2020 was not a banner in-ring year for Impact Wrestling. There were just four matches that clocked in at four stars or more by my reckoning. 2021, however, was very different.
With the return of fans, intriguing storylines, the presence of a certain Kenny Omega and Josh Alexander liberated as a singles wrestler, there ended up being 16 this time round. I’ve cut that list down to my top 10 Impact Wrestling matches of the year for this week’s column.
10. TJP vs Rohit Raju
I’ve long been a believer that when TJP is on and motivated, he’s one of the very best in the world. He was at or very near his best in the early part of the year for Impact and was matched every step of the way by Rohit Raju, who here delivered the most complete singles performance of his Impact career, in this X-Division title match back in February.
Raju attacking before the bell gave this a real intensity and made it easier for TJP to work from the bottom as the beleaguered babyface. As this was the final chapter in a months-long feud, there were plenty of callbacks and great counters. This had everything and set the tone for a banner year in the X-Division.
9. Deonna Purrazzo vs Mickie James
Bound for Glory
It was always likely that the promotion’s best-built match of the year would end up on this list.
Deonna’s title defenses had a tendency to feel quite similar but the brawling after David Penzer’s championship introductions indicated that this would be a very different. It was a proper fight, one that the crowd was massively into and the moment Mickie eventually won the title felt like a big moment, as all title changes should.
I know I’m being a miser but if you take the ref bump out of this, this probably sits a couple of spots higher.
8. Christian Cage vs Josh Alexander
Bound for Glory
I ended up as the high man on this and I’ll make no bones of the fact that that’s because Josh Alexander is my favorite wrestler in the world and this was (should have been) the crowning glory to a career year for him.
These two worked an enjoyable New Japan-style, escalating from a slow start to an entertaining finishing stretch that pitted Christian’s veteran savvy against Josh’s dynamism, momentum and exuberance. The culmination of a six-month journey for someone, anyone to be the Impact savior and reclaim the title from an AEW talent, ended in the way it always should have – Josh getting his hand raised.
Josh is one of the good guys and to see him, while dazzled by adoration from the Las Vegas crowd, get to celebrate with his wife and son was lovely. We just won’t talk about the post-match…
7. Josh Alexander vs Jake Something
Emergence was the only big Impact show I didn’t review for the site this year but it contained one of Josh Alexander’s top title defenses. Yet, Josh’s continuing brilliance isn’t the reason this made the cut. No, that’s because this was the breakout performance from Jake Something I’d been waiting years for.
Always booked fairly low down the card, Something had come out on top in feuds with Deaner and Rohit Raju earlier in the year and here finally got a title shot against a top-tier opponent.
These two had shown their chemistry before in AAW and absolutely understood the assignment here, unloading everything in their arsenals to produce a brilliant back-and-forth contest. It’s just a shame that Something hasn’t really been given the chance to do anything since.
6. Josh Alexander vs Chris Sabin
There’s a bit of a theme developing here…
Every defense that Josh Alexander made of the X-Division title presented a different challenge. You had guys who had him beat for speed, power or agility. You had feats of endurance and high-flying acumen. Here against Chris Sabin he faced his final boss, an eight-time former champion who could match him spot for spot. The match told a compelling story and peaked perfectly, Alexander’s head guard getting kicked off providing a brilliant lasting visual.
This figures so highly here because it was a great match but also because Sabin rolled back the years, producing his best singles performance in a very long time. It’s also because Josh entered the match wanting to prove himself as one of, if not the, best X-Division champion of all time. By recording another four-star plus title defense, it’s impossible to disagree.
5. Rich Swann vs Kenny Omega
Presentation is so important in wrestling. If you put the effort in to make something feel important, odds are your audience will respond accordingly and recognize its magnitude.
Adding Mauro Ranallo to the commentary team for this title vs title match was inspired. It gave the match an air of legitimacy as well as a sense of occasion. His ‘Keys to Victory’ breakdowns on Youtube were great and offered the sort of technical analysis that I’d personally love more of in wrestling.
