Trouble, Trouble, Trouble: The Ballad of EC3
This week marked the last appearance of EC3 in Impact Wrestling, a whole four years, five months and two days to the date of his first.
The departure, the obvious outcome at the end of last week’s Feast or Fired match, had been on the cards for months. Carter had been kicking his heels, clearly surplus to requirements for quite some time, as though he were waiting to move onto pastures now.
Those who’ve only seen Impact in the last few months, however, will not have the full picture. Carter really has been integral to everything the company has done since he arrived, often holding things together during some of the roughest junctures in the company’s already tumultuous history. As such, it seemed only fitting to use this column to explore his history with Impact.
This is the tale of EC3, told in four acts.
ACT 1: Entitlement makes the world go round
It was Bound for Glory 2013. Robbie E and Jessie Godderz had already been crowned tag team champions, Gail Kim had captured her third Knockouts Championship and AJ Styles and Bully Ray were still set to do battle for the world title, but the time had come for a well-hyped debut.
Vignettes had aired for weeks hyping the debut of ‘Ethan’, Dixie Carter’s nephew. It was a serviceable squashing of a jobber, something that became a recurring pattern for weeks on end. There was a clear nervousness in the former Derrick Bateman, a struggle to find his feet after being let go by NXT. He lacked an identity, and perhaps management felt he lacked the ability to carry a match too, as all of his early feuds involved countless ref bumps and instances of outside interference. Clean wins were a rarity in his first 18 months, a run that had firmly established him as an upper-midcard heel but was lacking in any substance.
That substance did come, and it came in a ring across the Atlantic. It wasn’t Kurt Angle, Sting or Bully Ray that made EC3 a bonafide star in Impact Wrestling. It wasn’t Lashley or Mr Anderson. No, it was Rockstar Spud, the man who’d been nothing but a lackey since winning the first season of British Boot Camp.
It was the culmination of a five-month story that was easily the best in the company. It was easily to believe that the two men disliked each other and both had something to prove in that match – for Spud it was a case of showing people that he could be taken seriously, and for EC3 it was two-fold, avoid the ignominy of losing his hair and reputation, but also prove that he could do it on his own. Both men came away elevated from a match that remains one of my favourites in Impact history, and was the best of EC3’s tenure. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand, and worked them to perfection. His smug grin as he put Spud in the tree of woe and shaved his already bloodied scalp was picture-perfect.
That match marked an evolution, EC3 had found his feet. He had become a main-event level talent.
ACT 2: An EC-two time world champion
Evolutions in wrestling take time, and often they peter out if not captured properly. It would perhaps be a stretch to say EC3 peaked in Impact in the months after the Spud match, but it’s not far off. His world title victory, however rushed it ended up being, felt earned and deserved. He was the man to carry the company forward and be the face of it at a time when more and more established regulars headed for the exit door.
Matt Hardy was the constant thorn in EC3’s side during both title reigns, and they made for strange bedfellows. Hardy has never really been a main event level talent to my mind, and the two men lacked chemistry as they seemingly engaged in a never-ending feud that grew increasingly contrived as they tried to weave in Jeff Hardy and Drew Galloway.
EC3 carried the belt well, and came out strong from the World Title Series. The quick end of his second title reign felt the wrong decision on first impression, but his face turn didn’t. He had gone full-circle, he’d become one of the best heels in the business, but the crowd were itching to cheer for him. He’d achieved all he could as a heel; he needed the face turn as much as the fans wanted it. His evolution had continued.
ACT 3: Redemption and a lack of direction
Upon turning face, a new foe awaited EC3. Mike Bennett, a man who typifies the phrase ‘high floor, low ceiling’, had joined Impact with aplomb and was chosen to be the one to end EC3’s streak, which had reached a staggering 30 months. It had gone on too long, and his title losses took away the buzz of it, but it was presented to mean something. The key factor in that presentation? EC3.
