This year has been the best in-ring year for Impact Wrestling in a long time. Having watched every match aired by the company so far in 2022, I’ve currently got 26 matches clocked in at four stars or more, up from 16 in 2021 and just four in 2020.
Chris Sabin has the most appearances of anyone on that list with 10, followed by Josh Alexander and Alex Shelley with eight. Eddie Edwards was revitalized by his heel turn, and he’s got four matches at **** or more, as does AEW loanee Frankie Kazarian. Jordynne Grace and Masha Slamovich had the only women’s match I felt got to that standard. They’re joined in one match by Eric Young, Aussie Open, Jonah, Jonathan Gresham, Jake Something, Davey Richards, Nick Aldis, KUSHIDA, and Vincent, among others.
I’ve whittled that list of 26 matches down to 10 to provide what has been my traditional roundup of the best matches put on by Impact Wrestling during the last 12 months.
Jonathan Gresham vs. Chris Sabin
Hard to Kill
One of the most recent signees to Impact, Jonathan Gresham had a strong little run with the promotion during the first quarter of the year. The high point was his match with Chris Sabin for the ROH World Championship at Hard to Kill.
As you’d expect for something involving Gresham and contested under Pure Rules, this was a highly technical match, but in my mind, it was one of the best-paced contests of the year. It built brilliantly bell-to-bell, maximizing the drama of the rope breaks and culminating in one of my favorite finishing sequences of the year. Just a lovely, wholesome watch.
Jay White vs. Alex Shelley
Although he currently feels bone-chillingly cold, Jay White’s stint in Impact earlier in the year was very enjoyable. He came across well, he seemed motivated and he delivered time after time.
His best showing was his match with Alex Shelley. Telling the classic story of student-versus-teacher, there was no wasted motion in what was a really tight match. The dynamic allowed Shelley to work slightly more heel (where he excels as a singles worker) and for White to work from underneath. They conveyed perfectly the notion that the Blade Runner can be hit from anywhere and at any time, with the cherry on the cake being that both times White landed it came after he’d countered some of Shelley’s signature offence.
Josh Alexander vs. Frankie Kazarian
As I noted in my review of the show, the Over Drive main event marked a career-best performance from Frankie Kazarian.
Coming into the match, the story of Kazarian’s challenge was one of my favorites in Impact this year. It was about the dreams of a man who called the promotion home getting a chance he thought he’d never get to right the wrongs of two previous failed bids at the Impact World title. It was about a man coming towards the end of his career wanting that one last shot at the big one to give his career the validation he felt it was lacking. It was about a man needing to be at his best one night to beat the Impact standard-bearer. Simple, effective stuff that made it easy to care.
The ref bump and associated melodrama during the match stops me ranking this any higher but it was genuinely very good and the live crowd massively buying into the story added another dimension.
Josh Alexander vs. Eddie Edwards
Bound for Glory
After years of being the go-to babyface in Impact, Eddie Edwards turned heel back in February. 10 months on, it’s fair to say that it was the right call as it’s given him a new lease on life and allowed him to work a different style with a string of new opponents.
The crux of his turn was that he’d beaten Kenny Omega in a six-man tag in 2021 but never been given a title shot. He was Mr. Impact and despite beating the ‘invader champion,’ he was overlooked. He believed the company had turned its back on him, so he turned his back on them and worked with some new friends to get him where he wanted to be. It was eight months from that initial turn to his title challenge at Bound for Glory, but it tied a neat bow on the story.
Josh Alexander has a fair few more entries on this list, so I won’t wax too lyrical about him here, but he more than played his part, as Edwards had his best match of the year. The exchanges between the two were smooth as anything, and although shenanigans stop this from cracking the top five, it was a lovely watch and one well worth your time.
Alex Shelley vs. Chris Sabin
Impact Wrestling #937
The previous singles meeting between Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin in Impact Wrestling in 2009 was the match that made me a fan of the promotion and is the reason I’ve been writing about the promotion for this website for the last four-plus years. Naturally, when they announced that they were running it back in July of this year, you didn’t need to ask me twice to watch it.
Now, I was probably always going to love this but it was a home run as far as I was concerned. I don’t think I can articulate what I loved about it better than I did earlier in the year when I wrote a column about it, so I’ll leave you with this extract.
The finishes also tell different stories. Both play into the idea that as tag team partners they know each other’s games inside out and have had to adapt to seal victory. In 2009, Shelley grew increasingly frustrated that Sliced Bread wasn’t yielding a three count. Instead of losing his head, he decided to prey on Sabin’s caring instincts, dummying an ankle injury and using his teammate’s concern to catch him in a match-winning rollup. The finish was cool and worked with the story they’d tried to tell throughout. It also worked on me because I’d not seen it done before; as I’ve learned subsequently, novelty in wrestling is a rare thing.
This time round, Shelley knew that his big moves probably weren’t going to be enough. Therefore, his follow-up pin attempts were more a tool to chain offence together than a serious attempt to win the match. After hitting Sliced Bread, he maintained wrist control in the pin so that when Sabin inevitably kicked out, Shelley would have the leverage to roll him into the Border City Stretch. When he caught Sabin with Shellshock moments later, it was exactly the same setup – maintain wrist control in the pin and use the kick out to lock in the Border City Stretch.
Josh Alexander vs. Tomohiro Ishii
There was no real fancy story or anything to this one, it was just a simple case of two men trying to prove they were better than other in a fight for the World Championship.
Although Ishii has stuck largely to his default playbook over the last couple of years, that playbook is still very good. He did, in fairness, vary it up here against a different opponent and it resulted in one of his best matches of the year.
Come for the forearms to the throat, stay for a match that showed why Josh Alexander’s Impact World title reign has been an absolute pleasure to follow.
Josh Alexander vs. Moose
Although I don’t think it had any tangible business benefits, the six-month feud between Josh Alexander and Moose that culminated at Rebellion at least represented an attempt at longer-term thinking and booking.
The program started with a dramatic Spear that saw Moose snatch the title from Alexander and consign the Canadian to the shortest championship reign in company history. It was that move, the Spear, which their second meeting was framed around.
Alexander countered the first attempt into a Styles Clash, had enough to kick out of the second and then reversed the third with a knee strike that set him up for a match-winning C4 Spike. It was a fantastic throughline in the match and it brought the story full circle. I’d also wager it resulted in the best match of Moose’s career.
Mike Bailey vs. Trey Miguel
Against All Odds
Mike Bailey being able to work on US soil for the first time in five years was one of the feel-good pro wrestling stories of 2022, and “Speedball” made the absolute most.
His best outing in Impact (look here for my thoughts on him against Josh Alexander), his official home base, was this X-Division title match from Against All Odds.
Bailey often gets stick for not selling the leg as much as he perhaps should but he was excellent here, with small touches like rolling Trey Miguel over for the standing Ultimo Weapon so that he couldn’t counter with the knees again making all the difference.
Trey Miguel has also improved hugely over the last couple of years. He’s still a high spots guy but he’s got far better command of the ring and has become a more cerebral worker. His selling here was excellent too, particularly after he landed a big running Hurricanrana to the outside.
Without doubt the best X-Division title match of the year and something I think will prove to be a real hidden gem come the time for Match of the Year voting.
Josh Alexander vs. Eric Young
If you were judging this match solely on bell-to-bell work, it’d probably be further down this list. However, it was never supposed to just be about the bell-to-bell, and that’s why it’s second.
It was supposed to be the final act of a 20th-anniversary show of a promotion that’s nearly died on several occasions but has ultimately proved hard to kill and remains alive and kicking. Josh Alexander and Eric Young hit a walk-off home run if you’re assessing it on that metric.
You had one of the best workers the promotion has ever had and the most experienced guy active in the company working their backsides off to deliver both a compelling main event and a whistlestop tour through Impact’s greatest hits and most iconic moves. There was a Best Moonsault Ever, a Stroke, a Styles Clash, a Black Hole Slam, pocket sand, guitar shots to the face and everything in between.
For me, this was a brilliant end to my favorite show of the entire year. An absolute treasure.
Josh Alexander vs. Alex Shelley
I honestly thought that Alexander against Young would be the lock for my Impact match of the year, but in the end, it falls narrowly into second behind this masterpiece from Emergence.
Like the Moose, Edwards and Kazarian title challenges, Impact had made a proper effort with the story going into this match. It was Alex Shelley getting his first-ever World title shot against a World Champion who cited Shelley was his main inspiration for first attending a wrestling school.
Much like the White match referenced earlier on this list, Shelley worked heel here as he relentlessly targeted the champion’s left arm. His small touches like twisting the arm before an Irish Whip or trapping it before a Dragon Screw gave his work a nasty edge, while the moment he threw Alexander’s headgear at him was a great visual.
What made the limb work all the more effective was that it gave all the sequences in the back half of the match a different edge. With Alexander being a left-hand lead, his more labored movement because of the selling allowed Shelley to repeatedly counter him and shut his offense down.
The idea of Alexander being inspired by Shelley was also given prominence, with Alexander countering Shelley’s trademark spots into offense of his own before sealing victory with a Shellshock of his own and a C4 Spike.
Although I went just shy of five stars on my rating here, this was an unreal showing from two of the best in the world and my Impact Wrestling match of the year for 2022.