There’s more great pro wrestling in 2022 than we know what to do with. So The Ringer brings you a weekly cheat sheet, the three best matches of the week—one from WWE, one from AEW, and one from the rest of the immense wrestling world.
Creed Brothers vs. Grizzled Young Veterans
NXT, February 8, 2022
NXT, WWE’s developmental promotion, has jumped wildly back and forth thematically since it began. It started off as Florida Championship Wrestling, a local television product slash wrestling school, developing wrestlers like Roman Reigns and Tyler Black (now Seth Rollins). They brought some of those wrestlers to television as part of the first iteration of NXT, which was programed like a reality show, with rookie wrestlers matched up with WWE veterans and competing in things like keg-carrying contests and obstacle courses, sort of MTV’s The Challenge minus the drunken fights and hookups (but somehow also with less urgency). After that fizzled, the company changed FCW’s name to NXT and the show—a regular wrestling show populated by up-and-coming talent, would become content for the soon-to-be-launched WWE Network. The roster shifted to a mix of developmental wrestlers and established indie wrestling and international stars, and began to put on shows which resembled the U.S. indie super shows like ROH and PWG. Eventually NXT was being headlined by stars of those indie promotions—wrestlers like Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole, who were signed with the idea that they would be NXT-specific wrestlers, rather than wrestlers being developed for future main roster stardom. The spirit of NXT was in its otherness within the WWE machine—it was a developmental system that thumbed its nose at developing “WWE stars,” whatever that meant. And the center of gravity was in its NXT TakeOver supershows, quarterly pay-per-view outings that often ran the weekend of major WWE events like WrestleMania and SummerSlam and which elicited crowd frenzies that outpaced those of the main PPVs. For the kind of fans that traveled to see WWE events, NXT TakeOvers were almost a bigger deal than WrestleMania. But then came the turn: NXT was moved to Wednesday nights on the USA Network in 2019 as an attempt to try to torpedo AEW, the fledgling rival promotion that was airing on the same night. It didn’t work. After losing fairly consistently in the ratings, the WWE eventually moved the show to Tuesday nights, seemingly to get out of AEW’s way. Most recently WWE reversed course and torpedoed NXT itself. The company rebranded NXT again, giving the boot to many of the smaller independent veterans who had been staples of the promotion, and putting the focus on developing wrestlers who more closely fit the traditional vision of WWE superstars—again, whatever that means. If nothing else, they certainly were raw.
While this version of NXT—the WWE is literally calling it NXT 2.0—has certainly had some growing pains, there is something incredibly endearing about the focus on old-school meathead brawls, especially when they’re big meatheads with amateur pedigrees who are tossing smaller guys recklessly. That archetype has a long and storied history in pro wrestling from Danny Hodge to Dr. Death Steve Williams to the Steiner Brothers (Rick Steiner’s son, saddled with the unfortunate WWE create-a-wrestler name Bron Breakker, is currently the NXT champion) and on to Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley. This is an archetype which isn’t really present in AEW, and is a lane NXT and the WWE in general can have to themselves.
Enter the Creed Brothers. Both are multiple time NCAA All-American wrestlers, Julius Creed at Duke, and Brutus Creed at Otterbein. Brutus (real name Drew Kasper) was undefeated his senior year and the no. 1 ranked heavyweight in the country before the NCAA Wrestling Championships were canceled due to COVID-19. Julius (Jacob Kasper) signed with the WWE in October 2020, Brutus in February 2021, so they are both true pro-wrestling rookies. There is a certain way that wrestlers who have come up through the independent wrestling scene move, and it’s different from the way a trained collegiate wrestler moves. The Creed Brothers, being the latter variety and having had relatively little time to amalgamate to the pro wrestling style, are so different that they’re really compelling to watch. There was a moment in this match against the Grizzled Young Veterans (who came up through the British independent scene) when Brutus Creed was being doubled-teamed in the corner—the expected pro wrestling response to that would be to punch his way out; instead he just threw a lighting-fast double leg takedown and used that to break free.
