If you tuned out completely on Impact back during the holidays when they sky seemed to be falling, you’re officially missing something. In spite of its principal flaw — the rampant over saturation of Dixie Carter — Impact has officially begun telling the kinds of stories that its hardcore fans have spent the last years begging for.
For one, younger talent has been elevated, both in terms of card placement and representation on TV. The February 20th edition of Impact was built squarely around Magnus and Gunner, two men with a pleasingly low combined age of 58. Furthermore, The American Wolves, who have been heavily featured since their debut, also used the show to secure a big, clean win over Bad Influence, TNA’s best established team since Beer Money. They’ve quickly put them to the top of the division, as they should, with a Tag Team title victory over the Bromans at a house show in West Virginia. After years of weak lip service, TNA has begun to push young stars — and it’s working.
The revitalized TV product isn’t just the result of fresh faces, however. Long-standing TNA stars, especially Samoa Joe and Bobby Roode, are now featured in more dignified, better-fitting roles: Joe is being presented as both a no-nonsense badass and a serious contender for the TNA World Heavyweight Title. On this week’s show, Mike Tenay went so far as to say that the winner of Gunner versus Magnus would “go on to wrestle Samoa Joe at Lockdown.” That very phrasing made Samoa Joe look like a million bucks, with the implication that he was a well-established favorite over either possible champion. Roode also looked like an important player, as the idea of him walking away from wrestling was made out to be a big deal. Also, Roode being positioned as the head of Team Dixie while seemingly at a philosophical crossroads in his life plants the seed for Roode to turn face and have his own potential run against heel champion Magnus.
If you want visual evidence of the fact that you’re missing something by skipping TNA, look up the main event of last Thursday’s Impact featuring Magnus and Gunner. The match featured fantastic storytelling, with the opening minutes of the match consisting of merely an arm wringer and a headlock being worked masterfully. Both men looked like stars in the match; Magnus played the Nick Bockwinkel-style cowardly tactician heel and Gunner the never-say-die Hulk Hogan babyface. TNA finally presented a World Title match where the emphasis was on story-telling through wrestling rather than getting bad heat on the heels through awful, over-booked finishes. While there was interference in the match, it was actually used to enhance the storytelling, not as a crutch to avoid it. The main event presented a worthy title match, and while the finish was far from clean, it gave both wrestlers a logical bridge towards the next thing: Storm for Gunner and Joe for Magnus.
After years of half-trying and paying lip service to trying, TNA have finally built a card filled with a blend of their own veteran stars, young, fresh faces, and an ever-shrinking number of former WWE and WCW stars. Although the transition from 2013 to 2014 was a rocky time for Impact Wrestling, they have truly emerged from the storm as something different. If you’re still not watching Impact because of Hulk Hogan or Jeff Jarrett or Sting, then you’re missing out on the emergence of a very different company.