It really is beginning to look like we’re coming to the end of the pandemic era in wrestling. Well, for the North American promotions at least. AEW are touring again, the WWE is moving out of the ThunderDome, and Impact has announced that there’ll be fans at both Slammiversary and the two days of post-PPV tapings.

Whether or not you think it is right to be having large gatherings or not, having passionate, engaged fans back in buildings will almost certainly make matches, and each promotion’s overall product, better.

As the old saying goes, we’ll look back on this era of wrestling and (hopefully) laugh. There’s been a lot of good stuff and probably a fair bit more bad stuff. Promotions have had to play it by ear and fly by their seat of their pants for the most part in terms of production. But for all the reasons that we’re glad to see this era come to an end, there are things that I want promotions, and particularly Impact, to retain moving forward.

I won’t go into detail on the lessons we’ve learned from the pandemic era. This is for two reasons: a) Abraham Delgado already nailed for VOW at the end of last month, and b) that’s not where I’m going with this piece. No, this is a big, old moan at Impact’s booking.

For me, one of the best bits about the pandemic era in wrestling has been a return to vogue for A-to-B-to-C booking. Simple, effective booking. A beats B, which leads to a match with C. A is on a good run of wins and gets a title match with the champion. With no live crowds to cater for, for the most part, and smaller rosters, these promotions have worked with what they’ve got and delivered solid, linear stories. That’s what wrestling should be. Give the viewers someone to root for, someone to boo and a logical payoff at the end.

The A to B to C stuff delivers the sports-style presentation that I’ve always favored. The focus is on the spirit of competition and a logical structure to the roster – A beat B and C, so he’s above them in the pecking order. If you tell the simple stories, there’s no need for 50/50 booking and making everyone equal because no one gets buried and people get over when you want them to.

Anyway, the return of this booking has been a key thing for Impact, which I feel has been booked mostly well for the last year and a bit. They’ve committed to things, made matches and stories matter and delivered big moments. However, this week they seemed to jettison that approach with a very middling show on the way to Slammiversary.

One of the big hooks for this week’s show was supposed to be Satoshi Kojima against Eddie Edwards. A nice payoff to the team gimmick they’ve worked during Kojima’s stint in Impact and something that was clearly a dream match for Eddie.

I was looking forward to it.

Yet we didn’t get it.

Instead, Impact gave us the old bait-and-switch, with W. Morrissey laying out Edwards in the back, and leaving Kojima without an opponent… until he ended up teaming with Jake Something against Brian Myers and his ‘young boy’ Sam Beale.

It was a serviceable tag that got Kojima a win and advanced Something’s mini-program with Myers. But, is that the end of Kojima’s stint in Impact? Are we not going to get him against Edwards at all?

I understand that sometimes changes are unavoidable, especially with promotions that do block tapings and in this COVID-era when there’s more chance of people having to miss out last minute. And I know that the bait-and-switch is a well-trodden booking technique. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good one. To me, it’s lazy and when overdone, or done with something that should matter, it shortchanges the audience you’re supposed to be working hard to retain.

Talking of overdone, I’m not finished yet. We got a lack of commitment from Impact to simple, effective booking twice more before the show was out.

Next up was a singles match between Tenille Dashwood and Rachael Ellering. It was a little sloppy but, again, it was fine TV match. The issue was the post-match. For months, Impact have telegraphed a Jordynne Grace heel turn. Months. She’s grown more and more frustrated with herself and those around her. Last week she walked out on Jazz and Ellering when they tried to give her a pep talk. When Dashwood and Kaleb started attacking Jazz and Ellering after this week’s match, Grace hit the ring and cleared house. She stood face-to-face with Ellering. I waited for her to lay her out.

I’m still waiting.

Grace slapped the offer of a handshake away and instead gave her former tag partner a big hug. They’re back together again, yay!

Wrestling fans can be fickle and I might well be proved wrong next week when they implode or whatever but this felt like Impact missing an empty net. They’re short on tag teams for the Knockouts tag division but they’re also short on viable contenders for the Knockouts title. Grace turning heel was both the payoff to a story they’ve been telling for months AND a far more convincing use of her for the back half of 2021. Have her turn heel and win the title, allowing Ellering to chase the friend that betrayed her. For now at least, they look like they’ve squandered that chance.

They say things come in threes and the trifecta was completed by the ending to Rich Swann & Willie Mack against TJP & Fallah Bahh. It was supposed to be a de facto number one contender’s match for the tag titles held by Violent By Design. We got two minutes of a feeling out process before Violent By Design hit the ring and wiped out everyone, resulting in a no contest.

Number one contender’s matches should matter and by undermining this one, it devalues the stipulation in the promotion. If Violent By Design were able to do it, why, logically, wouldn’t every champion interrupt these matches to stop anyone ‘earning’ a shot to face them?

I understand that they want to get Violent By Design over as these dominant heels but they’re already established. They won the titles in shocking fashion and beat the team of Edwards & Kojima the week before. Surely the more effective approach is to let Swann and Mack win the match, and then have Violent By Design do a post-match attack. It gives you earned contendership, your Slammiversary match and a little heat in the program off the bat. Instead, we’ll now probably get a multi-man match purely to get everybody on the card.

Multi-man matches will hide Violent By Design’s limitations (and play to their strengths) but a 2 vs 2 against Swann and Mack, two of Impact’s best babyfaces, would be better.

When you get nonsense finishes like these, you get people defending them, saying that the company clearly wanted to ‘protect’ both guys/women/teams. People will defend anything but that’s not the point. If that holds true, and Impact wanted to protect both teams in this instance ahead of a multi-team match, don’t book this match. They have the pencil and are in control of what they book. If they were insistent on a multi-team match, why not book it in a different way? Why not both teams win multiple matches and then D’Amore books them both in the title match at Slammiversary?

There’s a lot of old man yelling into a cloud this week but it is a source of frustration. Simple A-to-B-to-C booking has been one of the hallmarks of the pandemic era and is something Impact should take forward.  This week offered some of that, just without a commitment to delivering what they’d teed up in advance. With only a couple of weeks to go until Slammiversary, you want better.