Along with being the most compelling voice in all of wrestling media, Joe Lanza has proved to be an inspiration for this week’s Impact Wrestling column.
His discussion on this week’s Voices of Wrestling Flagship podcast about Wrestlers of the Year got me thinking. Who would I, as this website’s token Impact diehard (we miss you Garrett), nominate from this company? The only real candidate is Austin Aries for work in reinvigorating the company, but no one stands out. Everyone else has been solid but without much depth, largely owing to the taping schedule and the transition in management at the start of the year.
Still, as we draw upon the mid-way point of 2018, one man who I think has had a great year in Impact thus far is Matt Sydal. No, it’s not WOTY-calibre, but he’s having a good year and has been a vital player.
Since winning the belt from Taiji Ishimori in March, the X-Division has felt like a proper division again. During the reigns of Trevor Lee and Sonjay Dutt the title felt little more than an afterthought, the prize at the centre of a single feud and not the centrepiece of a division seen by many as a company staple.
The NJPW system has clearly influenced Callis and D’Amore and that has been no more apparent in the X-Division. Sydal has been positioned as a dominant champion, beating all the contenders that have been built up. It feels like there are a variety of names in contention for the belt. Opportunities are not thrown away, not randomly announced for next week, but earned and presented as big occasions.
None of his matches will have blown anyone away, but Sydal has consistently delivered. He’s had ***1/2 matches with Austin Aries and Taiji Ishimori, as well as a bevy of *** encounters against Fallah Bahh, El Hijo del Fantasma and Petey Williams. Sydal has worked a variety of different styles, utilising different finishing manoeuvres. He’s been presented as a five-tool player, a vital cog in the wheels of the company.
His match with Williams from Redemption is a perfect case in point. It was worked in a way very few would have expected, but it was compelling from start to finish. The title match felt like an occasion and it was a worthy defence. Sydal now has a catalogue of defences to boast from his reign, presenting the division more akin to the Junior Heavyweights in New Japan than the American model focused on reign length.
Integral to Sydal’s reign being so strong and him feeling important has been his increasingly defined character. For the entirety of his WWE tenure he was the plucky underdog, the happy-go-lucky highflier. In New Japan he never really got to the top of the card, so his character development wasn’t as detailed as it could have been. For the first six months with Impact it was much the same. He was an entertaining performer, who only showed character in flashes against Lashley or EC3.
In 2018, he seems to have found his niche. Matt Sydal, the edgy, yoga-loving, pothead. It’s simple, it reflects Matt Sydal the man and is over. He is his gimmick, and that comes across on screen. Having defined characters has always been essential to pro wrestling, perhaps now more than ever. His character has given the title an identity and made him a figurehead for the division and I believe his reign is currently very underrated; long may it continue.
So, in Mr Sydal’s words, ‘Turn on, tune in, take off’. Matt Sydal and his third eye have helped make the X-Division feel like a division again, and that’s something every wrestling fan should be grateful for.
The Week in Review
- This week’s episode wasn’t particularly strong. There was no blow-away singles match, and Moose against Kongo Kong in the main event was a little surprising. That said, every segment had a purpose, either advancing title programmes or storylines, which is the point of an episodic TV product.
- Don Callis was back on commentary this week, life is good once again.
- EDDIE KINGSTON IS BACK IN THE CUT! The LAX story has been really good and now ‘King’ is back in Impact, I’m very keen to see how it pans out. I felt he never got a fair crack last time, so maybe he’ll write a few wrongs during this tenure.
- The ‘X’ mystery attacker struck again this week, taking out Jimmy Jacobs. Who could it be?
- Next week looks HUGE. At Under Pressure we get Madison Rayne against Tessa Blanchard, Brian Cage against Dezmond Xavier for an X-Division title shot, Allie vs Su Yung for the Knockouts strap and then Pentagon Jr defending against Austin Aries. I’m hyped.
Well, until next time…