From an uneventful 40th week, week 41 was the complete opposite. We were treated to multiple big New Japan shows, a Stardom PPV, a big TJPW event, and a fantastic week for AEW TV, with a big Title Tuesday Dynamite and a killer Collision main event too. On top of all this Fuminori Abe and Takuya Nomura's produce show, We Are The Fighting Detectives (dont ask me why they called it that), was a super solid card with a MOTYC main event with the two promotors going at it in a physical war the likes we rarely see in modern pro wrestling. This was one of my favourite week of 2023 for wrestling and being there live and front row for Royal Quest III was just one of many reasons why!
- Kazuchika Okada (Okada, Tana, & Ishii vs Shelley, Sabin, & Alexander, NJPW, 9/10)
- Eddie Kingston (Eddie Kingston vs Minoru Suzuki, AEW, 10/10)
- Orange Cassidy (Rey Fenix vs Orange Cassidy, AEW, 10/10)
- Adam Copeland (Adam Copeland vs Luchasaurus, AEW, 10/10)
- Frankie Kazarian (Frankie Kazarian vs Eddie Edwards, Impact, 12/10)
- Grizzled Young Veterans (GYV vs The Workhorsemen, DPW, 15/10)
- Bryan Keith (Keith vs Bailey vs Ku vs Garrini, DPW, 15/10)
- Colby Corino (Colby Corino vs Krule, DPW, 15/10)
#9 & 10 - Drilla Moloney vs Clark Connors
Drilla and Connors defended their IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team titles twice this week. Once in Japan at Destruction in Ryogoku, and then a second time in England for Royal Quest III. Their first match was against KUSHIDA and Kevin Knight, and it was one of the better matches on the card to be honest.
This match really showcased the teamwork of the War Dogs, as well as Kevin Knight's spectacular moveset. Drilla and Connors work a ruthless style, getting lots of heat on KUSHIDA for the majority of the match, then selling tremendously for Knight's offence once he got the hot tag. Drilla, specifically, was great in this match, landing one of the most devastating piledrivers I've ever seen, when he hit KUSHIDA with a Drilla Killa that spiked his head right into the mat, stalling there for a couple of seconds.
Their second match was even better in my opinion, as they defended their titles against the young British team of Cameron Khai and Leon Slater. Back at RevPro's 11th Anniversary show Leon actually defeated Moloney in a singles match, which was a massive upset, and got Slater this match for the IWGP Jr. Tag titles. This one was the highlight of a fairly lackluster undercard for the Royal Quest show, as Drilla and Connors' brutish offence meshed perfectly with the great babyface, highflying team that were the challengers.
It was a basic match, with nothing too fancy, but they really got the crowd into it by laying a lot of heat on Khai for the majority of the match and working the audience after important spots in the match, like Connors pulling Slater away from the tag, which really wound up the crowd. They sold well for the challengers highflying offence and hit their double teams moves cleanly, leading to a Full Clip for the win. This was basic graps, done right.
#8 - Jay White
Speaking of things done right, Jay White defeated "Hangman" Adam Page for the 3rd time in a row on this week's Title Tuesday edition of AEW Dynamite, after a little interference from Prince Nana on Swerve's behalf.
The match itself was a simple match that White has done many times in his career after facing Hiroshi Tanahashi. Jay focused on Page's legs the entire match, not giving him a second to breathe (with the Switchblade) when he was able. He hit so many Dragon Screws on Adam that by the end of the match, Page was forced to fight through the pain before getting rolled up for the pin after the Nana interference.
For Jay this was a great match to establish his in ring character in a one on one setting, as most of his singles matches in AEW have been relatively short, apart from the Andrade match. The match was well paced and the story well told, as Bullet Club Gold interference was minimal, but still played a large roll in the vibe of the match, as well as, Jay's weaselly and opportunistic offence and overall demeanor. As Jay gets closer and closer to Full Gear, matches like this are essential to building his main event match against MJF, and with him facing Penta on the 18/10 episode of Dynamite, its looking like he's gonna make that title match in November one to remember.
#7 - MIRAI
MIRAI defended her Wonder of Stardom title this Monday, as she faced off against Momo Watanabe at Nagoya Golden Fight on the 9th. Momo was seeking her first taste of Stardom singles gold since May of 2019.
MIRAI did a great job at being the underdog champion in this match, using her fighting spirit to power through the devastating offence of the Odeo Tai member. Momo targeted the arm of MIRAI, in an attempt to neutralise her main weapon, the Lariat. She did this amazingly, as her kicks and submissions to the right arm were brutal and believable, which MIRAI matches with her selling of the arm too. MIRAI's comeback spots were well timed and felt earned as she battled through the onslaught of kicks from Momo, hitting some explosive lariats on the challenger, only managing to fend off for a brief period before the arm became the focus of the match once again. Ultimately MIRAI fired up one last time, hitting a series of lariats with her left arm, and the a final one with the injured right, getting the three count after a thrilling encounter.
This was my favourite defence of MIRAI's so far and it really brought out the passion in her which many people thought was lacking from her matches since beating Tam Nakano for the belt earlier this year.
#6 - Mizuki
Another Joshi title defence is up next, but unfortunately (for me at least), not a successful one. Mizuki put her Princess of Princesses title on the line against Miyu Yamashita, in one of TJPW's biggest shows of the year, Wrestle Princess IV, on Monday this week.
Going into this show the general hype was low, as a Miyu/Mizuki match wasn't the most fresh of main events people wanted for the show, but both women showed out and put on one of the best TJPW matches of the year. They both came out the gates hot, getting straight into some complex technical highspots, brutal kicks, and a massive Attitude Adjustment on the concrete floor from Miyu. Mizuki hit all her signature offence, like the double foot stomps, the Cutie Special, and the Whirling Candy, but none of it kept Miyu down long enough the get the three count.
The one thing Mizuki had that Yamashita didn't, was the fluidity between moves, like when she Crucifix Bombed Miyu and then immediately locked in the Crossface. Miyu would power out of this with the Popping Sugar Rabbit on her shoulders, kneeing her in the head before hitting an avalanche AA. This was the main story of the match, Yamashita wearing down Mizuki with classic kicks and suplexes, where as Mizuki tried to battle back with submissions and flashy moves like the Whirling Candy and Double Foot Stomps. After a great series of nearfalls, kicking out of the Skull Kick, and German Suplex, the Crash Rabbit Heat finally put the champion down.
This was a super compelling bout that brought the best out of both women, even if there were a few botches scattered throughout the duration of it. Fast paced, hard hitting, and very unpredictable.
#5 - Swerve Strickland
Jay White vs Hangman wasn't the only great match on Tuesday Night Dynamite, Danielson and Swerve Strickland also had a classic as they faced off in a TNT title #1 contendership match!
Danielson tried to get Swerve to play his game, work his style, taking it to the mat and grappling with the leader of the Mogul Embassy. Swerve wasn't easily outclassed in this aspect, however, as he showed some amazingly smooth technical wrestling and movement around the ring that caught Danielson off guard multiple times. This didn't last for too long as Swerve focused on the back and midsection of Bryan, slamming him in the ring, on the apron, and on his knee, all in an attempt to break him in half.
This came into play later in the match, when Danielson was making his comeback and hitting the running dropkicks in the corner. On the second kick, Danielson hit the corner, hitting his injured midsection in the process and crumpling him to the mat, setting up Swerve for the House Call, which was executed perfectly, and then a Swerve Stomp for a near fall. Nana went to give Strickland his crown, but Hangman came in for the save, snatching it away from Swerve. A roll up gave Danielson his own near fall, but it was a Busaiku Knee that got Dragon the win just seconds later.
One of the best TV bouts for AEW this year and a great finish that protects both men and still gives Danielson a clean win in the process. Swerve looked great in the match and, as you could tell from the dueling chants, its clear that his star power has greatly increase over the past few months, in part, thanks to matches like these.
#4 - Shingo Takagi
The semi main event of this year's Royal Quest, was a highly anticipated match between two familiar rivals in Shingo Takagi and Tomohiro Ishii. This was the first time the two have wrestled each other outside of Japan, and it had a high bar to clear if it wanted to be one of the best in their series.
Going into the match, I was doubtful that they would pull off something this great, as their previous match earlier this year in the G1 definitely under-delivered in my eyes, but sitting front row for this week's match, it was clear that they took it to another level. They started fairly tame, trading some relatively soft forearms in a long exchange (a staple of modern day Ishii matches) that got the crowd warmed up for the action to come. Some running shoulder tackles and suplexes filled out the bulk of the first 10 minutes, with classic mirroring of moves that proved their strength to each other. Around the 15 minute mark was were things started to heat up, however.
By now the crowd were fully invested and both men took it to the next gear, performing some fantastically timed counters and ducks against each other's lariats and punches that looked like it was straight out of a Hollywood action movie. The two traded suplexes, popping up immediately to deliver another, and another, and another. As they drew close to the 20 minute mark was started to see some finishers used, which was built to perfectly, as the crowd were already biting on simple Pumping Bomber false finishes, especially when Shingo hit one that sounded like it broke the fucking sound barrier. Ishii would hit his own lariat only for Shingo to kick out at one, bringing the crowd to their feet, and later on in the match Shingo would hit a Brainbuster that Ishii kicked out of a one too, the placing of them being far away adding to the surprise, as normally those spots are done in succession. A few near falls later and Shingo would finally land the Last of the Dragon for the pinfall.
