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WWE Went To Extremes, But Impact’s Slammiversary Stood Out In A Strong Weekend Of Pro Wrestling

First of all, welcome back to Pro Wrestling coverage on Uproxx. We don’t have our own vertical anymore, but I’ll still be here from time to time under the Uproxx Sports banner to talk about the big shows and whatever else needs to be talked about. It won’t be the same without the open threads and results and countless news posts, but, all things considered, change can be a good thing and I’m happy to be back on this website, covering my favorite pseudo-sport.

This week, the thing I’m the most excited to talk about is Slammiversary 2020. Some of you may remember two years ago when I sent the wrestling internet into an uproar by declaring Slammiversary 2018 the best PPV of the year. Last year’s show wasn’t nearly as impressive, but it remains a PPV I have a soft spot for, and even though I haven’t been watching Impact recently I was excited to see what they had to offer. On the whole, I was not disappointed.

First of all, just to get the most unpleasant stuff out of the way, I was impressed by who wasn’t on the show. Impact has cleared out their roster of its most problematic members, which didn’t used to be something they seemed interested in at all. That’s not to say none of their wrestlers are morally complicated figures, but there’s no Elgin, no Ryan, no Crist, and no Tessa Blanchard, and if nothing else that makes my job easier because I can write about the wrestling with the extra paragraphs about what makes the wrestling hard to enjoy.

Slammiversary opened with the Rascalz (Dez and Wentz) offering to fight any tag team that wanted to face them. Everybody expected the just-signed Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, but the Motor City Machine Guns (Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin) showed up instead. Any possibly disappointment (particularly from those of us who weren’t watching TNA the last time the MCMGs were around) was quickly softened by a really fun, fast-paced match. The veterans Shelley and Sabin were just as energetic as Dez and Wentz, and it turned out to be a lesson to the younger guys, with the moral being, “Be careful about saying you can beat anyone, because you don’t know who’s backstage.” The Machine Guns won the match, setting themselves up to enter the Tag Team Championship picture.

That will put them up against the North, who retained their Titles in a match against Ken Shamrock and Sami Callihan. If this had been a WWE show, you could imagine the two randomly paired up guys winning the belts, but it was clear that was never going to happen here. The North are strong champions, and I’m always here for Murder Grandpa Ken Shamrock. I’m a little confused about Callihan’s character right now, which made it harder to invest in their partnership. In any case, it wasn’t the strongest match of the night, and the highlight was after it was over, when the MCMGs showed up to challenge the North to a Title Match on TV. Not going to lie, I’ll tune in for that.

The weakest match of the night was obviously Moose versus Tommy Dreamer for the TNA Championship. I always enjoy Tommy Dreamer as a recurring presence on basically every wrestling show. He’s dignified enough to play an elder statesman of hardcore violence while also goofy enough to be an effective part of comedy bits. What I never need to see is Dreamer in a singles PPV match in 2020 (or beyond). Also, now that Moose has been challenged for and retained the belt he found in the basement of Impact Headquarters, does that mean he’s a legit champion? It’s Impact, so probably.

The Gauntlet Match to become Number One Contender for the Knockouts Championship wasn’t very good either, which is a shame because it was filled with talented women. It wasn’t what I was expecting from a “Gauntlet Match” in that it was exactly like a Royal Rumble. It started with Tasha Steelz and Kylie Rae, with another woman joining every minute or two (I think they said it was every two minutes, but it seemed to vary a lot). The whole thing kind of stayed a crowded mess into we got down to the final four (Kimber Lee, Rosemary, Taya Valkyrie, and Kylie Rae), when it finally started to seem like somebody had booked this match. It came down to Taya and Kylie, with Kylie getting the win. It’s great to see Kylie doing well here, and she’s always a joy to watch. I could have done without the “comedy” spots of Johnny Bravo coming out dressed like Taya and then Rosemary, but the fact that Rosemary was already in the ring when the latter happened at least heightened the absurdity.

Fortunately the other women’s match was one of the best matches of the night, with Knockouts Champion Jordynne Grace facing off against Deonna Purrazzo. Purrazzo’s both a skilled technician and a charismatic performer, and the perfect foil for Jordynne Grace’s size and strength. The number one thing people mock about Impact Wrestling is their willingness to take WWE’s castoffs and treat them like stars, but watching Purrazzo in action you can help but feel that she simply is a star, and it’s WWE that made the mistake in failing to treat her like one. I was surprised that she won the Knockouts Title this early in her run, but it feels earned and it was really exciting in the moment. Also, she and Kylie Rae ought to have a great feud. They’re both amazing wrestlers, they’ve got that “cocky heel/earnest face” dynamic down, and there’s a fun meta angle with them each representing “the one that got away” to WWE and AEW’s respective women’s divisions.

The other contender for match of the night was the X-Division Championship match between Willie Mack and Chris Bey. I’m a big fan of Willie Mack, and while I wasn’t sure his light blue gear and yellow contact lenses were the best look for him, he did great work here as always. I’m less familiar with Chris Bey, but he seems really great and put on such a showing in this match that I wasn’t mad when he won the X-Title off of Willie. Interested to see where both of these guys go from here, with the roster getting a refresh and opening doors for new feuds and rivalries.

