Prior to Friday night’s debut episode of AEW Rampage, Christian Cage waxed poetic about his time in IMPACT Wrestling, noting it was the place that gave him the chance to main event and wrestle for world titles, opportunities he might not have gotten elsewhere. But as Cage said in an interview with Alex Marvez, “IMPACT saw something in me and I stepped up and I became a better wrestler for it.”
In Cage’s mind, he believed he owed it to the IMPACT fans to bring their title back and to do what Kenny Omega had been “reluctant” to do. “I feel I owe it to IMPACT for all that it’s done for me in my career,” Cage said. “I should take that [title] off his hands and do the right thing. Come back to the IMPACT Zone as IMPACT World Champion.”
And sure enough, this Thursday, that’s exactly what Christian Cage will do when he returns to the IMPACT Zone for the first time in nearly 13 years.
While Christian Cage is -and rightfully so – known for his time in WWE, in particular as one-half of one of the most decorated tag teams in WWE history, his three-plus years in IMPACT are an important chapter in Cage’s legendary career. And they are an important chapter in IMPACT’s history as well. As Scott D’Amore told Christian prior to his IMPACT title match on Rampage, “You coming to TNA like, you were the first-ever guy who made the decision, ‘I’m going to leave and I’m going to go there and make that choice,’ and I think that meant a ton for you but it meant so much for us as a brand. You set it apart as a place to be.”
Both Cage and IMPACT Wrestling benefitted from that choice, the value of which was never understated. This was no more evident than in 2012, when TNA and WWE made a one-of-its-kind trade to send Ric Flair to WWE for his Four Horsemen Hall of Fame induction and Christian Cage back to the IMPACT Zone for a one-time appearance at Slammiversary. That is not to say that IMPACT would have had its pick of the proverbial litter, but the fact that Cage was important enough for them to build a deal around, spoke volumes. And it spoke volumes to Cage, who talked about the historical day on the Edge and Christian Podcast in 2017.
“I thought it was an honor they asked for me in return for Ric and I thought that was obviously a sign that I meant something and my contributions to that company were important,” Christian noted. On that same podcast, he also spoke complimentary toward his time in IMPACT, once again citing how he enjoyed his time there and how he was proud of his accomplishments with the promotion. “It did a lot for me and gave me a lot of confidence to go and to prove to myself that I could be a main event guy,” Cage said, noting he would “always thank them for the opportunity” he was given to perform at the top level he knew he was capable of reaching.
On November 13, 2005, Christian Cage made his stunning first appearance in TNA/IMPACT Wrestling, doing so at the Genesis PPV. He didn’t do so because he had to, as he would tell the crowd at the IMPACT Zone, “And you can be damn sure I didn’t come here because I got fired.” He came to IMPACT because he wanted to, and in doing so made the jump from WWE that few wrestlers before him had done. In fact, IMPACT management, echoed by commentary, referred to Cage’s signing as the biggest jump in IMPACT’s young, three-year history. On name value alone, they were spot on. Cage was a well-known commodity at the time he left WWE. He was a former nine-time tag team champion, three-time Intercontinental Champion, and one-time European Champion. That alone is a resume that reads as Hall of Fame worthy, but for Cage, one title was missing from his trophy case, one that would have made him a WWE grand slam champion, and yet one that the company never put him in a position to win.
So when Christian Cage showed up in the IMPACT Zone, he wasted no time. Referring to the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship as the biggest prize in the industry, Cage made his intentions known. He was going to fulfill his destiny and compete for – and win – the world title that had thus far eluded him. And while on name value alone, Cage’s jump was noteworthy, it was what he would do over the next three years that truly marked his legacy within IMPACT Wrestling. Cage may have been one of the first big names to choose TNA, but he wouldn’t be the last, and it is likely a result of the opportunities he received that made others like Kurt Angle, Booker T, Bobby Lashley, Drew McIntyre, RVD, the Dudleys, and Matt Hardy all try their hand at WWE’s “alternative.” IMPACT elevated Cage into a believable main event talent, perhaps showing WWE what they were missing out on.
When Cage returned to WWE in 2009, he did so as someone the company now wanted to back as a main event talent. By his third match back with the promotion, he was already competing for the ECW Heavyweight Championship, which he won two months after his re-debut. Finally able to show his merit as a top singles star outside of Edge’s shadow, Cage’s first ECW title reign was just a precursor for what was to come. Cage remained with WWE until concussions caused a premature (but not permanent) retirement in 2014. However, by the time he did wrap up that stint with WWE, Cage did so as a two-time ECW Champion and two-time World Heavyweight Champion. When Cage returned to the ring in 2021 at the Royal Rumble, he decided to bet on himself again, this time taking his return tour to AEW.
But it all started with IMPACT Wrestling in 2005. The remaining chapters of Cage’s career may not have been possible had IMPACT management not believed in him or if Cage hadn’t opted to take a chance on himself the way he did.
