It wasn't long ago that I officially took my heart back from Impact Wrestling (then TNA). It was during this time in which Dixie Carter and crew had been taking the loyalty of it's fans for granted, and really, doing one of the greatest disservices in pro wrestling history when it came to the potential and positioning of the company.
Regardless, here we are with yet another chapter of this company (2nd under this new ownership). Yet, in an intriguing way, this new era is easily my favorite in the company's history since, well, maybe that 2002-2006 run when it provided an alternative to the mega giant that is Vince and friends.
Of course, and obviously, nothing is more evident of how things have been on the upswing than the awesomeness that was Slammiversary and the praise it received around the wrestling world. Even the hardest and most cynical of fans in the deepest and darkest areas of the wrestling community that resides online were at the very least complimentary. Even Deadspin decided to show some love.
So yeah, things are different. Especially when I look back and I read my words on giving up on TNA back in 2016. Things have swung so far that even the days of GFW sayings, bright green ropes, and random Garza Jr. #1 contender matches seem like a distant memory. Well maybe not that far of. Let's try to forget those. But it's been far enough and consistent enough to begin again with a consumer buy-in, if you, like me, divorced yourself completely from this company.
Since Ed Nordholm has handed the keys to the vintage car in the garage to Scott D'Amore and Don Callis (so to speak), they've done the equivalent analogy of removing cheesy decals, cheap parts, and unnecessary unconventional adjustments. D'Amore and Callis have kept things simple, and really, have just allowed the talent to shine with solid support in many areas.
With that said, here are a few aspects I've found to be huge turning points for me within the company's product:
MAKING A WEEKLY IMPACT!
Over the past three months, I've really looked forward to every episode of Impact. It's been a riveting product that feels fresh, action packed, innovative, and most needed in today's wrestling space - important. There are just too many products today that you can miss weekly television and simply tune into the larger scale events. Yes, things feel that mundane.
Every IMPACT has felt important from the standpoint of having new characters developed, storylines progressed, or an entertaining match that keeps you from pressing the fast forward button on your entertainment remote. In a nut shell, things happen. Imagine that, things actually happen!
It sounds ridiculous, but that has become a begging cry - at least from this fan - from pro wrestling companies. I'll never forget when IMPACT opened up the broadcast with a wrestling match and NOT the 10-15 minute in-ring promo which has become so formulaic in wrestling show formatting. Whoa! Wrestling? Imagine that!
IMPACT these days tells the audience what to expect, gives them what they were expecting, tells them what they just saw, and ultimately, gives them what to expect the following week.
In 2018, when it comes to weekly wrestling television products, IMPACT has indeed been the most compelling and consistent. That's real talk.
THIS IS AWESOME!
If you saw Slammiversary, what made that event for me was in fact the epic in-ring performances from the top of the show to the closing fade. Even with it's flaws - intentional or not - great matches were always something fans could expect back in it's hey day.
At some point, TNA became over reliant on referee bumps, pointless swerves, overuse of gimmick matches and all sorts of illogical finishes that hurt the overall product.
What we're getting these days is simple - great wrestling and a clear winner. It sounds so elementary, but much like everything else, it's been a breath of fresh air.
I've really enjoyed the concept of babyfaces losing clean. It sounds weird, but it legitimizes everything, and really adds a dimension to the babyface, another layer to the heel (if they won) and really, a depth to the storyline arc at play.
And that’s the thing, as we’re talking about this, if you’re in that booking room, it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of ‘well, we’re gonna be sending people home unhappy because the heel’s up, maybe we should do a screw finish’ and when Scott and I came here in January, one of the things that we both felt very strongly about is clean finishes. Clean finishes and if people don’t wanna do jobs, we’re happy to have a discussion. But then that’s just not gonna work here. My thing last night was, and even yesterday we’re talking like ‘well maybe we should have the thing’ and I’m like ‘No. He’s the best wrestler in the world. He beat the guy with his finish. It’s an athletic contest. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a great match that people will be happy to see.-Don Callis
In 2018, wrestling fans don't want to be insulted - I truly believe that.
BYE, BYE, ORLANDO
This one is easy, right? Get your product in front of fans who not only paid and desire to be around your product. But also, move the product to keep it fresh in front of various crowds.
Nothing against Orlando and Universal Studios, because archives can and will show you some awesome moments that derived from Impact Wrestling's time there, but...it was time to move on.
The new crowds have made for a much livelier and energetic product for the viewer, and even that statement may be an understatement.
But truthfully, getting an honest feedback from fans is the best part about it all.
One of my favorite things about this regime has been the overall presentation of the company in various facets. For starters, there is a website that is representative of 2018 standards. The bar was that low. Their social media presence has also been tremendous. Shout out to Garrett Kidney, who has become quite the cult-like favorite amongst the internet, and once, was a fellow contributor over at IMPACT ASYLUM.
The graphics have been phenomenal, the video packages have done it's job, and even the appearance within the facility they have been using are impressive.
Yet my favorite has been the attention to subtle things such as theme songs, entrances, and overall flow of the show. The previous regime had a terrible habit of moving on too quickly to the next segment, or cutting back to the ring with competitors already there in such hastiness that it didn't make anything feel important, or just made it flat out hard to remember any key moments.
The time given to entrances, to matches, to promos, and overall, the post-match happenings and replays, gives an emphasis on the match itself, and allows for many of the wrestlers to develop characters.
In fact, IMPACT, in it's almost-two-decade-long run hasn't produced many wrestlers with a memorable entrance - something that is in fact a part of wrestling persona and fandom.
An example of this has been Su Yung. While Yung is indeed an entertaining in-ring performer, her overall demeanor and aura from her entrance with the undead bridesmaids, the smoke, and the eerie music, adds an element that makes her a desirable character to the program.
It's been a subtle change, but as a viewer, for the first time in forever (yes, que the song from Frozen), I'm in-tune with the theme music, entrances, and overall character packages of those on the show. I'm aware and connected to it all.
The same can be said with the promos of the wrestlers which add to the authenticity of their developing individuality.
Someone asked me like a week ago, 'well do you write promos for guys?' I'm like, 'No'. Then they're like, 'Yeah, but you're a great promo'. I'm like, 'Yeah, I can do a Don Callis promo better than anyone in this business. But if I start telling Eddie Edwards how to do a promo, he might sound a lot like Don Callis but that's not what we want!' I think it really is about the promo thing is about getting people comfortable with themselves and we're in a business where a lot of people come into this business not comfortable in their own skin. And now we're telling them, 'be this whole another character'.- Don Callis
Again, presentation is everything, and most of the acts on IMPACT feel different, and have individuality.
And finally, I'm obviously playing favorites on this, but I'll admit it - I'm a huuuuuuuuge Tessa Blanchard fan. I don't always throw out my validation and stamp on wrestlers, but Tessa Blanchard is legit. Like, so incredibly legit. Barring unforeseen issues, her future is bright.
Ultimately, as someone who as watched this company since it's inception in 2002, I'm forever going to be interested in it's developments as long as it's in business. While I'm not ready to completely dive in to be a mega fan, especially in the ever-evolving wrestling space that has turned upside down in 2018, IMPACT Wrestling might be my favorite thing in pro wrestling again.
My only hope is that it can retain that consistency. And if it does, hey, maybe I'll pen that official comeback letter.