The taint of TNA is hard to wash off, but the rejuvenated Impact Wrestling is more than worth a look these days.
The spectrum of wrestling fandom is as diverse as any group of devotees can be. If they can be categorized, then the average fan can be divided into one of three groups: Those who solely watch WWE, those who lean towards “independent” wrestling (essentially, everything outside of WWE, even if companies like Ring of Honor are owned by huge companies), and who that consume both. If All In has taught us anything, it is that variety is the spice of life. By no means is this intended to condescend to the WWE faithful — if your heart lies with Vince McMahon’s sports entertainment brand, that is perfectly acceptable. However, it would behoove you to give an opportunity to other wrestling promotions.
Impact Wrestling is marred by the taint of TNA, the founding promotion Impact Wrestling stemmed from. Yet, if given the opportunity, you may find yourself loving Impact as an enjoyable alternative to WWE. A regime change, a new roster of top talent, and some compelling storylines mark a new era for Impact Wrestling. Here are some reasons why you should be tuning in.
This is not TNA
First things first: we all know what TNA stands for. The sophomoric humor and off-putting narratives are no more, but the stigma remains. To truly enjoy the new product Impact Wrestling is offering, you must separate the current era from its substandard predecessor.
TNA began well enough. After WWE had bought out WCW, there was little in the way of American professional wrestling to truly rival Vince McMahon. The Monday Night Wars had ended, and with it died the creativity that only competition can breed. The initial concept was meant to provide an edgier product than WWE.
Some of the biggest names you recognize today had some of their best years in the TNA. AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, and ROH’s Christopher Daniels had matches that defined an era. The highlight of TNA was its X-division, marked with high spots and a more robust style currently in favor on the independent circuit. On the fateful day of January 4, 2010, Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff, and Ric Flair debuted in TNA. They promised change, and they fulfilled their promise — to the detriment of the company. TNA soon became WCW lite. The six-sided ring was gone, TNA Originals were pushed aside for old WWE/WCW talent, and tired feuds like Hogan and Flair were rehashed at the request of no one. TNA floundered over the next several years. Thankfully, things changed.
In 2017 Anthem Sports & Entertainment purchased the promotion. In December of that year, Don Callis (former wrestler, manager, and current color commentator) and Scott D’Amore (promoter, booker, and entrepreneur) were named Executive Vice Presidents, set to take the reins of the newly-branded Impact Wrestling. The new era had begun.
Exciting Roster of Talent
In January of 2018, the new era of Impact began, and with it came a bevy of hot talent from around the globe. Austin Aries, Kiera Hogan, Su Yung, Pentagon Jr., Fenix, and Brian Cage all made their respective debuts. The infusion of prolific young talent is precisely what the company needed. The Lucha Bros. — Fenix and Pentagon Jr. — provide a Lucha style of wrestling, each showcasing a unique style.
If you don’t know who Pentagon Jr. is, study up my friends. He combines showmanship with a brutal in-ring style. Fenix is possibly one of the best high flyers in the world today. He still manages to invent new moves on a regular basis. Su Yung and Kiera Hogan provide credibility to a budding women’s division that can be just as exciting as the men’s.
Every roster needs someone for fans to hate, and OVE is Impact’s answer. Sami Callihan is one of the most hated men in wrestling, for two excellent reasons. First, there is his heel work. He spews bile (both literally and figuratively) at fans and opponents. His mere appearance is enough to elicit unadulterated ire. Second, his baseball bat incident with Eddie Edwards. In a dangerous spot gone wrong, Sammy Callihan accidentally broke Edwards face with a baseball bat. Rather than show remorse, Callihan played up the incident, sparking more loathing for the OVE’s malicious leader.
Then there’s Brian Cage, a man (I use the term loosely) who should be on everyone’s radar. Brian Cage is built like a Mack truck and can wrestle like a luchador. Cage easily exceeds 250 pounds and manages to leave audiences in awe across the U.S. and Mexico. He currently holds the X-Division title and can seamlessly blend his style to any opponent.
