When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong: The Impact Reboot
The fans of Impact Wrestling (and TNA prior) have always comprised, in my opinion, one of the most devoted groups of wrestling fans that you could ever think to come across. In my current stint writing here (which began in May 2013), I’ve always had a good time interacting with the diehards. I’ve called out the Defense Team on multiple occasions, and I’ve rallied with them against others who were actively looking forward to seeing then-TNA drown in a sea of all its failures.
2015 and 2016, I feel, were great examples of a group of fans unwilling to let the thing they love die. We followed then-TNA from Spike to freaking Destination America, and from freaking Destination America to motherfreaking Pop! Sure, ratings never exploded, but they stayed pretty steady, showing that these people were devoted to the product, devoted to the wrestlers, and devoted to something bringing us wrestling without “WWE” attached to it.
With that in mind, I was very much looking forward to Impact this past Thursday, with all the hype of the new era, and the knowledge that there’d be new owners, new faces, and all of that fun stuff. Yeah, we’ve seen this more than a few times with the company, but still, there was hope that this was going to be a fun night of wrestling, with some surprises along the way.
And it felt like Impact knew what they were doing, as they showcased a wonderful video package highlighting all of the great moments of the last 15 years. It was nice to see them tip their hat to those that came before, while using that as a bridge to what is to come.
Things even got started off in an exciting manner, with Eddie Edwards and Davey Richards brawling through the crowd. This feud has really only been attacks, so seeing the two go toe to toe was a nice way to leave the nostalgia video and immediately focus on a current feud featuring one of Impact’s biggest stars, as well as Davey Richards.
At this point, let’s just note that I’m going to ignore the commentary war between Jeremy Borash and Josh Matthews for this column, outside of quickly noting that yes, it was absolutely annoying after about 3 minutes of it. I didn’t like it. Back to the rest of the show…
I was really excited when I saw that Bram and Kingston of the DCC would be taking on Impact newcomers Reno Scum (Adam Thornstowe and Luster the Legend). Reno Scum have wrestled out here on the California indy scene for years (I’ve seen them personally for 11 years in the greater Bay Area), and it really just made me smile to see them on Impact. It was even cooler when, roughly 3 minutes later, they had scored the upset after dominating nearly the entire contest. Yeah, Matthews called it a fluke, but hey, he’s doing bad commentary. I can only hope that Impact realizes that they could have something good with Reno Scum.
After that, we’d get two more matches – an X Division match that saw Braxton Sutter (fresh off taking my advice a couple weeks ago, and declaring his love for Allie) defeat DJ Z, newcomer Caleb Konley, and Team Zee favorite Marshe Rockett, followed by Sienna picking up a win over another newcomer in Rachael Ellering. As was the theme, neither match was all that long and, yes, commentary did the newcomers no real favors, either. For me, personally, I just took away some hope that these new faces are here for longer than one set of tapings, and that there’s more to come for them all.
So, at this point of the show, I’m thinking to myself “You know, this hasn’t been anything blowaway, and yes, the bickering at the announce table is grating, but I know that these reboot shows can be a little tricky, since they have to wash away the junk they don’t want to keep, while establishing the new ideas and concepts that they want to stick around.” And while the wrestling wasn’t great, it showed that Impact was absolutely looking forward with its talent, and definitely not stuck on the past.
And then Bruce Prichard came out. Look, I know that the whole “mentioning the other guys” thing in wrestling causes a very split reaction amongst the fans. Some point out that WWE nearly never mentions the other guys, and that when a company like Impact mentions WWE, it only shows how “not as good” they truly are. Others feel like it’s silly to pretend that one company is the only company in existence, and that it makes sense to acknowledge the existence of others.
I personally fall in the second group, if I’m being honest. I don’t think it’s weird to hear the NFL mention the CFL (or vice versa), I don’t think it’s weird to hear the NBA mention the Chinese league, and I don’t think it’s weird to hear Bellator mention the UFC-related accomplishments of people on their roster.
In that vein, I have no problem at all when Impact mentions WWE, or when WCW would do it, or anything like that. I think of WWE talking about how Sting “disappeared when WCW died” or how AJ Styles “wrestled all over the world,” instead of hyping either as multiple time world champions from another promotion. Their accomplishments don’t make WWE any less – they only magnify the greatness of the competitors.
However, hearing Prichard make a dozen WWE callouts, all with “I was there!” as the bullet point, just struck me as super pandering. And, knowing Impact fans as I do, I can only imagine how much they loved hearing how “Impact will be great again, because I was in WWE when they were doing great things.” I mean, I know for myself, all I’ve ever wanted from TNA/Impact was for them to be anything but “like WWE.” I’ve always wanted them to be the alternative, the one that focuses on wrestling, or athleticism, or anything but terrible comedy and interviews that go way too long.
