Today, I’d like to talk about Impact Wrestling and its reputation.
Impact Wrestling has made questionable decisions. I could go on all day about the bad decisions that were made under the Dixie Carter regime, and even after Anthem took over. But I don’t want to be negative today; I want to look at the positives Impact Wrestling brings. I want to show everyone that even if you don’t support them, they are helping the business, and they help WWE fans indirectly whether we want it or not.
1. Innovative X-Division
Long before WWE made NXT, or the concept of 205 Live, the division with no limits was making waves. It was a big selling point for Impact Wrestling. The first champion was AJ Styles, and when Ricky Steamboat handed him the NWA:TNA X-Division title on their first show, his career skyrocketed and grew into what it is today. So many stars were made in this division, but it also kept older guys like Jerry Lynn relevant in the twilight of their careers.
Low-Ki (AKA Kaval), Chris Sabin, Petey Williams, Christopher Daniels, Samoa Joe, Jay Lethal, Kurt Angle, Austin Aries, Brian Kendrick, TJ Perkins, Mike Bennett, Lashley. These are just some former X-Division champions. The greatest match in the history of the company (and it remains one of the only American matches rated 5 stars) was a main event triple threat including AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, and Christopher Daniels for the X Division title. While it’s not as exciting as it was back in the day, it goes to show the title can keep making new stars. It highlights the young, but it can also rejuvenate a veteran like Austin Aries who can elevate it to another level. It’s not just about cruiserweights, though, we’ve seen guys like Samoa Joe and Abyss hold it.
Speaking of which, I feel the X Division isn’t as competitive as it used to be because WWE, ROH, and New Japan are more appealing. For a while, it was almost forgotten about as the Hulk Hogan/Eric Bischoff regime focused on stables while placing a weight limit (ewww!) on the division. What’s interesting to note is how many former X-Division wrestlers are currently signed to WWE in some capacity. The list includes: AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Brian Kendrick, TJ Perkins, Tony Nese, Kurt Angle, Mike Kanellis, Xavier Woods, Eric Young, Roderick Strong, and X-Pac.
The X Division continues to be a place of innovation. It allows young guys like Trevor Lee and Desmond Xavier to get noticed, but it also gives opportunities to luchadors from Mexico, and junior heavyweights from Japan. The Super X Cup has always encouraged a global feel, and Impact Wrestling has not been shy in signing talented wrestlers from all over to compete in the division with no limits, whether it be weight or whether it be where you’re from.
2. Ten Years of Equality for the Knockouts.
Before the TNA Knockouts came along, the biggest exposure women would get was through Trish Stratus, Lita, and the comedy duo of The Fabulous Moolah & Mae Young. Mickie James and Beth Pheonix looked to follow in their footsteps, but for whatever reason, WWE didn’t help them in the same way. While Candice Michelle was WWE Women’s Champion, TNA was busy setting up their Knockouts Division. The selling point was to give women wrestlers the platform to show they could work as well as men, and it began with a competitive gauntlet to crown the first champion.
Gail Kim was the first. She was the glue which kept the Knockouts together, and many talented women showed up to challenge her. Awesome Kong appeared and the Knockouts feared her, all except Gail Kim. Angelina Love & Velvet Sky formed The Beautiful People, a pack of nasty, vindictive characters who’d do anything to show they were better than everybody else. Former WWE girls Mickie James and Victoria jumped ship to show women didn’t need to be Divas to get noticed. Years later, the trend continued with Winter (Katie Lea Burchill), Brooke Adams, Taryn Terrell, and Maria Kanellis.
It wasn’t all about former Divas though, TNA pushed stars no had seen before. Taylor Wilde was the first to beat Awesome Kong for the title. The rambunctious ODB won it several times, and she still pops up on occasion. All The Beautiful People found success, Angelina Love claiming it six times, Velvet Sky twice, and Madison Rayne five times. Rosemary has been the biggest breakout star in the Knockouts Division in years, she’s bound to end up in WWE at some point. TNA went as far to introduce Knockouts Tag Team titles. The concept was good, but it went downhill fast after the first champions Taylor Wilde & Sarita lost them to Awesome Kong & Hamada. After four years, it had become a running joke so it was deactivated in 2013.
The division doesn’t feel as competitive these days, yet I’m happy to see Sienna, Rosemary, Laurel Van Ness, and Allie doing so much with so little to work with. They might not be tearing it up as much as the women in WWE, but at least they have somewhere they can be free to express, and build on something which will help their careers in the long-term. Of course, it will be difficult to recruit with NXT constantly finding all the raw talent, but at least Anthem is continuing to feature the Knockouts Division. The equality given in 2007, remains the same in 2017 thanks to all the great Knockouts.
3. Tag Team Glory
Wow, I’m going to get excited for this because tag team action was a huge deal for me when I stumbled across Impact Wrestling for the first time. I don’t know how they do it, but tag teams in Impact Wrestling go through phases. They’re either very average, or they’re the bonafide main event. When Impact Wrestling finds 2-3 teams with the chemistry to go all out and steal the show, they’ll let them go at the expense of the heavyweight division.
4. Global Reach & Talking Smack
I’m a huge WWE fan, more so than Impact Wrestling. However, there’s one clear difference between the two. WWE keeps to itself, it doesn’t like promoting the competition, unless they tell the story of a career of one of their talents. WWE is strictly against mentioning Impact Wrestling, aside from having Dixie Carter tell Kurt Angle’s story. Impact Wrestling has always been different, it’s always felt the need to reach out in different ways; whether it be positive or negative.
The negative side is when they take shots at WWE. It happened so many times with guys like AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, and former WWE talent. I didn’t mind when Mike Tenay let the viewer know of wrestlers past WWE accomplishments, but I always found it cheap when ‘shoot’ promos turned in to ‘shocking’ jabs at a recent controversy. It felt low at times, but they also can’t pretend like it doesn’t exist. Why not be the voice of wrestling fans? Why should they stay quiet? Is WWE so intimidating, that the rest of the business can’t call them out on their crap when they’re wrong?
The biggest positive is when Impact Wrestling reaches out to other promotions. In the early days, TNA and ROH had a healthy working relationship. It soon split in to a fierce rivalry though, as the promotions went in different directions. TNA snapped up some of their talent to exclusive contracts, while ROH took the talent who wanted to return home. So TNA looked elsewhere, they featured talent from foreign promotions in Super X Cups and other special events. But it came to an end with the Hogan/Bischoff regime in 2010, which closed the door on outside talent working for the company.
And for years the company struggled because it refused to feature new faces. They had a stacked roster, but poor creative squandered the success it was looking for. Eventually the big names left for new horizons, and they had to make do with who was left. The Hardys, Angle, Lashley, EC3, James Storm, Abyss, they had to carry the show forward. It wasn’t til Anthem took over and merged Jeff Jarrett’s GFW into Impact Wrestling did we begin to see new faces again.
Pro Wrestling NOAH, AAA Wrestling, Crash, Wrestle-1, they’ve all reached out to Impact Wrestling in recent times. TNA and Wrestle-1 hosted Bound for Glory in Japan, the first time in history an American wrestling company brought their biggest event to the country. Eddie Edwards became the first American to win the GHC Championship (previously won by Hideo Itami AKA KENTA) and defend it on American soil. Without this cross-promotion, I likely wouldn’t have seen El Phantasma, Marufuji, Taiji Ishimori, and others who’ve shown up on Impact Wrestling. I’d have known of them, but I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to see their matches.
The important thing is, much like the partnership of Ring of Honor & New Japan, Impact Wrestling is trying to do the same and make the wrestling business healthier by allowing freedom of cross-promotion. By bringing everyone together, they stand a fighting chance against the mighty machine which is WWE. And I don’t mean to compete with them, they need it more for survival than anything else.
5. WWE Rejects & TNA Originals No More?
I remember when fans used to call former WWE talents who jumped ship to TNA “WWE rejects”. In recent times, comments have shifted to saying something like “All the TNA originals are gone so why bother?” And it’s true, the roster isn’t decked with rejects or originals anymore, there’s a new breed in town. Abyss is the only TNA original remaining. I’d be surprised if he left at his age, he is the only one who remained loyal through all the bad times. So there’s no expectation for any wrestler to remain out of loyalty, because the biggest names Impact Wrestling ever get over ended up in WWE anyway.
What does that make the new breed? It makes them potential for NXT or possibly the main roster. Nowadays, most who sign up for Impact Wrestling are likely thinking in the back of their minds that it’s a stepping stone. And it’s understandable, you want to go for the big money, so why not make a name for yourself in Impact Wrestling like an AJ Styles, or a Samoa Joe? It gives WWE a body of work which may peak their interest. And if it doesn’t? At least you can say you had a wresting career on television.
Most WWE rejects fell out with management, they’d gone through a rough patch and broke the wellness policy, or they were too injured and burned out to cope with the travel schedule. Some were destined for great things in WWE, but ended up as a jobbers who were eventually released years later. I feel like these talents were always trying to prove they didn’t need WWE, and by doing so, WWE took notice and asked them to return. I’d like to list a few WWE rejects:
- Jeff Jarrett – You could say he was the biggest one of all, because we know he didn’t get along with Vince and they’d never work together. Regardless of this, Jeff founded TNA Wrestling with his father and helped to run the company for years. Now he’s in WWE sponsored rehab, so he’s not in a good place, but at least he’s accepted their help. I just wish he didn’t book himself to be champion so many times, but I guess he put AJ Styles over when needed.
- Ron Killings AKA R Truth – Originally he was K-Kwik, an exciting young prospect who ended up a member of D-Generation X. But WWE got rid of him! And that was great for TNA, as they picked him up and let him be as creative as he liked. That’s where R Truth comes from, he was called Ron “The Truth” Killings in TNA. He wasn’t a goofy character though, he was taken seriously. He won the NWA title from AJ Styles once, and a couple of tag team titles before returning to WWE.
- Raven – He floundered in WWE, but he found new life in NWA:TNA as a main eventer. He was much like his ECW self again, so it was fun to see him be the hardcore genius we know he is. His knowledge and experience helped AJ Styles and others.
- Rhino – Very similar story to Raven, except he had way more matches and stuck around for years before returning to WWE via NXT not too long ago.
- Christian Cage – Before he left WWE he was being looked over, forever stuck in the IC title scene. He was the most reliable wrestler on the roster, having shown up to work for many years, never missing a thing. And then one day, he decided it was enough, so he jumped ship and won the NWA title. It was vital for his career, before this he’d never been a World Heavyweight Champion. I’ll always wonder if he still would have won the ECW and WWE World Championships had he not had this successful run with TNA.
- Mick Foley – Sadly this isn’t a good example of a comeback story, but at least TNA let Mick win a World Championship one last time before he called it a career, although it was at the expense of more deserving talent like Samoa Joe.
- Rob Van Dam – Sometimes you’re not right anywhere. RVD’s biggest success was beating John Cena at One Night Stand 2006, but after that his career didn’t recover. He won the TNA title immediately upon arrival, at the expense of AJ Styles. He had his moments, but again it seemed clear he didn’t care anymore because it wasn’t ECW. TNA realized this, and stuck him in the X Division until he wanted out. This is an example of someone who didn’t use the platform correctly.
- Jeff Hardy – He was let go from WWE because of his drug issues, and again they plagued him in 2010. His career almost went down the toilet thanks to the Victory Road incident, but luckily Impact Wrestling officials gave him another chance. And from there he’s been a model employee, because his family and Impact Wrestling gave him support. Of course, he won’t admit that now, because they hold his brothers gimmick hostage, but there was a time when Impact Wrestling could have let him go and he may never have recovered to the point we saw him return to WWE.
- Matt Hardy – Man this guy, he was in a really dark place. Scary dark, there was a time fans wondered if he was suicidal. His first TNA run was atrocious, he just didn’t have anything to offer. He went to ROH, but again he wasn’t finding anything special. It wasn’t until he came back to TNA and had his wife Reby Sky (& son Maxel) on TV did he begin to shine. And that’s how the broken gimmick was born, Impact Wrestling officials gave him the freedom to make something completely bizarre and unique. As much as I loved the gimmick, as much creative influence that he had on it, Impact Wrestling gave him the platform to do it. Without that, WWE wouldn’t have been interested in signing him, and there would be nothing to argue about in court.
- Bully Ray AKA Bubba Ray Dudley – I believe some of his best work was in TNA. And that’s coming from someone who saw most of his ECW work, and all of his WWE work. As a heel world champion he was way up there. He was generating heat like fans owed him money. The stable behind him wasn’t so great, but on his own he was excellent. And it got him & Devon a short run in WWE before retiring this year.
- Lashley – WWE wasn’t happy with him in the end, even though it looked like he was to feud with John Cena. I’ve got to say, Lashley was useless all those years ago. Nowadays he’s way better, he’s come out of his shell and his promos are more natural. I just wish he was this way when he won the ECW title, I might not have hated it so much. I think it’s cool that Impact Wrestling has always let him have a wrestling career and a MMA career at the same time. I wouldn’t be surprised if he found his way back to WWE in the next couple of years.
- Drew Galloway – The Chosen One! Drew McIntyre was a super jobber in 3MB, and it was painful to watch. Fans around the world knew he had the potential to be more, but WWE didn’t see it and eventually let him go. It was the best thing for his career, it made him wake up and work extra hard to be a household name on his own. He returned to Scotland, and just worked and worked. He worked so hard that he got bigger, better, faster, more comfortable in his promos, he worked on every aspect. Impact Wrestling took notice and signed him to a deal, and he went on to win the TNA title. It wasn’t long before WWE came knocking, they really didn’t want to see their chosen one selling Impact Wrestling tickets, so he showed up in NXT to replace Bobby Roode as champion; the rest is history.
- Ethan Carter III – Not as well-known, but he was formerly known as Derrick Bateman, a contestant on the game show that was NXT before it became a wrestling brand. After the season ended, he became a jobber and was later released. He’s used it as motivation ever since. He’s taken the odd cheap shot at WWE for letting him go, but he uses all of his talent to sell EC3 to the world. He doesn’t look happy being the Grand Champion, but at least he’s a valuable asset. That is, unless NXT comes knocking.
- Eli Drake – I’m so amazed by this guy, when he came to TNA he’d just been rejected by NXT. He had so much to learn, his character hadn’t been decided, but his strength was cutting promos. I’ve seen him evolve from being a lackey, all the way to becoming Global Champion. He’s got the eyes of Steve Austin and catchphrases like The Rock. He cheats like Ric Flair, and he’s doing everything right. I am absolutely dying to see him back in WWE, but then we might get a strange, watered down version, like what happened to Mike Kanellis. Chris Adonis (AKA Chris Masters) is just a bodyguard, he’s there to help him get more heat. I wasn’t a fan of Alberto El Patron as champion, Eli is a locker room leader and thoroughly deserves it.
There’s a lot of hatred for Impact Wrestling, and I’ve never figured out where it comes from. It’s always been there, even before Hulk Hogan & Eric Bischoff showed up and wrecked the product. I know there’s been some bad business decisions. I know there’s been a lot of things said over Twitter, and in news reports, but I keep looking for the positives. I wouldn’t feel elated to hear the news of Impact Wrestling closing its doors, I’d feel bad for the talent and the staff losing their jobs.
I’m a fan of the industry, I like to see promotions stay open so they can provide jobs. I’m not sure what I wanted to achieve with this piece, I guess I felt like we don’t see enough positive things because Impact Wrestling is always shrouded in an aura of pessimistic controversy. Everyone’s always talking about the backstage politics, or the broken gimmick, or why Anthem keeps firing everyone, that there’s no time to talk about what made it successful, and what keeps it moving forwards.
It keeps surviving for a reason, and I like to believe it’s because fans enjoy the alternative, they’re just not always willing to admit it. Quite a lot knew who AJ Styles was when he debuted at the Royal Rumble, and I don’t think the majority of English-speaking fans only ever saw him wrestle in New Japan. They were talking about AJ Styles well before he considered New Japan. There is a following, and it remains loyal in a tough period of transition. I’m looking forward to the future. It’s not going to be perfect, there’s going to be bumps in the road, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.