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Bianca Belair and Bayley Pick Up Where They Left Off

Elsewhere, Danielson and Guevara continue to brutalize each other, while Low Ki makes a statement against Shingo Takagi

AEW/WWE/Ringer illustration

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.

Bianca Belair vs. Bayley

WWE Raw, October 24

I have written a lot about the greatness of Bianca Belair, and after some booking hiccups last year, WWE has done a tremendous job of establishing her as the top women’s star in the promotion (and really, with Roman Reigns as more of a special attraction these days, she might be the biggest star in the promotion, full stop). She is a remarkable athlete and has a really special connection with the crowd. In many ways, she is the closest thing WWE has had to the Rock since he left for Hollywood. If WrestleMania is two nights going forward, she should be main-eventing one of those nights as long as she is still active.

As special as Belair is, nearly as many flowers should be laid at the feet of Bayley. There have been other wrestlers who have been both all-time-great babyfaces and all-time-great heels, but they are usually just doing a variation of the same character with a slightly different lens. Eddie Guerrero brutalizing Rey Mysterio was Latino Heat Eddie Guerrero, just embittered; Hollywood Hogan was just the old egomaniac Hulkster hanging on to the spotlight however he could. There was a picture going around social media recently of Roxanne Perez dressed as NXT-era “I’m a hugger” Bayley for Halloween. Watching Bayley these days, it is hard to believe that they are the same person. She has played two incredibly effective characters who are basically polar opposites. Current Bayley isn’t a cool heel or a sympathetic heel; she is a mean, hateful lady, which contrasts with the lovable, sweet kid who became such a favorite in NXT. (Although I imagine you could see how the wrestling business could leach all of the joy out of a fresh-faced ingenue and leave them embittered and sour.)

It was really great to see these two get so much time (and the main-event slot) on Raw. I am also happy they got to just have a regular wrestling match in between their ladder match at Extreme Rules and their upcoming Last Woman Standing match at Crown Jewel. Sometimes, WWE can get too gimmick-heavy, and there is nothing wrong with just having a regular one-fall pro wrestling match.

Belair dominated the match early using her overwhelming athletic gifts; she’s stronger, faster, and more explosive than Bayley, so Bayley was forced to use her guile to find an advantage. Every back elbow and takedown she hit was accompanied by this great sour “can I speak to your manager?” face. Bayley was looking for moments when Bianca’s flash and showmanship would lead her astray—turning a monkey flip into a roll-up, hitting a stiff running forearm when Belair did a backflip, putting her knees up on a moonsault. She would have to work the margins to have any chance. Belair is spectacular, so Bayley had to work ugly, constantly jerking at Belair’s shoulder every time she had a chance.

Bayley was able to grab one tremendous near fall, when a Damage CTRL distraction allowed her to land a huge top rope Bayley to Belly for a close two-count; otherwise, it was all grime. I liked the BS ending; this feud needs to continue, so Bayley winning the eliminator match makes sense, but it doesn’t make sense for her to do it clean, and Nikki Cross coming from nowhere to wipe out IYO SKY, Dakota Kai, and the ref was a great bit of camera work, and I liked her wrecking Belair, too.

Triple H’s gimmick of constantly getting pops for re-debuting fired people may be running a bit thin if he is trying to do it by just giving wrestlers who never left their old gimmicks back. I like Cross, though, and the idea of someone who just beats up heels and faces is a nice wrench in faction warfare. I think the Bayley vs. Bianca Belair Last Woman Standing match has a great chance to steal the show at Crown Jewel, and while I am still a little unsure of exactly what Damage CTRL is supposed to be (is their gimmick that they all have shitty ombres? How does that make a cohesive faction?), any combo of these women and Bianca Belair and a group in a WarGames match could be excellent stuff, and there is still the specter of Naomi and Sasha Banks coming back and shaking up the entire snow globe.

Bryan Danielson vs. Sammy Guevara

AEW Dynamite, October 26

One of the reliably great moments in sports is when a young, cocky upstart tries to bring it to an old vet, getting right in their face and trying to take their corner. Whether it’s Allen Iverson crossing over Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali taunting Sonny Liston, or Jackson Storm jetting right past Lightning McQueen (my son went through a big Cars 3 phase a couple of years ago), the snatching of a torch from someone not ready to let it go is always compelling.

The ongoing feud between Bryan Danielson and Daniel Garcia has aspects of that, but Garcia is in many ways auditioning to continue Danielson’s legacy rather than just snatch it away. Sammy Guevara, with his diabolical dives and TikTok-ery, has no interest in the legacy of the American Dragon; that is dusty old history, while Sammy believes he is the present and the future. That contrast between not only the young and the old but also their divergent ideologies is what made this match so compelling.

Guevara came out hot, beating Danielson to the punch with a jumping knee and dropping him with a springboard cutter. You could tell that Sammy’s speed and athleticism were giving Danielson trouble early, putting him a bit on the back foot. Guevara successfully avoided Danielson twice more, making him look more flustered than usual before the Dragon caught a dropkick and turned into a nasty Romero Special.

