With only a few weeks or so of 2022 left on the calendar, the Match of the Year conversation seems increasingly relevant, particularly following the third meeting between FTR and The Briscoes at ROH Final Battle 2022.
Another match repeatedly mentioned in those same tones in recent days is the near-60-minute Impact World title match between Josh Alexander and ‘Speedball’ Mike Bailey that aired on last week’s Impact and is now available for free on YouTube.
This year has been a pretty strong one in-ring, I think that’s a fairly widely held view, and I’d contend that 2022 has also been the best in-ring year for Impact Wrestling in a long, long time.
As per Cagematch data, five of the 20 best matches in company history have occurred this year and that tally extends to eight if you go to the best 30 matches in the promotion’s 20-year existence.
Alexander is the common denominator, featuring in seven of the eight matches (including this one). The one he wasn’t part of was the X-Division title match between Bailey and Trey Miguel at Against All Odds.
At the time of the writing, Cagematch data has the Alexander-Bailey match as the second-best in company history, just behind the iconic Unbreakable three-way between Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels and AJ Styles.
That’s rarified air, especially considering the current 9.47 rating makes it, as per the Cagematch numbers, the fifth-best match of 2022.
Although it was their sixth singles meeting, with Alexander holding a 5-0 record coming in, and Tom Hannifan made reference to Bailey signing his Impact contract on Alexander’s back after a Destiny show in Canada this time last year, it wasn’t a match with any real backstory or canon in Impact. Instead, it came about after Bailey answered an open challenge from Alexander that was initially intended for Bully Ray.
Speaking candidly, it seemed a given in my mind that I’d love this match and it’d end up knocking the third FTR/Briscoes match off the top of my current MOTY list. By this point, I’m essentially a Josh Alexander hype man with the reviews I’ve given to his main events this year. On the other hand, I’ve been absolutely blown away by the strength of schedule that Mike Bailey has put together this year. Back on American soil for the first time in five years, he’s seized every opportunity and booking offered to him and knocked it out of the park more or less every time.
Much to my surprise, by the point I’d made my way through the match, all 59 minutes and 46 seconds of it, I didn’t feel like I’d just watched either man’s best match of 2022, let alone the best match in promotional history.
Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was very, very good. Indeed, there was a lot to like, much of which I’ll delve into here, but it wasn’t at that tippy-top level. At least not for me.
Alexander sold like a trooper, playing up the damage to his left shoulder he’d suffered in his title match with Frankie Kazarian at Over Drive. That meant that, as a left-hand lead, Alexander struggled to lock in a lot of his power offense in the first half of the match, particularly his typical finishing move, the C4 Spike.
A somewhat valid criticism often leveled at Mike Bailey is that he doesn’t do leg selling very well. Given that the majority of his offense is driven by kicks, I understand why that frustrates people (for the record, I’ve never found it that egregious, but there you go). Here though, his selling was on point. The missed Ultimo Weapon on the apron and Alexander’s continued pursuit of the Ankle Lock seemed to cost Bailey a lot of incisiveness as the match progressed, to the point of him being slow to make pinfall attempts or slipping off the ropes in the closing minutes.
There were some great spots and counters throughout and the final 10 minutes were good. That closing stretch wasn’t as balls to the wall as you might expect in a more traditional spotfest; instead it carried a real sense of drama and gravitas. It came across as a battle of attrition, a real knock-down, drag-out, hour-long fight where both men had very little left in the tank. The finish, which saw Alexander hit Bailey with two C4 Spikes, therefore felt enormously definitive.
However, it wasn’t without its issues. You didn’t have great long periods of stalling but there were lulls. That’s entirely natural, as working a 60-minute match is an impressive cardiovascular feat, but it ultimately meant that the match felt long by the end. Not a chore long but I did feel like I’d been taken out of the match at points.
Another real setback was the atrocious crowd they were working in front of. They got into it at varying stages but they were awful for the most part, seeming some combination of fatigued, disinterested and not that bothered.
I noted last year that the main downside of Josh Alexander and TJP’s 60-minute match was that they had it in an empty arena, which made it feel long and like it was happening in a vacuum. In many ways having a crowd that made little to no noise was worse than having no crowd at all as that lack of reaction from actual human people has an effect on the viewer. Their seeming disinterest projects onto you, whether you’re aware of it or not.
There’s been a lot of recent talk about ‘stories’ and things not being explained well enough to people. If you wanted to be cynical, you’d make the case that this was ostensibly booked solely to strengthen the very real Wrestler of the Year cases of both men rather than to tell any real story. If you did say that, I wouldn’t argue that much because we’ve seen other promoters do the exact same thing in the past (cough Tony Khan booking Dax Harwood in singles matches with no real meaning or purpose behind them cough).
However, as a regular viewer of the promotion, I would argue that the match struck me as a clear storytelling vehicle for both men. It showed Alexander the ironman, a man with an unlimited gas tank and indefatigable willpower capable of battling through all kinds of adversity to retain his title. With his feud with Bully Ray centred on mind games, that could be an avenue of exploration.
For Bailey, it elevated him as a legitimate, main-event caliber worker. He’s got a feud with Kenny King to wrap up next but they’ve sown countless seeds here for him to face Alexander again in a match with a real story behind it. Imagine what they could do then and how big a win for ‘Speedball’ would feel in that instance.
With all that said, my final rating is a flat ****. Very good, notebook-worthy, but not as good for my money as his matches with Eric Young, Tomohiro Ishii or Alex Shelley.
That phrase ‘for my money’ is key, though, as wrestling is subjective and your mileage may vary. Indeed, I’m well below the Cagematch rating I outlined at the top.
With that in mind, I came away from the match on a broader, more philosophical level with a number of thoughts about the way in which I, and I surmise a wider proportion of the wrestling fanbase, perceive and review matches.
For example, I’d seen the hype about the match before I watched it. Even though I didn’t know the result, although it didn’t seem in much doubt, how much did that expectation of excellence affect my viewing and reviewing experience? I know that by coming in anticipating to see something that’d blow my socks off, you’re almost inevitably going to end up disappointed to a degree.
Likewise, knowing that the match was an hour going in probably had an impact. For some people, reading that will put them off watching it at all. If you do watch it though, as I did, does knowing the length inform that feeling you get of it being long? Does it make you more prone to clockwatch and observe the progression of time than if you were watching it live or just the VOD replay without thinking too much about how much time was left?
With people starting to get into rewatching things for their MOTY list or just filling in gaps before settling on their top 10, I’d encourage people to watch this. See what you think and where it lands for you. It might be a legitimate MOTY contender, it might ‘only’ be a **** match like it was for me, or it might not be your cup of tea at all. As I said, mileage will vary.