Attempts at recreating the model utilized by ECW in the late 90s have been commonplace across the wrestling business for the better part of two decades.

In many ways this fascination is understandable – ECW had that burst of success because it was different, exciting and captured the zeitgeist of wrestling fans at a time when liking wrestling was cool and fashionable. As the larger companies in North America have gradually run out of ideas and realized that their star-making model is broken, they have looked back to ECW for inspiration. They have looked back to something that worked and tried to recapture it, only to discover that the promotion’s success was a product of circumstance and that those circumstances are drastically different now.

Impact Wrestling has gradually begun to resemble an ECW tribute act in all but name over the last few months and that was particularly apparent this week as Rhino cut a promo on the weekly TV and wrestled Moose on the Impact Plus special Unbreakable this past Friday.

I have always enjoyed Rhino—he was enjoying a run near the top of the card in Impact when I first started watching the promotion back in 2009 and I really engaged with the work he did with Heath Slater soon after the recent WWE brand split. He is certainly better in the ring at this stage of his career than Rob Van Dam and Sabu, which admittedly isn’t saying much, but he is 43 and has certainly lost a step.

His TV promo was superb, showing tremendous fire, energy and heart, but his match with Moose wasn’t. It lasted about 11 minutes but felt as though it was closer to 30, and seemed for the most part that it was being wrestled in slow motion. At the same time as Moose was trying to get himself over as a vicious opportunity on the weekly TV, he was being pinned by Rhino just weeks after a dry feud with Van Dam.

Rhino needed to win that match at Unbreakable, it was his comeback match with the company and he is being put into a program with top title contender Michael Elgin. Moose shouldn’t have lost though—he desperately needs some direction and continually being beaten by ECW relics isn’t the right one. I had been prepared to give Rhino more of a chance than the others but this match was not the sort of contest that makes me want to keep doing so.

The next night at Starstruck, Rhino teamed with Tommy Dreamer for a shot at The North’s tag team titles. This bout was a fair bit longer, around 17 minutes, and was just as lethargic. Dreamer is Dreamer, still a solid hand who serves a purpose, but this was just worked at such a plodding pace and felt like an entire waste of The North. But hey, ECW still stood stall!

The commentary for the matches involving the likes of Rhino, Sabu and Van Dam is perhaps the worst bit. I understand that as announcers you want to hype the product in front of you, but these guys aren’t what they were 20 years ago and at no point should it be made out that they are even close to their peak. Nostalgia for a bygone era is fine, especially one as unique as the ECW years were, but not to the point that it encroaches on your current product.

ECW tribute acts don’t work and never have and whilst utilizing the likes of Rhino, Van Dam and Sabu to sell a few more tickets, generate a bit more social media buzz and give some of your friends a few final big paydays is all well and good, fetishising them and the era they were a part of to the point that they’re at the front and center of your product isn’t.

The Week in Review

  • Like most of the Impact Plus specials, Unbreakable was a mixed bag. There was a lot of perfectly acceptable but not particularly scintillating wrestling, but the Elgin/Edwards and Callihan/Blanchard matches were very close to being spreadsheet matches. Callihan is the new No #1 contender to the world title – will that shot come at Bound for Glory in October?
  • The six-man scramble for a shot at Jake Crist’s X-Division title to open this week’s TV was excellent. It was high-energy, full of great action and the decision to give Aiden Prince the win was good – he’s a local guy they use every time they come to Canada so it makes sense to give him some credibility. It was also great to see Chuck Mambo getting a shot.
  • The main event between The North and The Rascalz was a fantastic bit of tag team wrestling. Alexander & Page worked with a real intensity and the Rascalz bumped tremendously for all their stuff – Xavier’s athleticism never ceases to amaze.
  • Next week we have Rhino in action, Madison Rayne vs Alexia Nicole, Eddie Edwards vs Ace Austin, Taya defending the Knockouts title against Havok, Crist against Prince for the X-Division strap and a tag team title match between The North and Daga & Ortiz. All in all a very solid looking show.

Well, until next time…