It’s an announcement that might come as a surprise to anyone who hasn’t tuned in to the new-look IMPACT Wrestling in 2018. Slammiversary XVI, one of IMPACT’s marquee shows of the year, officially sold out an approximately 3,700-seat venue, the Main Room of the Rebel Entertainment Complex in Toronto, Canada.
To some, a sellout crowd of 3,700 won’t seem like a lot. Afterall, WWE gets that every time they run a house show. ALL IN got over two times that and sold out in less than half an hour. But this isn’t about ALL IN or WWE. It’s about IMPACT Wrestling. An audience of 3,700 for Slammiversary XVI, makes this Sunday’s the fourth largest Slammiversary in the event’s now 14-year history. It’s also the largest crowd Slammiversary has had since 2013, when they drew 3,800 in Boston.
THIS WEEK ON IMPACT – Don't miss the final IMPACT before THIS SUNDAY'S HUGE Slammiversary PPV!
— IMPACT (@IMPACTWRESTLING) July 16, 2018
The sell out is not a small feat. In fact, it’s a testament to all of the work and effort IMPACT Wrestling has put in over the last year-and-a-half to rebuild and rebrand this company into something special again. It’s proof that the vast strides and improvements the product has made over the last year-plus really are working and really are bringing new fans in, and lapsed fans back.
As has been said, and as the Slammiversary card itself is proof of, 2018 is a great time to start or return to watching IMPACT Wrestling.
This card is fucking awesome can't wait for slammiversary. Along with the matches what other surprises will happen pic.twitter.com/bdDGtuuhK9
— KeanuAussieImpactCyantist (@The_Cyantist) July 16, 2018
From the Ashes, Arose an Owl
Two years ago, the company formerly known as Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, was in dire straits. Each week seemed to hold new rumors of TNA’s impending demise. This continued for months as reports swirled that the wrestlers weren’t being paid and neither was the company’s outstanding debt to Aroluxe. Finally, everything came to a head right before Slammiversary 2016. TNA, now IMPACT Wrestling, needed a last-minute, 11th-hour infusion of cash just so the first of only two-PPVs in the year, wouldn’t be canceled.
Slammiversary did manage to air and IMPACT could breathe a sigh of relief but their problems were far from over. In fact, in some ways, they were only just beginning. But that didn’t scare away Anthem Sports and Entertainment, which first began working with IMPACT in October 2016 as they had loaned the company money on more than one occasion. Anthem had a front-row seat as IMPACT’s problems compounded and the situation worsened, but having only been around since 2010, they had a small profile of assets and needed all of them, including IMPACT Wrestling, to succeed. So in January 2017, not that far removed from IMPACT’s darkest days, Anthem took control of the majority stake, making it the first time in 14 years that Dixie Carter did not hold the majority. Carter retained five percent and Aroluxe initially retained 10. But Anthem, which had formed Anthem Wrestling Exhibitions LLC and appointed Ed Nordholm as president, was now at the wheel and the driving force behind where IMPACT would go into the future.
Performance Center Blues
It wasn’t an easy task as Anthem had to dig IMPACT out from a pretty significant hole both financially and otherwise. One of the biggest issues was the revolving door of talent.
Slammiversary 2016’s card featured nine wrestlers who left the company for WWE in the ensuing two years: Mandrews (Mark Andrews), Maria, Mike Bennett (Mike Kanellis), Ethan Carter III (EC3), Matt and Jeff Hardy, Lashley (Bobby Lashley) and Drew Galloway (Drew McIntyre). Another nine from that card have since left the company for the independent scene as well including TNA Original James Storm, and Braxton Sutter, who had only just made his IMPACT debut at Slammiversary.
— The VESSEL of Matt Hardy (@MATTHARDYBRAND) July 12, 2018
Losing wrestlers to another company isn’t something IMPACT never dealt with before but in the past, the effects hadn’t been so much so fast. The company seemingly lost all of their main eventers within a few months all while dealing with its other problems, not the least of which was a revolving door of management that would have made anyone’s head spin.
Double-J, We Hardly Knew Ye!
It all started with the return of Jeff Jarrett, who was the first big hiring made by Anthem. With Jarrett back at the helm of the company he founded, it was a whirlwind of a year. Jarrett brought back guys like Bruce Prichard, Dutch Mantel and Scott D’Amore for his creative team. In April, he announced that his other company, Global Force Wrestling would be merging with IMPACT under the GFW name and brand. In June, it became somewhat official. By October, Jarrett was gone, as were a handful of the former IMPACT stars he brought back including Low-Ki, Magnus (Nick Aldis), and Matt Morgan, as well as Prichard and Mantel. Only Sonjay Dutt, who is a member of the creative team now, and D’Amore, who was elevated to co-executive vice president, remained with IMPACT post-Jarrett.
Thank you to everybody who was a part of Impact vs. Lucha Underground.
When companies like @IMPACTWRESTLING & @LuchaElRey work together everybody including the fans win.
Special thanks to @THETOMMYDREAMER and the @HouseofHardcore crew for producing the event.#SOLDOUT pic.twitter.com/9s8MOBUyPz
— Scott D'Amore (@ScottDAmore) April 8, 2018
And while Jarrett’s less-than one-year at the helm was more tabloid-worthy than anything else, behind the scenes, IMPACT and Anthem were starting to make some changes for the better. In April 2017, IMPACT returned to the United Kingdom for the first time in several months, with a new broadcast deal with SPIKE UK. In June, IMPACT became the first major wrestling promotion to tape a series of shows in India. A few months later in October, IMPACT launched the Global Wrestling Network, an app and online streaming service, similar to the WWE Network.