The setup of this match was a pretty classic U.S. tag wrestling setup, with some really clever tweaks to respond to both what the Creeds do well, and to mask some natural limitations based on their experience. The Creeds jumped the Veterans in the aisle and bumped them around with great-looking takedowns and gutwrench throws. GYV took over by jabbing Brutus in the Adam’s apple and whiplashing his throat into the bottom metal stanchion under the ring. It was a really smart move to have Brutus sell his throat during the section of the match the heel team controlled. It is a tricky skill to sensibly sell an arm or a leg while performing offense or taking moves—it’s something that 20-year veterans can’t always pull off, much less guys with a dozen matches worth of experience. It’s much easier to cough and choke from a damaged throat than try to remember which leg to limp on, and Brutus did a yeoman’s job of that. The heels viciously and cleverly worked over Brutus, until the big Julius hot tag. There was some very cool back and forth after that, including a nasty James Drake tope to Julius’s back which sent him face-first into the announcers table, and a killer Julius superplex in which he ran up his brother’s back and sent Zack Gibson into the stratosphere. Lots of credit to Grizzled Young Veterans here—they’re the kind of mechanic tag team who may not fit perfectly in the new NXT vision, but who should be kept around to work with all of the promising green wrestlers coming in. NXT 2.0 hasn’t figured itself out. There are broad early ’90s WWE ethnic comedy gimmicks, leftover workrate guys who haven’t gotten released yet, and some Attitude Era cursing and bikini stuff. It’s kind of a mess, but there are a lot of really interesting parts of that mess, including this mini division of Varsity Club jacked up athletes. On a brand in search of an identity, this is exactly what WWE should be doing—focusing on the kind of wrestlers who Vince McMahon will look at and think they’re awesome, and who fans will look at and think they’re awesome too.
Adam Page vs. Lance Archer
AEW Dynamite, February 9, 2022
Every wrestling company is telling stories, multiple stories at the same time, all of differing levels of significance to the overall product. Since the beginning of AEW, the promotion has had one story at its core, sometimes quietly so, but it’s always been central: the story of Adam Page overcoming his personal demons, self-doubt, and fractured relationship with his former partner Kenny Omega to finally win the world heavyweight title. In a lot of ways it’s a deliberate metaphor for the whole promotion, and Hangman—not a fully “homegrown” star but nonetheless a handcrafted project by AEW honcho Tony Khan—is not just the company’s champion but its avatar. The idea of imposter syndrome isn’t something that pro wrestling has much dealt with before; pro wrestling is a sport full of overconfidence and it’s been fascinating to see AEW tell a story of under confidence, the story of a wrestler who needs to prove to himself that he deserves everything he has gotten.
One thing that is challenging and unique about pro wrestling is that you can’t just tell the story alone, you have to tell the day-after story, as well. Page climbed the mountain, but how does he live his day the day after, and the one after that? What is the second date like for Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves when there’s no exploding bus? Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks kiss on the Empire State Building, but how do they combine their finances and decide who moves where?
Narratively, Page’s story was over with his title win, so the next question he needs to answer is what kind of world champion he is going to be. Page sits at an interesting middle ground. He isn’t part of the group of big stars who had made their names in WWE and New Japan (the Young Bucks, Bryan Danielson, Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho, CM Punk, Cody Rhodes) and he is a little old to be in that next generation of young homegrown stars (Darby Allin, Jungle Boy, MJF, Dante Martin, Sammy Guevara).
Three months into his title run, Page has found himself a groove, and those grooves are in his forehead. He has decided, like babyface champions from decades past, to bring the blood. Dusty Rhodes, Carlos Colón, Perro Aguayo—for generations, fan-favorite main eventers have used a razor blade as an effective shortcut to connect to the audience. Page reminds me of the iconic “Wildfire” Tommy Rich, a big, good-looking country boy with some natural aw shucks charm, and a willingness to leave something (read: blood) in the ring to get the job done. Page has had three title defenses so far, and he has bled badly in all three. In pro wrestling, bleeding for sympathy works because it’s always worked, and it definitely added big time to a match I honestly was not particularly excited about when it was announced.
The match started before it started, with both guys thumping away on each other in the back, and the throttle got popped quickly when Page hurled Lance Archer through a glass window (the broadcast had a really great alternative camera angle from inside the tunnel, with Archer smashing through the glass like the Kool-Aid man). Archer then got thrown into the ring and dropped with Page’s flipping Buckshot Lariat. Because this match was a Texas Death match, Archer didn’t need to kick out before three, he only needed to get back to his feet before a 10-count, which he did barely, just as the crowd almost bought that Page would just blitz Archer and finish him right there.
The next big moment in the match saw Dan Lambert (the head of MMA gym American Top Team, who had been a general-purpose heel antagonist in AEW for the past year) come out and dismantle the top rope turnbuckle, which gave Archer a ring hook to use as a weapon, and simultaneously eliminated Page’s Buckshot Lariat from being used again. (Page uses the top rope to flip over to add force to the clothesline, which I am not sure makes actual sense, but wrestling physics are different.) Archer took the ring hook to Page’s eye and Page really let it loose, and his face was quickly covered with dark red blood. It felt like Page had hit the bigger man with his biggest shot and failed to end the fight, and now size and force were starting to take over. We got a great cameo from Archer’s mentor Jake “the Snake” Roberts, hitting Page with his signature short arm clothesline and bloodying his slick tie-dye shirt in the process; Jake then set up for the iconic DDT only to be interrupted by Archer—the rare instance when a heel stopping another heel from an attack makes him the heelier of the two.
That was followed up by another huge moment, with Archer hitting his Blackout finisher (a reverse razor’s edge) off the ring apron onto upturned metal stairs. Page’s landing was about a millimeter away from being a snuff film, and there was a great clang when his back and kidneys smashed into those stairs. Page was able to fight back by wrapping barbed wire around his arm and hitting a front flip off of the back of the referee, MacGyvering his way into something resembling a Buckshot Lariat, and putting Archer through two tables. This bout started off feeling like a placeholder in between bigger Page defenses, and transformed in real time into something much more memorable. Page is developing into a champion with a knack for timing huge moments and a willingness to drench his matches in gore to make sure they are not forgotten, and that’s a champ I am excited to watch week after week.
ACH vs. Speedball Mike Bailey
West Coast Pro Wrestling: The art of Drowning, February 11, 2022
One of the most popular styles of current pro wrestling is one which is heavily into spectacular athletic moves performed at an intense pace. Call it action movie wrestling. The matches can often sacrifice pacing, selling, and storytelling, in favor of a game of in-ring one-upmanship. It’s a fireworks show with one small explosion after another until at the end they explode them all for a huge finale.
In action movie wrestling, a lot of the time you get the equivalent of a direct-to-streaming Latvian movie with 10 minutes of Bruce Willis and John Cusack, some car crashes, and not much of a plot. Some of the time you get something like Extraction—it’s solid, hits all the notes, but nothing you remember much a week later. But once in a blue moon you get The Raid.
Mike Bailey is a Quebecois indie wrestler who wrestled much of his early career in the same group of Canadian indies that WWE stars Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens sprung from. He started gaining some notoriety feuding with Steen in the early 2010s as Steen began becoming a bigger star in the U.S. Bailey began getting bigger U.S. bookings in 2014 and ’15, appearing in Combat Zone Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, but he was working without a work visa and ended up getting arrested and banned from the U.S. for five years. He continued working in Canada and Japan but faded a bit from the mainstream indie wrestling consciousness. With his immigration issue finally handled, he has broken back into the U.S. scene in 2022, signing a contract with Impact Wrestling and getting to the finals of the 2022 PWG Battle of Los Angeles. Bailey is a black belt in taekwondo and the combo of wearing a gi and looking 14 years old made him feel originally like the wrestling equivalent of Karate Kid Daniel LaRusso (although he is sort of aging into Cobra Kai era Daniel LaRusso).
ACH started his career in Texas, moving into featured roles in EVOLVE wrestling and Ring of Honor along with appearances in New Japan Pro-Wrestling, competing twice in their Best of the Super Juniors tournament. He signed a WWE contract in 2019, and changed his name to Jordan Myles. Myles won the NXT Breakout tournament and was awarded a title match with Adam Cole. His WWE career ended abruptly when he quit the company over the design of a T-shirt which saw his name drawn like a big toothy, evoking racist Sambo imagery. Since leaving WWE he has returned to indie wrestling, and recently began working again for New Japan.
This match was held in San Francisco for West Coast Pro Wrestling, and was streamed live on IWTV, an independent wrestling streaming service. WCPW is a relatively new promotion which seems to be trying to replicate the success of Pro Wrestling Guerilla in Northern California.
One of the hardest things to do in an action movie match is build to a compelling finish; often in highspot-heavy matches they hit the natural ending point in a conventional match and just keep flipping past it. I have watched so many matches that have a great finish, only to be followed by four more minutes of other near finishes which aren’t nearly as good. This match certainly had some huge near falls, but it didn’t overstay its welcome. They built and built and ended where they should.
With Bailey’s martial arts background, there were parts of this match which resembled a Wushu kung fu film as much as a wrestling match. You had some great evasion by ACH of some of the early Bailey kicks and punches, only to get caught by bigger shots later, including some thudding kicks to the chest and ribs. ACH landed a spectacular flip kick of his own with Bailey sitting on the top rope, which looked like it might have loosened a molar. My favorite moment of the match was ACH catching a karate kick out of midair and turning it seamlessly into a dragon screw leg whip. It really felt like something Tony Jaa should steal for Ong Bak 4. They also had some great-looking dives, including a breathtaking moonsault to the floor by Bailey, and some awesome looking German suplexes by ACH.
Indie wrestling veteran B-Boy, who wrestled earlier on the show, called this match the greatest indie match he has ever seen. I wouldn’t go that far, but if you are in the mood to see two super athletic guys pushing the boundaries of what can be humanly done in a wrestling ring, this will quench that thirst. For this type of match, it is about as great as it can be done.
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.