Worker of the Week: Week 7
One of the most important weeks in pro-wrestling of the year, with two massive PPV events from NJPW and WWE, not to mention some historic moments in Japan with AJPW's Excite Series giving some hot matches and a very interesting outcome to the main event!
-KENTA (Fred Rosser vs KENTA, NJPW, 18/2)
-Naruki Doi (Atsuki Aoyagi vs Naruki Doi, AJPW, 19/2)
-Sami Zayn (Roman Reigns vs Sami Zayn. WWE, 18/2)
-Seth Rollins (US title Elimination Chamber Match, WWE, 18/2)
-Hiroshi Tanahashi (Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, NJPW, 18/2)
#10 - Montez Ford
Coming into the United States title Elimination Chamber match, Montez very much dark horse in the bout. Although he didn't win, he had an amazing, stand-out performance in the formidable structure, using it to its fullest capabilities.
Ford was the final entrant to be released into the chamber and made the most of his time in it. After a fiery start facing down the massive Bronson Reed right out the pod, he escaped a powerbomb from Priest by climbing up the cage. He then maneuvered himself into a Frogsplash position while holding onto the roof of the cage and dropped onto a mass of bodies down below, which was definitely the highlight of the match.
Later in the match he'd eliminate Reed with some help from Seth and Johnny who all hit their finishers on him before Montez hit the Frogsplash for the three count. He claimed a second elimination over Priest too, as Ford and Rollins teamed up to hit him with a blockbuster off of Seth's shoulders.
A great showing from Ford who's had quite a few breakout performances in the past years and I think it will only be a matter of time before he's in a prominent position on the WWE roster.
#9 - Johnny Gargano
Johnny was another member of the US title Elimination Chamber match that really stood out to me. This was the first time that he felt like the old NXT Gargano since is return to WWE. Starting off the match with Seth Rollins, the two put on a lovely little technical display, hitting his slingshot spear onto Rollins on the outside, before Austin Theory entered the match. The Rebel Heart would have multiple spots to shine in the match starting with a fun little storytelling segment where he "betrayed" Theory who wanted to team up and take down Seth.
Another one of the more memorable moments was when Seth hit a Doomsday Device on Gargano who was sat on Reed's shoulders, but Johnny Wrestling managed to take the monster down with him with a brutal Poisonrana that had Bronson land on the top of his head, which could have been disastrous. This was only the beginning for Johnny and his crazy spots as he would later hurricanrana Seth off the top of a pod when he countered a powerbomb attempt from the Visionary.
A wonderful performance showed that Johnny still had his Rebel Heart, even if he still has that shitty theme song. But at least he gets 2 points this week.
#8 - Eddie Kingston
One half of the emotional Lover Leaves New Japan match, Eddie Kingston showed his fighting spirit in a nail-biting encounter with the now former Bullet Club leader, Jay White at NJPW Battle in the Valley on Saturday.
The match mainly consisted of chops from both guys, but Eddie's love and dedication to that King's Road style allowed him to come out on top with the majority of exchanges with the Switchblade. Couple that with Suplexes, Uranages, and Headbutts, Eddie really had the upper hand for a large portion of the match, while shouting at Jay to "fight for his company".
The finishing stretch of the match was some of the most nerve-racking sequences I've seen in a wrestling match, with Eddie hitting 4 backfists, a half and half suplex and a Northern Lights Driver for a insanely close 2 count on White, but one more driver was all it took.
The split second Eddie heard that bell ring, he rolled out the ring to pay his respect to his fellow King as the Mad King exiled King Switch from his home.
#7 - Jay White
Watching this match back was hard for me, not going to lie. Jay's final match in New Japan (for now) was just an amazing display of respect from the Switchblade, giving everything he had left to the company on his way out. From his selling in the match, to the amazing finishing sequence and then the heat he got for his long time friend and Dojo brother, David Finlay, it was the definition of professional.
Jay bumped around the ring like a mad man for most of the match, putting over Eddie with every ounce of his being. His heel work was great in the match two, taking the opportunity to stomp on Kingston's toes, give him a low blows and spitting at his sign of respect when Jay was down and out.
Not too much more to say about the match now, but just want to give Jay a massive thank you, as one of my favourite wrestlers of all time, and helping he become so invested in the New Japan product over the years.
#6 - KUSHDIA
KUSHDIA had two matches this week, one on Impact and an eight-man tag team match on the Battle in the Valley PPV for New Japan.
His match at BitV was a fun opening tag that was focused around KUSHIDA and the Impact World champion Josh Alexander who he'll challenge at Impact and New Japan's Multiverse United event on Wrestlemania Weekend. The two started off the match with a technical exchange, but ended with KUSHIDA having Alexander in the Hoverboard lock as Kevin Knight got the pin on Adrian Quest.
His standout performance of the week, however, was verses Chris Bey on Impact Wrestling, where they had a fast paced and highflying banger that was the highlight of the night. Starting with fast mat exchange before quickly moving into dives to the outside KUSHIDA looked great in this match, and it was one of his best since returning to New Japan. KUSHIDA was on point with all his counters and submissions taking Bey beyond the limit, tapping him out with an armbar off of a Finesse Cutter attempt from Bey after focusing Bey's left (dominant) arm for the whole match.
A nice little gem of a match that you can recommend to anyone for an exciting ~10 minutes of pro-wrestling. Both bouts giving KUSHIDA his first 5 points on the leader board!
#5 - Kento Miyahara
Kento makes the list once again this week with another outstanding title match, his third of the year, against New Japan legend Yuji Nagata. Unfortunately losing his title in this match, he put on an amazing performance helping give Nagata one of his best matches since the 2020 New Japan Cup when he faced Suzuki.
Kento was the face in this match, even though Nagata was clearly more popular in the sold out Korakuen Hall. Kento's passion and skill was on full display with him going all out on the 54 year old veteran with Blackouts and a really tense Shutdown suplex attempt that was perfectly done with the two on the tipping point of the move.
This is the best thing about Kento's matches. Sure you can do all sorts of flashy and hard hitting moves, but getting people invested in seeing them set up and attempted is another thing. I truly feels like he his picking his moves carefully and deliberately and if he fails it means just as much to the match than if he hit it, rather than doing a couple signatures then his finish because that's how you end a match. Something that only top guys like Okada manage to achieve.
#4 - Kazuchika Okada
Speaking of Okada, he gets 7 point this week with his IWGP World Heavyweight title retention against the Ace, Hiroshi Tanahashi in the main event of Battle In The Valley.
Although this match never reached the heights of their legendary rivalry it was still a perfect match for what it needed to be, sending the fans home happy with a classic New Japan main event style match with Okada hitting all the big moves and Tanahashi being the great babyface in peril. Okada's new heelish persona in the ring has really brought a new, fresh, quirk to his matches that really help the crowd get invested in his opponent. This is most likely him trying out certain things for his match with Kaito on the 21st.
This match was also just a combinations of spots from their previous matches, which isn't a bad thing as it's only the second, and (as commentary heavily implied) possible the last ever Okada/Tanahashi match to be held in the states. Spots like the dropkick counter to the High Fly Flow brought that magic to the USA and showed the San Jose crowd what New Japan Pro Wrestling was, which was the the reason Okada wanted to have the match against Tana in the first place.
#3 - KAIRI
Coming into Battle in the Valley as the first IWGP Women's champion KAIRI put on one hell of a performance against the debuting Mercedes Mone, in a physical and emotional match that had the crowd on tenterhooks for its duration.
This was KAIRI's first match back in the US since her release from WWE and the crowd certainly didn't forget her and her abilities, even with the looming shadow of Mercedes' debut being the overwhelming draw of the match, and the event in general. KAIRI brought her signature ferocity to the match with a double stomp to Mercedes while she was in the tree of woe, and the Anchor submission hold which looked brutal when she finally got it on properly. All of this led up to KAIRI hitting the Cutlass backhand on the ref as Mone drug him in the way, allowing for them to brawl on the outside and up the ramp. Mercedes brought out a table ready to suplex KAIRI through it, but the Pirate Princess manages to slip free and deliver a vicious powerbomb through it instead.
KAIRI attempted the Insane Elbow multiple times to no avail, focusing on a submission victory at the end, but getting planted with the Money Maker instead.
A great match, and great performance from KAIRI who stood her ground and looked just as impressive as Mone, even in defeat.
#2 - Yuji Nagata
A historic moment in Japanese wrestling history happened on Sunday at AJPW's Excite Series Night 2 when Blue Justice himself became the 5th man to complete the extraordinary feat of having held the IWGP, GHC, and Triple Crown Championship at some point in their career.
This was a far cry from the likes of Keiji Muto winning the GHC title to complete the triple back in 2021 as the match was a legitimate banger that was 100% deserving of a title change. Nagata put an incredible amount of fighting spirit into this match for being nearly 55 years old and it truly felt that he was on the same level as Miyahara.
The match was a battle of Nagata's skill and in-ring intelligence vs Kento's passion, and overall superior fitness and agility, which made for tense moments and captivating sequences throughout. Nagata made the most of the 5 count for rope breaks and bandied around the outside of the ring to try and get an advantage early on in the match, but adapted as the match progressed and started countering big moves from Miyahara, like kicking Kento's leg to block a Blackout attempt and transitioning from Kento's Shutdown set up into the Fujiwara armbar. Nagata finished the match with a nasty Backdrop driver after a Wrist clutch Exploder only got him a 2 count.
In the long run I'm not too sure how the decision to give Nagata the belt will play out, but if he can have matches like this in the future then I don't see a reason why he can't have a great reign with the belt, even if its only a few defences long. Great showing from the only blue life that matters!
#1 - Mercedes Mone
#1 on this weeks list is none other than the CEO of the New Japan women's division, Mercedes Mone. After her awesome match against KAIRI at Battle in the Valley its clear that she hasn't lost a step in the ring and will flourish outside of a WWE style match.
Mone showed out with here silky smooth wrestling and fast paced offence, starting the match with a springboard arm drag into the Bank Statement that was reminiscent of AZM style highspeed matches, which I dont think was a coincidence. Mercedes was determined to hit the Meteora the whole match and it seemed to mark its demotion to a signature (as it finished most people in WWE) as KAIRI would kick out of a multitude of variations of it. Mercedes would counter the Insane Elbow twice in the match and managed to avoid taking it at all by grabbing KAIRI's foot with her own and then blocking the elbow on the way down by putting the feet up which looked gnarly to say the least. The finish came when Mone fought her way out of a crossface to hit the Money Maker, which is her new Gory Special Spinning DDT she debut at Wrestle Kingdom, but this time it looked so much better.
The CEO was on top form in this match and was exactly what I was expecting from her in New Japan. I can't wait to see more of her matches, especially in Japan. Great start to 2023 for Mercedes!
Here is the scoreboard after week 7: