Is GFW A Fresh Start for Impact Wrestling?

For years, Total Nonstop Action promoted “big changes” for the company when there was a skid or a consensus that the group floundered. Usually, this “big change” was a lackluster surprise or a weak attempt to create the sense of a fresh start. Finally, after the past few years surrounded in turmoil, Impact Wrestling might have a serious chance at a clean slate, both from the prospective of the fans and the industry itself. Since the Hogan experiment failed and Bob Carter stopped funded his daughter’s vanity project, TNA was a tarnished brand. It seems as though everyone but Dixie herself knew that Hulk Hogan worked her for every dime he could until the opportunity to work for WWE again. Ironically, Hulk ruined his own reputation even further through a series of narrow-minded comments. Still, the damage was done to TNA, and many cornerstones of the company left to find greater success elsewhere. Dixie was desperate to save face and attempted to swindle a few million dollars from Smashing Pumpkins lead singer, Billy Corgan to pay for expenses. The musician spent decades in the entertainment industry and was smart enough to take the Nashville-based company to court. While not winning the case to get control of Impact, Corgan was paid for his investment by Anthem Entertainment, parent company of The Fight Network.

In a story that could only happen in the wrestling industry, Anthem bought TNA and essentially paid to clean up Dixie’s mess, including a tax lien from the state of Tennessee, lawsuits from debts, and the previously mentioned ownership debacle. If this was a wise investment or not really depends on prospective. On one hand, Anthem paid at least a few million dollars to settle all the legal disputes and received an entity that had an extremely negative perception within the industry at the time. On the other hand, the Fight Network had a chance to own one of its content providers, and as distant as it might be, bought the second biggest pro wrestling company in the United States.

The rocky road of Impact Wrestling went full circle, as Anthem brought back the original founder of the organization, Jeff Jarrett. In October of 1999, Jarrett was the WWF IC champion and scheduled to defend his belt at a pay-per-view against Chyna. Jarrett’s contract slipped through the cracks and expired the day before the show. No longer under an official deal, Double J reportedly demanded $300,000 to perform the match against Chyna, which he did, leaving for WCW directly after that. A year and a half later, World Championship Wrestling goes under and Jarrett had burned a bridge with the WWF prior. So, Jeff Jarrett, who spent the majority of his life in the wrestling business, didn’t have any major options on the table. Was NWA-TNA created to give him a place to work? Sure, that was probably one of the reasons, but it certainly wasn’t the only reason. Jerry Jarrett, the legendary promoter in Memphis, and his son invested a million dollar each to launch the company in 2002 on weekly pay-per-view. Without a major corporation to finance the project, you don’t invest that type of money unless you want to get it off the ground so obviously, this wasn’t necessarily intended to be Double J’s main event push project. Did Jarrett push himself too much? Absolutely, but in a way, it’s difficult to put such a drastic financial stake in another performers hands, especially when Double J was still an active wrestler.

Jerry’s autobiography, “The Best of Times” goes into lengthy detail about some of the turbulence of the early days of NWA-TNA, including the initial investment from Panda Energy. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t realistic to expect fans to purchase weekly pay-per-views from a company that most fans hadn’t seen before. Along with that, the booking and formatting was difficult because there had to be a selling point every week as opposed to building toward an angle to sell a particular show. When you take into account the Fox Sports deal, Spike TV, the cancellation, Destination America, and Pop TV, it’s quite remarkable that Impact survived all the transitions.

Fast forward to Slammiversary this past Sunday, Anthem owns the company and had the time to set up its own angles to sell this show. Overall, the event was solid, it was nothing spectacular, but there weren’t any glaring weak spots on the card either. The opening tag match was somewhat sloppy, but that could be more of a result of unfamiliar opponents working the match and possibly the language barrier. However, the foreign talent, especially the AAA and NOAH competitors give Anthem matches to promote that capitalize on the popularity of Lucha Underground and New Japan. Considering that American fans have the opportunity to be more familiar with foreign talent with the expanded platforms of the previously mentioned groups, its arguably easier to get non-English speaking talent over with an American audience now than any time before. The working agreements with AAA and NOAH are definitely potential benefits for Impact.

The Borash/Matthews tag match was better than I thought it was would, considering that I expected a train wreck, but it was at least okay. They attempted to borrow a page from the “final deletion” segments, but that presentation is too over-the-top. Pro wrestling can get away with stretching the limits of logic, but the genre is based on reality so why would random background music play during a certain portion of the match? Some might say that it’s done in other TV shows all the time, but again, in reality, there’s not background music. Keep in mind, the illusion of professional wrestling is that the matches are supposed to be perceived as competition. For example, dramatic music doesn’t start in the middle of the round of a UFC fight as fans are watching it live. That said, it was great to see the return of Jim Mitchell and the Abyss character so if this match set the path for that then some of the goofiness can be discarded. It must be said that Mitchell, best known for his time as The Sinister Minister in ECW, is probably the most underrated manager in the history of the industry. Mitchell finally got a chance on a national stage in WCW in 1997, but was saddled with the doomed “blood runs cold angle,” and less than a year later he wasn’t booked for TV. Turner management didn’t realize that Mitchell was still under contract so he was basically paid to stay home for the next two years until his deal expired. He resurfaced in ECW and did some tremendous work there, but found his niche as the company was on the brink of collapse. Since that time, he had various stints with TNA, and was reportedly set to work for WWE during the extreme relaunch, but a deal wasn’t reached.

Mitchell could undoubtedly be an asset for any wrestling promotion, and this return of the Abyss character could provide an opportunity for the duo to resume the successful gimmick they had previously. Abyss is another extremely underrated and underutilized talent. He’s a unique athlete that should’ve had a lengthy main event run in TNA, but his character was booked into the ground on several different occasions. It’s extremely disappointing that Abyss didn’t get the status that he deserved because he sacrificed his body for the company dozens of times. I don’t know if Mitchell is slated for a full-time return or not, but it would be a wise decision to pair him with Abyss to establish the monster persona again.

Alberto El Patron defeated Bobby Lashley to become the unified champion, which was a wise decision since Alberto has the ability to main event for the promotion. As I said before, I just wasn’t sold on Lashley as someone to build the company around, especially the lack of charisma and mic skills. Don’t get me wrong, he’s an incredible athlete, but he was almost presented like a less accomplished version of Brock Lesnar with nowhere near the mystic that the former UFC heavyweight champion has today. Despite his time as TNA champion, Lashley is probably still most well known for his time as a mid carder at Wrestlemania. His MMA experience doesn’t necessarily justify a main event spot or recreate the type of hype that Lesnar brought to pro wrestling after his MMA career.

Perhaps the most important point of Slammiversary was the company was rebranded as Global Force Wrestling. Not only does a new name create a clean slate, it also gets rid of the TNA name, which was limited in its usefulness because of the innuendo could be misinterpreted from the letters. At the same time, the attempt to simply call the group Impact Wrestling was ineffective because the general public usually identifies pro wrestling with initials.

If this rebranding is successful or not remains to be seen, but it seems like this scenario is the best chance the company has for a fresh start. It might take another year until the results of this relaunch can be determined, but at least for now, it’s beneficial to the industry that the promotion is stable and will remain in business.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta