It’s been no surprise that in the past few months, Impact Wrestling has made big moves in shifting it’s base of operations to Canada, more specifically, Anthem Entertainment’s home base in Toronto, Ontario. Tax incentives are greater in Anthem’s home country, more connections in the media production industry as well as the home office of their flagship, The Fight Network. Not to mention the huge amount of Canadian indie wrestlers used at this November’s Impact tapings in Ottawa, and today’s news that two more Canadians, Scott D’Amore and Don Callis (The Jackyl/Cyrus The Virus), have been named Executive Vice Presidents to run the creative vision of the company ongoing. But once the move to the Great White North is complete, Impact Wrestling will become something that Canada has never truly had in the history of professional wrestling – a major international promotion to call (and promote) its own.
As reported by PWInsider’s Mike Johnson today, with D’Amore and Callis now spearheading creative, it looks like “Big” John Gaburick is heading out. Gaburick, a former WWE producer, joined Impact shortly after leaving WWE in 2013. He seemingly parted ways around the end of 2016, early 2017, but was brought back in May in a consulting role. He assumed a more prominent role in creative following Jeff Jarrett’s departure a few months back, but it was widely assumed it was just a temporary position until a creative team could be assembled, which it now clearly has. He’s expected to leave permanently in early 2018. The backstage producers are now Jeremy Borash, Gail Kim, Jimmy Jacobs and Abyss.
Canada has long been a stronghold of outstanding wrestling talent. From early grapplers like Jack Taylor, Stu Hart, and Whipper Billy Watson (Canada’s first NWA World Heavyweight Champion) through today’s stars like Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, there’s never been a question about Canada’s ability to create world class athletes for the sport. Today, Canada’s indie scene is at an all-time peak, with stalwarts like Vancouver’s ECCW, Montreal’s IWS, Windsor’s BCW and Winnipeg’s CWE still holding strong, while newcomers like Toronto’s Smash Wrestling and Hamilton’s Alpha-1 all becoming huge players on Canada’s wrestling stage. But while most are recognizable to indie purists, they’re not exactly household names to most wrestling fans around the world.
Canada has had it’s share of hugely influential promotions in the past, no question. Arguably the greatest to date has been Stu Hart’s legendary Stampede Wrestling, which ran (in some form) from 1948 through 1984, when it was sold to Vince McMahon Jr. (although McMahon would sell it back a year later). Stampede was seen on television throughout Western Canada and some affiliates in other parts of Canada, but it’s been seen more internationally now on YouTube and other streaming sites than it ever was during it’s original near 40 year run. It’s more known for the stars it produced the WWF than it is for television people watched. The NWA had several top territorial alliances in Canada as well, such as Toronto’s Maple Leaf Wrestling (which ran from the 1940’s until it too was bought by McMahon in 1984) and Vancouver’s All Star Wrestling (from 1949 to 1985), plus various Montreal promotions (Rougeau’s All Star in the 1960s and 1970s, Lutte International in the 1980s), and the Maritimes Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling (1977 to 1991). But while they all had their regional strangleholds, none had huge international attention or were seen by many outside the regional television coverage.
Impact’s new show format for the past several weeks, featuring matches taped at the Impact Zone and in Ottawa around matches from various global indie promotions featuring Impact talent, could end up doing something that would be an absolute first for Canada’s wrestling scene – provide a major, mainstream major wrestling promotion for Canadian indie wrestlers to shoot for and create a true international showcase for the emerging indie talent currently patrolling indie rings across Canada. Sure, many find their way to WWE or NJPW or Ring of Honor or Impact (before), but in so many other promotions, they are competing with emerging (and established) indie stars from the rest of the United States, Mexico, Japan – the list goes on. Canada simply doesn’t have the population size to compete with the sheer talent pool from the other countries. But with Impact utilizing so many Canadian indie stars at the last set of tapings – and Mike Johnson of PWInsider stated the plan going forward is to utilize a “larger contingent of Canadian-based talents going forward” – we could see more Canadian indie stars on television who may not get the opportunities in the other US or Japan based companies quite so early.
The last set of Impact tapings has already begun to showcase many Canadian indie stars – some as enhancement, some in mid-card, and some in major stories – right off the bat. We’ve seen KC Spinelli thrown into the Knockouts title picture already, WWE Cruiserweight Classic competitor (and Smash Champion) Tyson Dux return to TV, and former EVOLVE star “All Ego” Ethan Page debut (as Chandler Park). Other Canadian indie stars used at the Ottawa Impact tapings include Brent Banks (Smash, BCW), Phil Atlas (BCW, All-Japan), “Hannibal” Devin Nicholson (Great North Wrestling), Tabernak De Team (Mathieu St-Jacques & Thomas Dubois, C4, Smash, IWS) and RJ City (Superkick’d, Destiny). Under the current format, there’s no reason Impact couldn’t utilize more Canadian indie promotions that book Impact related talent, such as Smash Wrestling (who also airs its own program on Anthem’s Fight Network) or Page’s Alpha-1, similar to how they utilized last week’s match with Sami Callihan from Seattle’s DEFY Wrestling.
Impact Wrestling’s Knockouts division is already stacked with Canadians, including Rosemary, Allie, Taya Valkyrie, Laurel Van Ness and now KC Spinelli (although Van Ness could very well be on her way out), and “The Canadian Destroyer” Petey Williams was lured out of retirement this year and doesn’t seem to have missed a step. And while several Impact stars may chose to leave the company when their contracts are up due to the relocation to Canada (EC3 and Bobby Lashley are the most rumoured), the plans haven’t stopped other stars like John Morrison (Johnny Impact), Sami Callihan and Jimmy Jacobs from coming on board. Also, many wrestlers who hail from border states like Michigan and New York are also fitting in with Impact Wrestling, as they’ve been working both sides for years – this includes Detroit’s Sienna, Grand Rapid’s Jimmy Jacobs and Kongo Kong, Buffalo’s Braxton Sutter, Saginaw’s Hakim Zane and Ohio’s Dezmond Xavier and OvE (Sami Callihan and Dave & Jake Crist).
The list of potential Canadians who could step in to bigger roles on Impact is staggering if you’re an indie fan. International sensations like “Speedball” Mike Bailey could become X-Division megastars and tag teams like the Super Smash Brothers and Tabernak de Team could add fuel to the tag team division. Emerging Michigan talent like Jake Something are also on Impact Wrestling’s radar.
The transition over the next year is going to be a big one. There will be more naysayers and doom prophets over analyzing every move as another symbol of Impact’s demise, but once the Canadianization of Impact Wrestling really takes hold – which would realistically be late 2018 as contracts are flushed and new talent integrated – Canada stands to finally have a major mainstream wrestling promotion of its own for the first time in the history of pro wrestling.