That opening section was the story of the match; when Guevara could keep it explosive and athletic, he had the edge. He was able to waste the Dragon with an amazing top rope Asai moonsault to the floor, hitting a pose right when he landed; he also caught Danielson going to the top and dropped him with a Spanish Fly. However, when he tried to play in the Dragon’s lair, he got scorched. Guevara tried to hit a series of elbow smashes and Danielson just drove his head and shoulders into Sammy’s forearm, negating the impact. Later in the match, Sammy started throwing hard Danielson-style body kicks; this seemed to enrage Danielson, leading him to slap the spit out of Guevara. One of the best things about Sammy is his punchable face, and Danielson tried to punch, slap, and kick it as hard as he could. By the end of the match, it felt like Danielson had figured out Sammy’s rhythm and he was able to avoid multiple moonsaults, catching Sammy in the LeBell Lock when he tried a shooting star press. Another Spanish Fly got Sammy one more near fall, but Danielson was able to reverse out of the Go to Hell, flipped Guevara eyebrows over ankles with the Busaiku knee, and put him out cold with the triangle choke. Great showing by both men, but there are reasons veterans last long enough to become veterans, and Danielson showed the value of all that tread on the tires.

Low Ki vs. Shingo Takagi

HOG Exodus, October 29

Low Ki is the man left out in the rain amongst the group of the 2000s indie legends. He started his career fast, getting to the finals of both the 2001 Super 8 tournament and 2001 All Pro Wrestling King of the Indies tournament—both of which he lost to the American Dragon; he later won the 2006 IWA Mid-South Ted Petty Invitational and the 2008 Battle of Los Angeles. Ki defeated Dragon and Christopher Daniels to become the first ROH World Champion, was part of the early years of TNA, and was the first of his class of wrestlers to get to the WWE and New Japan Pro-Wrestling, where he was the three-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion. Ki unfortunately was a little strident, a little prickly, a little too concerned with his persona and his rep, and soon became as notorious for burning bridges as he was for his prodigious talent. In recent years, he has wrestled mainly in MLW (which had a reputation as sort of an Island of Misfit Toys, previously working with other famously difficult-to-work-with wrestlers like L.A. Park, Austin Aries, and Teddy Hart) and in House of Glory, a New York City–based promotion founded by fellow 2000s Northeast indie pioneer Amazing Red.

Shingo Takagi initially made his reputation in the Dragon Gate promotion before moving to New Japan and becoming one of its top stars, holding the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship for over half a year and winning Tokyo Sports’ MVP award in 2021. He was part of the big Dragon Gate incursion in ROH and the Dragon Gate USA promotion in the late 2000s and early 2010s, but has rarely wrestled in the U.S. in recent years, so HOG getting him in the main event was a big deal, and this showdown with Low Ki was a first-time matchup between two of the most esteemed in-ring workers of this era.

Takagi used his power and size to dominate early, meeting the famously snug Low Ki with hard shots of his own, including knocking Ki back with a nasty double ridge hand chop to the neck. Ki was able to gain some purchase with a mule kick and a lightning-fast running elbow; his explosiveness and body control are still incredible to watch, especially considering he is 20-plus years into his career.

Ki got bumped to the floor after his first flurry, hitting his head and neck on the ring apron on the way down, which gave Takagi a game plan. Takagi proceeded to dominate much of the remaining match, working over Ki’s neck with some really nasty sheer drop DDTs and suplexes, overall just giving Ki a beating.

There were some fun underdog moments when Ki used his speed and kicks, including a near fall on an awesome-looking Warriors Way diving foot stomp. Ki then survived both a jumping Death Valley Driver and Shingo’s Made in Japan, both moves which have nasty impacts on the neck. There was one final awesome strike exchange when both guys exchanged not just elbows but kicks, chops, and jabs, every shot from both thrown with bad intentions. Takagi dropped Ki with a headbutt, only for Ki to waste him with a Kappo Kick, which dimmed Takagi’s lights. That was Ki’s big opening and he went for his springboard kick, only for Takagi to obliterate him midair with a clothesline. Shingo then hit another big clothesline and his Last of the Dragon fireman’s carry driver for the pin.

It was surprising to see Ki work from under like this, especially when he was putting over someone clean as a sheet in his home promotion. It was certainly counter to Ki’s rep as someone who rarely loses and is even more rarely dominated. He was really great as an overmatched underdog, he bumped huge for all of Shingo’s big offense, and made each moment he had on top really mean something. Ki also showed that at 43 he can still wrestle a high-impact modern wrestling style match with a top star. This was as good as any of Shingo Takagi’s big matches in the most recent G1 Climax. If Ki is willing to do business like this, there are intriguing opportunities for him. He is not just a former ROH champion, but the inaugural champion, and he would be an awesome surprise Jericho opponent tomorrow night. Ki could also be a really useful part of an ROH television program, with plenty of cool rematches against old opponents and intriguing matches against new ones. Low Ki vs. Bryan Danielson was the feud that started the independent wrestling revolution. I was in the crowd for their first matchup in the finals of the 2001 Super 8, and it was like being at the first Sex Pistols show—something changed that night and it was clear in real time. They haven’t wrestled since a pair of FCW developmental house shows in 2010; it would be a shame if we didn’t get to see it one last time with all of the life both have lived since.

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.