I’ve been wanting to write something about Impact’s X Division for a while and after watching “Speedball” Mike Bailey versus Trey Miguel from Friday’s Against All Odds, it’s time to both celebrate the match and use it as a measuring stick against poorer booking efforts.
Let’s start with the match.
Everyone was expecting great things from these two, but they didn’t just exceed our expectations, they smashed through them with an instant Match of the Year contender. These are two wrestlers known for their dynamic and exciting arsenals and if they had simply ran through their movesets, then you probably still would have enjoyed this, but there was clearly a desire here to transcend anything resembling routine. Sure, the moves were big and explosive, but to use a metaphor I’ve been trying to get over in a few of my previous articles, wrestling always works better when the big moves are the punctuation to a deeper grammar of expression.
The story being told was one of two opponents with no particular enmity, scouting each other out and trying to stay one or two steps ahead. It was a field of play that led to reversals, stalemates and the need for both to seek new strategies. Trey getting his knees up to block Bailey’s own knee strikes felt like watching nuclear fission. Later on, Bailey would hit moonsault knees on Trey’s back, pre-empting any similar reversal. The second strand that tied this match together: the mutual attacks on each other’s legs and the subsequent selling. Selling isn’t that rare of a thing in wrestling these days, but even if grapplers have decided not to do full-on video game wrestling, selling becomes a sort of perfunctory ritual, a sort of epilogue to a move quickly forgotten about a few minutes later. Here, the limb work played into the story right to the end. When Trey hit an incredible diving head scissors from the ring to the floor, it was a moment of pure utilitarian sacrifice; flipping Bailey onto his back but taking the fall on his already damaged legs too, he sacrificed his body for what he assumed would be the greater good. It’s these little moments that weave together into something larger that makes a match special. This was exhilarating and emotional.
Bailey’s 2022 has been nothing short of incredible. After moving back from DDT to the States, he’s been making up for lost time in North America by seemingly running through as many dream matches as possible. As Fred Morlan noted, he’s currently the top-ranked wrestler in the world this year on Cagematch. If you’re looking for a great Speedball match in 2022 to watch, you have a smorgasbord to choose from.
Let’s also give Trey Miguel some high praise.
In 2022, he’s been one of North America’s top performers and had a nice run with the X Division title, including a match with Steve Maclin that stole the show at Hard to Kill, and an acclaimed encounter with career rival Ace Austin at Under Siege in May. If you’re looking for a wrestler with a high hit rate of certified bangers, then Miguel’s your man.
But here’s where I get critical, not of Bailey or Miguel, but of Impact’s booking which has meant that we don’t get quite enough of these matches as we could have.
What’s the catchphrase of the X Division? “It’s not about weight limits, it’s about no limits.” But for quite a while now, we’ve seen that the opposite is true. To be an X Division wrestler is to be pigeonholed. What started as a division that allowed a new style of bombastic wrestling to be showcased, is now something of a restriction on the very wrestlers that it is nominally meant to serve.
In short, we need to dial down on the X Division multi-mans that have peppered Impact cards for the past few years. Yes, watching 3, 4, 5, or six of the best wrestlers in the world flip around for ten minutes is never going to be a bad way to spend your time watching wrestling, but multi mans, while entertaining, are always going to have a ceiling on quality. You’ll never reach the heights of what Bailey and Miguel achieved in a multi-man match, because there’s simply not enough space for it.
Yes, some of Impact’s most memorable matches in the X Division have been multi mans. Could you name one from the last 5 years? Could you name off the top of your head the five men Josh Alexander beat at last year’s Slammiversary? It’s not even that the quality has dipped, it’s just that we’ve seen it before too many times. It’s just that, like ladder, cage and plunder matches, they have become the vapourware of wrestling. Yes you’ll rate it four stars, but you won’t remember it three months later. In a division that includes at its core, Bailey, Miguel, Ace Austin, Kenny King, Chris Bey, and Laredo Kid, there’s no reason you couldn’t build a PPV with at least three world-class singles matches rather than squashing them into multi-mans.
I don’t want to go too hard on Impact here, because they have booked some great matches for the X Division title, and indeed, it was Alexander’s run last year of great singles matches that I believe helped elevate him as a wrestler ready for the world title. The point is that it’s not a coincidence that the most memorable matches of the X Division of the last few years have been singles matches; Josh Alexander vs. TJP, Alexander vs. Jake Something, Trey Miguel vs. Steve Maclin, and now Mike Bailey vs Trey Miguel. These matches stood out because they were able to tell stories that connected with people. Bailey vs Miguel was phenomenal and shows the potential of a division that has not always been booked to its strengths. Let’s have some more.
You can view my ongoing list of best matches of 2022 here.