To say Slammiversary 2020 came a weird time for Impact Wrestling implies that there’s ever been a normal time for Impact Wrestling or that any wrestling company on earth isn’t having a weird time right now. But Slammiversary 2020 came at a weird time for Impact Wrestling.
At its previous pay-per-view in January, titled Hard To Kill, Impact leaned into its reputation as the cockroach of North American professional wrestling. Simultaneously, it tried to make itself stand out in a more positive, progressive way by crowning Tessa Blanchard the first female Impact World Champion in the culmination of a months-long angle notable as the first serious televised intergender feud of the Women’s Revolution era. But when Impact and Blanchard leaned too hard into the empowerment side of her achievements, it drew out swaths of her peers with allegations of bullying and racism. Despite the scandal, Blanchard’s title win went forward, now both an example of Impact’s longstanding willingness to give women more opportunities than other promotions and a moment that upholds the company’s reputation as The Most Canceled.
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Seven months later, ahead of Slammiversary, the behavior of Impact performers once again cast a shadow over its promotion. Dave Crist, Joey Ryan, and Michael Elgin were let go following allegations (numerous for each man) of sexual harassment and assault, all of which were to some extent open industry secrets or, in Elgin’s case, just open knowledge at the time they were hired. Along with the recent departures of Blanchard and Brian Cage, that made for a significant amount of Impact talent turnover in the first half of 2020, though in this case, the departures were clearly for the best.
Despite the real-world chaos, Impact still had a hook for Slammiversary: the arrival of new blood from WWE. That Impact would be bringing in some of the talent the industry giant had laid off in March was promoted before #SpeakingOut, with Heath Slater’s arrival teased and Deonna Purrazzo’s taking place ahead of the PPV. But after #SpeakingOut, Impact was much more clearly in need of a transfusion.
The promise of Purrazzo in a Knockouts title match at Slammiversary and the announcement by The Good Brothers that they’d signed with Impact at midnight on the day of the show sent out a dispatch not just to regular Impact viewers, but to wrestling fans in general. It attempted to entice them with some good-looking matches and the perpetual non-WWE American wrestling promotion promise of justice for the underutilized. It was a legitimately well-thought-out and paced rollout for the pay-per-view, as long as nothing went wrong.
However, just like ahead of Hard To Kill, real-life got in the way of Impact’s plans, and specifically the real-life actions of Impact talent. The wrestling internet wasn’t just full of discussion about Gallows and Anderson’s signing the night before Slammiversary; it was full of people dunking on Moose for posting a video of himself training, along with WWE’s Ricochet and Kacey Catanzaro, at Team Vision Dojo, the Florida wrestling school that’s been widely known, at least to the same wrestling internet denizens who would potentially be interested in Moose’s video, to be run by convicted sex offender Chasyn Rance.
As with any time Moose makes himself the protagonist of wrestling Twitter, this was also a reminder that Impact’s status as the home of wrestling’s most openly sketchy didn’t end with the #SpeakingOut firings. The company continues to employ at least three men with domestic violence incidents or allegations in their past: Moose with the 2009 battery incident that led to his suspension from the NFL, Rich Swann with the case that was eventually thrown out but did lead to WWE firing him, and Callihan with less widely known accusations from his ex-wife. As with the presence of the now-fired sexual predators, alleged domestic abusers and people who associate with sex offenders are far from unique to Impact among wrestling promotions, but Impact, with its recent history of departure after departure and scandal after scandal seems to do a uniquely poor job of making it hard to notice anything else about the company.
While Impact does have talented wrestlers, much of the buzz generated by their actual shows tends to come from moments like “They hit a kid with a car in TNA” and “They just killed off someone in TNA again” and “Did they just kill someone off by cannibalism in TNA?” The LOL TNA reputation has often distracted from the sincere importance of the innovative work done in Impact, especially in the X Division and the Knockouts Division, but I’m not going to criticize wrestling fans for being distracted. No one’s a bad fan for deciding to check out the occasional lauded match in Impact, but being put off by other elements of the promotion. If Impact makes such bad TV they repel people who might otherwise tune in for their in-ring offerings, that’s on them.
At Slammiversary, Impact continues this trend of quality wrestling mixed with a version of the entertainment aspect of the art form that can easily turn people off, especially now that Impact isn’t the only English-language alternative to WWE. Those who looked past the Impact’s recent scummy real-life developments and decided to check out Slammiversary saw the full range of the promotion’s quality in the first two matches.
First, viewers were rewarded for watching with an answer to the Rascalz’ open challenge that swerved expectations and served as a reminder of the best of what the Impact is capable of. The Motor City Machine Guns showed up for their first match since 2018 and put on a strong one with the flippy stoners. Alex Shelley still has the same “looks like he smells good” quality as when he was making backstage segments with Kevin Nash fourteen years ago, and Impact capitalized on the team’s return by setting up an MCMG vs. The North title match for Tuesday later in the show. Of all the feet Impact could put forward, this was definitely one of the best.
But Impact being Impact, they had to shoot themselves in the foot directly afterward with Slammiversary’s second match, Moose vs. Tommy Dreamer. The bout’s most dramatic moment was Moose trying to shove a screaming Dreamer’s face into tacks while yelling about ECW. The 270-pound former NFL player did a standing moonsault and the reaction was not “wow, a huge man just did that” but “that’s the trick he was practicing at the pedophile school.” There was also a production flub where, during a picture-in-picture instant replay, the sound from the replay played along with the sound from the ongoing match. All in all, this match made Impact look sketchy and low-rent, even in the sketchy and low-rent world of wrestling.
Moose vs. Dreamer wasn’t Slammiversary’s only downside. The Knockouts #1 Contender Gauntlet Match put Kylie Rae in a future title match, but also featured two moments of a male goon entering dressed appearing dressed as a woman and several bits that might have gone over better with a crowd, but also really might not have. The Fite stream cut out for a while and when it started up again, Heath Slater, now just named Heath, was in the ring, a botch of a moment already hurt by the absence of a crowd. Impact later made the odd decision to reference social distancing and coronavirus safety protocols by having Rhyno and Heath, who seem to be babyfaces, plan to sneak around them on Tuesday. In the immortal words of Kourtney Kardashian, there’s people that are dying! Also, Sami Callihan was unironically compared to The Joker.
But along with the stuff that makes some fans’ evangelistic attitude towards Impact very confusing, there were also matches that, along with the Motor City Machine Guns comeback, were reminders of the elements of Impact that it’s easier to agree are Actually Good. Deonna Purrazzo defeated Jordynne Grace in an exciting, athletic, no-bullshit match to win the Knockouts Championship. It was two young, talented wrestlers showing their skills and it’s Purrazzo’s best and most fleshed-out match since she signed with WWE. In Purrazzo vs. Kylie Rae, Impact also promises another world-class women’s title match down the line.
The X Division Championship match, Willie Mack vs. Chris Bey, could also hang with the best that any company could put forward and put over another young wrestler with a bright future. Mack is one of the easiest wrestlers in the game to get and to enjoy watching, and probably one of the most underrated when you compare his level of talent and charisma with the size of promotions he works. Bey is the definition of a super rookie, a total package whose only downside seems to be his lack of experience.
Bey came out of his X Division title win with his best qualities on display: his athletic ability, his attitude, and the way these qualities work together so that “the Ultimate Finesser” isn’t just his nickname, it’s the way he wrestles. He set himself apart from the rest of the current up-and-coming high-flyers on the indies with his ability to wrestle with incredible athleticism and an actual personality at the same time, and now that’s making him a star in Impact. It’s a massive credit to Impact that they’re the first major company to give Bey the platform to increase that star power.
The pros and cons of Impact come together in the main event, which used to include Elgin and Blanchard but by the time of the show was a four-way of cruiserweight up-and-comer Trey Miguel vs. twink magician/certified sex-haver Ace Austin vs. Eddie Edwards vs. a Mystery Competitor. The Mystery Competitor turned out to actually be two Mystery Competitors: Rich Swann and Eric Young, who started a feud during the match. There were some cool spots and plenty of impressive athleticism and Edwards winning put the title on maybe the safest combination of established good wrestler and well-liked personality that Impact has right now.
Gallows and Anderson showed up and buddied up with Edwards to form a friendship trio I will think of as Team Big In Japan until they get an actual name (and probably afterward) and EC3 revealed himself as the mysterious hard liquor drinker in those Slammiversary vignettes and as a rival for Edwards. There were screwy booking elements about this, but it was also Impact drawing from largely its own history to create its new main event scene. And the big main event and post-event surprises were Eric Young, Rich Swann, the Good Brothers, and EC3, so it’s easy to see how they could not hook people, but there was still clearly creative logic behind these choices.
Overall, despite its flaws, Slammiversary managed to take Impact Wrestling to a place beyond “hard to kill” and breathe new life into the company when it desperately needed some. However, the show was short of a glorious resurrection. Impact continues to constantly overshadow its own upsides with certain production gaffs and creative choices, as well as with real-life turmoil that ranges from standard-issue wrestling contract drama to extremely concerning allegations. These are even more potentially damaging in a wrestling landscape with more options than ever before, in which Impact has lost its position as the easiest alternative to WWE. But Slammiversary shows that while Impact may not feel like the most vital, thriving company out there, it’s also far from a zombie, and it’s clear what it has to offer.