Eli Drake’s loud mouth and brash attitude immediately got attention when he debuted in 2015. From his time in The Rising to his run as King of the Mountain Champion to his rivalry with EC3 – people immediately identified him as a future World Champion. Lashley defeated Eddie Edwards to regain the title in a classic 30 Minute Iron Man at Genesis but a Gauntlet for the Gold in August for the vacant championship gave Drake his best chance yet. He overcame 20 men including former champions Eddie Edwards, Lashley and EC3 as well as the debuting Johnny IMPACT to become champion. Drake then immediately entered a rivalry with Johnny including main eventing Bound For Glory, but Drake would hang onto the title for the rest of the year.
Broken. No single word defines 2016 more. EC3 won the World Title Series to become World Champion for the second time but this would set Matt Hardy on a completely different path. After coming up short multiple times and having his crowning moment taken away from him at Bound For Glory, Matt Hardy turned to a different approach to capture the World Championship. Tyrus turned on EC3, helping Hardy capture gold and beginning the birth of “Broken” Matt Hardy. When Drew Galloway used his Feast or Fired case to take the World Championship from Matt, Matt lost it thinking his brother had betrayed him. Jeff Hardy beat Matt Hardy in an I Quit match after a Swanton Bomb from the very top of the IMPACT Zone and Matt was never the same.
From the moment he arrived in TNA in October 2013, EC3 was destined for greatness. Part of that was nepotism of course – he was Dixie Carter’s nephew after all – but the larger part was he could back it up in the ring. EC3 defeated everybody that was put in front of him – with legends like Sting, Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy, Bully Ray, Rhino, Austin Aries and Eric Young all failing to defeat the cocky upstart. For all of this he had the loyal and steadfast Rockstar Spud by his side. Many of those victories came with an assist from Spud, but after Dixie Carter was powerbombed through a table the relationship between Spud and EC3 began to fracture. This culminated in a memorable Hair vs. Hair encounter in Wembley Arena in London as a bloody and resilient Spud fought with absolutely everything he had to take down his old friend EC3, but ultimately came up short. Spud’s head was shaved bald.
I have now interivewed four members of the TNA/IMPACT Wrestling Hall of Fame, with the newest addition being the greatest referee of all time: Earl Hebner. For more than 40 years, Earl has been the gold standard for professional wrestling referees. From officiating matches between Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant to Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, he’s the absolute best at what he does. Earl spent 11 years with TNA Wrestling and he told me that it was the happiest time in his career. We talked about what it was like working with Dixie Carter, taking part in entertaining storylines, including ones with the Knockouts, life on the road, working internationally, and the art of being a great referee, among other topics. It was an honor and a pleasure to speak at length with a man I admire, and I know that his commentary will make a great addition to my books about the history of TNA/IMPACT Wrestling.