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Impact’s intergender World title match has too many stories to tell

Author’s note: This was written before the accusations and stories about Tessa Blanchard were shared on Twitter yesterday. While those are obviously the big story regarding Hard To Kill’s main event now, this match and future prominent intergender programs still face the issues discussed below.

Personally, I’ve never had a problem with intergender wrestling. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a sci-fi/fantasy/comic book fan all my life. In genres like those, it’s not uncommon to see a bad-ass heroine throw down with a male villain. Sometimes (but not too often), those alignments are flipped. It’s helped me separate fictional violence from the real world equivalent.

But I get that that’s not how everyone experiences it. Some can’t suspend disbelief. Others are just not comfortable seeing men and women trying to physically hurt each other, regardless of the context. It doesn’t matter that it’s not “real”.

Those are some of the issues Impact Wrestling is dealing with heading into the main event of their Hard To Kill PPV tomorrow in Dallas. Impact is the highest profile wrestling company to attempt an intergender main event program. They’ve managed to grab a number of headlines they probably wouldn’t have if Sami Callihan was defending against Moose, or Tessa Blanchard was wrestling Taya, on Sun., Jan. 12.

But in promoting Blanchard vs. Callihan for their World title, they’ve had to address potential viewers who don’t buy that a 5’ 5”, 125 pound woman would be a threat to a 5’ 8, 200 pound man. They’ve also had to respond to critics who think seeing Sami suplex Tessa will be triggering to people who’ve experienced domestic violence in their lives.

Time spent doing those things is time not spent selling the personal issues between these two characters. There’s heat between Callihan and Blanchard, and it’s brought up with regularity. But it’s diffused because there are many other issues to cover - and we haven’t even mentioned the understandable touting of how historic this weekend’s match will be.

You see Impact and the wrestlers trying to serve all these masters & mistresses in this overall excellent video from last week’s Impact:

The problem is more evident in the press Tessa’s been doing. There’s always an element of kayfabe-busting in mainstream interviews these days, but not quite to the extent she’s needed to in discussing her latest encounter with the man called Death Machine. Take her talk with IGN’s Matt Fowler:

“...we’re doing something different, something that’s making some people uncomfortable... it’s something that some people support but for some people it disrupts them. It’s cool because it shows that we’re doing something special. It shows that maybe we are accomplishing something by evolving things on both sides of the locker room.

I know it makes some people uncomfortable for obvious reasons. Because it’s ‘just not normal.’ It’s not what people are used to seeing so they don’t think that’s what pro-wrestling is. It’s not the typical story that we tell. It’s not on Monday night. It’s not something they’re comfortable letting their kids watch. But in my mind I find it very empowering because I think that women can go out there and tell that story with a man. I think there’s a way to do it.”

I agree with everything Blanchard says there, and I love to hear about the creative process behind a match or feud. It’s important to analyze programs which change the business, and how.

But those discussions usually happen after the match is won or the story is complete.

Now, I’ll admit I have not been an every week Impact-watcher for the duration of Tessa & Sami’s year long rivalry. I’ve seen more of the show since it moved to AXS, and have kept up with things that sound interesting in recaps via social media and YouTube. If you’ve been invested in this story for months, the non-fiction sales pitches might not be as distracting.

But Impact is hoping Hard To Kill’s trailblazing main event will convince a lot of people who haven’t been following Blanchard & Callihan’s feud to start tuning in every Tuesday night. Being repeatedly reminded their conflict is as much about business and cultural buzzwords like disruptive innovation as it is about who wins a fight doesn’t make that any easier.

Sami & Tessa are talented, charismatic wrestlers. They will wow a lot of people with their performance tomorrow, and some of those will start calling themselves Impact fans as a result. But they’ve given themselves a huge mountain to climb. And what they’ve had to do just to get more people to give them a chance has in some ways made that mountain higher.

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