In the final week to be dominated by the New Japan Cup the two finalist take their place on this weeks list, along with a couple others in the tournament who had standout performances. The women over in TJPW also had a great week with their Wrestle Princess show being a highlight of the month, let alone week!
-Kenny Omega (The Elite vs House of Black vs JAS, AEW, 15/3)
-Mizuki (Yuka Sakazaki vs Mizuki, TJPW, 18/3)
-Daniel Garcia (The Elite vs House of Black vs JAS, AEW, 15/3 & Daniel Garcia vs Brody King, AEW, 17/3)
-Yuki Arai (Aja Kong vs Yuki Arai, TJPW, 18/3)
-Andreza The Giant Panda (Haruna Neko & Andreza the Giant Panda vs Shoko Nakajima & Hyper Misao, TJPW, 18/3)
#10 - Powerhouse Hobbs
The newly crowned TNT champion, Powerhouse Hobbs had his first title defence against the amazing Rey Fenix on this weeks Rampage show, which emphasised his strength and hard hitting offence.
This was a great first defence for Hobbs as having him face the highflying Rey Fenix perfectly complemented his move set which is normally limited by his opponents size, resulting in fairly tame and uninspired maneuvers that fail to show the full extent of his abilities in the ring. The visual of Powerhouse catching and swatting Fenix out of the sky was a great way to make him look more dominant coming out of what many people thought was a detrimental interference from QT Marshall the previous Dynamite.
A good dominant performance worthy of a point on this weeks list!
#9 - Wheeler Yuta
Wheeler is back again this week after a great ROH Pure championship match against Clark Connors from New Japan on this weeks ROH on HonorClub show, as well as being part of a fun trios match on Dynamite with his fellow BCC members squaring off with Hangman, Stu Grayson, and Evil Uno.
This Pure championship match continued to show Yuta's progression into a more dominant and aggressive version of himself, but unlike last week, this match consisted of mind games rather than the outright rule breaking we saw in the Thatcher match. Wheeler would bait the Wild Rhino into striking him, only to counter into a submission hold near the ropes incentivizing Clark to waste a rope break. He would outsmart the LA Dojo graduate so much that he ended up using a closed fist and getting a warning from the referee (before Wheeler used one of his own).
All this great psychology interwoven in a well executed match with the passion and energy of Clark juxtaposing the conniving style of Yuta made for great pro wrestling.
#8 - Masa Kitamiya
Along with his team-mate Daiki Inaba, Masa Kitamiya defended his GHC Heavyweight Tag Team championship against the formidable team of Kenoh and Manabu Soya at NOAH's Great Voyage 2023 in Yokohama event.
In one of the best matches of the show, Masa delivered some classic Kings Road style offence with stiff lariats and forearms to the two most hard hitting members of Kongo. After being out on the outside for a significant amount of time, Kitamiya finally got the tag and came in like a house on fire, hitting jumping sentons on both of the challengers before focusing on the knees of the legal Soya. After taking a beating from Kenoh and Soya, who blasted Masa with some big double team offence like a PFS into a powerslam, he managed to catch Soya in knee crusher twice before synching in the Prison Lock, but was broken up from a Kenoh that was also trapped in a submission by Inaba. A couple massive lariats, Saito Suplexes, and a top rope senton sealed the deal and the champions retained in a great Kings Road style match!
#7 - Rika Tatsumi
In a show focusing around partner vs partner showdowns, Rika Tatsumi and Miu Watanabe wrestled for the latter's International Princess championship, keeping with the theme of TJPW's Wrestle Princess '23.
Rika went straight for Miu legs in an attempt to neutralise the champion's powerful lower body that normally gives her the advantage over the largely smaller roster. She would drop Watanabe on her legs (similar to how Masa did in his match) and whip them into the ropes, trying to deal as much damage as possible. Using the ring post was also an important and useful tactic that allowed Tatsumi to lock in a figure four in the middle of the ring. Miu would briefly break out of the hold and attempted her signature giant swing only for Rika to sit up and try and choke the champion out mid-swing! This was a great counter that I've never seen before, and for the White Dragon to use it on her own partner demonstrated her determination to become the first ever Grand Slam champion in TJPW.
Mid way through the match Rika realised that Miu's legs were just too strong and started to target the head and neck of Watanabe which worked as she tapped out the champ with a Dragon Sleeper hold, making her the first and only Grand Slam champion in TJPW! A great match that gave us an interesting twist on the body part based story that I love.
#6 - David Finlay
The first New Japan Cup finalist I'll talk about today is the newest member of Bullet Club, David Finlay, who had a great match with both Shota Umino and Tama Tonga to punch his ticket to the finals!
The Shota match started off hot with the two trading strikes right off the bat and Umino taking advantage early on with brutal offence. The Rebel would take things to the outside however and throw Umino into the barricades like a ragdoll, then taking control in the ring with a headlock and some knees to the midsection. After taking some more damage from the Roughneck, Finlay would catch him with a backbreaker and give some viscous forearm rakes to a prone Shota, showing the brutality of the Finlay lineage. His jaw jacking with Red Shoes and a great back and forth for the rest of the match resulted in a classic New Japan style finish of reversal after reversal until David hit the Trash Panda for the win!
The match with Tama Tonga however, started off much more methodically with the two jockeying for position with tie ups and headlocks determining the early stages of the bout. A snake eyes on the ropes from Finlay would be the decider as it allowed the Rebel to take it to the outside while ELP was texting his grandma. After subduing the Tongan in the ring with stomps and a Cobra Clutch, Tama would fire up and hit a big lariat, but took a nasty chop block in return, taking him back to the mat. A finishing stretch, similar to the Shota match, would see reversals, spears, and lariats bookend an intense sharpshooter submission attempt from Tama which Finlay sold really well. Multiple Gun Stun reversals later Finlay would hit the Trash Panda for his third win in the tournament.
Finlay has been a breath of fresh air in Bullet Club, steering away from the cheep stalling tactics of KENTA and Jay White. Instead he brings a much more aggressive and direct approach, trying to actually out wrestle his opponent, which works really well as he gets the New Japan style perfectly even if we're not going to see 5+ star matches from him (at least any time soon).
#5 - Shota Umino
We already talked about Shota's match against Finlay in the segment before, but what I really want to talk about is Umino's round two match against Zack Sabre Jr.. After the Roughneck's first match against Yujiro went less than satisfactorily, people were more concerned than ever about his future (even though we shouldn't be making those judgements just yet). This match vs ZSJ however, would show everyone that Umino could put on a banger match.
The match started with Shota showing that he could keep up with Zack's "Tekkers", going hold for hold with him and coming out on top for a lot of the exchanges, especially in a series of full nelson holds that Shota would continue to reverse, angering the Brit. Shota would gradually integrate more of his own move set into the match, hitting big moves off the ropes like uppercuts and dropkicks on a seated ZSJ. Sabre ain't no rookie, however, he knew he had to match Shota's offence too, taking to uppercuts to counter the change in pace and open opportunities for more submission wrestling.
Shota wasn't blind to this. He would change up his plans as needed, digging back into the bag of holds and reversals where necessary. As Zack focused his arm, he'd focus on Zack's, making sure that he's on the same playing field as the former two time cup winner. After taking it to Zack for a large part of the match Zack would fire back and wear down the arm even more, but Shota would hit his big moves like the dropkick, spinning neckbreaker, and float over neckbreaker, followed by a convincing roll-up nearfall leading into a striking exchange. A great show of fighting spirit from both would see Shota come out on top with a Death Rider to get the three count and advance to face Finlay in the next round.
This was one of the best Shota matches I've seen so far. He really showed great knowledge of the match he wanted to present and executed it to near perfection and looked as good as, if not better than Zack. A well deserved 4 points for Umino!
#4 - Jake Lee
A controversial pick for this week is Jake Lee. He won the GHC Heavyweight championship from Kaito Kiyomiya on the Great Voyage in Yokohama show in NOAH and did so in quite a dominant fashion too. Although the response to the match is mixed, possibly to its long run time and relatively slow pace compared to the Heavyweight Tag Title match I mentioned before, I thought it was a good showcase of Jake's overbearing presence in the ring, particularly against NOAH's babyface ace Kaito.
Jake was dominant throughout the whole match barely giving Kiyomiya a chance to breathe, even when Kaito tried to take him to the outside where he dealt the most damage to Okada in their match at the Tokyo Dome. Kaito was truly overpowered by Lee in this match and it made for a compelling story that I wasn't expecting, even though Jake's is much larger and stronger than Kaito. Every time Kaito tried for a big move it would get countered and he found it hard to escape any of Jakes offence. Jake would eventually hit the running Yakuza kick in the corner to knockout Kaito and claim the GHC Heavyweight championship convincingly.
A great performance from Jake, but may feel long in the tooth for many fans, especially after a monotone transition from AJPW to NOAH which could leave hardcore puro fans wanting something new.
#3 - SANADA
SANADA had two good matches this week in the New Japan Cup, making it all the way to the final after taking care of his now former leader in Naito and an impassioned and determined Mark Davis (who we'll talk about next).
