Good Start for the AXS Era

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it… if you’re an Impact Wrestling fan, there really isn’t much that you should be complaining about at this point. To be fair, I initially was going to make the title of this piece, “Great Start for the AXS Era” but I replaced “Great” with “Good” because it hasn’t been quite as spectacular as I expected it to be so far. Just keeping it real. In retrospect, I blame my own unrealistic expectations. It’s actually an ideal situation for Impact to not put all their chips on the table during the first few weeks on a new network when they have no need to take huge risks.

Impact’s plan is a long-term one with calculated risks that we will see coming together in a more complete way starting in 2020. Don’t get me wrong, there will be some cool stuff happening through the remainder of 2019 also (and no, I haven’t read spoilers). If I know anything for certain about the current management and ownership team after observing them for a couple years it is:

  1. They do not make rash decisions that could compromise the future of the company AND
  2. They do things at their own pace; slow and steady

Overall, the comprehensive strategy for Impact Wrestling has worked very nicely so far and we’ve probably been predicting a little bit too much, too quickly. The recent Scott D’Amore and Ed Nordholm interviews have given me peace of mind that everything will be totally fine in the end and that they’re building things methodically and surely, which is the right way to do it in my opinion.

The obvious aesthetic differences from what Impact was doing on Pursuit versus what they’re doing now on AXS TV are the improved production value (particularly the upgraded graphics) and a new look with the color scheme. The show isn’t dramatically different at this point besides being a bit more edgy. Having Sami Callihan as World Champion is a good choice right now and oVe has been established as the main heel faction as they ridicule the entire roster.

The aspect of character development continues to be second to none and I will argue with anyone that Impact Wrestling has the best collection of characters in pro wrestling right now. There isn’t a wrestler like Rosemary anywhere else in the world. The best thing is that Impact isn’t even close to being as great as they will be in the future. Keep in mind that Impact has done a tremendous job at taking lesser known wrestlers and developing them into compelling and vital parts of the show. Ace Austin, The Rascalz, Fallah Bahh, Su Yung and Kiera Hogan are all perfect examples of amazing character development in the last year or so.

One fact that seems to be overlooked in the pro wrestling community is that Impact has established themselves as the most adult-oriented TV wrestling product in the world. That isn’t even debatable. You’ve got RVD and the scantily clad Katie Forbes in the hot tub with Katie shaking her boobs and badunkadunk like she just don’t care. Then, in the Rascalz Treehouse the boys are smoking weed and providing laughs and silliness. Impact is the only wrestling company that doesn’t shy away from marijuana, but instead embraces it. Alcohol is being drank on the show constantly. There’s been a slight shift in allowing more swear words to air. Ace Austin’s character is making porn movies and trying to bang wives and mothers. Joey Ryan and his penis are now Impact properties. The level of violence is up there with any other product when it comes to hardcore matches and weapons being used.

I could go on and on but the point is that Impact Wrestling has slowly morphed into the modern-day version of ECW, except much better in multiple ways. They’re a cool, gritty promotion that does whatever it wants to. The ties to Extreme Championship Wrestling are numerous. Tommy Dreamer is involved with the creative team and is frequently shown on-screen as a wrestler. Don Callis was an announcer with ECW as Cyrus the Virus and is now an executive vice president and color commentator for Impact. RVD and Rhino were huge players with ECW and are now featured on Impact. James Mitchell and Konnan both spent time in ECW. Johnny Swinger was also there. Sabu appears from time to time. So, the older veterans in Impact are mostly ex-ECW guys.

As much as some people don’t like the older ECW legends being on the show as often as they are at times, they do have an important role to play and the creative team has found useful ways to get the most out of them. I personally could do with a little less Tommy Dreamer on-screen but otherwise I have very few complaints regarding how Impact uses the ex-ECW guys. Having recognizable, established names on a wrestling program is a must and, for the most part, these more seasoned performers have not been overbearing. The Rob Van Dam heel turn may prove to be an absolutely genius move if it plays out like I think it will. I also think Rob calling out wrestlers in AEW and WWE for stealing his moveset is shrewd and it provides a nice little way to stir up the trolls and fanboys. You have to get people talking which is exactly the point of the Joey Ryan shtick also.

