There’s more great pro wrestling in 2022 than we know what to do with. So The Ringer brings you a regular cheat sheet with the three best matches of the past week—one from WWE, one from AEW, and one from the rest of the immense wrestling world.
Jon Moxley vs. Adam Page
AEW Dynamite, October 18
The way one deals with mishaps can be instructive. We have all seen both wrestlers and promotions unable to adjust to missed spots, unexpected injuries, derailing matches, or planned programs. AEW has had to roll with a lot of hard punches in 2022. Serious injuries to Adam Cole, Thunder Rosa, Kyle O’Reilly, and CM Punk threw wrenches in big main-event programs. The press conference blowup and ensuing fist fight between CM Punk and the Elite led to vacated titles and long absences from some of their top stars, and there have been a number of smaller injuries and discontented wrestlers. Despite all of the chaos, AEW has responded rather well, setting itself up nicely for an end-of-the-year push leading to two big pay-per-views (AEW’s Full Gear and ROH’s Final Battle.
The main event for Full Gear is set, with MJF and Jon Moxley ready to battle for the AEW World title, and the setup for that match was the highlight of AEW Dynamite this week. First, MJF interrupted a William Regal promo to talk about their history. MJF discussed how, at 19 years old, he had a WWE tryout, and Regal (who was a WWE executive at the time) initially encouraged him, only to several weeks later write him a dismissive email regarding a recent submission—an email that MJF said made him suicidal. Regal responded by calling him spoiled and dismissing him for wanting things handed to him. This is where MJF truly excels on the mic—opening up his soul and discussing his damage. He did a similar thing during the CM Punk feud, and it is much more effective than his line-crossing trolling and faux shooting. It set him up to fight—not only against Regal’s charge, Moxley, for the world title, but to prove himself to a father figure who mercilessly rejected him.
The Moxley vs. Adam Page match was, up until the end, the kind of hard-hitting slugfest that one could expect with those two names on the marquee. I loved how the match started with Page meeting Moxley in the aisle and them exchanging punches; it’s a great way to really amp up a crowd, and I liked how Page wrestled the match as a fired-up babyface, even while facing another babyface in his hometown. After a dry couple of weeks in AEW, Mox brought back the blood, spending the first couple of minutes brawling with Page through the crowd before the bell even rang. This had another stellar commentary performance, with Regal worrying about the blood affecting Moxley’s vision and Taz pointing out how the Dead Eye on the apron by Page affected the nerve in Moxley’s back. Every move doesn’t have to damage the part of the body it is aimed at; violent collisions can have unpredictable results, and that was a nifty bit of exposition.
The unexpected finish—a referee stoppage after Page was unable to get up after being hit with a King Kong Lariat from Moxley—was scary and unfortunate. Page appears to have avoided any neck damage or paralysis, and I hope he fully recovers from his concussion before returning. There are a couple of silver linings, though; Page had been adrift since losing the title, and I imagine his return will be to a raucous reaction, giving AEW a chance to reheat his character. Also, the idea that Mox can end a match at any moment was part of the reason for the quick squash of CM Punk, and this furthered that idea. Stan Hansen made a career out of breaking Bruno Sammartino’s neck with his lariat, and it would be a cool historical callback if Moxley only broke out the King Kong Lariat as a last-resort move because of its danger.
The post-match was a tremendous way to get the crowd back. Mox pulled what I assume was an audible calling out MJF, subtly refocusing the crowd back into the pro wrestling world, talking about how he has proved he is a dangerous man and promising to show it to MJF. Moxley has spent the past couple of months putting out fires; he was reportedly on what was supposed to be a six-week vacation after All Out and instead came back, picked up the pieces, and put the promotion on his back. He did a bang-up job putting out another one here, setting the table for the PPV and regaining the crowd after what looked like a serious injury.
MJF refusing to cash in his chip was a nifty piece of character work that sets up multiple possibilities. First, it suggests that Regal has gotten into MJF’s head, making him determined to prove to Moxley and Regal that he is man enough to win the title without shortcuts. It also could be that MJF is setting a trap that he’ll wait until the PPV to spring, possibly even with Regal switching sides. It is a story, much like the Sami Zayn and Bloodline story in the WWE, with lots of interesting directions to go. That is the hardest type of story in wrestling (or really any narrative art) to pull off. Normally, there is a clear finish to a tale: Hangman Page was going to overcome doubt and beat Kenny Omega, Michael Corleone was destined to have his family’s poison infect him and cost him his soul, Encyclopedia Brown was always going to let everyone know how Bugs Meany is trying to scam the neighborhood kids. A lot of times, lesser storytellers will either write a story without an ending or just throw a swerve in for swerve’s sake (none of the clues the Black Scorpion dropped pointed to Ric Flair, a Bret Hart restart at Starrcade was not a satisfying way for Sting to finally beat Hollywood Hogan, no one wanted Bran on the Iron Throne). Rarely do you have a story like this, where it could end in a multitude of ways, all of which would be satisfying and sensible. Despite the injury, we could look at this match as the start of another boom period for AEW.
Bron Breakker vs. JD McDonagh vs. Ilja Dragunov
NXT Halloween Havoc 2022, October 22
Three-way matches are some of the trickiest match types to pull off successfully. There are inherent challenges in a match with an odd number of wrestlers. To start, there always needs to be a compelling and sensible reason for one of the wrestlers to be sitting out of the action, and it can tempt wrestlers to lean into complex three-person sequences which can come off more like swing dancing than fist fighting. There certainly have been great three-way matches, but I almost always would just prefer to see some variation of the wrestlers in singles matches. The main event of NXT’s Halloween Havoc premium live event cleverly solved some of those inherent match-structure problems and delivered a total corker, which deserves a place among the best matches of that style ever.
