Welcome to the very first "Worker of the Week" where I rank the performances of wrestlers across the world, from AEW and WWE to New Japan, and Stardom, amongst many others.
Its a simple system you may remember if you followed Jack King's "Wrestlers of the Week" on Cultaholic. 1st place for the week gets 10 points, 2nd gets 9, and so on, with 10 wrestlers each week. Points accumulate over 52 weeks and we see who is "Worker of the Year" for 2023
Honourable mentions for Week 1:
-Drew Parker (Drew Parker vs Jun Kasai, Freedoms, broadcasted 5/1)
-Kaito Kiyomiya (Kaito Kiyomiya vs Kenoh, NOAH, 1/1)
-Kenoh (Kaito Kiyomiya vs Kenoh, NOAH, 1/1)
-Shinsuke Nakamura (Shinsuke Nakamura vs Keiji Mutoh, NOAH, 1/1)
-Keiji Muto (Shinsuke Nakamura vs Keiji Mutoh - NOAH 1/1 & Muto, Shota, Tanahashi vs Naito, SANADA, BUSHI - NJPW 4/1)
#10 - Jeff Jarrett
After coming out of the week with two AEW World Tag Team championship matches under his belt, Jeff Jarrett has more than earned one point this week. His carny antics in the ring serve as a perfect foil for the red hot Acclaimed to overcome, and he managed to keep the heat going into a better match at Battle of the Belts V after losing his first attempt on the January 4th Dynamite.
matches had a very Attitude Era energy to them which were a great fit for the rowdy west coast crowds who have been craving the AEW product since its inception in 2019. Jeff knows what he can do and how he can use it, never outstaying his welcome in the ring. The true definition of a worker, Double J gets one point!
#9 - Tam Nakano
One half of the IWGP Women's championship match at Wrestle Kingdom 17, Tam Nakano showed the world the true spirit of Stardom in only 6 minutes, which was most impressive thing about Tam's performances this week. She and KAIRI were given such a short timeslot for their match that it brought out the best in both of them, putting on an exciting match with hard hitting strikes and awe inspiring moves, specifically the Violet Screwdriver which drew one of the biggest reactions of the night.
This wasn't the only match Tam had this week though. She and Cosmic Angels teammates Natsupoi and SAKI competed in the Stardom Triangle Derby show just one night before Wrestle Kingdom, where they faced MaiHime and C in a solid match even if Tam was saving her energy for the Dome the next day.
#8 - Master Wato
Master Wato is the perennial underdog of the New Japan Jr. Division, but proved himself to be one of the top Jr.s in the company after his performance in the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight four way at Wrestle Kingdom 17 this week. Wato had an unbelievable amount of near-falls in this match, and by the end I don't think there was anyone who didn't bite on at least one Recientemente against any of the other three competitors. The absurdly high angle German Suplex on Hiromu in the finishing stretch was one of the moves of the night for sure. He showed real fighting spirit the whole match and got the crowd behind him, worthy of 3 points this week!
#7 - Jay White
Coming into Wrestle Kingdom as the IWGP World Heavyweight champion, the Switchblade had the unfortunate task of trying to follow the amazing IWGP US Heavyweight title match before it. Although the match started slow (which i think was necessary to let people cool down from the previous match) by the end Jay was really in the zone and his amazing counter wrestling skills were on full show. Countering multiple Rainmakers into Uranages and Blade Runner attempts as well as hitting some nasty half and half suplexes and a Regalplex into a two count.
It was really Jay's overconfidence that led him to losing this match, and you can see this in his movements in the ring, or lack of movement to be more specific, taking time to shout "COWARD" at Okada. Also doing the Rainmaker pose, waiting before hitting certain moves like the Blade Runner and trying to actually hit a Rainmaker himself, all led to his downfall because he believed he had Okada's number.
#6 - Zack Sabre Jr.
ZSJ started 2023 with nothing to lose. Suzuki-Gun disbanded, Dangerous Tekkers gone, and no-one by his side entering Tokyo Dome when fighting for the NJPW World TV championship. To win however, would mean his first singles title in New Japan since he debuted for the promotion 6 year ago. The only man in his way was the Son of Strong Style Ren Narita. Japanese Strong Style vs British Strong Style.
Obviously with the 15 minute time limit the action was fast and hard the whole match, with lightning quick tekkers from the Submission Master as well as some stiff strikes. All leading to a fast paced finishing sequence exchanging pinning combinations until Zack finds the armbar and taps out Ren in less than a second.
After the match Zack was confronted by TMDK and joined the stable as "The Frontman", with the three having a six-man tag at New Year Dash !! the next day against new IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team champions, Bishamon, and Tomohiro Ishii. This was one of the better matches on the show with intense action all the way through, which made me bump him up this week over White.
#5 - Max Caster & #4 - Anthony Bowens
Sometimes I will group wrestlers together in these lists, especially if they're a tag team. The Acclaimed are #5 and #4 this week with their two AEW World Tag Team title defence as I talked about in #10 with Jarrett. The wrestling in the matches wasn't anything too special, but the psychology of the matches and the whole presentation of the Acclaimed really felt like classic pro-wrestling like we haven't seen in a long time. Their double team moves are smooth and they both sold really well in the Dynamite match particularly in the heat portion.
The Battle of the Belts V match was a different kind of Anything Goes match where instead of tables, chairs, and other miscellaneous weapons, it was more focused on the referee which I thought was a very fresh idea, especially with Aubrey being the foil to team TNAEW in the first match. Hell, maybe I should have given Aubrey a spot on this list! I gave Bowens the extra point because he got the pin in the Anything Goes match.
#3 - Kazuchika Okada
Coming out of Wrestle Kingdom 17 as the IWGP World Heavyweight champion, The Rainmaker proved once again why he is one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. Again, following the US title match, he did an amazing job of getting the crowd into the match, busting out new moves like a senton from the top rope to the outside, and even hitting a "Rain Runner", stealing Jay finishing move in the finishing stretch. Okada was really brutal too, with some of his Rainmakers looking particularly devastating, probably so they weren't upstaged by the previous match. The Enziguri into the Cobra Flowsion was done perfectly and was a great tribute to Inoki as one final Rainmaker put an end to the foreign menace Jay White, in a match would would have made the founder proud.
Okada also had a match on the New Year Dash !! show the night after, forming a dream team with Kenny Omega for one night only. They faced Jeff Cobb and Aaron Henare in a basic, but fun match with Kenny and Okada winning with a V-Trigger/Rainmaker combination that was pretty surreal. This match was definitely something that many fans, including myself, never knew they needed, but aptly put a bow on the Omega/Okada rivalry. At least for now.
#2 - Will Ospreay
An amazing performance from Will Ospreay gets him 9 points this week, but once again a disappointing result for him in a big spot. This story of Will failing to surpass his mentors and his predecessors is just brilliant pro-wrestling storytelling and that was no different in the match itself. Ospreay is known to not think he alone can get the job done. He always needs to take from others, or in this case, turn back the clock to feel like he has a chance.
His entrance was the first red flag. Coming out to Elevated was cool, but as soon as I heard it I knew he was losing. Then in the match he relied on his old finisher, the Oscutter, too much and it cost him multiple times. The real highlight of Ospreay's performance was surprisingly his selling, which I have always been very critical of in the past, and thank god, because the whole story of this match is him being physically destroyed by Omega.
One of the main spots in the match I saw this in was when Ospreay was slipping off the ropes going up to meet Omega. Knowing that he needed to stop making mistakes, he started climbing really slowly which allowed time for Kenny to counter and drop him headfirst into the exposed turnbuckle. There were also multiple times where Will knew Omega was in control, for example, when he still had control of the wrist after two Hidden Blades, and couldn't do anything about it. This was most important in the final seconds when Kenny hits the Straightjacket German, held on to both wrists ready for the Kamigoye and all Ospreay could do was spit at him and say "fuck you" before he felt the consequences of his actions 4 years ago.
Just an all time performance from Ospreay, both athletically, but more importantly, psychologically.
#1 - Kenny Omega
I have a feeling you're going to see this combination of letters with the #1 a lot this year.
There's nothing better than Kenny Omega in the Tokyo Dome and after 4 years this match proved it to anyone who had forgotten that fact. The entrance was amazing, looking back at how Kenny has changed over the years, going from Cleaner to Best Bout Machine, to the Belt Collector, which was a stark difference to Ospreay's arrival.
The match started just like you'd imagine an Ospreay vs Omega match, with Will flipping out of wristlocks and Kenny trying to ground him, but then we saw something else bubbling up inside of Kenny. Even though he said this match was all business in the press conference, there was clearly the thought of Ibushi and WK13 in his head.
He started to become more and more brutal in the ring, first taking off the turnbuckle pad and Sparta kicking Ospreay into it, hitting a nasty back breaker, and then the double stomp on the floor through a table, directly into Ospreay's ribs. The majority of Kenny's moves were intended for the head, hellbent on getting revenge for his Golden Lover. The V-Triggers, then Poisonrana, the top rope DDT on the turnbuckle, looking for a concussion with each one.
It was just a relentless assault which continued as The Cleaner would repeatedly ram The Assassin's head into the broken table, smearing it with blood in the process. He even brought out moves I've never seen him use before, like a stump piledriver and a Croyt's Wrath off the top rope which drove Will's head straight into the mat. Kenny's aggression in this match was something I've never seen from him, which made this match something special compared to his other best bouts, while still leaving areas of the story for them to explore in future matches.
Truly one of the greatest matches of all time and one of the most dominating performance of all time from Omega. The full 10 points go to The Cleaner!
Here's the scoreboard after week 1: