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IMPACT Wrestling makes the most of its new focus with 'Hard To Kill'
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IMPACT Wrestling makes the most of its new focus with ‘Hard To Kill’

All eyes are on IMPACT Wrestling for the first time in a long time, and they capitalized at ‘Hard To Kill’.

Ever since new AEW Champion Kenny Omega aligned himself with EVP of IMPACT Wrestling Don Callis, the owl brand has been riding a new wave of interest from the internet wrestling community. For their part, IMPACT has done well to capitalize on their newfound popularity, putting their greatest talents in key positions and using Omega as a Trojan horse of sorts.

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly wrestling podcast, PTW!

Hard to Kill 2021 not only acted as the event in which Kenny Omega would finally make his in-ring debut for IMPACT, but also as the finals of a tournament to crown the first Knockouts Tag Team Champions since 2013, the finale of a years-long feud between Eddie Edwards and Sami Callihan, and a general showcase of the talent that IMPACT Wrestling has scrounged together over the past few years.

With all eyes on IMPACT, did Hard to Kill do its job of convincing viewers to stick around with the promotion for the long haul? AIPT’s own Darius Melton and Peter Boyer are here to discuss just that!

Darius: So, the AEW World Champion pinned the IMPACT World Champion last night, bringing us one step closer to another addition to Omega’s belt collection. How are we feeling about that one, because while I’m personally a fan of the ending (possibly influenced by the match before it being so stellar), I’ve heard concerns that this paints IMPACT poorly.

Peter: I haven’t engaged in any of the discourse online about the PPV yet, but it was always going to paint IMPACT poorly — there was no way the result was going to be in their favor. What I was surprised with was just how much of a win it was for AEW. The IMPACT World Champion being pinned clean by Kenny — that honestly kind of surprised me.

Darius: I think the reason I don’t have a serious problem with it is because of the type of champion that Rich Swann is. He’s a plucky babyface who will mostly always be seen as the underdog in his matches, whereas Eric Young before him (as seen earlier in the show) is this violent sneak and Moose — the false champion with the TNA belt — is a monster.

I do think IMPACT had a good showing overall in the main event, but when you look at the history books, it won’t say, “But Chris Sabin got a nearfall and Moose hit an AMAZING Spanish Fly!” It’ll just say Swann lost to Omega, which is wild.

Peter: True, although I think a lot of people tuned in who wouldn’t normally (myself included and my housemate came in for the main event). And oh boy were we impressed by what we saw from Swann. I think it still helped IMPACT more than it hurt them. Albeit, this is inevitably going to lead to Kenny winning the IMPACT title right?

Darius: More than likely, and while I was initially skeptical because the thought was, “Who does he lose it back to?”, I think the answer became Moose last night. But, as you said, Swann is great in his own right. He’s an athletic marvel, and watching his entrance made me remember how fun he is.

I think “fun” actually describes a lot of the IMPACT attitude, actually!

Peter: Absolutely, I’ve watched IMPACT off and on and my favorite bits have always been the more comic book-y aspects of the promotion, such as Rosemary. Speaking of which, it was exciting to see Decay back.

Darius: That was a pleasant surprise to me, as I totally missed the end of IMPACT this week and didn’t see their reunion. I’ve always known how great Rosemary is — she just really understands her own character in a way that many don’t — but Crazzy Steve is actually someone who I think I underrated in the past. He’s really great, too.

Peter: Crazzy Steve is someone who I kind of ignored in the past but he absolutely impressed last night in the opening match.

Darius: Yeah, all four of them — their opponents of course being Tenille Dashwood and Kaleb “With a K” Konley — were really good in their roles, so while it was already going to be great from an in-ring standpoint, it was aided by Kaleb and Tenille’s Instagram model stuff or Decay hitting the double mist spot. Great stuff all around!

Peter: Kaleb and Tenille’s gimmick is something we’ve seen variations of before, but for some reason just during that one match it really stood out to me. They present it well and I am looking forward to seeing more of them in the future.

