After three years of gradual rehabilitation of the brand, it feels like Impact Wrestling’s 2020 Slammiversary event on Saturday is when everyone involved in the management of the promotion will truly feel the butterflies flapping around their collective stomachs for the first time.
And to be clear about this as high up the column as I can possibly mention this in a fluent manner, the fact that Impact have heavily promoted the likely arrival of several former WWE employees and major names from their own history is part of that, but far from the whole story.
Credit where it’s due, everything about this tease so far has been superb. Who exactly will show up? Will they do so as a collective unit? Will it have immediate championship ramifications?
Even the videos teasing the as-yet-unnamed arrivals were eye-catching, well produced and really caught the tone of today’s industry without unnecessarily poking the Stamford bear.
But this about more than successfully building intrigue. It’s about more than whether or not the storyline’s culmination lives up to expectations on the night.
Above all else, this is Impact’s opportunity to end a frustrating holding pattern their necessary business model of consolidation has provided as a side effect.
At Wrestling Mediacon in Manchester back in autumn 2018, I spoke to several high-ranking members of the new Impact brass. Former on-screen manager Scott D’Amore, now Executive Vice President of the promotion, summed up where they were at that point rather well:
“People aren’t talking about whether IMPACT is going out of business. We aren’t the butt of jokes anymore. Now, when they talk about IMPACT, there’s a turning of the tide in the perception. There’s much more positive than negative. There’s a lot of hard work still to come but here in the closing stages of 2018 I can say we’re a little ahead of schedule.”
The snide comments and liquidation forecasts were indeed put mostly to rest by the efforts of the current team and a hard-working roster. However moving up the gears hasn’t been easy in the two years since. And nothing hammers that home more than the state of their World championship over that period of time.
Austin Aries turned heel to pass the torch to Johnny Impact, who turned heel to pass the torch to Brian Cage, who was rather abruptly dethroned by heel Sami Callihan for the sole purpose of passing the torch to Tessa Blanchard. And 21 months after the first title change in that chain of events, only Callihan is still with Impact.
After stopping the rot caused by years of negligence in the TNA years considerably quicker than they themselves had expected, Impact management have found taking that huge next step to be a much more challenging proposition, as evidenced by their repeated frustrations in search of the perfect on-screen figurehead.
And while three quarters of the participants in Slammiversary’s main event – a four-way match to crown a new World champion after Blanchard’s release – are unlikely, with all due respect, to be that person right now, the fourth (and unknown) participant will surely be the lead figure of the ‘free agent invasion’ angle.
Not only that, but victory for that individual combined with a well-booked introduction for all of those involved in the aftermath of ‘Black Wednesday’ should present Impact with a serious chance to finally advance past simply erasing stigmas and swimming in black ink.
One of the positive knock-on effects this would have is that the likes of Chris Bey, The North, Rosemary, Keira Hogan, The Rascalz, Jordynne Grace and more would enjoy a much larger platform to show casual wrestling fans what the diehards already know if Slammiversary is indeed the launching pad for the belated next phase of Anthem’s master plan.
Heaven knows, we could do with something to create some real buzz while WWE, AEW and their loyalists get needlessly wrapped up in pretend wars and demographics.
Here’s hoping that Slammiversary 2020 – and the much-anticipated storyline it has teased – delivers in spades. And by that, I mean “not Aces and Eights v2”.