Another week full of exciting tournament action, in all companies and weight-classes, continues this week with Best of the Super Jrs., King of DDT, and the NJPW STRONG Women's championship tournament all contributing to an amazing seven days of pro-wrestling!
- Arisa Nakajima (Ibuki Hoshi & Miyuki Takase vs AKARI & Arisa Nakajima, Indie, 16/5)
- Lio Rush (Lio Rush vs Taiji Ishimori, NJPW, 16/5)
- KUSHIDA (KUSHIDA vs Hiromu Takahashi & KUSHIDA vs Mike Bailey, NJPW, 16/5 & 18/5)
- The Kingdom (The Kingdom vs Andretti & Martin, ROH, 18/5)
- El Desperado (Francesco Akira vs El Desperado & YOH vs El Desperado, NJPW, 21/5 & 17/5)
- Willow Nightingale ( Willow Nightingale vs Momo Kohgo, NJPW, 21/5)
#10 - Ryusuke Taguchi
A lot of the time on these lists I would save the number ten spot for a special "honorary" (even more honorary than the mentions above) performance. This time, however, the King of Strange Style fully earned his one point.
Throughout the whole of the Best of the Super Juniors tournament Taguchi has been playing it STRAIGHT! No funny business or ASSists, just classic "Big Match Taguch" in every single match. And although it didn't get him many points, it did reignite many people's love for the former BOSJ winner. One of his best matches in years came on night eight of the tournament, on Sunday, verses "Speedball" Mike Bailey. This match spotlighted Ryusuke's ability to blend the funny and realistic sides of pro-wrestling, where-in he uses clever and humorous tactics to bait in his opponent in order to get the upper-hand. In this case he faked running head first in the ring post to lure Bailey into kicking the metal after Taguchi evaded. This not only injured Speedball's leg even more, but allowed for an opportunity to lock in the Ankle Lock, giving us dramatic submission spots multiple times in the match.
Overall his matches in the tournament have definitely been a highlight, as seeing Taguchi with this amount of motivation after so many years of shenanigans is something that is really appreciated by the crowds, both live, and around the world.
#9 - Stephanie Vaquer
Wow. How come I've never heard this name before? Stephanie Vaquer (thank god I dont have to try and pronounce that) was a complete unknown for 99% of wrestling fans, but after her first round match against Mercedes Mone in the STRONG Women's championship tournament she's become a wrestler that many people are clamoring to see more of. Me included.
Vaquer's match against Mone was a delight to watch as her character was well defined, her urgency was palpable, and her moves were impactful and well executed. You could feel the energy she exuded as soon as she came through the curtain and that malice was transposed into her move set and mannerisms in the ring. She hit some stiff looking double knees throughout the match, including some coming off the apron to Mercedes on the floor.
This was a brilliant New Japan debut for Stephanie and she made quite the impression on all the new eyes she got being on this PPV!
#8 - Sareee
After years stuck in WWE's developmental system, Sareee (known in NXT as Sarray), finally made her return to Japan after being forced to play a magical anime schoolgirl that only wrestled sub ten minute matches.
Her return match was most likely longer than all of those matches combined, as Sareee faced off against the imposing Chihiro Matsumoto on Sareee's own Sareee-ISM: Chapter 1 show in Shinjuku-FACE. If you've only seen Sareee in NXT then I highly suggest you seek out this match to finally understand why many call her one of the best Joshi wrestlers today. It was a match filled with scary suplexes, spine chilling chops, and terrific technical exchanges early in the match.
It was a great return match that reintroduced her to the Japanese audience and, even in defeat, made her look like an absolute star.
#7 - Mike Bailey
Mike Bailey has been on a ROLL in this year's BOSJ, with fantastic matches each night against the likes of Titan, KUSHIDA, DOUKI, and Taguchi. We've talked about the match with Taguchi, but his bout with Titan might me my favourite of the four he wrestled this week.
All of Bailey's matches have had the unique quality of blending his style with his opponents, making each match different, but also feel natural and smooth throughout. The Titan match, for example, was the epitome of this philosophy. Speedball's stiff kicks and incredible agility matched perfectly with Titan's highflying maneuvers. They had one of the best sequences in the tournament so far as both wrestlers fought on the outside for the opportunity to hit a dive from the ring. They reversed moves, dodged dives, and threw each other into the crowd all for the chance to try and try again for that one big move off the ropes.
This was a unique and well thought out match where Speedball's psychology brought the match together like no-one else could, showcasing both wrestlers amazing aerial abilities.
#6 - Zack Sabre Jr.
The Frontman of TMDK had two great matches this week. One on ROH TV, and the other on New Japan's Resurgence event in Long Beach on Sunday, both showcasing his technical prowess, but in completely different ways.
His match on ROH TV was a masterclass in grounding your opponent, as he defended his NJPW World TV championship against highflyer, AR Fox. Similarly to Mike Bailey, Zack knows how to take his opponent's wrestling style and smush it together with is own to make for a compelling and dramatic match. However, unlike Bailey, Zack uses the contrast of styles as well as the similarities. Sabre knows exactly when to cut off Fox's high spots to create the most sudden and intense momentum switches, and always does so with the most creative of moves so the audience are really left on the edge of their seat for the whole match, no matter how believable the challenger is.
The other match was a tag team match with Bad Dude Tito against Barbaro Cavernario & Virus from CMLL, and it was such a fun match. The highlights of the bout where Zack and Virus' interactions. Virus being one of CMLL's best technical wrestlers, training the students in the dojo and having 37 years of experience it was clear from the offset that Sabre was bound to have a great match with him. Virus' Mexican style of technical wresting and ZSJ's catch wresting background made for fun and innovative mat exchange sequences, and it contrasted greatly from Tito and Cavernario's more brawl based fighting.
Two brilliant little matches for Sabre here, and by the looks of things a Virus vs ZSJ singles match might be something to look out for in the coming weeks!
#5 - Rush
In a late addition to this weeks AEW Dynamite card, Rush vs "Jungle Boy" Jack Perry was set up for the show, and although many people questioned the booking (and many still do) it turned out to be one of many great matches on Dynamite this week.
Rush has been positioned in AEW as one of the upper-midcard heel for a long time, having great matches with top stars like Danielson and Moxley, but this match with Perry was very different compared to those relatively even match-ups. Rush dominated in this match and was made to look like an absolute monster by the end, even in defeat. El Toro Blanco didn't hold anything back against the up-coming PPV main eventer and threw Jack into every square inch of guard rail he could find, to the point that I didn't know if Perry would be able to come out of this exchange unscathed, but that was just the beginning. Rush overpowered his opponent for the majority of the match, and I can't even remember Jack getting in any significant offence come to think about it. Rush only lost the match to a roll up from Perry, who pulled the tights to get the extra leverage.
This match made Rush look like a beast, and it also made Jungle Boy look crafty and determined, and I think that leads up quite well for the main event of Double or Nothing, but also could indicate a big push for Rush sooner rather than later. The International title, perhaps?
#4 - Roderick Strong
The Messiah of the Backbreaker is BACK, and he kicked off his singles career in AEW with an absolutely balls to the wall Falls Count Anywhere match against Chris Jericho on Dynamite.
This match was so fun. It had everything you could want in a Falls Count Anywhere match, and that was simply the fact that falls were counted EVERYWHERE! There were so many awesome moments, like Roddy throwing Jericho onto the handrails twice and then going for the pin on the stairs, or Roddy backdropping Jericho onto a counter-top, hell even Roddy throwing Jericho onto the ledge in the stairway and chopping the shit out of him! If you couldn't tell, Roddy threw Jericho around a fair bit.
