By John Moore, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@liljohnm)
Moore’s Impact Wrestling End of the Year Awards
Most Valuable Wrestler – Austin Aries: Hands down, the most valuable person on the Impact roster all 2018 despite the sour and vague exit from the company come Bound for Glory time (there’s still a part of me that believes that there was a “work” aspect to how that all played out). Even the ugly and tacky moment in Bound for Glory generated more buzz than the company could have hoped for so that was even a positive (it was more so Impact’s folly for not capitalizing on the moment). I would go to all three of his major feuds as to why he was so valuable. Feuds against Alberto El Patron, Moose, and Johnny Impact. All three of those mentioned opponents were extremely damaged heading into feuds with Aries. Alberto El Patron, before he no-showed the Lucha Underground vs. Impact show like a dumbass, was having some good backstage exchanges with Aries that harkened to when El Patron was a great talker (it was El Patron’s live in-ring promos that were scatterbrained).
Moose was the dumbest babyface in all of pro wrestling before the Aries feud, but ended up humanizing himself against Aries being a shameless heel (here’s where Aries started adopting the “Truth” persona). “Slamtown” Johnny wasn’t clicking with the crowd, but thorough his interaction with Aries also allowed Impact to humanize himself and now he’s a pretty good champion (with a lot of work still to go). As disappointing as the Pentagon Jr. vs. Aries feud was, the Pentagon vs. Aries championship match where Aries picked up the title was really damn good. Everything Aries touched turned to gold when you think of it and if you’re disappointed by his no-sell moment at Bound for Glory, that did a good job of heeling you so I’d say that was a success (again, Impact didn’t capitalize).
Honorable Mention – The Latin American XChange: As great as Aries was at anchoring the main event of Impact Wrestling, LAX for two years made Impact a must-see show. Impact has been a roller coaster as a company for the last two years (well… aside from 2016 being good, that statement might stick for TNA’s entire company run). It’s not just in-ring, where they always deliver. Konnan is a part of that act and has had some classic duels against the likes of Eddie Kingston and Sami Callihan. I’ll have more to say about them later on in this article.
Female Wrestler of the Year – Tessa Blanchard: Tessa took the wrestling world by storm in her first round loss at last year’s Mae Young Classic, but her career shot through the roof once Impact decided to put the Knockouts division on her back. She’s legit carried that division making Impact Wrestling’s (non-Undead Realm) women’s matches must see TV. Part of the draw is Tessa’s presence and demeanor. She walks, acts, and talks like a star heel. She seems like a big deal when wrestling. It’s not just on-the-surface. She’s really aggressive in the ring and that stands out in a positive way. I was at the Impact Wrestling Twitch show in Newark a few weeks ago and had a really good match and night pitted against Kiera Hogan. Not just Impact Wrestling, Tessa is one of the biggest women’s wrestling stars in 2018. Hopefully Impact doesn’t screw that up in 2019. Please don’t put her in the damn Undead Realm.
Honorable Mention – None: The reason I’m typing something after the “none” designation is because I feel like Impact has made an odd decision to separate their Knockouts division into a regular division on one side and an “Undead Realm” on the other. The Undead Realm ratings stunt has tanked the careers of people like Allie, Kiera Hogan, Rosemary, and Su Yung. They’ve turned Su Yung into the female version of WWE’s main roster Bray Wyatt, which is a bad thing. Kiera Hogan has to come out every week and do melodramatic line reading. That’s a shame because Kiera’s a really good wrestler and I was really happy to see her free from the Undead Realm for one night in Newark. Allie has become a Create-A-Wrestler because her character changes every month (she’s “Dark Allie” now for some reason). Matt Conway and Dave Lagana got Allie so right back in 2016 and subsequent creative teams never figured out what made her work so well. Thankfully, they have Jordynne Grace away from that mess. She’s just arrived so I couldn’t give her a mention with just a few weeks of sample size data on her. Taya Valkyrie is doing a pretty good job, but Impact has failed to tell her babyface story. She just showed up one week wearing geared that looked like the Hart Foundation gear and suddenly she’s a babyface. Vampiro, on Lucha Underground’s color commentary, did a nice and clever job giving Taya’s backstory during the matches so hopefully we see similar from Impact in 2019. The problem with Taya is she’s supposed to be a babyface, yet everything Tessa Blanchard says about Taya in the negative is true because there is no data from Taya to counter it.
