At this point if you’re a huge professional wrestling fan, you likely know the story of the man behind the character of EC3, Ethan Carter III. Yes, the man behind the character is Michael Hutter born March 18 (good day to be born) in 1983 (should’ve waited a year) and grew up east of Cleveland, Ohio. Ultimately he found his way to WWE developmental and onto WWE programming as Derrick Bateman and then be released after the injury bug bit him. From there he of course found his way to TNA to become one of it’s biggest stars and WWE seemingly dropped the ball on what perhaps could have been one of theirs.
This isn’t that story though. This is the kudos, so to speak, to TNA and Michael Hutter, for recreating the outline of how to properly build a character in today’s professional wrestling world. Too often fans are introduced to a new star with a gimmick and shortly thereafter become confused whether to cheer or jeer despite what the promotion attempts to tell fans to do. Many have received a push only to see the gimmick or character flop and then are sent to be re-packaged as someone new. It’s been roughly two and a half years since the world was introduced to a man named Ethan Carter III and the formula followed in character development has not once come close to a call for re-packaging.
Of course it all starts with the man behind the character. Michael Hutter is brash, sarcastic and funny; all traits that can be found in EC3 when given a microphone. Whether it was Steve Austin becoming Stone Cold, Triple H and Shawn Michaels creating DX, Dwayne Johnson going from Rocky Maivia to the Rock or any other successful superstar in professional wrestling, almost all have given interviews proclaiming they became successful the moment they were allowed to take their real life personality and amp it up into an in-ring persona. Those personality traits of EC3 combined with the idea of being the company owner’s spoiled nephew immediately immersed him into the minds of fans as a heel and someone to despise.
On October 20th, 2013 EC3 debuted and his opponent was a talent deemed to be lower on the totem pole. How do you get someone even more heat that’s already been introduced as being spoiled and protected? Feed him opponents that are deemed beatable by anyone. That’s exactly what TNA did and it didn’t stop there. The heat on EC3 was that he couldn’t defeat anyone notable, so he began taken on “TNA Legends” which was nothing more than a term coined to ANYONE who had been there for some time, including long time referee Earl Hebner. Want a crowd to really hate a guy? Let him wrestle against a beloved professional wrestler that’s been notable in the industry for decades.
Eventually, EC3 would start taking on the real names within TNA and again, he and the company, told the character’s story beautifully. Names like Sting, Kurt Angle, Bully (Bubba) Ray Dudley all would help to put EC3 over as a heel, but he helped in the strategy as well. Each match won by cheating in any way possible to just get by and steal a win. As EC3 would describe on an appearance on “The Ross Report” with Jim Ross last year, he would take notes while watching YouTube of old school heels and utilize that. Everything he did, every small nuance, was done in order to make the crowd hate him even more as he built an undefeated streak and simultaneously spit in the face of icons and heroes of the industry.
Before anyone knew it, EC3 had built up a singles-competition undefeated streak that was almost two years old. Albeit, it was all done with the aide of a bodyguard (Tyrus), a company pleaser (Rockstar Spud), the bending of rules, the changing of rules or just outright cheating. It all culminated with a championship victory that aired July 1, 2015 over Kurt Angle, which was preceded by a celebration that included a barbershop quintet just for being the number one contender. Some heels are given titles as a way to garner more heat, but EC3 maintained heat for nearly two years without the TNA World Heavyweight Championship. His victory was more about becoming the official face of TNA more than it was needing the heat of being a heel with a title.
TNA didn’t thrust him into the spotlight and continuously book him in matches that made people wonder, “Why is he even in this match at this level?” They allowed the character to grow, first with smaller matches then with larger matches, but always a questionable victory. Fans weren’t being tricked or forced to believe EC3 was important by putting him in main events constantly or championship matches. Fans hated the character for the character and his antics, not because they didn’t agree with the push that was given. That’s how a true heel had always previously been formed and somehow the industry began to argue it could not be done and the lines were too blurred. TNA and EC3 didn’t just dare to disagree and think it could still be done, they went out and proved it could be done.
When a wrestler becomes one of the most hated characters in the entire industry there are only two directions to go; continue down the same path or make the face turn. If the most hated man in the industry is going to become a face, then the way to do it would be to somehow find someone who can annoy the audience even more. Enter respectability and Matt Hardy.
Matt Hardy has been beloved by wrestling fans for years. Hardy won the title away from EC3 only to be stripped of it and the title becoming vacant. From there EC3’s arrogance took over as he began to think he could recapture the title on his own as if he had done so before, the ultimate demise of every great heel as he finally offends all of those who were inexplicably loyal to begin with. However, by doing so, it begins to build the respect of fans who see the character can win on his own.
The respect building of course beautifully coincides with Matt Hardy becoming annoyingly and increasingly arrogant to a manner that being a “good guy” leads him down a “holier than thou” path. There aren’t many people that enjoy whining and complaining and someone telling them how much better he is than the rest of the world when it comes to morals and accomplishments. When, thanks to a tournament, it becomes clear that only one person can save fans from what has become a babbling fool, the fans get behind that person, heel or face. The match of course results in EC3’s second title reign, but short lived.
Remember the cast of characters that helped the heal along the way and were suddenly dropped out of arrogance? The final straw to turning a heel into a face is sympathy. It was the rematch for the title which aired just a earlier this year, where Tyrus, the longtime EC3 bodyguard turned on him and sided with Matt Hardy to help Hardy secure the victory. Hardy’s “holier than thou” attitude and his new alignment with a heel sidekick resulting in a win via cheating successfully fully turns him heel and thereby gains sympathy for EC3 as his loyal friend turns his back on him.
The true culmination of EC3 into a face occurred just a couple of weeks ago after being off air. It was now Hardy’s arrogance that was annoying fans more than anything and the emergence of the one man who would shut him up resulted in arguably the biggest pop of EC3’s career thus far. Suddenly, fans were not just cheering, but singing along to his music as he played conductor.
How do you fully secure a face turn’s success? Take the only other person on the roster loyal to the character and have him turn on the character. At TNA’s Lockdown this past Tuesday, it was Rockstar Spud’s time to turn on EC3 and side with the maniacal Matt Hardy. The odds are now fully stacked against EC3, who two and half years after debuting as the spoiled rotten nephew of the company owner, has become the underdog. Everyone loves an underdog.
Too many times in today’s world of professional wrestling or sports entertainment, fans are given character creation in the form of short story. A short story doesn’t have enough to invoke emotion from its reader or a fanbase and is briefly entertaining. TNA and EC3 have created the main character of a novel.