If you’ve been paying attention, the last three years have been a pretty good time to be an Impact Wrestling fan. Stable ownership, a well booked, creatively satisfying television product, and a revolving roster of established veterans and young up and comers – Impact Towers have got to be happy with the image overhaul overseen by Executive Vice Presidents, Scott D’Amore, and (“The Invisible Hand”) Don Callis. But that revolving roster presents one recurring issue year in, year out: as talent depart for pastures new, Impact faces the constant challenge of replacing and rebuilding their depleted ranks.
Upon taking the reins at Impact in early 2018, Scott D’Amore and Don Callis got straight to work in the talent relations department. Scouring a thriving independent scene, the shrewd acquisitions of Brian Cage, Killer Kross, Pentagon Jr, Rey Fenix, Ethan Page, and Tessa Blanchard showed a real eye for the next generation of wrestlers and drastically altered the landscape over at the Impact Zone. Coupled with the renewed pushes of LAX (Santana and Ortiz), Sami Callihan, and Taya Valkyrie (amongst others), the new management team demonstrated that great, youthful in-ring talent was a priority and showcased them in increasingly entertaining TV and pay-per-view events. Of the class of 2018, it’s notable that only Sami Callihan remains with the company.
It’s part of the wrestling industry that people move on. Bigger opportunities, better paydays, and wider exposure are all incentives that WWE, AEW, and Japan offer. The Impact of 2018-21 is more akin to the ECW of 1996-99 – they provide a platform for wrestlers to hone their skills and personas; a chance to work on television with veterans and youth alike. Impact Wrestling is a middle man that takes the raw talent, primes it ready for a bigger spotlight, and then releases their hard work into the Serengeti ruled by Vince, Tony, and New Japan.
Impact Wrestling writer-types have flexed their creative muscle and for each departure, have covered, hired, written out, and made each exit an opportunity for another potential star. In recent months, the fortified walls of wrestling have crumbled and AEW and New Japan stars have helped bolster the ranks at Impact. The welcome cameos from Kenny Omega, Matt Hardy, Private Party, and FinJuice are exciting, but will only plug the gaps atop the roster in the short term. Impact’s roster is small, but there is preexisting talent aplenty, ready, willing and able to grab that fabled brass ring; talent that would class as “Best Supporting Actor” rather than “Best Actor in a Leading Role”. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
In recent weeks, Impact has pulled the trigger in pushing the likes of Trey Miguel, Deaner, Jake Something, and Brian Myers – all great talents, all destined for more television time, and storyline attention. But let’s look at the untapped potential a little further down the card.
The Knockouts scene has been a boon for Impact for many years. Far from a secondary division, the women have more than established their presence in the main event slot. Going as far as Tessa Blanchard winning the Impact World title, it’s fair to say that Deonna Purrazzo (current Knockouts Champion) and Jordyne Grace have done an admirable job in filling the void following the world champs strange departure. But Impact needs to bolster the number of realistic challengers to The Virtuosa’s crown. May I suggest starting with the versatile talents of a certain Kimber Lee.
A ten year veteran of CZW, a main-stay in Shimmer, with a brief WWE developmental stint thrown in, watching Lee perform in and outside of an Impact ring has been a real joy. Technically proficient (she was trained by WWE’s Drew Gulak) and with a snug wrestling style that meshes especially well with Jordynne Grace, it has been Kimber’s character work that has made her stand out.
Currently aligned with Purrazzo and Susan (see any “Karen” meme, for reference), and very much the sub-commander of their heel grouping, Kimber Lee is one of the most expressive wrestlers on the Impact Wrestling roster. The importance of facial expressions, of selling a beating, of reacting to the choreographed mayhem unfurling, is often lost in a modern wrestling world where so much goes at a thousand miles an hour. Watching the below recap is a great example of Lee doing a lot with very little: the preening, cocky peacock routine during the “staredown” with ODB; the cowardly, horrified heel retreating from a beating; the running away, flashing L shapes, chichenshit heel antics. Kimber Lee simply gets the business of character.
With a little care and creative attention, Kimber Lee can ascend to the Knockouts title with only minor adjustments. While fantasy booking is a dangerous pursuit, I could easily see Kimber in both a dominant heel role or equally as good as an underdog babyface. Perhaps, taking a note from Austin Aries (gulp!), Lee traverses her real-life veganism into a morally superior, better-than-you, moral avenger. Her facial range as a heel is fun, smarmy and makes you want to see her take the loss. A Killer Kimber could thrive around the top of the card.
Alternatively, what about the old Million Dollar Man/Virgil parting of the ways template? The Virtuosa, with her demanding, selfish, self-serving bullying ways, pushes Kimber Lee to her absolute bursting point. Cue a ready-made, righteous, revenge-seeking face, ready to alleviate Deonna of about ten pounds of gold, the sympathy that a gifted performer like Lee could illicit with her facial range. Impact needs to look no further for their next homegrown star.
Of a completely different ilk, but existing in the same arena of an Impact talent who could thrive if given the ball: Super Heavyweight: Fallah Bahh.
With an endearing personality, a kid-friendly, cute, man-panda gimmick, Bahh is a most unlikely contender to world titles and main event consideration at this point. Having primarily co-starred in the Wrestle House and Swingers Palace skits/backstage segments in the last 6 months, Bahh’s pre-Covid potential has been parked in favour of wrestling comedy. Bahh plays his role well and not everyone can be in the title spotlight, but look at this beast of a man. Versus Austin Aries (in the below clip), this was popular babyface Bahh, showing that he could hang with a versatile opponent and be more than convincing as an underdog fighting from underneath.
Why are we not seeing Yokozuna 2? Why are we not seeing a crazed, Abdullah the Butcher disciple? Where is Impact’s version of Umaga? Why are we not getting a bloodletting, man-beast who uses his physical gifts to destroy his opponent? I really like Fallah Bahh as an in-ring performer. I want to hate him. I want a mean, horrible, violent heel who will not forgive the kids who bullied him as a child. I want fire, blood and hatred. Bahh’s fleet-footed talents, his size, and his ability to work with all manner of wrestling types scream out unstoppable killing machine. Remember when one half of Three Minute Warning repackaged themselves as just that back in 2006? Just imagine what Bahh could bring to the Impact World Title with a 2021 retooling of the wild mad man gimmick, and what wrestling company doesn’t want that?
The North have split up. The Motor City Machine Guns are on temporary hiatus (due to Alex Shelly’s real-life job meaning he can’t travel). FinJuice are on loan from New Japan, and The Good Brothers are the crazy glue that is holding a tenuous “division” together whilst partying over at AEW on their days off. If only Impact had a modern-day version of (Mega-heels!!) The Nasty Boys on the payroll. Or a super heavyweight tag team that could rival Vader and Bam Bam Bigelow’s New Japan hoss fighting duo.
Forgive the sarcasm, but Reno Scum has a unique look, and a penchant for entertaining brawls: a great mix of Luster the Legends powerhouse-ery (I made that “word” up!) and Adam Thornstowe’s all rounded journeyman wrestler. They are a perfect fit for a depleted tag team league, yet they are only used sporadically and usually to just eat a loss from whatever team is in title contention.
As it is, we know very little about Scum – who are they? What is the meaning of their alt-look? Why are they always so angry? As glorified enhancement talent who have not been gifted any airtime to tell a story, Reno Scum are the great unknown tag team of modern Impact. In the absence of other tandems, maybe now is Luster and Thornstowe’s time.
Or maybe it’ll be Double XXXL’s time? Acey Romero and Big Larry D are over 800lb’s of irresistible force/immovable object. A true super heavyweight tag team. Talented. Young. Underutilised. Featured in comedy skits. See above.
I don’t make a habit of criticising my favourite wrestling company; I like to remain an unabashed optimist, but I would love the tag division to welcome two of their own: signed talents and let both teams tear it up in the Impact Zone. Make it a storyline. Disgruntled employee vs The Establishment might have made someone money in the past (inserts winking emoji!).
