Worker of the Week: Week 18
An unexpectedly PACKED week of brilliant professional wrestling this week. It was Golden Week over in a Japan which meant that every major company had massive shows, as well as WWE giving us a red hot PPV in Puerto Rico and a banger match on NXT too! Overall this was one of the best weeks for wrestling in 2023 so far.
- Baliyan Akki (Baliyan Akki vs Rina Yamashita, DPWxGTMV, 5/5 (broadcast date))
- David Finlay (David Finlay vs Tama Tonga, NJPW, 3/5)
- Go Shiozaki (Inaba, Kaito, & Go vs Kongo, NOAH, 4/5)
- AZM (AZM vs Mei Seira, Stardom, 4/5)
- Rey Escorpion (Dralistico vs Rey Escorpion, NOAH, 4/5)
- Zack Sabre Jr. ( Zack Sabre Jr. vs Jeff Cobb, NJPW, 3/5)
- Fuminori Abe (Astronauts vs Suzuki & Kato, BJW, 4/5)
- Rika Tatsumi (Rika Tatsumi vs Suzume, TJPW, 5/5)
- Maika (Maika & Giulia vs Kamitani & Hayashishita, Stardom, 4/5)
- Shotaro Ashino (Shotaro Ashino vs T-Hawk, AJPW, 7/5)
#10 - Hagane Shinno
Hagane Shinno had a standout performance at DPW x GTMV's Tokyo Crossover Night 2 in Shinjuku Face last week (Broadcasted this week). He tagged up with the endless energy of Chie Koshikawa to take on Rina Yamashita & Minoru Fujita in a fast paced sprint of a match that saw Shinno shine, especially against Yamashita.
Hagane's speed and precision was immaculate throughout the match, with crisp hurricanranas, stiff kicks, and brutal lariats that was a great contrast to the humorous Koshikawa, and gave the audience the ability to be invested in the match at all times. This wasn't the greatest match you could watch from the last week, but it allowed Shinno to show his versatility.
#9 - Dragon Lee
The former AAA star, Dragon Lee, had an exciting match on NXT this week against JD McDontGoogleMe in the latter's final match before moving over to RAW in the draft.
The brilliance of Dragon Lee isn't anything new, with amazing matches in New Japan and Mexico, but this was probably Lee's best match under the WWE banner to date. From the starting technical exchange to massive aerial maneuvers like a Tope Con Hilo followed up by a Double Foot Stomp from the top rope for a near-fall, the action was non-stop (at least when they weren't in PnP). There was also some great knee strikes and suplexes from the former IWGP Jr. champion which had JD on the ropes, especially with a massive Poisonrana that got a justified "This is awesome" chants from the CWC.
My favourite part of the match was probably to do with a certain Noam Dar at ringside. Dragon Lee reacted perfectly to this little distraction, instead of turning his back to his opponent he only took a quick glance over to see why the Heritage Cup champion was there, but it was enough time for JD to take advantage and, in turn, control of the match.
Ultimately this was a great spotfest of a match with great highflying action that is expected when you've got Dragon Lee in there with a good worker, and even in a loss this managed to raise Lee's stock in the company a lot.
#8 - Madoka Kikuta
The new Open the Dream Gate champion Madoka Kikuta makes #8 on this weeks list after successfully wrenching the title from the evil hands of Shun Skywalker at Dragongate's Dead or Alive show on the 5th.
This was Kikuta's second attempt at the Dream Gate championship and a rematch from his first attempt against Shun back at 2021's Dead or Alive event that ended with Kikuta injuring his shoulder and losing by referee stoppage. This meant that there was a lot of pressure riding on this match.
When the match started Kikuta immediately jumped Skywalker with his signature hip attack and had the champion on the back foot for a quick second, but the ever insidious Skywalker countered by going straight for the shoulder he injured two years ago, even recreating the same spot that caused the injury, a drop toe hold. This was a fun call back, but in reality and kayfabe it was hard to believe that it did too much damage. The rest of the match consisted of some good selling of the arm from Kikuta, great nearfalls, and a hot finishing stretch that had multiple rolling lariats keeping Shun down for the three count.
A fun match that saw a big moment for Madoka, who is only two years fresh from graduating from the dojo and still has a lot to learn.
#7 - Mina Shirakawa
Mina started off her first Wonder of Stardom reign with a great match against former stablemate, Natsupoi, in the main event of Fukuoka Goddess Legend on the 4th.
The match revolved around the two opponents focusing on different body parts. Mina targeted the leg of Natsupoi, mostly due to its effectiveness in procuring her the White Belt in the first place. Where as Poi wanted Mina to prove that leaving Cosmic Angels was the best thing for her and focused on trying to smash Shirakawa's teeth in again.
The match was borderline disturbing in its brutality, as Natsupoi's kicks were leaving no space for Jesus and Mina's leg work was fast, impactful, and came out of nowhere most of the time. For example, the two of them were struggling on the top rope as Mina was looking for the impact DDT off the top, but Poi managed to kick the champion back down to the mat, only for Mina to grab the leg for a Dragonscrew out of nowhere!
The match was full of awesome counters, transitions, and sequences that all led to Mina getting the pin with an inventive Figure Four Driver on Poi. Fully deserving of 4 points this week.
#6 - Damian Priest
Priest had what some consider to be the best match of WWE's Backlash PP- sorry, PLE from Puerto Rico (his home country) against the most streamed music artist in the world, Bad Bunny.
This is a slightly different kind of entry than the others this week, as he wasn't the flashiest, or the most hard-hitting worker, but instead one of the most giving and important pin eaters from the past seven days. His San Juan Street Fight was an overbooked mess that played perfectly to the hot crowd and made Bunny look like a legit fighter that could hang with some of the best in WWE.
Priest did all this while still maintaining his aura to the fans as a big bruiser that you need to be scared of in the ring. He did this by inflicting most of the damage on himself, with a kick to the ring post that severely hindered his movement and he sold it perfectly.
Overall I think most people will remember the match for its surprises like Carlito and Savio Vega, rather than the work of Priest, but it's important to give him his flowers for doing this for the company and making Backlash one of the more memorable B level PPVs in a while.
#5 - SANADA
SANADA had his first defence of the IWGP World Heavyweight championship on Tuesday as he went toe to toe with the Jr. champion, Hiromu Takahashi.
This was a classic New Japan main event style match with a slow start that builds up to a great finishing stretch with smooth counter wrestling and near-fall after near-fall. Throughout the match SANADA would take quite a bit of damage from Hiromu, like a Death Valley Driver into the corner and a DDT, before the champion managed to crank in Skull End on the previously broken neck of Hiromu.
SANADA really made Hiromu look good in this match and had the crowd believing Takahashi might win at multiple points in the match, but ultimately the size and the striking power of SANADA was too much and the champion managed to retain with the Dead Fall after a couple brutal back suplexes, locking in the Skull End, hitting the Rounding Body Press and blasting Hiromu with the Shining Wizard.
A great match that really showed how SANADA can work on the back foot while still looking like a dominant force as World Heavyweight champion.
#4 - Iyo Sky
Coming out of WWE Backlash, Iyo Sky was one of the most talked about wrestlers in the whole company as her match with Bianca Belair for the RAW Women's championship saw the crowd take to Iyo like she was one of their own, getting crowd reactions that rivaled that of Roman or Cena back in the USA.
And all of this was not for no good reason. The match was incredible, with Iyo hitting clean springboard dropkicks, countering out of the KOD multiple times, and working Bianca's arm to ravenous applause at each move, no matter how simple. Not that Iyo only did simple moves however, she hit a massive Moonsault to the outside on Bianca and landed awkwardly, but came out fine.
