2020 has been my third year of reviewing Impact Wrestling on a weekly basis and it’s certainly been different. While the COVID-19 pandemic forced a number of promotions to close down, Impact was able to keep going, even if that meant running for three-quarters of the year behind closed doors at the Skyway Studios in Nashville. They’ve run the whole year, done PPVs and even restarted their monthly specials.
The promotion, like many others, made some changes in light of the #SpeakingOut movement, taking the correct decisions to cut Michael Elgin, Dave Crist and Joey Ryan. Issues still cloud the air around Moose and Sami Callihan.
It seems remarkable that Tessa Blanchard won the World title 11 months ago – that feels like an entirely different time (I know it literally is, but you know what I mean). She then refused to cooperate with the promotion during the pandemic and was subsequently stripped of the belt and released. It’s been that sort of year and the roster’s had the usual element of turnover. The big additions came in the summer, with The Good Brothers, Heath and Brian Myers debuting and EC3, Eric Young and The Motor City Machine Guns returning.
With Impact revealing their award winners on tonight’s special episode, I thought I’d give out my awards for the promotion for 2020. To finish off my coverage for the year, I’ll be putting together my Impact matches of the year list = (spoiler: it’s short).
As before, the categories chosen for these awards mirror those used by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and are not in any way definitive. Please let me know your thoughts on Twitter: @AMSinclair97.
Wrestler of the Year
This was the category I grappled with most. There are several people in the promotion who’ve had good spells but this hasn’t been a stellar year for the company.
Rich Swann has been excellent since returning, delivering a great program with Eric Young (more on that later) and thriving as champion, but he was also on the shelf for seven months and only wrestled twice before Bound for Glory.
Young has likewise delivered since his return but after dropping the title at Bound for Glory he’s moved in a different direction alongside Joe Doering. It’s not a bad one, it’s just a slower burn.
The other option I considered was Moose, but while his gimmick work has been strong, his in-ring has been fairly so-so, especially in the big spots. That’s more on his opponents (Ken Shamrock, Hernandez and Michael Elgin, Tommy Dreamer and EC3) than him, but it carries weight.
As such, my attention turns to Eddie Edwards. He started the year with the best-of-five series against Michael Elgin, consistently delivering good performances, before stepping up when the company needed him to in the summer to take the World title for a second time. He had a great showing at Slammiversary and his match with Eric Young at Victory Road was one of the promotion’s best in the pandemic era. While his current storyline is hit-and-miss, he’s worked well with everything he’s been given and he’s been there all year, making him the strongest candidate in my book.
Character of the Year
Again, there was some deliberation here but Moose’s ‘Fake World Champion’ gimmick has lasted the entire pandemic era and he’s thrived in the role.
Rich Swann, Eric Young and Rohit Raju have also killed it in a character sense, particularly Young, but the substance has been there with Moose throughout. He’s carried the TNA belt around with real bravado, he’s used promotional canon to back up his schtick and looked strong all year. While his title challenge appears to have been cannibalised by the current AEW link-up, the EC3 feud did a good job of establishing him as Impact’s top heel.
Feud of the Year
Eric Young vs. Rich Swann
Nothing comes close to the chemistry these two had. Starting at Slammiversary, this angle carried the promotion through the autumn and culminated in a great Bound for Glory main event.
Young and Swann returned in the same title match, with Swann pinning Young early doors. That provoked the ‘World Class Maniac’ to attack the ankle that had caused Swann to miss the whole of 2020 to that point, leading to the faux retirement angle. Swann’s desperate campaign to get the title shot and Young’s repeated attacks were magic and when we got the title switch, it felt like a naturally satisfying moment and conclusion.
I only wish there had been fans there for this, because it’d have just gone to that next level.
Team of the Year
For the second year in a row, this award goes to the good lads from Canada, Ethan Page and Josh Alexander.
They started the year as tag team champions and would go on to break the record for the longest reign with the belts, seeing off all challengers before dropping them to the Motor City Machine Guns. Their matches were very good and subsequently, The North provided an effective transition run after Bound for Glory before they lost to The Good Brothers.
With Page seemingly on his way out, this looks the end of their run, but they’re definitely on my list of the promotion’s best-ever teams.
Knockout of the Year
It seemed fitting that the two women who had the best Knockouts matches in the promotion, Jordynne Grace and Deonna Purrazzo, were the only realistic candidates.
While Jordynne was there the whole year contractually, her title run from January to July was hampered by the pandemic as she effectively missed four months of TV time. She held up her end of the bargain against Deonna in the Ironwoman match but since then she’s been cycled down the card and is now involved with the Knockouts tag title tournament.
For Deonna, she was presented as a hot commodity from the off and has just felt like an incredibly strong act throughout the last six months. While there’s been more tropey-ness sneaking into her character of late, that is a product of the promotion having to adjust the booking following the Kylie Rae debacle. Now that she’s signed to a long-term deal, she feels like the divisional benchmark for a long time to come.
Newcomer of the Year
I didn’t feel that the Good Brothers really qualified here as Doc Gallows was there before (long live Aces & Eights), so my decision became very easy. As I wrote last week, Chris Bey is a superstar in the making and I’d be investing stock in him right now.
Most Improved Wrestler of the Year
There’s a lot about the promotion that annoys me at the moment. The horrific finishes that have become increasingly commonplace, the protection of weak acts, the lack of a clear identity. One thing I love though is The Desi Hitman.
While Eddie Edwards stepped up for the company in a prominent spot, Raju stepped up LEVELS this year as an all-round performer. He did everything he was asked to during the COVID-era, worked for an opportunity and since getting it, he’s taken the ball and run with it – delivering on the mic and in the ring.
This time last year I saw the Desi Hit Squad as surplus to requirements and a mere necessity for TV deals. Raju was not a future singles champion. Not in a million years. Now, he’s one of the company’s best promos, most natural characters and an incredibly reliable hand. He recently signed a new deal and I’m delighted. Remember, God made everyone equal and then he made Raju the sequel.