Updated: Mar 16
The first month of the year usually sees the wrestling world give us Wrestle Kingdom in the first week of the year and the Royal Rumble in the final weekend of January. But with AEW looking to go big at the start of the year and PWG moving the Battle of Los Angeles to January from its pre-pandemic home of the summer, January has become a big month in the landscape of pro wrestling. So let's wipe away our whiteboards charting our 2022 Match of the Year lists (or is that just me) and look at the early contenders for 2023 MOTY.
Will Ospreay vs Kenny Omega- 4/1
Dave Meltzer- ******1/4
Well, that’s the MOTY sewn up then.
While everyone won’t vote this in the Number One spot in the WON and Voices of Wrestling MOTY Poll, this will surely end up in the No.1 slot in both polls this time next year because if there is a better match next year it’ll join Ospreay vs Omega as one of the greatest matches ever.
In the least surprising development of 2023, Dave Meltzer would break the 5-star ceiling with his 6.25 stars for the fortieth time. Those who remember the discourse when Meltzer gave Okada vs Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 11 six stars would find the fact that twitter didn’t go crazy this time round very reassuring or that we are just used to Meltzer “breaking the scale”.
Fun Fact- Steamboat vs Flair in a WCW House show in 1989 was the first scale breaking Meltzer rating officially in which Dave managed to procure the videotape gains the honour of getting 6 stars (I do wonder what the letters section looked like in the next week's edition of the Observer)
While Dave will claim with justification that he wasn’t the first man to give a wrestling match six stars. That honour belongs to Norm Dooley, a newsletter writer that invented the star rating system and inspired Dave to give ratings for matches, it still sets a debate on whether it should be a thing.
Dave’s claim on Observer Radio was that giving 5 stars was underrating the match and you have to go higher for matches like this. So I give this match *****
Tongue-in-cheek humour aside, in my opinion Dave’s argument doesn’t hold water. When reviewing something whether it’s a movie, album or book, you need a maximum mark to adjudicate to. Empire Magazine goes up to 5. Play, the video game magazine I read as a kid went up to 100. Imagine trying to give 6 stars to an Uber driver, I think the app might crash. If I tried to give a book at my book club 6 stars, I’d get funny looks and I get enough of those when I give quarter marks in my assessments. Sometimes you need order in society or it goes into chaos. What next, pineapple on pizza.
Ospreay/Omega has become one of over 100 matches that I’ve given 5 stars in my book of matches. So how do I judge Ospreay vs Omega over the others? Simply, Omega/Ospreay is in my Rushmore of GOAT matches.
Omega vs Ospreay joins Misawa/Kobashi in 2003, the Hart vs Austin Submission Match and Omega/Okada IV on my Rushmore but is it the Abraham Lincoln of my Rushmore? Ask me in a year because recency bias can be a terrible criteria to pick the No.1 and when I left my house after Wrestle Kingdom to do my daily chores, I genuinely thought the US Title match was the best match I’ve ever watched. A month later, I’m not sure. As much as I loved Ospreay’s babyface performance, the kind of performance I saw from Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13 that set him off to the heights he would hit and Omega’s work which was the fighting representative of Michael Jordan’s “I took that personally” I would still rank it lower than Omega/Okada IV and Hart/Austin at Mania 13 in my all timer list.
As of Jan 31, Omega/Okada is the seventh highest rated match on Cagematch with 9.78 rating so it was a case of Cagematch agreeing with Meltzer on the matches greatest.
FUN FACT- 10 of the Top 20 matches on Cagematch also are 5+ matches from Dave.
The consensus opinion is that Omega/Okada is in the S Tier of wrestling matches and in my opinion, it's the correct opinion.
Kaito Kiyomiya vs Kenoh
The first day of 2023 saw Pro Wrestling NOAH put on one of their biggest shows of the year with The New Year (guess Day 1 was copyrighted by WWE then) and amongst the hype for Keiji Mutoh facing Shinsuke Nakamura as part of his farewell tour, we saw the GHC Title match in a unusual position of not being in the main event of a show as is the norm with a companies main singles belt in the main event of a Japanese promotions show.