The indelible and main focus in Impact Wrestling is on the younger members of the roster and that’s what we need to remember. Look at the current champions right now. There’s a lot of exciting possibilities for the AXS Era with the foundation being the wrestlers that can really go in the ring which Impact has helped evolve and mature in-house. It might be impossible to retain everyone with the WWE and AEW breathing down their neck with open checkbooks in hand, but they’ve been able to sign some significant and unique talent despite the stiff competition out there. Yes, Anthem owns AXS TV and there’s so much potential generated within that reality when it comes to new venues and increased exposure and expanding programming, etc. The pieces are all there and now it’s about hitting the ground running in 2020.

One of the things that Impact is starting to experiment with is having more unique content and thus standing out in way that no other wrestling promotion can. If you listened to our recent Spark the Discussion podcast episode where we talked about all things Impact and AEW, I basically went apeshit for the upcoming Throwback Throwdown episode. Having a stand alone edition of the show like this where everything is presented to be set in the 1980’s is very smart. No other televised wrestling company has done something like this for an entire episode.

Eighties nostalgia is a huge thing in pop culture right now and it resonates with people. There are ultra popular shows set in the 80’s such as Stranger Things, GLOW, the most recent season of American Horror Story and The Goldbergs just to name a few. So capitalizing on this 80’s resurgence is good business. This should be a hilarious and fun episode and the timing of it directly before American Thanksgiving has me wondering if this might be a new Impact tradition that will replace the Turkey Suit thing? If it comes off as well as I think it might, I’d love to see it come back in some form or fashion annually.

So, as much as we would like to see Impact move mountains and do huge things in a short amount of time, we as fans need to instead meet them halfway. Impact is a spicy and somewhat vulgar (in a good way) program that appeals primarily to adults. That’s what they are and pretending that they’re anything else right now is just that…. pretending. The quality of wrestling is still fantastic and the storylines are good, but there’s room for growth and that’s what you want. They’re going to continue to get better over time.

Impact Wrestling is going to really start hitting their stride in 2020 and it begins with “Hard to Kill” in Dallas. The main event of Sami Callihan Vs Tessa Blanchard figures to be an attention-getting match that will put the entire industry on notice. Impact is leading the way for intergender wrestling and never before has a World Championship bout featured a one-on-one battle of a man versus a woman. Tessa becoming World Champion would also be a first if it happened. Again, these kind of unprecedented things will set Impact apart as a true alternative in the industry.

In closing, the main theme of this column is that Impact has been good so far on AXS TV but that they will get to much higher levels in the future. Some signs to watch for that should indicate that are really making headway will be:

  • Impact announcing their pay-per-view events and TV tapings farther ahead of time. Right now they do that with 2-3 months advance but if they can move it to a 4-6 month leeway than you should see ticket sales and the overall success of the company naturally come along too.
  • Moving to bigger and better venues. This has already started to happen in Dallas for “Hard to Kill” as they have upgraded from Gilley’s hosting Slammiversary earlier in 2019 to the Bomb Factory. This marks the first time that this venue enhancement has occurred under Anthem’s ownership. With all the various arenas that Anthem is associated with now, the possibilities are really impressive.
  • Going to new and different cities in North America. Chicago hosting BFG was cool but I’d like to see some TV tapings there. Vegas, NYC, Windsor, Mexico City, Toronto and the other regular rotation spots have been fine but there are many traditional pro wrestling territories that they have yet to tap into. Venturing into California earlier this year was a nice step but they’ve kind of been in a rut with repeating locations.
  • Getting back to the U.K. in 2020. It would be a huge accomplishment if they could do a TV taping set over there. Those fans want Impact and someone has to break up the stranglehold that the WWE currently has on the U.K. market right now. Impact has had a dedicated fanbase there for several years and they deserve a tour.

There are many more benchmarks to look for going into next year but those are a few that I’ll be monitoring as we plunge into 2020. Thanks as always for reading and supporting DiscussPW. Let me know what you think in the comment section below.