Just a few weeks ago, I penned a column about the shift in management for Anthem Sports’ Impact Wrestling. I described Don Callis, the former stellar performer from the WWF and ECW in the late 90s, as a hidden gem in the industry. From listening to the podcast that he co-hosts with another underrated talent, Lance Storm, the knowledge and insight that Callis brings to the table is clearly an asset to any promotion. As an addition to the former Cyrus, Scott D’Amore, the obnoxious on-screen manager of the original Team Canada, was signed as another executive for the organization. Behind-the-scenes, when he wasn’t antagonizing audiences during the early Total Nonstop Action days, D’Amore was an accomplished journeyman with an extensive career, working in almost every role possible within the pro wrestling genre. As I wrote previously, this was probably the first legitimate “fresh start” the company had in years, as neither the finger prints of Callis or D’Amore had been on the product prior to this. A fresh duo with fresh concepts were going to be able to take the group in a direction that they wanted, theoretically without any political interference. For example, when Hulk Hogan worked Dixie Carter for every dime he could, he brought along a goon squad with him. Both Callis and D’Amore are smart enough to know that you can’t cater to a personal agenda and make good business decisions at the same time. Finally, I mentioned that this was the first time in several years that I was truly optimistic about the potential of Impact Wrestling.
Still taping television within the span of just a few days, Impact filmed several months of episodes over the last week. Granted, how it all translates to TV remains to be seen, but reports from those that attended the tapings have given an indication of the direction of the company within the next few months. Keep in mind, this article will explain content that hasn’t aired yet so it will generally discuss the potential effects of particular debuts and exits for Impact.
The most major return that took place and was touted on social media, is the official return of Austin Aries to the organization. Aries, a former TNA heavyweight champion over five years ago, debuted for the WWE in early 2016. He did well for the majority of that year, but an eventual injury put him on the shelf until the beginning of 2017 and he never seemed to regain the momentum he had from his stint in NXT. That’s not to say that Aries lacked in the ring, he didn’t, but rather he was booked in the stagnant 205 division that has stalled the careers of almost every cruiser weight performer. Frustrated that his status plateaued, the former Ring Of Honor champion asked for and was granted his WWE release in mid-2017.
I was somewhat surprised to see Austin Aries back under the Impact banner, mostly because he has other projects, including a vegan cook book, outside of wrestling. Asking for his release wasn’t anything new for him either, as Aries has a reputation of being difficult to work with, at least according to interviews from others. If he was justified in his complaints at the time or not is a matter of prospective, and unless someone was there, it’s just speculation about the rumors. According to The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer, backstage problems were the reason that Aries was released from his original TNA contract in 2007. Jim Cornette, who worked as a consultant for ROH when Aries worked there, spoke often about the difficulty of working with him. In some ways, it seems like Aries would rather quit if he’s not given exactly what he wants in terms of angles or status within a company.
That said, “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” persona and his run as TNA world champion is probably the best run that Austin Aries had in his career. Despite any problems off-screen, Aries is still a tremendous in-ring talent and a main event level performer. Plus, he brings a spark to the new era of the company. Reportedly, Aries wins the Impact heavyweight championship on a future episode of their television show and also defeated Matt Sydal for the Grand championship, which Callis confirmed on Twitter is a belt that will be phased out when the shows air on TV. Branding Aries as the “Impact Champion” is somewhat of a catch-22 in many ways. On one hand, he is a tremendous performer that had increased exposure from a recent WWE run and proved in the past that he can work well in the main event role. On the other hand, he has a history of leaving a promotion if he’s not booked in a prime spot. Sure, Aries is content with Impact now, but what happens after he drops the title? Clearly, management is putting a lot of stock in his title run going forward, but time will tell how wise of a decision it is for the organization.
Another return to the Toronto-based league was independent standout, Su Yung, who worked a Knockouts show a few years ago and also had a WWE developmental deal before that. Working a Great Muta-inspired type character, Su has evolved as a performer in recent years and became one of the most in-demand free agents on the indy scene, working for many different companies in many different locations. With the exit of Gail Kim and more recently, Laurel Van Ness, the addition of Su Yung adds depth to the KO division. Aside from that, Su would be an asset to any roster and has a character that lends to building storylines so this was definitely a wise decision from management as far as the addition of current free agents.
https://t.co/BECf2cL5xt#kendo [Wrestling INC]Yung comes out for a match. * Allie wins via DQ after Yung used a kendo stick on her and the referee. Scoop #18: Su Yung gets disqualified for attacking Allie and the ref with a kendo stick pic.twitter.com/V1GpnRsIer * Johnny Impact …
— kendonews_en (@kendonews_en) January 15, 2018
I must mention that photos surfaced online that suggest that Jim Mitchell, known as the Sinister Minister from ECW, returned to manage Abyss in a monster’s ball match. I haven’t found any information about Mitchell’s status or if it was just a one-shot deal, but it would certainly make sense if he returned to television on a regular basis. Without being at the right place at the right time, Mitchell never seemed to get the credit he deserved, but is undoubtedly one of the best talkers in the history of the industry. In fact, the argument could be made that despite his continuously stellar work throughout his extensive TNA career, Abyss’ best run was when he was paired with Mitchell, who cut great promos to build angles.