This was an amazing match, and although it wasn't the best of their series it was definitely their best in a long time. Now I talked about this match quite evenly between the two men, and its hard to pick out specific nuances that prove why Shingo was the better man, but that's really how these kind of matches are played out. They're not meant to be definitive, but rather a test of who was better on that day alone. This day it was Shingo.
#3 - Bryan Danielson
Selling. That's the word of the day when it comes to Bryan Danielson. I talked about it briefly when going over his match against Swerve Strickland, and for good reason, but his match for the TNT championship against Christian Cage on Collision, took it to another level.
When people talk about "selling" what they often mean is "bumping", the way wrestlers take moves, but selling is everything that comes after slamming the mat. Going into this match against Christian, Danielson was already selling multiple injuries, his midsection, and his surgically repaired right arm, making for one of the easiest and most compelling TV matches in the history of Collision, never mind the overness of both men and their clear babyface/heel divide adding to that.
It was simple wrestling done to perfection, allowing everyone in the arena to feel, rather than just sit back and watch. Even being banged up, it was clear that Danielson was the far better wrestler in the match, taking it to Christian on the mat, rolling him around with ease, but Christian would use his underhanded tactics at every opportunity, taking control for periods of the match and using every single second he had to damage Dragon's arm. He slammed in on the apron, into the corner, and battered it however he could, leading to Danielson's own offence damaging the arm. Danielson would deliver a back suplex off the top rope and Christian landed right on his arm, making him unable to make the cover. Simple stuff like that is what made this match so engaging.
The finishing stretch was also masterfully put together, even if the actual finish felt very 'TV' for a lot of people, with Ricky Starks running in to hit Danielson with the tag team title so Cage could retain his title. The moment on the outside with the fans, however, was truly magnificent, as Danielson needed physical help from the crowd in order to beat the ten count on the outside, letting the attendees at ringside pull him back to his feet, not once, but twice, to keep him in the match.
This was one of Christian's best matches in AEW by far, and it did so much for his character, and Danielson's too, even though they're already both so cemented in the fans hearts, for differing reasons of course.
#2 - Fuminori Abe
Apparently this dude is a "Fighting Detective". Well, I can corroborate the first part of that for sure. Fuminori Abe went to war with Takuya Nomura, who is normally his tag team partner in AJPW and the indie scene over in Japan.
This was a unique match in my opinion. The vibes were something I'd never felt before in a wrestling match. They weren't trying to have cool highspots, or work the crowd, they were focused completely and wholly on hurting each other. Taking chances in the ring that the majority of workers today wouldn't even dream of. Multiple shoot headbutts, real punches to the head, and suplexes with barely any protection to them. It wasn't just the strikes either, the technical side of the match was certainly there too, as submissions were a vital part to the drama in this one. During the match they took every chance to take a swing at each other, even whilst being locked in holds or as Takuya was lying down with the ten count applied (I'm pretty sure there were no pinfalls allowed in this one, just submission or standing ten count) Abe would just punt kick his stomach with all the power left in his body.
Looking back at this one, its hard to place were each blow and strike fell in the timeline of the match, but in a certain way that's the beauty of it. It's pure violence between two friends, the complete opposite of the Adam Cole/MJF match at All In (not saying that match wasn't effective) and it made it stand out above 99% of the matches this year. A truly special match that came out of nowhere for most wrestling fans.
#1 - Zack Sabre Jr.
My #1 this week is Zack Sabre Jr., who put on a fantastic match against IWGP UK Heavyweight champion Will Ospreay in the main event of Royal Quest III this Saturday. Although he didn't win the title that night I still think he brought more unique offence to the match than Ospreay, but both were still on the top of their game, both executing impeccable technical sequences at top speed, something that only these two can produce (well maybe Danielson too).
The beginning saw a high paced technical sequence with ZSJ coming out mostly on top, but showing clear signs that Ospreay wasn't far behind at all. Zack focused on the arm when he could, while also keeping up with Ospreay's striking and speed too, which made for one of the most back and forth matches of the night, and at points even made me believe Zack was winning, even though going in there was no chance he was going to take the title.
Sabre's only hope in the match was his amazing ability to catch Ospreay out of mid air and synch in a submission on the arm or neck. Ospreay goes for an Os-Cutter? Caught. Ospreay goes for a chop? Caught. Ospreay goes for a Hidden Blade? Caught. Ospreay goes to the top rope? Zack grabs him off the top and delivers a suplex while locking in an arm bar on the way down. It's just insane how adept he is at technical wrestling and how he can make it exciting and interesting.
Every single moment of this match was worth mentioning, but unfortunately I don't have enough time to describe every single one. You need to watch this match. It's up on New Japan World right now, so do yourself a favour and watch two of the best British wrestlers of all time in their primes, because we're lucky to get to live it.
Also one more thing... when the hell did ZSJ get visible ABS??
After a massive week of wrestling, lets see how that's changed the leaderboard: