This week saw AEW's Continental Classic really heat up, as Danielson and Andrade had their first matches in the Blue League. NJPW's World Tag League also rumbled on, having a couple of standout performances with the likes of Umino, Narita, TMDK, Kaito, and Oiwa really putting their working boots on, just to name a few. Also, Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling celebrated their 10th Anniversary in Korakuen Hall with a fun 10-Man tag team 2/3 falls match that pitted the current main event talent against the new generation.
- Ilja Dragunov (Ilja Dragunov vs Nathan Frazer, NXT, 28/11)
- Wes Lee (Lee vs Reed vs Gargano vs Grimes, NXT, 28/11)
- Maika (Maika vs Ami Sourei, Maika vs Momo Watanabe, Maika & Bayne vs AphroditE, Stardom, 28/11 & 1/12)
- Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI (Bishamon vs Atlantis Jr. & Soberano Jr., NJPW, 29/11)
- Jon Moxley (Jon Moxley vs Jay Lethal, AEW, 29/11)
- El Hijo del Vikingo (Vikingo, Penta, & Komander vs Cage & The Workhorsemen, & El Hijo del Vikingo vs Sabian, AEW, 1/12 & 2/12)
- Giulia (Giulia vs AZM, Stardom, 1/12)
- Suzu Suzuki (Suzu Suzuki vs Hazuki, Stardom, 1/12)
- HARASHIMA (HARASHIMA vs Tetsuya Endo, DDT, 2/12)
- Daniel Garcia (Daniel Garcia vs Andrade El Idolo, AEW, 2/12)
- Mikey Nicholls & Shane Haste (TMDK vs Umino & Narita, NJPW, 3/12)
- Yuki Ueno (Yuki Ueno vs Daisuke Sasaki, DD, 3/12)
#10 - Arisu Endo
We start this weeks list with an interesting entrant, as one of the ten women to take part in TJPW's 10th Anniversary tag team 2/3 falls match makes it to 10th place. Endo was part of the new generation team who went head to head with the perennial main eventers of the promotion.
One of the reasons I love TJPW is their comradery. There's no faces and heels in the promotion, just friends who like to wrestle each other. Now this might sound counter intuitive for a wrestling promotion, as the whole point of it (at least in other promotions) is to beat your enemies and prove your dominance over them, and while they do set out to be better than each other, it's not something that completely overshadows their love for one another. This creates a really unique and engaging atmosphere, especially when they're in Korakuen Hall.
Endo was the epitome of TJPW in this match for that exact reason. She proved to everyone that she's improved, finally getting a pinfall win against one of TJPW's biggest stars, Shoko Nakajima, in the first of three falls. This was a big moment for her, the fans, and the wrestlers, as she's only gotten pinfalls over the rookies of the roster. Moka and Miyu started out the match, but the rest of the participants would all get some time in the opening minutes as Shoko's team took the situation lightly, poking fun at each other, especially Tatsumi, who was busy pissing about with Yuka and Mizuki, trying to get Mizuki to do double team moves with her instead of Sakazaki. This allowed Arisu to come in to get the upper hand on Rika, but she got caught with a Dragon Screw before Tatsumi tagged out to Shoko Nakajima, who locked in some submissions on her leg. Arisu tried to get off some offence, but Nakajima hit a top rope 619 and then for a normal one. Arisu dodged it, however, and managed to roll up Nakajima to win the first fall of the match! The rest of Endo's team gather round her as the fans chant her name, and it's a great reminder that everyone has their own goals and paths in life, and having people their to support you in victory and defeat this something to celebrate too.
I don't know why I got so heartfelt there, but it was a great match, going over 30 minutes, being one of the longest matches in the promotions history. The match never dragged as the characters involved and their unique move sets made for so many amazing stories and moment throughout, Endo's being one of the highlights.
#9 - Claudio Castagnoli
Claudio had his second match in the C2 this Saturday as he faced off against House of Black's Brody King, both men sitting on 3 points with one win each. While Brody's match with Eddie Kingston was a battle between heart and strength, this match was a pure power vs power matchup, but both men used their power differently when they needed too.
The match was as physical as one would expect from these two, with both men having great striking exchanges in the ring to start. I think Claudio was slightly outmatched during the opening stretch even though neither man would go down for a while as they hit shoulder blocks, chops, and lariats until they both rolled to the outside. They traded even more lariats and boots before King threw Claudio over the barricade and suplexed him back over to ringside, knocking Swiss loopy for a minute. King had control as the two made it back into the ring, wearing Claudio down with chops until Castagnoli fired back with a bunch of uppercuts in the corner and tried for the giant swing, only King to push him away. Claudio caught him with a pop-up uppercut, however, and managed to swing the massive King before locking in the sharpshooter.
Brody got to the ropes and hit a Cannonball in the corner, but only got a one count, followed up with an AA from Claudio that also got a one! These two were on the same level the whole match until Brody landed a Piledriver and a lariat to get another shocking victory, putting him a 6 points with two wins.
