Kenny Omega (c) vs. Rich Swann (c) - IMPACT 04/25/2021

redemption and forgiveness in the biggest IMPACT match in a decade

This was a unification match for Kenny Omega’s AEW World Championship and Rich Swann’s IMPACT World Championship.

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My mother works full-time as a Head Start teacher, assisting families in poverty with raising and preparing their children for public school. These people are in their low-income situations for a variety of reasons – the United States’ lack of any sort of competent social safety net, immigration and language barrier issues, poor institutional preparation for life as an adult – but they all work hard and deserve the benefits that this taxpayer-funded service entails.

However, a difficult situation arose when my mother discovered that the father from one of her families had a prior conviction for domestic battery. That is, of course, a very serious crime. Adding to the situation was that the victim of the man’s crimes was the mother of his children (who my mother taught as a part of the program), and they all still lived together.

This made my mother uncomfortable, which I’d say is a natural response. But in reality, that’s where the drama of this story just …..ends. The family was no different from any other family my mother interacted with. They welcomed her into their home, did what was asked of them, made do with translation services, and there was no indication that the man’s prior actions had any lingering effects on him, his wife, or the family as a whole.

Rich Swann, who wrestled in the biggest match of his career and the most important IMPACT Wrestling match of the last decade this past Sunday, was arrested back in December 2017 under similar charges of battery and false imprisonment. And while those charges were eventually dropped (Swann allegedly forcefully dragged his wife, IMPACT wrestler Su Yung and real name Vannarah Riggs, into a vehicle using a headlock after an argument), Swann was nonetheless released from his WWE contract in response.

And with that, Swann’s career – from an indie mainstay at an extremely young age to defying all the odds to become a champion in WWE as a 5’6 Black man who’s not that good of a promo – was put on hold.

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Kenny Omega vs. Rich Swann was not as good as it could have been, but it was still better than most wrestlers’ best.

Much of that was out of their control. They were hamstrung by the interpromotional booking gimmicks that were completely unnecessary and added nothing to the match. There was no need to have two referees. Having nearly a half-dozen “seconds” out there to back up both Omega and Swann took away from the attention, as we waited for them to get involved and then they just never did. And while Mauro Ranallo did his best to save it, Matt Striker’s complete incompetence in the broadcast booth was ear-splittingly bad.

Some of that missed opportunity was the wrestlers’ fault, too. The most perplexing moment of the match came at about five minutes in, as Swann and Omega wrestled on the floor. Omega backdropped Swann onto the apron, where Swann was supposed to do a handstand to save himself. However, he just didn’t get his arms fully underneath him, and his head dropped straight down onto the hard wood before he collapsed to the floor.

My impression of that spot is that it was a botch. I can’t think of any traditional pro wrestling storytelling moment that would lead them to intentionally do something like that. But it set the tone for the bizarre nature of this contest.

Omega spent the next five minutes simply beating Swann down. His offense looks great, so his heat spots are more engaging than most, but I thought that was another strange call in a match with no crowd.

Swann’s comeback was full of the incredible athleticism we’ve come to expect. He’s like 2 Cold Scorpio (his GCW For The Culture opponent over WrestleMania weekend) in that everything he does comes across as so effortless that he almost doesn’t even give you a chance to marvel at it. Handstanding out of the Kotaro Crusher was beautiful (and a bit poetic after the handstand botch from earlier), followed by an unbelievable jumping top-rope Frankensteiner.

Then the botches came, two massive ones that for many people ruined the entire match. I genuinely have no idea what they were planning, but they just looked bad, especially the second one, where Omega bumped for absolutely no reason.

But once we get past those, we get some of the most exhilarating in-ring action of any match all year. Omega’s just killing this guy. You’ve never seen someone take a better snap dragon suplex than Swann. In the closing stretch, we get a sheer drop Croyt’s Wrath, a spinning Jay Driller, and just a straight-up knee to the dome, and yet Swann still holds on.

And Swann, to his credit, either (1) wrestled the last 10 minutes of the match woozy or completely gassed while still hitting just about everything perfect or (2) performed a fantastic sell job, getting across the severity of the situation. I thought Swann’s exhaustion, worked or otherwise, added so much to this match. These two really did represent the roles of their respective companies (AEW and IMPACT) exactly how you’d want if this match was hosted by IMPACT.

At the end, it was Omega – half a foot taller, much stronger, just as athletic – summarily destroying Swann to take his title. Despite the dual referee stuff, it ended up being clean as a whistle, which I loved. I have no idea where IMPACT goes from here; we will probably get loads of annoying conversations about whether Omega is a draw or whether this AEW-IMPACT relationship benefits everyone, but aside from that, I can’t come close to predicting what’s next.

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There was a moment in the match where Striker made his only good call of the night: “Everyone is talking about Omega, but let’s talk about Rich Swann.”

To me, the story catalyst to the main event of this past Sunday’s IMPACT Rebellion show was not Kenny Omega, or Don Callis, or the Good Brothers; it was Swann. I have been a believer of his after he randomly decided to tear the absolute house down in front of about 75 people in Des Moines, IA as a part of the greatest tag team match I have ever seen live. The other people joining Swann in that match were complete no-names in Jason Cade, Tyler Matrix, and Logan James.

Less than two years later, Swann just wrestled in the most important American wrestling match outside of WWE/AEW or interpromotional stuff involving international talent (like All Out or the G1 Supercard) in a decade. Rich Swann!

To that end, some people have an issue putting someone who was charged with what Swann was charged with in such an important spot.

But I am a prison abolitionist and a socialist who believes that there is far more value in forgiveness and redemption than punishment and incarceration. In maybe the only time Swann has spoken at length about the incident with his wife, he had this to say (courtesy of Sporting News):

“People saw a clip online and turned me into a monster. I’m not saying I was right in my actions but I’m not a domestic abuser. Everyone gets into arguments and this was something that was misconstrued. People ran with the worst possible outcome. You can have your opinion but if you know me, my wife and our marriage, there’s nothing to worry yourself about. It was a dark time in my life. We live, learn, make mistakes and grow from them. My wife and I have grown exponentially from that incident and there’s nothing anybody can say and no social media could ever destroy what we have built.

You know, I never like to bring race into it because it’s a very strong subject in this country, especially with athletes. With this situation, I’m not going to say it was different from most racial profiling incidents because we were in a very, very Southern area of Florida which was certainly Confederate-like. And then there is what my wife was wearing at the time, which was her bloody makeup and gear. It occurred to me that we were clearly in the wrong part of town.

There are so many scandals in professional wrestling. People have lost their job in this business. I can’t say that I was screwed (by the WWE). I have to take responsibility for my own negligence, being where I was and what happened that night. I can’t put that on anybody else. My life is great now and I can’t be mad at anybody.”

That last paragraph is stunning. It would have been easy for him (and perhaps even justified) to say that there was a witch hunt chasing him as a Black man, or that he was screwed. But he took full responsibility for his actions and ensured that the one person who his actions truly impacted, his wife, was content with his growth and response.

I think that’s beautiful. Even though Swann never had a chance to beat Omega, the fact that he was even involved proves the value in self-reflection and forgiveness. It’s rare that a wrestling match makes me feel such strong emotions, and for that, these two need to be commended.

Rich Swann’s signature move is the Phoenix Splash. We all know what phoenixes do: they rise.

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