The Impact Wrestling Knockout Report: Hard To Kill

Hello Impact fans and curious rubberneckers! I’m Elle Collins, and this is the Knockout Report. I’ll fill you in on everything that happens in Impact Wrestling, but I’m always going to start with the Knockouts, because they tend to be the best part of the show. You can follow me on Twitter here, With Spandex here, and Uproxx here. You can watch Impact Wrestling on AXS TV every Tuesday night at 8 p.m. Then you can read this column and share it with everyone you know.

Last time on Impact, the go home show for Hard To Kill was just a week ago, but it feels like a thousand years.

Now without further ado, here’s the Knockout Report for the Impact Hard To Kill PPV from January 12, 2020:

Taya Valkyrie defeated Jordynne Grace and ODB in a Triple Threat Match for the Impact Knockouts Championship

Impact Wrestling

This match was kind of a mess, but in the context of this particular PPV, it feels like kind of a relief that it was only a mess in terms of what was happening in the ring, rather than because of the real-world implications and the discourse surrounding its participants. But obviously I’m getting ahead of myself.

The thing is, I have respect for ODB, but she’s not much of a worker, at least not in 2020, and she feels out of place alongside wrestlers of Taya and Jordynne’s caliber. So in that sense, it worked well that the finish of this match wasn’t a three-way fight to see who gets pinned, but a two-way fight to see who gets to pin ODB.

Still, this would have been a much stronger wrestling match if it had been one-on-one between Jordynne and Taya. Of course, we’ve seen that match before and we’ll no doubt see it again soon, especially in the aftermath of this match’s finish. That’s sort of the problem when you have a small women’s division, and even more so when it’s divided into “regular Knockouts” and “supernatural monsters who aren’t at this PPV.”

Given the length of Taya’s run and the shortage of opponents, I had sort of thought that it might be time for Jordynne to take the Knockouts Championship. But obviously you don’t want to do that in a Triple Threat match with ODB, or the whole thing really does become about the finish. We’ll see where things go next, but I personally feel like both women could use new opponents and fresh storylines in the near future.

Tessa Blanchard defeated Sami Callihan for the Impact Wrestling World Championship

Impact Wrestling

Let me be direct about this, because I’m not sure I’ve been direct enough so far: Tessa Blanchard’s racist and bullying actions, as conveyed on Twitter by multiple women who’ve worked with her (including former Knockouts and current members of the NXT and AEW rosters), are completely unacceptable. She deserves to face consequences for those actions, and the first thing she needs to do is own up to her behavior and apologize to the people she hurt. She should not be the face of any wrestling company.

The problem with Impact is that they care about their performers’ reputations even less than other wrestling promotions. They routinely hire people who’ve been labeled hard to work with, and against whom far worse allegations have been made. Any of us could name at least four or five other people on the Impact roster right now who’ve faced credible claims of abuse, bigotry, and/or harassment. That’s just how Impact rolls, and it makes them hard to support and champion, even when the shows are good (and the shows aren’t even that good right now). It’s why I’ve stopped covering them in the past, and why I’m currently thinking it may have been a mistake to return.

I don’t think it would have been better for Sami Callihan to retain the World Championship, to be clear. Leaving aside his own problematic reputation, Impact had been telling a story for most of a year, and that story has implications beyond who Tessa Blanchard is as a person. For one thing, there are still kids watching this show (I know it’s hard to believe, but some were even visible in the live crowd). Those kids don’t read the dirtsheets, and they’re not on Twitter. All they would have seen is the bad guy beating the good guy in what should have been her moment of triumph, and it would have been all too easy to assume without context that she was losing because she’s a girl.

So what about the match itself? Personally, I found it hard to watch. I couldn’t separate it in my mind from the stories surrounding Tessa in real life, and I honestly had no idea if Impact would change the ending or not. Having all that in my head made it hard to focus on the actual in-ring storytelling.

Then the in-ring storytelling became about Sami beating the living hell out of Tessa for a very long time, and that just made it messier. At one point I had the thought, “Either she’s winning or they’re punishing her.” And then of course I thought, “They’d never do that,” but the other voice in my head was telling me this is Impact, and Sami Callihan, so actually maybe they would. In other words, I got worked. Or at least meta-worked.