Kaito Kiyomiya and Kenoh would steal the show on this night holding the leading position for MOTY for 3 nights until Ospreay and Omega did what they did.
Kaito and Kenoh would put on a very fun match with a contender for gnarlest spot of the year with Kenoh’s Falcon Arrow onto the apron but also some great hard-hitting work which didn’t stray into ad-nauseam which NOAH had a tendency to do at times during the lockdown era. ****½
Kento Miyahara/Takuya Nomura vs Naoya Nomura/Yuma Aogoyi
During one of my twice-weekly checks on the recent Cagematch ratings, seeing a rating of 9.50+ on a AJPW tag match did make me wonder whether I had accidentally gone onto the 1995 section of the matchguide tab and then I thought in a couple of days time the rating would even itself out with the current AJPW enthusiasts marks being neutralised. But then Dave Meltzer came out and rave reviewed the match on Observer Radio and then gave the match ****¾ so welcome to the Star Ratings review All Japan Pro Wrestling.
As someone who loves the Kings Road era of AJPW, my knowledge of the current All Japan product is limited to Kento Miyahara and the occasion I watch him when Meltzer or Cagematch tells me to watch him, so in watching this tag team match between Miyahara and Takuya Nomura vs Naoya Nomura and Yuma Aogoyi, my knowledge of the stories were limited. I knew Kento and Yuma had beef from their cracker last year but not much else but within several minutes, you can figure out that the Nomuras had an issue and were going to solve it by hitting each other very hard.
What I liked the most from this match was that it lasted 22 minutes. No trying too hard to be epic for the sake of being epic like quite a few AJPW matches in 1995 (yes I’m looking at you Misawa/Kobashi vs Holy Demon Army on January 24th 1995) This match didn’t overstay it’s welcome, it’s minimalism compared to other promotions in Japan was its strength ****3/4
The Battle of Los Angeles
The Battle of Los Angeles would take place during January. You know what that means. Dave Meltzer attends, gives high ratings to matches yet we won’t be able to watch them on DVD until a couple of months later.
I’m not going to criticise a companies’ business model especially when they managed to navigate the AEW/NXT purge they had to suffer and then the pandemic but it is wild to me that in a world of streaming that PWG still uses the model of exclusive release on DVD and Blu ray with a release on the Highspots Streaming Network a couple of months later. I can watch episodes of World At War from the 70's on UKTV Play yet I'm waiting until the spring to watch the 2023 BOLA.
So with no Cagematch rating yet published due to the minimum requirement of 5 votes not yet reached to get a rating published, we have to rely on Dave Meltzer, a regular PWG attendee, to see what we should check out
Konosuke Takeshita beat Michael Oku in 17:20. Fans started throwing money into the ring even though the tradition is you only do that for Lucha maths. The fans gave them a standing ovation and Oku was crying in the ring when it was over. ****½
Bandido won a three-way over Black Taurus and El Hijo del Vikingo in 19:09. Fans were so psyched that for the first time I've seen, they started throwing money before the match started. ****¾
Mike Bailey pinned Bryan Keith in 18:04. They tore the house down. *****¼
*****¼! FOR A SPEEDBALL BAILEY MATCH!
Arsenal are going to win the Premier League and Mike Bailey has a *****+ match. I hate 2023 already
A correction from last week, the Bryan Keith vs. Mike Bailey PWG match should have been listed as ****¼
Oh thank god
Maybe it’s me and a blind spot but I don’t get Speedball Bailey. Every time I see him, I just see corny and more over the top than a Tony Romo commentary in the NFL with his loud selling that would make mid 90’s Lex Luger say “Quiet down kid”. Again, maybe it’s a blind spot with me but I am not a Speedball Bailey guy at all
Volador. Jr vs Rocky Romero
CMLL makes it’s debut in our monthly column with Rocky Romero and Volador. Jr wrestling for the NWA Historic Welterweight Title and judging by the ****½ given to the Torneo Cibernetico at the end of the January, I might be visiting the CMLL YouTube page that hosts CMLL Arena Mexico shows often in 2023.
Watching this match made me think the following. CMLL>AAA.
The reason is mainly the presentation. No garish yellow dominating the sensory. No WWA style commentary over the loudspeaker which completely eliminates the sound of the crowd reaction. A cool looking stage (not as cool as NOAH though) in the background which pleases the eye and also a weight classification similar to MMA and Boxing which is something that has been seen in CMLL/EMLL throughout its history which is a great way to tell pro wrestling stories show is a good way to get people back on the CMLL train.
Meltzer’s ****¾ rating which is generous compared to the 8.42 which is comparable to a 4 ¼ rating can be explained by the following.
The heat was incredible, probably the best I’ve seen for a match in a long time, as in fans stomping the floor heat by the latter stages of the match…..This was the kind of a match that would have been a classic in 1973, 1983, and probably in 2063 as well
First off, I’m really looking forward when I’m a 76 year-old, to reviewing Brodie Lee.Jr vs Nick Wayne at All Out 2063. But reading the following tells you that Dave for all his ability to move with the times, he does also pine for the “good ol’ days” with his love of the Takagi vs Taichi match with it’s similar rule set to the Texas Death Matches of the past and mentions of how much Romero vs Volador Jr reminded him of Arena Mexico matches of the old days.
Is it a classic? By my judgement no. At ****½ it doesn't make the classic list for me. There is a lot going for it with Rocky Romero being awesome with some great limb work from Romero and the end is just magnificent but you feel that one more match structure prop from the “good ol’ days” of Arena Mexico would have made this better and that’s the 2 out of 3 falls stipulation that you would see from CMLL in its boom periods. The following stipulation might have propelled this to a contender for the Top Ten MOTY list.
Mark Briscoe vs Jay Lethal
The tragic death of Jay Briscoe was a shocking moment for the industry with an outpouring of love for Jay not seen since Brodie Lee’s untimely passing in 2020.
We would eventually see a Celebration of Jay Briscoe after Warner Brothers Discovery finally came to their senses and let Mark onto TBS. Mark and Jay Lethal, someone who’s ROH career is linked to Jay Briscoe and his brother put on a fitting tribute.
It’s difficult to rate such a match because there is an argument to say the match wasn’t meant to be rated and that it was for an audience of one. Also, how can you be pedantic and pick at something in a review of a match when Lethal was so emotional in the match and Mark was just 8 days into coping with his brother’s death. In my eyes it’s unbelievable that Mark could call spots with such weight on his mind. As much as I loved the moment when Mark hit Froggy Bo on Lethal, to the point that I wrote about it on our AEWeekly roundtable, how can I compare it to the DDT on the turnbuckle during Omega/Ospreay or the Falcon Arrow in Kenoh/Kiyomiya. But, of course Cagematch being Cagematch......
MaveDeltzer wrote on 27.01.2023:
[7.0] "I think with this kind of tribute match so soon after a tragic loss, it's not so much about having an all-time classic but about getting back in there and getting another one under your belt so that the healing process can continue. That's what this was and there's nothing wrong with it. Guys like myself who don't hand automatic '10' ratings to tribute matches may come across as being Grinch-like, but here's how I see it: What if one day there's a tribute match like this which is genuinely an all-time classic as well as packing that emotional punch? What distinction can be made between that match and one like this if every tribute match is automatically 10/10? I think from that perspective a few Grinches are necessary to even things out.
Is it rude for me to say that Mr MaveDeltzer suffers from the condition better known as “look at me, look at me, why aren't you looking at me?”
The Elite vs Death Triangle- Game 7
On what was the one of the greatest Dynamites ever with 3 matches on the show hitting marks on Cagematch of above 8.00, a first for the Wednesday night show, the Elite and Death Triangle would take part in a fast, frantic and overall fabulous Escalera de la Muerte match (or Ladder match if you’re on a word/character limit).
It felt like the two trios were scrambling to get all their stuff in the 14:58 the match went and with the potentially interesting story of Kenny Omega’s hands being attacked by PAC not explored to its fullest, it felt like a case of what if? An extra 10 minutes on a PPV setting which might have seen the limb work on Kenny’s hand and it would have hit ***** in my eyes but the breathless action using the 15 minutes to the max saw Game 7 at The Forum go to ****¾ in my eyes
So now the question to be asked is, what was the best match in wrestling’s best ever Best of Seven series?
Unanimously Games 1, 6 and 7 were voted as the best of the series with opinion divided on what was the Number 1 match.
Voters on the Voices of Wrestling 2022 MOTY Poll voted 3 of the 6 matches eligible for the poll into the Top 100 with Game 1 finishing 14th, Game 2 finishing 69th, which was nice, probably not for CM Punk though and Game 6 finishing 70th including this recap from one of the voters.
“Not going to lie, I’m a sucker for chaotic No-DQ, Falls Count Anywhere matches but these guys pull off the genre so well on this night. This match is so much fun. Fenix is doing Fenix things, Nick Jackson sells the ankle that has been a theme of the series so well and the finish is a great use of the stipulation.” -Peter Edge
What a mark for Falls Count Anywhere matches that guy is.
The Royal Rumbles
Men's Rumble- Meltzer ****1/4 Cagematch- 7.34
Women's Rumble- Meltzer ***1/2 Cagematch- 6.57
It's January in WWE, so that means it's time for the Royal Rumble and after the rubbishness that was the 2022 Rumble and this year being the first shot that Paul Leveseque/Triple H has at booking a Rumble, expectations where high for the two Staggered start Battle Royals (that won't stick will it?). So did they meet those expectations? Probably not.
To quickly go through the positives and negatives of the Men's Rumble. Brock Lesnar doing Brock things was fun to watch. Probably not for Sheamus after that belly-to-belly though. Seeing two of Triple H's NXT toys that he brought back from the wilderness, Johnny Gargano and Karrion Kross be rubbish was funny to this horrible human being and the last 15 mins was up there with the brilliance of 2007's edition.
The negative's were obvious. The first third until Brock came in was very meh aside from Gunther and Sheamus and aside from the Dominick Mysterio shit-housery/anticipation of Edge coming out and the Judgment Day/Edge interaction, the period from 18 to Logan Paul section dragged worse than the bit in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever when we got the fish people origin story.
Rating a Rumble is hard using the traditional star rating system. Every Rumble I've ever watched has had a period when it dragged, even the GOAT Rumble of 1992 and essentially its a Battle Royale with some spice in it.
If I would put 1992, 2001, 1990 and 2004 in the S Tier I would put 2023 in the B Tier along with 2007,1998, it had enough of the ingredients to make it good but still had flaws. ***3/4
Star ratings of the Men's Royal Rumbles
(Cagematch ratings are adjusted to correspond with Meltzer scale)
According to twitter though, the biggest ingredient this Men's Rumble was missing was SURPRISES! Looking at the reaction from some online, this Rumble was bad because there were no surprises that induced any NXT shocked faces from fans. With 3 blank faces on the match render, the speculation would commence for who the trio would be. Edge (not a shock when all 3 of Judgment Day were in the ring) Logan Paul (because why not) and Booker T (because Triple H is trying to atone for Wrestlemania 19 I guess) were the "surprises" and twitter as a collective was doing the John Travolta GIF which leads to the question, did the "Edge moment" in 2020 actually ruin the Royal Rumble?
I ask because the expectation of SURPRISES! has increased since that night in 2020 and now made fans expect something that may never live up to that moment to the point that fans were upset that Cody Rhodes was announced as a participant instead as a surprise maybe without thinking that Triple H is following the exact playbook used for his Rumble win in 2002. Now, was Cody being No. 30 a weird booking decision? Yes for many reasons, but people thinking he should have been a surprise is even weirder considering what the smart play in this scenario was. Maybe the biggest surprise of the night was Dave Meltzer rating this as the best match of the month at ****1/4
Yes folks, Baron Corbin was in the WWE Match of the Month according to Cagematch.
If I was to compare the women's Rumble to a past Rumble, it would be the era of Rumble between 2011 to 2013. Nothing happened and someone won at the end even if that end was a lot of fun.
