I’ve been championing for this for a while, but I think pro wrestling needs to adopt a more ‘realistic’ style to pro wrestling. Think the same as Pancrase but with less head kicks. Part of the reason I’m backing the idea is partly because of how good Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport I was, and with the Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport II coming this summer, I’m beyond excited.
IMPACT has some of the best talent in the world and adapting a more physical, more authentic style would help distinguish themselves for sure. They’re still stuck in the WWE model of pro wrestling, with more hardcore and I don’t feel like that’s working. Their desire to ‘shock and awe’ the audience with intergender wrestling, hardcore matches and ‘water boarding’ segments are almost passe at this point. That stuff could’ve worked in 2013 before everyone started doing (or bringing back) those ideas but in 2019, those are common.
Firstly there was the start. Two of the most prominent MMA Pioneers were involved with IMPACT, then known as NWA-TNA, form the start. By now many of you know that Ken Shamrock, former UFC Champion and Hall of Famer, was the first ever World Champion under the NWA-TNA banner. He won the NWA Worlds Championship from Malice (The Wall in WCW) to close out a 20 man Battle Royal. Many of you may not know however that Dan Severn was actually set to be on that first show that night.
Dan ‘The Beast’ Severn, was 42 and the NWA Worlds Champion. He had held the belt off and on for years at this point, and was set to debut with NWA-TNA on their first show. According to rumors, Severn’s contract demands were not met and as the NWA was now partnering with the fledgling promotion, they stripped Severn of the belt. I often fantasize about what Severn vs. Shamrock would’ve looked like if that had main evented the first ever TNA/IMPACT card. Could’ve been amazing. Or awful, either way, I would’ve enjoyed it.
There’d be about three years before another active MMA fighter walked into then-named TNA. Yet, there was one future MMA fighter that was on the roster, and that was CM Punk. Punk was a member of The Gathering, Raven’s newest incarnation of the infamous Flock. Punk paired with Julio Dinero and Mickie James (then known as Alexis Laree) to round out Raven’s group before eventually turning on Raven. Punk would leave NWA-TNA and go full time with ROH Wrestling in 2003 after ROH head Rob Feinstein was busted by Perverted Justice attempting to sleep with a teenage boy.
By the time an active guy stepped back into the promotion, it was 2005 and the company was now officially ‘TNA’, dropping the ‘NWA’ from their promotion despite still being in league with them. It would be Sacrifice 2005 where Jeff Jarrett would defend his NWA Worlds Championship against AJ Styles, with UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion Tito Ortiz serving as special guest referee. Ortiz didn’t play much of a role in his first outing, but he’d come back for more. In the Tito Ortiz/TNA sequel, Tito is TNA II: The Tito-ening, Ortiz would again serve as special guest referee. This time however it was at Bound for Glory 2005 and he was supposed to ref Jarrett defending his recently reclaimed NWA Worlds Championship against Kevin Nash. Nash had to pull out due to health issues and Rhino would be inserted after winning a battle royal. Ortiz would drop America’s Most Wanted on the ring apron and then count down Jarrett; giving Rhino the NWA Worlds Championship for the first and so-far-only time in Rhino’s career.
By 2008, Tito was long gone and so was Jarrett’s championship days. Kurt Angle, a legitimate Gold Medal winner in Olympic Freestyle Wrestling was now the world champion of TNA. His second TNA World Championship run would see the debut of Frank Trigg with the promotion. Trigg was most known for his fight with Matt Hughes for the UFC Welterweight Championship a few years prior and came in as a comrade of sorts of Kurt Angle. He’d serve as special guest commentator for the main event of Lockdown 2008, before returning in the summer alongside Team Angle. He’d even go on to wrestle AJ Styles in a “MMA” bout at No Surrender 2008. The match ended in a No Contest when Trigg got beaten up by a Kendo Stick. There were rumors of him being brought on full time, since he had been out of the UFC for nearly three years, but after the bad showing at No Surrender, he was dropped from further involvement in the company.
In 2009 we’d see two MMA stars appear in TNA, though neither for very long. The first was Bobby Lashley, who at the time of his debut in TNA was 2-0 in two different promotions (neither have any name value). During his short tenure in TNA, that lasted from April of 2009 to the start of 2010 (but only saw about four months of wrestling), Lashley would add three more wins to his MMA record. One of those was over former WCW Power Plant prospect and IWGP Heavyweight Champion Bob Sapp. Lashley would also debut in Strikeforce around this time as well. Lashley would leave TNA in order to pursue his MMA career in earnest.
Lashley would return in 2014 however and join MVP in the Beat Down Clan. He’d work with TNA through their name change to IMPACT Wrestling and would go on to hold the IMPACT World Championship on several occasions, while feuding with Eddie Edwards, Drew Galloway (McIntyre) and Kurt Angle.
A also in 2009, about the time when Lashley actually started working with TNA, we got the odd involvement of Kim Couture. Couture is the ex-wife of MMA Legend Randy Couture and at the time was in the midst of her own fighting career. She and then TNA-talent Tara (WWE’s Victoria) got into it at Bound for Glory 2009 to hype up a potential bout between the two. While Tara was attempting to break into MMA at the time, there were also some reports that hinted at Couture getting involved with TNA. Obviously by now though we know that neither happened.
Fast forward some and even though we got the hilarious Jeff Jarrett Double J, Double M-A Challenge, there was not very much involvement of any high profile MMA stars for a few years. Enter Bellator. In 2012, Bellator MMA was looking at partners as it grew it’s brand and they sent former Stirkeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Muhammed Lawal (King Mo) to TNA to help build a partnership. Lawal started talking about his love of pro wrestling and his desire to compete in TNA, but at the time he was only being looked at as another special guest referee.
Like Ortiz before him, Lawal was booked to main event Bound for Glory 2012 in a world title bout that would’ve seen James Storm take on Bobby Roode for the TNA World Championship and close out a feud a year in the making. The brass however killed this idea a few months prior and moved the belt off Roode and onto Austin Aries. Lawal still reffed the now-No Holds Barred match but it didn’t have the same impact. it also didn’t help that Lawal wore a goofy half-crown’ most of the night. Lawal wouldn’t just show up in 2012, he’d return in 2014 as Dixie Carter’s bodyguard, and again in 2017 this time making his in ring-debut at Bound for Glory 2017. More on that later.
In 2013, Tito Ortiz would return to TNA as a member of Aces and Eight’s opposing debuting Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, who had joined the Main Event Mafia months earlier. Jackson and Ortiz were booked for one of Bellator’s more major events , their first ever pay per view. The bout was set for November and TNA was going to utilize two valuable ex-UFC fighters to build towards the fight. The two would exchange some words on TNA’s flagship show IMPACT, but Ortiz would hurt his back and have to pull out of the pay per view. The event was cancelled and Bellator CEO and Founder Bjorn Rebney was let go by the promotion he built because of this. He would be replaced by Scott Coker, and the Ortiz/Jackson bout would never happen.
During one of Lashley’s World Title reigns in IMPACT, the promotion would bring in former UFC Heavyweight Champion and Pancrase Openweight Champion, Josh Barnett to feud for the belt. Barnett wasn’t given much time to work with the promotion before his run abruptly ended. At the time IMPACT was being ran by Billy Corgan and a collection of other minds and Corgan wanted to turn IMPACT into a more MMA-based promotion. He built a new championship dubbed the Grand Championship that would have three, 3-minute rounds; similar to a MMA bout. There were rumors that Barnett was being eyed for the Grand Championship but the two sides didn’t continue doing business with one another.
Also around this time we saw the debut of Alberto El Patron with IMPACT. More known for his pro wrestling, Patorn (as Dos Caras Jr.) competed in sixteen MMA fights in his career. His most notable came against MMA Icon Mirko Cro Cop in 2003. Patron wore his familial mask in a fight that lasted all of 46 seconds.
That same year, Corgan and company would part ways but the MMA influence wouldn’t stop there. American Top Team owner Dan Lambert would become involved with IMPACT at this time. Lambert, a huge pro wrestling fan himself, became a great mouth piece for a stable of heels including American Top Team members Lashley and King Mo. Future UFC dumb-ass Colby Covington was also seen on IMPACT t.v. a lot around this time as well.
To face off with the heels, Moose, a former NFL player, was backed by former Ultimate Fighter Season 1 runner-up Stephan Bonnar. Bonnar was breaking into pro wrestling at this time and he would tag with Moose to take on Lashley and the also-debuting King Mo at Bound for Glory 2017 in a steel cage. The bout was well received by fans and many were hoping to see more of Lambert, Bonnar and even Covinton but that never materialized.
Since then the closet thing to an MMA presence is Killer Kross, who has formal marital arts training and has even told us specifically that he’d entertain the idea of taking an MMA fight, but he’s currently focused on pro wrestling. Other MMA-based wrestlers like Davey Richards, Low Ki, Elix Skipper, Samoa Joe, Kurt Angle and even Scott Steiner all wrestled for the brand at some point and have helped expand the idea of what makes a pro wrestler in today’s day and age.
With MMA fighters like Tom Lawlor, Frank Mir and Phil Baroni all being involved in pro wrestling, it’s pretty safe to say that IMPACT can re-enter the MMA world pretty easily if they wanted. With others like Cain Velasquez entertaining the idea as well with AAA, the possibilities of more MMA-vets joining pro wrestling seems not just likely but inevitable.