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.
Orange Cassidy vs. Katsuyori Shibata
AEW Rampage, November 4
The WAR promotion in Japan was one of the highlights of the Japanese wrestling scene of the 1990s. It was known primarily for hard-hitting, violent main events headlined by Genichiro Tenryu, Último Dragón taking on the best junior heavyweights in the world, and for putting together bizarre unexpected matchups (like Bob Backlund, Jimmy Snuka, and Mil Máscaras taking on Héctor Garza and the Eliminators, King Haku and Great Kabuki vs. John Tenta and Rio Lord of the Jungle, and Doink vs. Onryo). When a match somewhere felt like a booker took a bag with the names of every wrestler in the world in it, shook it up, and picked a few names at random, people on the internet would call it a “WAR match.”
Nothing in recent memory has felt more like a WAR match than AEW hosting an Orange Cassidy vs. Katsuyori Shibata All-Atlantic title match in 2022—which included Mike Tyson on commentary calling Cassidy “beautiful” and marking out at how hard Shibata hits.
Shibata made his reputation as part of New Japan Pro-Wrestling. He was one of the early 2000s class of wrestlers who came in and reinvented the promotion. He was one of the New Three Musketeers with Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi, all three destined to lead the 21st century in the promotion. Shibata was the workhorse of the three; while Nakamura and Tanahashi were flashier, Shibata kept his black trunks and boots and wrestled a simple, straightforward, hard-hitting style, earning him the nickname “the Wrestler.”
Shibata worked his way to the top of the card before leaving New Japan, first to freelance in NOAH and Big Mouth Loud, then to fight MMA. Shibata was away from wrestling for almost five years before returning to New Japan and being a big part of its renaissance in the 2010s. His career got cut tragically short when he suffered a subdermal hematoma after a brutal IWGP title match against Kazuchika Okada in 2017. After delivering multiple full-force headbutts in the match (and coming in dehydrated), Shibata collapsed backstage. Shibata needed emergency brain surgery, and the assumption was that he would never wrestle again. However, he defied expectations and returned last year. Shibata had two previous matches on this comeback: a five-minute grappling exhibition with Zack Sabre Jr. in October 2021 and a match against his trainee Ren Narita at the Tokyo Dome this January. Shibata came out as a surprise to save Cassidy from the United Empire at Forbidden Door, but that felt more like a cool cameo for the fans than anything which would lead to an actual match.
Shockingly, this was an actual Katsuyori Shibata wrestling match on American cable television. A guy who made his career on unambiguous, two-fisted pro wrestling, facing off against someone who pushes the boundaries of shtick and shine. Just a great example of divergent styles melding into something special. Like most Cassidy matches, Orange spent much of it trying to unnerve Shibata with his antics, placing his hands in his pockets, and throwing soft mocking kicks, but unlike many of Cassidy’s opponents, Shibata did not get frustrated. He threw some weak kicks of his own after dropping Orange with a back leg heel trip (or as Mike Tyson said, “that’s an STO, brother”). Sending it right back at Orange seemed to frustrate him, and he sat across from Shibata in Shibata’s signature cross-leg pose, challenging him to a slap fight. Cassidy hit his weak, taunting slaps only to get cracked hard by a Shibata slap, who then dropped him in the corner with hard forearms and a running dropkick to the face.
Shibata then played some more mind games, absorbing Cassidy’s attempts at the running penalty kick and drilling him with a hard jumping elbow. In a way, Shibata forced Cassidy into his world in the final minutes, spiking Cassidy with a Death Valley Driver and walking through an Orange Punch. Shibata then landed a suplex and set Orange up for the running penalty kick, which Shibata used for years to put down some of the biggest stars in Japan. However, Cassidy was able to pop up and catch him mid-run with another Orange Punch, the added momentum dimming Shibata’s lights and giving Orange the win. Cassidy had to outwrestle “the Wrestler” and outfight one of the hardest hitters in recent memory.
Shibata took a couple of hard hits to the head; hopefully, his brain injury is enough in the past that we can see him pop up again. Shibata is based in the U.S. as the head trainer for the New Japan L.A. dojo and he mentioned having two AEW dream matches: one against Orange Cassidy, one against Bryan Danielson. We got one; let’s hope we see the other soon.
