Best of the Super Juniors and Double or Nothing means that it’s gonna be May. But as we say Bye Bye Bye to the fifth month of May, we look at the matches that were Tearing up the Hearts of fans all over the world. That was one too many N*Sync references wasn't it?
All Cagematch ratings displayed are as of June 6th 2023
Let's be honest, while Revolution is a contender for Event of The Year, Double or Nothing would have been a contender for Worst Event of The Year so far had it not been for the final two matches of the night.
Four Pillars World Title Match
With the build up to the match being not as great as it could have been, MJF vs Jungle Boy vs Sammy Guevara vs Darby Allin wasn't as eagerly awaited on the day of Double or Nothing as it was when the initial 4-Way faceoff happened at MJF’s Re-Bar Mitzvah.
However when the bell rang it hit that sweet spot that I want wrestling matches to hit and with half the year nearly up, I'm confident in my assertion that it'll be in my Top Ten MOTY list. In fact, it's third on my list as of the end of May.
It was a match that intellectually stimulated me with all the call-backs, references to mentors, the layers that were built in this match, the character work from 3 of the 4 involved (Darby was the only one of the Pillars to not have such work done upon their character on this night) and a finishing sequence that was so good, I wanted to find out who came up with it so I could send money to them via PayPal or Cashapp until I realised I have a weekend in London this coming August that I need to pay for. MJF simply won by outsmarting everyone else showing that in AEW world Maxwell is the one Pillar head and shoulders above the other three when it comes to the big match. *****
Anarchy In The Arena
In AEW’s annual alliteration match, The Elite and The Blackpool Combat Club would strike up a really fun, great match that did what it said on the tin. It was Anarchy, it was bedlam, it was chaos, it was maybe a little too chaotic. Some of it was due to the short amount of time they had to prepare due to the quick turnover from the NHL playoff game in the T-Mobile Arena the night before meaning less preparation time to the downturn in production from last year which is a theme in the discourse of whether this is the same AEW that fans have fell in love with.
Highlights from the match include an extension on Wild Thing playing over the opening half of the match (not sure the lead singer of The Violent Idols New Jack tribute was necessary though), everyone's bet on Jon Moxley being the first to get blood being a loser (who had Rick Knox?) the call-backs to the first Double or Nothing with Mox and Omega, the Claudio/Matt pairing brawling around the arena and the explosive shoe which might end winning wrestling photograph of the year. It was great but not as great as the 2022 version of Anarchy In The Arena ****3/4
There are normally four guarantees in life. Death, taxes, Arsenal bottle the Premier League and Hiromu Takahashi wins Best of the Super Juniors. However Hiromu would exit at the group stage leaving the final four as being two foreign stars who are arguably their home promotions best wrestler (Mike Bailey and Titan), a sneaky choice for being a Top Ten wrestler in the world (El Desperado) and Master Wato.
The best match of the tournament in my eyes as well as Dave Meltzer’s and Cagematch voters would be El Desperado vs Francesco Akira. With outstanding performances from the pair with Akira’s selling of the knee being reminiscent of his United Empire leader Will Ospreay’s selling of his neck in his classics against Okada and Omega and Desperado playing the psycho who felt wronged by Akira’s words against him in the past and taking it out on him with force. It would have got ***** from me and a cemented spot in third on my MOTY list had they not done the spot where Despy blasted Akira’s knee with a chair in full view of Red Shoes which god bless Kevin Kelly (who was awesome on this night) tried his best to sell the reason why Umino.Sr didn’t DQ Despy, it was still a moment of bad refereeing that made Paul Turner go “really dude?”. It made the potential perfectness of the match end up with one big flaw but still, what a match.
Many people had the Wato-Titan final as the best match of the tournament and by the sounds of that match could be in a lot of people’s Top 10 MOTY list but for me it just didn’t hit like others hit in 2023. It was good but ****½ good. For me, Speedball Bailey vs Lio Rush and Desperado vs Robbie Eagles hit better with Bailey/Rush feeling like a BOLA match before AEW and NXT went “I want that one” on the independent circuit and Despy/Eagles feeling like a true NJPW final night of a block match.
Aside from the table above, other matches I would recommend would be KUSHIDA/Hiromu for it’s stupidity (can anyone beat three times for the amount of times I yelled “start the count Red Shoes”), Bailey/Taguchi for it’s Top Six Premier League team scoring a last minute winner away at Kenilworth Road vibes and Moloney/Connors being the closest thing to a Memphis wrestling brawl than anything you’ll see in the last decade.
