wrestling / Columns

ZWI: Impact’s Homecoming Signals Bright Future

January 3, 2019 | Posted by Dino Zee
Impact homecoming

Dear readers, welcome to 2019! We are but a few days away from the first big American wrestling extravaganza of the new year, as Impact Wrestling will be presenting Homecoming on Sunday, January 6, LIVE on pay per view. Normally around this time, this columnist would take a look at the full card, and break down the matches one at a time, with choices on who appears to be the favorite(s) in each match.

And a card like Homecoming most certainly deserves that type of attention, do not get me wrong. I could easily talk about any of the six matches at greater depth, though at this point, there are only a couple matches I feel confident in saying who I think is going to earn the win. However, when I look at Homecoming, I see something bigger than a traditional wrestling event. I see a company that spent 2018 trying to regain footing lost in parts of 2016 and 2017. I see a company that wants to kick off this arbitrary time reset by putting its best foot forward.

From where I sit, this card is a declaration of Impact Wrestling. A company that tried desperately to forget everything about its TNA roots is now saying it’s no longer ashamed of its history. At the same time, while tipping the cap to its heritage, this is also a company that knows that it has to continue to change, just like every other promotion on the planet. And so, with each and every match on this card, Impact Wrestling has one simple message to any fan that tunes in on Sunday evening: This is who we are.

And they are a company looking to give opportunities to their X Division competitors to make names for themselves. That includes bringing back the Ultimate X match, which is always a Love It or Hate It type of match (I’ve always loved it), but is also a match that allows the X Division to perform feats that you just don’t see in any standard type of contest. It is everything that the X Division used to be (nod to the heritage) featuring four faces looking to break through and make this year all theirs.

Rich Swann carries the prestige of being a former WWE Cruiserweight Champion, but he still knows that, a little over six months into his tenure with Impact, Swann has yet to make the splash that many assumed he would upon his arrival. Sure, it’s a little tough to rule over a division when Brian Cage is running over everybody, but with The Machine onto new challenges, the excuses have run out for Swann. He’s going to have to show if he can handle it, and dance his way to an X Division Championship.

Jake Crist is a former Tag Team Champion as one half of the o.V.e. duo with his brother Dave, but lately has really stood out with his crisp kick combinations, incredible leaping cutters, and all-out lust for mayhem. It seems that Sami Callihan really helped coax something out of the man, and at Homecoming, Crist looks to emerge a bit more from the shadows with a little championship of his own.

Joining the two established men are relative newcomers to Impact in Ethan Page and The Rascalz’ Trey Miguel. Full disclosure – I’m all in with Ethan Page, and see only the brightest of futures for the young grappler. His association with Matt Sydal can seem a bit odd, but I look at it simply as a studious newcomer trying to leech all the information from someone with a proven track record. When Page has learned all he feels he can from Sydal, I think Sydal’s going to be sporting a black eye or two… or three. That said, Page has yet to really show what he’s capable of. Even his qualifier against Sydal was more about who was in charge than who was the better wrestler. Page may not have the high flying chops of the other three competitors, but he is probably the one willing to do the dirtiest things to walk out as X Division champion.

When it comes to Trey Miguel, I’ll be frank – I haven’t seen much of him. However, his presence alone (along with that of Zachary Wentz) has rejuvenated Dezmond Xavier, and he definitely has an odd charisma about him. This is a time where I have to plead some ignorance, and hope for an understanding audience. But just based on his associates alone, I have to assume that Miguel will be just fine in an Ultimate X match.

For me, the attempt at breathing some life back into the X Division by bringing back Ultimate X is an excellent decision by Impact management. You know I’m not one to offer that group of shirts and ties any form of praise that often, so know that I am sincere. The four men who earned the chance to compete now have a stage set for them to wow the world. While I’m openly rooting for Page to win, part of me feels like Jake Crist is on a roll that isn’t going to stop quite yet. With a little help from Sami and Dave, I think he takes the X Division Championship home to Ohio. And hell, maybe Sami will be a little jealous of that.

