3,808 days is a very long time.
Like, a really, really long time.
That really, really long time is how long elapsed between Taylor Wilde’s last two Impact Wrestling matches—a loss to Sarita on a November 2010 episode of Xplosion and a win over Kimber Lee on Impact on AXS TV in late April 2021.
Yet, this is not a story of someone who had loads of time away from a promotion because they joined the WWE or some other promotion. No, no, no. After that loss to Sarita, Taylor Wilde wrestled just once more before her return match against Kimber Lee. That was a loss to Alissa Flash on February 5, 2021, on a PWR/NWA card at something called the John O’Connell High School in San Francisco.
To take 10 years away from something, completely away that is, is remarkable in and of itself. A lot can change for both you and the thing, activity, industry you’ve sought distance from. For Taylor Wilde and women’s wrestling, that 10 years have marked a genuine generational shift.
When she left Impact Wrestling upon the expiry of her contract in 2010, the promotion was still called TNA. Since then it’s also been GFW. It’s been on Spike, Destination America, Pop TV, Pursuit, Twitch and AXS TV. Billy Corgan has come and gone. Dixie Carter got powerbombed through a table. Jeff Jarrett has come and gone, and come and gone again. The promotion has more false deaths than, well, someone who might have been involved in an Impact forum.
Wilde’s departure, not just from Impact but from the whole wrestling business at the age of 25, seemed strange to me. Despite her youth, she was presented as a central figure in the division and was, at that level just below Gail Kim, a great foil for Awesome Kong atop the division. Her feud with Kong for the belt was good and she was also a two-time tag champion. She was the first woman to hold both female belts in the promotion. Indeed, she was even tag champion at the time of her departure. She was athletically gifted and had a brilliant, natural babyface aura that should have cemented her as a cornerstone for the promotion for years to come.
Her motivations to leave, though, were clearly personal. She was young and had intentions to study. She became a firefighter, got married and had a child. She took a route that gave her fulfilment and it made her happy. That’s something we all want from life.
Yet, this was also still a time where women’s wrestling was still fundamentally underdeveloped, with talent assessed more on their physical assets, to use such base language, rather than their ability to wrestle and connect with the fans. It was treated like a sideshow – we all know the unhelpful soubriquet’s for women’s matches on TV and PPV…
Wilde’s PPV matches rarely went much longer than five minutes, although no one really did unless you were Gail Kim, and seemingly few people batted an eyelid. Career satisfaction as a female wrestler, irrespective of where you were working, must have seemed fairly finite and limited by a ceiling of reluctant acceptance that things wouldn’t get better.
Now, this is not to say that women working in 2008 – 2010 had it hugely worse than generations prior, plainly not, but in an era where bikini contests and bra and panties matches were still common for the industry leader, things left an awful lot to be desired.
After a decade off the radar, it was strongly rumored towards the back end of 2020 that she was coming back and after a few months of nothing happening, she finally returned in April, first through a series of vignettes and then at Rebellion, saving Tenille Dashwood from a beat down. Her first match was a few days later, on my birthday no less, and I was struck by two things. The first was the evolution of women’s wrestling in the last decade.
Women’s wrestling, thanks to the generation that were influenced by the likes of Gail Kim, Lita, Trish Stratus and others, has risen to new heights. The talent is stronger and there’s much more depth. That greater talent leads to better programs and matches that are given both more prominence and time. Time is probably the biggest factor of all – longer matches that hit greater heights will impress people more and create new fans. We now get multiple female match of the year contenders every year and women have had Wrestlemania main events, something wholly unthinkable when Wilde was wrestling initially.
In Impact, the change is also notable. On a personnel level, Gail Kim has retired, unretired and retired again. Awesome Kong has done the okey kokey with her contract status before leaving for good. The promotion’s idea of intergender moved from Eric Young and ODB winning the tag titles to Tessa Blanchard winning the world title. Deonna Purrazzo and Jordynne Grace produced two of the promotion’s best matches last year, including working an ironwoman match that broke new ground. The tag titles were brought out of abeyance because there was a market for them and talent to compete for them.
The second thing was just how bloody good Wilde looked in the ring. You’d never have known she’d been away for 10 years because she hadn’t lost a step. All that athleticism was still there without the merest hint of poor timing. She’s now one of the best three bell-to-bell women in the company and that, honestly, is remarkable to me.
There are myriad different ways that Impact could go with this comeback story. They’re currently sowing the seeds for a program with Deonna Purrazzo for the Knockouts title, presumably culminating at Slammiversary, and I like the slow burn. It should give them time to tell a proper, coherent story.
You don’t need a gimmick because Wilde’s return is the gimmick. What we need to see is the personal touch. Why has she come back? If they talk about her wanting to win titles because of how good Impact’s Knockouts division is then yeah, fine. That’s cool and a simple enough story. Yet, there’s a lot more to that why that they could explore. Especially after 10 whole years. Why has she really come back? Why would you trade in a comfortable life to come back to wrestling? It could just be passion. Or it could be the fact that women’s wrestling is taken more seriously now and she’s got the opportunity to prove how good she really was and is.
Wilde is now 35, which is not old by any means, and after 10 years away, she’s got relatively minimal wear and tear compared to a lot. Every matchup she has, whether that’s with people on the roster currently or the mooted new influx of talent, will be fresh, new and interesting. As we hopefully begin to emerge from the empty arena era, that’s a big thing to look forward to.
It might be more than 10 years since I first thought it’d happen, but now Taylor Wilde has the opportunity to be the cornerstone for the Impact Knockouts division that I always thought she’d be. And if they follow through with the recent rumors of bringing back the TNA brand, she’s one part of that that I’m delighted has returned.