Earlier this week, news broke that a top-tier talent from Ohio-based Absolute Intense Wrestling had signed a deal with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, a move that instantly sparked debate and turmoil amongst Internet fans.
AIW officials launched a campaign on Facebook criticizing this superstar for leaving for TNA, calling the transition a "lateral move."
In an earlier column, which has drawn a bit of attention and controversy itself, I chimed in with my thoughts on the situation. That was before the name of the departing superstar was revealed.
Now the news is out: "No Mercy" Tommy Mercer will be the newest performer on the TNA roster. Mercer participated in one of TNA's gutcheck challenges and earned an appearance on an upcoming edition of Impact, where he will be part of Jeff Jarrett's open MMA challenges.
The kicker? He's supposedly Amazing Red's brother.
Before lamenting over these decisions, let's step back a bit and look at Mercer as a performer.
I have had the opportunity to see him perform live a few times with Southern Illinois based All-American Pro Wrestling, and I've seen his performance from this year's AIW Jack of All Trios tournament. Mercer has continuously impressed me as a wrestler.
While recapping an AAPW show for a now-defunct website, I noted the impression he left, going so far as to compare him to former World Wrestling Entertainment Champion Randy Orton.
Mercer has the size, ability and look to make it in Vince McMahon's world, and that's where he should be headed.
After I posted that article and pictures, Mercer e-mailed me about it. He seemed to be a genuinely nice guy who obviously appreciates the fans and what they mean to wrestling. I have nothing but respect for Mercer and don't want to come off as if any of these rants, raves or opinions are meant to demean him.
But with that said, the way he's already entered TNA shows the problem with a relatively unknown independent star signing with the company. Sure, if a performer with a more recognized name—like many ROH stars—was signed, they would likely get a nice build-up treatment. Not the case here.
Yes, it's no secret that both WWE and TNA bring in independent stars to play supporting roles on programming and to help backstage. AIW Absolute Champion Johnny Gargano appeared on an episode of NXT as one of Michael Cole's bodyguard; AAPW Champion Shane Rich has appeared on Raw a few times and worked with top-level stars to develop pay-per-view match ideas in the past.
Most of these appearances, however, are meant to be one-offs or basic level tryouts. Many times these stars do not even receive a name or recognition on television. They're not signing contracts days after first appearing.
With Mercer, the first impression the fans now have of TNA's newest acquisition is that he tapped out to Jeff Jarrett in a very short time period, and did so while portraying Amazing Red's brother. There have been many successful "brother" duos through the years—including the real-life siblings of Matt and Jeff Hardy, the widespread Dudley family and the combination of Edge and Christian—but something about this pairing doesn't register on the same level.
Earlier this year, Amazing Red was the X Division Champion. It appeared the company had some faith in renewing a push for the young, athletic, talented superstar, but such was proven to not be the case. Red eventually dropped the belt to Jay Lethal, who in turn dropped it to Robbie E. He has disappeared from television, and the belt has become a bit of a joke.
Upon entering a new company and building a new persona, does one really want his first impression with the audience to be that he's the brother of a superstar they haven't seen in months and who they likely don't even care about at the present time? What happened to the days of a person making his own connection with the crowd rather than having a manufactured one handed to them by the company?
Nothing has happened yet to prove that Mercer will keep the "Red's brother" gimmick going, but what happens if he doesn't? Oh yeah, TNA will call into the question the believability of professional wrestling.
Someone will surely point out that duos like Edge and Christian have gone on successfully with breaking the "brothers" mold and changing it to "like brothers", but that seems more likely the exception than the rule when it comes to a successful formula.
If TNA keeps the association, what happens then? Does Mercer get put in a tag team with Amazing Red? That could produce some interesting matches, but it's unlikely this duo would pass teams like Beer Money, Generation Me and even Ink Inc. in the tag team ranks. Of course, TNA does appear to enjoy having teams come out of awesome pay-per-view matches only to fight two security guards. And in some cases, lose.
It's just hard to imagine Mercer finding success in TNA after being exposed to the audience as Amazing Red's brother. With a talent like this, the company could have the opportunity to build a new babyface character with ease.
There's no guaranteed formula on how to do that, but it surely doesn't begin with an Amazing Red affiliation because as great of a performer as he is, Red is not part of the Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff plan for prosperity.
The number one criticism of fans in response to Mercer's departure has been AIW's reaction to losing a star. But looking at it from the company perspective, they are losing a top-level performer who could have been the face of the company in 2011 to a competitor where he'll instead likely wallow around in a meaningless existence playing second fiddle to former WWE and even World Championship Wrestling performers.
From Mercer's perspective, signing with TNA may mean a bigger paycheck and more exposure. If that's a gamble he's willing to take, that's his choice. Hopefully he has at least negotiated a deal with TNA that will allow him to still work independent shows, especially if he's on one of TNA's "per-appearance" contracts.
Personally, I'd love to see Mercer succeed on a national level. He definitely has the potential, but I can't help but think he'd be better suited in WWE developmental right now than TNA. Hopefully appearing on "Hogan's Playhouse" won't ruin Mercer's stock in the eyes of Vince McMahon and his Connecticut-based cronies. This kid could be something special in the future.
As for AIW, losing Mercer is a blow, but it's far from a mortal one. The company still has several top-level performers of its own and has become known for bringing in excellent outside talent, ranging from CHIKARA's Tim Donst to WWE United States Champion Daniel Bryan.
Word has it that several other AIW stars have also been contacted by TNA, so things could change.
But no matter what happens, the company will find a way to pull through. Its promoters have found a way to create a product distinguished from the rest and will surely continue the climb up the ladder of U.S. independent promotions.
AIW presents its final show of the year, "Nightmare Before X-mas 4" next Friday in Lakewood, Ohio.
Scheduled for the show are:
- Johnny Gargano vs. Facade in a ladder match for the Absolute Championship
- Tim Donst vs. Jimmy Jacobs
- Angeldust vs. (SHIMMER Tag Team Champion) Portia Perez for the Women's Championship
- Tommy Mercer vs. a mystery opponent; Mercer will also address the crowd about his TNA signing
- Aeroform (Louis Lyndon and Flip Kendrick) vs. The Olsen Twins (Jimmy Olsen and Colin Delaney) for the Tag Team Championships
- And more...
Testa is a semi-retired professional wrestling journalist. He is an occasional contributor to Bleacher Report and Pro Wrestling Zeitgeist. He supports independent wrestling.