Since I began providing weekly coverage of Impact Wrestling for this site in 2018 I’ve been writing these end-of-year awards pieces. Based largely on the Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s criteria, they’re my attempts to distill the best parts of what the promotion has produced over the past 12 months. What’s the point of watching every match that’s made tape for Impact in a given year without pontificating about it?
2021 was another year in which Impact, like everyone else, had to continue to navigate the continuing quagmire of the global pandemic. The first six-and-a-half months of the year were spent behind closed doors, fans returning for the first time at Slammiversary. They then moved to tapings with a paying audience at their pandemic base, the Skyway Studios in Nashville, from July onwards before traveling to Nevada for Bound for Glory in October. They’ve got their monthly specials airing live again and while the new strain could set everything back, it looks as though 2022 will look a lot more normal for Impact.
The biggest storyline of the year has been the opening of the ‘Forbidden Door’, with Impact forming talent-sharing relationships with All Elite Wrestling and New Japan Wrestling among others. Kenny Omega and Christian Cage were both Impact World Champion, a sentence that would have sounded insane this time last year, while FinJuice were Tag champs. Jay White, Hikuleo, El Phantasmo, Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, Tony Khan, Satoshi Kojima and Minoru Suzuki are just some of the other faces to have made appearances.
It’s been an interesting year, to say the least. Anyway, let’s get into these awards…
Wrestler of the Year
Free from teaming with Ethan Page, 2021 was always going to be the year that Josh Alexander got to show the wider world what he could as a singles wrestler. As it transpired, that was a whole damn lot.
I’ve waxed lyrical about how good Josh’s year has been multiple times on the site this year already but I’m not a man averse to treading over old ground, so here we go again. He kicked off the year in inauspicious style, losing to Brian Myers on the Hard to Kill pre-show (a match they never ran back and absolutely should have done while Josh was X-Division Champion), but from there transitioned into the X-Division title picture.
After winning the belt from Ace Austin at Rebellion, he embarked on a tremendous five-month title reign. Of his eight title defences, six clocked in at four stars or more for me. His 60-minute Ironman match with TJP opened a lot of eyes and remains one of my favourite matches of the entire year.
His performances elevated the X-Division title to a level it’s not been at in multiple years and by July he was the obvious candidate to eventually claim back the World Championship. While he understandably didn’t get the win over Kenny Omega, defeating Christian Cage at Bound for Glory was his moment and a moment that he entirely deserved. Although Moose beating him frustrated many, the win over Cage was still something that was all Josh’s and the program with Moose is to further establish Josh as the guy. He’s their true ace and heir to AJ Styles.
Josh Alexander put the work in in 2021, proving that he’s one of the best in the entire world.
Character of the Year
I struggled with this one. It wasn’t that there hasn’t been a lot of good character work in 2021, because there undoubtedly has, but because far too often it was evident in spurts but not over the course of the year.
Rich Swann, for example, was great while feuding with Kenny Omega but then dropped down the pecking order over the last two-thirds of the year. Eddie Edwards was good as always in his role but it’s the same role he’s had for years. Sami Callihan worked well as a babyface but you could never really shake the feeling that he was miscast in the role. W.Morrissey came in like a house of fire although his recent work with Moose and Matt Cardona hasn’t really clicked.
Ultimately it came down to a choice between Deonna Purrazzo and Moose. Purrazzo has been tremendous, running with the rocket push she was given atop the Knockouts Division, although it did for a while feel as though she was treading water and a little bereft of compelling challengers or a long-term direction.
Moose had some lulls himself, particularly at the beginning of the year when it felt like he got lost in the shuffle of Omega moving into the title picture, but he was always involved in compelling programs and his character arc always made sense. He wanted the World title, plain and simple. You knew what he was going for and you knew that he was happy to play mind games to get there. His work with Chris Sabin was great, he was a superb foil for Omega in his title challenge and then the angle in which he won the World title worked. Add that to a banner year in-ring and it makes a lot of sense.
Feud of the Year
Deonna Purrazzo vs Mickie James
For a long time, I assumed that the award here would go to the Kenny Omega vs Impact Wrestling storyline. The compelling arc of someone, anyone, from Impact trying to topple him and Don Callis and reclaim the title that was rightfully theirs was a genuinely good one. It had depth and length to it and, with the emergence of Josh Alexander, an obvious end.
Yet Kenny dropping the title when he did led me to change my mind. Christian Cage against Josh Alexander was well built but the pay-off, while good, wasn’t quite the same as it would have been.
