2018 was a transformative year for Impact Wrestling. As we hurtle into the 1-9, the brain trust at Impact Towers need to look back on the successes and failures of the last 12 months, while continuing to move the fledgling company, ever forward…
2018 was a proverbial rollercoaster for Impact Wrestling. For every roaring debut (see Killer Kross, Tessa Blanchard et al), there was a controversial departure (step forward, Alberto El Patron and Austin Aries). For every new viewer on YouTube (2 million at last count), those same eyes appeared to look everywhere else, but Pop TV, for their Impact fix.
As 2018 came to a close, in spite of a plethora of postitive steps forward, the Internet Wrestling Community was abuzz with year-end doom-mongery and Nostradamus-like predictions of Impact’s demise.
“Those dwindling viewing figures”, they cried.
“That awful television deal”, they typed furiously.
“Austin Aries just soiled the Impact World Title”, through tear-soaked Kleenex.
In 2018, Impact Wrestling delivered a superkick to industry expectations. And by year-end was met with a (figurative) legit low blow from the, ever fickle, sports entertainment media-types.
So, let’s look back, before moving forward.
In 2018, the new management team of Don Callis and Scott D’Amore performed a 180 on an already packed roster. As EC3 and Bobby Lashley exited for bigger (if, not necessarily, greener) pastures, Team Impact brought in talent, after talent:
Real-life superhuman, Brian Cage came to Impact. A muscle-bound beast who defies physics with feats of strength and aerial wizardry.
Rey Mysterio’s natural successor landed in Impact, in the form of Fenix. Perhaps the most under-rated and under-utilised weapon in the company’s bag of tricks, what Fenix can do in, on and around the ring is AJ Styles-level phenomenal.
Tessa Blanchard may just be the best wrestler in the entire company.
Pentagon Junior is a best bout machine of the highest order.
Jordynne Grace may just out-muscle and out-wrestle 90% of the roster in 2019. That is until she runs into Blanchard the Third.
The Rascalz, comprised of Desmond Xavier, Zachary Wentz and Trey Miguel, will add fire and (a somewhat baked) fury to a small, but thoroughly entertaining, tag division.
And then there’s Willie Mack. Rich Swann. Su Yung. Ethan Page…
The list goes on…
Simply put, through smart acquisitions, and a focus on new, less exposed performers, Impact has grown a world-beating roster. One that belies the expectations of the Impact trolls and doubters. No wrestling fan can deny the calibre of talent on display. Well, maybe some can….
Impact Wrestling expanded its global footprint in 2018. Abandoning, the confines of the Universal Studios, Florida soundstage, Don and Scott, in true carnie-style, took the show on the road.
This travelling circus managed to avoid the pitfalls of the Eric Bishoff/Hulk Hogan era (and how weird is it to say that in 2019).
Leaving the arenas to the big guns, Impact opted for smaller, more intimate venues. The effect on the product, as a viewer, has been a positive one.
Between small Vegas casinos, nightclubs and 1000-3000 capacity halls/arenas, Impact have dispensed with the tourist trap of a theme park and replaced it with value tickets, in modest surroundings topped off with world-class wrestling.
The crowds of Windsor, Ontario were ridiculously passionate and vocal. The New York crowds at the Melrose Ballroom, defied the small (1500) capacity. Those Canadians, again, helped to make Slammiversary (and the following television tapings) the most enjoyable Impact output of the year.
While Mexico delivered a disinterested audience (who seemed to be unfamiliar with the product), this was an aberration in a year that proved that travel really is good for the soul.
A more engaged fan-base, coupled with the visually interesting backgrounds of varied venues adds to that, all important, atmosphere. Something oft missing from recent years at Universal Studios.
In 2018, Impact (re)started small, and began a grassroots movement amongst wrestling fans. In 2019, the company need to slowly grow those small buildings and crowds into bigger numbers and repeat customers.
2018 was Impact Wrestling’s most entertainingly consistent year in company history. A bold statement, I know, but one backed up by the strength of the ’19 roster, critical response to the product and an additional 1 million YouTube subscribers (doubling that metric audience in less than 12 months).
Whisper it quietly: Impact Wrestling is on the cusp of being…cool.
The year-long build to a gang war between (the supremely talented) LAX and the grizzled vets of The OGz was contemporary, violent and street savvy.
The most vanilla of babyface’s throughout 2017, Eddie Edwards is now a dribbling, deranged and damaged sociopath who’s best friend is a kendo stick. Stupid? Yup. Entertaining? You’re damn right.
Moose and his timely heel-turn has given the untapped superstar a new lease on life. Channelling the great 80’s Eddie Murphy, Moose has become one of the most fun, reprehensible and outrageously attired bad guys in wrestling.
With a lecherous lust for Mackenzie Mitchell and a modern day spin on classic Ric Flair (women, champagne and only the finest for this guy), Moose has become must-watch television.
Killer Kross reminds me of The Big Boss Man if he’d been dragged through hell and signed a pact with the devil. Double K’s visual, promo and match presentation screams future main eventer.
Kross is dark, foreboding and one of the most interesting additions to the Impact Universe.
Scarlett Bordeaux is bringing an Attitude-era level of sex appeal to Impact and would certainly turn the heads of casual channel surfers.
The stoner gimmick of The Rascalz will appeal to a certain demographic. It helps that all three men are three of the finest wrestlers on the indie scene. A great, late 2018 addition for Don and Scott.
The demonic zombie saga of Rosemary, Su Yung, Allie and Keira Hogan has created a human horror movie, shared universe that has been built on the foundation of all things “Broken.” Horror fans and wrestling fans have always enjoyed a certain crossover appeal.
And Impact refuses to be boring.
Each division, match and performer, work a fast-paced, hard-hitting style.
Segments veer from the comedy of KM and Fallah Bahh, to the Insidious-like fantasies of Jim Mitchell and Rosemary. From the mental breakdown of Eddie Edwards, to the repulsive Cult of Callihan.
Impact is a wrestling variety show.
In 2018, Scott D’Amore and Don Callis set out to make small, incremental steps in the rebuilding of Impact. They HAVE succeeded. Not without hiccups, but 2018 has given Impact a taste of credibility. 2019 needs to continue that journey.
The Pursuit television deal does reduce visibility. That’s a given.
The downward trend in viewership must be a worry for Impact Towers.
The behaviours of Alberto and Aries were problematic.
Impact are still on television. Pursuit is a male orientated and mature-themed channel. While it’s reach may be smaller, Impact may be able to take more risks and develop an even edgier product.
Wrestling fans may respond to a more adult, violent and riskier product. Pursuit give Impact that opportunity. As the old saying goes, when given lemons…make (hard) lemonade!
The vast reduction in viewers can be attributed to time slot changes and a channel that offered little in advertising support.
This can be tempered by the knowledge of a 100% increase in YouTube numbers. Impact have done a fantastic job of growing their social media platforms in 2018 and this has been reflected in viewing habits.
Impact have provided recaps, full matches and additional content on their YouTube channel that has almost made the television show redundant.
This may be a good news/bad news situation, but in 2019, accepting that viewing figures are not a true measuring stick for success may be the most important takeaway for fans and management alike.
And did Patron and Aries really damage Impact with their unprofessionalism? No doubt. And that’s why, in short order, Alberto was shown he door. At the end of his contract, Aries was simply not talked about again.
Attention wasn’t lavished on the attitude and practices of those that drew negative press. Impact moved forward. As a result Pentagon and Fenix replaced Patron in the main event. Upon departure, management forgot Aries and began the Brian Cage main event push.
Impact moved forward.
So what of 2019?
Impact Wrestling need to stay the course. Continue to invest in youth, talent and put the company on the shoulders of emerging stars. Whilst looking back on their latest pay per view, Homecoming represents a look at the future over at Impact Towers.
Amongst the sea of NXT, All Elites and Ring of Honor Madison Square Garden sellouts, don’t sleep on Impact Wrestling.
2019 (and beyond) belongs to the Tessa’s. To the Fenix’s. To the Kross’. To the Grace’s. To Sami-freakin-Callihan.
To a roster ready, willing and able to take over everything…