Darius: Totally! And I do think it’s funny that there’s a surprising amount of Emmalina in Tenille’s character. She’s making it work after all these years!

Up next was the 6-man “Old School Rules” match with Eric Young/Joe Doering/Cody Deaner vs Tommy Dreamer/Rhino/Cousin Jake. A bit of a weird match to get into if you’re not watching IMPACT regularly (I lost the plot and only missed three episodes), but I think Cousin Jake did well!

Peter: Yeah, for me, this one was just kind of bland. There were one or two spots that I enjoyed but overall I honestly couldn’t get into it. I can’t really say one way or another if I thought it was good though because for me a lot of my enjoyment of a match depends heavily on the plot and characters.

Darius: That’s reasonable, and I relate to it. I think a huge block for me in this match was that I’d never felt like I was supposed to care about The Deaners, so when they split and they’re starting to push Cody, I thought, “Okay…? At least Joe Doering is here.”

There was a line from Matt Striker on commentary: “His back hardened by his time in All Japan; his soul hardened by a lifetime in this sport.” I think that put Doering over well, but from the TINY bit I’ve seen of him before 2020, he feels a little less special now that he’s not a huge gaijin in Japan anymore. OH GOD, IS HE TENSAI?

Peter: I’m going to have to plead ignorance on this one, I’m not really familiar with Doering.

Darius: Totally valid; I’ve only seen his name and a few matches of his pop up over the years as an example of a modern Stan Hansen-type.

After this match was the return of the Knockouts Tag Team Championships, and I say this next part knowing full well that the titles were originally deactivated because a man was co-champion, but IMPACT does their Knockouts division so well. I like that these belts make sense because literally every woman on the roster has a regular friend/tag partner.

Peter: The Knockouts division is honestly my favorite part of IMPACT and is what I check up on whenever I watch the show. So I am excited to see some more titles thrown into the mix. Side note: I love those belts, as I love all of IMPACT’s belts. They’re some of my favorite current ones.

Darius: Those belts do look great, and looking at the originals now, I do like that they didn’t go back to red straps. It just makes these belts feel a little more serious.

My main takeaway from the match itself is that I need to invest a lot more time into watching Jessika Havok wrestle, because while I’ve been a Kiera Hogan fan for years, I think Havok just may be the best “big woman” wrestler out there right now. Though she did have that “Nyla/Riho” benefit of facing off against two perfectly sized wrestlers for showing off her strengths (including her, well, strength).

Peter: Havok has grown on me. I mean I don’t watch IMPACT often, but the first time seeing her I loved her gimmick. Over time she’s stood out more and more and last night she did have some really cool spots.

Darius: Definitely. I think I only saw her as a hardcore wrestler at first, but she’s great without the need for thumbtacks. Congrats to Kiera and Tasha for becoming the new champions, though! I was hyped when I saw Gail Kim and Madison Rayne come out to congratulate them, and it reminded me of how solid IMPACT’s list of legends is, especially now that Rayne’s career wrapped up nicely last night.

Peter: I wasn’t surprised at all with the outcome of the match. Kiera is someone who I will make sure to watch whenever I’m going through episodes of IMPACT. Excited to see where they go from here.

Darius: Definitely. I think them having a tag team name (Fire and Flavor? I don’t want to spell it the way Matt Striker pronounced it) definitely made them feel like the eventual winners for me.

In other big news for the night, Matt “Zack Ryder” Cardona finally debuted in IMPACT last night, finally joining the only current wrestling company that I think makes sense for him to be in. It was a bit wild to immediately put him up against Ace Austin, though, a guy who A) is in the X Division and B) can’t afford a loss.

Peter: Ace Austin is another person I know pretty much only by name, so them having him go up against Cardona for Matt’s first match doesn’t mean too much to me. That being said, from what I did see of Ace last night I do very much love his style. Those shades he had during the preshow were amazing.

It’s nice to see Matt Cardona hopefully get somewhere more permanent, especially since his brief stint in AEW seemed from the start to be going nowhere. So hopefully he’s able to establish himself at IMPACT.