That’s all she wrote. pic.twitter.com/7Iefgs7c6w
— Impact Wrestling Orlando (@ImpactOrlando) January 14, 2018
Brian Cage, a name fans might know from PWG fame, joined the Impact roster. While he certainly has potential, much of how he will be presented on television will determine if he finds a place within Impact Wrestling. With a slew of departures, returns, debuts, and cameos set to play out over the next three months or so, there’s always the possibility that Cage could simply get lost in the shuffle.
Impact saw its share of exits as well when a few key stars worked their final appearances under contract. Ethan Carter III took a bow during the tapings, which concluded his four year run with the various names the organization had when he was there. Carter has the charisma, in-ring skills, and the quality of a star so it wouldn’t be too surprising if he surfaced in NXT soon. Ironically, he spent nearly six years under a WWE developmental deal as Derrick Bateman before he was released in mid-2013. I always found it a little surprising that WWE brass released him because he was always a solid in-ring talent. Perhaps, his release was for the best because he really seemed to find himself as a performer and shined on the TNA stage. While TNA endured a rocky road during the majority of his tenure there, EC3 was a highlight during a time of uncertainty for the promotion. This might be a sign of a bigger stage for his career moving forward, but it’s somewhat unfortunate for Impact, as EC3 was one of the best on the roster.
— iii (@therealec3) January 14, 2018
Bobby Lashley, former champion in both WWE and TNA, also finished up at the tapings. It’s disappointing that Lashley probably did the best work of his in-ring career when Impact’s ratings were at an all-time low a few years ago. I always thought that Lashley was rushed to the main stage and his inexperience showed at times. Remember, within just three years of signing a WWE deal, he worked a featured match at WM 23, and was pushed as the top guy of the failed ECW project before that. You can’t blame him for that either, management booked him for a major match at the biggest event of the year, is he supposed to say no?
A former amateur standout, Lashley had the WWE look, and it seemed as though management wanted to portray him as the next Brock Lesnar, as he jumped up on the ring apron in a similar fashion for his entrance. The problem is, Lesnar is a very unique talent and very few can transition to the pro ranks as quickly as he did. In some ways, it was unfair to expect Lashley to assume a main event role within just 3-4 years of the start of his pro career. As a result, his WWE stint was fairly brief and after an injury led to an extensive period of time on the sidelines, he requested his release in 2008.
That same year, he began his mixed martial arts career, garnering a record of 15-2, and is currently signed to a Bellator deal. He returned to pro wrestling in 2009, making a surprise appearance at the Lockdown pay-per-view. Initially, his appearances were sporadic as he alternated between MMA training and the Impact zone. He won several championship in TNA and had what most would consider a solid run in the promotion. That said, his biggest push in TNA was after Lesnar returned to the WWE after his UFC career so it seemed as though Impact attempted to promote an MMA persona on a much smaller scale. The only major criticism I would mention about Lashley is that he didn’t really have the charisma of a main event talent and didn’t seems quite comfortable in the role until recent years. At 41, it makes sense that he steps away from pro wrestling if he wants to make a final full-time run at mixed martial arts success before he retires.
There were also some changes toward the ideology of the company, which is a very wise decision. For example, the return of the traditional four-sided ring will be a noticeable difference going forward. While I don’t think the six-sided ring was too radical, it wasn’t exactly an asset either. Originating in Lucha Libre, the design lends itself to that style, not necessarily the traditional American presentation. Occasionally, you could notice an awkward spot because of the angle of the ropes, and the six-sided ring itself won’t draw viewers so why create an unnecessary obstacle for the performers? As mentioned earlier, the Grand Championship will be deactivated and it’s another smart decision. The concept of rounds and judges in pro wrestling is too convoluted and lends itself to indecisive booking. Some might say a round system is “innovative,” but sometimes a concept hasn’t been done before simply because chances are it won’t be successful.
Finally, the Lockdown pay-per-view was remained, “Redemption,” which makes sense because it acknowledges the very public blunders of the previous regime, and by nature of the name, it gives the group a platform to showcase a new era. Another wise move is the use of social media directly from the company. It’s no secret that the shows are taped months in advance as a cost-cutting measure and the results will be posted online anyway. Realistically, it’s very easy for those that follow Impact to read ahead about certain debuts or major title changes. If anything, Impact is using this to their advantage and creating as much buzz as possible prior to when the episode airs because they are giving the fans a reason to tune it, to see how those particular events actually happened. Obviously, it remains to be seen how effective these debuts and changes will be, but there certainly seems to be an improvement as there’s a solid direction for the company.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
E mail firstname.lastname@example.org | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta