October 2019 was significant for professional wrestling. Smackdown moved to Fox, NXT moved to USA network, All Elite Wrestling's Dynamite debuted on TNT and NWA Powerrr debuted. October was also the month that was significant to Impact Wrestling fans as Impact moved to AXS TV followed the network's purchase by Anthem.
The AXS TV acquisition was one that had been talked about for months. There were plenty of rumors that Anthem was interested in the network. Originally, it had been rumored that things were close to being done around July, but then things evolved and supposedly were falling apart. It seemed like a longshot that it would happen when Impact announced that had renewed their relationship with Twitch. In September, the rumors became news. Anthem had purchased a majority stake in AXS TV and Impact would be moving to the network beginning on October 29th.
On the road to that date though, AXS aired TV specials to introduce the product to a new audience. They aired PPVs (Homecoming, Rebellion and Slammiversary) to show the strength of the brand. They aired "This is Impact", a special that broke down the company into its talent and divisions. They also hooked fans for the first show with a story to build a cage match for the debut special.
Prior to debuting on AXS TV, Impact Wrestling had been jumping television networks, timeslots and days of the week. They went from Spike TV, to Destination America, to Pop TV to Pursuit in a matter of a few years. AXS TV was not the largest network in Impact's history. Its viewership was between what you would see on Pop and Pursuit. It was home to wrestling in the past with New Japan and WOW airing on the network. The difference-maker for Impact was that their parent company now owned the network. Impact now had long-term stability for the long-term future.
I recently re-watched the Impact on AXS debut. On the show, we saw new graphics, a new color scheme, intro music, ring set and more. The show opened with the company highlighting its relationships with AAA and NOAH by pitting Japanese Legend, Marafuji against up and coming tag team champion, Josh Alexander in a hard-hitting contest. We saw Rob Van Dam's heel character on display in a PG-13 segment. Ken Shamrock announced that he wasn't retiring and wanted to run through the competition. X Division Champion, Ace Austin defeated Impact veteran, Eddie Edwards in a hard-hitting street fight. In the main event, a new World Champion in Sami Callihan was crowned when he defeated Brian Cage in a Steel Cage. The show closed with Callihan facing off with Tessa Blanchard.
You can tell a direction from the first few weeks of specials and their debut on AXS. We knew who their big-time stars were (Sami, Elgin, Tessa, Ace). We knew that they would take a more risque approach. We also knew that this era would focus a variety of hard-hitting wrestling styles.
Unfortunately, not everything went to plan. One of the big golden carrots for Anthem/Impact was to forge a partnership with New Japan Pro Wrestling. They had been denied in the past. Now, they would be closer as they owned NJPW's American TV home. New Japan decided that they were not interested in a partnership. This led to Anthem dropping them from AXS TV in a move not well-received by traditional fans.
Six months is a long time in the world of wrestling. Despite it being half a year, the Impact roster is not much different from then. The only major on-screen departure has been Brian Cage. Killer Kross departed the company as well but he hadn't been seen since Slammiversary. The AXS era has seen some new faces though in people like Joey Ryan, Ken Shamrock, XXXL, Kylie Rae and Chris Bey.
AXS TV has also brought us some very interesting and novel specials along the way. The Throwback Throwdown show introduced the world to Impact Provincial Wrestling Federation. We took a walk down memory lane with the TNA on AXS special in March. Amidst the coronavirus, Impact presented its special-turned-PPV Rebellion inside an empty studio.
Six months in and what I have noticed from the brand is consistency. The Impact product has been very consistent. The Impact roster has been very consistent. AXS TV's support of the product has also been very consistent. They aren't building the network around Impact but they are allowing Impact space on Tuesdays to expand their brand. We have seen this as they have aired numerous specials on Tuesday Nights.
In a world where other companies are receiving a lot of positive and negative attention, Impact Wrestling has become a show that promises a consistency. The next six months will be even more interesting for the crimson brand.