In 2016, I heard all the hype about “The Final Deletion” and, for the first time in years, gave Impact Wrestling a chance to win my viewership. For a month, I watched, but I was still very much in WWE mode and nothing that I saw truly convinced me that the time was right to dedicate consistent extracurricular hours to Impact. Then, fast forward to earlier this year, with a new version of my fandom taking shape fueled by negative experiences with WWE and positive ones with Lucha Underground Season 1 and NJPW World. It was at that point when I decided to give Impact another shot, citing specifically the good things I had heard about its year 2018. As mentioned this week on The Doc Says podcast, I had a blast with it. Should you ever feel inclined to give Impact a similar opportunity, then allow the following match list to serve as a guide, whereas if you lived the resurgence last year, simply let this be a celebration.
Doc’s Top Ten Impact Wrestling Matches of 2018
Top Honorable Mention – Tessa Blanchard vs. Taya Valkyrie for the Knockouts Title at Bound for Glory (Doc’s Rating – *** 1/2) – I thought that this was an exceptional performance given the limited amount of time that they were given. They gave it a sense of occasion with how hard they worked and they managed to make a short run-time feel longer by accentuating the drama and keeping the result unpredictable. I saw Blanchard wrestle during her rookie year and it makes me happy to see how far she has come in such a short time in the business.
#10 – Brian Cage vs. Matt Sydal for the X Division Title on the July 26th Impact (Doc’s Rating – *** 1/2) – Minus the botch from the preceding PPV, this rematch was on-point for the most part and never lacked in its intended purpose of showcasing Cage while paying respect to the former champion. Cage pretty much no sold the knee Sydal (the former Evan Bourne) worked over, though, and it could have used a few more minutes to move out of the “really good” category into “great,” as did Cage vs. Fenix, an obvious candidate for one of the absolute best of 2018 in Impact Wrestling.
#9 – Pentagon Jr. vs. Austin Aries for the Impact World Title on Impact: Under Pressure (Doc’s Rating – *** 1/2) – Perhaps not as enjoyable aesthetically as the triple threat that preceded it also involving Fenix, particularly on account of the climax, but a bit more engaging from bell to bell because it gave Pentagon more of a platform to showcase his character chops, which have few peers in the game right now. A Double, as well, seemed to thrive more in this type of environment where a more psychological story could be told. I felt very satisfied after watching this.
#8 – Austin Aries vs. Pentagon Jr. vs. Fenix for the Impact World Title at Redemption (Doc’s Rating – *** 3/4) – Watched purely for fun, it would be easy to understand why someone might appreciate this on a comparable level as the tag team Street Fight to be highlighted further down the list on account of its visual appeal, but execution was hit or miss enough to prevent the more critical eye from giving it the highest marks. In fairness, the degree of difficulty in some spots was substantial, and what worked was tremendous, so the composite was a really good match that flirted with but never reached greatness.
#7 – Johnny Impact vs. Fenix vs. Taiji Ishimori vs. Petey Williams at Slammiversary XVI (Doc’s Rating – *** 3/4) – This well-represented a unique feature that made TNA so appealing to me back in the day, with innovative spot wrestling splashed across the screen for 10 or so minutes. In that vein, the competition for this spot on the list was primarily with the 6-way at Redemption, which was quite a bit of fun in its own right; this match was just a tad easier to remain focused on with less participants, plus it involved Fenix, who is just fantastic.
#6 – Austin Aries vs. Eddie Edwards for the Impact World Title on the August 9th Impact (Doc’s Rating – *** 3/4) – This match was in a dead-heat with Aries vs. Johnny for the second best Impact World Title bout of 2018 on account of it being a bit more aesthetically pleasing and featuring the kind of counters and sequencing that I personally prefer, at least in general. The finish, though fairly typical of a TV match with high stakes, still left me feeling flat, but the action across the run-time was top notch and characterful. A change to the finish and perhaps a PPV setting would have been enough to move this all the way into second place overall for Impact in 2018, but as it was, if you are looking for a good example of what made Impact click in its “return to respectability” year, this is well worth your time.
#5 – Austin Aries vs. Johnny Impact for the Impact World Title at Bound for Glory (Doc’s Rating – ****) – Far grittier than what I had expected, this was an interesting one to dissect. The proverbial “big fight feel” was there, but the innovation I thought I’d see was replaced by more of an actual “fight” type execution. Some of that probably had to do with the location, given that the host venue offered such little space around the ringside area, but even the action on the 20’x20′ canvas was fairly rudimentary. Storytelling, granted, is a lot easier to connect with when engaged with the product, so if you saw them both on TV each week leading up to such a fight, I think you might enjoy a lot more what was really a story-driven match between two wrestlers who often excel when dialing up the pace, innovation, and content, hence my expectations for something else. As it was and as I viewed it, there should be no questioning that its quality was very good, though I suspect the opinions on whether or not it achieved something great will vary.
#4 – LAX vs. The OGz in a Street Fight for the Impact Tag Titles at Slammiversary XVI (Doc’s Rating – ****) – Channeling the spirit of early day TNA hardcore matches, which themselves channeled the spirit of ECW stunt brawls, the new and old versions of LAX had a wildly fun and chaotic affair that acted as an assault on the visual senses for a quarter hour and did so unapologetically and to raucous ovations. This genre of wrestling absolutely has its place and I, for one, respect the hell out of those who put their bodies through it; what a blast this was to watch. Reflecting back to my initial experience with TNA, which spanned from about August ’03 to early ’07, hardcore brawls are actually one of the things I have missed the most from my modern, 2010s-decade-specific pro wrestling viewership. The battle between the LAXs sits right in the thick of my favorite matches of this type that I can pull from memory.
#3 – Brian Cage vs. Fenix for the X Division Title on Impact: Redefined (Doc’s Rating – ****) – Two of my favorites from Lucha Underground (season 1) facing each other one-on-one for what was billed as the first time was certainly enough to grab my attention, and then the match that ensued legitimately contended for the top spot on this list. Cage is an unbelievable talent and the things that he did against Fenix exemplify perfectly why he was the perfect choice to lead the X-Division through the back half of 2018; his power is impressive against anyone, but when you put him in the ring with a cruiserweight, there are no limits to what he can do. Had this happened at Bound for Glory, it might have been Match of the Year in Impact Wrestling.
#2 – Austin Aries vs. Moose for the Impact World Title at Slammiversary XVI (Doc’s Rating – **** 1/4) – How great was A Double in 2018? I came into this match without the context of Moose having been defined down since I last watched Impact in the Broken Hardy era, so the videos of him to me watched liked the culmination of an intentional journey and, to his credit, I thought he delivered in a major way, but reading up on the product to gain context post-viewing, apparently Moose is not that good. You would never have known that from watching this match, so perhaps this was Aries channeling 1996 Survivor Series Shawn Michaels, carrying Moose in the Sid role to the match of his life, or maybe Moose is not as average or worse as I read, but this was undoubtedly one of the best matches offered by Impact Wrestling last year; it was well-paced, well-worked, executed to maximize unpredictability, and finished well to boot.
#1 – Sami Callihan vs. Pentagon Jr. in a Hair vs. Mask Match at Slammiversary XVI (Doc’s Rating – **** 1/4) – Callihan’s maniacal vibe was perfectly suited to this hardcore-like environment, in which the rules were bent to allow them to beat the hell out of each other. Penta, also known for thriving in such an atmosphere, was predictably awesome. It was innovatively brutal and its brutality was informed by an intensely personal story. Rewatches in the future will determine for me whether or not this was suited for the label of “all-time great” because, truthfully, I am not conditioned for this type of violence anymore and I think that certainly can skew my enthusiasm in a positive way, but I plan to watch it against some of the hardcore-type matches from Impact/TNA’s past to better determine its place in the pantheon. That said, it was one of the most unique experiences that I have had with a wrestling match in quite a while, and that carries a lot of weight with me.