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By now Austin Aries’ dramatic January return to Impact Wrestling — complete with claiming his second World championship — is old news. Shockwaves caused by his reemergence, though, ripple through the company and industry, ushering in invigorated audience enthusiasm witnessed by recent ratings surges.
For so many reasons, the return of “The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived” has provided the shot in the arm Impact has needed. Not the least of which, of course, is how it marks the return of one of the most popular, accomplished competitors in the company’s history.
Over the years, Impact has struggled with human capital flight, more commonly known as “brain drain.” This socio-political term describes the mass migration of a region’s best and brightest to greater opportunities elsewhere. With the exit of its most educated and skilled, those best capable of advancing said location, the area of origin remains stuck behind its more economically advantageous competition.
To see this in full effect takes but a glance at World Wrestling Entertainment programming. A majority of the most bankable, “homegrown” talent of Impact’s past now reside on the WWE Network.
NXT brags a trio of former Impact World champions. Sanity’s Eric Young is a staple in the tag division while Drew McIntyre (ie Galloway) reclaimed the division’s title before falling to injury. EC3, who floundered in the original NXT before the former-TNA built him into a bona fide superstar, recently reemerged.
The main roster boasts even more men who either cemented or continued their careers in the upper echelon of Impact. Samoa Joe is a consistently dominant figure on Raw as Bobby Roode quickly establishes himself on Smackdown.
Kurt Angle and The Hardys, though obviously WWE legends before their arrival, collectively amassed eleven World title reigns, redefining TNA before departing back to Stamford. The “Broken” Matt angle, arguably Impact’s best in a half-decade (at minimum), proved so strong it continues to this day.
No talent has put his TNA and Impact legacy in the rear view like AJ Styles. Since his WWE debut, he has become a multiple-time champion, is the hottest name on Smackdown and heads into WrestleMania as WWE Champion.
The emphasis Impact itself places on these grapplers is obvious even to casual viewers. Nearly every promo for the Global Wrestling Network seeks to capitalize on their newfound popularity as company-legends-turned-WWE-superstars, positioning each beside icons like Sting, Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair.
While this might push subscriptions to GWN, it reinforces realization its brightest stars are now gone. As talent like Johnny Impact, Alberto El Patron, Matt Sydal and Eli Drake forge their eventual place in Impact lore, a considerable – and glaring — void exists among tried and true, long-time audience favorites.
That changed with the return of Aries, one of the most decorated and charismatic superstars in Impact history. During his initial tenure, he racked up six X-Division championships, two World Tag titles and, as “The Originator of Option C,” captured the World Heavyweight championship.
NEXT PAGE: Impact Wrestling Champ Austin Aries Is What’s Best for Business (Cont.)