Speaking of which, Heath Slater turned up for a surprise in-ring promo. His speech itself was good, but his “Free Agent” tee and the later backstage segment made it clear that Impact is going to do the same “earn your spot” story with him that WWE did a couple of years back, and I can’t say that sounds exciting. A modest proposal: just let the man wrestle! He’s got kids.

There was also a big build to a surprise fourth man in the match for the vacated Impact World Championship, which already included Ace Austin, Eddie Edwards, and Trey Miguel. First, Rich Swann returned from injury to fill that fourth spot, which was quite a letdown. But then Eric Young showed up, making scary faces in a scary mask, and made it a five-way. Young never found a spot in WWE after the breakup of Sanity, so it’s good to see him back in a place that appreciates him. He also got over like a monster by beating the hell out of Rich Swann, effectively putting him back on the injured list.

It turned out to be Eddie Edwards who actually won the World Championship, however. I’ve got no problem with that. Eddie’s been doing great work the last few years, and he feels pretty legit in this role right now. After the match, Ace Austin and his buddy Madman Fulton decided to beat Eddie up, but he was saved by his new friends, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows! So yeah, the Good Brothers did eventually show up, and it looks like they’re babyfaces, which is interesting. Then the night ended with a quick reveal that EC3 is back too. Presumably either he or Eric Young will soon be coming after Eddie’s belt, either of which sounds like a fun time.

Slammiversary wasn’t the only big show this weekend. The next night we got WWE’s Horror Show at Extreme Rules, an oddly Halloween-themed PPV in July. The tag division also opened that show, with the New Day losing their Smackdown Tag Titles to the Artists Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura in a Tables Match. Hopefully this earns two of the best wrestlers in the world some of the respect WWE seems reluctant to give them. And hopefully Kofi’s okay after that double table finish, because damn that looked deadly.

WWE

The two best matches of the night, to the surprise of nobody who’s been keeping up with WWE during the pandemic, were the women’s matches, both of which featured WWE’s empty-arena MVPs Bayley and Sasha Banks. As a known huge fan of Nikki Cross, I loved seeing how strong she looked in challenging Bayley for the Smackdown Women’s Championship. Narratively, I didn’t expect Nikki to win, but the match itself made me feel like she could, and like Bayley was justified in using a foreign object (Sasha’s big BOSS ring) to sneak out a win she probably couldn’t have managed clean.

Sasha’s own match with Asuka for the Raw Women’s Championship was perhaps even better over all, but it had the even more ridiculous finish. Asuka resorted to the Green Mist, but Sasha ducked it and the referee got a face full. Bayley took down Asuka from behind, stole the referee’s shirt, and then counted the pinfall and demanded the bell be rung. So now the Role Models consider Sasha Banks the new Raw Women’s Champion, but everyone else (and especially Asuka) are probably going to have a talk with them about that. I’m sure that will go well.

The most ridiculous thing on this card was Seth Rollins and Rey Mysterio in an Eye For An Eye match, which required the winner to remove the loser’s eye from its socket. Seth managed to win according to that stipulation, and then everyone—commentary, medical staff, even Seth himself—immediately seemed shocked and horrified that Rey’s eye was out of his head (seen only briefly through his fingers and clearly made of rubber). Seth even vomited about it. Look guys, if you don’t want disgusting things to happen, consider not booking matches with disgusting stipulations?

Dolph Ziggler got to pick his own stipulation for his WWE Championship Match with Drew McIntyre, so he made it an Extreme Rules match for him, but not for the Champ. So Ziggler got to do whatever he wanted and use any weapon he could grab, but Drew had to follow all the rules of wrestling or lost his Title on a DQ. Of course, Drew kicked Dolph in the face and won the match anyway. That was always going to happen. I like Drew as Champion, but he needs better contenders than this, and soon.

Finally, Braun Strowman fought Bray Wyatt in a swamp. This wasn’t the worst COVID-era “cinematic match,” but it certainly wasn’t the best one either. It was mostly just two guys brawling in hip-deep dirty water with lily pads all over the place. The best part was when Braun was lured by a vision of Alexa Bliss offering to be with him, paying off the long-forgotten Mixed Match Challenge subplot about them being kind of in love. And then of course the Fiend showed up at the end, indicating that this rivalry is not over yet, and that we don’t have to worry that Bray’s reversion to his old swampy self was permanent. Off to SummerSlam, one assumes.

Extreme Rules had its moments, not just of Horror but occasionally of wrestling, but if you’re only going to watch one show from this past weekend, you should watch Slammiversary. Impact may not always hold things together on an ongoing basis, but when everything hits just right they can put on great shows. At WWE, in contrast, there’s sort of a base level of mediocrity (especially in COVID times), that every match has to overcome, and many don’t.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this lengthy review of the weekend’s wrestling. Let me know in the comments what kind of pro wrestling content you’d like to see here in Uproxx Sports, with the caveat that it’s only me and probably only a couple of times a week. In the meantime, I’ll definitely be back for future PPVs and other shows that seem worth reviewing.

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