Most prevalently, however, were the partnerships which started with Lucha Libre AAA in March and would go on to include DEFY Wrestling, The Crash, AML Wrestling, Smash Wrestling, Border City Wrestling, Wrestlepro, House of Hardcore, and perhaps the most influential one of all, Lucha Underground. For the first time since it began in 2015, wrestlers taking part in El Rey’s series were able to wrestle in an American promotion simultaneously with their episodes airing for Lucha Underground.
Making an Impact in 2018
As 2017 came to a close, IMPACT Wrestling was starting to find itself on an upswing. But it wasn’t time to rest on its laurels. The year ended on a positive note as Nordholm elevated D’Amore from head of creative to co-executive vice president. Joining him as the other co-executive VP was Don Callis. Both men brought with them incredible experience in the industry and quickly proved to be the right ones for the job.
Congratulations @CyrusOverHuge @ScottDAmore and everybody thats been busting there ass for this company to get it to this stage you have all done an amazing job and cant wait to see what the future holds!
— Connor (@Connor_LFC79) July 18, 2018
The Impact of Co-Promotion
The two immediately started making changes with the first set of TV tapings almost unrecognizable from what fans had previously come to expect from IMPACT over the last several years. The first step was getting rid of the six-sided ring. The tapings also included the return of Austin Aries, and new debuts of Su Yung, Kiera Hogan, Brian Cage, Fenix and Pentagon Jr. The latter three of that group came to IMPACT through the Lucha Underground relationship. It was this relationship that also allowed the two companies to put on an event during Wrestlemania Weekend, IMPACT vs Lucha Underground.
The event aired on Twitch, which was another new addition for IMPACT Wrestling. A few months prior, IMPACT made their Twitch debut with Brace for IMPACT, which was held in partnership with WrestlePro. Since that February, IMPACT has run several other co-promoted shows including RISE of the Knockouts (with RISE), IMPACT vs Lucha Underground, and a show with Pro Wrestling Revolver. They have another one coming up on July 29th called Confrontation (with AML Wrestling). All of these air exclusively on Twitch, which also is home to IMPACT’s non-wrestling original content such as the new Prestigious Tuesdays with Joe Hendry.
If this doesn't warrant a title shot I don't know what does…. https://t.co/QZDY0BRoRK
— Joe Hendry (@joehendry) July 11, 2018
In addition to their expanded presence through Twitch, IMPACT also recently signed a deal with MX52 to air the weekly show in Mexico, which has become an emerging market thanks to the partnerships with AAA, Lucha Underground, and The Crash.
The Impact of New Partnerships
Under the new leadership, IMPACT also made the decision to release all character trademarks to the performers themselves. It was a huge sign of goodwill and good PR, as it followed the lengthy battle with the Hardys over the rights to the Broken gimmick.
And while nothing is official, there have also been rumblings of IMPACT starting to establish relationships with Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling. This was noted when Austin Aries showed up with the IMPACT Global Championship on ROH and returned to win a PPV match against Kenny King, as well as when Taiji Ishimori, who originally came over to IMPACT during their short-lived working relationship with Pro Wrestling NOAH, continued to make appearances for the company even now that he is working for NJPW. Not to mention, IMPACT is working with Chris Jericho on his Rock’N’Wrestling Rager, where Sami Callihan is already slated to face ROH/NJPW’s Marty Scurll in singles action.
— Ryan (@RKilleleagh) July 5, 2018
The Impact of New Talent
And as for those issues of the revolving door of talent, the new year has seen top independent wrestlers like Tessa Blanchard, Joe Hendry, Brian Cage, Rich Swann, Sami Callihan, Matt Sydal and Johnny IMPACT, join the roster. In some of these cases, Blanchard’s being the most prevalent, they seemingly even chose IMPACT over offers from WWE. The same can be said for Eli Drake, who certainly surprised many when he chose to re-sign with IMPACT, despite there being reported interest from WWE.
Others, who aren’t exactly new talent, have also found themselves in elevated roles such as Drake, Eddie Edwards, Moose, LAX (Santana and Ortiz) and the Belt Collector himself, Austin Aries. IMPACT has such a great and diverse pool of talent now and it’s led to a much-improved product and much improved weekly show.
— Tessa Blanchard (@Tess_Blanchard) July 19, 2018
The Impact of the Fans
As for the fan mentality, that seems to be changing too. It really does go hand-in-hand with the product. As it has improved, so too has the fan interest and their willingness to give IMPACT a try, be it for the first or second time. Ratings are up, subscriptions to Youtube and Twitch are up, and social influence is up. That means people are talking about IMPACT Wrestling and it’s on their minds much more than it has been. That’s an accomplishment, especially when you note the positive reviews far outweigh the negative when it comes to today’s product.
Its 2018 and I am looking forward too Slammiversary more than Extreme Rules.
Fenix vs. Johnny Impact vs. Rich Swann vs. Taiji Ishimori will be above a 4 star match and I would bet on it.
— Adam "Tarantulas is hot" Oscroft (@SgtLemon1) July 13, 2018
It’s been a long journey to this point but its one that could have IMPACT set up for future success. The headlines (and these are two actual headlines) have changed from: “How Close Did TNA Come to Going Out of Business This Week?” to “Impact Wrestling: Slammiversary 2018 is Officially Sold Out.”
If nothing else, that just affirms what IMPACT fans in 2018 already know. This company and its product have gotten so much better. For the first time, in a long time, for IMPACT, there is seemingly nowhere to go but up.
Slammiversary XVI can be seen on PPV or through the FITE Network app. The show starts at 8 PM ET on July 22nd.