All in all, the 30th edition of the BOSJ might end up being the fortnight that saw New Japan exclaim that they are truly back. Coupled with the fun Okada vs Umino feud which is seeing Kazuchika channel his inner Jumbo Tsuruta and efforts with Tsuji, Shota and Narita to make a new “Three Musketeers” and some foreign talent in Finlay and Connors seeing a new and actually good Bullet club get a shot and the potential crossover stories being told with AEW, we may never get back to 2017 and 2018 New Japan but the next 12 months feel very interesting indeed.
While Japan’s biggest promotion would have a good May, some of the smaller promotions in the country would have some highly rated matches too.
I have not had a chance to watch the TJPW Tag match because of time constraints.
Yuji Okabayashi vs Yuya Aoki (4th May)
A welcome to the series to Big Japan where you would see Yuji Okabayashi the veteran against rising star Yuya Aoki fight for the BJW World Strong Title.
First off, I need to mention how much I love the production of BJW. From the lighting to that ring mat, note to others, if you are struggling to make inroads on other bigger companies for various reasons, just try and stand out in ways others don't. For Big Japan, they catch the eye by just having a cool mat.
As for the match, there's a lot of stuff that they did that was fun to watch (some really nice headlock stuff early, great strike exchanges) but also some stuff I didn't particularly like (no selling superplexes are a no-no for me) and an out-of-nowhere finish which you could hear took the crowd by surprise too ****1/4
Nakajima vs Kenoh (31st May)
Quite a bit of this match annoyed me. The second half was great but even then the sense of the pair trying to get their shit in and not looking at the psychology of the match as a whole meant that what could have been really great was just good
From the MMA stand up exchange that went nowhere (watch Maeda/Takada in NJPW for how to incorporate striking exchanges into pro wrestling) to Kenoh going for a "I'll let you kick me in the back even though I'm in control” spot, I was destined to hate this but once the strikes made sense things took an upturn even if Kenoh not selling the leg after a leg screw and a STF meant the stress ball on my office table got a tryout from yours truly. One thing I will also say is that the one camera angle presentation looked awesome in it's uniqueness. It's something I wouldn't advocate to see in every match for sure but it was a nice throwback to the day of fan cams which you can see online in the shape of the forgotten Steamboat/Flair house show match which got six stars from Mr. Meltzer and the famous Mutoh/Vader G1 match ****1/4
Chris Brookes vs Kazusada Higuchi
On a night that felt like a validation for the idea that going to NXT: UK is a really bad idea, Chris Brookes won the King of DDT tournament by beating Higuchi in a highest rated match from DDT in 2023 so far.
In all, it was a very good match but with some annoying aspects (you'd think that when you hit another man with a very hard head with a metal barricade and it did not hurt the guy that you'd understand that hitting him with headbutts later on might not work) but good enough action that you can see why fans of the DDT product would enjoy it so much ****1/4
Bad Bunny vs Damian Priest (Backlash)
While Cody and Brock had a fun match which was better than the Cagematch rating it's ended up with, the real main event of Backlash was International best selling music star Bad Bunny (I do have to point out that snooker legend Terry Griffiths has just as many UK Top Ten singles as Bad Bunny) versus Damian Priest.
This was a love letter to Puerto Rican wrestling. The only thing missing was a crimson mask but obviously Brock Lesnar called dibs on that one.
Also what needs to be mentioned is that the figure four leglock is back. From the crowd reacting to the move's use in the Wonder of Stardom Title match to the Figure 4 used as the finish in Desperado vs Kanemaru in BOSJ to this match and the leglock being used as a homage to Puerto Rico legend Carlos Colon (not to Ric Flair like Michael Cole tried to lead us to believe)
With a great match structure which saw a non-wrestler who while he had learnt moves like the Michinoku Driver was completely out of his element and needed the benefits of a street fight to compete with Priest.
The knee work in this match was so great. Who had a Bad Bunny match with better knee psychology than a Kenoh match in their Wrestling in May bingo? I can confidently say that Bunny is better than half of the NXT roster than train in the million dollar Performance Center.
Add the Carlito and Savio Vega cameos (10 year-old me popped for the short arm-heel kick) and this is my current WWE MOTY ****3/4
While the biggest section of UK residents that know who Bad Bunny are probably subscribers to the Wrestling Observer and/or the WWE Network and maybe Kardashian enthusiasts but they don't count (my best mate who doesn't watch wrestling genuinely thought I was talking about the “Cash Me Outside” girl when I brought up Bad Bunny and this match to her) this match is something I would show my mate as to why wrestling is really cool.
Sami Zayn/Kevin Owens vs Roman Reigns/Solo Sikoa (Night of Champions)
With a WWE PLE, a LIV golfer winning a major and Newcastle United qualifying for the UEFA Champions League, it was quite the month for those who try to get us to forget about Saudi Arabia's rubbish human rights record.
While the Saudi show saw Seth Rollins win the Disputed WWE World Title, the man who never defends his belt Roman Reigns got himself embroiled in the tag team division.
It feels like I say it every month when I review a Roman Reigns match but this was a Roman Reigns match ****
Reigns did his one-man schtick, Roman’s opponents stole the Spear/Superman Punch/Roar and the Community Theatre that is The Bloodline reared its head again. Jimmy superkicked Roman, Jey was shocked, Corey said it was the biggest mistake Jimmy has ever made which is not true at all when you click on the Legal issues tab on The Usos Wikipedia page and everyone who hasn’t watched a television series claimed that The Bloodline drama should win an Emmy.
The West Wing, Mad Men, The Sopranos, Succession, The Bloodline Drama- Which of these five don’t fit in with the others. While Roman’s facials in the aftermath of his first loss since The Ice Age was good, Richard Schiff, Jon Hamm, James Gandolfini and Brian Cox Roman Reigns is not.
With the Uso/Bloodline drama dominating proceedings in Jeddah we do forget why WWE are in Saudi Arabia and it seems that WWE wrestlers have forgotten why they were there too as Meltzer wrote in the latest Observer.
Things have come full circle since the beginning of the Saudi Arabia deal. A lot of talent wasn’t thrilled to go, and even more so after the hostage situation a few years back. Now we heard people talking about how much they loved the trip, there were three women’s matches out of seven bouts, Zayn was talking about what an experience it was. The audience was enthusiastic and the negativity of doing the show was minimal if at all. It’s still largely paid for propaganda by the government to make the country look good to the eyes of the world, but so many do business with Saudi Arabia and the Khashoggi murder, an ordered hit from the same government, is now something out of the past
I had a joke set up for the above paragraph but my best friend pleaded with me not to write it because it would get me into a lot of trouble and an invite to an embassy so if you want to find out my fantastically funny but troublemaking joke, DM me and I’ll send it to you.
Dijak vs Ilja Dragunov
If you're a frequent reader of this series, first off thank you because it's nice to see that my writings about one of the joys of my life gets eyeballs on it, you will notice that my opinions don't usually fluctuate from the consensus opinion. Good wrestling will always by good wrestling even when I nitpick it to death in this series. But when it comes to Dijak vs Dragunov, I believe that the consensus is wrong. With Cagematch and Meltzer going so high on the match, I was interested in watching this match on an ultra busy weekend in this industry, even with Ilja's obvious flaws as a wrestler staring at me and the flaws that a WWE style Last Man Standing match present but at the end I just went "meh" when it was over.
First off, Dijak obviously excelled at the "Roman Reigns one-man show theatrics" class at the Performance Center. Ilja is still doing the things that annoyed me at NXT UK. His selling is not great and completely contrasts to the hardman character I think he is trying to portray and it goes over the threshold of that I don't care when he wrestles. The only thing that got this match to **** in my book of ratings was the very good kendo stick work which hurt me watching it on my television and the finish just felt anti-climatic at the end after the violence portrayed during the match.
The most interesting thing to come out of this match was the aftermath of how Cagematch operates it's ratings. Cagematch would announce that from this week that raters will only be allowed to give a mark to a match from 24 hrs after the match happened to avoid fans of a promotion ratebombing a match.
MatthieuCorleone wrote on 29.05.2023:
[10.0] "This is the best NXT's PPV since HBK took over. Every single match was amazing. Ilja vs Dijak was the match of the night (Cringe how the AEW fans are putting bad grade just because WWE did good
Him fail English, that's unpossible.
Samulxx wrote on 29.05.2023:
[10.0] "I don't know if it's too rushed but this is the best NXT PLE since they hit the road again, it was worth it from start to finish, starting with the fact that everything was really solid and felt digestible for the viewer, the matches had the correct duration , the winners were correct and the staging in general was incredible , I highlight the public of Lowell deserve a clap
That really reads like the script of a Roxanne Perez promo.
Maybe I'm way too cool but maybe people who ratebomb on Cagematch need to do something productive with their lives like go and eat a mixed grill at their local Sizzling franchise pub but I’m not sure the new rule is the best way to get around ratebombing. Our head honcho here at Pro Wrestling Musings Craig William made these points on twitter
I disagree with Craig on this, putting a curb on how to rate a match seems a bit wrong imho. Also it's not like people are giving 10's on mass to average matches on RAW with hardly any crowd heat.
Oh. Maybe you have a point after all Craig.