With two big PPVs this weekend we were in for one great week of pro wrestling, and it didn't disappoint. NXT's No Mercy gave us a great NXT Championship match with Carmelo Hayes defending against Ilja Dragunov and AEW's WrestleDream Inoki tribute show gave us a whole slew of amazing matches of all different styles, from technical wrestling, to a hardcore brawl, like we saw in the main event with Christian Cage defending the TNT championship against Darby Allin. There was not only great wrestling in America this week, however, as Stardom had the finals of their 5 Star Grand Prix with Suzu Suzuki taking on Maika in a great match for the tournament crown.
- Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens (Zayn & Owens vs Balor & Priest, WWE, 25/9)
- Claudio Castagnoli (Nick Jackson vs Brian Cage vs Claudio, AEW, 27/9)
- Hikaru Shida (Hikaru Shida vs Ruby Soho, AEW, 29/9)
- Saori Anou (Saori Anou vs Mina Shirakawa, Stardom, 30/9)
- Tam Nakano (Tam Nakano vs Natsupoi, Stardom, 30/9)
- Kazuchika Okada & Lio Rush (Okada & Rush vs Naito & Hiromu, NJPW, 30/9)
- Kenny Omega & Kota Ibushi (Omega, Ibushi, & Jericho vs Guevara, Takeshita, & Ospreay, AEW, 1/10)
- Kris Statlander (Kris Statlander vs Julia Hart, AEW, 1/10)
#9 & 10 - Matt & Nick Jackson
The Young Bucks had a very busy week this week, as both members competed in singles matches as well as an AEW World Tag Team Championship #1 Contendership match at WrestleDream too.
Nick was first up this week as he took on Claudio Castagnoli and Brian Cage in an AEW International Title #1 Contendership match. A really fun TV match that showcased each wrestler's strengths, with Nick showing off his highflying and lucha libre abilities amongst the big meaty men slapping meat. He worked in his moves perfectly and really made the most of having two opponents rather than one, creating an exciting and unpredictable match with great near falls down the stretch.
Matt's four way match was another fun one, giving us a preview of the upcoming #1 contenders match on WrestleDream. This was more of a comedy match than Nick's, with Austin Gunn taking some over the top spots and being more of a punching bag than anything, and Austin and Penta doing a taunt off near the beginning. Matt didn't necessarily stand out, but was in integral part of the match, and took the pin going into the PPV.
The PPV match was a spotfest to say the least, feeling a lot like a PWG match, which is something the Bucks bring to AEW more than any other style of wrestling. There were loads of great tag team moves, sometimes with the wrong partners, like Nick giving Penta an assist with his Fear Factor and the Gory Special, which made this match really unique compared to a lot of other multi-team tag matches.
#8 - Suzu Suzuki
Heading over to Japan now. Suzu Suzuki defeated Maika in the finals of Stardom's Five Star Grand Prix in a shocking upset. The card had been marred with unfortunate injuries to the likes of Saya Kamitani, Utami Hayashishita, and Starlight Kid, all major names for the promotion (Saya was scheduled to win the whole thing, but got injured in her first match against Tam Nakano) so Suzu had to step up big time as one of the newer members of the roster.
The match was great, with Suzu having to overcome Maika's strength and power moves with her agility and striking prowess, using innovative counters and a bit of brawling on the outside too, which she is very much inclined to do with her hardcore background. She took big bumps for Maika, but battled back and gave us some unexpected moves like a Spanish Fly and a Poisonrana to turn the tide of the match leading into a great finishing stretch where she got a near fall on the Tequila Shot, another on a pair of brutal German Suplexes, and finally getting the win with a Sky Twister Press which was just as awesome as it was unexpected.
Although there were many fans that were surprised and disappointed at the result, Suzu really proved that she's one of the best in the company and that she can be a reliable asset to Stardom in hard times like these.
#7 - Eddie Kingston
Back at the number seven spot this week is Eddie Kingston, after two defences of this NJPW Strong title and one of his ROH World Championship as part of his double title match against Katsuyori Shibata at WrestleDream this Sunday.
His first title defence of the week was on AEW Rampage against Rocky Romero, who Kingston was scheduled to face in Defy Wrestling until he made the decision to stop his indie dates due to nagging injuries. The match itself was a solid defence, but didn't really spark too much interest in the crowd with a standard formula that got both men in and out while satisfying the crowd with some of Eddie's signature offence and some of Rocky's lucha libre influence too.
His second, and by far biggest, match of the week was against ROH Pure champion, Katsuyori Shibata, at WrestleDream for both of Eddie titles. The match was a great tribute to Antonio Inoki as both men showed a ton of fighting spirit throughout and Shibata taking some bumps I thought he'd never take after his return to the ring. Eddie came out all guns blazing hitting Saito Suplexes, Urakens, and chops galore, trying to break the will of Shibata, who was fighting with the spirit of Inoki that night. Amongst the striking bonanza, Shibata didn't forget to add a more technical style to his match, targeting the leg of Kingston throughout, as well as locking in Inoki's Octopus Stretch for some great near falls, forcing the Mad King to get to the ropes multiple times, with commentary pointing out that if this was a pure rules match then Shibata would have probably gotten the win.
The finish was brilliant, with Eddie hitting multiple Urakens and the Northern Lights Bomb, only for Shibata to kick out, deliver a Uraken of his own, and get caught with the Kawada Powerbomb from Kingston who sealed the deal and got the pin. A great match to showcase, not only Inoki-ism, but the history of Japanese wrestling in general.
#5 & 6 - Kyle Fletcher & Mark Davis
So a lot of people didn't have Aussie Open's match against FTR this Sunday rated as high as me, which is respectable since the crowd wasn't into the match that much, but looking at the output in the ring, it was still an incredible match. It didn't live up to their match at last year's Royal Quest, however, mostly because of the placement of the match in the card, as they went on second to last and the crowd was really burnt out.
I don't know whether its my bias for Aussie Open, or FTR just looked unenthused with this rematch, as Kyle and Davis were carrying the match in terms of fire and passion going in. Even the hot tags to Cash and Dax seemed phoned in from them, whereas AO were putting their all into every single move this Sunday. Aussie Open had some long control segments, trying to get the crowd into the match, and by the end they were, but ultimately it was all in vain as the reactionless FTR got the pin with a Super Shatter Machine (RIP Brodie) that at least gave us a cool finish.
Aussie Open pulled out all the stops on their end, hitting all their signature moves like the Dental Plan, the double bear hug smash, the Aussie Arrow, and so much more. Davis went toe to toe with Dax, throwing chops like his life depended on it, which got a few pops from the crowd.
Ultimately what I'm trying to say was that the performance Aussie Open gave was more than anyone in the arena deserved, whether that was FTR or someone in the crowd. I hope they have more chances to shine in the future with a more engaged crowd and better opponents as FTR have been decreasing in popularity and workrate ever since winning the belts from The Gunns earlier this year.
#4 - Ilja Dragunov
Ilja finished his story this week as he beat Carmelo Hayes for the NXT Championship at No Mercy on Saturday.
This was a classic Ilja match, with a ton of passion, hard hitting moves, and strikes that never let up until the final moments of the match. Ilja came in with more fire, as Carmelo tried to match it, but was dominated for most of the match. Early on Melo fired out of the corner, only to be met with a headbutt from Ilja, which is responded with a slap into a double down, emphasising the brutality of the match. Both men had some great counters in the match too, with Melo hitting some great anti-air like the Enziguri as Dragunov was mid H-Bomb. Ilja would go for a Coast to Coast later on, which Melo countered into a Codebreaker, but Ilja hung on and gave him a Death Valley Bomb into the corner, showcasing his resilience.
Ilja would finish the match with a series of ever more dangerous H-Bombs, one off of a rebound after Melo hit another Codebreaker, that only got a two count, he then went up to the second rope for another, but yet again Hayes kicked out. Melo would give one last push, but after a few near falls Ilja hit a top rope H-Bomb for the win, finally beating Hayes on his second attempt, and winning the NXT championship in the process.
Ilja is without a doubt the best worker in the whole of WWE at the moment, only rivalled by WALTER in terms of in-ring performance. Him winning the NXT title is probably the best platform for his style of wrestling while inside the WWE system, so I'm really glad he managed to achieve that with a great crowd cheering him on.
#3 - Swerve Strickland
One of the top three matches on the WrestleDream card last night had to be Swerve Strickland's clash with "Hangman" Adam Page, which had the best atmosphere of any match that night, by far.
The two went all out with some extremely we executed wrestling and a ton of passion in every move. Swerve did a great job at this the whole match, managing to convey his aggression towards Hangman in a more highflying and technically perfect fashion, rather than a brawl or generic beatdown. His foot stomps looked more vicious than ever and even his transitions between moves had menace to them, like with he hit the House Call and floated into the headlock and the Brainbuster for a two count. It looked like somebody had made it frame by frame for a video game.
Swerve also put in some great arm work on Page, taking away some of the Buckshot's efficacy later in the match and stopping Adam from making it to covers in time to get the win. The shenanigans near the end wasn't too egregious either, leading to a big pop for Swerve winning while still leaving the option for further matches down the line.
Overall, the match had everything. Great moves, great psychology, electric atmosphere, and Nana dancing in the background. Real Graps. This was a defining match in Swerves career, and they built this up so well, pushing him further up the card.
#2 - Christian Cage
Christian Cage is one of the best workers in the world right now. The best heel in the business too. His character work bleeds so effortlessly into his matches, like he really lives and breathes his gimmick of being a sadistic, hypocritical, and cowardly scumbag (sorry Max). It doesn't feel like he's forcing anything and it makes his matches so engrossing.
He had a match with Darby Allin in the main event of AEW WrestleDream for the TNT title in a two out of three falls match, and it awoke a dead crowd and made the arena shake, even before any of the post-match happenings took place. The bout started off with Christian taking a quick pinfall from Darby, who pulled up his turtleneck and rolled him up to take the first fall, enraging Christian, who just beat the shit out of Darby for the rest of the match.
The brutal stair bump was obviously the 'highlight' of the match, if you want to call it that, but you could see a slight break in Christian at this point. He hesitated on the spot, taking multiple attempts to throw Darby spine and arm first into the ring steps, leading to the count out, evening the playing field, as he took that time to rip up the ring canvas, exposing the wooden boards and increasing the stakes of the match ever more, for both men. Cage synched in the Scorpion Death Lock, trying to mock Darby, with his father figure's move, and him kicking out of a Coffin Drop put Cage over big as being just as resilient as Darby is. The finish with Wayne turning on Darby, directly leading to Cage winning was brilliant and took the character of Christian to the next level.
#1 - Bryan Danielson
Bryan Danielson and Zack Sabre Jr. had, for my money, one of the best wrestling matches of all time. Definitely in the top 5 best technical matches of all time. They just had some of the cleanest chemistry in recent memory and 25 minutes to play with (I wish it was 5 hours).
It's going to be impossible for me to go move for move in this match, just go listen to Moxley info dumping on us on commentary if you want that kind of deep analysis, but this was a pure technical masterclass, if ever I've seen one. They kept my attention the whole time, managing to build the tension hold by hold without anything fancy or even stakes to the match, other than the perception of who's the better technical wrestler, which we didn't even find out, as brittle Bryan decided to use the Busaiku Knee for the win.
The thing I loved most about this match was the grit, the determination, and the intensity of both men throughout. Coming into the match as the hometown hero, Bryan didn't hold back one bit, throwing more strikes than Sabre, but Sabre managed to keep his cocky attitude through too, allowing for heat to easily build throughout the match as ZSJ caught Danielson in submission after submission. Danielson slowly built up to more and more strikes, knowing that Zack was outclassing him on the mat, which I thought was a brilliant story and could lead to rematch opportunities like with Swerve and Hangman.
This might have been the hardest performance to articulate the brilliance of, but as commentary eluded to, it was on the level, and the importance of Inoki vs Robinson, and it's a match that will stand the test of time. Which is terribly hard to achieve in this day and age.
After all these amazing performances, lets see how its changed the leaderboard: