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.
Yuki Yoshioka vs. Masaaki Mochizuki
DG Fantastic Gate 2022, December 6
This was a battle for the Open the Dream Gate Championship, with the 28-year-old champion Yuki Yoshioka defending the title against the 52-year-old puroresu legend Masaaki Mochizuki.
Dragon Gate is one of the most successful promotions in Japan, touring the entire country and drawing big houses. After Último Dragón took the Toryumon name for himself following a stint in WWE, the remaining wrestlers formed Dragon Gate. Dragon Gate is known for its hyperathletic, fast-paced style, with young, good-looking wrestlers in various factions who appeal to a female audience.
Mochizuki always has been a bit of an outlier in Dragon Gate. He was already 10 years older than most of the first class of Dragon Gate, having started his career as a karateka and was member of disgraced sumo Koji Kitao’s Kitao Dojo (later known as Buko Dojo). Mochizuki captured his first Open the Dream Gate title in 2004, when he was 34 in a promotion full of wrestlers in their 20s. This week he attempted to capture his fourth Open the Dream Gate title almost two decades later, still in a promotion full of wrestlers in their 20s (including his son, who is just 20 and debuted earlier this year).
Yoshioka has held the Open the Dream Gate Championship (Dragon Gate’s world title) since July, and he had captured three previous challenger keys. (The no. 1 challenger is given a challenger key, which he carries with him. If he wins, he uses the key to open a plate on the title belt; if he loses, the key is hung on the belt as a trophy.) Yoshioka spent a year in Mexico and returned with a new gimmick—wrestling for a year as the masked Dia Inferno—before he unmasked and went on a winning streak, eventually capturing the big title.
In the wins Mochizuki had against Yoshioka in multi-person matches prior to this bout, Mochizuki successfully countered Yoshioka’s big moves. Mochizuki was also a former stablemate with Yoshioka in the Mochizuki Dojo faction, and the story of the match was about the wily veteran looking for an opening or a mistake. Could his guile, experience, and scouting overcome Yoshioka’s athletic advantages?
The first big move of the match came when Yoshioka sent Mochizuki to the floor and went for a dive, only for Mochizuki to beat him to the punch and meet him with a kick to the head. After that, Mochizuki whipped a moonsault off of the apron, just to show the kid he still had some moves. Yoshioka then whipped him into the ring post and followed up with a battle hook lariat, only to wrap his arm around that ring post, giving Mochizuki a target. Mochizuki was originally a shoot-style wrestler and has some of the sharpest, hardest kicks and chops in wrestling. He found lots of opportunities to crack Yoshioka, including some thudding body kicks and a spin kick to the head that looked like it sent Yoshioka’s jaw to the back row.
Yoshioka spent much of this match on his back foot; Mochizuki kept countering his big moves, and lighting him up with kicks and big bombs, including a twisting brainbuster and another punt to the face. After a close two-count, Mochizuki made his first big mistake: He went for his jumping triangle kick, but Yoshioka sidestepped him and cleaned his clock with an elbow to the jaw, sending him crashing head-first into the turnbuckle.
After that you could see the 28 years of punishment on his body start to take its toll. Mochizuki was still right there; he got his knees up on a frog splash, and locked in a triangle, only to get lifted into a turnbuckle powerbomb. He then ate another frog splash, but punched Yoshioka right in the jaw as he bounced off of him. Even with those big moments, Mochizuki was starting to fade, losing the strike exchanges he had been winning easily earlier in the match, and kicking out slower from big moves. At the end, Yoshioka ducked a high kick, crushed Mochizuki with a hard elbow, and hit two big frog splashes for the win.
Great match, and a hell of a performance by Mochizuki—who proved he can still show up at a high level at his age. He looked like a total legend while also making Yoshioka look doubly tough for being able to take a big beating and still come out on top.
The Briscoes vs. FTR
ROH Final Battle, December 10
A harrowing war to close out the brilliant trilogy between the Briscoes and FTR. The Briscoes and FTR competed in two classics earlier in the year; with the added drama of the double dog collar stipulation, there were super-high expectations for this match, and the quality of the bout blew clear through them.
The recklessness is really what made the match stand out to me. It opened at a breakneck pace, with the chained pairings being Mark Briscoe and Cash Wheeler and Jay Briscoe and Dax Harwood. As soon as the bell rang, it was a hurricane of winging punches, chain whips, chairs, and pandemonium. No strikes were aimed; it was all chaos, which is especially dangerous with a chain, as both chains were being flung around wildly and everyone caught strays. Early in the match, it appeared that Harwood lost a tooth from a length of chain whipping back at him while he was throwing a German suplex.
Jay spent much of the match with an ecstatic look in his eye, like a religious convert finding God, baptized in a pool of his own and his opponents’ blood. You could hear the sound of Jay’s knuckles bouncing off of Harwood’s head and face, raising welts. By the end of the match, it looked like Dax had stuck his face in a yellowjacket hive.
Jay and Harwood took the focus in the center of the ring for a lot of the match. Meanwhile, in the margins, Wheeler and Mark were doing some incredible stuff. There was a great spot when Wheeler was on the floor and he yanked back on the chain as Mark was running to help his brother, sending Mark convulsing like he had been tased. Wheeler also locked on a Gory Special with the chain wrapped around Mark’s throat, choking him and leaving him open to getting whipped in the ribs with a length of Dax Harwood’s chain.
Referee Mike Posey got shoved into the way of a Harwood punch and joined the fun with a giant blade job himself, a.k.a. some real sicko shit that you have to appreciate. At that point, the ring was like the floor of a slaughterhouse. Jay Briscoe, one of the great self-mutilators in modern wrestling history, looked like he’d stuck his face in a bucket of broken glass.
The end of this match cemented its legendary status. Mark set up Wheeler to elbow drop him through a table, but Jay instead convinced him to attempt the Doomsday Device. This gave Wheeler enough time to get off the table and use the chain to hurl Mark, by the neck, off the top rope onto a pile of chairs on the floor. This was an unforgiving, career-shortening bump, the kind of thing Mark will remember every time he bends down to tie his shoes for the rest of his life.
With Mark laid out, the match came down to Jay and Harwood. Jay hit the Jay Driller on the chain, but Harwood became one of the few wrestlers to kick out of that signature move. After absorbing some hard chair shots, Harwood was able to hit a low blow and land a piledriver on a chair, again only for two. Wheeler, from the outside, started throwing in chairs, screaming at Harwood to finish the match one and for all. Harwood then attempted the top-rope piledriver (which won FTR the second match in the series) on the pile of chairs, but Jay wiggled loose, swung the chain at his nuts, hit a superplex on the chairs, and then wrapped the chain around Harwood’s mouth like a horse bit and pulled back until he passed out.
Intense, shockingly violent, brilliant pro wrestling. I wrote a piece ranking the best dog collar matches of all time to preview this match. If I was redoing it, this match wouldn’t be any lower than second, and I would have to think hard about where it stands against Greg Valentine vs. Roddy Piper, which had previously been the gold standard for dog collar matches.
Huge victory for the Briscoes, who are pro wrestling originals, a pair of snaggle-toothed Delaware chicken farmers who fight like starved mutts when a pork chop is thrown in their kennel. They have been with ROH since the very first show, and have solidified themselves as one of the greatest tag teams of all time. It feels like ROH’s TV show becoming an Honor Club exclusive is a big letdown, but I will find the Briscoes, even if their matches are only on that one channel you watch while pumping gas. FTR is closing out an all-time year—not only with this trilogy with Briscoes, but with their war with Aussie Open in the U.K., their AEW World Tag Team title challenge against the Acclaimed on the Final Battle go-home edition of Dynamite, and all of Harwood’s great singles matches. Their future is seemingly up in the air, but this year has been upper-echelon stuff, and I am eager to continue to follow them, wherever they end up.
Bron Breakker vs. Apollo Crews
NXT Deadline, December 10
Big-time heavyweight championship power wrestling. You could even look at this as a junior varsity version of Brock Lesnar vs. Bobby Lashley, if Lesnar and Lashley also had springs in their legs. WWE has done an excellent job of building Breakker up over his first 15 months in wrestling. He was thrust almost immediately into main events, but the company was careful to match him up with seasoned veterans, guys like Dolph Ziggler, Robert Roode, and Gunther. Even most of his NXT opponents, like Cameron Grimes and JD McDonagh, were wrestlers with years of experience. Breakker soaked up that experience like a sponge and, coupled with his unparalleled athleticism, has turned into one of the most compelling wrestlers in WWE.
Apollo Crews had held the U.S. and Intercontinental titles, wrestled at WrestleMania, and was even a star on the indies and in Dragon Gate in Japan before setting foot in WWE. Despite that pedigree, Crews has never really had a huge moment in WWE, and in many ways, main-eventing an NXT premium live event for the NXT Championship felt like the biggest moment of his career.
The build to this match was pretty interesting; instead of trash-talking and pull-aparts, they had these vignettes in which they would sit down at a diner or go fishing together with sort of a seething friendliness. All smiles and backslaps but a lot of passive-aggressive compliments. It was the pro wrestling version of that meme from Sorry to Bother You.
They worked the match itself with a lot of mirror spots; both of these guys are combine kings, built like superheroes, and that explosiveness was on full display. The match opened up with a long test of strength like they were Billy Jack Haynes and Hercules Hernandez at WrestleMania 3. The opening stalemate ended when Crews cracked Breakker in the jaw with a dropkick, followed by a standing moonsault, which caused Breakker to grasp his ribs and wince. That moment gave Crews a blueprint, and he kept after that midsection throughout. Breakker was able to take back control with a gator roll into a hanging vertical suplex and a huge tope con hilo on which he cleared the top rope by a foot—it was like watching a Zion Williamson dunk; humans that size aren’t supposed to fly like that. Crews, however, cut off a Breakker bulldog attempt with a hard knee to the jaw and took over. The match went like that—Breakker maybe 5 percent more athletic and explosive, with Crews using his experience and the aforementioned blueprint to keep the advantage. By the end, the masks dropped and that fake bonhomie turned into a straight-up fist fight, with both guys screaming at each other to hit them. The finish saw Breakker duck a kick and hit his vivisecting spear, which is a great one-shot finisher.
Grayson Waller was set up as the next challenger after winning the Iron Survivor Challenge earlier in the show. I like Waller a lot; he has a real asshole Aussie surfer vibe to him and works really hard in the ring. He doesn’t really have the experience of some of Breakker’s opponents, which will be another test for Breakker.
I would be surprised if Breakker is still in NXT after WrestleMania. There is always a bit of a post-Mania shake-up, and he is primed and ready to be moved into a big spot. I don’t know what the betting odds are on who finally will dethrone Roman Reigns, but I might take a flier on Bron Breakker, especially if the company is looking to go in a new direction.
Josh Alexander vs. Mike Bailey
Impact Wrestling, November 19
I try to keep this column to matches that happened in the previous calendar week. One of the great things about being a wrestling fan in 2022 is that nearly all of the great wrestling is immediately available. However, sometimes things take a bit longer, and when they do I review them as an extra credit match. Speedball Mike Bailey vs. Josh Alexander aired on Impact this week (with an uncut version uploaded to their YouTube channel), but the match happened last month, which is how it ended up in this category.
I have talked a lot about “Speedball” Mike Bailey and the year he has been having—wrestling multiple times a week all over the country, taking huge punishment, and working a high-wire style with complex, highly athletic moves. There is no “mail-it-in” match for Bailey; the day before he worked this hourlong match, he performed in a wild six-way X Division spotfest, and the day after this match he went 22 minutes with Jonathan Gresham in GCW. Bailey’s working at a rapid pace right now, and I can’t imagine the wheels won’t come off, but we should all appreciate it while it is happening.
Josh Alexander had an impressive 2022, as well. He recaptured the Impact World title in April and has defended that title multiple times since against top names like Tomohiro Ishii, Alex Shelley, Eric Young, Eddie Edwards, and Frankie Kazarian. This match was an open challenge, which Bailey answered. Both Bailey and Alexander are Canadian and came from the same Canadian indie scene, and this was their sixth singles match against each other, with Alexander coming in at 5-0 (although Bailey had beaten him in tag matches and a three-way dance).
This was a story of injuries; Alexander had a bad shoulder from his Kazarian defense and Bailey’s knee and neck are continually punished. I really like how both wrestlers used those injuries to add some raggedness to the match—both of them are incredibly crisp, and the injuries took away some of that crispness in interesting ways. In the first half of the match, Alexander kept going for his C4 Spike double underhook piledriver, but his shoulder wouldn’t let him pull it off. At one point he just dropped Bailey, who landed awkwardly on his neck, yelping in pain. It was clearly a planned spot, but it looked like a nasty botch and added to the danger of the match. Bailey had nuked his own knees missing his Ultima Weapon moonsault kneedrop on the apron, which is one of the most intense signature bumps in wrestling—he smashes his knees on the apron like three times a week; they must be made of vibranium. Bailey had those knees torn apart by Alexander all match, so when they were fighting on the top rope near the closing moments, Bailey kept slipping and crashing to the mat as his knees gave out. Bailey was finally able to hit a top rope hurricanrana and the Ultima Weapon for a close near-fall in the final minutes, but Alexander got his foot on the ropes. Josh then hit a jumping piledriver and two straight C4 Spikes, finally putting Bailey down with 12 seconds left in the 60-minute time limit.
This was an incredibly ambitious match, and it lived up to those ambitions. The hourlong matches of the ’70s and ’80s would often have long stretches of matwork, building slowly to a big conclusion. This was an hourlong match worked in a 2022 wrestling style, with big, explosive moves and hard strikes throughout. Both men went crashing to the floor multiple times, and threw and absorbed brutal kicks and forearms. It was a 60-minute sprint, and even more impressively, one without a ton of implausible kickouts. There were some huge moves that didn’t end the match, but they normally kept near the ropes, or fatigue kept them from an immediate cover. In many ways, I prefer a slower, more deliberate build, but it is hard to deny the impressive athletic performance involved in 60 minutes of high-impact wrestling. Alexander is wrestling Bully Ray on Impact’s next PPV, but I would be eager to return to this matchup. Giving Alexander and Bailey a build to a rematch on a big Impact Wrestling show could be the kind of thing that could give the promotion some much needed shine.
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.