MCMAHON’S TAKE: Impact Showed Us How They’ll Differentiate Themselves

BY MIKE MCMAHON, PWTORCH CONTRIBUTOR


SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...

The biggest component Impact Wrestling has been lacking over the last three years has been a clear and defined identity. They’re not the biggest promotion in the world, they’re not the most athletic and they aren’t the most unique when it comes to storytelling. So what are they? What can Impact Wrestling offer to wrestling fans who are already engrained in the universes of WWE, New Japan, Ring of Honor and Lucha Underground?

Last night at Slammiversary, Impact showed us what their identity can be. Impact can be the most violent of the “mainstream” companies in the U.S., and they went there in full force last night.

Impact presented three hardcore matches on its PPV. Eddie Edwards beat Tommy Dreamer in a bloody House of Hardcore match. LAX defeated the OGz in a bloody 5150 street fight and Pentagon Jr. beat Sami Callihan in a bloody Hair vs. Mask match. Are you noticing the common theme?

All three matches, while rooted in the same type of violence, were still uniquely different. Dreamer and Edwards was a slower more methodical street fight that featured a lot of weaponry, most likely to mask some of the physical limitations that come with Tommy Dreamer and his age and mileage in the ring. The LAX-OGz match used weapons like Drain-O and tables in the background, instead focusing on a wild brawl that featured some crazy athletics from Santana and Ortiz, creating the movement in the ring against two veterans in Homicide and Hernandez. Then there was Pentagon and Callihan, who blended the athletic violence and weaponry into the match of the night, and perhaps one of the most intense matches Impact has presented in several years.

Scott D’Amore and Don Callis have recognized at this point what Impact is, and where it ranks. They can’t hold a candle to WWE’s production values, so why try? Instead they opted for a unique setting inside the Rebel Entertainment Complex in Toronto (a concern venue) that featured some different lighting and aesthetics. The crowd — a paying crowd — was hot from the opening bell to the final pinfall.

Impact has tried a storytelling structure similar to Lucha Underground, but Lucha Underground pulls is off better, and they’ve established their structure for storytelling. Impact’s sudden use of vignettes modeled after Lucha Underground felt like a knockoff.

Impact doesn’t have the roster depth to present the same athletic matches that New Japan or even Ring of Honor presents on a nightly basis. So why try? Impact certainly has some wrestlers who can fit into that category — Edwards, Aries, Ishimori, Pentagon, Trevor Lee, Brian Cage — but the depth just isn’t there. Instead, Impact used this pay-per-view to focus more on an in-ring product that harkened back to an late-90’s ECW feel.

People only seem to remember ECW for its innovative violence, but it really was a lot more than that. They told compelling and real stories, rooted in reality, and made the rivalries intense enough that they called for violent matches on pay-per-view.

They weren’t smashing fluorescent light tubes over each other for no reason.

Tommy Dreamer and Raven fought because of the pain Raven felt for Dreamer ruining his childhood. Dreamer and Eddie Edwards fought because Edwards believed Dreamer was having an affair with his wife. LAX wanted redemption against the OGz for taking out their mentor and leader, Konnan.

Given the near universal praise Slammiversary has received among fans and critics, it’s only fair to expect that Impact will continue to push the violence button hard. If it’s done correctly — with proper storytelling — it won’t feel like an ECW ripoff, and it will work.

Regardless of whether or not you personally like the style, no one else on with wide television distribution is running a promotion like this in the United States.

What’s old is often new again, and ECW hasn’t existed in almost 20 years.

A critical component to the rise of ECW in the 90’s was Dreamer and especially the rise of Raven, who truly epitomized why ECW worked. Raven was grunge rock in an era where grunge rock was exploding.

Is Sami Callihan Impact’s Raven? Can he be the personality that people use to identify this new violent, edgy form of Impact?

Sure.

