Ethan Carter III could change the face of professional wrestling, if you let him.

For most wrestling fans, when the phrase "The Future of Professional Wrestling" is mentioned, minds wander to the WWE. World Wrestling Entertainment has dominated the world of profession wrestling since Vince McMahon annihilated ECW and WCW way back in 2002. While there have been other wrestling federations that have popped up on T.V. over the years, there hasn't been realistic competition since WCW folded operations. This isn't a knock on feds such as TNA or ROH, who have carved out their own niche over the years, but their podiums are considerably smaller than the juggernaut known as WWE.

If you know me at all, you know that I'm not a mark for any promotion. I like, or hate, them all, depending what's put in front of me. I've ebbed and flowed since the 80's, following the wrestlers that have stood out, either on the microphone or in the ring, and hopefully both.

In the early 80's, it was managers like Captain Lou Albano who caught my attention, as he stood in front of his Wild Samoans, or Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka. I was just a kid then, and didn't realize that they needed him to "talk" for these guys. But he did it well, while Afa and Sika would stand behind him eating whole oranges, peels and all.

I moved to Hogan, mostly because his gimmick was new back then, and everything he did was flamboyant...and he was in Rocky 3. I think people forget how big those Rocky movies were, and when Thunderlips came pouring onto my T.V. screen to save Bob Backlund against those Wild Samoans, it stood out. There have been a lot of years between that moment in 1984, and who Hogan later became, but he was HUGE (now everyone talks about how crappy a wrestler he was, which makes me chuckle...because he drew as well as anyone).

From there, I gravitated to TBS and the "Nature Boy" Ric Flair...WHOOOOOO, and more importantly, the Four Horseman. What the hell was this? Four guys, who could all talk, with a fantastic manager in James J. Dillon, and against them was this rather husky (fat) guy that went by the name of Dusty Rhodes...Ief you wheeeel.

Every Saturday Night, I was mesmerized by the story telling, and the talking, and the wrestling. Mostly we'd get squash matches, that ended with another star or faction pouring into the ring for an impromptu beat-down.

And that's really the point, right? In wrestling, it's always about the guys that you can't take your eyes of in the ring, or on the microphone.

Think about this for a moment. Chris Jericho's debut in WCW was after the egos of the NWO had already made their mark. Yet Jericho fought and scratched, as both a heel and a face, and made himself a draw on the undercard. His feuds with Chris Benoit, and most notably, Dean Malenko (remember when Jericho came out and said he was "the Man of 1004 holds, and I wrote them all down..."Hold #712...Armbar"). The NWO was making the money, but Chris Jericho really was must-see T.V. back then, even though the cameras were mostly focused on Hogan, Nash and Hall.

Now I could roll through all of the domino's that led me from those early 80's stars to now, but that's really not the point. As I said in my lede, the domino that I'm focused on today is TNA's new World Heavyweight Champion, Ethan Carter III, whose real name is Michael Hutter.

This also leads me back to that phrase, "The Future of Professional Wrestling."

Now let's get a couple of things out of the way first.

I don't care what your opinion is of TNA/IMPACT Wrestling. I'm not saying that your opinion is right or wrong, but for THIS discussion, take a step back for a moment and disregard federation ties.

Hutter actually started his television career off in the WWE, in season four of NXT, under a persona he had created in FCW, Derrick Bateman. How the WWE didn't break him out is beyond me, as he was clearly one of the most promising youngsters that they had. I'm not going to get into the politics of it all.

What I'll tell you is that Bateman stood out. Here's a snippet of Bateman in the ring against Daniel Bryan:

And some early WWE/NXT promo work:

Hutter was eventually released from the WWE in 2013. According to Hutter,
"In a Saturday Morning Slam match with Antonio Cesaro, I hurt my knee...and I had to have surgery on it...So after the injury, you're out of sight, you're out of mind and things happen."
Eventually, Hutter was signed by TNA, and from the start, was given the ball, and allowed to create the character of Ethan Carter III, the nephew of heel owner Dixie Carter.

Now step back.

From the day Hutter stepped into a TNA ring, it was clear that he was something special. Early in his TNA run, he faced off against some jobbers, and while he won (and struggled a bit), the promos after were sensational.

Which led to the Icon Sting:

I could go on-and-on with the promos that Hutter has given in TNA, several with Kurt Angle, and Bully Ray, but you get the point. He's special on the mic, combining humor with a pissed off "sense of entitlement" that has come off real from the second that he became a part of the TNA roster.

That's what wrestling has always been about: creating a character that fits your personality and running with it, hook, line and sinker.

He's a heel, and has been a heel from the start. And to clarify, while he's the most complete package as far as a wrestling character goes in TNA, he's never really been a "cool" heel. He lies. He cheats. He steals...and he does it in a way that pisses people off.

While Kevin Owens is busy being cool in the WWE (I love Owens, so this is no knock, just the way it is), Hutter is busy using the "old school" heel mentality that you cheat to win, and don't look back.

He has used Dixie Carter, his "aunt" to support him, as well as Rockstar Spud and now Tyrus. They were factors in nearly every match, but not so-much-so that you thought Carter couldn't win without their help.

Think back to The Four Horseman. Flair was a dirty heel from the start as well, and the Horseman interfered in every match. He played weak, and cheated to win. Could Flair veer towards being a face?

Sure, but it was always just slightly over the line, and it was always in a major underdog match. When Nikita Koloff was a heel, Flair battled the Russian at the height of the Cold War. The heel played face, but still wrestled exactly the same way, and had no problem reverting quickly back to his heel ways.

That's Ethan Carter.

Look, Ric Flair is one of the top two or three wrestlers of all time, so this isn't a comp at this stage of anyone's career (if you think it is, that's on you), but did Hutter take a page out of the "Nature Boy's" book?

You bet your ass he did.

He's really good in the ring, but it's magnified by his brilliance on the Mic, and all of the other little things that make him great. He takes crowds that hijack his promos, and turns it around on them. His facials tell a story all their own. And how about when he "kicks dirt" on an opponent after he wins, as though he's a dog that's just done his business?

How brilliant is that?

Hutter was pissed when he left the WWE, and instead of sulking, he took the TNA ball and ran with it.

A quick sidenote. TNA makes mistakes, but so does the WWE. The difference between the two federations is vast, but the similarities are often in the booking mistakes that they make. TNA resembles a small market sports franchise, where mistakes are personified. The WWE can just make things go away by throwing money at it.

TNA has never had that luxury. If they make a mistake, they often have to play it out. It's real life, and while people slam the company for what they don't do right, what they have done right is develop Hutter's Ethan Carter III.

Give the company credit for that, because they have clearly created one of the top three or four wrestlers in the country. Don't give me that, "Well, it started in the WWE." That's garbage. It started with Hutter, and was likely hindered by the WWE. Once with TNA, Hutter did what every great wrestler has done in the past: He took his character, made it his own, and owned every piece of it from the start.

There's been no wavering.

There's been now "riding the fence."

He cheated to beat Sting, using both Rockstar Spud and Magnus as referees. He continually injured Angle's knee over the past 18 months, to continue their now storied storytelling.

In the middle of all of this was a fun little run with Willow, that led to perhaps the best TV vignettes over the past several years, in any company, "The Hunt for Willow."

Hutter even suffered a major injury in TNA, a torn bicep that required surgery, and threatened to halt yet another run, like what happened previously in the WWE.

Instead, TNA and Hutter came out flying, altering the likely program with Angle that would give him a championship, and shifting to a smaller, yet brilliant angle with his assistant, Rockstar Spud. Instead of pushing Carter off of T.V. while he healed up, they took a page out of Stone Cold Steve Austin's book, and came out every week and talked, to keep him in fresh in the mind of the audience.

To Hutter's credit, Carter even spent time in the ring over this period. Enter a thug bodyguard in Tyrus (it's worth noting that Tyrus and Hutter met in the NXT competition back in his Bateman days), and a ridiculous heel gimmick in which Carter served a weekly beatdown on Spud, which got Spud over as a really good face in the company. Announcer Jeremy Borash ended up bald in the process, but both Carter and Spud saw their characters boosted.

This is the type of thing in which a foundation for the future of a company can be laid.

Hutter brings an interesting mix of sarcastic humor and viciousness in the ring that's hard to pinpoint, and unique in the business today. And after nearly two years of development, Ethan Carter III finally got his first TNA World Title match, and it was one for the ages:

Ethan Carter III is your TNA World Heavyweight Champion, and it just feels special. Carter's character isn't anywhere near it's culmination, but it was clear it was time to give him the title. To do it against Kurt Angle, one of the best professional wrestlers of all time, makes it that much more impressive.

If you aren't yet convinced that Hutter is "the next big thing" in professional wrestling, there's really only one person that can convince you to change your mind...and it certainly isn't me.

I give you EC3, and his GREATEST. PROMO. EVER.

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