If we were to pick up on the biggest modern failures in the WWE system, it would be the manner in which the main WWE shows wash their hands of NXT wrestler’s pasts, often leading to flushing them down the toilet. Of all the available options of the wasted potential – Keith Lee, The Ascension, SAnitY, etc. – perhaps the most definitive instance is the career ‘revival’ of Ethan Carter III. EC3 may have been in the top 1% but fans would never know that, seeing very little of him during his WWE return.
After passing through Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW), Derrick Bateman was announced for the fourth season of NXT. His pro was Daniel Bryan; an ex-NXT alumnus. The alliance was quite a fun one although it never really went anywhere. Do keep in mind this was the game show NXT era.
Bateman had little role here, often losing to stars the WWE were clearly more interested in pushing. He had brief flings with both Maxine and Kaitlyn with the occasional appearance on the main roster. After non-title losses to Cesaro and Big E Langston – the US and NXT champions respectively – and a first-round elimination in the tag tournament to determine the inaugural holders of the NXT tag straps, Bateman was released from his contract with the promotion.
Brushing up his appearance and with on-screen connotations of nepotism, Bateman was hired by TNA. Renamed Ethan Carter III (unfortunately not with some overly-pompous British title like “The 14th Earl of Canterbury”), Carter was the spoilt nephew of Dixie.
Quickly, it was established that EC3 was going to be a top star. Although jarring to see Carter almost immediately mixing in the ranks with Sting and Kurt Angle, this was not just TNA pushing any WWE star – a judgement that could be made considering how much of an afterthought Derrick Bateman was in WWE – but EC3 actually had the character and charisma to not let the push flop.
With lackies almost always at his side to help the overindulged grappler, Carter prevailed in the promotion, making himself a homegrown star even despite his previous affiliation with the rival organisation. By the end of his run, Carter had accomplished a great deal including two runs with the TNA world title and a run with the Impact Grand championship on top of memorable victories such as the 2014 Joker’s Wild.
Needless to say that by the time he would have returned north to Vince McMahon’s company, his stock had shot up astronomically and he was given another chance on wrestling’s biggest stage.
NXT In Line
Considering the WWE’s penchant for renaming wrestlers, especially for removing surnames or those who established themselves in external promotions, it is quite strange that EC3’s name went unchanged. Indeed, although Carter is not necessarily a unique name, you would have thought the WWE would try to disassociate potential top workers with the name of a rival outfit’s boss. By this time though, calling Impact! competition for the WWE would be extremely generous to the Nashville-based organisation.
EC3 made his NXT debut sitting in the crowd at NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia, as is custom for returns or debuts on the brand. Having been over 1,000 days since wrestling in WWE, EC3 made his televised return at New Orleans’ TakeOver. Although not winning the six-man ladder match for the North American title, it was a strong debut with the match rated five stars by Dave Meltzer, a rarity for WWE.
WWE had plans to quickly bolster EC3 up the card and onto the main roster in quick fashion. Yet a concussion halted plans for Carter. The problems were exacerbated by losses in short feuds with The Velveteen Dream, Lars Sullivan, and Adam Cole – not a promising sight for someone tipped as a future star.
Main Roster Ruin
On February 4th 2019, EC3 made his first in-person appearance on the main roster after weeks of hype. EC3 debuted via an appearance on the Moment of Bliss talk show in which he was cut off by Dean Ambrose. EC3 beat “The Lunatic Fringe” via roll-up, met by ambivalence from the crowd. Also note this was the future Jon Moxley in his latter WWE days where his credibility took a nose-dived big time. Moxley got his win back, which he never really needed, next week.
EC3 himself called his call-up “rushed and unplanned and unpurposeful” in an interview with Chris Van Vliet, which is corroborated by the WWE simply disusing Carter as if he were one of Andy’s old toys from Toy Story.
Now on the Raw brand, EC3 would not wrestle another match on Raw until September, in which he lost to Rusev in less than two minutes. Vince McMahon had disliked a partnership with Drake Maverick, leaving Carter in career limbo.
In the meantime between Raw matches, EC3 had become nearly exclusive to competing on C-shows such as Main Event. Within a matter of months of debut, Carter was fodder to low-level talents like Apollo Crews, Cedric Alexander, and The Lucha House Party.
When not busy staring at the lights for these curtain-jerking stars, EC3 was comically chasing after the 24/7 title; he would win it four times. Each reign was brief and mostly at house shows. He was there also to make up the numbers for the Super ShowDown 2019 Battle Royal and WrestleMania 35 Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal. In the later, Carter was eliminated fourth – before No Way Jose, Heath Slater, and the non-wrestlers from Saturday Night Live.
During this time, EC3’s dissatisfaction was written across his face. Mingling in the comedy under-card, it was clear Carter was unhappy with memes produced of Carter’s deadpan party celebrating. Another illustration is a comparison video of EC3’s early grandiose entrances compared to his latter-day ones in which he seems more bored than a student listening to a 14-hour audiobook written and read by John Major on 0.5 speed.
In November, Carter suffered another concussion. In 2020, he was amongst those released over WWE’s Covid-19 “budget cuts”. Ironically, EC3 could have been one of WWE’s biggest money-makers but instead he stagnated to the point of triviality.
There is very little to say about Carter’s WWE run because he did little of any interest.
Whatever Carter was in, he was not the focus of, which is something to avoid when trying to present a new character. EC3 was hit with blow after blow that were not his fault from injuries to booking incompetence that brought any career hopes crashing down arguably to the point where Derrick Bateman actually had a better run.
An athlete still in his potential prime held under the surface to bob about without direction or care – where have I heard that one before(?) EC3 may have thought of himself as “The One Percenter” but seemingly WWE thought “The 99 Percenter” was a more accurate handle.