If you haven’t seen Josh Alexander and TJP’s 60-minute Ironman match from this week’s Impact/Before the Impact yet, stop what you’re doing, settle down and enjoy.
Watched it yet? That was the best match on Impact TV in a very, very long time and, in truth, the best match to take place in an Impact ring this year. It was a ****1/2 banger for me, and I’m renowned as a very accurate star rater.
On a personal level, as someone who is woefully out of shape and lacks any real athletic pedigree, the thought of doing a 60-minute match strikes fear into my very being. Even for guys like Josh and TJP, who are in great nick, it must be incredibly physically grueling and, from a wrestling standpoint, technically challenging.
First of all, with any match of that length, there’s an awful lot that can go wrong. Getting the pace of the match, and therefore its story, right is of vital importance. Ideally, you want guys to slowly build into it, telling the story that they’re pacing themselves for one final salvo in the closing 10 minutes, either to secure a win or come from behind and stay alive. One person going hard early makes for an alternative narrative but then there’s always the risk it falls apart quite spectacularly.
Doing it without fans, and the natural peaks and troughs in the match that they help to accentuate must be that much harder. Hitting all the big spots, like the suplex out of the ring, and getting no natural reaction beyond the seconds at ringside or roster members who’ve come to watch, would be difficult. I’m not saying they should, therefore, have dialed it in, but you’d forgive them for not going as hard as they did for 62 minutes.
They did go hard though, producing an absolutely excellent match that built up slowly and built to a fantastic closing stretch. There is a tendency to spam finishes in an Ironman match, allowing both wrestlers to rack up three or four points, but pitching it at 1-1 showed the closeness between the two of them following their previous meetings. Both falls in regular time being counter rollups was just a chef’s kiss for the story they were telling. While the ‘Ironman match goes to overtime’ trope is a little overdone and predictable, it was still well put together, with TJP stealing a fall with mere seconds to go but then having to trade bombs with Josh before eventually going down 2-1 thanks to the double underhook piledriver.
The match allowed Josh to show a new viciousness, teasing the piledriver on the ramp only to be stopped by Chris Sabin and Trey Miguel. A heel turn isn’t necessarily what’s next, but it was an added wrinkle without petty interference or distractions as other promotions appear to have turned to.
I really cannot recommend this enough. Impact uploading the uncut version, including the bits from the commercial breaks, on Youtube was a true galaxy brain move and is part of the wider significance of this showpiece match.
Starting the match on Before the Impact elevates that show, drawing in new audiences (cc Rich Kraetsch and Joe Lanza), while the buzz around it and the relative rarity of 60-minute matches elevates both guys and the X-Division as a whole. And it’s that latter point that’s been so prescient in 2021.
For a long time, the X-Division title has felt like a proper secondary title. Not a separate division, but instead just a midcard belt driven by personal beefs. In all fairness, there’s nothing wrong with that approach and it has driven good feuds and good matches. However, this year the change in presentation has been evident.
With regular scramble matches for top contendership, it feels like there’s a proper division again built around Josh, TJP, Rohit Raju, Chris Bey, Ace Austin, Trey Miguel and Jake Something, as well as any new talent the promotion is looking at bringing in. Those names have also meant that the X-Division is now firmly back on top of the promotional mountain as the workrate division, with every combination delivering genuinely great matches. Additionally, bringing over someone like El Phantasmo and having the X-Division champion beat him clean on an Impact special elevates both the belt and the division.
Elevating the title is of the utmost importance because Kenny Omega is World Champion. While he is appearing regularly, his title defenses aren’t going to be regular (they’ll be reserved for specials and PPVs) and therefore the X-Division title has greater significance week-to-week.
Josh noted that in his post-match segment with Petey Williams and TJP, citing himself as the ‘King of the Mountain’ in Impact while an outsider like Kenny holds the World title. Before the Ironman match, I had Josh on a three-person shortlist to dethrone Kenny eventually alongside Rich Swann and Eddie Edwards, but now he’s the clubhouse leader. Give him four more months of big banger defenses on Impact TV, specials and PPVs and he can stand as the ‘Impact savior’ at Bound for Glory and end the reign of Omega. ‘Option C’ has always felt like a cop-out, but that seems like the most natural story in the world.
For a long time, I’ve felt that Josh Alexander was one of the most underrated guys in North America and had the potential to be one of the best in the world. Now, the uncrowned captain of Team Canada 2.0 is elevating himself and the X-Division, one ankle lock at a time. Keep your eyes on him, because he’s got a very big six months ahead.