And what was the end of Prichard’s back-patting promo? Booking an Impact World Championship match between champion Lashley, and newcomer Alberto El Patrón, bypassing Ethan Carter, III (MY BOY EC3) for the shot that he had asked for. It was, considering the message he had just laid out, quite the match to choose to make.
The initial overreaction to that promo would be to scream and yell about what a waste of time that was, that all it does is draw attention to the other company, and that it did nothing to shine any positive light on the people that have been with the company these last couple years, or their hard work. In fact, it was basically just “Bruce is here! You’re all saved! Now here’s Alberto El Patrón…”
Make no mistake, I fell into that for a second. But, on further thought, I realized that a segment like this has become, for better or worse, a nearly essential piece of these reboots. Whether they should be essential or not is, of course, a different discussion entirely. But we had Bischoff and Russo do it. We had the GMs do it this summer when WWE split the brands again. It happened in TNA, and it’s happened in Impact. The history is there, and whether we like it or not, wrestling loves its historical precedents.
It also allows us to know exactly who is in charge, and allows that person to state their goals for the company now that they’re in charge. Plus – and this is a point a lot of us ignore – it allows anyone who may be watching for the first time to get a full introduction to the show. Sure, a lot of us regulars usually scoff at the idea of new people just deciding to watch Impact on a Thursday night in March for the first time ever, but when there’s a lot of hype for something, you never know who’ll come through and give it a look.
So, yeah… while I hate those segments on principal, I understand why they happen, and I understand why Prichard was out there.
That Impact then doubled down with this type of segment, and had “Dirty” Dutch Mantell basically do the same thing after a few backstage skits and interviews (and no wrestling matches) really did confuse me. And it was Mantell who said the craziest thing I heard all night when he claimed that all the cool guys who used to wrestle here left because of bad management, and that in turn caused the fans to leave Impact, too.
The second he said that, I could already hear the rage from the devoted TNA/Impact fans, especially those of us who supported the product in the lean 2015 and 2016, who shouted that Impact was actually the better show when compared to Raw, and things of that nature. Even when we heard that this new era would go on without Drew Galloway, Mike Bennett, Maria, and The Broken Hardys, there we were, still tuning in to see what the new guys would add to the product, instead of worrying about what the exits would cause the show to lose.
I don’t think Dutch was blaming the fans for anything, either. It wasn’t one of those “You guys quit on us!” deals. He was simply pointing out that, compared to a 2006 or a 2008, Impact’s fanbase isn’t what it used to be.
The problem with that, of course, is that it gives no credit to the fans who stayed, and it gives no credit to the men and women who, for the last couple of years, got us to stick around. Yeah, we loved AJ Styles and Bobby Roode and Samoa Joe and Kurt Angle and Sting. But time goes on, and we get new favorites. Where were the shout outs for guys like E_Li_Drake? Where was the spotlight on the incredible work he’s put in for the company over the last year? In fact, where was he at all on this program?
How was DJ Z – the guy who spent 2016 trying to reinvigorate the X Division – used solely as a warm body in a 4 way match, instead of being hyped and praised for his contributions? Why, instead of harping on the past glories and mistakes, were we not hyping the present and future stars?
Why was EC3 used only for a promo and then to stand and watch a match, bypassed for a shot at the title, instead of being praised for his hard work since 2013 at making Impact appear to be a destination spot with the best talent?!
And that’s when I remember that Impact has, almost since Day One, catered to their online reputation. They tend to listen too much to us, if I can say something like that. If one group says “More wrestling!” and one group says “More skits!” they will listen to both groups, and end up leaving both unhappy. And I feel like that’s what the Bruce Prichard and Dutch Mantell segments were. It was Impact saying “Look, we know we’ve had a rough few years here, and that things used to be better. We’re going to work hard to bring it back to that high level.” It just would have been nice if they could have added a “And we’ll do it with these hard working men and women who stayed with us in the darker days, and who are ready to shine under the brightest lights.”
Instead of being prideful, they wanted to appear “aware,” and based on the few reactions I’ve seen, they managed to irritate (at least) or deeply offend (at worst) the very same fans who’ve yelled for years that Impact was good. That Impact was worth our time. That Impact had quality wrestlers in quality matches.
All of that fighting, all of that defending of the company… all of it basically negated by two guys who wanted to tell the fans “buckle up, we got more,” but really missed the mark of their message.
That the show ended with El Patrón as the World Champion should be no surprise. After all, Lashley represents that era that drove the fans away, right? And that’s something we want you to not only talk about, but let’s openly mock it, too.
Suffice to say, while there was some positives from the reboot, the biggest misstep of the night was also the one that could do the most damage as it pertains to the relationship between the company and the fans. Hopefully, in this instance, they’ll listen intently.
Be Impact. Be proud of what you stand for. Be different. We can always go to USA or The Network if we want to check in on the other guys.
The first step is always the most difficult, though.
It’s All Wrestling. It’s All Silly. We All Love It.