The one downside to the match (other than Iyo not winning the whole thing) was how the ending happened. Bayley came out with Dakota hot on her tail begging her to stay in the back, but Bayley tried to help Iyo win anyway and it backfired. Bianca hit the KOD for the win.
This match was great and it must have felt really good for Iyo to finally be appreciated by a crowd on the WWE main roster as she hasn't really had a chance like this to shine in the ring before now.
#3 - Naomichi Marafuji
The main event of NOAH's Majestic event in Ryogoku Sumo Hall saw Naomichi Marafuji challenge for Jake Lee's GHC Heavyweight championship in one of Jake's best matches in a long time.
Going into the match many people had their doubts as to whether Marafuji could still keep up with top level athletes, or even Jake Lee for that matter. It turns out that yes, Marafuji can certainly still work at the main event level calibre, and he was actually the one that carried the match in my opinion. He did this mainly by dishing out the vast majority of the offence, hitting picture perfect hook kicks, bicycle knees, and skin ripping chops, that kept the taller Jake Lee at bay for most of the match.
Obviously Jake got his moves in and looked dominant at points, but it was clear that this was a match for Marafuji to test his metal and prove to the crowd and the locker room that he is still at the top of his game.
#2 - Emi Sakura
Emi Sakura defended her DPW Women's World championship against Miyuki Takase at DPW x GTMV's Tokyo Crossover Night 2 show in a brutal 20 minute battle that saw brilliant heelwork and terrific Babyface fire that made for a great title clash.
The match started off with Emi getting the upper hand in a chop battle and sending Takase to the outside, which turned out to be a bad idea as Miyuki's signature run-up lariat not only caught the champion, but all of her little cronies on the way too! Back in the ring, however, the chop game was back on for your Highness, as she bloodied her own hand with the power and frequency of her knife-edges! Miyuki would get glimmers of hope with big dropkicks and a DDT, but Sakura had a counter to everything and played her offence to the crowd well.
Emi has this kind of heel persona that you never really buy into as an observer, but it still works as a way to build a story and build heat throughout the match to get her opponent over. This is great for these kind of events that are much more casual, but are still expected to produce one or two great matches, this being one of those.
The finishing exchange was fast and just as brutal as the rest of the match, neither woman giving an inch to the other and both getting some dramatic near-falls before Emi would win with the Ice Driver (what Ospreay might call Stormbreaker). This was a match of the year contender for sure and gave us the great mix of strong style and sport entertainment that Japan does so well.
#1 - Yuya Aoki
When I tell you that before this match I had never even heard of Yuya Aoki, I'm not lying. When I tell you that after this match Yuya Aoki is one of my favourite wrestlers today, I'm not lying either.
Yuya Aoki was the challenger for Yuji Okabayashi's BJW World Strong Heavyweight championship at the Big Japan pro wrestling Endless Survivor show and actually managed to wrestle the belt away from the massive meaty man they called champion.
As I was watching this match I couldn't help but think of it like a video game boss battle (but maybe its because I just finished Jedi Survivor) in terms of the skill set difference between the two. Yuya came into the match with Yuji's offence scouted to a very high level, countering moves and trapping the champion in submissions in an attempt to whittle him down, bit by bit, but as they got closer to the finish Yuji would "Hulk up" and seem to reach the next stage of the boss battle, in which Aoki would have to work twice as hard as before.
It's clear that Aoki dumped all his stats in his stamina, submissions, and reversals verses Okabayashi's massive health bar. Yuji would be on the backfoot for big portions of the match then manage to hit a lariat to throw Aoki off his game, but Yuya would always come back. This is what I loved about this match. The story of the underdog being on top for basically the whole match, but making it believable with the way the match was structured was something I'd never seen before in wrestling. That's what I love about pro wrestling. Finding new ways to tell stories in a match will always keep me glued to the screen more than any other form of entertainment, and Aoki and Yuji did that without me knowing anything about their story or even who they were in Aoki's case.
Here's the leaderboard after week 18: