Welcome to the latest edition of our month in Star Ratings and I’m going to be honest with you. April once Wrestlemania was done and dusted was very meh. With a tag match being the best match in New Japan in April, only a Usos vs Sami/KO match preventing The Miz being in the best match in WWE in the past 4 weeks according to Cagematch and only one match in AEW above 8.00 and above 4 stars from Dave Meltzer, it’s safe to say that you take STARDOM away from the equation, the motivation to write about the last best of the best post Wrestlemania has been a struggle.
So aside from the usual stats and figures that this series offers, we will look at the early runners and riders for some of the main awards of the Wrestling Observer Awards starting with perhaps Stardom's biggest ever event.
Cagematch ratings were taken on the night of May 6th
Two months ago I was certain that Revolution would win The Observer Major Show of the Year. Now I'm not 100% sure of that.
Mina Shirakawa vs Saya Kamitani
A match that relied on psychology and also Chris Charlton who might be a decent early shout for Announcer of the Year based on this show with Sonny Gutierrez helping explain the storylines in his role as color commentator to Chris’ play-by-play guy also being great.
A major positive point was how invested the crowd were in the figure-four by Shirakawa which was a great payoff for the limb work that was a central point of the match. I just wish the main plot point of Saya being nervous of hitting the Phoenix Splash after the previous Mina vs Saya match saw Mina needing so much dental work that Britt Baker would be able to afford a pizza at Zizzi afterwards after Kamatini’s splash went wrong had been paid off better than it was. ****½
Giulia vs Tam Nakano
It’s Stardom so that meant hard-hitting action that you are not seeing in AEW, Impact or WWE women’s matches. Something that is a feature of the World of Stardom Title scene and to be fair other matches on the night like Syuri vs Chihiro Hashimoto which was my match of the night (Hashimoto is so great) the hard-hitting nature is an absorbing watch with Stardom even if I prefer the the Joshi scene of 1990-1995 when Manami Toyota, Akira Hokuto, Bull Nakano, Mayumi Ozaki and Aja Kong ruled women’s wrestling (I’m only including Ozaki because of my retroactive crush on her) but without wanting to sound all Helen Lovejoy, those headbutts need to go. Have we not learnt from that night where we could have lost Shibata?
The result itself was also interesting with Giulia’s reign ending after 4 months. Take into consideration that 5 of the previous 6 reigns of Stardom’s top belt last over 250 days with Bea Preistley’s 184 day hold of the red belt the anomaly. Giulia’s 115 day reign is in fact the 3rd shortest reign of the title since it’s introduction in 2011.
My colleague at PWMusings, Dan whose Stardom knowledge is way better than mine (check out his twitter @winsDANlosses for Stardom stats) did tell me that Nakano being uber-popular meant she probably needed to win the red belt in 2023 and that it wouldn’t be a surprise if Giulia wins the belt back this year which I hope happens as Giulia does deserve her flowers. Dave Meltzer would write more in his newsletter about the Stardom Red Belt picture
The story behind the change to Tam Nakano for the World of Stardom title on 4/23 over Giulia, which was a big surprise, that was a decision made by Rossy Ogawa and not Bushiroad. He wanted to give her a run with the top title belt because she is 35 years old, she had wanted to hold the top belt and Ogawa felt she had earned the right to hold the belt and wanted it to happen while she can still perform at the top level. The second reason was because Ogawa felt it had become predictable that the World of Stardom champion would hold the title for one year. While they generally like long title reigns for the main singles belts, the idea was to show that it’s not always a year and that a title change can happen at any time
Hirooki Goto/YOSHI-HASHI vs Aussie Open
A tag match is the match of the month for New Japan. Who had that in their 2023 bingo?
What makes this match what it is? Kyle Fletcher banging his hand on the railing causing a cut (more on this later), the usual tag saves which were fun and the fans cheering Aussie Open which when you look at how puro was built on Japan vs The World, that the fans at Ryogoku Kokugikan cheered for The World on this night was indicative of Kyle Fletcher's performance especially. Or maybe if you combine the crowd joining in with the "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie" chants tells that there is maybe a Walkabout next to Kokugikan and the patrons filed out for the event (I wonder if anyone in that Walkabout had a girl they fancied tell them that they were in love with someone else like happened to me at the Broad St Walkabout, sorry I'm digressing)
So why am I rating this at ****1/2 or 8.00 if I was bothered to have a Cagematch account? I feel they could have done more with the blood of Kyle Fletcher from the camera going wide akin to WCW in 1996 whenever blood appeared on their television to the actual taping up of Kyle's wound. Maybe it was because the cut was so deep that it had to be taped up but with the phrase "fortunate blood" coming to mind during this match, I came with the feeling as entertaining as it was that the fortune given to them was not taken advantage of.
Hiromu Takahashi vs Robbie Eagles
For all accusations that Dave Meltzer overrates Will Ospreay, Edge or whatever wrestler that you overrate, maybe the actual answer for which wrestler Uncle Dave overrates was 2023 Hiromu Takahashi all along.
I should say that I liked this match, it was certainly better than that YOH which I swear lasted longer than that Dune movie from last year and yet Dave gave a mark just a quarter shy of the 5. I gave it ****1/4 Robbie Eagles limb work on Takahashi was great. Hiromu's selling made Robbie's offence so effective to the match but 2023 Hiromu doesn't hit like Pre-covid Hiromu did.
Maybe part of it is, it feels like we are watching "Super Hiromu" at the moment. No matter what happens to Hiromu in a match he will win. It's like watching John Cena pre-2012 and you get the sense that the crowd feels it too with the reaction to his win really not being that loud. You have to ask, if 2023 Hiromu was happening in an American wrestling company would he get the Cena treatment?
With the independent scene getting higher scores from Cagematch than the two big companies in the USA, I thought to add the best of the wrestling world in April that wasn't one of the Big Four
I didn't watch Swerve vs Wayne and Garrini/Ku vs Mathers/Tremont because I spent a lot of money on tickets on All In tickets (that's what my dad and my non wrestling friends told me) and that means no new subscriptions for a bit and yes I know you can have a 7 day free trial on DEFY OnDemand but I end up forgetting to cancel before those end
I did watch the 8.00+ matches from IMPACT (****1/2) any match that has a triple team arm wringer is getting a high score from me plus I enjoyed the storybeat of Miguel hindering his teammates, GLEAT (****1/4) it was a ****1/4 match and AAA (****1/4) which of course was ruined by the over the speaker commentary that hinders the work of those in the ring. If Konnan sends me a DM asking me if I listen to his podcast, I'm just going to say I'll only listen if they get rid of the production style that AAA has right now. I will happily listen to Disco Inferno's takes on modern wrestling if it means I don't have to listen to the announcers drown out the crowd. That is the sacrifice I'm willing to make.
With three matches above the 8.00 mark on Cagematch, Swerve was the worker of April and you feel like he is being under-utilized to the point that he's the favourite to win Most Underrated in the WON Awards better known to me as the Start Pushing Him You idiots Award. If only Swerve had a cousin that could join the AEW writing team that could help him get the opportunities he deserves.
Seth Rollins vs The Miz
A lot of Miz’s offense and selling hooks herkey jerkey. For a guy who is genuinely a good athlete and has been at this for nearly 20 years, Miz still works in the ring like a guy thinking about doing pro wrestling moves rather than smoothly wrestling. But to his credit, he is a star and the crowd does react to him.-Meltzer.
There are times when I look at Cagematch and go "eh". In the past few weeks it has been mainly when I look at NOAH tag matches from the mid 00s (they really couldn't figure out the tag formula like the Four Pillars could) and seeing the Cagematch score for this match after watching this match was a latest edition to the “eh-files”. ***1/4
The match isn't bad but by the standards set by others even within the same locker room as Miz and Rollins, their match was ok. Some good knee work infiltrates this match but you just get the feeling this is another Monday Night Raw match in the 20s but with an extra half star and people singing a theme song which, let's be honest wouldn't make the Top 100 wrestling entrance songs of all time. Don't believe me. Listen to Fabulous Rougeaus "All American Boys" and Rick Rude's "Simply Ravishing" and come back to me.
Sami Zayn/Kevin Owens vs The Usos
A usual trope of Wrestlemanias past has been the rematch of main events of Wrestlemania's being way better than the original. See Batista vs Triple H at Vengeance 2005 and Cena vs Michaels at 2007 and Reigns vs Lesnar at Summerslam 2022. The rematch from Night One of Mania 39 did not live up to the ****3/4 of April 1st.
It was good, it was just **** good. The finish was great. Really cool to see Sami save the day for the team by using his hot tag to hit the Helluva Kick on Jimmy for the 1-2-3 but the next time I see the people criticise the Young Bucks for spamming superkicks, I'll just show them this match. I got flashback to playing WWE video games in my youth (and my adulthood) and just hitting the same over and over again. It dominanted the match for the worse.
First off, I need to say that I refuse to watch NXT unless Cagematch or Dave Meltzer tells me to in the language of star ratings and with the Four Way to determine the No.1 contender for the NXT Title getting **** 1/4, higher than anything from the main roster post-Wrestlemania and 8.12 from Cagematch higher than anything from AEW in April, it earnt it's place on our article so was it better than anything from WWE and AEW post April 3rd?
Yes and no.
As a NXT television fatal four way match it was good but instantly forgettable which is the NXT USP. But it had less flaws than the Seth/Miz and SamiKo vs Usos match but it was no way as mentally stimulating as Darby vs Swerve.
My main takeaway from this match was you knew who the luchadore was, who the British indy star was, who the Australian is that was trained by Madison Eagles and who the Australian is that wasn't trained by Madison Eagles
Dragon Lee is great and while the danger was he would get lost in All Elite land, it also feels like he might end up being stuck in NXT purgatory for a while. JDMcDonough has flaws aplenty as a wrestler but his 2023 has been been sneaky good with 4 of his 5 matches in this year getting 8.00+. He might end up being the breakout guy from the 2023 NXT to WWE callup class if used right.
While saying that Grayson Waller is a better version of Austin Theory is easy to say, he is a better version of Theory. He has that quality that makes him a viable mid-carder on the main roster. I wouldn't be surprised either to see Waller and Theory hold tag team gold sometime in the next 365 days.
Duke Hudson is not very good. Duke looked more uncertain in the ring than I do when talking to a woman on a night out at O'Neills and I’d be shocked if we see Duke on the main roster down the line. I loved watching Thea Hail's energy at ringside as the cheerleader though.
As a micro look at current NXT for this writer, NXT just looks like this weird mesh of Indy NXT and OVW/FCW which has a tv deal that does it more harm than good with the prying eyes of wrestling twitter judging it’s every step. The days of OVW wrestlers plying their trade away from prying eyes before making the jump to national tv is no more and that is not a good thing. John Cena, Randy Orton and co were left to learn the ways of wrestling before they became the stars they did. No micro analysis, no blame culture for tv ratings and no comparisons of their developmental work to their main roster work.
The consensus view that Darby vs Swerve was ****¼ is correct in my view. Darby’s work on Sweve’s foot and ankle in the second half of the match playing into the finish with the cradle makes this a rewarding watch but the story of our AEW section isn’t that Darby and Swerve was good. That was never going to be a surprise with their in-ring chemistry dating back to their days in the North West Indy scene but that the best match was just 8.01.
I say just. Any 8.00+ match is always good but be the high standards of AEW in-ring, the fact that the best match of the month was that rating on Cagematch says a lot. Only twice since full capacity crowds returned to pro wrestling full time after covid first struck have we had months when AEW didn’t have more than one match over 8.00 on Cagematch (July 2021 and October last year) In fact after research on Cagematch when you take the Top 10 matches average rating of each month in AEW’s history once Dynamite started (excluding December 2019 because of no show on the 25th cause Christmas you see that April 2023 was the worst month since August 2021. The summer of 2021 was lacking in in-ring action but the strong angles and big events happening in AEW made up for it. April was just meh overall for AEW (and yes I made the AEW graphic very meh to reflect that)
Average of Top Ten matches of each month in Dynamite History
Highlighted numbers are months lower rated than April
Any potential doom and gloom went away with pre-sale Tuesday for All In and a really good show on the Dynamite of May but April in All Elite world really wasn’t very good in the ring. Maybe that’s because Kenny Omega and Bryan Danielson didn’t wrestle in a AEW ring in April.
2023 Cagematch ratings from WOTY contenders
The fact that two of the early contenders of WOTY for 2023 had not wrestled in April probably factored into the less than great quality of AEW in the ring for April.