Dragunov and McDonagh had one of the best WWE matches of the year with their Loser Leaves NXT UK match in May, a match which saw McDonagh lose and move to the U.S. brand (and change his name from Jordan Devlin) two months before Dragunov went out with an ankle injury. They have great chemistry with each other, and it was interesting to see how they adjusted that match when a grenade of athleticism and explosiveness like Breakker got dropped in the middle.
These three dealt with the odd man out problem in a really interesting way. The story of the match found McDonagh trying to play Breakker and Dragunov off of each other while laying in the cut, waiting for his moment to strike. Dragunov and Breakker are both seething balls of intensity, and while they would periodically remember how much they hated McDonagh and redirect their fire his way, they would consistently revert to trying to take each other’s heads off. They were both so ready to fight, it was easier to just pummel each other than track down McDonagh. Meanwhile, JD would find moments to hit cheap shots, break up pins, and try to steal the win. He even started an ovation after a hellacious strike exchange between Breakker and Dragunov, which of course led them to pummel him with punches and chops, toss him to the floor, and get back to beating on each other.
McDonagh had some great attempted pinfall steals and break-ups, too. There was a great sequence where Dragunov landed his diving forearm smash on Breakker for a close two count, only for Breakker to press him off right into a 450 splash by JD for a near-fall. Dragunov was later able to drill Breakker with a Torpedo Moscow, only for McDonagh to slide in and grab the ref’s hand to keep it from being a three count.
They kept the three-man moves to a minimum, with the only big one being a huge spot where Breakker hit a top-rope Frankensteiner on McDonagh, who was then snatched midair into a Liger bomb by Dragunov. The finish came when JD was finally taken clean out with a Torpedo Moscow on the floor off the ring stairs, leaving Bron and Ilja finally alone to settle up. Dragunov got the upper hand, and went for a final Torpedo to finish off the match, only to get cut in half by a brutal Bron spear, which Dragunov sold like he had taken a shotgun blast to the gut.
It feels like there is plenty more left to see with these three together; I really want to see the Dragunov vs. Breakker singles match. They are my two favorite WWE wrestlers to watch right now, and I could watch them crash into each other all day. Ilja ended the reign of Walter (a.k.a. Gunther) as NXT UK champion, and he feels like the right choice to dethrone Bron if he is moving up.
Although it has been only a little over a year, Bron seems ready to take out of the oven. I don’t think there is any reason to slow-play it, either—he should be pushed right to the top as soon as he hits the main roster. If Brock Lesnar is going to be hanging around a bit after cashing his Crown Jewel paycheck, using him to gold-plate and certify Breakker would be perfect. Bron may be the best pure athlete to come to pro wrestling since peak Lesnar (in the men’s division, mind you—Bianca Belair is up there among the women), and Lesnar putting him over would be a tremendous passing of the torch.
Austin Connelly vs. Max ZERO
PPW 5VES, October 22
Austin Connelly continues his run as the best wrestler you probably haven’t heard of, as he defended the Paradigm Pro Wrestling Heavy Hitters title in an ugly, violent dog-collar match against Max ZERO at PPW’s five-year anniversary show on Saturday.
Connelly is clearly inspired by Buzz Sawyer, and like Sawyer he combines a solid amateur base with seething violent intensity. There have been hundreds of wrestlers over the years with similar gimmicks, but Connelly totally makes you believe that he has serious rage issues. He feels dangerous, like someone who will do real damage to himself and other people. Someone with a bottomless pit of hurt, looking for a vessel to pour it into.
ZERO earned the shot by winning a UWFI rules tournament at PPW’s Heavy Hitters show last month. ZERO is only 22 and was trained the CHIKARA wrestling school, which helped train wrestlers like Orange Cassidy and Eddie Kingston. ZERO is working a “himbo” gimmick with a fun Hawaiian shirt—he doesn’t look like he belongs in something like this. Wrestling Connelly, especially in a dog-collar match, is wading in deep waters and ZERO was able to match him shot for shot, stepping into a dark place and making himself at home.
ZERO is a big kid (listed at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds) and he stuffed Connelly’s first two attacks, hitting a pair of throws and a hard punt kick to the nose and mouth. He then landed a German suplex and ura-nage and a running kick to the temple. They spilled to the floor and started to exchange shots, each blow seemingly escalating in force, with Connelly hitting some especially hard crossfaces while ZERO landed a slap that bruised up Connelly’s eye and another that bloodied his mouth. There was a minor internet tempest about the stiffness in an Athena vs. Jody Threat match on AEW Dark Elevation; these shots made that look like kittens batting a ball of yarn.
Connelly fought back with some concussive forearms and a corner dropkick hard to the temple, only to get powerbombed through a door. ZERO then hoisted him up for a Death Valley Driver to finish the match, only to see Connelly escape by wrapping the chain around his neck; he then hit a hellacious seated clothesline, and then used the chain to choke ZERO unconscious. Just an old-fashioned dog-collar match with very little embellishment—hard, gritty, violent wrestling, with both guys testing each other’s tolerance. Connelly is pretty much a must-watch guy at this point, and Max ZERO put himself on my radar as well.
Phil Schneider is a cofounder of the Death Valley Driver Video Review, a writer on the Segunda Caida blog, host of The Way of the Blade podcast, and the author of Way of the Blade: 100 of the Greatest Bloody Matches in Wrestling History, which is available on Amazon. He is on Twitter at @philaschneider.