A very Japanese heavy week this week, as three of the biggest Puro companies all produced some brilliant wrestling. Dragon Gate's Gate of Destiny gave us a brilliant Open the Dream Gate title match as well as an action packed Twin Gate match, and a young and spritely Brave Gate bout that showcased one of the newer roster members, Ryoya Tanaka facing off against the champ, ISHIN. After the surprise debut of Katsuhiko Nakajima for AJPW last week, he challenged the Triple Crown champion, Yuma Aoyagi for the belt in a hard hitting affair that saw Nakajima walk out with the belt! Last, but certainly not least, NJPW's Power Struggle event gave us a bonafide match of the year contender in Ospreay vs Umino in the main event!
- Francesco Akira & TJP (Catch 2/2 vs Titan & BUSHI, Catch 2/2 vs Despy & Wato, & Catch 2/2 vs Jet Setters, NJPW, 30/10, 31/10, & 2/11)
- Brutus & Julius Creed (Creed Bros vs Otis & Gable & Creed Bros vs Garza & Carrillo, WWE & NXT, 30/10 & 31/10)
- Orange Cassidy (Orange Cassidy vs Claudio Castagnoli, AEW, 1/11)
- Athena (Athena vs Mercedes Martinez, ROH, 2/11)
- Eddie Edwards (Eddie Edwards vs Will Ospreay, Impact, 3/11)
- Penta El Zero Miedo (Penta vs Vikingo vs Komander, AEW, 3/11)
- Zack Sabre Jr. (TMDK vs Okada, Ishii, & Tanahashi, NJPW, 4/11)
- Seth Rollins (Seth Rollins vs Drew McIntyre, WWE, 4/11)
- Swerve Strickland (Swerve Strickland vs AR Fox, AEW, 4/11)
- Ryoya Tanaka (ISHIN vs Ryoya Tanaka, DG, 5/11)
#9 & 10 - Dragon Dia & Yuki Yoshioka
Dragon Dia and Yuki Yoshioka challenged for Dragon Gate's tag team titles, the Open the Twin Gate championship, at Gate of Destiny on Sunday. They successfully captured the titles from Yasushi Kanda & Susumu Mochizuki in a high paced match that really demonstrated the tag team chemistry of the D'Courage team.
The match started at a fairly steady pace, which at some point I thought would never end, but eventually it ramped up drastically, with Dia and Yoshioka displaying some picture perfect tag team wrestling. By that I don't mean just cool double team maneuvers, but effortlessly aiding their team mate in setting up for moves of their own and neutralising the threat of the opponents in the process. One example of this was when Yoshioka hit a move on one of their opponents, leaned him up on the ropes so when Yuki bounced of said ropes to hit a Suicida on the other competitor it pushed the guy on the rope into position for Dia to hit a top rope move.
There were also loads of great nearfalls in the match, with multiple, perfectly timed, pin break ups that helped take the match to the next level in terms of intensity and drama. Out of all the matches I saw on this show it was definitely the one which was the least predictable, at least for someone going into the match with little knowledge of the build up to that point, which is a testament to the work the guys put in.
#8 - Hiromu Takahashi
From unpredictable to the complete opposite, not to paint the match in a bad light, but everyone knew Hiromu was defeating Taiji Ishimori to retain his IWGP Jr. Heavyweight title at Power Struggle on Saturday.
Both these men have incredible chemistry, with every single match between them being one to watch, and this one was no different. Taiji when straight for the left arm of Hiromu with the intent of tapping him out with the Bone Lock to take the title, but Hiromu's resilience was the focal point of the match. The match started off with a classic Jr. Heavyweight sequence that saw Hiromu and Ishimori bounce all around the ring, jumping and ducking over each other like they were both the north end of a magnet, eventually Hiromu went for the sunset flip bomb off the apron, but Taiji countered it with a backflip, a staple of matches between these two. This time the match was a little more sloppy, but it actually gave the match something new and made it feel a lot more gritty than some of their previous bouts.
From there it slowed down with Taiji attacking the left shoulder of Hiromu, ramming it into the exposed turnbuckles and going for the Bone Lock relatively early, but Hiromu escaped. From then on it ramped up steadily with Hiromu trying for all his big moves while intermittently selling the left shoulder as Taiji would get more offence in. This led to a really well done submission spot where Hiromu was trapped in the Bone Lock for an extended amount of time, so long in fact that I did have some doubts as to whether Taiji would become the champ, but ultimately Takahashi made it to the ropes after teasing the tap out a couple times. From then on it was hard for Hiromu to hit the Time Bomb, or the Time Bomb 2, so he switched to using the Un-named Hiromu Roll, which he had to try twice in succession to finally repel the challenge from Taiji and retain the title.
This was a fun match that most people would have dismissed due to the frequency of the pairing, but if you like some classic New Japan Junior action then this one is definitely worth a watch and is a good addition to Hiromu's IWGP Jr. title reign.
#7 - Jon Moxley
Jon Moxley made a rare appearance in Japan this week as he joined Hiromu on the Power Struggle card. His match was the polar opposite of the Jr. title match, however. Scheduled to face Great-O-Khan, Moxley showed up in a t-shirt and jeans, making me wonder if something had happened to his luggage during his trip over, but after he and O-Khan brawled on the outside for 20 seconds the ref called for the bell and a double count out. "WTF?" I thought, but it all became clear as Moxley got on the mic and called for a Falls Count Anywhere match instead!
The match immediately started at 100 and never let up, with some of the funniest and craziest spots of the whole year in my opinion. It resembled an old territory walk'n'brawl from the 70s, with Mox and O-Khan making the most out of the "Anywhere" in the Falls Count Anywhere stipulation. They brawled in every corner of Edion Arena Osaka, leaving havoc in their wake. O-Khan brought out a trolley that's normally used for carrying chairs around the arena, placed Mox on it and drove him straight into the chairs that most people were still sitting on! At one point both men where on the ramp and Moxley suplexed O-Khan on it and then threw him on Yuto Nakashima who was clearing out the fans down below. Jon produced some scissors from his pocket and then cut the ponytail of O-Khan in half.
It was at this point where O-Khan had had enough and proceeded to grapple with Moxley in the crowd like they were in an MMA cage before O-Khan rolled up Mox in the plastic cover that was protecting the floor of the venue. I should mention that Mox had been busted open at some point in the match as was bleeding buckets while wrapped up like a burrito. Eventually they made their way up the stands at the back of the arena, and O-Khan came tumbling back down after a strike from Mox. The match ended as Mox kicked out of a Superman punch from O-Khan and then synched in a sleeper on the Mongolian demon to cause a referee stoppage.
This was one of the most fun matches to watch of the whole year, and was a smart move as a classic in-ring match between these two didn't really peak my interest at all going into the show. It just shows how Moxley's wrestling brain is on of the best in the business and that he can make almost any match of his worth watching.
#6 - Ilja Dragunov
Ilja had his first defence of his NXT championship on the second week of NXT's Halloween Havoc branded TV shows. It was a rematch of the bout in which he won the title in back at No Mercy, with Carmello Hayes winning a #1 contendership match the week prior for the right.
It wasn't all that different to their second encounter at the PPV, but more like a fun TV version of the match that cemented Ilja's reign. It was, as expected, a vicious and brutal match, with Ilja looking like he was about to go Super Saiyan at multiple points as his blood vessels bulged out of his body like they themselves wanted to elbow Melo in the face. The intensity of Ilja was off the charts and his strikes were on point as usual, cracking Hayes with chops, forearms, and headbutts that made me wince. There were loads of great nearfalls, but for the whole match it seemed like the champion was just on another level to his challenger, both in confidence and aggression, the skill of Melo was still there, however, and it managed to get him back into the match at multiple points, giving at least some sense of hope for him, even if it was just a few brief moments. The finish was awesome, as Ilja hit a H-Bomb through the announcers table and hit the Torpedo Moscow in the ring for the finish.
There wasn't much story to the match other than Trick Williams coming out near the end to distract Hayes and give Dragunov the win, but it was still a great showing for both men and a perfect main event to a big TV special.
#4 & 5 - El Desperado & Master Wato
Although Mater Wato and El Desperado didn't win the Super Junior Tag League this year, they still put on a great performance in the final week of the tournament. They started the week off beating Kevin Knight and KUSHIDA on Monday in a great match, then losing to Catch 2/2 the next night in an even better bout. Their match on the 1st against DOUKI and TAKA Michinoku wasn't as good, but was still a fun watch and the final block match of the tournament on the 2nd was against House of Torture, so maybe it's best we don't talk about that one.
The Kevin Knight and KUSHIDA match was a long one compared to most of the other tournament matches, but it really progressed the story of Wato and Despy's relationship evolving throughout the tournament and also helped Kevin Knight shine even more than he already has in the tournament so far. I remember last year in the tournament you could see the potential of Knight, but the connection between moves and sequences was noticeably lacking, Desperado helped him with that in this match, allowing Kevin to be as flashy and spectacular as he can be while still maintaining a flow to the match. KUSHIDA and Wato also had some good technical sequences in this match, something we dont see as often with Wato, but it was a nice change of pace.
The Catch 2/2 match was, as I said, even better. The match mostly centred around Desperado finally saving Wato from being pinned even though they would go on to lose the match anyway. Apart from that the match was so smooth and fluid, it really felt like everyone in there knew exactly where the other guys were and it made the match keep my attention for the duration. Great storytelling, great action, probably the match of the tournament for me.
#3 - Madoka Kikuta
Heading back over to Dragon Gate now, and Madoka Kikuta defended his Open the Dream Gate title against the big man of Natural Vibes, BIG BOSS Shimizu. If you're not familiar with these men, lets just say they're two of the beefiest boys in Dragon Gate, and the match definitely played into that.
Madoka is known for his hip attacks, and from what I saw in this match, especially down the stretch, they were some of the most believable and brutal looking hip attacks I've seen. I'm not talking about the Toni Storm-esque corner attacks either, just straight up jumping and throwing his ass into BIG BOSS' face like a missile. The match was filled with massive chops, lariats, and shoulder tackles, all of them thrown at max velocity, the only thing that changed as the match ramped up was the frequency and more innovative spots with them.
When Kikuta first won the belt from Shun Skywalker earlier in the year I was a bit apprehensive, and his early title defences against the likes of Yoshioka (who I talked about earlier) were middling at best in my opinion, but this match with BIG BOSS really showcased Kikuta's strengths and made me more of a fan of both men, not just Madoka. The final moments of the match were great, as Shimizu hit the splash off the top rope, only for Kikuta to kick out for a great nearfall, then Kikuta hit a lariat for a two count, then a running lariat for a two count, and finally a spinning lariat for the three count, driving home the fact that Madoka retained by sticking to his guns, literally.
#2 - Katsuhiko Nakajima
In his shocking debut in AJPW last week, after Yuma Aoyagi successfully defended his Triple Crown title against Kento Miyahara, Nakajima challenged Aoyagi for the title on Sunday this week.
Aoyagi walked into the match with the same demeanor that got him a win over Kento Miyahara, but as soon as the first kick for Nakajima landed, he knew he fucked up. A few more kicks from the challenger and Yuma knew he had to rethink his plan for the rest of the match. He took it to the outside, just like he did with Kento, and it seemed to work as he had control of Katsuhiko for a couple minutes, taking him back in the ring and seemingly keeping that control, still. This didn't last too long, however, as he got complacent again, taunting Nakajima and in turn giving him an opening back into the match with a brutal Saito Suplex that landed Yuma right on his head.
From then on it was kinda over for Yuma, Nakajima kept ramping up the intensity of his strikes and drug Yuma to the next gear of the match as he continued to destroy the champion at every turn. Yuma struggled back a couple times, but would ultimately fall again and again. Nakajima hit the vertical spike, but shockingly Yuma kicked out, showing his worth to this new invading force. It would not help him though as one more vertical spike kept him down for three and Nakajima held the belt up high and went face to face with Kento Miyahara in the ring.
This was a dominant display from Nakajima in his return to AJPW and set up one of the most anticipated rematches of the year on the 31st of December! A big moment in AJPW history as the promotion continues to pick up more and more buzz going into 2024!
#1 - Shota Umino
This week's #1 is Shota Umino, after one of the best matches of the entire year as he challenged Will Ospreay for the IWGP UK and US titles in the main event of Power Struggle on Saturday.
This was one of the best story driven matches I've seen since Ospreay's matches with Omega, and it certainly deserves to be talked about with the same reverence as those matches in my opinion. It started slow with Shota showing no real reaction to the promo Will cut on him the previous night, telling him to be his own man and show some passion as Will didn't want to leave the company in Umino's hands, but half way through the match a switch flipped in Umino as Ospreay was chopping him and he went full murder Umino.
This was when the real Shota reared its head. The Shota the could carry the company on his back and deliver incredible matches like this one. He beat the shit out of Ospreay and threw a whole table at him on the outside before trying to put him through two on the outside with the Death Rider, but was unfortunately put through them himself with a Tiger Driver '98 from Ospreay. This wasn't the end for Shota as he and Ospreay had one of the best extended ending sequences of the year with tons of great reversals of finishers that had me out of my seat and screaming, something very few matches can do.
Shota losing this match was baffling to me, especially after having such a good match. A win here could have catapulted him to the top of the company and New Japan would have made a star in record time, but unfortunately David Finlay needs to win the title at Wrestle Kingdom... Anyway, this was one of the best matches of the year, and it absolutely flew by. A must watch for any wrestling fan in the world.
Lets see how this massive week of wrestling has changed the leaderboard going into the penultimate month of 2023: