The end of the year is upon us which ushers in the end of the year recaps, reviews, and retrospectives. So it’s time to look at Impact Wrestling the promotion and see how they fared in 2018.
When I wrote this up last year, it was the story of a very bumpy ride and a rotating door of talent. It was not a good year for them. When I came up with a wishlist of things I wanted in 2018, stability was the top one. To have a chance of presenting a half way decent product, they’d have to have consistent management (which 2017 did not have) and a consistent vision.
This year, they finally came through with that needed stability.
Don Callis and Scott D’Amore came on board of January this year as executive vice presidents and started enacting their creative vision. They slowly turned over the roster from people who were on their way out (such as EC3 and Lashley) and brought in their own talent (Brian Cage, Tessa Blanchard).
With a set creative team and a roster more their own, they focused on telling long term stories with certain feuds lasting months at a time. When done correctly, they were able to take their characters through creative journeys over time. Eddie Edwards’ descent into madness because of a vicious Sami Callihan attack or the slow pairing of Fallah Bahh and KM are good examples of how this worked well. They were certainly stories that lingered way too long, such as LAX’s feud with the OGz, but even then, they tried to keep it interesting over the half year’s worth of feud. (Though in the LAX/OGz case, it didn’t work.)
One of the most important thing they did this year is got the hell out of Orlando. They spurned the lethargic sound stage 19 known as the Impact Zone that consistently contained an uninterested crowd and finally took their act on the road. Before Slammiversary, they did a round of shows in Windsor, Ontario and the crowd was actually excited to see wrestling. Immediately, that enthusiasm came across on TV and the shows were improved because of it.
They added another pay-per-view (Redemption) early in the year and look to be turning to a quarterly PPV model. All of their PPVs were enjoyable, with Slammiversary being a home run, almost a coming out party for the new Impact.
They weren’t without some hiccups. They released Alberto El Patron weeks before the Redemption PPV where he was in the main event because he no showed an appearance. However, this wasn’t looked at as a LOLTNA moment but more a swift decision that needed to happen. They changed the main event to a match where fan favorite Pentagon Jr. (who wasn’t even on the show prior to the shake up) won the title.
They also had the abrupt exit of Austin Aries after he lost his championship to Johnny Impact at Bound for Glory. The biggest issue was Aries no sold the finish and yelled at Don Callis before leaving. We still never got a real answer to what happened, if it was Aries going rogue on his way out or if it was a work to drum up interest and something they could come back to later. If it’s the former, that’s forgivable. If it’s the latter, it’s a poor decision that undercuts your new champion the moment you crown him.
Even with those things, Impact had a very solid year with more positive than negative. This weekly product is usually enjoyable and it’s definitely improvement from last year.
But is it too little too late?
Even before news that Impact will be leaving Pop TV to move to the Pursuit channel, a station that’s in half the homes as Pop, for a crummy Friday at 10 pm time slot, there were worries of the promotion being lost in the fray.
Even just a couple years ago, it was pretty certain that Impact was the second promotion in the United States. But as years of dumb mistakes by poor ownership drove away viewers and they kept getting downgraded to television stations in less and less homes, that claim has pretty much whittled away.
Meanwhile, other non-WWE wrestling continues to explode, with plenty of other alternatives for those who don’t want to watch Vince McMahon’s vision. Ring of Honor has increased in popularity as the Young Bucks and Cody were the hottest act on the indies this last year or two. While those acts are leaving Ring of Honor, there are loud rumbling of them starting their own promotion, another source of competition for Impact. New Japan Pro Wrestling is easier to watch with their streaming service (though as of last January, they were 40,000 subscribers outside Japan so Impact still had more people in the US watching their weekly product).
There was Lucha Underground and the new MLW, which both had wrestlers that were also on Impact. Meaning, Impact didn’t have a hook that you couldn’t find elsewhere. You love Brian Cage? Yes, you can see him on Impact but could have also seen him on Lucha Underground. Love Sami Callihan? Well, he’s on MLW as well.
To cap it off, more and more independent promotions have their own streaming services. Meaning Impact no longer has the luxury of being one of the only games in town outside WWE. The fact they were on TV and there weren’t many other options is no longer a safety net for the promotion.
Basically, Don Callis and Scott D’Amore came in with Impact far behind the 8-ball. They had bled viewers over the years while numerous alternatives to their product keep popping up. That’s a difficult position to walk into.
Add in the fact their newest TV deal takes them out of half the homes they were previous in and placed them in a death time slot and that just compounds things. There’s a rumor that this isn’t an exclusive deal and they’re still shopping around so there’s hope they can find something more serviceable than a hunting channel that isn’t even on Comcast. Because without that, they risk fading away amongst all the alternatives fans have already discovered.
Impact really started to right the ship in 2018, but we’ll have to watch 2019 to see if it was just too late.