Tessa Blanchard is dominating the Knockouts division — the third-generation superstar combines beauty and brawn, and her signing has proved fruitful for Impact thus far. Blanchard continues to cement her place amongst the best female wrestlers in the world. Her ongoing feud with Taya Valkyrie is growing more captivating every time the two meet.
The roster is as varied as they come. Lightweights, heavyweights, powerhouses, femme fatales, and hardcore masochists all make up the list. Impact’s most significant advantage, though, is its potential for continued growth. Ideally, Impact can blossom into something more, imbuing further talent to its roster and continuing to take chances in and out of the ring. WWE’s plethora of wrestlers can be its own worst enemy — new hires can be lost in the shuffle, being relegated to lower card status. The potential to get in on the ground floor of a company looking to gestate into something bigger can prove more alluring to independent wrestlers looking to make a name for themselves.
Impact’s most notable PPV is Bound For Glory. 2018’s iteration left fans puzzled, yet curious for answers. Essentially, Austin Aries “no-sold” Johnny Impact’s finisher and left the arena flipping the bird to the crowd. It remains to be seen if this was a work or a shoot (part of the story or a real-life event), but therein lies the intrigue. Conflicting reports indicate his reaction was genuine, while another claims Aries was planting the seed for a new gimmick, a loose cannon similar to Brian Pillman in the 90s. One thing is clear: fans are anticipating the fallout from the event.
Melodrama aside, Impact’s intentional plots are more indicative of the company’s direction. One of the best grudges going in Impact Wrestling is the generational war within LAX. The feud has played out over the year as a gang war between the new iteration of LAX, Santana and Ortiz, against the original members, Homicide and Hernandez. In other hands, this could have turned into a parody of itself, but Impact has laid the groundwork for a bitter grudge. Every time the two teams meet the stakes are high, and blood is shed.
Over the year Eddie Edwards has been a man at war with himself. After having his face broken by Sami Callihan, Edwards was a man on a mission, slowly giving way to his darker inclinations. He became more visceral in his attacks on OVE, but Edwards’ mental break didn’t end with OVE. Despite doling out revenge on Callihan and his cohorts, the brutality continued. His actions led to a feud with Tommy Dreamer involving claims of infidelity with Edwards’ wife. This culminated in a House of Hardcore match at Slammiversary where Eddie defeated Dreamer. After the match, Eddie apologized to Dreamer. Amends were made, and Dreamer gives Eddie a kendo stick — a passing of the hardcore torch. These are just a few examples of the exciting direction the brand is taking.
A More Mature Product
WWE has become a PG product. Gone are the days of the Attitude Era. Chair shots are scrutinized, seeing color (bleeding) is rare, and promos are scripted to ensure talent remains “in bounds” of the new standards and practices. For audiences longing for the days of ECW and WWE’s Attitude Era, Impact may be the solution.
Impact manages to toe the line between current wrestling and the gratuitous nature of the 90s. Yes, you will get matches filled with weapons, high spots, and potential for blood. But no, you won’t get objectification of women or hazardous wrestling just for the sake of it.
Bound For Glory was commendable, but the highlight of 2018 is Slammiversary. The matches were varied, long-gestating storylines were resolved, and the pace of the show was excellent. There was a match for every fan’s need. The reaction to Slammiversary was overwhelmingly positive from fans and critics alike. The event was a glimpse of what Impact can theoretically become on a regular basis.
— Turning Heel (@Turning_Heel) July 30, 2018
Finally watching Impact Wrestling’s #Slammiversary This opener is insane. Great crowd great venue and so far great opener.
— Lance Storm (@LanceStorm) July 30, 2018
— WrestlingNews.co – WWE News (@WrestlingNewsCo) July 23, 2018
Playing Well With Others
Over the past year, Impact Wrestling has maintained a healthy relationship with competing promotions (but competition will always remain). WrestleMania weekend finds several indie promotions taking advantage of the worldwide wrestling fans who flock to “The Showcase of the Immortals.” It is a week of fan interactions and a who’s who of wrestling meet and greets. Independent wrestling shows fill the days leading to wrestling’s biggest event, providing audiences with alternative options to satiate their appetite for wrestling.
In April of 2018 Impact Wrestling held a cross-promotional event with Lucha Underground that aired on Twitch. The crossover wasn’t exactly of Avengers proportions, considering that much of Impact’s roster works for Lucha Underground as well. However, it was a sign of good faith; two major wrestling federations working in unison to put on a show that uses the best talent each has to offer. You won’t receive a cease and desist letter in the mail. The highlight of the night was the main event, featuring Pentagon Jr., Rey Fenix, and then-Impact Champion Austin Aries.
The open-door policy continued later in the year. After a less than amicable departure from WWE, Austin Aries found himself on the Indie circuit once again. He began taking up the “belt collector” gimmick, a man who dominates the independent circuit ripping titles from one champion after another. The aesthetic of Austin Aries stepping through the curtains with six titles was fascinating. While speaking with Steve Austin on his podcast, Aries commended how professional and welcoming “the boys” (fellow wrestlers) have been, which lends credence to the idea of his walkout being a work.
Independent wrestlers rely heavily on getting as many bookings as they can. They can’t rest on their laurels; no bookings equals no pay. Granted, Impact is still a business, and many of its decisions are informed from a business perspective, but they do allow some freedom to their talent.
Impact wrestlers are restricted from working for competing companies that are televised. However, they can perform for independent promotions that are not televised, both international and domestic. They can also perform on televised events held by international promotions that Impact has a relationship with — AAA or Lucha Underground for example. Many of Impact’s talent frequently performs for numerous companies on the independent circuit in addition to Impact Wrestling weekly shows. Impact’s top wrestlers have guaranteed contracts, but most Impact wrestlers are paid on a per-appearance basis. Considering Austin Aries’ crossover into ROH and the cross promotion with Lucha Underground, more wrestlers are willing to give Impact a chance.
To a wrestler, a gimmick can mean everything. As of November 2017, Impact Wrestling contracts give the performers complete ownership over all intellectual property associated with their characters. Impact reaches more eyes than your typical independent show. Fans recognize the wrestlers based on what they see on television. Naturally, they expect to see the same wrestler — under the same name and character — at their local show. This once again benefits the wrestlers, freeing them up to garner more work based on recognition.
The Body of Work
Many fans only know Finn Balor as a middling competitor, whose first-ever Universal Championship reign ended as soon as it began. As odd as that may sound, the numbers speak for themselves: there is a large audience that only knows of Balor’s work on the main roster — not NXT, and definitely not NJPW. That lack of information changes your view of a wrestler worthy of leading the company. Prince Devitt (Finn’s original wrestling name) is one of the founders of Bullet Club, and his heel work in NJPW was perfect. Knowing what someone is capable of changes your perspective. The same goes for Impact performers.
WWE is still where the money is at. Eventually, some of Impact’s talent is bound to show up on WWE television. One such example is Mae Young Classic entrant and the newest addition to NXT, Mia Yim. If a wrestler is mismanaged, audiences may be quick to dismiss their abilities. By taking in their entire body of work, fans can make a more informed decision of a performer’s full capabilities. Sadly, today’s WWE gives fan appreciation less credit, but if Daniel Bryan’s rise to glory proves anything, it is that sometimes the voice of the people can still be heard. Get to know the men and women of wrestling; you’ll be surprised at how much talent you may be missing out on.
Would you eat pizza every single day? No, you wouldn’t. So why would you limit yourself to one wrestling promotion? Variety is the spice of life. It costs nothing to tune into Impact one week and give it a chance. Approach the product with an open mind, and you may find yourself relishing two new hours of wrestling in your week. At the very least, you’ll get to watch more wrestling, and there’s nothing wrong with that.