“The Instant Classic” Christian Cage
Returning to the moniker he used on the indies prior to his WWE career, Christian Cage debuted in IMPACT Wrestling to huge fanfare and with huge expectations he placed on himself. Cage, who had seemingly left WWE in part out of the frustration of not being elevated as a main eventer and all too often being nothing more than second fiddle to Edge, immediately eyed his goal. Cage spurned an offer from Scott D’Amore to join Team Canada and instead targeted Jeff Jarrett‘s NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship, the top title in TNA at the time. As the saying goes, IMPACT strapped the rocket to Cage, believing in him as a title contender in a way WWE never did. At Turning Point later that year, Cage officially cemented his #1 contendership status and by Against All Odds in February 2006, he had fully ascended the mountain. Just three months after his debut, Cage had become TNA’s top champion, and in the process, had claimed the first world title of his career. Cage’s first reign lasted 126 days and featured successful title defenses against the likes of Monty Brown, Jay Lethal, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, and a lengthy and personal feud with Abyss. Given this was an NWA title and considering the working relationships at the time, Cage also defended his title across several different promotions including most prominently in Northeast Wrestling, but also in Liberty States Wrestling, and BSE Pro Wrestling. In the final of a King of the Mountain match at Slammiversary in 2006, Cage lost his title back to Jarrett, who used interference from Larry Zbyszko and Earl Hebner to secure his win.
But Cage didn’t have to wait long before he regained the belt, defeating Abyss and Sting in a three-way elimination match at the Final Resolution PPV in January, 2007. Unlike his first reign, however, this one came after Cage had taken on the role of the heel for the first time in IMPACT. Cage befriended the newly-signed Sting and helped him win matches against Jarrett to counteract the similar interference from Scott Steiner on Jarrett’s behalf. However in August 2005 at Hard Justice, Cage turned on Sting, hitting him with Jarrett’s guitar and thus allowing the champion to successfully retain his title against his challenger. Cage’s motives weren’t initially clear, though he later told Rhino it was for the good of TNA. Cage believed Sting didn’t have enough passion and as a result, wasn’t suited to win the world championship. Cage continued to defend his actions which led to a brawl with Rhino where Cage hit his former friend with a con-chair-to, a move made famous by his WWE tag team partner, Edge. This led Cage and Rhino into a three-match series where Cage won each time, including their final encounter which was fought inside a barbed wire six sides of steel cage.
After soundly defeating Rhino, Cage returned his attention to the NWA title, where he was victorious in his second attempt. During Cage’s second reign, of 119 days, he successfully defended his title against Kurt Angle, Sting, and Samoa Joe twice. Cage never lost the title, as both he and Team 3D were stripped of the belts by the NWA with the rationale being they had refused to defend the championships at NWA live events. Cage defended the physical title, which was still in his possession, at Sacrifice in 2006. It was a belt that he lost to Angle, who had subsequently showed up for the next IMPACT tapings with a new championship, billed as the TNA World Heavyweight Championship. Cage was the last man in IMPACT to hold the NWA title, and while he claimed to be the new TNA champion, due to controversy in the match, the title was declared vacant. Cage failed in his attempt to win the TNA World Heavyweight Championship but remained in the main event/title scene. In the process, he turned face, and engaged in several memorable final feuds against guys like Angle, Styles, Samoa Joe, Booker T, and more.
On November 13, 2008, three years to the day of Cage’s IMPACT debut, he made his final appearance for the promotion. Shortly after, he returned to WWE, in many ways a better wrestler and better version of himself.
Returning to the IMPACT Zone
When Christian Cage was named as the challenger for Omega’s IMPACT title, he made history. Cage was the first AEW wrestler who would be fighting for the IMPACT title. It made sense. Of Omega’s other challengers for the AEW World Championship (Rey Fenix, Orange Cassidy, PAC, and Jungle Boy), none of them had the history – or save for Fenix, any history at all – with IMPACT, the way that Cage does. It is a history that goes deep and one that has become meaningful in this new Forbidden Door world of wrestling we live in. Cage did not have to choose to challenge Omega for the IMPACT title, in the same way, his previous competitors, save for IMPACT’s own Rich Swann, chose not to. But for Cage, the IMPACT title means something. While his NWA championships don’t share the same lineage as the IMPACT world title Cage holds now, IMPACT was the first place he ever won a world title. The promotion is the place where he put on some of the best matches of his career, the place that gave him a chance to be something greater than what WWE did.
For that, it not only makes sense to have him enjoy a reign as IMPACT world champ, but it is the right call. Eventually, an IMPACT talent will need to win the belt back, but for now, if anyone from AEW is meant to stand in the IMPACT Zone, week after week, defending the championship, it’s Christian Cage. As the elder statesmen now, Cage has the opportunity to really elevate some of IMPACT’s younger and rising talents. Guys like Ace Austin or Chris Bey, who both have incredibly bright futures ahead of them. In IMPACT, Cage also has the potential for first-time matchups against the likes of Black Taurus, Moose, Eddie Edwards, Sami Callihan, and what many are pointing to as a dream match, a Canadian clash of Cage vs Josh Alexander. Or even rematches against Chris Sabin, James Storm, and Rhino, would serve as tantalizing title feuds. Not to mention the potential of a Cage vs Jay White match as this Forbidden Door swings wide open.
For however long or short Cage holds the IMPACT title, it will no doubt be a nostalgic blast and a ratings boost, to see him grace the IMPACT Zone and loyal IMPACT fans with the Instant Classic once again.