Impact is a company that continues to stand behind its Knockouts Division, and the rematch between Taya Valkyrie and Knockouts Champion Tessa Blanchard is proof of this. There’s even that tip of the cap to history that I alluded to with the presence of Gail Kim as the special referee!

If you think that either Taya or Tessa will be simply window dressing to Gail Kim’s big return night, though, you’re gravely mistaken. While Taya’s stance has softened in recent months, this is still the Wera Loca that owned AAA’s women’s scene, reigning as the Reina de Reinas until the company basically took its title back from her. She’s one of the most dominant forces in women’s wrestling today, and certainly in Impact. Many thought she was going to unseat Tessa when they clashed at Bound for Glory, but Tessa proved the doubters wrong when she walked out #AndStill.

In Tessa Blanchard, the company has a champion with deep roots and a cherished legacy in the sport. Her father was a Horsemen. Her stepfather fought Horsemen. Her grandfather was a champion. After a rough start with Madison Rayne, Tessa has locked into the right gear and has been the type of competitor any company would dream of having represent them.

While I have terrible thoughts about the inclusion of Gail Kim – specifically that some in Impact management are hoping that she’ll help Taya win – I also know how much pride she took in building the division, in representing it multiple times as its champion. Even if the brass would love a Championship Royal Couple with Johnny and Tessa Valkyrie-Impact, I think that Gail is going to call this one straight down the middle, allowing the best woman to win. I can’t think of a better way to start the 2019 Knockouts division. And of course I’m rooting for Tessa. I’m always rooting for Tessa.

Impact is a company that has always tried to provide a place for the sport’s best tag teams to compete and become stars, and in 2019, that will continue to be a point of emphasis. This is evidenced by the absolutely outstanding contest announced between champions LAX – Santana and Ortiz and their challengers, The Lucha Brothers – Fenix and Pentagon, Jr.

Santana and Ortiz have been head and shoulders above everyone in the company since they joined, and have reigned as Impact Tag Team Champions on multiple occasions, along with a Global Force Tag Title reign thrown in for good measure. Decay, The Cult of Lee, Reno Scum, o.V.e, and The OGz are just a few of the teams that have fallen to the guerilla tacticians. Point blank – LAX are an excellent team, one deserving of all the praise they can get, and of any comparisons to any other past era’s greatest teams.

And yet, they don’t shine as brightly as their challengers. Fenix and Pentagon win championships everywhere they go. Mexico. The Temple of Lucha Underground. Impact Wrestling. Pentagon alone is a former Impact World Heavyweight Champion, as well as a Lucha Underground Champion. Fenix held every title Lucha Underground offers. Both have countless reigns in AAA. They feel like something fans would call a Superteam, and yet it isn’t unfair or contrived – the two are brothers. If they’re not fighting each other, they’re probably fighting alongside one another.

This match can only be fantastic. In the spirit of the spectacles provided by The Naturals, XXX, AMW, Beer Money, The Motor City Machine Guns, LAX version 1, The British Invasion, AJ Styles and Tomko, Team 3D, The Hardyz, and every other tag team that wrestled for what’s now known as the Impact Wrestling Tag Team Titles, I know that all four men are going to give everything they have. Impact couldn’t have hoped for a better team to challenge LAX.

If the challengers win, it’s just another set of belts for the two luchadores who find success everywhere they go. If the champions retain, then this current iteration of LAX takes an even bigger step towards immortality. I honestly don’t have a vested interest here. I love that I get to see this match. That’s good enough.

Impact is a company that isn’t going to shy away from terrible acts of violence. It’s not going to try to please the sponsors. It’s going to allow its competitors to settle their differences in horrific ways that only escalate.

When Eddie Edwards takes on Moose in a Falls Count Anywhere match, this will be on display. Since the moment Eddie Edwards lost control of his life thanks to a not-so-errant swing of Sami Callihan’s bat, the friendship he had with Moose has slowly withered away and died.

Moose’s attitude change over the summer only made things worse, as instead of Moose simply being hurt that he lost a friend, we now had a man looking to make that estranged friend hurt.

Nothing has been off limits for Moose – not even Eddie’s wife, who has been basically kidnapped and threatened all as part of Moose’s efforts to break Eddie even further. Eddie, of course, knows after the spring and summer of 2018 that he has something that lives inside his soul that, when let out, can only breathe fire across the land. And he knows that if Moose really wants to meet this thing – the thing that destroyed Callihan, destroyed Tommy Dreamer, and had Eddie back in a psych ward recently – that it will probably destroy Moose, too.

These two are going to do whatever they can to hurt each other. There will be no ref breaks for blood, nor will it be stopped if someone hurts a knee or an arm. Pin or submission, anywhere in the building, because this is a company that embraces a violent environment.

And in case that isn’t crystal clear, then you’ll have that hammered home during the Monster’s Ball match between former champion Eli Drake and 2018 Impact Hall of Fame inductee Abyss.

We made it clear here in ZWI last week that all we want for 2019 is for Drake to find that World Champion Kavorka once again, and that we hope it starts with him bludgeoning Abyss. Hey, not all journalists are 100% unbiased, okay?

Impact may be hoping that Abyss can finally derail the Gravy Train once and for all, especially in one of the most sadistic creations this company has ever brought to the wrestling world. Drake may seem like he’s out of his element. He might seem too prim, too pretty, too much of a wrestler to be able to survive in something like Monster’s Ball. But that’s exactly what Drake wants everyone to think. It’s what he wants Impact management to think and it’s what he wants Abyss to most certainly think. Drake knows that he’s in his prime, and that some old, washed-up legend isn’t going to turn out the lights on his party.

And he knows that he will have all sorts of weapons at his disposal, and a referee who will be there only to stop the match when he’s told to, not when his discretion says he should.

In the two non-title bouts announced for Homecoming, Impact has made it clear that blood is still very welcome here, and they hope that we enjoy the double serving of it Sunday night.

In the main event, Impact lets us know that, above all, this is a company that values the competition, and the pursuit of championship excellence above all else.

World Champion Johnny Impact returned to take out a champion in Austin Aries who had made Impact Wrestling his personal playground in 2018. That win let Johnny know that, despite what his detractors said, he belonged on the biggest stages in the world, against the best any company had to offer. More importantly, it proved that he was, indeed, a World Heavyweight Champion caliber of performer. The man of many last names also bears the name of the promotion now, not only to make writing about him difficult, but also to let everyone know that he believes in the company, and will do all that he can to proudly defend its championship against all comers.

In the challenger, Johnny faces a man who has been borderline unstoppable since returning to the company. Brian Cage has been defeated, but it’s never been due to the actions of one man alone. He decimated the X Division and almost singlehandedly destroyed o.V.e. He’s easily the most dangerous competitor on the roster, and unfortunately for Johnny, he remembered a little Impact history himself, invoking Option C to get on the fast track to a World Championship opportunity.

In this main event, Impact has the brightest vision of its future taking on its very proud present. Johnny Impact is top level. Brian Cage seems like he may not be capable of losing to one man. Johnny has an athletic dimension that is not often seen, allowing him to pull of some incredible maneuvers that completely bewilder the opposition. Brian Cage has unworldly power, but also the moves of a true X Division competitor. There will be no place to which Johnny can fly that will be out of Cage’s reach.

I do think Johnny’s got a plan to keep the belt, but my heart roots for Cage. I always like to see Option C give a successful payoff.

In six matches, Impact Wrestling has made the following clear: They are a company that will focus on the divisions that have historically always provided incredible action, and will do so with a stellar cast: The Knockouts, Tag Team, and X Divisions. They have told us that violent wrestling isn’t nearly as extinct as other places may want to make you believe. And, above all, they are telling us that at their highest level, only the very best will be able to compete for the highest prize in the land.

They’ve come a long way. Sunday night, they get to come home again.