This was a true battle of power that put over both men as incredibly strong (probably because they are), but the main take away for me was how Claudio portrayed the slight advantage Brody had over him, and how he needed to find openings in the big man's offence to even have a chance at beating him.
#8 - RUSH
RUSH's second tournament match was on Dynamite this week against Mark Briscoe, and although he won in the end, it was rough going for the leader of LFI.
Both men went chop for chop from the get go, spilling to the outside where Mark got the advantage with an elbow drop from the apron to the floor. RUSH made a comeback with a German Suplex and a Superkick, but seemed to have tweaked his knee, causing him to stumble and limp around the ring, stopping him from hitting the Bull's Horns. RUSH had to change strategy and locked in a submission on Briscoe instead, giving his leg a rest for a minute. He tried for the Bull's Horns again, but was caught with a spear from Briscoe since he was slower than normal, and this put RUSH in a bad position on the apron. They exchanged some chops, but Mark got tossed to the outside by RUSH instead, and just chopped to shit when he climbed to the top rope. He finally got hit with the Bull's Horns, giving RUSH the win.
This was another physical match from the C2 and showed the resilience of RUSH as he battled through a leg injury, but doing so smartly, baiting Mark in to make sure he was down before he went for the finish. Good psychology from RUSH.
#6 & 7 - Kaito Kiyomiya & Ryohei Oiwa
Kaito and Oiwa continued their World Tag League campaign this week and had some of the best matches of the tournament so far! They started off with a brilliant match against Umino and Narita, a decent match against A Block front runners TMDK, and then a solid match against the CHAOS team of Ishii and Yano, which overdelivered a lot in my opinion.
As I said about their match with Umino and Narita, it was awesome. Even just the matchup on paper is super interesting. You have the "failed" Ace of NOAH in Kaito, the front runner for the future Ace of NJPW in Umino, and then Narita who is so close to the same status as Shota, but never gets the spotlight, even though he's already won a title. Then there's Oiwa. He has IT. I think out of all of these guys Ryohei Oiwa is someone who could turn out to be a bigger star than all the rest, even though he's a class or two below them, and I think this match allowed him to show his potential.
It was a long match, nearly reaching the 30 minute time limit, but it didn't feel too boring at any stage because of how all these characters interacted. Right off the bat Red Shoes compares the chants for Umino and Kaito, feeding into their desire to be the biggest star in Japanese wrestling. They go into a quick technical exchange before tagging out to their partners who put on even more a mat based show. Oiwa is a lot bigger than Ren so there was a great contrast between Narita's skill and tenure verses Oiwa's raw ability and stature. Interestingly I think that Oiwa and Kaito have a better connection as tag partners than Ren and Shota, as they were hitting lots of double team moves, and where as Ren and Shota would neglect each other at some points, Kaito was nearly always there for Oiwa when he was in trouble.
The midsection of the match was mostly based around the two New Japan guys getting heat on Kaito, who sold well, battling through submissions and the occasional double team move, before getting the hot tag to Ryohei. This was when Oiwa really started to show his potential, hitting big suplexes and countering Shota's big moves, even kicking out of the Ignition DDT that Umino is known for. Ultimately Shota would get him with the Blaze Blade and the Death Rider for the win, but it made Oiwa look strong in the process.
Their match against Ishii and Yano was good, as Ishii is normally taking the lead in those matches, relying on Yano for assistance occasionally, but mostly handling business by himself. This was a where Kaito shone the most this week as he and Ishii went all out, using their speed and striking to put on a show.
I'm pretty sure Oiwa is going to be a big deal for New Japan in the next few years. Kaito also has a good chance of joining the company too I feel. A great week for both men, and even though they are out of contention for the tournament finals I'm still looking forward to their upcoming matches.
#4 & 5 - Shota Umino & Ren Narita
Over to the other side of that brilliant tag team match now, and Ren and Shota are telling a really great story with their tag league, even if I don't have a clue why they aren't making it to the semi-finals at the very least. Anyway, they also had other matches against Ishii & Yano and TMDK, just like Kaito and Oiwa, and I thought both of them were a little bit better than Kaito and Oiwa's too.
The main thread running through all of this teams matches is the fact that Shota is the one taking the spotlight most of the time. Whether that's in-ring time, getting wins, or even taking loses, it's mostly been Umino involved in the finishes. I think this is because of Shota's determination to live up to guys like Ospreay, who he had an amazing match with just last month. But on the other hand, when watching the matches Ren isn't really holding up his end of the team in my opinion. He comes in useful against technical wrestlers like Oiwa and O-Khan, but other than that has been rather lackluster compared to Umino in my opinion. I want to stress the word "compared" though, because he has still been good in the tournament, and this might all be part of the story, so I don't want to bury him just yet!
I've talked about the Kaito and Oiwa match, so lets talk about their matches with TMDK and CHAOS instead. Both were shorter and higher paced than the Kaito/Oiwa match and allowed Umino to show a bit more fire, which is something that was definitely missing from his game pre-Ospreay at Power Struggle. There wasn't anything too special about these matches story wise, but the action was all crisp, intense and they built up a lot of drama in the final stages of the matches. With TMDK it was all about teamwork, whereas against Ishii it was more a battle of attrition and pure will to win.
#3 - Jay White
Heading back over to AEW and the Continental Classic is the focus again as Jay White faced off against Swerve Strickland on AEW Dynamite.
This was a match I've been looking forward to since Jay made his way to AEW earlier this year, and after having watched it, I am very happy it happened. This was a great match that pitted Swerves unique offence against Jay's counter wrestling ability, giving us some awesome counters from Jay, but also some clever reversals from Swerve too, who'd been studying Jay's previous match against RUSH the previous week, most notably the low blows.
This was one of the longer C2 matches so far and it really felt like White finally tapped into his New Japan work, starting slow and attacking the legs while taunting Swerve the whole time. Jay's character shone a lot more in this match compared to the Full Gear main event, and it helped the drama of the match so much more. There were some great near falls at the end, specifically when Jay hit the Blade Runner, only for Swerve to roll out of the ring, something that we don't see too often. Jay brought his counter wrestling finish from New Japan too, which, in my opinion, always makes for a great finish if they've brought the fans up enough beforehand, which they had.
Swerve got the rollup pin in this one, but I think ultimately it did more for White as he got to show the world what he's like in a top level singles match without any bullshittery surrounding it. Swerve beating a PPV main eventer is still very good for him though too.
#2 - Swerve Strickland
Speaking of Swerve Strickland, he also had another great match this week that not many people would have seen, let alone known about. On the 1st of December Swerve faced off with Mike Bailey at House of Glory's "The Darkest Hour" show in New York, and with the level of talent in this match it was one that I had to seek out and watch.
It didn't disappoint either. It mainly focused around the body control of both wrestlers, which is something you rarely see, so that was a nice surprise. It helps that these two have some amazing body control too, with Bailey able to move around the ring like he was god mode in a video game (specifically his kick precision and control), and Swerve having some of the most unique offence in the game right now, as I mentioned before. Throughout the match Swerve found it hard to land any of his big moves on Bailey, who was just too fast and agile for him. That's when Prince Nana came into his own.
Nana and Swerve would use their numbers advantage, and a little dancing, to distract Bailey or trip him as he's running the ropes, opening up opportunities for Swerve to get back into the game. It still wasn't enough though as Swerve tried for the Swerve Stomp multiple times, but Speedball would sit back up and meet him on the top rope, even if he was sent back down to the mat again. This resulted in some great nearfalls as Bailey finally got hit with the Stomp, but kicked out, then hitting Swerve with the Ultima Weapon, only for him to kick out too. I thought this was a great way to build suspense as people would have expected a top tier AEW guy to put away Bailey with one finish, especially after he'd been trying to escape it for so long.
Ultimately Swerve got the win with the House Call and the JML Driver after a great match that put both men over huge. An extra little nugget of Swerve if you wanted to see more of him after his Dynamite match against White.
#1 - Bryan Danielson
This week's #1 is the one and only "American Dragon" Bryan Danielson, returning to the ring after getting his orbital bone broken by 'Kazuchika Okada' (I know it was you Andrade!). He faced off against Eddie Kingston in Danielson's first Continental Classic match, and it was everything I wanted it to be.
The two had a match in the 2021 Full Gear World Title Eliminator Tournament that has since stood the test of time as one of AEW's best TV matches in history, so this rematch had a lot to live up to. And I think it did live up to the first, even if it didn't exactly surpass it.
They start the match off with a good old striking exchange, seemingly a staple of the tournament at this point, but Bryan quickly realises that Eddie has him out matched in this department, as Danielson is sent to the mat with one of the chops, so he goes to take the match to the mat himself, now dominating Eddie pretty handily. Kingston manages to bide his time, however, and takes advantage after dodging a tope, hitting a suplex on the floor before resuming his chopping session. Danielson decides to not try and outdo Eddie at his own game, instead going to the kicks and submissions, slowing the pace of the match down and stopping any attempt from Kingston to get off any big offence like a suplex or a grapple, forcing him back into a striking exchange that now Danielson can keep up with by using his kicks instead of chops.
Eddie managed to get off a flurry of offence nevertheless, hitting a Uraken and a Northern Lights Bomb, but it only got a too count. This was when Eddie tried the chops again, but Danielson's adrenaline was pumping too fast at this point as he kicked and kicked at Eddie, wearing him down until there was nothing left for him to do accept put the middle finger up and accept defeat as Danielson hit a single Busaiku Knee for the win.
This was a classic wrestling story, and one that two veterans like Eddie and Danielson can make into something even more special. Add in Dragon only having one eye and you've got yourself the match of the tournament so far, and another addition to Danielson's wrestler of the year domination.
Let's see how this week has affected the leaderboard as we draw the year to a close: