Long ago, in the olden days of Impact, there stood a group of individuals who weren’t afraid to cross the line. These TNA Originals stood up against all comers from around the world, from Japan, Mexico, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The X-Division flourished in Super X Cup and other ventures, while New Japan Pro Wrestling did its best under the watchful eye of Antonio Inoki; as he failed to blend the worlds of MMA & wrestling.
After emerging victorious from the Monday Night Wars, WWE monopolized the business. Its worldwide ratings meant it was nigh impossible for anyone to get a slice of the pie. This era saw TNA Wrestling emerge as a platform to serve up a dish of alternative wrestling for those who weren’t buying sports-entertainment. From this serving came the likes of AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, Eric Young, the Motor City Machine Guns, LAX, Abyss, James Storm, Robert Roode, and the Knockouts Division.
Not only that, but TNA became a place for anyone who didn’t want, or could no longer work for Vince McMahon. It may not have been the best booked or managed show, but it became a viable alternative through the encouragement of cross promotion. The only company they struggled to deal with was Ring Of Honor, because they were fighting over the same piece of land. There was some collaboration, but their fighting over being called the #2 company in America worked against them, costing them the opportunity to flourish as a team. Fast forward several years later, the cracks were forming, as TNA brought in mega stars like Hulk Hogan.
Through unwarranted confidence, the company became exclusive, and no longer wanted to put over other promotions stars at their expense. The proof here is how they treated Kazuchika Okada (they called him Okato) from 2010 to 2011. TNA management had him running around as a lackey for Samoa Joe, who regularly beat him for his mistakes. The way they demeaned him infuriated New Japan officials to the point they pulled the plug on sharing talent. This anger didn’t subside quickly, as they remained pissed for several years.
While bringing in Hulk Hogan and former WWE/WCW/ECW talent provided a short-term boost, the product suffered, and it quickly became dubbed “WWE Lite”, or “WCW 2.0”. TNA already had an identity which it worked on between 2002-2009, yet the six-sided ring disappeared and the X-Division (with a philosophy of having no limits) was given a weight limit. Huge factions appeared, and TNA dropped all previous storylines.
By doing this, it created a lot of frustration for those who watched the original product. They threw everything the fans grew to love in the trash for nostalgia acts. No one ever asked for the X-Division to become a cruiserweight division. Nobody asked for another New World Order (Immortal) or Four Horsemen (Fortune). There was nothing original about it, and keeping talents exclusive frustrated them because they couldn’t work extra dates. The fans were too, because they wouldn’t get any surprises.
While it’s true that this period of TNA saw a boost in ratings, it was a catastrophe on expenditure. Management was encouraged to not only go live each week, it started touring despite not having the capability to do so. I believe the only tour they ever made any money from was in the United Kingdom. It was big here, as many fans had grown tired of sports-entertainment and wanted something fresh. TNA should have done more, but they only toured the UK annually, and they lost so much money elsewhere.
By 2013, the company was in major debt. Hulk Hogan & Eric Bischoff left shortly after. AJ Styles was the next to go, because he was being taken for granted, despite obviously being the company’s hood ornament since day one. Others followed him, and before long, the renamed Impact Wrestling was on death’s door. Dixie Carter looked to sell up, and Billy Corgan had his hopes of taking over. Then it turned out Anthem Sports bought it, which infuriated him, but it ended up working out for the best in the long term. This created a rift between the NWA after he took over there, because he wanted nothing to do with Anthem.
The new management made some very serious cutbacks. I’m not kidding, it was almost like watching CZW. It was such a down period because Anthem had to move operations to Canada, get rid of expensive referees, cut back on production, and let go of some big talent asking for more money and creative control. The smartest thing was getting Scott D’Amore and Don Callis in to management, because they were around in the golden age of TNA. They already proved they could make stars out of nothing.
Gradually, under their leadership, after so much ridicule, and after so much financial turmoil, it slowly gained back some respect. It had been a laughingstock for many years. Year on year, its critics predicted it would be their last. Somehow, the last year never came. It kept going on like an undead zombie. Impact Wrestling was hard to kill (the last three words became a PPV name). It was a company which had escaped being put out of its misery several times.
It still has its critics because Anthem bought AXS TV. Although the network can never cancel them, very few people have access to it. To ease this issue, it had to come full circle, like the early days when TNA posted PPVs online every week. The Twitch channel and Impact Plus app meant fans could follow them without having AXS TV. It wasn’t enough though; the company knew it needed more exposure. There had to be a way to be original and find worldwide appeal. Again, it went back to its roots by going all in on cross promotion. Not just to the point of having a few guys show up, but by crowing the AEW World Champion Kenny Omega as their Impact World Champion.
It opened the forbidden door for New Japan to step back through, bringing in Bullet Club members like Jay White and El Phantasmo. Somehow, it even got on the phone to Billy Corgan and got the green light to have Mickie James at Slammiversary. She would plug the all women’s show NWA Empowerrr, in exchange for the Knockouts Champion Deonna Purrazzo getting to wrestle her in the main event. There’s even AAA crossovers like Black Taurus, so Impact Wrestling, now based in Canada, has become a central hub where anyone from All Elite Wrestling, AAA, NWA, and New Japan can show up.
It’s an exciting time to be a wrestling fan, because almost everyone outside of WWE are getting together and making deals. Impact Wrestling started this by having the balls to put an AEW guy over one of their own, knowing it would increase ratings and online exposure. By being unselfish, Impact has once again showed the way forward, like the way women were treated as equals in the Knockouts Division long before any other revolution. Also, like how the X-Division inspired a whole new generation of wrestlers to innovate and explore the limits. It might be a minnow in the ocean, but Impact Wrestling has once again proven it can lead bigger fish to cleaner waters. Where it goes from here could be something we’ve never seen before.
I say all this, not as an Impact fan for over a dozen years, but as someone who loves sports-entertainment and pro wrestling. There’s no hate and I have nothing against anybody. As fans, we’re better off when everyone is flourishing, and this ranges from WWE to the smallest independent promotions. In these uncertain times, we should show our gratitude by supporting everyone, and remember that uniting wrestling doesn’t have to be a dream when it can be a reality. Thanks for reading!