In all seriousness this match was somewhat of a re-breakout match for Strong after being kept in the warehouse for years and years, and I'm super excited for more of his work in front of big arena crowds.
#3 - Chris Brookes
This week saw the semi finals and finals of DDT's King of DDT tournament and along with it the breakout moment of Chris Brookes wrestling career so far. Brookes beat two of DDT's biggest and best in Jun Akiyama and Kazusada Higuchi in the semis and finals respectively.
The match with Akiyama was super competitive with Chris' technical wrestling ability and reach helping him to overcome Jun's devastating offence when it looked like it was all over for the Brit. His excellent use of submissions were used to not only display his own skill, but also the power of Akiyama and the challenge that was to come in the next match.
Higuchi vs Brookes was the best DDT match of 2023 so far. The pacing and story of the match was something that has been seen before in wrestling, the smaller babyface overcoming great odds to reach a goal they previously thought unachievable, but this one had the twist of Brookes actually being taller than Higuchi, which is something many people in DDT can't boast about. The most memorable moment of the match had to be Brookes hitting Higuchi in the head with a steel door TWICE, and Kazusada not moving an inch. This was great in itself, but it also led to another spot later in the match where Brookes resorted to headbutting Higuchi with his own head, even though a steel door couldn't get the job done minutes earlier.
Overall this was a brilliant match with insane intensity and passion from both men, but the will to win from Brookes was clearer than ever before, but it didn't cloud his judgement and he managed to submit the former KO-D Openweight champion with the Octopus Stretch after a grueling 25 minute match. The win was well deserved and so are these eight points for the leaderboard!
#2 - TJP
TJP has had an extremely consistent BOSJ this year, but this week he had two really great matches against Hiromu Takahashi and Lio Rush, not to mention a solid match with Taguchi, and even a pretty entertaining one with SHO of all people!
The Hiromu match was so well paced that it really felt like it could have gone to the time limit and they'd still have more to pull out of the bag in a rematch, but it did ramp up near the end and had some great and intelligent spots from both guys, like TJP hitting the Mamba Splash on a rope-hung Takahashi. The transitions were also great in this one too. TJP would try for a Mamba Splash which left him open for Hiromu to catch him in the D submission, which TJP managed to counter into his own Pinoy Stretch for a false finish. Really great wrestling from TJP in this match.
Lio Rush vs TJP was a lot faster off the mark than the Hiromu match and saw more highflying too. TJP and Lio had brilliant chemistry in this one and timed everything to perfection, whether it was the double big boot double down spot or the countering of finishers, as both of their signature moves are basically the same, so that made all the sense in the world. Unfortunately this would be the loss that would take Perkins out of the tournament for good, and would end up being his final match of the tournament anyway, as Taiji was injured in the same night.
#1 - Francesco Akira
This was Akira's breakout match of his career and quite possibly his best match overall (I haven't seen his AJPW stuff). This was a masterclass in babyface fire, taking everything Desperado had to offer and trying, at least, to give it right back in return.
Desperado focused the knee of Akira for the whole match, and it was clear from the outset the Francesco was no match for the technical mastery that Desperado has gained throughout the years. What started as basic holds and transitions slowly built and built to a more sadistic and brutalist forms of torture that even HoT hasn't achieved. This was, in part, due to Akira's pleas to Despy to not let up and his want to face Desperado in his truest form never faltered.
The main reason Akira is getting the ten points is for his amazing selling bell to bell. Both his facial expressions at the end, barely hanging on in the Numero Dos for what felt like hours, to the physical selling of the leg as he tried fruitlessly to mount something that could even resemble a comeback, hopping on the useless appendage while feebly "chopping" at the chest of Desperado all added to babyface fire that was flickering out by the end of the bout, but never really left the broken Akira as he finally tapped to Numero Dos.
This was the performance of the week, it might even be the performance of the month, but it was certainly the performance of Francesco Akira's career. Ten points!
Here's a look at the current leaderboard standings: