Match Point: Tessa Blanchard vs Sami Callihan in History-Making IMPACT World Championship Bout (1/12/19)

tessa blanchard vs sami callihan

Match Point is an on-going series at Last Word on Pro Wrestling, where we look at intriguing matchups in indie wrestling and beyond. They may be dream matches, first-time matchups, or hotly anticipated rematches, much like what today’s edition focuses on. Following their feud that has lit the wrestling world on fire, new IMPACT champion Sami Callihan will put the belt on the line against Tessa Blanchard, who looks to become the first female wrestler in history to win the company’s top title and one of few women to ever win a world/top title period.

When Tessa Blanchard, just 22 at the time, first signed her two-year contract with IMPACT Wrestling in July 2018, it didn’t take long for the company to put their complete support behind the third generation female wrestling star. Within a month of her signing with IMPACT, Blanchard had become Knockouts Champion. The title match, which came at UnDEFINED in August, was just her 12th match with the company, including three appearances on co-branded cards and seven matches she wrestled prior to officially signing on the dotted line. So really, in just her fifth-ever match as a contracted wrestler with IMPACT, Blanchard had already claimed the top title that a woman could hold.

Defying Gender Boundaries

But for Tessa Blanchard, who began wrestling alongside Cedric Alexander, who took part in intergender matches almost from the beginning (her 12th ever match according to Cagematch), and whose trainer once said, “I wish my guys were as tough as she is,” gender boundaries were never something that defined her career. And they still don’t. Because from the second Blanchard came to IMPACT, she had two goals: win the Knockouts Championship and bring intergender wrestling back to TV for the first time in decades. In short order, Blanchard was successful with both and in accomplishing those goals, she showed the world that it’s not about one’s gender, but rather, it’s about one’s talent.

In just her 13th match since signing her IMPACT contract, Tessa Blanchard, whose intergender resume includes matches against Ricochet, Will Ospreay, Brian Cage, David Starr, MJF, Matt Riddle, Joey Ryan, Scorpio Sky and AR Fox to name a few, had the opportunity to team with Moose against the team of Johnny Impact and Taya. At the time, both Moose/Impact and Blanchard/Taya were feuding over their respective titles. And at the Homecoming PPV a month later, it was the husband-wife team of Impact and Taya that walked away as champions. Blanchard’s title reign lasted an impressive 147 days. She continued to feud with Taya over the championship for the next month, but ultimately lost a #1 contender’s match to Jordynne Grace to shift the title picture. In the meantime, Blanchard’s character had started to transition from a heel to a babyface, something that was integral to the story IMPACT was about to tell.

Disco Sucks

In May 2019, following her first solo intergender match in IMPACT against Joey Ryan at United We Stand in April of the same year, Tessa Blanchard was part of an 11-person Knockouts battle royal, likely to determine a future title shot. There were 10 Knockouts involved and one Glenn Gilbertti. The former Disco Inferno took to the ring before the match started, with the sole purpose of lambasting women’s wrestling with chauvinistic and misogynistic comments, insults, and his thoughts on how people would have wanted to see a bra and panties battle royal instead. Gilbertti received a proper beating from all 10 of the Knockouts but the problem was, he was in the ring when the match started and as a result, considered to be a part of it. In the end, Tessa Blanchard seemed to win by last eliminating Kiera Hogan, but then, as she celebrated, Gilbertti re-emerged to eliminate the former champion and win the whole thing.

The following week, Gilbertti doubled-down as he took on Ashley Vox and spent the entirety of the “match,” mansplaining the moves to her while also continuing his insults from the prior week. The match ended in a no-contest because Tessa Blanchard, having heard enough, came out to run off Gilbertti. The following week, Gilbertti got his comeuppance when Blanchard utterly destroyed him in seconds. But that wasn’t the most interesting thing that happened that night. During a promo setting up the following week’s match with Dave and Jake Crist against Fallah Bahh and Scarlett Bordeaux, Sami Callihan directed an unprovoked shot at Tessa Blanchard and the Knockouts division.

“Then there’s all these Knockouts. I don’t get it. There’s a demon, there’s a zombie and then there’s a third-generation ‘princess’ who wants to walk around thinking that she’s the top thing in professional wrestling. But here’s the thing. She’s never gonna live up to her father. She’s never gonna be able to fill his shoes, because no Knockout is ever, ever filling up the shoes of a male wrestler. Because we are professional wrestling…”

As Zach Bartlett noted in his review for the episode on Fansided, “Now, linearly and narratively, this makes zero sense. But, if this, and the whole Gilbertti deal, leads to Blanchard beating Callihan and working her way up the card and into a World Heavyweight Title shot, then sign me up immediately.”

Game. Set. Match.

Blanchard vs Callihan I

On the June 7th episode of IMPACT, Tessa Blanchard and Sami Callihan’s rivalry, marking the first intergender rivalry for the company, officially kicked off. After oVe defeated Bahh and Bordeaux, the Crist Brothers continued on the offensive, attacking the Smokeshow before Blanchard came down to make the save and single-handedly took out the Crists in quick fashion as Callihan looked on. But impressed, oVe’s leader was not. In fact, he was absolutely livid that Tessa Blanchard inserted herself where she didn’t belong. In a backstage promo, Sami Callihan said that oVe would take care of the third-generation star.

But that’s not quite what happened. The following week, after Sami Callihan made an unwanted appearance in the women’s locker room, Tessa Blanchard challenged and quickly dismissed of Jake Crist, before teaming with Rich Swann and Willie Mack, who had their own problems with the faction, to take down both Crists and Madman Fulton the week after that.

With the lackeys out of the way, the path was clear for Sami Callihan vs Tessa Blanchard. After defeating Fallah Baah, Callihan did what he did best. He got on the mic and called out Blanchard so he could verbally assault her to her face, before cheap shotting her (mid-promo) physically. As Blanchard and Callihan brawled, this drew out the rest of oVe, who used the numbers advantage to their favor. Then, as oVe held her back, in a vicious and sickening action, Callihan used his trusty baseball bat to hit Blanchard in the midsection.

Tessa Blanchard vs Sami Callihan was set for Slammiversary. It wasn’t a title match but it was the biggest match on the card anyway. Fittingly so, on the go-home edition of IMPACT Wrestling, it closed the show as Blanchard, with her own baseball bat in hand, attacked Callihan and the Crists, a powerful lasting image as the show went off the air. And while not initially in the plans, the night of Slammiversary, IMPACT management made the right decision, slotting Sami Callihan vs Tessa Blanchard into the main event, making it the first time an intergender match headlined a PPV in the United States and the first time a female wrestler was in the main event for an IMPACT PPV.

The result was not what many people expected but it was what the story needed. Sami Callihan treated Tessa Blanchard as an equal in the ring, perhaps not his equal, but as he would any other male competitor. That was clear especially as the match went on and Callihan realized that he needed to respect Blanchard as a competitor, as a threat, or otherwise risk losing to her. And there was no way Callihan was going to allow himself to lose. In the end, he did in fact win, but not without immense struggle as Blanchard showed herself incredibly well throughout.

Looking at the journey, everything aligned for Blanchard to win but perhaps that would have been too easy. So as strange as it may sound, she needed to lose. In the end, it’s only made her journey to the rematch, a stage where not only could she beat Callihan for the first time but in doing so win the world title, all that much sweeter.

Blanchard vs Callihan II

Devastated. That was the word used to describe Tessa Blanchard after falling short to Sami Callihan. She gave everything to that match and it wasn’t enough. Oh and to make matters worse, she found herself needing to team with Callihan in IMPACT’s Mash-Up Tournament. The theme was to keep your friends close and enemies much closer as the duos were all unlikely, none more than these two. When shown discussing strategy, it was clear the two were well on opposite sides, each believing they should be the one to call the shots.

In a way, the premise of the tournament was perfect if not a little telegraphed. The winners would face each other with the winner of that match facing Brian Cage for his IMPACT World Championship. In the first match of the tournament, Sami Callihan pinned Trey Miguel to give the team the victory, but all the while (and post-match), the tension between he and Tessa Blanchard was clear as day. In the night’s second match, the two partners continued to disagree but in the end, emerged victorious anyway as this time it was Blanchard who pinned Jake Crist in the elimination four-way.

The following week, Callihan called his “Unbreakable” opponent to the ring to tell Blanchard after their Slammiversary battle and Mash-Up Tournament performance, he respected her. It was a nice moment until, after the duo shook hands, he tapped her on the bottom and called her “toots.” So much for equality. Tessa Blanchard responded by hitting him with her finisher, to which Sami Callihan did not appreciate. Backstage, he lambasted oVe for not being out there to have his back, and furious that Blanchard would dare strike him after his show of respect, told Madman Fulton he’d be facing her in the ring the following week.

Sami Callihan cornered Fulton for the match, lobbing taunts and insults at Tessa Blanchard throughout. But Blanchard was holding her own until Callihan got involved with a chair, demanding Fulton to “kill her.” Tommy Dreamer made the save before that could happen resulting in a no-contest. The same night that episode aired, Tessa Blanchard and Sami Callihan were wrestling live in California for the right to challenge Cage for his world title at Bound for Glory. Once again, the near 18-minute bout main evented the show. And once again, Callihan was the one celebrating after all was said and done. Only this time, Callihan needed the held of Jake Crist and his X-Division Championship to get the job done.