The match itself, while historic, was very good but perhaps not quite as good as I’d expected. Swann played the valiant babyface well, continually fighting before succumbing to the One-Winged Angel like everyone else. Had they been allowed crowds at the time, this would have probably been in the top three.
4. Moose vs Eddie Edwards
I’ll admit that there’s probably a little recency bias here but I thought this was genuinely great.
Coming into this Full Metal Mayhem match there were a lot of unanswered questions. Could Moose continue his run of ‘Big Match Moose’ performances in his first World title defense? Could, with 40 minutes left on the clock when the bell rang, Moose show an ability to work the longer, typical main even length? Could Eddie Edwards prove the perfect foil for his long-term rival and deliver his best showing of the year? When the dust settled, the answer to all of those was a resounding yes.
They both used the plunder effectively and took a number of sick bumps. It was paced well, peaking for a finish that saw Eddie get desperate in his attempts to become a three-time champ before being caught by a low blow, Uranage and a Spear. Moose looked great and on this evidence figures to have a strong reign as Impact World Champion.
3. Josh Alexander vs Trey Miguel vs Chris Bey vs Petey Williams vs Ace Austin vs Trey Miguel
Like with my comments about presentation in the Swann/Omega match, when you protect a gimmick match and only bring it out sporadically, it retains its gravitas. It feels special and important.
Bringing Ultimate X back for Slammiversary, the first Impact show with fans in 16 months, was a brilliant move and it was always going to be the perfect show opener. It got the crowd molten hot and set the tone for the rest of the show.
Yes, it was very spotty but when you’ve waited that long to work in front of a crowd again, why on earth wouldn’t you go balls to the wall like these guys did? Petey Williams was chucking out Canadian Destroyers left, right and center, you had six-man submission holds and a load of other bonkers stuff over the course of 16 minutes.
All six guys woke up and chose violence and had me wearing a whole in our living room carpet with the amount of pacing I was doing. Wonderful stuff.
2. Josh Alexander vs TJP
For a long time, I considered leaving this and what became the eventual number one pick as tied first place. That seemed like the coward’s move though, so I bumped this down to second.
This was the match that opened a lot of eyes, in my opinion at least, to what Josh Alexander could really do. To have worked as few singles matches in Impact as he had and then to pace this 60-plus minute Ironman match in the way that he and TJP did was remarkable.
It’s the pacing that earns this the most credit but is also partly what made it second and not first on this list. To commit to working a match like this with no crowd deserves tremendous credit but the lack of an audience also made the hour they worked feel long, particularly when I rewatched it earlier this week. Still, it was a booking masterstroke and was, without question Alexander’s best title defense.
This match highlighted the elevated importance that Impact management and Josh’s performances brought the X-Division in 2021 – a trend I sincerely hope continues in 2022 and beyond.
1. Kenny Omega vs Sami Callihan
Right up until the entrances at Slammiversary I remained unconvinced that Sami Callihan was either a) a convincing babyface or b) the right man to be headlining the first show back with fans. As soon as his music hit though, it was clear that the crowd were very into it and he more than proved he belonged in that spot.
Callihan rolled back the years here, producing his best performance since his much-lauded Apuestas match with Pentagon Jr back at Slammiversary in 2018.
The star of the show, however, was undoubtedly Omega. Branded ‘King of the Deathmatch’ by the inimitable Don Callis on commentary, he was absolutely superb here. He took bumps that he absolutely didn’t need to take, like a Tombstone on a barbed-wire chair, and worked ridiculously hard to make Callihan look as good as possible. Given that the result of the match felt like a foregone conclusion, the fact I popped for the nearfall after Callihan’s Package Piledriver is a testament to the drama they’d built.
One of the few matches in the year where I won’t moan about interference, this was outstanding and is my 2021 Impact Wrestling Match of the Year.