Throughout the feud, up there with the Spud one for believability, EC3 expertly told the tale of what losing for the first time meant to him. There was an aura of vulnerability that had not existed before, told from a nuanced hesitancy in the ring to subtle changes in his facial expressions. The big blow-off match at Slammiversary was fine, but that didn’t matter. EC3 had continued to develop in his Impact skin and was primed for a run at Lashley, a feud that had been brewing in the background for months.
Lashley/EC3 at Bound for Glory 2016 was billed as an all-time epic, which it sadly wasn’t, but it was the second best match of EC3’s tenure.
In falling short, his redemption after his first loss felt in vain. He sat in the ring, looking lost and directionless. That was a point where I felt they had something with EC3, a spark to push him on to a third world title run in 2017. He’d proved he was capable of carrying a feud and keeping the good ship Impact afloat on screen when everything behind the scenes was a mess.
Alas, that was perhaps the summit of EC3’s mountain in Impact. His ‘Fact of Life’ segment with Eli Drake was excellent, a catalyst for something beautiful I’d hoped. Yet no, that never went far enough in my mind. We hit the year 2017, and his wheels began to slow down. He kicked his heels in subpar feuds with James Storm, AAA’s hotch-potch band of brothers and Matt Sydal, picking up the Grand Championship in the process. Gone was the energy of 2016 and 2017 though, everything felt like an effort for him. He’d exhausted his use to the company as they switched administration multiple times in a matter of months, and he’d got to the point where he was once again a person of interest to the people who’d led him to Impact in the first place.
ACT 4: The future and one last look back
We all know where EC3 goes now. We’ve seen him in NXT already, and he should be featured prominently at the Takeover during WrestleMania weekend. How much he achieves in the black-and-yellow brand remains to be seen, but he’ll surely make much more of a dent than he did in his first stint.
He can look back on his Impact tenure as a success. Impact took an unfinished sculpture and managed to chisel out something quite impressive; success stories like that are few and far between in the company. Perhaps he never hit the heights as they hoped or expected he would, but for a man who washed out of NXT because he lacked personality and charisma, they turned him around.
EC3 gave as good as he got. Only Lashley was more compelling than him during the last two and half years in Impact, and EC3 helped to carry that company during some of its darkest days. He’s earned the chance to make another go of it in WWE, and I wish him all the best.
The final act may already be written in the ballad of EC3 in Impact Wrestling, it might not, but one thing is for certain. Dixie’s nephew certainly left his mark.
Trouble. Trouble. Trouble.
The Week in Review
- This week was very much filler. It was entertaining filler, but very much a set-up show as the company continues to move towards Redemption.
- Kongo Kong vs Abyss was BAD. It achieved its goal of getting Kong over, and I liked the idea in principle, but Abyss can’t go anymore. He’s taken more than enough bumps for the company over the years – wouldn’t it be better to just keep him in a more backstage capacity?
- Su Yung made her debut this week and I’m not sure what to think. She’s not someone I’m a particularly big fan of, and in Rosemary they already have someone with a similar gimmick. I’m not closing the book already, but I’ll need a lot of convincing that she’s a worthwhile addition.
- In the first week since the reveal of Josh Mathews as Matt Sydal’s spirit guide, a lot was left unanswered. Mathews was still on comms, there was very little change in Sydal’s attitude apart from that bargain basement mask and he went 50/50 with Rohit Raju, who’s not won a match on Impact yet. Not encouraging signs.
- Fallah Bahh tasted defeat again this week, but it was via nefarious means. I am fully behind this losing streak for the big Filipino bloke; he’s fast becoming my favourite act in the company.
- I like the direction they’ve gone with the other Feast or Fired cases. Williams as X-Division makes sense, although he’s not been featured much so far in 2018, whilst Moose’s world title shot confirms my suspicions that he’s on track for a big push this year. And then Eli got the tag title shot. I dread to think what they plan on doing with that, but his backstage promo was excellent. Eli is still the man.
Well, until next time…