trump to represent him in the "Battle of the Billionaires" against Umaga, Vince McMahon's handpicked representative.
The match, the most hyped of the entire WrestleMania card, delivered on its promise of shaving a billionaire bald. Lashley defeated Umaga, and McMahon had his head shaved to the delight of 80,000-plus fans inside Detroit's Ford Field.
That he was humiliated at his greatest creation infuriated McMahon, and he set out to make Lashley's life a living hell. At Backlash, he teamed with son Shane and Umaga to defeat Lashley for the ECW Championship.
His bald head protected by a do-rag, McMahon hardly looked like the Chairman of the Board who had tormented Steve Austin and The Rock in the Attitude Era. In fact, it was almost comical watching the 62-year-old man claim to be extreme.
At Judgment Day, Lashley pinned Shane McMahon in a rematch from Backlash. Because he did not pin the champion, he was denied a second reign with the title.
He would right that wrong a week later when he pinned McMahon in Street Fight to regain the title.
In June 2007, Lashley was drafted to Monday Night Raw. At Vengeance: Night of Champions, he competed in a Five-Pack Challenge match for the WWE Championship. It was during that match that he and champion John Cena interacted for the first time. Both top babyfaces, they were booked against one another for the Great American Bash pay-per-view in July.
Cena won that match, arguably Lashley's best to that point, and the former amateur wrestler would disappear from WWE television shortly thereafter.
On February 4, 2008, he was released from his WWE contract, just under a year after competing in one of the WrestleMania 23 main events.
Lashley would debut in TNA Wrestling in April 2009. His first stint in the company was largely uneventful, save for matches against Rhyno and Scott Steiner. He would leave the promotion in 2010.
He returned to the floundering company in 2014, as Dixie Carter attempted to inject it with some affordable name power.
On March 9, Lashley accepted ECIII's open challenge. After a few weeks of floating aimlessly around the company, he turned heel and joined MVP and Kenny King in controlling TNA.
He figures to be a featured player for the company in the weeks and months to come.