The key to the future of Impact Wrestling will be on display this Sunday at Slammiversary 15 pay per view during the tag team title match.
The Latino American Xchange defends their championship in a four-way against tag teams from Lucha Libre AAA out of Mexico, Japan’s Pro Wrestling NOAH, and Mexico-based The Crash.
“You can connect with an audience by being a conduit,” said Impact Wrestling president Jeff Jarrett, who returned in January to the company he founded in 2002. “I’m a big believer of connecting wrestling audiences.”
Impact’s working relationships with NOAH, AAA, and newly-formed The Crash are vital as the company tries to recover from years of indignities under former president Dixie Carter. Jarrett is also persistently pursuing a talent-exchange relation program out of the United Kingdom, as his philosophy is to refresh and revitalize his roster with a global point of view to provide unique content for Impact fans.
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Naturally, whenever an executive adds to a roster, there also needs to be talent who are replaced. Jarrett brought in a bevy of well-known wrestling stars upon his return to Impact, but the company also decided to part ways with Drew Galloway, Maria and Mike Kanellis, and, most notably, the Hardys.
“You need to refresh a roster and create new match-ups,” said Jarrett. “The old saying is familiarity breeds contempt, so my philosophy is to refresh the roster. The brand took a lot of hits over the past 36 months, and the quickest way to rebrand is by bringing in new talent and giving new opportunities.”
Contentiousness has prevailed throughout a public dispute between Impact and the Hardys regarding ownership of the “Broken” characters. Jarrett has done his best to remain out of the public dispute.
“It absolutely is not personal, it’s business,” said Jarrett. “My family and Jeff Hardy’s family have taken vacations together for several years, and Jeff’s been one of my best friends for a long time, but business is business.”
Jarrett remains of the belief that possession of the property belongs solely to Impact.
“I’m not going to comment on a legal battle, but I will say that I understand IP [Intellectual Property] law,” explained Jarrett. “Whether it’s a song you write or a television show or a movie or professional wrestling, there are three components to IP law. There is publishing, there are writers, and there are performers. The publisher is always the owner.
“The discussions have really gotten twisted, but IP law is real simple. The publishers are the owners. I’ll leave it at that because I want to take the high road. I think very highly of Jeff, and I respect Matt Hardy’s ability, quite frankly, more than he ever will know, but business is business. I’m very happy for their success, and they’re kicking butt in WWE.”
Looking beyond the dispute with the Hardys, it is clear that Impact—and Jarrett—face a multitude of questions in the rapidly evolving world of pro wrestling. Before any assessment is rendered on the long-term prospects of Impact, the company returns to pay per view this Sunday for a show headlined by Bobby Lashley and Alberto El Patron.
“If you’ve ever been a fan, you do not want to miss Slammiversary,” said Jarrett. “I can tell you about the heavyweight title, the women’s match between Rosemary vs. Sienna, or the X-division match between Sonjay Dutt and Low Ki. We have a star from the NFL in DeAngelo Williams wrestling. From top to bottom, you will be thoroughly entertained by this show.”
Jarrett is rebranding Impact, and a successful Slammiversary will mark a significant first step toward rebuilding credibility. Yet Jarrett has already succeeded by building Impact into a company that has existed for 15 years—which is two years more than the duration of WCW—and has done so by creating and cultivating talent like AJ Styles, Bobby Roode, and Eric Young, all three of whom are now starring with WWE or NXT.
Jarrett is now looking globally for his next core group of stars, which is part of the reason Impact airs abroad in India, Africa, and even on Spike TV in the U.K.
“We just got back from India,” said Jarrett. “We were the first wrestling organization to ever produce content on Indian soil, and that is something we’re very proud of. Airing on Spike in the U.K. is another milestone for us, and we got in our ratings from Africa, where there has been a constant, steady growth.”
Yet Impact is still dogged by a negative reputation. One example is the broken relationship between Impact and New Japan Pro Wrestling, which dates back to 2011, for the mishandling of Kazuchika Okada, who was 22 at the time, and Tetsuya Naito, then 27, in Impact.
“I was not in the creative direction for that situation,” said Jarrett. “Okada and Naito are both fantastic talents, and I went over for WrestleKingdom 9 in 2015, and everything about that was fantastic. I’ve always been very intrigued by the international flavor.
Jarrett’s head of creative is “Dirty” Dutch Mantel, better known to WWE fans as Zeb Colter. Mantel starred in a variety of promotions, including in Puerto Rico, and has served as a driving force in pro wrestling for the past four decades.
“I’ve known Dutch since I was 13 years old, and he is an incredible thinker,” said Jarrett. “Dutch knows how to listen to the people, but he also knows how to connect human emotion. It’s his wrestling mind that has always set him apart.”
Jarrett’s second act with Impact remains in its infancy. When asked if the grading curve begins at Slammiversary, Jarrett cautioned that infusing his ideas, philosophies, and beliefs will take time. He presented Anthem Sports and Entertainment, which owns Impact, with a five-year plan that received approval.
“I consulted with Anthem in January, and we came to an agreement by mid-February,” explained Jarrett. “March was a whirlwind of activity, and we started change in March, but we are still getting the pieces of the puzzle in play. Slammiversary is the beginning as we move toward Bound for Glory, but we are, realistically, looking at 2018 to fully implement our five-year plan with Anthem.”
Before Jarrett was asked if he would consider airing Impact as a live or bi-weekly live television show, or even if there are plans to ever add an online streaming service, he was first queried as to whether Impact would remain airing on Pop TV starting in January of 2018.
“We want to be on television in 2018,” confirmed Jarrett, who did not specify a network to air Impact. “And I’d love to go live. Success will dictate that. It is no secret that the whole industry is moving toward video on demand, but there is nothing like a live experience and feel. Watching wrestling live completely changes the experience, and that is a major reason why we are going back on the road for live shows in August.”
Impact has a long-term, worldwide vision, including enhancing multiple components that were long forgotten by the prior regime, such as the licensing program, live events, digital growth, and merchandise.
“The game has changed, especially since my wrestling career,” said Jarrett. “That’s why we have an NFL player in DeAngelo Williams, a fantastic announce team with former ESPN commentator Robert Flores, and so many different components to add to a stacked card and an incredible main event. Wrestling continues to evolve and change, and we plan to stay ahead of the curve, beginning with Slammiversary.”
As for the pure wrestling content, Jarrett is confident that his roster will succeed on Sunday.
“There are different ways for success in the ring,” said Jarrett. “If James Storm and EC3 have a very physical match, then they will successfully attack their goal one way, while Sonjay Dutt and Low Ki could have an entirely different game plan. That is the beauty of our business. Every match on the card cannot be the same because you have to have that blend.”
Jarrett now competes in the wrestling spectrum with WWE, NXT, Ring of Honor, and New Japan Pro Wrestling, and all but NXT regularly broadcast their show on television. If all of the competition can be viewed as the lock, then tapping into talent all over the world is the key to Impact’s success.
“This is a global creation, and the only goal is to get better every day,” said Jarrett. “If we’re at ground zero, we’re blasting off.”