Since its inception, TNA’s Impact Wrestling has existed in the shadow of the much bigger WWE and spent most of its first 10 years trying to differentiate themselves from their competition, from hiring older/veteran talent to utilizing a hexagonal ring in their earlier days.
Yet somewhere over the last few years, Impact has begun to focus less on being different and has become a more confident, self-sufficient promotion, relying on its own homegrown stars and long, drawn out storytelling.
Now in its 11th year, there are five key elements to their shows that Impact is actually better at than the WWE.
By playing up the following five elements, Impact could find bigger critical acclaim and large audiences over the next year and may even become a real competitor to the WWE’s programming.
WWE’s storylines often begin and end on a whim and rarely feel as though there have been any long-term planning with them.
On Impact Wrestling, championship reigns run for far longer than they do in the WWE and their creative team often attempts to create feuds that take months to slowly boil over.
The current key feud on Impact involves former tag partners Bobby Roode and James Storm, who have years of rich history to draw upon as they feud over the TNA World Heavyweight Championship.
Instead of rushing matches, TNA has slowly allowed the rivalry to evolve and include other members of the roster, such as Jeff Hardy and Bully Ray, to extend the reach of the storyline.
No addition or twist in this key feud has served to prolong it unnaturally but has only added additional layers, unlike similar feuds in the WWE, which often feel forced to reach the next pay-per-view.
Occasionally, stories buckle under the weight of their own complexity (such as the many twists and turns in the war between Immortal and Fortune), but you can’t fault TNA for attempting to tell stories and create feuds that require their audiences to invest their time.
If there’s anything that all WWE fans can agree on, its the promotion’s current lack of investment in their own Divas division.
Over on TNA, not only are they dedicated to featuring a roster of very talented female wrestlers, but they often give considerable screen time to their Knockouts division.
While TNA uses much of its female division as eye candy (most of the roster look more like models than wrestlers), they also give their women full-length matches and fleshed out storylines that the WWE does not afford their divas.
It’s not unusual for an episode of Impact Wrestling to feature a full-length Knockouts match (if not two), as well as multiple backstage promo segments.
TNA also employs several of the top female talents in professional wrestling today, from current Knockouts Champion Gail Kim to Mickie James, Velvet Sky and ODB.
Although there is room to improve the handling of their Knockouts division, its hard to deny that TNA is far more invested in their women than the WWE.
IMPACT Wrestling’s mid-card division, also known as their X-Division, is more fleshed out than the WWE’s and can be even more interesting than the main event at times.
TNA utilizes a separate title, the X-Division Championship, to create a hierarchy amongst their lower-weight or entry-level talent and is able to create and draw upon strong rivalries between these wrestlers.
The current X-Division Champion, Austin Aries, is one of the most entertaining heels in the business and is a target of many competitors, including Alex Shelley and Zima Ion.
These wrestlers are guaranteed TV time and can be depended upon for fun, high-energy matches.
When you look at comparable wrestlers in the WWE, such as Kofi Kingston or Justin Gabriel, you can see the level or respect that TNA gives their talent at all levels.
The WWE currently employs multiple characters to act as authority figures with various levels of power, from Vince McMahon who is still President of the WWE, to Triple H, John Laurinaitis and Teddy Long.
Compare to Impact Wrestling, which has recently streamlined their hierarchy to just two people: rarely-seen owner Dixie Carter and enforcer Sting.
Though power struggles exist amongst smaller factions, Sting has near sole authority to create and interfere in matches as he sees fit, which makes Impact’s storylines much easier to follow.
It also doesn’t hurt that even at 52 years old, Sting is one of the most dynamic and unpredictable characters in professional wrestling today, whose off-the-wall promo style instantly makes segments must-see events.
When Sting makes an appearance during a struggle between wrestlers, you know that a decisive verdict will be handed out by the end of the segment, compared to the WWE, where someone higher up the ladder always seems available to reverse anyone’s decision.
One often over-looked but essential aspect of professional wrestling is creating a believable and accessible world for their characters to inhabit.
TNA often utilizes a unique fly-on-the-wall documentary technique to film their backstage promos, which offers a more realistic way for the audience to ease-drop on conversations that we’re supposedly not supposed to hear.
To further their verisimilitude, promos often stretch the walls of kayfabe and occasionally include elements of the real world to offer a context to storylines.
The Bobby Roode heel turn promos have already become semi-legendary for their high production value and inclusion of Roode’s family and friends to create the illusion that Roode’s heel turn has not only affected his ring work but has also destroyed his family.
TNA’s commitment to creating a believable world for their talent to exist in feels far more organic and grounded than WWE’s old-school approach.