The addition of a Women's Royal Rumble was a necessary step to show that gender equality can be a thing in pro wrestling. In football, the women's Champions League needed to add a group stage to its format after 30 years of a knockout games format after the Men's format had been added a Group stage in 1992. In Cricket, we needed to see a women's edition of The Hundred when it was unleashed on the world in 2021 and Women's Boxing needs to change from 10 two-minute rounds to 12 three-minute rounds to get to the next step in my eyes.
But the disadvantage of having two Rumbles on the same night was evident on this night. Having Rhea Ripley go coast to coast to win lessened the achievement of Gunther and his 70 minute stint in the Men's Rumble.
Fans could easily ask "how remarkable was the Austrian's achievement when Rhea won from No. 1 an hour afterwards”. It also showed a lazy trend of booking winners from the numbers 1-5, something that has happened 3 times in the last 6 Rumbles in the past three years. To compare, in the first 15 Rumbles, on 4 occasions did someone go from the first 5 to win and two of them came in different circumstances (Shawn in 1995 was an new entrance every 60 seconds and Vince McMahon in 1999 was a "Vince Russo special") Rhea's run in the 2023 Rumble could have felt special but wasn't because of how cookie-cutter it was. Why not have Rhea do a "Diesel in 1994" on two occasions to show how dominant she is. Instead it was a case "Same Old, Brand New You" in regards to Rumble booking despite a fantastic last couple of minutes. A place in the C-Tier for the Woman's Rumble and a ***1/4 rating
Roman Reigns vs Kevin Owens and the events after the match
Reigns vs Owens
The angle afterwards Meltzer ***** Cagematch N/A
The main event of the Rumble won’t be remembered for the bell-to-bell action from Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens but for the post-match angle involving the Usos and Sami Zayn and while the match was every bit of the 3 ½ rating from Meltzer and 7.69 from Cagematch, it was the 5 stars that Dave gave to the post-match theatrics that opened eyes.
... the hottest part of the show was the Sami Zayn turn. After Reigns had retained the Universal title over Kevin Owens in the main event with a spear, the turn on Zayn took place.....It had been a storyline for months, and the best WWE storyline in many years.
It’s not the first time Meltzer has given an angle 5 stars. The post match of the Ric Flair vs Terry Funk Great American Bash main event got the 5-star treatment and even in 2023, Dave has more or less given stars to angles with the Kaito Kiyomiya/Kazuchika Okada brawl getting 4 ¼. With that stated, the question is, was the Sami babyface turn angle 5 stars. Kind of yes if you take the environment it took place into the equation.
Recency bias has been a thing with not just wrestling fans but people in the current age. According to voters on imdb Top Gun: Maverick with a mark of 8.2 is better than movies like Jaws, Jurassic Park and The Exorcist which is insane to me. Whenever something happens in sport it’s the “greatest goal/moment/match ever” not taking into account that stuff happened before.
The angle was great and maybe the best in WWE in the “PG era” with Sami rightfully being the guy to get the first shot in, the crowd reaction to the chair shot being so loud it distorted the sound of broadcast and even the small things that not many noticed like Roman telling Solo Sikoa that “they’re at war now” but the overload of “this is the greatest angle ever coupled with talk of the Roman/Sami saga being the greatest storyline ever wants me to grab a playlist of the Triple H/Batista storyline in 2005 and get people to watch that and people talking of it being award winning cinema makes you think that those people voted for Andrea Riseborough to be nominated for Best Actress in this years Oscars.
It’s an indictment of the last 6 years of WWE that the reaction to the angle was what it was. It felt like people going “thank goodness something good has happened in WWE”.
In my opinion Roman and Sami in San Antonio is a ***** angle just like when Batista gave the thumbs down to Triple H, when Roddy Piper turned face in Georgia in 1983, when Eddie Gilbert draped the Soviet flag over Bill Watts in Mid-South in 1986, when Steve Austin stunned Vince McMahon for the first time and when the Four Horsemen formed to break Dusty Rhodes’ leg. But was Roman/Sami better than than those? Ask me in a years time when recency bias goes away.
Next month things quieten down a bit but with Elimination Chamber in Montreal with Roman Reigns vs Sami Zayn, the road to Revolution and some NJPW big events, dates in month of love will again be low priority for this writer.