Ranking the 20 Greatest Impact Wrestling Stars Ever
Sunday at Slammiversary, Impact Wrestling will celebrate its 20th year as a promotion that helped change the landscape of the industry with its X-Divison and Knockouts roster, as well as providing a true alternative to WWE at a time when the industry had been, for all intents and purposes, monopolized.
Over the course of two decades, the company has introduced young performers who would become genuine stars and served as a landing spot for stars displaced by contract releases. Those competitors would go on to define the company, creating matches and moments that would make up the rich history of the little promotion that could.
In celebration of its two-decade celebration, relive these 20 competitors who helped Impact Wrestling become a company that inspired change in the industry.
Nos. 20 - 11
20. Alex Shelley
The mastermind of Paparazzi Productions began his run in Impact Wrestling as a member of the X-Division but is most remembered for his partnership with Chris Sabin in the Motor City Machine Guns. Whether tearing the house down in some of the best, most revolutionary tag matches of the last two decades, producing comedic genius with Kevin Nash in backstage vignettes or still popping up today to battle the best in the company, Shelley's place in Impact Wrestling is undeniable.
Raven was the architect of one of the great, early Impact Wrestling feuds with Jeff Jarrett that culminated in a must-see June 2003 championship bout that ranks as one of the most influential matches in those formative days of the company. He would ultimately win the world title in 2005 and help lay the groundwork for the hardcore history of the promotion. A trailblazer whose contributions to the promotion are probably not recognized as they should be.
18. Eddie Edwards
Edwards may be a heel with the Honor No More faction now, but for years, he was labeled the "heart and soul of Impact Wrestling," and with good reason. Whether he was teaming with Davey Richards, feuding with his longtime partner, brawling with Sami Callihan or winning world titles, his influence on the modern era of the company is bountiful. Still a threat to win the top prize in the company any time he challenges for it, Edwards is, arguably, the greatest and most inspirational of all Impact stars this last decade.
17. Bully Ray
As a member of Team 3D, Bully Ray was one of those 2005 signings who helped lend credibility to the company and bring with it the star power that was needed to make the jump to a top-tier wrestling entity. From there, he delivered tag team excellence, but it was his singles run, and world championship victory as the top heel in the promotion, that landed the WWE Hall of Famer in the top 20. His role as leader of the Aces and Eights, and manipulation of Hulk and Brooke Hogan, remain villainous gold.
16. Christopher Daniels
The argument can certainly be made that Daniels' place on this list is too low, which is a testament to the sheer amount of talent that has walked through the door and been key to the success of Impact over the years. A godfather of the X-Division, and participant in some of the greatest matches in company history, he is one of the most significant wrestlers in terms of developing the company's trademark division and establishing work rate. That he also donned the Curry Man mask earned him bonus points!
Rhino arrived in Impact Wrestling in 2005 and wasted little time capturing the company's world title. Since then, he has had numerous stops with the promotion, in between returning to WWE, and has repeatedly been an asset to the company. Whether headlining, competing in ECW-influenced hardcore matches, or tagging with the likes of Heath, he has always managed to remain relevant even in the latter years of his career. His longevity, adaptability and that world title reign help him earn his spot on this countdown.
14. Jay Lethal
Whether he was plain ol' Jay Lethal or Black Machismo, the former X-Division and tag team champion's place in Impact Wrestling history is obvious. One of the great wrestlers in company history, he also proved his ability to entertain, breaking out Randy Savage and Ric Flair impersonations to great fanfare. If that is not enough, his win over the latter with his own Figure Four finisher at Victory Road 2010 should be. Another pillar of the X-Division during his time with the company and a standard-bearer for in-ring performance, Lethal absolutely earned his spot on this list. The only reason he is not higher? The wealth of talent ahead of him.
13. Christian Cage
There might not be a single star more important to the history of Impact Wrestling than Christian Cage. That sounds hyperbolic, but consider this: up until 2005, the big-name talents that arrived in what was then-TNA Wrestling were either legends or had been released from their deals with other more prolific promotions. Cage arrived on the scene willingly, opting to sign with the company because of the opportunities it presented talent rather than re-signing with WWE and remaining a bit player. It was a key moment that established Impact Wrestling as a true alternative to Vince McMahon's company. That Captain Charisma won a couple of world titles, and feuded with top stars like Kurt Angle, Sting and Kenny Omega, does not hurt his placement here.
12. Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy's history with Impact Wrestling is certainly...controversial. All it takes is one Google search to find that out. To say he does not belong on this countdown, or even this high, though, would be doing his legacy with the promotion a disservice. He was a key acquisition in 2004, helping to bring new eyes to the product. In 2010, his heel turn shocked the wrestling world as he aligned with Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff for a run as world champion. Flash foward a couple more years and his Ultimate Deletion match with brother Matt helped lay the groundwork for the cinematic wrestling that would dominate the sport during the COVID-19 pandemic. An innovator and one of the most recognizable faces in company history, his place on this list should be fairly obvious, even if his run with the company was not without issue.
11. Eric Young
Eric Young is not nearly recognized or appreciated for the performer he is and has been throughout his run in pro wrestling. A multi-talented wrestler who can excel in comedic skits one minute then deliver physically demanding matches the next, he is a great performer who has carved out one of the most unique runs in any company ever. Arriving as part of Team Canada, he transitioned into a paranoid comedy act, then became the promotions underdog world champion and returned in 2020, after a less-than-stellar run in WWE, as the leader of a cult-like faction hellbent on unleashing violence. Sunday, at Slammiversary, he challenges Josh Alexander for the Impact World Championship, proving his longevity in a company he once wore a turkey costume for.
10. Chris Sabin
When discussing the great wrestlers of the last two decades, Chris Sabin is somehow left out, and that is a damn shame. One of the godfathers of the X-Division, he helped revolutionize professional wrestling and implicate the style we see on a regular basis on Raw, SmackDown, Dynamite and Rampage every week. He helped make the division destination viewing. When he was done with that, he teamed up with Alex Shelley to form the Motor City Machine Guns and had some of the best tag team matches in company history.
His adaptability and the quality of his in-ring work eventually convinced Impact officials to run with him as the world champion, and while that reign did not last long, his victory over Bully Ray for the world title served as an exclamation point on a decade-long career that helped establish the company's reputation.
Now, a decade later, Sabin is still routinely competing in some of the best matches Impact Wrestling has to offer. Not missing a step, he is a superb in-ring performer and a guy as likely to uncork a Match of the Year contender at any point as he was two decades ago.
A Triple Crown winner in the company and a participant in so many of the promotion's revolutionary matches, he absolutely deserves recognition on this list, and if it were not for the talent ranked ahead of him, he would have landed even higher than he does.
9. Bobby Roode
The potential in Bobby Roode was obvious from the moment he first set foot in an Impact Wrestling ring in 2003 as a member of Team Canada. He had a great look, could go in the ring against competitors of any size or style, and drew occasional comparisons to a young Arn Anderson. It was no surprise, then, when he was picked for a singles run in 2006.
What was a surprise is that it did not work quite as well as expected.
As he has done multiple times over the course of his career, though, he made the best of a bad situation. He took an opportunity to be in a thrown-together tag team with "Cowboy" James Storm, and within a year, developed Beer Money, Inc into one of the greatest tag teams of the modern era of professional wrestling.
They were immensely popular and responsible for Match of the Year candidates. When the time came to split them up, management deemed Roode ready for a run with the world title in the main event. Roode became one of the top stars in the company and a performer around whom Impact revolved.
He would remain that sort of performer, consistently responsible for great matches, all the way through his departure from the promotion in 2016. Whether excelling in the midcard with Team Canada, rejuvenating the tag division, or standing atop the Impact mountain, Roode achieved everything there was for someone of his stature in the company and will one day join the premier Impact stars in the company's Hall of Fame.
8. Gail Kim
When looking back at the history of women's wrestling in America, one must acknowledge and respect the role that Impact and its Knockouts division played in the mainstream acceptance of it. The top star in that division and the woman around who it all revolved? Hall of Famer Gail Kim, who introduced a physical, athletic style of wrestling to an audience that had previously only known women's wrestling to be the watered-down, sometimes chauvinistic version WWE peddled for years.
That is, whenever Lita, Trish Stratus or Mickie James were not involved.
Kim upped the ante, changing the perception of what a women's wrestler could look like once that bell rang. She was tough, lightning-quick, incredibly physical and could work with opponents of various styles.
At one point, she was the sympathetic babyface battling the monstrous Awesome Kong. At another, she was the egotistical villain who overlooked challengers like Taryn Terrell and Brooke Tessmacher, making underdog champions and stars out of them both.
She was a trailblazer and absolutely laid the groundwork for women like Becky Lynch, Bianca Belair, Charlotte Flair, Britt Baker, Kris Statlander, Sasha Banks, just to name a few, to help revolutionize and evolve the industry today.
If the Knockouts division is key to the history of Impact Wrestling, and Kim championed it, she absolutely earns her spot in the top 10 of this list.
Abyss was a whole a different beast during his days in Impact.
Remembered more for the unabashedly violent brawls and Monster's Ball matches, his abilities beyond the sheer brutality of those matches is often forgotten or downplayed. In reality, he was one of the great big men of his generation, capable of hanging with a super-athlete like AJ Styles one minute, then throwing fists with the legendary Mick Foley the next.
Few could do what he could, recklessly throwing his body around in massive bumps, then coming back the next week and engaging a smaller competitor in a more traditional match. One moment he was a weaponized force for Father James Mitchell, the next he was a member of Decay, unleashing horror on the rest of the Impact roster.
No one was more adaptable than Abyss, nor were they willing to endure the pain and suffering he did for his craft. A main event-caliber performer capable of jumping to the top of the card at a moment's notice, he was an incredible asset to the company. It rewarded him, always featuring the master of the Black Hole Slam with significant roles on the show and, ultimately. enshrining him in its Hall of Fame.
6. "Cowboy" James Storm
James Storm rose to prominence in Impact Wrestling as one half of two extraordinary tag teams. First, he and partner Chris Harris took the wrestling world by storm as America's Most Wanted, delivering show-stealing, Match of the Year candidates against the likes of XXX's Elix Skipper and Christopher Daniels.
From there, after a brief singles run, he partnered with Bobby Roode in Beer Money, Inc. to re-establish dominance over the tag division and add to his championship legacy. It was in 2011, though, when the Cowboy's undeniable charisma and beer-drinking rebel personality won over the crowd and led to Impact officials rewarding him with a world title reign.
It was short-lived, sure, but that does not take away from the fact that Storm had already established himself as one of the greatest performers in the history of the promotion. Throw in another decade of off-and-on runs with the company, more championships added to his resume and an ability to be a heel or babyface as needed and you have a performer incredibly important to the history of the company.
That he continues to pop up on occasion, working top matches against top stars, is indicative of the trust the promotion has in him. For everyone who encounters him? Sorry...about their damn luck.
5. Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe's original Impact Wrestling run, in which he went on a monstrous unbeaten streak as the most dominant competitor in the X-Division, was phenomenal. He transitioned from Ring of Honor to then-TNA Wrestling seamlessly, upping the intensity of the company and providing them with that big-fight competitor who could and would smash his way to victory against anyone put in front of him.
Then came Kurt Angle.
Joe may have lost his first match with the company to the Olympian in 2006, but it was only the beginning of a run that would span a decade, include nine title reigns, Triple Crown and Grand Slam recognition, and solidify him as one of the best professional wrestlers of his generation.
There were bumps along the way, mostly in the form of questionable creative that left fans scratching their heads and his credibility damaged at times, but there was no denying that once the bell rang, few could bring the aggression, intensity and work rate that Joe could.
An all-timer, he dedicated a large portion of his Hall of Fame-worthy career to the company and spent the majority of his time there as a top-tier competitor. That he only achieved world champion status once, by way of his 2008 victory over Angle at Lockdown, is the only thing keeping him from ranking higher on this list.
It feels like any promotion Sting has opted to join since the demise of WCW has been positively impacted, but few have received the rub that Impact did in 2003 when Sting first set foot in one of its rings.
The face-painted Icon instantly upped the legitimacy of the upstart company, bringing new eyes to the product and providing it with the star power it needed to be truly accepted as an alternative to WWE.
When he began appearing more regularly, Impact became mutually beneficial for the legendary competitor, reinvigorating a career that went out with somewhat of a whimper in the dying days of Ted Turner's promotion. Sting rediscovered his passion for wrestling, taking more risks and competing in more matches as he got more comfortable between the ropes again.
Determined to prove he belonged, he often threw caution to the air in the name of entertainment. Championships followed, and so did marquee matches and high-profile main events. He became a focal point for creative and one of the top stars in the industry once again.
In the process, his name and likeness drove in viewers but also convinced performers with similar resumes and reputations to take the plunge and join Impact. Some will argue that may not have been for the best, with a renewed emphasis on old-timers instead of the revolutionary stars of the future, but that is an argument for another article.
Sting never allowed himself to become complacent, serving as a genuine main event attraction all the way through until his departure in 2014. For all of the matches and moments he provided, as well as all he did to help establish the promotion, he was inducted into the company's Hall of Fame in 2012.
3. Kurt Angle
It almost seems hard to fathom, but the majority of Kurt Angle's in-ring career occurred not in WWE but, rather, Impact Wrestling.
The Olympic gold medalist arrived in 2006, wasted no time defeating the seemingly inconquerable Samoa Joe and, by the following year, simultaneously held every championship the company had to offer aside from the Knockouts title.
The centerpiece of the promotion for a decade, he was the standard-bearer for the company's in-ring action and its undisputed top star. Whether he was the leader of the Main Event Mafia, a member of Immortal, feuding with Jeff Jarrett in a program that was a bit too personal and real for television, or accumulating world titles, Angle was the guy for Impact for a decade.
The matches were often fantastic, even when Angle was not at his physical best, and the credibility of having that guy on its roster helped boost Impact's stock significantly. Without Angle, who knows if the company would have grown to the extent it did. Who knows if Booker T comes on board or if Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff decide that the promotion is worth their time and energy. Maybe the television deals do not come.
All of that is pure speculation, but what is not is Angle's contribution to the company and his status as one of the truly great Impact stars of all time.
2. Jeff Jarrett
There would be no Impact Wrestling without Jeff Jarrett.
The WWE and Impact Hall of Famer created the company from scratch in Nashville, promoted its first shows, bankrolled it and was responsible for overseeing day-to-day operations. Viewing the company as something that could be a true alternative to WWE, he introduced the world to the X-Division, which gave lesser-known wrestlers the opportunity to become stars based solely on their raw athleticism and in-ring gifts.
Away from his position of power, Jarrett was the company's top star, proving the age-old philosophy that the promoter will always go with someone he can trust in the top spot.
A six-time world champion, he was the top guy for the company early on, then wrestled alongside Kurt Angle, AJ Styles, Sting, Jeff Hardy, Samoa Joe and others as the company expanded and evolved.
Whether he was in full power or not, as became the case later on, he approached every angle and match as if it was his baby because, in reality, it was. Moreover, when things got rough and financials were looking anything but great, he helped put in the work to find ways to keep Impact afloat. And he did.
Whether it was the fairgrounds era, the Hogan-Bischoff regime or the strange Global Force Wrestling period, Jarrett was a consistent presence with the company both on- and off-screen. He was a revolutionary, a guy who created a company in which stars and those who had not yet achieved that notoriety could hone their craft and become recognized nationally.
Roode, Storm and Kim all owe their professional success, to some extent, to Jarrett for giving them the opportunity to have a platform they could star on. They are not the only ones, though, as we are about to find out with our No. 1 ranked star on the countdown.
1. AJ Styles
Jarrett may have bankrolled the construction, but Impact Wrestling is the house that AJ Styles built.
The leader of the X-Divison revolution and the first star to break free of the shackles that division put on some of its stars, he quickly became one of the focal points of Impact Wrestling and remained that way until his final appearance with the company.
A 19-time champion, including three world titles, he is among the most decorated competitors in company history. He is also the first Triple Crown and Grand Slam champion in the promotion and three-time winner of the Mr. TNA award (2003-05).
Styles was destination viewing for the company, its best wrestler and standard-bearer. He did things others could not, worked with wrestlers of all styles and backgrounds, and routinely outshined every major star who walked through the door.
He competed with a purpose, hellbent on proving he was the best in the world at his profession, regardless of which former world champ decided to sign with the company that particular week.
Styles built the company's reputation, earned one of his own, and left the company a greater star than he arrived. He was the most must-see performer the company has ever turned out and, unarguably, its best.
He is the greatest Impact star of all time, and no one has, is or arguably will come along to unseat him.