The promotion formerly known as Total Nonstop Action has pushed the ‘reset button’ on more than one occasion, often with a sense of desperation all in the hope of a needed change in fortune. However, this most recent reset is a little different as for the first time, Dixie Carter isn’t at the helm. Instead, the company has new owners in Anthem Sports & Entertainment and fascinatingly the founder Jeff Jarrett is back in power. The game plan on paper was simply laid out as ‘Make Impact Great Again’ and those steps were taken quickly as old stars quickly returned and new talent came in, even if an exodus of performers went the other way.
Along with Jarrett came Dutch Mantell and suddenly, two of the key players in much of Impact’s success in the mid-2000s were back together and in charge of the creative direction. No matter how hard the fans wanted a return of those days though, it was very evident that wouldn't exactly be the case. Things had changed, Christopher Daniels was now the ROH champ, Samoa Joe had become Triple H’s destroyer and once company franchise AJ Styles was now facing Shane McMahon at WrestleMania. As those examples perfectly illustrate, though the mentality had returned the talent simply wasn't going to and for many the Impact ship had sailed. With that very much apparent, the game plan suddenly wasn't so simple but nonetheless, the reset button was pushed.
Almost four months later and now it’s time for Impact’s first PPV under the new regime. A quick glance at the match card shows that there have certainly been some changes made but the question now becomes whether or not they were positive ones. It feels as though this event is the last of the newest chapter, the end of the ‘reset phase’ and the culmination of the last four months. The key will be what comes next but first, let’s analyze what’s happened so far by breaking down the main features of the Sunday’s PPV card.
Impact Wrestling and GFW Global Titles
Bobby Lashley vs. Alberto El Patron
This whole thing began on Alberto’s debut night as he took the Impact title from Lashley in controversial fashion before quickly having to relinquish the belt. Since then Patron has taken the GFW strap from Magnus and that now sets up a unification match here at Slammiversary. The world title program is usually a company’s centerpiece by default and a good gauge of the product’s overall presentation and quality. Considering that, I think it’s fair to say that Lashley and Patron are undeniably good choices for the top talents in any company, let alone one going through so much internal chaos.
Alberto El Patron’s arrival in Impact was actually greeted by quite a bit of negativity from the ‘hardcore’ fanbase. Rightly or wrongly, Patron’s ill-fated WWE return had tied him with words like ‘unmotivated’ or ‘lazy’ but from my vantage point, that couldn't be further from the case in this Impact run. Few have ever questioned Patron’s talent but more his motivation and those doubts have been consistently dispelled thus far. Not only has Alberto brought a genuine energy to all of his segments but he’s delivered in the ring consistently, having strong TV main events with talents like Magnus and Eli Drake. More than all of that though, Patron looks and carries himself like a superstar and that helps elevate the importance of everything he does in Impact.
Opposite him is the man that has been Impact’s centerpiece for the last year: Bobby Lashley. Perception is reality and some of Lashley’s struggles in his WWE run still follow him in the minds of a certain fan base. The truth is though, Lashley is a completely different performer at this point in his career. At route of it all is the feeling that Lashley is simply more comfortable in his own skin now. He’s more assured of himself and that translates in his no-nonsense promos, an area he has improved in at a magnificent rate. From bell to bell Lashley has grown too and he’s become a truly well-rounded worker, still athletic and dynamic but now also capable of really telling a story. Oh and he still very much has ‘the look’ too.
Basically, whether people know it or not Lashley has really hit his stride in the last 18 months and now finds himself as a genuinely compelling main event act. Just like Patron, Lashley also feels like a star and his legitimacy helps all involved. This is a very strong headline match for the PPV and whilst I’d say the build could certainly be more cohesive or dynamic, the pair should make for some excitement bell to bell and that’s always a good start.
Sonjay Dutt vs. Low-Ki
In my opinion, one of the best aspects of this recent reset has been the refocus on the X-Division and more specifically, the way Low-Ki has been featured as a very serious, sport-style division centerpiece. Ki has discussed his spot in the division in detail via pre-tapes and his presentation is so unique that he really stands out. He speaks with a calm confidence and comes across as a legitimate, professional and highly intelligent athlete. His mild approach to those sit-downs certainly contrasts with his violent, aggressive in-ring style and combine that with his ‘Hitman’ inspired look and it creates a rather interesting character.
This match with the champion Dutt stems from an incident that took place in both their in-ring returns to Impact. In a bizarre accident, Dutt’s eye was injured by Low-Ki as he came down after throwing a drop kick and with that, the seeds were planted for this rivalry. Ki won the title that night and dominated opposition until Dutt challenged him for it in Mumbai, India. The segment in which the match was booked was a strong one as Dutt cut an impassioned promo in front of the Indian crowd. There was a real intensity to the conflict, something that’s been absent from X-Division title programs over the last few years.
Say what you will about him but the fact that Ki takes himself seriously can help the stuff he’s involved with at times because he seems more authentic and believable than some of his more comedic counterparts. The build up to their encounter in Mumbai was excellent and the match itself was solid even if perhaps a little unspectacular. I’m sure that they’ll deliver here though and I’d expect the belt to be returned to Ki as we move towards a quite exciting potential feud with Matt Sydal.
Impact Wrestling and GFW Global Tag Championships
LAX vs. Drago and El Hijo del Fantasma vs. TBA vs. TBA
Just one of LAX’s three opponents for Slammiversary have been announced and I have to concede that I’m not really knowledgeable on the two AAA representatives but for me, the focus here is on the champions anyway. I would argue that this latest incarnation of LAX is legitimately one of the best things in professional wrestling right now. The talent involved is strong with both Konnan and Homicide returning along with new members Ortiz, Santana, and Diamante but more than that, the whole feel and presentation feels fresh and different. It’s very hard to recreate something and LAX was a great act the first time around but this new version feels unique and is thriving as one of the best aspects of the product right now.
Konnan has a real proven knack of being edgy and unique in an engaging fashion and that’s translating in a major way here. After almost 30 years in the wrestling business, Konnan continues to be a forward thinker and always seems to be looking to evolve and grow, an attitude that seems far too rare in 2017. It was the same in the mid-90s when he reinvented himself as ‘K-Dogg’ and then again when LAX began, simply put Konnan has a genuine ability to adapt and change. Not every talent can be given creative freedom but it certainly seems as though his fingerprints are all over this new LAX and especially their quite incredible pre-tapes.
Shot and produced in a completely different way to everything else in the show, all of LAX come across as authentic and real. Konnan and Homicide bring legitimacy to the new members and they provide the group with the youth and energy that obviously really shines through in the in-ring product. If you haven’t watched any Impact segments since the reset, I highly recommend that you at the very least check out some of LAX’s vignettes. They really are excellent.
Impact Wrestling Knockouts and GFW Women’s Title
Rosemary vs. Sienna
As you can probably tell by now, the whole Impact vs. Global Force thing is very prominent on this show. How do I feel about that? I’m not really sure as I don’t know how much weight the GFW brand holds and more than that, I feel that the gimmick has allowed them to be a little lazy with the build up to match like this. There has been some stuff with Rosemary saving Allie and turning face but overall, I’m not sure there’s been enough focus on any real animosity or conflict between these two in particular. Nonetheless, both are solid talents to build the division around.
Rosemary was obviously a revelation in The Decay trio and the end of that team left her somewhat directionless as a solo act, even if she was champion. However, saving Allie and turning babyface was an interesting shift and now it’s a matter of seeing how well the character works in this new disposition. Either way, Rosemary has been a great find for Impact and consistently delivers in the ring and out. As far as Sienna, I’m not sure I’ve watched consistently enough to have a real grasp on how good or bad she is in the ring but as a character, I’ve been rather enjoying her lately.
Whilst I concede that I was a little ignorant to them beforehand, Sienna’s promos as of late have been pretty impressive to me and she seems really confident and polished in that area. This is obviously a big spot for her and it will be interesting to see how she does Sunday.
The Rest of the Card
Other than the aforementioned title matches, there is a pretty decent range of stuff on the undercard. The tag team Full Metal Mayhem match between Eddie and Alisha Edwards and Davey Richards and Angelina Love is the most built up of the bunch. This all began in February with Davey turning on Edwards and along with Angelina, costing him his title rematch. Since then there’s been a ton of violent fighting and brawling and most of it has been rather engaging. Edwards is a great babyface and Richards seems to be thriving in this heel role, especially with Love providing strong character work by his side. The feud does seem to have plateaued a little recently and wasn't advanced much in the last couple of weeks but its length is refreshing nonetheless.
As odd as it may sound, the Joseph Park/Jeremy Borash vs. Josh Mathews/Scott Steiner match has also received a lot of build-up. This is what it is and whilst ideally I’d rather not have this much TV time dedicated to announcers, I haven’t found any of this stuff offensive and some of the recent segments have actually been somewhat entertaining. Mathews is an effective heel if nothing else and I find the Borash Park combo pretty entertaining too. Add in Steiner shenanigans and this is solid silliness. Is it for me? Not particularly but variety is the spice of life and it does provide the show with something different.
Rounding out the card is a strap match between Ethan Carter III and James Storm as well as a tag match between the team of Eli Drake and Chris Adonis and Moose and the debuting DeAngelo Williams. I don’t really have much to say about that tag match but I understand Impact’s attempt to get any mainstream coverage, even if it’s not on a huge scale. As for Carter and Storm’s feud, it’s made for some pretty solid television. Carter cost Storm a title match, turned heel in the process and has since been both cutting comedic promos as well as battering people, in particular Storm, with a leather belt. This has been decent stuff and given a slightly new slant on Carter as a heel.
The Slammiverary card itself looks good in my opinion and I expect it will actually deliver in the ring provided the Impact Zone crowd doesn't hurt the performers too bad. There is definitely some good talent being featured and a couple of really neat acts are already finding their way on the weekly product. However, whilst there are some decent stories that have led to these matches, I’d argue that they could have been told in a more efficient fashion. At times Impact’s style of storytelling feels a little unclear and jumbled but hopefully that will change after Sunday’s PPV, especially with the belts finally being completely unified. The issue for Impact though will be the same as the one they’ve fought with for fifteen years: how do they grow in an effective and efficient manner?
In prior eras, their answer to this question led to them biting off more than their finances could chew but it does seem that the company is more stable now under new owners. They also are back on the road soon which is a good thing, whether or not they draw will be a different thing altogether though. The main problem is always going to be attracting new viewers and unfortunately, that still seems a tough task, regardless of owners. Though the TV show is solid and the talent is good, neither is at the level they’ve been at in the past and the general perception that lingered around TNA for years still remains in some ways, even if the name has changed.
Don’t get me wrong, they’re certainly in a tough spot considering how hard it is to find great talent that is available and not already under the WWE banner. The truth is though, Impact missed out on a lot of great talent whilst they signed former world champions and now that talent fills the WWE roster. Either way, the Impact roster does have some more depth now and that is a good thing. Overall I’d say that things have gone pretty well thus far but the real test comes after Sunday as they try to grow their audience and once again become a truly viable wrestling company. Time will tell but first, Slammiversary simply has to deliver. That’s imperative.