Through thick and thin, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Bobby Roode, among others, helped elevate TNA -- recently rebranded to Impact Wrestling -- into a realm of respectability. The past 15 years have had quite a few ups and downs, but the company is still pushing forward, even as some of those homegrown stars have moved on.
The key for Impact has been to go after high-profile free agents as they come available and build that talent. As current Impact Wrestling world heavyweight champion Bobby Lashley explained to ESPN.com, it's a constant battle, but one that he and the rest of the Impact Wrestling locker room are happy to fight.
"I think it puts a bigger spotlight on TNA just because of that," he said."The big company always tries to water down the little company and keep eyes away from them. But they've shown that the little guys are very, very good. I think it's going to bring a lot more eyes to TNA."
Lashley, a former ECW and United States champion while under that WWE umbrella, first wrestled for what was then TNA in 2009, and he's wrestled there consistently since 2014.
"When I came over [to Impact Wrestling] from the WWE, I didn't know what to think. Wrestling is wrestling. WWE is the flagship program, of course. But there's just so much incredible talent [here]," Lashley said.
He praised Roode in particular, as someone who truly opened his eyes to the level of talent that existed within Impact Wrestling. That Roode would come to find great success within WWE's NXT brand comes as little surprise to Lashley.
"When I came over and worked with Bobby Roode, we did two matches together, I thought he was amazing. Amazing," Lashley said. "The guy is really good. Bobby Roode is born to be their star. And I'm glad they found something with him. That 'Glorious' thing is pretty nice."
Lashley isn't doing too badly himself. He'll look to open some more eyes this Sunday as Impact Wrestling puts forth its biggest pay-per-view event of the year, Slammiversary. The 15th edition of Impact Wrestling's super show will feature Lashley, the reigning Impact world champion, taking on Global Force Wrestling (the Jeff Jarrett-helmed company that was just officially acquired by Impact Wrestling) champion Alberto El Patrón (formerly known as Alberto Del Rio).
It's a winner-takes-all match where both championships are on the line, and Lashley is looking forward to the physical battle.
"[With] my style of wrestling, I try to do the same thing when I fight as when I wrestle," Lashley said. "So when I get somebody who has a tougher style, I'm kind of excited. I like [Alberto] because he's a fighter."
Lashley and El Patrón have had their share of experiences in the spotlight, both in professional wrestling and mixed martial arts. Sunday will be Lashley's third Slammiversary main event and second in as many years.
He wouldn't have it any other way.
"I'm the type of person where at the end of the game, if there's 10 seconds left and you need to get somebody the ball and you're behind by one, give me the ball," Lashley said. "Get me the ball every single time. They could base the whole Slammiversary on me and my match. I'm ready to perform."
Alhough this won't be the first go-around for Lashley on Impact Wrestling's biggest stage, Slammiversary will likely have even more eyes on it than usual. Active NFL free agent and former Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams, a huge fan of professional wrestling, will step into the ring as an active wrestling competitor on Sunday. He teams up with another former NFL player, Quinn "Moose" Ojinnaka, to take on Chris Adonis (formerly Chris Masters in WWE) and Eli Drake.
"To be honest with you, I don't really watch TV. I don't have cable, so I was a bit clueless to who [Williams] was at the beginning," Lashley said. "After I did my research to find out who he was, I was like all right, this is super cool. He's a super athlete and a super cool dude, too."
While Slammiversary is shaping up to be a promising event, with Lashley in the driver's seat, what else is on tap for the big man from Colorado? He turns 41 next month, so how much is left in the tank? For Lashley, who remains under contract with Bellator, could a return to the cage be on the horizon?
"It has to make sense for me right now. If the money and the matchup makes sense, I'm in," Lashley said. "If it's just a fight, I might not jump so much for just a fight. Roy Nelson just came in [to Bellator], Cheick Kongo has been on a winning streak. If there was something that was offered to me that made sense, I would definitely be interested."
Though a return to WWE would be something of a long shot, the wrestling business' favorite phrase -- never say never -- must always be kept in mind. The spectacle of a match like Lashley versus Brock Lesnar would be an enticing one, but would Lashley prefer Lesnar in a wrestling ring or a cage?
"[Just like] Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor, whatever would make the most money. I think for longevity's sake, to get the most bang for our buck, I'd do a pro wrestling match first. And then fight after," Lashley said.
Lashley is pleased with the direction that Impact Wrestling is headed entering Slammiversary. That's especially so after the chaotic and frustrating stretch over the past couple of years that ultimately led to an ownership restructuring in which longtime Chairwomen Dixie Carter resigned from the position, and Anthem Sports became the company's majority shareholder.
It wasn't perfect, but there were some necessary evils required in order to make sure the company could carry on into the future.
"Now with the new ownership in, one thing everybody's happy about is that they're getting paid on time," Lashley said. "Change is good, and change is bad at the same time. I think a lot of people are happy with it, but some of the bad things that happened saw some of our top guys leaving, like [Mike] Bennett, Drew [Galloway, now McIntyre] and the Hardy Boyz."
Despite the pain that comes with the departure of talents of that magnitude, it opened up opportunities for other wrestlers to step up. As the biggest show of the year looms, the buzz surrounding the event speaks to the fact that Impact Wrestling has to be doing something right -- and they've certainly done right by Lashley.
"For me, my contract's good, and it gives me the opportunity to do what I love -- and outside of that, you won't hear nothing [negative] from me," Lashley said.
"It spoke volumes for the people we have over here," Lashley said. "Even though there were pay issues and this and that. There was all kinds of little boo-boos here and there, but the one thing everybody did was get ready to wrestle. Nobody held back. So I think that was the biggest thing for me. It shows what the people I was working with were all about. They were about the show and the fans."