SANADA's match with Naito started slow, as you might expect from a SANADA and Naito match. They grappled on the mat for a while, trading holds, until SANADA took it to the outside. Naito got the upper hand and continued the wearing down of Cold Skull on the mat before SANADA finally fired up around the ten minute mark hitting a brutal backdrop driver to Naito and sending him to the outside. The momentum changed however with SANADA only getting brief periods of offence, accompanied by rallying cries from the crowd, urging him on before being shutdown once again.
It was a backflip into a Skull End that got Naito down until SANADA let go for the moonsault which was obviously countered by the L.I.J. leader. All of SANADA's signature offence seemed to be failing him, while the Taichi inspired King's Road maneuvers were what kept his leader down. SANADA would survive one Destino from Naito, and then counter a second one into his (as yet un-named) Blade Runner style DDT for the win. This was a nice hint as to what would happen post match and these subtleties definitely added to the match down the stretch.
Afterwards Taichi and the rest of Just 4 Guys came down to the ring and SANADA joined them stating that he would get no-where if he were to stay in L.I.J. and he was now Just 1 of 5 Guys!
#2 - Mark Davis
Mark Davis had a massive opportunity this week as Will Ospreay suffered a shoulder injury in his match with Davis and unfortunately had to pull out of the tournament all together, nominating his stable-mate to take his place. This meant that Dunkzilla was now facing EVIL in the quarter finals of the cup!
His match with EVIL was 100% one of the best EVIL matches since his defection to Bullet Club all the way back in 2020. Davis understood the assignment and took it to the leader of House of Torture the right way, brawling on the outside and getting the whole United Empire involved on his behalf! This was very similar to an attitude era match with run-ins and shenanigans galore helping to bring even more uncertainty to the finish as many were wondering if they wanted to take Mark the whole way to the semis or fall back on more established singles wrestler and former stable-mate of SANADA. Ultimately after the UE got rid of every single HoT member one by one, Mark managed to pin EVIL, one two three with the Airplane Spin and a cheeky Tour of the Islands from Cobb which the Korakuen crowd ate up.
Mark's match with SANADA was also amazing and really helped bring out the new, more energised side of SANADA who had now changed up his look, shaving the beard and dying the hair black again. They kept the match short, under 15 minutes, and packed as much as possible into it too, hitting big strikes and moves at a fast pace, which is a great sign for SANADA. Mark made SANADA look great while also increasing his own stock ten fold as he hit a big Tope Suicida and shoulder check from the middle rope wiping out the newest J5G member and taking him to the limit!
Two important matches sees Mark take a massive opportunity and make the most of them, nabbing him nine points for the Worker of the Year list!
#1 - Yuka Sakazaki
Even though Yuka lost her Princess of Princess championship at this Saturday's Wrestle Princess show for TJPW she put on an emotional and hard hitting display against her own team mate, Mizuki, in the main event.
This match was one of the more emotional matches I've seen in quite a while, which is something Tokyo Joshi Pro does extremely well compared to other wrestling companies. Their wholesome and lightheartedness may not lend to intense, blood feud like rivalries, but instead centres around relationships and friendships they make over the years and how they morph over time. That's what makes matches like Yuka vs Mizuki some of the best in terms of storytelling.
The match started with Yuka being physically and emotionally unable to hit Mizuki, locking up multiple times, only to break and walk away with an anguished look on her face. She'd try to slam Mizupyon on the concrete floor outside, but just dropped her and walked away again, unable to hurt her friend. Mizuki was trying all she could to get the Magical Girl to hit her, practically begging her to return her strikes back in the ring. Sakazaki relented and got off a massive lariat that could have rocked Tomohiro Ishii if he was brave enough to face her.
From this point on Yuka was doing everything she could to end the match as soon as possible, giving Mizu every chance to submit or give up so she didn't have to hurt her friend any more. But this wasn't an option for the Popping Sugar Rabbit, who took every strike, suplex, and submission Yuka could throw at her, while getting off big top rope foot stomps and crossbodies.
Yuka would continue her brutal offence throughout the whole match, like a Superplex and a Brainbuster on the apron, but none of it could keep the challenger down and she would look traumatised after every move. This made for an unusually slow and methodical match from two of the fastest workers in TJPW or joshi wrestling in general for that matter, showing the realism that many uneducated people would tell you it lacks.
The finish came after Mizuki hit two double foot stomps, only for Yuka to claw at the canvas and dead weighting, desperate to stop Mizuki from getting the cover. Mizuki finally shoots the half, but only for a two. She gets Yuka up again and hits the Cutie Special to finally win the Princess of Princess title after her 5th attempt!
Yuka was an amazing storyteller in this match and even after the match too, clearly having mixed feelings about her best friend taking the thing she wants the most in wrestling. Definitely deserving of the full 10 points this week!
Here's the leaderboard after week 11: