WWE was in the midst of a transformative shift. What had once worked wasn’t working in the market where substance was again being valued over style. As fans turned from the larger-than-life personalities to everyman, so pro wrestling follows.
From the remanence of a long-tenured tag team arose a workhorse. A competitor whose talent could no longer be denied, not because the brass had declared it their time, but because the fans finally made their statement. It was his era, and the business would change around him. The year is 1992, and the performer is Bret “Hitman” Hart. From the ashes of Hulkamania, Bret Hart changed what being a World Champion meant in professional wrestling.
In 2021, it appears that history will repeat itself this weekend at IMPACT’s Bound For Glory pay-per-view, as “Walking Weapon” Josh Alexander challenges Christian Cage for the IMPACT World Championship.
In the summer of 1991, Bret Hart had split from his longtime partner, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart. Almost immediately, Hart was programmed into a rivalry with Curt Hennig and the Intercontinental title. The IC belt had long been thought of as the worker’s title. This title usually went to the man who, while they might not have been the company’s top drawing attraction, was regarded by his peers as one of the best in the game. Fans had long understood that Hart was one of the best in-ring talents in the promotion. That he won a title held by such technicians as Tito Santana, Ricky Steamboat, Greg Valentine, and Randy Savage was an acknowledgment.
However, by the fall of 1992, the face of the WWF was shifting. Due to a plethora of scandals and a deluge of incoming talent, things were changing. The company needed a new babyface champion who hadn’t been defined by fans or a scrutinizing media. In October, Ric Flair, whose career had been defined in a different company, unexpectedly dropped the WWF Title to Bret Hart in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. A new era had begun.
Similarly, in 2021, The North, a long-tenured tag team featuring Alexander and Ethan Page, split after teaming together for more than a decade. The former Monster Mafia collected championships across North America before finally winning two Impact tag titles. Though it would be unfair to compare Page to Neidhart as a performer, the parallels between Hart and Alexander’s paths only get stronger. Shortly after splitting from Page, Alexander was thrust into the X-Division. Since its TNA days, IMPACT has fought against the stigma of the X-Division championship being just a title for certain weight-limits. With its history of champions like AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, and Samoa Joe, it isn’t hard to draw parallels between the ’80s–’90s Intercontinental Championship and the IMPACT’s X-Division.
Josh Alexander’s rise began after winning triple-threat championship match at Rebellion, defeating TJP and Ace Austin to win the X-Division title. As champion, Alexander immediately elevated the division with his blue-collar, hard-hitting style. Fan took notice, and in a short time, Alexander became one of the top babyfaces in a company in need of heroes. Much like Hart’s memorable IC matches with Roddy Piper, Davey Boy Smith, and Shawn Michaels, Alexander wracked up his own set of career-defining performances. The 60-minute Ironman match with TJP, Petey Williams, and New Japan’s El Phantasmo are prime examples. Alexander’s undeniable talents garnered interest from New Japan, like Hart’s reputation in Europe helping his accession to main event status.
The comparisons may grow this weekend at Bound For Glory. Since 2019, Impact Wrestling has struggled to cement a new lead babyface. Brian Cage spent much of his World Championship reign injured. While the company went all-in on Tessa Blanchard as World Champion, her attitude and less-than-stellar behavior forced the company to move in a different direction. Rich Swann could have helped push the company into a new direction. However, his reign proved to be a stop-gap to Kenny Omega, who successfully drew pay-per-view buys.
This summer, the Impact Title moved from Omega to Christian Cage. Though Cage was a lynchpin in the early-Spike era, winning two NWA World Titles, he is a performer defined more from his time in WWE and his return in AEW. In many ways, Cage felt much like 1992 Ric Flair, a champion embodied more from what they’d accomplished elsewhere than in the current setting. Since winning the title in August, Cage has done well as IMPACT Champion on the first episode of AEW Rampage. However, much like the 1992 Ric Flair, his future lies somewhere else.
Just like on an unexpected night in central Canada nearly thirty years ago, a new era seems to be coming to IMPACT. As Bret Hart did before him, Josh Alexander may secure his place as the sort of champion who will transform the culture of the company.