Due to Covid-19 and the resulting world lockdown, Impact Wrestling was operating with a threadbare roster in March/April of 2020. A slave to who could travel to Nashville’s Skyway Studios and who was stuck at borders or in “No Travel” states, Impact were forced to utilise the talent at hand. This was the start of the Moose super-push. The (rather random, but welcome) return of Hernandez and the brief ascension of the massively underrated Rohit Raju.
Since 2017, Rohit occupied a lower card heel role, despite being a versatile and adaptable performer (Rohit has excelled in numerous losing efforts), The Desi Hit Squad member was a comedy foil. A pin eater. A disgruntled member of The Job Squad. Fast forward to the Booking of Pandemic-Era Impact, Rohit was given a microphone, a ring, and some real-life minutes of prime time wrestling television.
Spewing passion, anger and frustration, Rohit Raju was no longer the whipping boy of the Desi Godfather, Gamma Singh. This was The Desi Hitman, channelling his AAW, persona, Hakim Zane. A mega heel whose autobiography would be titled “The Art of Being a Prick” – the new Raju/Zane was a win-at-any-costs, Flair-like, cheating, deceitful cretin. A run with the X-Division title, a “Defeat Rohit Open Challenge”, and plenty of time to maximise his minutes, gave Raju a platform to shine. An entertaining feud with TJP, versus Jordynne Grace, and a love-hate partnership/rivalry with Chris Bey, showed a massive upside. The Hitman dropped the title in November 2020 and now is back milling around the edges of the X and tag divisions without a fixed direction. If you’re not sold on Rohit Raju, I can highly recommend his Impact Summer 2020 or his heel work in AAW (below). Impact should be wary of overlooking such an experienced and entertaining all-rounder.
And then there’s The Six Star Athlete – Willie Mack.
Presented as Rich Swann’s affable best friend, Mack is laid back, softly spoken, and as nice a guy as the wrestling world can present. Far from underutilised, Mack has been featured prominently since his debut with Impact in October 2018. A brief feud with future World Champ, Sami Callihan, delivered a couple of barnburners. His tag run alongside (another future World Champ) Rich Swann was going well until his partner’s disastrous leg injury. Mack’s late 2020/early 2021 rivalry with Moose showed that Mack can deliver in the main event setting.
Mack’s ring talents cannot be underestimated. For a man of his size, Mack is truly phenomenal. The spectacular sight of a Mack-shaped Six-Star -Splash. Standing Moonsaults – tick. The Van Terminator (I refuse to call it Coast to Coast!)? You got it! Mack can deliver on high impact, fast-paced, multi-faceted matches. So why his inclusion here?
For all the fire Mack can show in the ring, for all the great matches, Impact still presents Willie as the best friend; the cool, laid back, chill dude who does his talking in the ring. Fair enough; but this leaves Mack as a supporting player destined to live in the shadow of angrier, more emotive characters. It is here that Impact or Mack need to snap – a turn on a long-time best friend (and current World Champion!) would be a blast of hot, fiery air. The addition of a cantankerous manager who can do the shit-talking for Mack. A defeated Mack has a mental break and destroys friends and foes alike.
Mack is a rare breed. Alongside the likes of Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens, and Mick Foley, Mack is a wrestling machine that belies his shape and size. To watch Mack is wrestling magic, but it’s time to put away the card tricks and bring out the guillotine. Impact, Willie Mack, and the fans would all benefit from some creatively crazed Mack Attacks (*hears groans).
Impact is doing a fine job of putting on a damn good wrestling show. I’m excited to see what the Border War with AEW and New Japan will throw up. I can’t wait to see what Kenny Omega vs Rich Swann produces. I genuinely love tuning in every week. But I can’t help but think that Impact already has many loyal soldiers waiting in the wings. Ready, willing, and (with an adrenaline shot of creative initiative) able to soar through to the main event of the next generation of Impact.
I’m just a fan. Drinking a cold beer. Watching Impact at Wrestle Inn.