There’s plenty to love about Impact these days. The company is finally throwing off the shackles of its largely terrible past and under the fastidious and dedicated direction of wrestling boffins Don Callis and Scott D’Amore is finally presenting itself not as an unfeasible and expensive ‘alternative’ to WWE, but as a promotion with its own face, voice and future.
Since the pair were gifted the reins in January 2018, things have changed. Speaking on Chris Jericho’s podcast not long after announcing their new roles, Callis and D’Amore have gone to great lengths to reassure their own fans, and the wrestling community at large that things are finally looking up for this most troubled and schizophrenic of companies.
And how! Impact, under its new creative management, is firmly placing itself on the market as a ‘super indy’. As Callis told Jericho back in January, their talent are free to work for other companies and said talent are encouraged to be involved with each and every detail of their own characters. Callis spoke positively of each wrestler “being their own brand”.
The shift toward reaching out and working with other promotions is a sea change from the recent past too. Within the last fortnight, Impact has issued a challenge to any UK indy promotion for a joint-card bonanza during their UK shows this coming September, while with the very recent news that they will joining the Jericho Cruise is a boon for all involved.
Most importantly, success seems to be relative to the new-look indieriffic Impact, and both Callis and D’Amore have stated very clearly that the notion of ‘overnight success’ – the pursuit that almost destroyed the company entirely not so long ago – is not something they’re too concerned with right now.
The new approach has paid dividends, and anybody lucky enough to catch their revamped Thursday night show on Pop will know exactly what this means. Gone are the hideous excesses of the Hogan and Bischoff era and gone is the boring reliance on overweight and out-of-date ex-WWE tricks, lured by good downsides and a lighter schedule and a quick run with the world title before being shunted into the murky sump of their midcard.
Most importantly, gone is the stench of desperation that permeated the company, finally morphing into failure as the usual good old boys network ran wild, brother.
Instead we can bear witness to the likes of Impact World Champion Austin Aries and his exciting feud with Pentagon Jr, before the pair of them turn up in Major League Wrestling, Ring Of Honor, or any other squared circle that will have them. Some of the best and most underrated talent from across the world is turning up these days; Aries and Penta are joined by Drago, El Hijo de Fantasma, Su Yung, Brian Cage and more.
But, it wouldn’t be this company without something being a little off-kilter. You don’t need to be an expert to know that Impact, or TNA, or GFW, or whatever they were calling themselves one week after the next during a troubled 2017, is something of schizophrenic company.
They have been showing their two faces very regularly since their revamp, and it will only create a huge sense of cognitive dissonance for fans new and old.
On their May 31st broadcast, Under Pressure, the afterglow of a barnstorming Last Rites Match between Allie and Su Yung was torched and tossed aside with one of the company’s regular ‘flashback’ segments.
In an attempt to shill their spot on the Global Fight Network (which is fair, of course, we’ve all got to make our money somehow), Impact took us all the way back to Destination X 2007, and a Last Rites between Sting and Abyss.
All of the old TNA tropes were there: matches so heavily gimmicked that the six sided ring groaned under the weight of it all. Quite literally in this case, as poor old Steve Borden, loyal to a fault throughout his career, bled like a stuck pig while the bumbling Abyss wielded candelabras and a plastic tombstone with RIP embossed upon it. It’s a combination of the worst excesses of WCW and backyard trash wrestling writ large. Through it all, the best TNA trope remained; that of a confused, angry, refund-hungry crowd screaming “FIRE RUSSO!” and “BORING!” The match is a mess in both concept and presentation. As Abyss is hoisted to the rafters in a coffin (you heard), you wish you were in there yourself.
This comes just before a blistering main event between Aries and Penta, and the dichotomy between the past and present of this company couldn’t be more stark.
It’s a pattern that follows each and every week. The May 24th broadcast cut to a match between James Storm and Ken Anderson, the latter of which couldn’t have had a more forgettable run if he’d tried. Again, we see the worst excesses of the company’s history. A sluggish brawl is interrupted first by the entire Aces and Eights stable, before we segue into a promo segment between Bully Ray, Jeff Hardy and…*shudder*…Brooke Hogan. It’s all as bad as unwelcome as you’d expect, and it simply begs the question: why?
Why are Impact doing this to us and themselves? After months, years even, spent trying to claw back the dignity that died thanks to matches and ideas like this, we’re treated to these hellish trips in time amidst some of the most promising action and talent this company has seen in a long time. It’s like shacking up with a gorgeous new partner, only to make them sit and watch videos of you having bad, drunken sex with an ex that was far less aesthetically pleasing.
It’s a jolt to the system, it doesn’t work and it certainly doesn’t help matters. And for this, Callis, D’Amore and Impact need to decide once and for all how they want to play this. Are they going to continue this fantastic learning curve, bringing up the best and brightest and talking about the future, before mashing this senselessly with some of the more regrettable moments of wrestling in the last decade? Are they going to continue to pitch themselves as a ‘super indy’ to all and sundry before turning around and saying “hey remember when we had Foley and Flair fight in a Falls Count Anywhere match eight years ago”? That match was an atrocious bloodbath, by the way. But you probably knew that already. Oh, and it also ended with a stable running in. Sounding familiar, isn’t it?
That’s always been the tale of the tape for Impact; things looking and sounding so familiar that it simply causes people to walk away. Right now, the company has the best chance it’s ever had, helmed by the smartest guys they’ve ever had, to erase that familiarity and to write a new script. For this wary wrestling fan, the hope that Impact makes some strong decisions and forges ahead with its increasingly bright future burns anew.