Callihan is one of the best heels in wrestling right now. Even though he’s doing things in the ring — like plunging spikes into the forehead of Pentagon Jr. — that fans are excited about, they’re not cheering Callihan. That’s because he’s such a great heel.

Meanwhile, Slammiversary felt like a coming out party for the Pentagon character in Impact Wrestling. Up until last night, Impact’s Pentagon felt like a watered-down version of what Lucha Underground fans have come to know and expect from the character.

The one missing piece for Impact right now is a big marketable star. ECW first pay-per-view was built on Terry Funk winning the World Title. Heyman has mentioned in interviews numerous times that Funk wanted to come in and help the next generation, “so that there was a business for him to leave a legacy to.”

If Impact, even as a one-off, can land a marketable name for a big pay-per-view — I’m thinking of a certain Canadian who is a former World Champion in the WWE and is close friends with Impact’s Don Callis — it would take the company’s Q-Rating and launch it into the moon.

The follow-up to Slammiversay will, of course, be important as the company continues to move forward and tries to gain precious traction on a smaller network like Pop TV. People aren’t going to find Impact on their own, so Impact needs to give people reason to find them. Slammiversary has the potential to be the big, loud noise that let wrestlings fans know Impact Wrestling is still here, and it’s not the same.

Mike McMahon covers Impact Wrestling for the PW Torch and also co-hosts the weekly Thursday PW Torch Livecast with Andrew Soucek, talking all things Impact Wrestling. Listen to the show at www.pwtorchlivecast.com and follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMcMahonPW

8 Comments on MCMAHON’S TAKE: Impact Showed Us How They’ll Differentiate Themselves

  1. I think impact wrestling should keep going a bit with this route but also add a little bit of traditional non WWE mainstream kinda stuff like the old NWA or maybe some later in the day territory stuff as well as mix it up with Japanese European and Mexican style and make everything their own style and just work with good writers on everything they do. That would be the best way to go in my opinion. Mix old and new on every style

  2. It’s a tough way to go. The problem with being “the most violent” is you have to constantly escalate the violence or you are just “been there, done that”. Like any show – tell good stories. Period. Give us good guys we can identify with that have a goal – bad guys we don’t like that stand in the way of that goal. Have the good guys accomplish the goal in the end. Rinse, repeat.

    • Part of the problem with Vanilla WWE is that they no longer seem to tell good stories. They also have too much 50/50 booking. The heel authority figure was old 10 years ago. They have been rinse, repeating, for years now and it is not working.

      • Not sure what it has to do with the WWE? Same thing goes with the WWE. WWE spends way too much time building heels and failing to pay off storylines with a good guy overcoming and giving the fans what they want. It doesn’t matter WHAT organization… or what type of entertainment! Good guy people like faces difficult obstacle… overcomes obstacle. In wrestling the obstacle tends to be the bad guy. Heel authority figure can work… but AGAIN… they must oppose a good guy folks like AND the heel authority figure MUST LOSE IN THE END (of EVERY story). Heel authority was nothing more than a stand in for the historic manager.

  3. I think you’re 100% spot on, and I love the direction that Callis and D’Amore are taking Impact right now. And you touched on something that I think is sometimes forgotten about the original ECW- and that was the stories they told, and how they had a more adult theme. If Impact can capture that, they’ll carve out a strong audience.

    My hat is off to them for their efforts so far.

  4. There’s a glass cieling to this approach though. Violence will get you attention, but will eventually become as much a stigma as it is a draw. Sami Callahan himself knows this, just look how quickly he took CZW’s booking in a new direction. If they keep the hardcore stuff on PPV then it makes sense, as payoffs for storylines. Keep the weekly tv show about pure good wrestling

  5. …no. They’re not cheering Callihan because they don’t care. He has no heat and he doesn’t connect with the audience, because his matches lack even the most basic of psychology.

    • You couldn’t be more off the mark. You must be a Vanilla WWE mark. Go enjoy your unicorns and pancakes and BOOTY O’s.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*