The X-Division has always been a thing of uniqueness and well, ambiguousness, in pro wrestling. Ahead of its time in many ways in acknowledging and giving a platform to a style of wrestling that would soon become the norm in pro wrestling in the United States, the division served as a non-stop car-crash presentation that offered something different from the other "offerings" on Impact, then TNA, television. But that was then...2005.
Today, the X-Division title still lives on and now has built up enough equity over time and history to be considered a cornerstone of the company and special enough to invoke thought and nostalgia. Again, very different from the abundance of Television Championships and other now generic "mid-card" championships that have been copied and pasted, or positioned as being mid-tier of that companies World Championship, the X-Division still feels different and on-brand with Impact. I could argue, the X-Division still remains Impact's most identifiable brand, with Ultimate X following it, go figure.
It's no secret, over the years, the division and the championship have gone through various versions, "definitions", and purposes. We've seen the super athletic origination still lauded in its early days of AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, Chris Sabin, Jerry Lynn, and on, and on, and on. We've seen the division and championship serve in a comedy role. We've seen the championship positioned on-par with the World Championship itself (I really miss those days...). We've endured Bischoff and Hogan's attempt to slap limits on the division of "No-Limits" with three-way matches and scenarios of relegation and promotion (I don't miss these days). We've seen the great Option C, in which the championship was used as a one-way ticket right to the World Championship. And yes, we've seen it serve as a traditional mid-card milestone for many en route to potential stardom.
It's an unpopular (or maybe, just a silent majority) opinion, but I believe that's what makes the X-Division and the Championship one of beauty. For too long, certain regimes and fans have tried to define or place a role or label on what the X-Division should be. Even placing it in a box as a "Cruiserweight" or "Light Heavyweight" division and championship. Ultimately, over the course of history, it has served as this ambiguous role to the company in whatever support is needed for the product at the time. There is power, creativity, and uniqueness in that, and it allows the company to stay fresh and boundless.
However, what about the roots? It isn't about weight limits, it's about no limits!!! Yes, this should always remain true, and really, should remain the mantra for the division. Yet, for a division and championship that has been built on a certain style that is now the norm, where does the X-Division and the championship go from here?
Looking around the pro wrestling landscape in 2020, the smaller wrestler is now not-so-uncommon. Having a pro wrestler perform dives, twists, springboards, flips, and all sorts of athletic moves seen in some form is not special. The Canadian Destroyer, once a special jaw-dropping spectacle of a move exclusive to the X-Division, is now performed everywhere, even by the amazing Dustin Rhodes (fka the great Goldust) as a transition move.
I've always been a fan of Dustin Rhodes/Goldust, but this is the equivalent of when your parents catch on to trends. It's time to move on. Ditto on a superkick, cutter, and in some respects, a stunner.
No, I'm not looking to get on my soapbox about today's ring psychology or the idea of occurrences not meaning much in pro wrestling from an emotional standpoint right now - I can do that some other time. And I probably will. You see, back in my day... However, my point is what was once special, isn't special anymore. The X-Division's highflying and death-defying style is presented in every match - in some form.
This isn't necessarily a terrible thing per se. Because it's still entertaining. It very much is. It's very similar to what we've seen evolve in the NBA with the stretch power-forward or the big man who can handle the ball and/or shoot it from the perimeter. That was once an anomaly. It's now prevalent in the game. In fact, if you DON'T have that in your toolbox then it's now seen as a negative attribute.
For this style in wrestling has become oversaturated and in many ways, overdone, but it's also seen as a detriment in athletic ability by current wrestling fandom culture if it isn't used. With fewer and fewer characters driving the in-ring style (ala The Undertaker), we're seeing more of the same, regardless of size, strength, body build, and makeup. It's a great thing, but as is one of the foundational elements of pro wrestling, variety makes the show great.
So where does the X-Division move forward right now?
My suggestion is this - keep the X-Division style, but also begin moving into a space that isn't presented very often these days - technical wrestling matches.
Before you roll your eyes, stay with me.
If there is a style of pro wrestling that is being pushed aside (or organically left behind) it is that of technical wrestling. I'm talking about the type of match that starts off slow, some chain wrestling, a sound story, and evolves into a thing of art. The kind of match that doesn't require crazy flips or coordinated stunts, but one that can be hard-hitting, of clear story-telling, and with a sound finish. Sounds basic, right?
Truthfully, it's the kind of match we got at Slammiversary between Jordynne Grace and Deonna Purrazzo. I understand the need to allow elements and meaning to the other divisions and championships - thus keeping the X-Division a certain style. Especially as Impact has kept their championships to a minimum to allow them to mean that much more (Thank you!!!!). Giving the space for all of them to work cohesively - including styles and presentation - is not easy, and I understand that in itself lends to variety.
However, it remains that it's becoming rare to see those matches today. It's even rarer to see the personnel and talent capable of pulling off these matches. We currently see this on the roster with the likes of talented individuals like Ace Austin, Trey, and others who move beyond the X-Division, but the style carries with them. Because THAT style is now normalized.
One of my favorite times in the X-Divison was when Doug Williams carried the X-Division championship. There was something so different about what he brought (ugh...no limits? Yeah, I know...), and the style clashes (pun intended for those matches with AJ Styles) he presented in the ring. The difference added to the intrigue of the match, to the intrigue of the championship.
Sidebar: I would have loved to see a program with Kurt Angle taking a break from the World Title scene and diving into a few months in the X-Division. Ahhhh...what could have been.
It would be amazing for Impact to land that special type of talent again with the platform to have those special matches. I have no idea who that person is, and if they are available.
Nonetheless, this is especially adaptable and fluid for some talents as the history of the X-Division has never produced the deep "personal" feuds we see in the main event scene but has always been built around rivalry competition on performance and ability. It's been a division built on the in-ring work, and the rewards of the athletically talented. The X-Division has always been a work-horse, prove-your-self ground, and it still in many ways, remains this way.
Not changing the essence, but adding a new element - subtly, I might add - would further extend that work-horse style (maybe strong-style?), and present again, something special not being seen on the various presentations in pro wrestling today.
The title has already had holders who don't exactly exude or express what the X-Division has been traditionally identified as - Sheik Abdul Bashir (Shawn Daivari), Robbie E, Abyss, and Mike Bennett come to mind immediately. Some have brought an interesting dynamic to the division, others, we try to forget their reign on top existed.
It's not lost on me that the current roster does not support this added element. Again, much like the NBA analogy where the low-post-player is a lost art in favor of the fast-paced, athletic, position-less, three-point shooting player, there is still high value in the lost art. Just like the fundamentals of low-post play are eroding in the culture of basketball there are just fewer and fewer authentic technical wrestlers in pro wrestling today - at least on this side of the pond.
As Impact continues a resurgence, with a case being made for pro-wrestling-industry MVP during the COVID-no-fans-era, there is another opportunity for the X-Division to continue its long lineage of being boundless and limitless, but also, in trendsetting as well as a pioneer for wrestling standards.
Pro Wrestling in many ways has been homogenized and over-saturated. It's one of the reasons this pro wrestling fan has been immensely disappointed over the past few months.
Why not allow the X-Divison to be a place where exclusive wrestling can be found again? Like it has since it's inception, why not make the X-Division set that trend?