The Adaptable Eric Young

One of the most fun parts of working in wrestling media is examining the past. Over the last year, I’ve watched wrestling from a different perspective. Trying to look at the sport from an analytical and critical perspective, especially storyline development and execution, has given me a different outlook on performers. On a recent episode of the Brace For Impact Podcast, my partner, Mike Gilbert, and I discussed the 2006 TNA IMPACT Christmas Special.

The show revolved around Eric Young, channeling Buddy the Elf, waiting for the arrival of Santa Claus. It’s a far cry from the current Impact portrayal of Young as the Violent megalomaniac who cuts brooding promos in a prison hellscape. Both versions of the character work surprisingly well. When examined in the context of nearly two decades of Impact, it makes sense in his character evolution. In short, Eric Young can do absolutely anything.

Eric Young came into the former Total Non-stop Action in 2004. Along with current IMPACT Wrestling EVP Scott D’Amore, Young and Bobby Roode were inserted into Team Canada, a stable of young grapplers from north of the border. The original Team Canada group consisted of Petey Williams (he of the Canadian Destroyer), Jack Evans (currently of The Hybrid 2), and Johnny Devine, under the leadership of Teddy Hart. To no one’s surprise, Hart didn’t last long in TNA. Williams moved into the leadership role, with Young and Bobby Roode joining the team.

Young and Roode quickly became Team Canada’s tag team representatives, feuding with 3 Live Grew (Konnan, Ron The Truth Killings aka R-Truth, and the former Road Dogg, B.G. James), America’s Most Wanted (James Storm & Chris Harris), and The Naturals (Chase Stevens & Andy Douglas) over the NWA World Tag Team Championship. Though Young is a supporting player in the feud, his personality starts to slip through, giving the TNA Creative team, which changed a lot during Young’s tenure, faith in him as a performer.

Eric Young’s first true character in the promotion was a coward. Young portrayed a paranoid chicken who feared the slightest change or shift in a role that should be death to any professional wrestler’s career. But as a member of the Planet Jarrett stable, what scared Eric Young more than anything was Sting. Though the Stinger announced his retirement, Jeff Jarrett would goad The Icon much to Young’s dismay. Though the character and interactions with Jarrett are played for laughs (and only Eric Young could have made this work), Sting eventually returns and takes out Young on his way to Jeff Jarrett.

Jim Cornette’s arrival in TNA came with Young’s character becoming terrified about being fired by the tennis racket wielder. Young went to the ring with a sign reading, “Don’t Fire Eric!” Impact Zone fans latched on to the character and began chanting the same. The shift came with Young showing more babyface traits, not allowing his Team Canada stablemates to cheat in fear of losing his job. Young became a babyface when Cornette broke Team Canada up and feuded with former teammate Roode. “The Paranoid Pied Piper’s” rivalry with Roode featured him defeating Tracy Brooks in a bikini contest en route to being tarred and feather by Roode after defeating him at Slammiversary.

Young would bounce between face and heel in the next few years. Playing everything from a would-be superhero (Super Eric) to Kevin Nash lackey and usually as a lovable idiot. His unlikely partnership with ODB led to the team winning the TNA Knockouts World Tag Team Championship. After beating Gail Kim and Madison Rayne, Young proposed to ODB, leading to a silly but fun wrestling wedding between the two. 

During their reign as Knockouts tag champs, Young took a brief hiatus to film a show for Animal Planet and returned to team with ODB. After defeating Jesse Godderz, Young and ODB were attacked by Aces & Eights. With ODB handcuffed to the ring, Young’s ankle was struck with a ball-peen hammer, a trademark for the stable, a Sons of Anarchy-influenced stable that ran roughshod over the promotion. This led to a more serious shift in the character, as Young joined Sting’s Lethal Lockdown team (along with Samoa Joe Magnus aka Nick Aldis and James Storm) to face Aces & Eights.

Eventually, Brooke Hogan (Hulk’s daughter) stripped Young and ODB of the Knockouts tag belts after carefully determining that Young was indeed, in fact, a man. Apparently, this eluded the TNA-led brain trust of Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff, and Dixie Carter during the previous 450 days of their reign. However, this pushed Young into the main event scene. He became a thorn to Carter and TNA Director of Operations MVP. 

Young scored a surprising upset victory over Magnus to win the TNA World Title in a Daniel Bryan-underdog-inspired storyline. During a match with MVP, Young was attacked by Kenny King and Bobby Lashley, leading to rivalry between Young and Lashley. At Slammiversary, Young retained his title in a three-way Six Sides of Steel cage match between Lashley and Austin Aries (because it’s Impact and why have a one-on-one match when we can throw way more people in that necessary!).

Eric Young wrapped his first TNA run with another feud with Bobby Roode, this time as a heel over the TNA title. Young would resurface in NXT as the leader of the socio-anarchistic faction called SAnitY. This version of Young had an edge and viciousness absent for most of his TNA run. As the savvy leader, Young teamed with Alexander Wolfe, Nikki Cross, and Killian Dane (who replaced Madman Fulton in the group). SAnitY was a dominant faction in NXT. Young feuded with Tye Dillinger (Shawn Spears), who rejected initiation into their group. The highlight of SAnitY’S NXT run came with Young and Wolfe as NXT Tag Team Champions team with Dain to face The Undisputed Era (Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish) and Roderick Strong/Authors of Pain in the first WarGames match in WWE history. Young, a veteran of many multi-man cage matches, anchored his team in their loss to the Era.

SAnitY was called up to the main roster in 2018, but like so many NXT acts before and since, the group languished before being released. Young would return to IMPACT Wrestling, bitter and angry with a new look and a perchance toward violence. Leading the Violent By Design group, featuring Cody Deaner, Rhino, and former All-Japan Triple Crown Champion Joe Doering. This Eric Young is a man whose good-natured innocence was destroyed by his time battling the system in TNA and being passed over and ignored in WWE. This version of Young is dangerous, calculating, and manipulative.

As a performer, Eric Young has proven himself with a plethora of ideas (some great, some bad) through his sheer will to make anything work. Most importantly, Young has made everything he’s touched better by maximizing his talent and time on-screen. He is a professional wrestler in every sense of the word.