Stacking Belts Like Pringles: Impact Wrestling Rebellion Recap and Review

Rather than pretend to an expertise that I don’t have, I’ll be up front: I don’t watch Impact Wrestling, and I never really have. The company’s 20th anniversary is next year, and over the course of that time it’s existed in a very strange universe of its own making, simultaneously the only mainstream-ish alternative to WWE and a parody of the worst excesses of WWE and its slain competitors, WCW and ECW. I never needed either of those things in my life, so outside of the Knockouts Division—which, despite its ridiculous name and sometimes curious decisionmaking, was the standard bearer for televised women’s wrestling until WWE realized they had nothing to lose and everything to gain in taking it seriously—I skipped it.

Setting aside the fact that watching and thinking about wrestling is my job, that makes me the fabled “casual fan.” While I’m not entirely sure what the working relationship between Impact and All Elite Wrestling is supposed to be doing for AEW, for Impact it’s an opportunity to draw people like me to a product one might dismiss as redundant now that an alternative to WWE that doesn’t have half a dozen reboots and network changes is approaching its second anniversary on television having just chased WWE off of Wednesday nights.

It worked. With AEW invader Kenny Omega challenging Rich Swann in the main event, both men’s titles on the line, Rebellion’s hook was that the identity of Impact Wrestling was on the line. I found myself interested in that identity despite not watching Impact’s weekly show, despite AEW really only mentioning Impact Wrestling as a character flaw of Don Callis’, like his being there is taint enough to dislike him. Did it work in the sense that I’ll be back? In truth, no. While there is a lot to like about Impact, there is too much about its roster composition and its style of booking that turns me off for me to get invested, and rather than change my mind about any of that, Rebellion largely reinforced it.

X-Division Championship: Josh Alexander def. Ace Austin (c) and TJP

There are two kinds of triple threat match in wrestling. The first, more commonly criticized one, sees the third person in any given sequence kept out of the ring so everything functions like a singles match. The second sees all three people stay in the ring together for the most part, trying to find ways of navigating the traditional flow of a one-on-one competition with one too many people. In truth, neither are very good—it took years for WWE to figure out how to turn triple threat matches into a viable form of main event storytelling, and they still can’t do it without making someone the odd man out. Here, everybody is in the ring at the same time, which meant there were a lot of spots where you could see someone—usually TJP—adjusting their footing so they could run into a move. I was impressed with Austin and have been a fan of Alexander for over a decade, but the format was too convoluted for me to really dig into beyond getting me interested in a singles match between the two.

Violent By Design (Rhino, Deaner, and Joe Doering) and W. Morrissey (w/Eric Young) def. James Storm, Willie Mack, Eddie Edwards, and Chris Sabin

Injured and unable to compete, VBD architect Eric Young brought in hired hand W. Morrissey—the man formerly known as Big Cass—to fight on his behalf. Despite the array of talent and styles present, the match was mostly a flavorless brawl. That was intentional, as the point was to get across how large and tan and dangerous Morrissey is. He is all three of those things, as he threw around everybody who stepped to him, Willie Mack most impressively of all. This was alright, though Morrissey looked like he blew a cue at the end of the match. It’s something I hate mentioning—I’m not a “ha ha, he botched” person at all—but it was a something of a theme throughout the night, as nearly every match had been overthought to some degree.

Brian Myers def. Matt Cardona

Chris Weidman broke his leg the night before at UFC 261, so Impact ran a freak leg injury angle here, as Cardona ruptured, pulled, tweaked, or broke something coming down on a back body drop. Myers, being an evil guy, helped Cardona to his feet, which really ruined the whole “omg Matt Cardona may have torn a ligament!” thing, then beat him with a clothesline, which is a strike that targets the neck, despite the whole “omg Matt Cardona may have torn a ligament!” thing. When I said that nearly every match on the card had been overthought to some degree, this was the exception.

Knockouts Tag Team Championship: Jordynne Grace and Rachael Ellering def. Kiera Hogan and Tasha Steelz (c)

When Rachael Ellering popped up in AEW as part of their Deadly Draw tag team tournament, I was surprised that she wasn’t given more to do. Her appearance here, along with the other Knockouts match and the main event, is what piqued my interest in Rebellion, and this was one of the best matches on the show. For one, it was an unadorned, straight forward title match with clear stakes and no bullshit. While the team that’s never teamed before beating the established champs on their first shot isn’t always fun, here it’s fine: Hogan and Steelz brought their chemistry, but Grace and Ellering were too strong, overpowering the champions and taking their best shots. The spot where Grace backdropped Steelz over the top rope to the floor, only for her to catch Ellering with a cutter off the apron, was the most spectacular one of the night.

Last Man Standing: Trey Miguel def. Sami Callihan

Sami Callihan is my least favorite major wrestler not working for WWE or AEW. Last Man Standing matches are not good, generally speaking. Put those two things together and you get this quarter hour of your life, which peaked early with Callihan casually chucking Miguel over the top rope as soon as the bell rang. This was fine when Miguel was pinballing around ringside, but to do that enough to make the match good requires a pace Callihan just isn’t capable of, as in short order he went from throwing Miguel into the barricades to sweating profusely while lightly pressing a wrench against the inside of Miguel’s cheek.

I’m not an animal, but for this to have worked at all Miguel needed to bleed. Instead, I was asked to consider the brutality of one of the worst piledrivers I’ve ever seen and buy into Sami as some kind of secret genius for his plan of trapping Miguel under the ring steps by sitting on them. While he was sitting on them I thought that all Miguel had to do was survive for five more minutes before Sami passed out, but the stairs were hollow so he crawled out from underneath them and hit Sami with a cutter through a table, cutting to the chase.

Impact Tag Team Championships: FinJuice (c) def. The Good Brothers

NJPW’s tag team division has been a dog for years, so putting out something that could have been a Tag League match from the middle of that tour as a do or die struggle for your tag team championships isn’t necessarily a good idea. That said? I liked this quite a bit. Like the Knockouts Tag Team Championship match before it, this was straightforward and no-nonsense tag team wrestling, two underdogs vs. a couple of seasoned vets who combine savvy wrestling with big man mauling. Because they stuck with that tried and true formula, and because Kenny Omega was too busy prepping for his own match to get involved, it clicked.

Like, you know the two or three times a year when New Japan puts on a solid tag team match that half convinces you that Gedo remembered that tag team wrestling exists and can be good? That’s what this was. It won’t blow your doors down, but it has a nice, smooth finish where the Magic Killer got compromised by a free roaming David Finlay, allowing Juice Robinson to score the roll-up and the win. The finish benefitted from not being expected—The Good Brothers are the only members of Bullet Club USA without tag titles, so everybody waiting to make DRAPED IN GOLD memes is gonna have to wait.

Knockouts Championship: Deonna Purrazzo (c) def. Tenille Dashwood

Here’s where not watching Impact on a regular basis fooled me into thinking I was getting something more than I got. I like Purrazzo and Dashwood a great deal and was looking forward to this match more than any. It had a readymade storyline—Dashwood has yet to win a major women’s championship despite wrestling since 2005, Purrazzo is the classic wrestler’s wrestler heel champion—and started out as though it was going to honor that. Despite commentary’s insistence that Purrazzo was flat out the better wrestler, the two were fairly evenly matched, firing up to exchange strikes, throws, and submissions. As one would expect, Purrazzo eventually gained the advantage before Dashwood stopped the champion from completing a trifecta of German Suplexes by throwing a ton of wild back elbows, which let her go on a nice run that culminated in a Muta Lock.

At that point, the match fell apart. Kimber Lee, Susan, and Kaleb with a K got involved on the outside, at which point the focus was on them. That was unfortunate, as a second Dashwood flurry had an extremely long two count due to Purrazzo’s entourage being out of position to break it up from the outside. By the time Purrazzo won, I was out, which is just as well because Purrazzo’s win and her crew’s post match beatdown of Dashwood was just a precursor for the return of Taylor Wilde, who wiped everyone out without a problem.

This match deserved better. It deserved a clean finish and more time, for one—again, thinking of the casual fans here, if you want to demonstrate what makes your promotion good and believe in your women’s division as a strength of your brand, running a clean, big fight match between champion and challenger is how you show it. If you want to reintroduce Wilde, you can still do it the exact same way—just save the beatdown for after the bell. But the match was pretty clearly booked around making the viewer question whether or not Purrazzo could beat Dashwood—a question you can raise even with a clean victory—which forced everybody involved, two wrestlers, one referee, and three people at ringside, to walk a tightrope. You book a match that way under the assumption that nobody is going to fall off, but it’s unnecessary, and it absolutely shouldn’t have been done this way if it was the semi-main event, given how heel Kenny Omega matches are prone to similar overbooking.

Impact and AEW World Championship Winner Takes All Match: Kenny Omega (c) def. Rich Swann (c)

I’m gonna be honest—I don’t think Omega and Swann clicked. Despite the haze of Matt Striker and Mauro Ranallo’s dueling hyperbole, it was clear that this match just wasn’t as special as Impact was hoping for. It started well enough, as Swann, the established underdog, was the focus of a methodological Omega, who focused on the Impact Champion’s back early on. The match kicked into second gear when Swann countered the Kotaro Crusher with a handstand/mule kick/frog splash combo, at which point he was too fired up for Omega to treat like your average wrestler on an episode of AEW Dark.

It never made it past second, though it certainly had the time to do so. It would be easy to point at the match’s overbooked middle portion, where Impact referee Brian Hebner took a cutter, which got AEW referee Aubrey Edwards into the match to take a chair away from a surprised Omega. For there to be drama in that moment, one has to buy into the whole AEW are heels thing, which doesn’t make any sense on the other side of the forbidden door. Tony Khan regularly rules against Omega’s interests, Tony Schiavone hates Don Callis, but they and Lynn and presumably Edwards were there in Omega’s pocket. So Edwards taking the chair from Omega, which drew a “good for her!” from Striker, was just, you know, a referee doing her job.

The bigger issue is that two spots that were clearly designed to be the stuff of legend just kind of fell apart. Both of them were reversals of Kenny Omega top rope moves, which meant that the landings were more than a little rugged, particularly on Swann’s attempted counter of an avalanche One Winged Angel. Nobody got hurt and the match progressed, but what you’re left with as a consequence is a back third where Omega spammed the V Trigger like Liu Kang hitting the leg sweep on Kano in the new Mortal Kombat movie. Sometimes the V Trigger is a killer move. Sometimes it feels like cover for something inadequate. Here, it was the later. After dodging a Phoenix Splash, Omega won with another V Trigger and the One Winged Angel. Don Callis hit the ring with a wild “YEAAAAAAAH” to celebrate, and Matt Striker ceded the floor to Mauro, who waited nearly 30 minutes to unload with “You can’t spell Omega without OMG” and “To paraphrase bar-splitter Freddie Gibbs, Kenny Omega is stacking belts like Pringles.” It was fine, and it’s okay for wrestling to be fine, I just get the feeling every time I see him main event that my definition of what a special wrestler is and the 2021 version of Kenny Omega are so far apart that I’m always going to be a little annoyed by his main events, and not by design.