Tessa Blanchard is a great wrestler, even if she’s a terrible person, and I didn’t have a hard time believing that once Sami got tired and she got an opening, she was able to turn the tide and eventually pin him. I’ve advocated for intergender wrestling before, and while this wasn’t my favorite example of it, it was at the end of the day a wrestling match, and no more unbelievable than any other.

But now Impact Wrestling has a woman as their World Champion, which one hopes they’ve been planning for, but they also have a recently outed alleged racist bully as their champion, and they weren’t planning for that. I don’t know how long she’ll hold the belt, and if she loses it soon it will be hard to tell if that was always the plan.

If it were up to me I’d have had Taya drop the Knockouts Title to Jordynne and give up her rematch for a chance at taking Tessa’s title instead. Do a double turn and have Taya win the World Title as a babyface in the near future, and then you’re back where you wanted to be with a woman World Champion, but with somebody less objectionable in the role. And that way you could remove the belt from Tessa quickly without devaluing the idea of a woman holding it. But I don’t expect Impact to be that smart about it.

I’m going to keep watching and recapping Impact primarily to see where this goes, but if they double down on Tessa Blanchard as a proud babyface at the top of the company, it’s going to get difficult to stick around pretty quickly.

Meanwhile, in Guyville…

Impact Wrestling

Is anyone reading this column because you really want my take on Rhino versus Moose? I didn’t think so. I’m going to hurry through the rest of this card, because I don’t have a whole lot to say, especially in the shadow of the main event.

Eddie Edwards versus Michael Elgin was a serviceable match. I don’t care for Elgin, but he does know what he’s doing in the ring, and of course Eddie’s always fun, and obviously I was glad he won. The X-Division Title match between Ace Austin and Trey Miguel was also solid, although it didn’t seem as good as I feel like those guys are capable of being, not to mention that it’s still all about Trey’s hot mom.

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Madman Fulton, Brian Cage, and Moose faced Ken Shamrock, Rob Van Dam, and Rhino, respectively. Certainly this isn’t the most full of old men that Impact’s ever been, but I think it’s the most since that moment when we all declared that Impact wasn’t just an embarrassing promotion for old-timers anymore. To be clear, Ken Shamrock is still pretty impressive these days, and I don’t mind seeing him here. In fact, so far I’m definitely more into him than I am Madman Fulton. I don’t dislike Rhino either, although it seems like he should either be a coach or a politician by now.

Impact Wrestling

Rob Van Dam brings his own problems to the table. Imagine a world in which Tessa Blanchard didn’t get “canceled” this weekend, and a bunch of feminist wrestling fans tuned in hoping to see a woman win a world title. Now imagine that audience encountering Rob Van Dam and Katie Forbes, and their new shared girlfriend Jennifer, who debuted on this show.

Obviously I’m not implying that feminists have a problem with attractive women, and of course Katie Forbes and whoever Jennifer is have the right to present themselves however they want. But none of that changes the fact that their presentation in Impact is the worst sort of eye candy for the male gaze. I get that it’s supposed to be kind of a joke, because RVD’s a relic of the past and this is what wrestling looked like then. But as many people smarter than me have said, you can’t satirize a thing by just doing the thing. This whole situation is gross, and honestly it makes the choice to put the top belt on a woman look like nothing more than a publicity stunt.

On top of all that, RVD’s match with Cage didn’t really get underway. Apparently Cage was already injured, but when they had RVD hurt him so badly he couldn’t compete, in the moment it just seemed like they were punishing him for having a foot out the door. Then Daga came in and fought instead, because god forbid there not be an RVD match on the card in 2020.

Impact Wrestling

The tag match was basically rendered pointless once Rich Swann was injured and couldn’t compete. I like Willie Mack, and it was fun to see him give it his all in a handicap match, but in terms of storytelling in the tag division, it’s hard to say that his loss means any more than the North’s win. At most, maybe it will continue the breakup storyline between Willie and Rich.

That’s all for Hard to Kill, join me later this week for the regular Knockout Report, and we’ll see what comes of all this.