2019 has been my second year of reviewing Impact Wrestling on a weekly basis. While the promotion has somewhat inevitably failed to live up to the exceptionally high standard they set in 2018, Impact has still produced a decent product throughout the year and with a new home on AXS TV, they seem to be in a good place heading into the new decade.
With us now approaching the awards season and a time where the promotion breaks from its usual weekly television, I thought I would provide three weeks of recap and review coverage. First up, I’ll give out my awards before I reveal my top 10 matches produced by the promotion in 2019 next week. Then, to kick off 2020, I’ll reveal my wishlist for the year ahead.
The categories chosen for these awards were mostly based on those used by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and are not in any way definitive, just reflecting my thoughts over the whole year. Please let me know your thoughts on Twitter – @AMSinclair97.
Wrestler of the Year: Rich Swann
This ended up being a somewhat difficult choice, given the relative positioning and relevance of the company’s top stars throughout 2019.
Brian Cage spent months chasing the World title, only to spend five months out injured while champion. Michael Elgin joined at the end of April and delivered a series of stellar performances in the run-up to facing Cage at Slammiversary, only for him to sort of spin his wheels for a while before facing Naomichi Marufuji at Bound for Glory. Sami Callihan and Tessa Blanchard have been the most consistently pushed names in the promotion but ultimately their match quality has not been consistently high enough to warrant prime consideration. The only person who does stand out for their body of in-ring work, work in carrying feuds (vs Callihan, Johnny Impact) and general versatility is Rich Swann.
The former X-Division Champion has continually proved himself to be the promotion’s week-to-week ace and he looks primed for a big 2020. His match with Michael Elgin was probably my favorite in the promotion all year (spoiler alert) and his performance in the recent six-pack elimination challenge was outstanding.
2nd place: Sami Callihan, 3rd: Tessa Blanchard, 4th: Michael Elgin
Character of the Year: Tessa Blanchard
While in 2018 this was a relatively easy award to give out, with Eddie Edwards’ deranged persona working quite well, it has not been as strong a year for the promotion in terms of pure character work.
Sami Callihan’s role as the deviant leader of oVe has continued to stand out but ultimately it is not much different from the excellent work he put in during 2019. There have been wrinkles and a few additional layers added, but not enough to take the award away from Tessa Blanchard.
Her move from conniving heel champion to the biggest babyface in the promotion has been masterminded superbly. Her bout with Gail Kim at Rebellion was a proper coming-out party and since then she has consistently proved herself against male competition in the promotion, conveying brilliantly her status as a tough, no-nonsense babyface with a desire to reach the top of the promotion. Callihan has been the perfect foil for her and while it remains to be seen whether her push has been a net positive for ratings or business, it has been a good first (serious) foray for the promotion into intergender.
2nd place: Sami Callihan
Feud of the Year: Sami Callihan vs Tessa Blanchard
This was another tough choice. Unlike the blood feud between LAX and the OGz last year, nothing in 2019 has stood out in quite the same way.
Still, I ultimately chose Callihan/Blanchard over a few other options for two main reasons. Firstly, the storytelling has been relatively simple, straightforward and coherent, elevating Blanchard further up the card and getting Callihan some more heat in the process. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the feud has carried the promotion from the summer until the end of the year and it looks set to be vitally important to their first quarter of 2020.
2nd place: Rich Swann vs Sami Callihan, 3rd place: Michael Elgin vs Empty bed spaces at American hospitals
Tag Team of the Year: The North
What with LAX leaving the promotion in August and their position as the promotion’s leading team winding down from July, it made sense to select a different team and the only possible choice was The North.
Page and Alexander have consistently delivered in prominent spots, producing some superb matches with the likes of Eddie Edwards & Marufuji, LAX, The Rascalz and Rich Swann & Willie Mack. They have been positioned as the aces of the division and both men have gradually grown into their roles, with Page delivering on the mic and Alexander showing off his immense in-ring talent.
Knockout of the Year: Taya
Excluding Tessa Blanchard from this discussion (mostly because the promotion also have from their own end-of-year awards) leaves me with very slim pickings.
One of the promotion’s main flaws in 2019 has been their storytelling in the Knockouts division, with Taya winning the title in January and then working the cowardly, deceiving champion gimmick for the majority of her reign. While Jordynne Grace has impressed when pushed, she has not been featured enough and that’s pretty much the same for a number of others – hopefully that changes in 2020, when she gets another shot at the title.
I’ll pick Taya because she has at least ‘carried the division’ but the whole women’s division has to be an area for improvement in 2020.
Newcomer of the Year: Michael Elgin
Choosing a winner here was a little difficult in the end, as there were a few relevant contenders, but in the end I opted for ‘Unbreakable’.
Elgin came in like a house of fire when he debuted in April, delivering excellent performance after excellent performance on both the weekly television show and pay-per-views/ monthly specials. He felt like a proper big-name signing for the promotion and while he has been spinning his wheels for a while now, he is still a top star in the company who can always be relied upon to deliver good to great matches.
2nd place: Josh Alexander, 3rd place: Ace Austin
Most Improved Wrestler of the Year: Tessa Blanchard
It is hard to look past just how much Blanchard has improved as an in-ring performer during 2019.
I was always high on her abilities, probably more so than several others, but in 2019 she more than stepped up to the plate and proved why she is one of the best female workers in the world. Her match with Gail Kim stands up to pretty much anything else I’ve seen on the North American scene this year and she’s continued to improve small things like chaining together offence, making the most of her facial expressions and delivering things in a more visually impactful way.
Impact will face a battle to keep hold of her services in 2020, but it’s a fight they have to try and win.
2nd place: Ace Austin, 3rd place: Fallah Bahh
As I said earlier in the piece, please let me know your personal highlights on Twitter and whether you agree or disagree with my selections!