Darius: Agreed. I think Cardona is a performer who works best if he’s nurtured, as he got super over in 2012 but wasn’t able to keep it going because of WWE not getting behind it. I don’t think he’d get that room to establish himself in AEW, as he’d likely fall into the Shawn Spears/Matt Sydal spot of getting paid and putting on solid matches every once in a while.

Now ACE AUSTIN, on the other hand, is apparently my boy. Watching him last night, he just felt so different from everyone else, almost a cut above the rest (I decided before seeing the main event). He said on the pre-show that he’s the best performer in IMPACT, and while there are others who have solid cases for that claim, man, Ace is good.

Peter: I did enjoy that match however short, although, once again, I’ll have to get to know him more to thoroughly enjoy his matches. I am looking forward to checking out more of his stuff though. Ace is for sure going on my list of IMPACT wrestlers to not fast forward through when I go through episodes.

Darius: I will say that a 3-minute match with a DQ isn’t the BEST way to get introduced to him, but yeah, the no-fast-forward list is a good spot for him. I think after last night, that list for me grew a whole lot, to the point where I’m not sure who IS skippable now.

Three guys I know aren’t on my skip list are Chris Bey, Rohit Raju, and Manik, though Manik has an edge over everyone else since I was introduced to wrestling via the IMPACT video game and, thus, playing as Suicide.

Peter: This was one of the matches I got distracted away from due to work, however, while on a work call I did catch some bits of it. I don’t really know Manik but I do like his whole look. I’m excited to go back and watch this match when I get the time.

Darius: The match itself was killer, and I bought into every nearfall and attempted mask removal, but I think my favorite part of this match was D’Lo Brown’s insistence that maybe Manik isn’t actually TJP. In fact, D’Lo even suggested that maybe Manik is a mimic. I’ve been into Striker’s commentary for years (and his addition plus light crowd noise SUPER helped the show), but I like D’Lo taking on the uncle-y Tony Schiavone role here.

Peter: Striker overall was excellent, but then again he usually is. He’s always able to create a good repertoire with his fellow commentators, usually doing a good job setting up the other one to relay important information. 

Darius: Absolutely. I think he also does a good job selling the story of moves rather than just calling what the moves are like a radio announcer. Watching Deonna Purrazzo vs Taya Valkyrie, he did a great job selling the former’s technical/joint manipulation plan and highlighting Taya’s own selling.

Peter: I never really feel like submissions are that realistic; I never buy into them. But this match, I was wincing multiple times. I kept wondering how in the hell Taya wasn’t actually getting torn apart especially with that finish. 

Darius: I swore Taya’s shoulder was going to get ripped out at the end with that double-arm Fujiwara. It was so brutal, and props to both of them for making us buy into it (assuming it didn’t just straight-up hurt, which it looks like it had to).

Peter: I’m not going to lie, I was a bit disappointed that Taya didn’t win. I knew she wasn’t going to but there was a bit of me that wanted to believe that she could. I’ve loved her ever since I watched Lucha Underground and she and Rosemary are great together. 

Darius: She and Rosemary are certainly an interesting pair, one that took me aback when I first got into the Knockouts tag team era of IMPACT because I assumed Taya was a heel, as Lucha Underground influences us both. But seeing her interact with Decay last night and talking about Slamtown, I get it and I could start to love it.

Now. How are we going to handle the murder that happened after that match?

Peter: I mean, I personally called the police when I saw that. It was absolutely disgusting that IMPACT would air such brutality. The violence in that match was shameless and so realistic that there is no way that it wasn’t actually real.

Darius: Of course it was real! Ethan Page is nothing if not a professional, and Karate Man doesn’t just throw the word “kumate” around willy nilly! The fight was to the death, and now for the umpteenth time in the past few years, a wrestler was murdered on an IMPACT show. Scott D’Amore really needs to get that looked at.

Peter: People do die a lot on IMPACT, huh. I hadn’t noticed that till right now. But for real, that match was something I think we need a little bit more of in wrestling as a whole. Wrestling is a lot better when the silliness of the medium is embraced. Granted, it’s easy to go overboard, and needs to be used sparingly, but a little more silliness is always appreciated.

Darius: I’m with you 100%. It was the perfect use of the cinematic match to me because, in one go, it 1) gave us a “dream match” we couldn’t get any other way, 2) paid off a months-long storyline, 3) potentially wrote off a mainstay character, 4) allowed IMPACT to set up the barbed wire massacre ring, and 5) was just SO FUNNY. I’ve mentioned a while back that I think we’re in a golden age of wrestling comedy, and that match was perfect to me, especially at such a manageable length of time.

Peter: I think the length is what really made it shine. It knew what it was, did its thing, and then got out. I honestly did not know what the plot was going in at all, had no idea what was happening but it was perfect.

Darius: I think when something is that magical, we as the audience instantly evolve past the need for plot. All we’re left with is the ability to enjoy.

The last match on our dossier is Barbed Wire Massacre IV: Edwards vs Callihan. They opted out of the barbed wire ropes this time, which I’m sure made the match better and benefited the set-up time, even if I think it looked marginally less cool than the previous three.

Peter: Yeah, I was a bit surprised they kept the ropes on there. Half of those types of matches is just the aesthetics and to opt out of that seemed odd? But there was still enough crazy stuff out there that I was cringing well before the match started. 

I honestly never know how I feel about those more hardcore matches. I don’t have any sort of moral issue with them, more just the pacing of them always seems a bit too slow to be realistic for me.

Darius: I like a healthy balance between Kevin Owens-style hardcore (which is like chair shots and such) and a Jimmy Havoc match, where homie’s got scissors and lemon slices. It feels like a lot, but I feel like that’s my exact limit, as CZW matches with weed whackers make me cringe every time.

This match was like a good old fashioned Foley vs Orton, as Edwards wrapping barbed wire around Callihan’s forehead got the most belly aching out of me last night.

Peter: For a hardcore match it definitally made sure it wasn’t all just standing around waiting for each other to attack which was nice, although there were some spots that made you remember ‘oh yeah, they have to be careful and go slowly’. I wouldn’t say it was a great match but I still enjoyed it, especially the last couple of minutes.

Darius: I agree that it wasn’t my favorite match last night, though I’ve seen many touting it and the main event as the matches of the show. I think a lot of it could also come from storyline investment. Stuff like the callback to Callihan bashing a bat onto a chair over Edwards’ head was neat and I liked them trading their respective weapons back to each other (thanks, Matt Striker, for calling that), so I wonder what else I would’ve caught or felt if I’d been watching them fight for three years straight rather than on and off.

Peter: Those little touches that you catch which aren’t called are some of my favorite little things when watching wrestling, and it did seem like the match must have had a lot of those. However, from just a standpoint of someone who watches only every once in a while, yeah, the match was pretty forgettable overall.

Darius: Yeah. As a dude who cares about the performers as people, I’m glad there was nothing so wild that I’ll always remember this — like when Callihan and Pentagon Jr. used Railroad Spikes at Bound For Glory 2018 — but as the trade off, I just remember it as a standard hardcore affair. Props for taking those bumps and ending the story on a rewarding note, fellas, but maybe I’ll need to come back to it later.

Last question before we close up shop: Are you more likely to follow IMPACT now that you’ve seen Hard to Kill?

Peter: I absolutely think that the AEW crossover has done its job. It’s got me watching IMPACT more (although still not weekly) and has me interested in one or two more people I hadn’t paid attention to in the past. Now will I keep watching IMPACT long term on a regular basis? No idea, but for now I’ll make sure to at least put it on in the background on my Tuesday nights.

Darius: I think that’s certainly a win for IMPACT. As for me, I think that even if Kenny Omega left today, I’d still be interested in their next moves. Striker and D’Lo plus a little crowd sweetening really helped bring things together, and there was such a fun variety that I can’t help but stick around to see what they do next.

I feel like after last night, the chances of IMPACT retaining fans “drastic go up.”

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