Most Improved – Moose: Again, Moose was the dumbest babyface in all of wrestling. That was no question, even amongst Impact diehards. If you watch Dragonball Z, you’re probably familiar with the “Dead Yamcha Pose” where Yamcha ended all of his fights dead in a crater. That was Moose in Impact. The guy would run out in one-vs-many situations and get his ass kicked. The guy walked into a martial arts gym and disrespected martial arts traditions with rudeness and dirty shoes. Then gets beat up by said gym dwellers. Not sympathetic, just lame. The guy would get kicked in the balls every week by every single heel. Didn’t he wear cups in the NFL? Anyway, I love ripping on babyface Moose because he was booked to look so pathetic. Austin Aries managed to get a good feud out of him and Moose’s match with Aries really surprised people with Moose delivering. Moose’s heel turn has gone better than anyone could have hoped. The guy is funny as hell, but not in a lame undercard way either. He gets a bit horny at times, but that adds to his charm. In addition to having a fun and entertaining character, he’s delivering in the ring. He had two very strong matches on TV recently. One with Eddie Edwards, and one with Brian Cage.
Honorable Mention – Matt Sydal: Evan Bourne at one point had Fenix-like upside due to his hybrid fighting style. What always held him back was his promo work. Things were rough early on in his Impact run as the babyface “Re-Bourne” Matt Sydal. Suddenly, things really started to click as a heel. He gained confidence. He also sounds like a person who really believes what he says. Matt Sydal has main event heel written all over him if utilized in the right way. That’s what’s holding him back. He’s being used as an annoying California hippy which is not generating any real heat. I see the character Sydal tries to play on the subway every day to work and I don’t hate them, I just ignore them trying to sell me on yoga, drugs, and third eyes. Whenever Impact decides to break away from this “Third Eye crap” (to quote Rich Swann), is when I think Sydal will truly get a chance to shine. It’s tough, and I understand that Impact needs more babyfaces and not heels at the moment (which is why I’d consider turning Sami Callihan and Eli Drake to balance their roster).
Babyface of the Year – Fallah Bahh: This may be the most surprising to the mainstream wrestling fan, but Bahh might be the best Babyface in Impact Wrestling for all of 2018. For starters, Bahh got the Impact Zone to cheer and that’s a task that even the best wrestlers in the world have struggled to do. Impact Wrestling overdoes the comedy a bit with so many undercard comedy acts roaming around. Out of all of them, the Bahh and KM act have been legit funny. A lot of times the other comedy acts feel like inside jokes. While in the undercard all year, Bahh has a surprisingly good Impact Wrestling Championship match against Austin Aries. That’s an episode I would recommend you go back and watch because as a whole episode it might be one of the better overall episodes of Impact Wrestling due to them telling a Fallah Bahh world title chase in two hours.
Honorable Mention – Kiera Hogan: I was going through their entire roster page and Impact is really struggling on the Babyface end as far as strong babyfaces is concerned. Pentagon and Fenix should be, but they’ve been underutilized. Johnny Impact and Brian Cage “can” be but Impact is currently in the middle of their defining babyface story I would assume because Johnny just entered the main event and Cage did the same thing a few weeks ago. Kiera gets the award for her work earlier in the year before the Undead Realm crap. Kiera has a nice bubbly personality to her. She reminds me a bit of Taylor Wilde from the early TNA days as that plucky underdog babyface. She had a great feud with Tessa Blanchard early in Tessa’s run in Impact. Hopefully they drop the Undead Realm stuff soon so Kiera could get back to her strong babyface journey. And hopefully Impact tries to build up more strong babyfaces. They have some good candidates in Fenix and Rich Swann. Maybe turn Eli Drake into a babyface because he’s done everything there is to do as a heel and is currently being wasted as the comedy fodder to the undercard and nostalgia acts.
Heel of the Year – Austin Aries: Aries is a fine babyface, but he’s way better as a heel. As good as Aries’s feud with Neville was, I would say that Aries’s feud with No way Jose was better in retrospect when looking at his WWE run. Impact did things right by turning Aries heel in 2018 and he’s resurrected the Impact careers of people like Johnny Impact and Moose. This was Aries adopting one of his early indie personas called “The Truth” where he would rip into his opponents at a personal level. As tacky as that may seem at first, it did build up sympathy for people like Moose or Johnny. He even had a great heel segment against former Carolina Panther star Running Back DeAngelo Williams.
Honorable Mention – Sami Callihan: Callihan might be their best heel of 2018 if it weren’t for some of his recent feuds ending very abruptly and in underwhelming fashion. That’s no fault to him because he’s made the most of every situation he was in. The biggest example was him smashing the skull of Eddie Edwards with a baseball bat. That was an ugly real life moment. Thankfully Eddie ended up fine from that and Sami was able to turn the fan ire against him to positive heat. Callihan deserves a lot of credit for making the dead “Ohio vs. Everything” tag team into a household name, and one of the best tag teams in the world due to his stellar mic work. While he was a strong heel here, Impact might consider turning Sami because they really need strong babyfaces with credibility.
Best Talker – Konnan: I already mentioned it above in my LAX thoughts, but it goes without saying, Konnan had a great 2018 campaign on the microphone. The guy’s just witty and it was great to see him have verbal sparring matches against anyone. It was also fun hearing him tear into some of the crappy acts on Impact like OVE before Sami Callihan. It was a positive because it made those crappy acts have to step up and OVE is an example of an act that has surpassed Konnan’s criticisms. When I watched an LAX cinematic sequence, I felt like I was watching Lucha Underground, which is a good thing, unlike the Undead Realm or Eddie Edwards Cinematic Universe (why is and Eddie Universe even a thing?) that feel like public access cable ripoffs of Lucha Underground. Konnan was the anchor of the cinematics and Impacts best long form tag feuds of 2018. He’s still freshening things up by changing his character to a concerned father in his current LAX vs. Lucha Brothers feud.
Honorable Mention – Eddie Kingston: Konnan works his best when his foil doesn’t sit there and take it. Kingston shined every single time he was given a chance to talk. Homicide is a shell of his former self and Hernandez is trying to get back into ring shape. Kingston carried that OG LAX team on his back with just a microphone. We knew the guy could talk given that one promo he was allowed to have in 2016 when he was a part of the lame ass DCC faction, but who knew he was such a great actor in addition to being a good talker.
Rookie of the Year – Killer Kross: I’ve been hyping this guy up for years, but for some strange reason Lucha Underground had him under contract for years, yet only used him in pre-taping dark matches (which is how I was introduced to him). Impact did a great job in introducing Kross to the world and he’s currently the intriguing hook for me on the Impact show. Those Red X vignettes were well done along with the backstage calling card attacks. Johnny vs. Cage (haha… sounds like Mortal Kombat) is the main event of Homecoming, but the real feud is Johnny vs. Kross with Cage as a background character, and the Kross and Johnny feud has been very intriguing. Kross did get hidden in the background a bit as the muscle for Austin Aries, so if anything came out of Aries bailing from Impact, it was Kross getting freed to go on a psychological and physical rampage.
Honorable Mention – Scarlett Bordeaux: Scarlett made a strong first impression in her verbal bashing of interviewer Alicia Atout. She also received a series of strong vignettes. Scarlett has the potential to be a top heel in the Knockouts division if Impact decides to finally put her into a meaningful position. Sadly, after a few strong first weeks, Impact has spun their wheels with her for months and only has her interacting with comedy undercard acts. No fault to her, Impact is just not really taking advantage of her talents. At least’s she’s boosting the social media numbers by appealing to the overly horny male demographic.
X-Division Wrestler of the Year – Rey Fenix: Some of Impact’s strongest matches have involved Fenix this year. Fenix has all the potential to be the face of a company, but sadly he gets overshadowed by his much more charismatic brother. I would recommend people watch the first half of Lucha Underground season 2 to see an example of a company putting Fenix on their back (they dropped the ball too, which is why I used the words “first half”). The guy is just so damn innovative. He’s not just a luchador who does lucha moves. He does strong style striking too with jumping kicks and Rolling Sobats a plenty. This is why I was never big on the Lucha Brothers as a tag team. They’re extremely good, but even greater as singles. The reason I can’t consider Brian Cage in this slot is he never really did anything as an X Division wrestler other than squash everyone and bail. He was supposed to turn the Division into the “Weapon X Division” yet never did a single thing after he won the belt. He had a trios feud involving mostly Lucha Underground wrestlers and then immediately gave up the title for no reason (because Johnny Impact said in a promo that he would have given Cage a title shot any way). Again, not Cage’s fault, more so writing.
Honorable Mention – Rich Swann: A lot of those matches involving Fenix involved Rich Swann as well. Swann then went on to have a lot of good opening matches on their weekly television show as well. Swann is one of the reasons why a lot of people are saying that the true main event of the show is in the opening match. That has been a common trend since Impact went “After Dark” in their late night time slot. Swann’s just so damn reliable and has the uncanny ability to get a crowd to react. That’s probably the reason why WWE was so high on him. Those 205 Live crowds were dreadful, but Swann was able to get them interested in his matches. He’s now in Impact and elevating the X Division even though there’s no real division at the moment (hopefully after Homecoming, Impact finds a way to fix this).
Tag Team of the Year – The Latin American XChange: In 2017, LAX was the best part of Impact Wrestling and carried that promotion through hard times with matches that really delivered. If you were ever weary of watching an Impact show, at least you can count on LAX’s match on being good. In 2018, LAX became one of the best tag teams in the world, not just Impact. These guys came out of nowhere too. Konnan was supposed to be paired up with Bobby Lashley until he informed creative that Lashley is a good talker now (Impact still didn’t follow that advice and paired Lashley with Dan F’n Lambert). They found Santana and Ortiz out of nowhere and these two guys are great together. Another thing that came out of their 2018 campaign is their development as talkers. Santana and Ortiz sound like two brothers/friends just hanging out and doing things that close friends do. They get the added bonus points from me being a man of color and seeing two men of color being allowed to be men of color on television. None of that Mexicool or Cryme Tyme crap that Vince McMahon would put on TV. LAX only had about two long ass feuds (OVE and OG), but those feuds never got stale. They’re going into 2019 really hot with a feud against two of the best singles wrestlers in the world in Fenix and Pentagon. It would be safe for me to say that going into Homecoming, LAX vs. Lucha Brothers is going to be the match of the night. Something else might surprise me, but Santana and Ortiz have delivered every time they needed to. I don’t even blame them for the awkward Concrete Jungle match because that was more so a concept that should have been tested and refined beforehand (by locking down the loose planks).
Match of the Year – Pentagon Jr. vs. Sami Callihan: This feud was oddly built around Sami Callihan’s love of his hair. Aside from the rushed build, the match delivered in a big way. Not for the faint of heart. It was a garbage style hardcore match. They did go all out and tell a story in the ring, so at least the violence was egregious. For an example of a forgettable hardcore match, you can check out the Eddie Edwards vs. Tommy Dreamer one a few matches before that. This one stood out. Pentagon Jr. also stood out as a star. Despite his bad booking in Impact Wrestling, when given television time Pentagon delivers. I was afraid he wouldn’t given the language barrier but Pentagon has proved to me that he can overcome bad booking with his natural charisma and in-ring ability.
The “Only in TNA” Award (a.k.a. The Dixie Carter Award) – Alberto El Patron: As Jason Powell always says, “you can change the name of the company, but you can never truly take the TNA away from the company”. This year was no exception. Sometimes it’s not their fault and is a natural accident (which is why it was perplexing that Anthem decided to buy out all of Dixie’s debt to run a toxic brand). This was no natural accident. Why the hell did they sign Alberto El Patron to a big money contract and why the hell did they make him the centerpiece of the company after they “suspended” him? This one backfired on them in a big way. I give Anthem credit for being swift in getting rid of Alberto, but it was a dumb move to sign him in the first place. As lame as it sounds, Jack Swagger would have been better given the lack of PR nightmare.
Honorable Mention – The Concrete Jungle Street Fight: Now, the feud and build was amazing leading up to this match (minus poor Richie getting turned into Impact roadkill). The TNA stank came from the confusion over what this match even was supposed to be. Most of us expected it to just be another unnecessary renaming of a street fight. Instead, the execution ended up horribly to the point where the wrestlers and Impact are pointing out how much of a failure it was. They decided to have a match on loose planks. It was essentially a tightrope match where everyone was distracted trying not to fall in random pits rather than put on a match in the ring. Thank God no one got seriously hurt but this was very distracting to watch. It sounded like this match could have been good if they exposed the floorboard but secured the planks.
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