Anthem Wrestling Entertainment

Thirteen months ago, one story had the hardcore wrestling fan community rapt for several weeks: The seemingly impending demise of Impact Wrestling, formerly known as Total Nonstop Action or TNA (yes, really). At that point, the promotion was running on fumes, to the point that it was unclear, even days before the event, whether they had the money to stage their equivalent to WrestleMania. Different funding sources, including their production company, their Canadian TV outlet, and Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan, had been propping up the company with loans for each cycle of TV tapings, and receiving equity in exchange. Nobody was sure if any of those investors would step up again. Anthem Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of said Canadian TV outlet, The Fight Network, wound up acquiring Impact, but not before having to fund the settlement of a lawsuit filed by Corgan.

It’s common for said hardcore fans to joke about Impact—they will invariably keep calling it “TNA”—ruining everything and generally being incompetent. There’s a reason that there’s a popular “LOLTNA” Wiki page outlining their long history of fucking things up, whether it was the devaluation and marginalization of homegrown stars like Samoa Joe, glaring production gaffes, or the constant stream of larger financial and legal issues. On Monday, TNA ruined something else entirely. This time it was the news, opinion, and analysis side of The Fight Network.

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On Monday, the remnants of The Fight Network’s news operation were laid off. The Live Audio Wrestling franchise, which predated the network’s existence, was put on a “short hiatus.” Reporter John Pollock and fellow hosts Wai Ting, Jason Agnew, and Dan Lovranski were all let go. Pollock also did double duty covering MMA; he was the last man standing at the network after anchor John Ramdeen, analyst Robin Black, and others were let go during another round of mass layoffs in March. That move, which was made just eight weeks after the sale officially went through, signaled the effective end of the network’s in-studio desk shows, which had already been moved online-only. Even if The Fight Network keeps going, the news organization, which was a big part of the network’s appeal and the sole reason why it had name recognition outside of Canada, appears to be dead.

A spokesperson for Anthem did not reply to a request for comment on the layoffs or the future of the news side of the company. Meanwhile, recently fired Impact executive Jeff Jarrett told WrestleZone last week that “Anthem is out of money.” As for the future of the hosts away from The Fight Network, Pollock and Ting look to be keeping their podcasts going in some form or other, based on a post-Monday Night Raw show being uploaded to Archive.org and YouTube. Promoted solely via Twitter, it has done in excess of 11,000 views across both platforms as of this writing.

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“It’s sad that the Impact acquisition has devastated Anthem’s television network,” Wrestling Observer editor Dave Meltzer, who had a segment on the flagship LAW show for most of its existence, wrote on Monday. The whole point of the acquisition was to give The Fight Network in-house wrestling content that could fill out the broadcast day, especially outside of Canada, where a good portion of airtime is filled by UFC programming that the network can’t air in other countries. The desk shows from the news side were decimated as a result, and finally crowded all the way out. Last month, Sports Illustrated’s Justin Barrasso reported that Impact—it was then known as Global Force Wrestling, more on that in a bit—was “hemorrhaging funds.” While other aspects of the report were later called into question, that part seems true on its face. Paying full-time money to the wrestlers it only uses for 7-10 days every quarter, including a number of indie wrestlers without previous national exposure, is just not sustainable.

That the wrestling news employees were fired this past Monday has a weird significance of its own. Just under a year ago, CEO Leonard Asper held an “Anthem Town Hall” at the company offices in Toronto, and a recording of that meeting found its way to my inbox. The two main takeaways, which I reported on, were that:

Here’s the entirety of what Asper told the assembled office staff on the latter point:

“I just wanna close with one comment, because it’s actually reflective of an issue we have. We’ve got a lot of journalists in this organization, we’ve got and a lot of stuff going on that we don’t want public. So I wanna just say one thing about that because it’s come up over the TNA issue, is a lot of stuff we’re not saying, uh, and some of you might know stuff that’s going on. You’ve got to remember that if you’re talking to someone who is a journalist, that they’ve got a responsibility. They’ve got an independence and we want to protect that. They’re looked at by the wider community as people who are reporting the news, and breaking news, for that matter.

So I just urge you to be a little careful; that if you’re talking to somebody that’s in that role, don’t compromise them, just either say it’s off the record and ask them if they’re OK with receiving information off the record, or just don’t burden them with secrets, from a moral perspective, from an ethics perspective, that they have to reveal. So I hope that you understand that, and it’s becoming, as we grow, a lot of stuff’s going on in these walls that we don’t want people to know and people are starting to watch us a little more. But that’s good! We are expanding, we’re growing in both countries, and we’re going with the right people, and that’s what’s making us successful.”

Asper’s all-hands meeting was held 51 weeks before the latest layoffs, and the Monday before the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Madison Square Garden debut; the UFC’s return to MSG is, as it happens, this weekend. While John Pollock’s name was never mentioned during the meeting, he was the organization’s key person when it came to covering wrestling news. The meeting was also, perhaps not coincidentally, held after Pollock had left for New York to cover the UFC event. There is, in all of it, the queasy sense of things coming full circle: on what was effectively the anniversary of a meeting designed to put staff at ease about the Impact Wrestling purchase, Pollock and the rest of the Live Audio Wrestling crew were laid off due to the financial repercussions of that Impact spending.

As for that expected additional funding that would help underwrite Impact, there’s no indication as to whether or not it ever actually came through.

The layoffs came several weeks after the abrupt cancellation of Impact’s rebranding as Global Force Wrestling, which ended just two months after it started. When Anthem finalized the purchase and took over in January, Jeff Jarrett, TNA’s founder, was brought in to run wrestling operations. Since he had been trying to get his newer Global Force Wrestling promotion off the ground, his champions were brought in and mixed in on Impact shows.

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So when it was announced in June that Impact was being rebranded as GFW as part of a merger between the two groups, it made sense. The work of clearing the trademarks had already been done by Jarrett, so it would be less of a hassle than a brand new name, and anyway they were already using the titles on TV. When Jarrett was put on a leave of absence in September that led to his eventual firing, though, Anthem immediately started walking back the rebranding, at least to the extent that they could with several weeks of TV already in the can. Why? It turned out that there had never been any kind of on-paper merger or transfer/licensure of the Global Force Wrestling name. Which, if you’re just joining us, was the one that Anthem was using for the brand name of Anthem Wrestling Entertainment for two whole months.

The only winners right now appear to be the wrestlers, although it’s hard to know how long that can last. At the rate Anthem is going, the end sure seems like it could come sooner rather than later. What that means for a company for a company that’s seemingly incapable of getting out of its own way and somehow immortal is... something I don’t really want to know.

CORRECTION: This post originally spelled John Pollock’s name “John Pollack.” It is in fact spelled “John Pollock.”