Is Impact Wrestling in 2018 the same company as TNA was in 2002 or even Impact/Global Force Wrestling was in 2017? It depends on your perspective. In terms of strategic planning, Impact management needs to decide how to balance the legacy of the company with the need to innovate in a pro wrestling independent scene that has never been more competitive.
A legendary story from ancient Greece tells the tale of the ship of Theseus. The ship sat for many years in the port of Athens and, as the deck and sails began to rot, the wooden timbers were mended and changed out one-by-one. Each part of the ship was replaced to the point where none of the original material remained. Was it still the same ship?
The philosophical debate has lasted more than a millennium and we may even ask the same question when we look at Impact. Since Impact left Spike TV three years ago, the good ship Impact Wrestling is now under completely different ownership and management. Canadian firm Anthem took control and employs Captains Don Callis and Scott D’Amore to captain her through the choppy waters of pro wrestling.
Yet Impact already saw what happens when you focus too much on the past in 2017.
The “Make Impact Great Again” angle, which featured Bruce Prichard and Dutch Mantell delivering worked shoots on how Impact was once great but now is not, while name dropping people who were now employed by WWE was a misstep.
It’s absolutely correct for Impact Wrestling to assert its legacy and credentials for being a place where major stars of the business have spent time and developed. However, Prichard and Mantell’s lionization of the past was a step too far in that served to bury the current roster as also-rans and feed into a narrative that the show was only good in the past and that the current show and—by association—the wrestlers and bookers involved were second-rate.
It’s a narrative that has plagued Impact Wrestling since the early 2010s. It’s not difficult to find commentary online from lapsed fans claiming that they were once avid viewers who now speak in the vitriolic language of a scorned lover. The Hogan era—associated with the pushing of WWE also-rans over home-made stars—seemed to be a breaking point for many wrestling fans.
In the famous words of Metallica: the memory remains, and it’s the job of Impact Wrestling today to break the persistent narrative that “all the good stuff was years ago” and instead draw a picture of a constantly evolving company with plenty to celebrate.
Impact Wrestling’s taping-block schedule has its downsides, not least in enabling spoilers to get out months in advance, but it’s meant the mid-term booking of the show has been rooted in logical story arcs without worrying about injury, talent rotation or producer whims interfering.
Bully Ray vs. Dixie Carter at the Manhattan tapings of 2014 is an example of a well-written story with a clear beginning, middle and most importantly, a clean and decisive end.
Impact cannot return to those Spike days, just as WWE cannot return to the Attitude Era or Ring of Honor to their mid-00s boom. Yet there is value in legacy and there is value in the Impact tape library not only for its collection of great matches and stories but as a means of giving value to the current product. If the tape library is used smartly, it can show that despite the financial ups and downs there’s always been a core of good wrestling.
Rather than only focusing on the distant past, Impact would be smart to make lapsed fans aware of what they’ve been missing in recent years. Most will have heard of the Broken Universe, but stories like the EC3 vs Spud feud, the Wolves vs Dirty Heels best of five series or Bobby Lashley’s outstanding World Title runs are also recent booking successes that Impact can be proud of.
New social media ventures such as Twitch and the Global Wrestling Network are a perfect platform and the storyline-centric booking of the past few years are well-suited for curated box-sets of successful stories as well as highlighting excellent matches, cross-promoted on social media.
As the company passes a Crossroads, both figuratively and literally, there is work to be done, particularly on building on the excellent character work with some expanded time for wrestlers to increase in ring quality. With Aries at the helm and Johnny Impact, Eli Drake, Sami Callihan and Eddie Edwards in contention, match quality has gone up in recent months, whether they’ll be able to sustain that is another question.
One thing is clear, the Make Impact Great Again hats need to stay away.