This week saw some of the best matches of the year so far, including two of the best deathmatches and one of the best women's matches of the year too. There was also some great tag matches with the Bishamon vs Wardogs series, Catch 2/2 defending the IWGP Jr. Tag Titles, and an insanely good AEW World Tag Team Title Eliminator match with FTR and Bullet Club Gold on Collision this Saturday.
- Bishamon (Bishamon vs Coughlin & Kidd, NJPW, 4/7 & 5/7)
- Mustafa Ali (Mustafa Ali vs Tyler Bate, NXT, 4/7)
- Keith Lee (Keith Lee & Swerve Strickland vs Orange Cassidy & Darby Allin, AEW, 5/7)
- Evil Uno (The Hungbucks vs Dark Order, AEW, 7/7)
- Shun Skywalker (Big Boss Shimizu vs Shun Skywalker, DG, 7/7)
- Rika Tatsumi (Rika Tatsumi vs Yuki Aino, TJPW, 8/7)
- El Hijo del Dr Wagner Jr. (El Hijo del Dr Wagner Jr. vs AMAKUSA, NOAH, 9/7)
- Kota Minoura (Kota Minoura vs Naruki Doi, DG, 9/7)
#10 - Eddie Kingston
Eddie Kingston had his dreams come true this Wednesday as he won the NJPW STRONG Openweight championship in Korakuen Hall. His first time in the historic venue and his first ever title win for New Japan, something he'd been working for ever since he saw taped of the promotion back in his childhood, it was obvious how much this meant to him.
The match was against Japanese legend KENTA and saw some great sequences in the second half of the match where the glimpses of KENTAs past could been seen, brought out by Eddie's passion and love for the sport.
Early on the two brawled on the outside of the ring, resulting in Kingston accidentally chopping the ring post after KENTA evaded his strike. This set up the crux of the match and helped Eddie become an underdog in a seemly even matchup. More heel tactics from the champion put the Mad King in even more peril, to the point where a Busaiku Knee generated a massive pop when Eddie kicked out.
Eddie's selling of the arm was great even if it got lost in the shuffle closer to the end, but it still accentuated his fighting spirit. The weakening of the arm and therefore the Uraken was a great touch to the match and forced Eddie to dig further into the King's Road style, breaking out the Northern Lights Bomb to secure the win!
A great showing by the Mad King and hopefully one of many to come as he enters the G1 Climax!
#9 - Kenny Omega
Coming off his brutal match with Will Ospreay at Forbidden Door, Kenny had another singles match on his schedule, as he faced off with the Blackpool Combat Club's Wheeler Yuta in the main event of AEW Dynamite this week.
Going into the match Kenny was taped up to all hell, giving Wheeler the neck and shoulder as a target right off the bat. The match was great as Kenny sold the damage of his previous match perfectly, taking the majority of the offence. The match was somehow slow and brief at the same time, as the story kicked into action straight away with Wheeler jumping Kenny at the bell and attacking the neck and shoulder area.
Kenny managed to peak out from the trenches a few times only for Yuta to capitalise on his broken down body. One such example was Kenny going for the "You Can't Escape", but being unable to complete the flip, landing on his ass in a spot reminiscent of his first match back from all his extensive injuries. This made the Forbidden Door match look more impressive posthumously, and allowed Wheeler to take back control in a believable fashion.
The ending stretch where Omega finally managed to break out of Yuta's grip, hitting Dragon Suplexes and V-Triggers was perfectly placed and the interference from Takeshita allowed for some last minute doubt to seep through as to whether Wheeler could actually get the win.
Brilliant display of selling from Omega here and worthy of more points, but the competition this week is fierce!
#7 & 8 - Francesco Akira & TJP
Akira and TJP (Catch 2/2) had two great tag matches at NJPW STRONG Independence day, one where they lost the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team titles to the new Bullet Club Wardogs team of Clark Connors and Drilla Moloney. The second being a lower card bout where they faced off against young lion Ryohei Oiwa and Homicide.
Their tag title bout was a classic as the two teams brawled throughout the red hot Korakuen crowd, bringing a sense of chaos that was inherently different to the highflying spectacle that the New Japan Jr. division is known for. They did bring that energy at many points in the match too, but the brawling added that extra dimension to the match that only that crowd could bring.
During their little trip round Korakuen there was this amazing spot where Drilla and Connors were about to throw TJP down the concrete stairs, only for him to wriggle out and for Akira to hit an insane crossbody from the archway of the stairs to a massive pop! Once back in the ring we got that more traditional Jr. tag style with amazing tag team moves from Catch 2/2 that had the Bullet Club team on the ropes, only for Connors and Drilla to grind them down an hit the "Full Clip" (TJP in a vertical suplex position and Connors spearing him from the top rope) on TJP for the win.
It was one of the best Jr. tag titles matches in a long time, which is saying something when Catch 2/2 had been champions for most of 2022.
#6 - Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe reignited his age old rivalry with CM Punk on this weeks Collision in Regina. Although the crowd was a lackluster 2.5k, by the end of the match you could mistake it for a sold out MSG. I'm not going to pretend like I'm an expert on this feud, as this was the first of their matches that I've actually seen. So many of the finer and more subtle story beats have no-doubt flown over my head, or not really stuck the landing on execution.
The match itself, though, was really very good. Especially for both men being in the twilights of their careers. The physicality of Joe in this match was some of the best we've seen from him since the Darby matches earlier in the year, and his ability to work around his limitations was second to none.
The dynamic of the two has changed a lot from their ROH days, that much is obvious, but they still keep the balance of power firmly in Joe's court. He took it to Punk like he did in the six-man tag from the first episode of Collision, only this time it was multiplied by 100. The chops and the submissions on Punk looked like he was about to break in half at any moment. Joe looked like an absolute beast in this match, just by the way he moved around the ring and transitioned from move to move like this was just another day on the job.
Even in defeat Joe managed to make it look like Punk had just made the biggest mistake of his career (and he's had his fair share), choking him out after the match saying that he was still the better of the two and nothing would change that.
#5 - Giulia
Another highlight of the NJPW STRONG Independence Day show this week, was Giulia defeating Willow Nightingale for the NJPW STRONG Women's title in a cleverly structured match.
The match focused around the size disparity of the two women, with commentary pointing out that Giulia is used to being one of the most powerful in Stardom, and is now coming up against this seemingly immovable object in Willow. Although the match was slightly sloppy in a couple places it really didn't take anything away from the story the two were trying to portray. In fact, it probably helped get across the idea that Giulia's power offence, like the Glorious Driver, was going to be extremely difficult to hit and that she had to mentally push herself to find that zone in which she could hit the Northern Lights Bomb for the win.
On the way to the win Giulia hit some stiff strikes and took her fair share of them too, selling the Pounce from Willow amazingly well. Her fighting spirit and determination really shone through in her in ring work, but in a completely different way than her big matches in Stardom, as Giulia knew she only had to hit the one move to end things, but in Stardom its more about hitting enough to keep her opponent down.
#4 - Maki Itoh
Maki Itoh also had a championship match on her hands this week, as she faced off with long time "rival" Mizuki for the TJPW Princess of Princess title at Summer Sun Princess on Saturday.
This match was one of the most hard hitting matches of the week, even more so than the Punk/Joe match that would happen later that day. Itoh has had many chances at the top belt in TJPW, but she never really seemed ready before this match. In a slow but significant change in atmosphere Maki has now become one of the most popular wrestlers in the promotion, where she was normally more favoured by the western audience rather than the domestic.
The start of the match saw Maki get the lion's share of chants and crowd support, but that didn't phase Mizuki at all, as she was focused on what was the most challenging Itoh she'd faced so far. The match was intense. Hard forearms from both struck me as more than just a wrestling move, rather individual tests of strength and will between the two. Maki wasn't blinded by the moment, however, as she clearly focused on the head and neck of the champion, hitting DDT after DDT all around the ring and outside. This led to a few great submission spots where Itoh was digging as deep as possible to tap out Mizuki with the Itoh Special.
One final striking exchange would dash the New Era Charisma's hope's at beating her eternal rival, as a Cutie Special would allow the champion to retain. The post match promo, however, is what stuck with me the most. Itoh let her charisma wash away and we were left with Maki Itoh the person. She detailed her TJPW career and how Mizuki was who she bonded with first, but they went their own ways. Maki would always look up to her as someone who had achieved what she couldn't, but now that they were on the same level, fighting each other in the main event of one of TJPW's biggest shows. Maki finally understood that even though she didn't win, she was on Mizuki's level and that she respected her greatly for showing her that.
#2 & 3 - Jay White & Juice Robinson
In what was definitely the most unexpectedly good match of the week, Jay White and Juice Robinson secured a shot at the AEW Tag Team titles after a thrilling and absurdly good Eliminator match on this weeks AEW Collision.
Most of the time when it comes to five star classics its something that we can see from a mile away once the match is announced, see Kenny vs Ospreay, or FTR vs the Briscoes, but this time it came completely out of the blue. The Bullet Club Gold/CMFTR feud has been the main story in Collision's short history so it was inevitable that we would be getting this match in some form or fashion, but no-one expected this.
Maybe due to FTR's lack of two on two tag matches in the recent months or peoples hesitant, but slowly increasing fondness for BCG, this match blew all expectiations out of the water. Jay and Juice were the perfect foil for the red hot FTR and their differences in offence helped the match to a comfortable and natural 28 minutes. Jay has a very calculated and planned out set of moves that you would easily bet money on see in every one of his matches, but then Juice will come in like a wild man and throw a spanner in FTR's works. All this coupled with Cash Wheeler's terrific babyface performance in the middle of the match made for one of the most exciting and dramatic final 10 minutes of any tag team match I've seen this year, with Jay managing to get people believing near falls off of Uranages let alone the Blade Runner! At every nearfall it really felt like FTR had cheated death and they had to continue on through the hell that was BCG, ultimately succumbing to their onslaught.
This was one of my favourite tag team matches of the year so far, so its only fair that I keep my guns up and give BC Gold the number 2 & 3 spots on this weeks list.
#1 - Jon Moxley
Jon Moxley loves pro wrestling. Jon Moxley loves bleeding. And Jon Moxley loves El Desperado. Its hard to disagree with him either, especially after the amazing two nights he had in Korakuen Hall for NJPW STRONG Independence Day on the 4th and the 5th.
Mox had two amazing deathmatches on those days, with a "Doomsday" tag match with Homicide against Desperado and Jun Kasai on the 4th and a "Final Death" match with Desperado on the 5th. Both of them were incredible and the atmosphere of the Korakuen crowd made them unforgettable matches in New Japan's long and prestigious history.
The tag team match had one of the best energies to it that I can remember in a long time. It wasn't like the Omega/Ospreay match where people were waiting in anticipation, it was more people ready to experience a match as it played out, with no expectations attached. Kasai's entrance was the first sign of this. A massive pop with sections of the audience on their feet for the deathmatch legend. The match itself was a more lighthearted version of the upcoming singles bout and saw action spill out to all corners of the arena. The inclusion of weapons not even comprehensible in a New Japan ring was also a novelty, with a board of forks and Jun's signature butcher's knife playing a large roll in the chaos.
The singles match the next day was a similar, yet more focused bout that had a larger ratio of wrestling to hardcore than the previous, but was still totally a deathmatch by all rights. The table spot on the outside added a slight levity to the torture porn that had occurred and would quickly be returned to. What stuck with me most about this match, however, was the ability Mox has to incorporate technical wrestling in with the hardcore. We've seen this multiple times before in the 2019 Full Gear match with Omega and their subsequent Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch at Revolution 2021, but the ending stretch of this match rivaled those. The finisher trading and countering made it seem like in the end classic wrestling is what mattered the most in terms of deciding who was the better man on that night.
It was probably one of Mox's best two night of his career as he got to fight such amazing battles in such hallowed grounds for deathmatch wrestling as Korakuen Hall.
Thanks for reading this weeks edition! Lets take a look at the leaderboard half way through 2023: