This Sunday Impact Wrestling returns to pay-per-view for the first time since Bound for Glory last November.
Since that disappointing event in Canada, the company has once again changed direction, now being run by Scott D’Amore and Don Callis. By and large the changes they’ve instituted have been good – they’ve simplified the storylines, they’ve brought in some interesting new talent like Brian Cage and made the weekly television product engaging and captivating. Average weekly viewership is up on last year and with the Impact Wrestling vs Lucha Underground show booked for WrestleMania weekend, everything seemed to be on the up.
Then, as so often in the history of this company, events transpired against them.
In this case it was just one event, or perhaps more accurately one individual that has thrown the proverbial spanner in the works. That person is Alberto El Patron. A man known for his unreliability and somewhat unprofessional attitude was set to main event this show against Austin Aries, who returned to Impact to win the world title for the second time in the debut show under the watch of Callis and D’Amore. El Patron’s decision to no show the WrestleMania weekend show was not out of character for him, but seemed even more disappointing after the company had, right or wrong, stuck with him after his misdemeanours last year.
Impact did the right thing in dispensing with the Mexican’s services forthwith, but that left them without a main event and with all the television taped up to this week’s go-home show. That brought us to the main event we have now – a rematch of the WrestleMania weekend show main event that saw Austin Aries take on Lucha Underground stars Fenix and Pentagon Jr. In nine-minutes and a bit of change they were able to put on something entertaining in New Orleans, so with greater stakes and more time this has the chance to be an excellent main event to a reasonably well booked show.
This really is Impact’s chance to redeem themselves in front of a bigger audience. Improving the television is one thing, but delivering a good quality pay-per-view dominated by good wrestling and crowd engagement is essential. Too often in the past the company have taken their fans for granted and pay-per-views have been riddled with interference, shenanigans and all the things fans hate.
Keep it simple, let the wrestling do the talking and they should be fine. Anyway, onwards with my predictions and preview for the show.
Drago vs Aerostar
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this burgeoning relationship between Impact and Lucha Underground is the potential for there to be more crossover of talent and exciting matches. The likes of Aerostar and Dragon Azteca could add a lot to the X-Division, even if only in one-off matches, as could several others on the roster.
Both of these men were featured at the WrestleMania weekend show, teaming up with King Cuerno against DJZ, Dezmond Xavier and Andrew Everett in a winning effort. Given that Drago is more established than Aerostar in both Mexico and LU, as well as having experience with Impact from last year’s Super X Cup, him winning this makes a lot of sense. I would be surprised if this opens the show, as it seems more suited to being a nice way to pump the crowd back up before the main event, but it could do. Prediction: Drago
Taiji Ishimori vs Dezmond Xavier vs El Hijo del Fantasma vs Brian Cage vs DJZ vs Trevor Lee
This is the sort of match that you couldn’t see anywhere else that you tune into Impact for ladies and gentlemen!
When this match was initially announced, I have to say I was a little disappointed. Okay, disappointed is perhaps the wrong word, but I did scratch my head a little. The presentation of Brian Cage since his debut has been incredibly impressive and he’s clearly being positioned as a top guy by Callis and D’Amore, so a singles showcase against someone like Fantasma would have perhaps been a better showcase.
That said, it’s likely that the original plan was another clash between him and Lashley, but then the former requested his early release and went back to WWE. Likewise, a fatal-four-way between the four nominal X-Division wrestlers for a future shot at Sydal’s belt, a la Ring of Honor style, would have been a nice way to open the show.
As I mentioned in my WrestleMania weekend show preview, this is a real chance for Xavier to showcase the developments he made whilst over in Japan, whilst it will be the first time DJZ is an official Impact ring for the first time in over a year. Lee feels like he’s spinning his wheels at this point, without much of a direction, whilst Ishimori recently left NOAH and could be heading for Florida sooner rather than later. In terms of predicting a winner, the only choice in my mind is Cage. The obvious pivot after this show for Slammiversary is a bout between him and the winner of the evening’s main event, so a win here is an effective showcase. Prediction: Brian Cage
Impact Knockouts Championship
Allie (C) vs Su Yung w/ Braxton Sutter
Of all the matches on this show, this is the one I’ve gone back and forward on the most. Allie’s reign is only just beginning and I feel they are only scratching the surface in terms of getting back to where she was say nine months ago. But, I feel like the long-term plan for the title this year is a bout between Rosemary and Allie, which only really works with Rosemary as champion. As such, I expect Allie will drop the title, probably to Yung, at some point, but maybe not here.
Yung has been presented quite well in her Impact tenure thus far, although her alliance with Braxton Sutter is a little bemusing. I’m not the biggest fan of her work, so this match could be a little hit or miss, but the outcome will be interesting. At the moment I’ve got Allie retaining and losing at some point during the next tapings, but this one is a pick’em. Prediction: Allie
House of Hardcore match
OvE (The Crist Brothers & Sami Callihan) vs Moose, Eddie Edwards and Tommy Dreamer
Think what you will of Sami Callihan, or the story they’re trying to tell between him and Eddie Edwards, but it’s helped to bump the ratings and there’s definitely legs to it yet. Stipulation matches like this, as evidenced by Barbed Wire Massacre 3 earlier in the year, are the wheelhouse of the OvE boys and this should be full of big spots and big moments to engage the crowd. As long as it doesn’t fall as flat as their match with LAX at Bound for Glory they’ll be fine. Thankfully I don’t think that’ll happen as Moose and Eddie Edwards are both top notch workers and Dreamer knows how to lay these matches out better than most. The feud between Callihan and Edwards definitely isn’t done yet, with the pay-off presumably being a big singles match at Slammiversary, so I expect OvE to win here and continue their momentum. Prediction: OvE.
Impact Tag Team Championships
LAX (Santana & Ortiz) vs The Big Bad Daddies (Eli Drake & Scott Steiner)
Drake and Steiner don’t have an official team name, but following Drake’s self-ascription of the moniker ‘The Big Bad Gravy Daddy’, this is the team name I’ve elected to give them and it will stick. I do have a number of concerns about this match, the most pressing of them being the state of the Impact tag team division. After completely exhausting their feud with OvE, LAX promptly ran out of opponents and this is where they are now. They need to work to bring in more teams, even if that means pairing together singles talent for a little while, as LAX are one of the best things going in the company right now. Now, I get that the original plan for this was Drake & Adonis to challenge them and that his exit from the company left them short on options, but Steiner did not look in any way good at Wrestlecon which worries me for the quality of the match. The other three men are all good workers, so as long as the focus is on them, the match should be fine. As for the outcome, I’d expect LAX to retain, but they could do a quickie change to create intrigue for the next tapings and to stop Steiner jobbing two years in a row. Still, the former seems more likely so I’ll go with that. Prediction: LAX
Impact X-Division Championship
Matt Sydal (C) w/Josh Mathews vs Petey Williams
Sydal has been one of Impact’s best performers this year, putting on impressive contests against both Ishimori and Austin Aries in recent months. His heel turn was telegraphed a long way out and was an interesting one to see play out, but thus far it’s been a big disappointment. Mathews has added nothing as manager and it wouldn’t shock me if they took the belt off Sydal here, especially given the story they’ve tried to tell with Petey Williams. This is Williams’ redemption of his Feast or Fired opportunity, 11 years since he got an opportunity in the first-ever Feast or Fired match. He was successful on that occasion, so they could quite easily tell the story that when given the opportunity, he’s got that extra gear he can find. Williams has also looked superb since coming out of retirement so I’d have no issue with that, and with tapings in Canada in June it makes even more sense. I’m working myself into a shoot now…
I think, if they keep Mathews involvement to a minimum, this has the potential to rival the main event for match of the night. Dezmond Xavier or DJZ should be the one to dethrone Sydal, not Williams, so I hope Sydal retains, but I wouldn’t guarantee it. Prediction: Matt Sydal
Impact World Championship
Austin Aries vs Pentagon Jr vs Fenix
Aries has been a breath of fresh air since walking back into the company in January and I have tremendous respect for the way he handled himself in the aftermath of the El Patron debacle. He was my pick to beat El Patron here before (although that’s largely because his contract expired soon after the show and he’s not worth the money), and he’s my pick now. As neither Pentagon nor Fenix are company regulars, there’s only a very slight chance either of them wins, but there’s no reason that this can’t be excellent. Fenix will fly and do incredible lucha things, Pentagon will show off his power and general scariness in the ring and Aries will be excellent as always. Avoiding the tropes of previous Impact main events will be key, but if they do that this will be great and will set the stage for Aries vs Cage at Slammiversary. Prediction: Austin Aries