No matter who won, Rich Swann and Chris Bey have made history at Final Resolution

IMPACT Wrestling Image provided by IMPACT/AXS
IMPACT Wrestling Image provided by IMPACT/AXS /

IMPACT Wrestling fans saw two Black men headline the Final Resolution pay-per-view, a feat that occurs far less than it should.

The lead-up to IMPACT Wrestling’s Final Resolution pay-per-view didn’t give fans much of a reason to get excited enough to subscribe to the IMPACT Plus service in order to watch it. However, the significance of the show’s main event — IMPACT World Champion Rich Swann defending his title against Chris Bey — far exceeds the lackluster build the two received on the weeks of television that preceded the show.

Whether you’re an avid IMPACT supporter or someone who still has nightmares of the LOLTNA years whenever someone mentions the promotion’s name, seeing two Black wrestlers on the marquee of one of their supercards has to fill you with pride if you’re a Black wrestling fan.

After all, it’s not every day that you see something like this happen in professional wrestling. In fact, as far as major promotions go, you have to go back to WWF (not the WWE; the WWF) SummerSlam 2001, where The Rock challenged Booker T for the WCW Championship — this took place during the much-maligned Invasion storyline.

Yes, there have been instances where multiple Black wrestlers have taken part in multi-person main events — King Booker and Bobby Lashley participating in a Fatal 4 Way Match for the World Heavyweight Championship in 2006 is the most obvious example — but it doesn’t carry the same gravitas that seeing two Black wrestlers vying for a company’s most prestigious title in a singles match does. And that gravitas, that pride, is a consequence of Black wrestlers’ perpetual roles as ancillary players in pro wrestling, no matter the promotion.

In a 2017 piece, scholar Ezra Claverie discussed the idea of “interest convergence”, which was defined as “a careful navigation between the desires of Black people and the dominant racial ideology of white people”. In short, the piece examined the phenomenon of Hollywood casting well-respected Black actors in roles that, while not dependent on the grotesque stereotypes of decades past, serve as supplemental to the white main characters in order to present a sheen of “colorblindness” that indicates a measure of progress.

Unsurprisingly, wrestling isn’t immune to this trend. If anything, the industry has felt behind the pack on these matters. You only have to go back 30 years to find footage of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper drenching half of his body in black paint to antagonize Bad News Brown (for perspective, I’ll be 30 in January), 22 years for Sean “X-Pac” Waltman to go full blackface when impersonating Mark Henry, 17 for Triple H to say “people like [Booker T]” were born to “entertain” him and make him laugh, and 13 since Mark Henry proclaimed himself to be “The Silverback of WWE”.

We see less of those blatant problems now, but even as companies like WWE and All Elite Wrestling (AEW) try to rip their arms out of their respective sockets to pat themselves on the back for their commitments to “diversity”, fans still get this sense that these companies place an arbitrary cap on how high up the card these wrestlers can go.

And while the excuses sound reasonable enough — Wrestler X isn’t good enough on the mic, Wrestler X is a good athlete but needs to refine their workrate, Wrestler X doesn’t quite have the physique/look that we want in a top star — it ignores how often their caucasian contemporaries who sometimes have more glaring deficiencies in at least one of those areas get chance after chance in those spots, no matter how many times they fail.

All those notions do is feed into this idea of Black wrestlers (and, more broadly speaking, anyone who doesn’t fit into that straight white male mold) as uniquely underqualified for whatever position people yearn to see them ascend to, even though, historically, Black people have been denied spots like that due to a system that has shut them out time and time again due to the color of their skin.

Yes, wrestling should be a meritocracy, but it’s hard for a company like, say, WWE to pull that card when they gave Baron Corbin — a man that they once blamed, in-storyline, for WWE Raw’s critical and commercial failures — in multiple pay-per-view main events while Kofi Kington defended the company’s most valuable prize, the WWE Championship, in the midcard around the same time.

If you work for AEW as an executive and claim that the promotion doesn’t do “diversity for diversity sake”, it would probably be helpful if the talented Black members of your roster that you tokenize when a bit of criticism creeps up got as much or more TV time than guys like QT Marshall.

IMPACT isn’t blameless in perpetuating much of these issues, either — remember, this promotion had no problem putting their World Title on Tessa Blanchard on the same weekend where she was outed for spitting on a Black wrestler and calling her the N-word — but they deserve credit for recognizing what they have in Swann and Bey and making them the focal point of their December PPV.

As expected, the two made an otherwise-forgettable event worth the investment of the fans’ time, as Swann and Bey’s escalating game of athletic and acrobatic one-upmanship stood out as the highlight of the show. It was a clear sign that both men, despite their on-screen alignments on opposite ends of the heel/face spectrum, understood the weight this match carried outside of just the obvious gravity of the Word Title and the specter of a possible title vs. title match with AEW World Champion Kenny Omega down the road.

Next. IMPACT Wrestling is starting to make an impact again. dark

But noting how good the match was (and was a good one; at least a 3.5 star effort) somewhat misses the point. Yes, these two men showed that Black wrestlers can deliver in these huge spots, but any honest observer already knew that to be true. Now, it’s time for promoters and bookers to wake up to that reality, too.