Going into this week I wasn't expecting too much apart from the third installment in the Gunther/Chad Gable trilogy, but there turned out to be loads of great wrestling from all around the world this week. DDT had their Big Bang 2023 show and Stardom gave us a really fun Dream Tag Festival event with some eclectic tag team combinations. We also had the quarter and semi finals of the AEW Grand Slam Eliminator Tournament that delivered a few great matches despite the lackluster star power.
- Pete Dunne (Pete Dunne vs Axiom, NXT, 5/9)
- Bron Breakker (Bron Breakker vs Von Wagner, NXT, 5/9)
- Jon Moxley (Mox vs Fox & Mox vs Action, AEW, 6/9 & 9/9)
- Aussie Open (Aussie Open vs Jericho & Guevara, AEW, 6/9) - Darby Allin (Allin vs Wayne & Allin vs Strong, AEW, 6/9 & 9/9)
- Motor City Machine Guns (MCMG vs The Rascalz, Impact, 8/9)
- Konosuke Takeshita (Takeshita & Sasaki vs MAO & Ueno, DDT, 9/9)
- Giulia & Suzu Suzuki (Giulia & Suzu vs Maika & Utami, Stardom, 10/9)
#10 - Yuji Nagata
Yuji Nagata had his annual produce show this Sunday, which kicked off a best of seven series between Nagata's team of Shota Umino, Master Wato, and himself and Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado, and Ren Narita.
This first match went to a 30 minute draw in a well structured bout that kept me engaged the whole time. The match was split into three distinct acts with a relatively high paced start that saw all six members having quick face offs before the Strong Style team managed to isolate Nagata. This was the highlight of the match for me, as Blue Justice knows how to play an amazing babyface and inject drama into these parts of matches with ease, without losing the crowd (granted it was his hometown).
The third act was the longest and the most focused. Narita and Shota squared off as well as Despy and Wato, helping to continue those feuds. Suzuki and Nagata finished the match with an intense slap off that threatened to pass the 30 minute mark before Nagata hit the Exploder suplex with ten seconds remaining, but couldn't make the pin in time. A great start to the series and made me more excited to watch the upcoming bouts as the heat between the teams is only going to increase as they get deeper into the series.
#9 - Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe had two matches this week as part of the AEW Grand Slam Eliminator Tournament. One on Rampage against Jeff Hardy and then a semifinal match against Penta El Zero Miedo on Collision.
His match against Jeff was actually pretty decent considering the state that the Charismatic Enigma is in these days. Jeff seemed to flow a lot better and Joe helped facilitate this by getting some great heat from the crowd. Not much else to say about this one to be honest.
The Collision match with Penta was a lot more dynamic and hard-hitting than the previous bout, but stuck to the same overall formula. Joe would dominate much of the match, wearing down Penta with strikes before the luchador would fight back, forcing Joe to pick up the pace and do a few more flashy moves to catch his opponent off guard. The best part of the match was certainly the "nope" spot where Penta went flying through the table that Joe just waltzed away from, even if it did look a little wacky.
Joe had some great character performances this week including a brilliant promo on Dynamite, but he always finds a way to blend that into his matches too.
#7 & 8 - AZM & Starlight Kid
AZM and Starlight Kid, the eternal rivals, had to team up this week as part of the Dream Tag Festival after the fans voted for them to be a team for the show. They faced off against the High Speed Champion, Saki Kashima and the icon of Stardom Mayu Iwatani.
AZM and Kid have fought each other so many times that them being a team seemed more natural than many tenured tag teams feel today. Even from their entrance you could tell that the two were about to produce magic together, with both of them running the ropes in perfect synchronicity. And of course they did. They worked so well as a team, and paired up against a much less coordinated, but still formidable team, it made for a fast paced rollercoaster of a match. Mayu brought that striking aspect to the match, and Saki really stepped up her game here, going into the match is High Speed Champion, but hitting much harder the usual. She even hit this gnarly Angels Wings type maneuver that nearly landed AZM right on the top of her head, which was pretty cool.
Overall this was a terrific match that took the AZM/SLK feud in a direction many fans were clamouring for, and proved that they were right, and that these two could become one of the best tag teams in the company's history. But that will have to wait for now.
#6 - Josh Alexander
Josh Alexander returned to singles action this week at Impact's Victory Road show, as he faced his scheduled opponent for this years Rebellion main event, Steve Maclin, before he had to relinquish the title due to a shoulder injury earlier in the year. Maclin was also coming off an injury he sustained to his groin a few months ago on Impact's Down Under tour. This made for a intriguing story throughout the match.
As you may be able to deduce, the match focused around each man's injuries and trying to exploit them to get the win. Alexander looked better than ever in this match, bringing his unique blend of mat based technical wrestling and powerhouse offence to fend off a hungry Maclin. Both men were motivated in this one, however, even though there wasn't anything on the line other than bragging rights. They went toe to toe with strikes as well as a ton of reversals that brought some much needed drama to the match up. One of the best counters of the match was when Alexander caught Maclin mid-suicide dive and hit him was a brutal German Suplex on the outside.
The finishing stretch was brilliant, with Maclin desperately trying to find offence while Alexander kept turning it all into the Ankle Lock, eventually catching Steve in the C4 Spike for the three count. A great match that proved Alexander is still Impact's Ace and one of the best in North America.
#5 - Chris Brookes
After winning the KO-D Openweight championship from Yuji Hino at DDT Wrestle Peter Pan, Chris Brookes had his first defence of the title against Shigehiro Irie at DDT Big Bang 2023 this Saturday. This was the third in the trilogy between the two men, and the first time the match has happened in Japan.
Starting off in a fairly generic fashion, its clear that Irie has the advantage going into the bout, quickly forcing Brookes to his back foot with chops and lariats. Brookes would fight back a couple times, but would only get back into the match after taking it to the outside and brawling with Irie in the crowd and around ringside, setting up a table next to the apron in the process. A tense back and forth on the apron eventually led the Shigehiro crashing through the aforementioned table as Brookes gave him a package piledriver through it.
This resulted in the third act of the match basically starting from scratch, with both me jockeying for position yet again, but only really gaining the advantage in the last minutes of the match before the finish. Irie would increase the severity of his offence even more, landing a devastating headbutt on the champion, but it didn't go unreciprocated, as Brookes landed one of his own, taking control of the match and getting a few near-falls after some stiff kicks and a Praying Mantis Bomb for a close two count. He would hit another a few minutes later, finally finishing off his "Borderless Rival" and coming out on top of their rubber match in a fantastic match that continued Chris' underdog reign as the champ.
#4 - Zack Sabre Jr.
Zack had two great defences of his NJPW World TV Championship this week, and without much preparation either. His first defence was originally against the winner of the Young Lion Gauntlet match, Boltin Oleg, which took place on the G1 Final show back in August, but he unfortunately sustained an infection and couldn't make it to the show. Instead a graduated young lion, Ryohei Oiwa, stepped up to the plate, even though he was already on his excursion over at Pro Wrestling NOAH.
Oiwa was decked out in some cool new gear, and flanked by his new mentor, Kaito Kiyomiya! The match itself was a fun little sprint (as most of Zack's defences are), and showcased what an unleashed Oiwa was capable of. Oiwa used his size advantage well in the opening of the match, throwing Zack around with ease before targeting the legs, leading up to the climax where he locked in the Figure Four he learned from Kaito, and Mutoh before him. This was a fun match that showcased this new Oiwa to the New Japan fans, which is a rarity for them as they don't normally see young lions during their excursions. Zack did a great job at walking the line of Ryohei being "graduated", but also still being far from the finished product.
After the match Zack called out a Satoshi Kojima during the backstage comments, naming him the next challenger for his title. The match was accepted and went down the very next night. This was a completely different kind of opponent than Oiwa, and it showed in the match. Kojima came out swinging as he normally does, hitting chop after chop, but Zack would eventually get control of the arm and work on it for the rest of the match resulting in the leader of Bread Club getting caught in a number of arm based submission when trying to fire of his lariats, eventually tapping out to an armbar from Sabre.
Two fun matches here, that showcased Zack's adaptability, rather than him having one really good match. Something I think is under-rated in this day and age.
#3 - Roderick Strong
Just like Samoa Joe, Roderick Strong also had two AEW Grand Slam Eliminator Tournament matches this week, and both of them were excellent, especially his semifinal match against Darby Allin on Collision. His match against Trent Beretta on Dynamite was also a strong showing, so we'll talk about that one first.
This was a intentionally unintentional comedy match, with Trent having a history of neck health issues, and Roddy currently 'suffering' from the same ordeal. This led to some funny moments in what was actually a very physical and hard-fought match between the two, where Roddy would clearly not sell his neck until after the match, while trying to destroy the neck of Beretta in the process. Nothing much stood out in this match, but it was a good technical match that felt like a good fit for TV.
His match verses Darby, however, was one of the best TV matches of the year so far. Before his entrance, Darby got attacked by Luchasaurus and Christian Cage, which added to the back issues Allin had already been experiencing since his Coffin match at Wembley Stadium. This added a lot to the match, and made Roddy look like even more of a beast in the ring than he already does, which is a stark and humorous contrast to his whiney persona outside of the ring.
The match itself was extremely brutal and showcased Strong's ability to be one of the best wrestlers in the world today. He absolutely blew Darby's back out in this one, even dropping him on the top of the turnbuckles and letting him crash all the way to the floor. He also countered a ton of Darby's back based offence, as he foolishly kept using his back despite his spine resembling an unopened packet of crushed crackers. After some interference from The Kingdom, Strong got the knees up on a Coffin Drop and hit the End of Heartache for the win, frantically shouting for his neck brace as soon as the bell rang.
Roddy was great this week, both in and out of the ring, just like Samoa Joe, and it's making this tournament watchable for me, as we continue "the march to Maxwell" as Roddy has dubbed it.
#2 - Gunther
Gunther had one of the best WWE matches of the year this week, as he defended his Intercontinental championship against Chad Gable for the second time.
These two know how to make magic, and now with a WWE crowd that is finally accustomed to good wrestling, the atmosphere for this match was electric. Gunther is great at taking control and dominating a match, but couple that with the fiery and passionate comebacks from Gable, the match quickly gained a ton of heat, especially with Gunther kicking Chad face in early on. The submission sequences were perfectly placed and timed as to not ware out the crowd and keep it short for a TV audience, but they also brought the action back when coming out of picture in picture.
The struggle from Gable felt so real and his incredible reversals and counters lent legitimacy to a potential win for the former Olympian. The most explosive rebuttal of all came in the form of a Superplex from the top rope that had Gunther crashing down to the mat in dramatic fashion. It was clear down the stretch that both men knew what they had to do and they were in the zone to do it. Gable was light on his feet and Gunther put more oomph into his offence than usual, most noticeably during the finish where he gave Chad a Sleeper Suplex, Powerbomb, and a massive lariat combination to finish off Gable decisively.
I can't wait for these two to bring that same energy to a PPV match where the restraints of TV wrestling are lifted and they're able to show the world one of the best matches ever, which I certainly think they can give us.
#1 - Kento Miyahara
This week's #1 is the ace of AJPW, Kento Miyahara, who had an amazing match against the super rookie, Yuma Anzai, in the main event of AJPW's Giant Series Night 3.
This was exactly the match you would expect if you've been keeping up with Yuma Anzai's work as of late. A super fiery underdog standing up to, and taking it to some of All Japan's biggest stars, but falling short at the last hurdle. It was very similar to Anzai's match with Shiozaki in the N-1 now I think about it, but he definitely got a little bit more offence of in this match, which is surprising to me.
The match was short for a main event, going close to 19 minutes, and this allowed for a thrilling encounter, full of exciting spots and explosive sequences throughout. The main focus of the match was knee strikes, with both men excelling at them compared to the rest of the roster. Of course Kento has his "Blackout" knees, reminiscent of Kenny Omega's V-Trigger, but Anzai's knees would be closer to a Jumping knee from Akiyama or Jumbo, although they got progressively faster and stiffer as the match went on and he got more and more fired up.
The finish was a barrage of Blackout's from Kento, that kept failing to keep the super rookie down, eventually switching to the Shutdown German Suplex that finally put away Anzai. This was another great addition to the incredibly young career of Yuma, and showed the world that he can already hang with some of the best of all time. Ultimately Kento is still the one leading the match and giving the opportunity for Anzai to shine as much as possible, so that's why the points are going to Miyahara this week, but dont be surprised if Yuma gains a few points in the final months of 2023.
With week 36 under wraps lets see how it's affected the leaderboard!