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The Redemption of Impact Wrestling

How many times have we heard Impact Wrestling was done? All the homegrown talents the company has lost over the years, talents that helped build the company when it was created, then because of the multiple changes of regime that made fans think the company was not about wrestling even more. While the heads of the company were fighting, talents were losing faith in the product they were supposed to represent. And fans fled. But this time is over now.

Redemption was aired live this Sunday and it’s one of the best PPV the company has produced in the last few years. Impact Wrestling has finally found the pace it had been missing for so long. The show was well-driven both creatively and in the ring. In fact, since the last set of tapings in January, everything has been good. The company found back an identity based on the most important thing it was supposed to work on, wrestling.

And obviously, ratings followed. A few weeks ago, the company has earned her second highest rating in the history of the company. When the action is back, talents are great and storylines are solid, fans come back home. They show the company they love what they’re watching. But what are the key factors that made everything change? What’s the story behind this leap of faith?

A new regime

It all started in December. The news broke a new duo of Executive Vice-Presidents would run the company alongside Impact Wrestling President, Ed Nordholm. With Scott D’Amore and Don Callis, the company made a really interesting choice. Both men have held every possible position in the wrestling business. Scott D’Amore has been a performer, trainer, promoter, writer, producer, Creative and of course wrestler. Callis has been a wrestler,  performer, booker, manager and writer. But most importantly, they’ve known each other for years. Like they stated, when they become EVP, they envisioned their new position as the one of a team. They quickly understood they would have to wear multiple hats to make the company go back to the top. And if they were, others would have too. They’ve surrounded themselves with a team of Creative that also have to wear multiple hats.

Sonjay Dutt is at the same time a Creative, a commentator, a backstage producer and a wrestler. Jimmy Jacobs has been extremely involved in the last set of tapings, as a Creative, a backstage producer and in the ring as the manager of his old friend Kongo Kong. TNA Hall of Famer Gail Kim was one of the first Knockouts to prove women were not only eye-candy in the ring but wrestlers. Her experience as a wrestler is the biggest asset to make the Knockouts Division be even better than it already is. Let’s not forget Abyss, the very last TNA Original. He’s been with the company since Day One. He has witnessed every change TNA/Impact has went through. And he has never left the boat even when he was about to sink.

When we recently talked to Sonjay Dutt or Jimmy Jacobs, they said they firmly believed in the vision the company was taking. They truly understood they would have to wear as many hats as their EVP. The same sound was coming from the roster itself. Week after week, media call after media call, talents explained they believed the company was on the good road and the right people were now at the helm.

Let’s take the example of the return to a 4-sided ring. The 6-sided ring had been a part of the identity of the company since its early beginning. But during the last set of tapings in January, it disappeared. Some said it was about making it like all the other promotions, definitely get rid of the past. It was just a matter of safety. When the performers feel safer in a 4-sided ring, the executives are taking the right decision for them. Sometimes the tiniest changes are the most important. And when you listen to your team, there’s no best way to understand its wishes for themselves and the company.

Wrestler Sonjay Dutt is also a Creative, a backstage producer and a commentator

A steady roster

It’s true, Impact has lost many of its homegrown talents. Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Bobby Roode, EC3 are now in WWE. Christopher Daniels, Chris Sabin and Alex Shelley are with ROH. But while people are focusing on them, they forget the company has never stopped planting the seeds of future great talents with people like Moose, Andrew Everett, Trevor Lee, Rohit Raju, and of course Eli Drake.

Eli Drake has been considered as an outsider in the company. But since his debut with the company, he has never stopped showing how good he was in the ring and at the mic. Not only Drake is a good wrestler but he has the gift of gab and the charisma that could lead a show to the top. His rise to World Championship was as much as a surprise for him than for the fans. But it was real, logic and credible. Drake paid his dues and was rewarded for that. As a homegrown talent, he was in the best position to represent the company. 

While Drake was climbing his way to the top, people came, people go, and people even came back. It was hard to see James Storm or Jeremy Borash leaving the company. As TNA originals they were steady faces for the audience. But when the time has come to change, it’s also time to move on. Making Petey Williams come back was a great move, he was one of the pioneers of the X-Division, the flagship Division of the company. When watching him wrestling now, like at Redemption last Sunday, you can’t help but think “why did he retire?”, because he has never been that good.

At the same time, new faces made their debut. Johnny Impact, Taya Valkyrie, Sami Callihan, Dezmond Xavier, Matt Sydal, Dave and Jake Crist epitomize the revolution indy wrestling has settled in. Bringing them on Impact was a way to bring with them a new audience that is used to a freer and riskier way of wrestling. Both of them have made their way to the top quickly and easily because they were exactly what the fans were expecting from the company, top faces they could follow on. With the announcement of the arrival of Tessa Blanchard, the trend is set to continue.

Eli Drake and Johnny Impact ready to fight

A strong leader

With a roster now fresh of motivated talents, what was missing was a leader. Alberto El Patron was supposed to be that man. His behaviour outside the ring killed the good reputation he has in a ring. In fact, the company needed a man who put his mark on it by making its history. The announcement of the return of Austin Aries put social media on fire last January. “The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived” invigorated audience enthusiasm. The 6-time X-Division Champion, 3-time World Champion and current Grand Champion was well-known as the creator of “Option C”,  a concept in which the current X-Division Champion may voluntarily vacate the championship in exchange for a World Heavyweight Championship match.

After a disappointing run with WWE, Aries went back to the indies, stroke hard all around the world and developed this reputation of being The Belt Collector. As of today, Aries is holding Championships in 5 different companies around the world, the DEFIANT Championship in the UK, IPW: UK World Championship, WSW Heavyweight Championship in Australia, DEFY Championship  and IMPACT Grand Championship in the USA. And he’s currently eyeing on Ring og Honor TV title.

What Aries was unable to succeed in with WWE, he made elsewhere and on his own terms. He has proved night after night he is one of the best performers in the world and his reputation of Belt Collector was not only justified, but well-deserved. By making him a World Champion on his first night back with Impact, the company made a statement. He was the bridge builder, the man able to make the connection between the past, the present and the future. His matches against Eli Drake, Johnny Impact or Matt Sydal were very close to 5-Star bout. With Pentagon Junior and Fénix now as new contenders, he’s about to raise the bar even higher. For himself and for the company.

“The Belt Collector” Austin Aries

A network of Partnerships 

Partnerships have been extremely important when it was time to put the company back on track. As of today, the company is working with Lucha Libre AAA in Mexico, Pro Wrestling NOAH in Japan, Border City Wrestling in Canada and many others promotions in the USA. It previously worked with The Crash in Mexico. In a quest of legitimacy, the best way to show the world your product is good is to bring it worldwide. Talents exchange has been the key. Pagano, Texano and El Hijo del Fantasma for AAA, Taiji Ishimori for NOAH are outstanding talents in their countries. By showcasing them on television, Impact ensured the world would focus on their product. Making Taiji Ishimori the X-Division Championship, after he reached the finals of the Super X-Cup, insinuated the world was not enough when talent was concerned.

The recent Lucha Underground partnership is setting the bar even higher. For years, Lucha Underground talents were not allowed to work for any other televised promotion. And suddenly things changed last year. Something Taya Valkyrie was rejoicing of in a recent media call. Lucha Underground is a hybrid product, made of Lucha Libre style, “classic” mat wrestling, strong characters and an incredible freedom of being able to do everything, from hardcore to intergender matches. To seal the deal of this partnership, the Impact Wrestling vs. Lucha Underground event that took place during WrestleMania week introduced Impact to Lucha fans, and vice versa. And when Alberto El Patron chose not to show at the event, the partnership reached a next step. Two of Lucha Underground biggest stars were going to compete for the Impact World Championship at Redemption. Lucha Underground Champion Pentagon Junior and his real-life brother Rey Fénix are mind-blowing Luchadores who are apart of the identity of the company. Not only they can make some changes on Impact, but they could quite simply revolutionize it. Time will tell…

Rey Fénix, Austin Aries and Pentagon Junior at “Impact Wrestling vs Lucha Underground” event

If you still have any reason to think Impact Wrestling is still a cliché of the past, you can still suscribe to the GWN network and enjoy all the matches of the past. But watch Redemption. Take 3 hours of your time to witness the revolution is not on the march, it’s real. Impact Wrestling is not fully rebuilt, like Sonjay Dutt stated recently, but his evolution over the last few months has been incredibly good. And it’s just the beginning…

All pics and screencaps courtesy of Impact Wrestling