FTR vs. United Empire (Great-O-Khan & Jeff Cobb)
NJPW Battle Autumn 2022, November 5
The great ‘80s tag teams which FTR model themselves after—like Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson, The Hart Foundation, and the Midnight Express—never had meaningful runs in Japan, as that style of U.S. tag wrestling never really caught on. It clearly meant a lot for FTR to finally take the IWGP Tag Team Championship, which they won at Forbidden Door back to Japan and do what their idols never could: become stars in Japan.
Both Jeff Cobb and Great-O-Khan are giant powerhouses with real amateur wrestling pedigrees. Cobb represented Guam in Freestyle Wrestling at the 2004 Summer Olympics, while Khan excelled at amateur wrestling and was an amateur mixed martial artist. FTR are definitely smaller, and they spent much of the match sticking and moving and trying to stay out of the grasp of the two charging Rhinos opposing them. FTR’s strategy involved using their teamwork to wear down the bigger opponents and banging away at Cobb’s bad left knee to keep him from executing his huge slams and throws.
The early part of the match was highlighted by some absolutely stinging strike exchanges between Khan and Dax Harwood, as both guys were throwing hard chops, forearms, and even some jumping Mongolian chops by Khan. FTR cut off the ring and worked over Khan with quick double teams. Khan, however, was able to take control by dumping Harwood to the floor and running his bad shoulder into the ringpost, which gave the United Empire team something to focus on. Cobb especially is such a squat ball of muscle that even a standard armbar feels like something which would tear a labrum. After several failed attempts, Dax was able to finally make the tag, and Cash was a really fun house of fire, including landing a deadlift German suplex on the massive Cobb. They moved into a hot near-fall section, which saw FTR hit the Powerplex on Khan, and cut off Cobb’s spinning Tour of the Islands powerslam with a chop block on his bad knee. With Cobb out of the picture, they focused on Khan, and after a couple of attempts, they were able to drop Khan with the Big Rig and take the win.
The FTR world tour continues with a defense of their AAA World Tag Team Championship at Noche de Campeones in December, and there are plenty of challengers for the belts in New Japan as well. Post-match, fellow members of the United Empire Mark Davis and Kyle Fletcher (aka Aussie Open) challenged FTR for a Japanese-based rematch of their modern classic from England last month. One of the cool things AEW did with Pac’s All-Atlantic title is show his title defenses in other promotions on AEW Dark. I think it would be a neat way to build towards an eventual FTR vs. Acclaimed match for AEW to get the rights to re-air matches like this and the future AAA matches on their YouTube shows, really highlighting the globe-trotting FTR is doing and the bangers they are putting on all over the world.
Roman Reigns vs. Logan Paul
WWE Crown Jewel 2022, November 5
A dramatic maximalist main event with Logan Paul delivering anunprecedented performance in his third match ever. Main event title wrestling is maybe the most difficult style of wrestling to pull off; it doesn’t allow you to do cool moves in a vacuum or coast on shtick. To do it well you need to have tremendous timing, a connection with the crowd, and an ability to deliver huge highlights. There have been wrestlers with all-time-great-worker reputations who have never been able to perform at a main event world title level the way this Youtuber in his third match did on Saturday.
I wrote about Paul’s potential after his WrestleMania match, where he did a tremendous job as a detestable heel, teaming with the Miz and beating the Mysterios. He leaned into all of the things which make him hard to stomach as a public figure and translated them into a wrestling ring. However, in this match, Paul came in as an ostensible babyface; Roman Reigns has transcended being a heel and is just Roman, but Paul had big parts of the Saudi crowd behind him, and they definitely worked the match around some big babyface comeback spots and overcoming heel interference. The fact that Paul could be this good while working against his strengths was hard to believe.
Paul cut his teeth on Vine, a platform that was all about making memorable six-second moments, and this match was full of those individual moments: Paul hitting Hangman Page’s buckshot lariat with arguably more athleticism and explosion than Page ever has; Paul trying a springboard forearm and getting drilled midair by a Reigns right hand like an anti-aircraft missile dropping a fighter jet.
The build for the match was focused on the idea that Paul, who went the distance with Floyd Mayweather in his first boxing match (Floyd was in paycheck mode and was outweighed by 35 pounds, but still), might be able to land “one lucky punch” and steal a win. He swung for the fences early and missed, but late in the match, after a series of back-and-forth moves, Paul countered a Superman punch with a hook to the kidney and drilled Roman with a hard looping right hand, which Reigns sold like he had been hit by Deontay Wilder. Paul then hit a Superman punch of his own, and I actually bit on the fall! I was certain WWE would be putting the world title on someone’s favorite YouTuber. I have watched more wrestling over the years than nearly anyone, and they got me.
@LoganPaul amazed us all at #WWECrownJewel! pic.twitter.com/Rd88HPFxkT— WWE (@WWE) November 6, 2022
Paul then cleared an announcer’s table, placed Roman on it, and—in the moment which will make highlight reels for years—hit a stunning frog splash off the top while taking a selfie video with a camera phone; the video that Paul posted on Instagram was really unique and awesome. The Usos came out to beat up Paul’s podcast partners in the front row; Jake Paul then came out and hit some not-so-great-looking punches on the Usos. The moment was cool, but the execution left a bit to be desired, which was my only (small) complaint about the match. Logan then rolled Roman into the ring and hit one more big move—a great-looking frog splash—for a second huge near-fall. We then got a face-off between Jake and Solo Sikoa, and a big dive from Logan onto the Usos. However, Logan rolled back into the ring and was hit with a Superman punch and spear by Roman for the win.
It was a hell of a performance by Logan Paul, who showed great athleticism, a sense of showmanship, and tremendous timing—he apparently tore his ACL during the match, which should sadly put him on the shelf for a while, but if he sticks to it, he really could be a plausible and deserving world champion.
When it came down to it, however, the match was really a testament to the greatness of Reigns. He did such a great job of putting over Paul as a threat, arrogantly dismissing him only to get more and more distracted and discombobulated as Paul kept coming at him and refusing to fade. His selling of the body shots early and the big right hand late was master-class stuff, and even after winning he was still wincing and adjusting his jaw. More selfish performers would have sabotaged this match—instead, Reigns made Paul look like he was seconds away from greatness, and rather than making Roman look weak, he looked strong by surviving the onslaught and coming out on top.
Rey Mysterio vs. Gunther
WWE SmackDown, November 4
This was a really great in-ring week for the WWE; not only did we get a classic in the main event of Crown Jewel, but I could also see writing up Bianca Belair and Bayley’s Last Woman Standing match, Brock Lesnar vs. Bobby Lashley, and the Usos battling the Brawling Brutes as WWE reps during a lesser week. Stateside, we were also treated to yet another entry into the Greatest of All Time candidacy of Rey Mysterio. When most people think of Rey’s best in-ring work, what comes to mind mostly is his high-flying junior heavyweight classics against wrestlers like Psicosis, Juventud Guerrera, Eddie Guerrero, and Dean Malenko. Or later in WWE, via his blood feud with Guerrero or matches with Kurt Angle. In addition to those matches, however, Rey is a savant at working as David against a wide variety of Goliaths. His match against Brock Lesnar in 2003 was arguably the best match of the entire year and a dark horse candidate for a career match for both, and he had tremendous battles against stars like Mark Henry and the Big Show and even lesser lights like Mike Knox. No small wrestler in history is better at finding ways to plausibly takedown, knock down, or roll up much bigger men.
Rey did it again on SmackDown, absorbing a huge beating from Gunther but still finding ways—at 47 years old and 5’4”—to nearly steal a win from someone who has been cutting a swath through the WWE rosters since he joined NXT UK in 2019. Rey took a beating early, and few can unleash a beating like Gunther. At least he was until he blocked a body slam by hooking his arms around Gunther’s shoulders; Mysterio then shimmied up his body like a kid on a jungle gym and planted Gunther with a crucifix. Mysterio climbed the tree again, locking in a sleeper which Gunther needed to climb to the second rope and fall backwards to break. Rey got several more big moments, including a top rope powerbomb he reversed into a rana, and an in-ring power bomb spun into a roll-up until a huge Gunther clothesline turned out the lights. Gunther is such a violent wrestler that it is plausible that any individual move can end a match, and Rey is so elusive and tricky that any flip, roll-up, or rana might end it as well.
Rey is in a bit of a holding pattern until they revisit and reheat his father-son feud with Dominik, but what a holding pattern it has been. These two showed great chemistry and I would love for Rey to find a way to earn himself a rematch. The slingshot didn’t land today, but I want to see David load up another rock.
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.