The best feud, and one that’s actually still running, as such was that between Deonna Purrazzo and Mickie James. It all began when Purrazzo, fresh off an open challenge win over Thunder Rosa, was confronted by the returning James, who wanted to offer her a spot on the NWA’s all-female show, Empowerrr, in August. Purrazzo took this as a slight but eventually accepted the offer, defending the Knockouts title against Melina. At the following night’s NWA 73rd Anniversary Show, Purrazzo, clad in a mask, attacked James after her singles match with Kylie Rae and there the feud was born.
They fought over Impact across the next couple of months, including in a great segment at Mickie’s home, before eventually squaring off at Bound for Glory. The match was very good and the James title win felt like a special moment. The fact it clearly wasn’t the end of the feud was a strong point, especially as Impact were able to pair James off with Madison Rayne and Mercedes Martinez before coming back to the rematch. The best part, however, was that it lit a fire under the second part of Purrazzo’s second title reign. Heading into Slammiversary she’d been running out of steam and any further credible challengers but James gave her someone fresh to work with who got the best out of her. For me, it produced one of the best-built matches of the year at Bound for Glory and was a home run all round.
Tag Team of the Year
Violent By Design
It’s hard to pick a best team of the year when the tag division has been the weakest part of Impact in 2021.
The Good Brothers started the year as champions and they’re ending the year as champions. In many ways, that says it all. At the beginning of the year they still carried some interest as they were relatively new to the promotion and their involvement in the Kenny Omega/AEW stuff gave them an edge. Now they feel impossible to care about.
FinJuice, initially seemingly only there on a short-term basis, have been regulars with Impact throughout 2021. They’ve been fine but their effectiveness has waned over the months and it’s hard to see where they go with both men seemingly moving to pastures new in the not too distant future.
The only tandem, or faction, that have carried a continued interest throughout the year are Violent By Design. They started 2021 by recruiting Rhino and feuding with Jake Something. They’ve had some fun hardcore matches and they won the title. Joe Doering has proved to be in better shape than he initially appeared, Deaner has taken huge steps forward as a performer and with Eric Young back they carry interest into 2022. The feud with Rhino and Heath over the last couple of months, while not anything big or fancy, has been a good crowd-pleaser that’s pushed them clear of the competition.
Knockout of the Year
Based on my enthusiasm for her feud with Mickie James, there was never going to be another candidate here, was there?
Deonna won this last year because of the entrance she made to the promotion and the rocket push they gave her. That continued this year and she’s proved head and shoulders clear of everyone else. Her matches with James, Thunder Rosa and Masha Slamovich have set the bar for the rest of the division and she’s an asset the promotion are very lucky to have. There’s not a lot more I can add to that.
Newcomer of the Year
I restricted this to only Impact-contracted talent but I still had several good options at my disposal.
In the end I plumped for a man who debuted at Rebellion, W. Morrissey. When he came out to join Violent By Design as their surprise partner in an eight-man tag, I was rather underwhelmed. He was someone who’d seemed purpose-built for WWE but with a hugely limited ceiling outside of that system. His issues outside of the ring also seemed, rightly or wrongly, like a huge red flag. Over the course of the next eight months, he’s shown how wrong I was.
He’s tapped into his personal issues to cultivate a genuine, real character that is a change of pace from the rest of the roster. He’s not just positioned as another bitter ex-WWE guy but instead someone who is angry at how genuinely abandoned by the industry they felt. His promo work has been great and his in-ring performances have been above and beyond anything I’d anticipated. He was a great foil for Rich Swann and Eddie Edwards and now seems completely at home in the World title picture. A superb pickup.
Most Improved Wrestler of the Year
The easy option here would have been to just give it to my man Rohit Raju again because he’s the absolute best but last year was definitely more his year than this has been.
Of all the other contenders, Josh Alexander seemed an odd fit here as he’s always been close to this good but never got to show it in the tag team he was in. Moose, likewise, was peaking last year and has merely continued that level through 2021.
Deaner, as mentioned above, has come on a lot over the course of the last 12 months or so and was close here but in the end I went for the current X-Division champion, Trey Miguel.
Miguel was always pushed as the singles guy in The Rascalz but never managed to show the potential, to me at least, that Impact obviously saw in him. After returning to the promotion in February after a brief break, he’s begun to illustrate that in a big way.
He’s bulked up and improved his physique, while the way he constructs his matches now seems a lot more structured and organised. The addition of a submission move has helped to diversify his presentation, as has improved promo and character work. He seemed like the natural successor to Josh Alexander as X-Division champion and has, so far at least, taken to the role well.
Agree with my award winners? Feel I’ve missed anyone out that grabbed your attention? Let me know on Twitter @AMSinclair97.