Blanchard vs Callihan III

It was more than symbolic that Sami Callihan used the belt to knock Tessa Blanchard out as a little over a month later, Blanchard defeated Dave Crist to qualify for a spot in the Bound for Glory ladder match where brother Jake would be defending that very title. But before that, Blanchard made her point known. She was again devastated at the loss, but this time, with foul play involved, she wasn’t letting it go. Tessa Blanchard put Sami Callihan on notice, she wasn’t done with him. Rather the opposite, he now had a target on his back and she was coming for him.

This led to the first of Blanchard’s oVe related matches, as she teamed with Dreamer to defeat Callihan and Dave Crist, pinning Crist in the victory. The following week, Callihan faced Dreamer one-on-one and won in a no disqualification match. Refusing to allow him to inflict any post-match damage, Blanchard made a run-in, but it was all to Callihan’s plan as Jake Crist once again decked her with his title, allowing Callihan to hit with his finisher before the show went off the air.

For Callihan, that seemed to be it. He expressed he was done with Blanchard as he focused on his upcoming world title match against Cage. But Tessa Blanchard wasn’t accepting that things were over as once again her and Dreamer went to war, this time with Sami Callihan pinning Dreamer to win for his team. The post-match antics led to a rematch the following week, where Blanchard and Dreamer teamed with fellow ECW alums, Rhino and RVD, against all four of oVe’s ranks. In the end, extreme prevailed as Blanchard carried her team en route to tapping out Jake Crist.

That brings us back to September 27th, with Blanchard defeating Dave Crist to earn her spot in the X-Division ladder match. Sami Callihan was nowhere to be found during the match, though the rest of oVe was prevalent as they attempted to cost Tessa Blanchard the victory. The following week, Tessa Blanchard reiterated that this wasn’t just about her and Sami Callihan, that all of oVe have targets on their backs and she won’t stop until she’s beaten all of them. That included Jake Crist about eight times as Blanchard, while teaming with Daga, picked up another victory over the youngest Crist brother. Also getting caught up in that main event and its post-match antics, were Cage and Callihan, whose own feud was linked to Blanchard’s with oVe in a perfect way to set up what was about to happen next.

At Bound for Glory though, Sami Callihan lost to Cage and Tessa Blanchard failed to win the X-Division Championship, taking her possible title route of “Option C” off the table. The booking didn’t do anything really to advance Callihan and Blanchard’s feud, which fans were sure was going to end with a world title match. But the following week, on IMPACT’s AXS TV debut, the puzzle that had been leading up to Sami Callihan vs Tessa Blanchard III, had its final piece. In the main event of the evening, Callihan defeated Cage to win the world title, doing so without the aid of oVe. His celebration, however, was cut short as no sooner did the referee raise his hand, Blanchard was in the ring, in his face, seeming every bit the part of his first challenger.

Callihan’s official championship celebration came the following week as backstage, oVe kept the party going all show long. When it came time for the in-ring celebration, Callihan was interrupted by Dreamer, who decided an extreme celebration match was the perfect addition to the party. Dreamer joined Daga, Rich Swann and Blanchard in attacking Callihan and oVe, but it was Swann who got the pin on the champion. That led to a tag team match the following week as Tessa Blanchard and Swann took on Sami Callihan and Fulton. This time, Callihan pinned Swann, returning the favor. Tessa Blanchard led a post-match attack but Sami Callihan, with the title, got the upper hand, until Cage made his way to the ring and cleaned house.

And that’s where things got interesting. The following week, IMPACT management put all of the competitors worthy of a title shot into a six-person gauntlet match. Moose defeated Daga, then Swann defeated Moose and Michael Elgin (who was disqualified for a ref bump). Then Cage defeated Swann and in a rematch of one of the most talked-about intergender matches in recent memory, Cage faced the final entrant in Blanchard. In a 10-minute or so final, Blanchard was able to defeat her friend and book her spot at Hard to Kill.

On the first new episode of IMPACT in the month of December, Tessa Blanchard and Sami Callihan took part in a press conference to promote their match at the January PPV. Things got intense as Sami Callihan and Tessa Blanchard needed to be separated. Everything finally boiled over as the two erupted into a full out brawl in the streets of New York City as IMPACT’s last new show of 2019 went off the air. Hyping up the PPV all the more, IMPACT dedicated a 10-plus minute video package to the Sami Callihan/Tessa Blanchard rivalry on the go-home show before Hard to Kill. The package was so well done and clearly showed how important a win on Sunday is to both competitors.

It should be noted that throughout the feud, Tessa Blanchard has beaten Sami Callihan in tag team matches, but she’s never pinned him, never submitted him. IMPACT could very well be saving that moment for this Sunday.

Eight months of one of the most talked-about, compelling feuds in all of wrestling is set to come to a head at Hard to Kill as it all culminates in this final match. And when it does, no matter the outcome, history will be made.

Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world.  You can watch Hard To Kill and other content from IMPACT Wrestling on IMPACT Plus or you can watch Hard To Kill on Fite TV.

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