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.
Bron Breakker vs. Gunther
WWE NXT, April 5
Bron Breakker should be on top of any list of plausible 2028 WrestleMania headliners. He’s at the beginning of his career, he has been signed to WWE for just over a year, and he’s been on television only since September. His first WrestleMania weekend saw him headline the NXT Stand & Deliver event (which means less under NXT 2.0 than it did under NXT 1.0, but still means something), get a signature title win on the Raw after WrestleMania to win the NXT title back from Dolph Ziggler, and then return to Florida the next day to have a slugfest with Gunther for that aforementioned NXT title.
Breakker represents exactly what WWE is looking for in its next generation of wrestlers: an athletic background as a Division I college football player and NFL camp invitee, familial pedigree (he is the son of Rick Steiner and nephew of Scott Steiner, both newly minted WWE Hall of Famers), and a real, special charisma.
He also clearly has the kind of athleticism that translates well to professional wrestling. Before the NFL draft he ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash, had a 35 1/2–inch vertical leap, and recorded 35 bench press reps at 225 pounds. Those are eye-popping stats, at or above the level of top NFL athletes. You can see the explosiveness in his suplexes, which have some of the best snap and speed since the days of his father and uncle. Gunther probably goes 270 pounds or so, and he got snatched out of the air like he was a Wrestling Buddy pillow. Often, when wrestlers take a suplex they need to heavily participate in that suplex by jumping into it and pulling themselves over. Breakker just hurls his opponents, no cooperation needed—you are going for a ride whether you bought your ticket or not.
Gunther—formerly known as Walter—has built a reputation as a monster both during his long NXT UK run and his time in NXT proper. So this match was worked like two titans clashing to see who will be the dominant force. There were some great slugfest moments, with Gunther unloading his infamous chops, which sound like lake ice cracking, and Breakker throwing hard, looping overhand rights in the style of his father. The story was based around which wrestler could force the match into their preferred pace. Breakker is all about explosion, speeding a match up so he can really maximize his athletic advantages. But Gunther wants it plodding—he wants to use the shot clock, pound away at his opponent, and wear them down. Breakker tweaked his shoulder early in the match trying for his press powerslam finisher, and Gunther focused on wrenching and beating on that shoulder, hoping to limit the effectiveness of the spear and suplexes.
To Breakker’s good fortune, the match sped up near the end. Breakker hit an impressive belly-to-belly suplex, but got caught with a dropkick when he attempted a spear. Gunther then hit a powerbomb and a Superfly splash, but was only able to get a two count. Gunther went to the top again, only to be cut off with a spear that was so fast it looked like a tape glitch. Breakker has one of the best spears since Goldberg—he hits like a guy who played Division I linebacker. Next came another hard-hitting, back-and-forth strike exchange, and Breakker was able to grab Gunther around the throat and lift him up into a press powerslam for the win, beating a guy who had lost only one singles match in the three years he’s been in WWE (losing the NXT UK title in a classic against Ilja Dragunov in 2021).
This was Gunther dropping a fall on his way out of NXT, as he debuted on SmackDown on Friday with what seems to be a significant main-roster push. Breakker is sticking around NXT for a while, as there was a post-match angle with Joe Gacy kidnapping his father. Still, I imagine Breakker is the next guy to get a promotion to the main roster when they need an infusion of new talent. There have been other can’t-miss prospects who have missed, but Breakker seems damn near impossible to screw up, and I am excited to see where he’ll go from here.
Jon Moxley vs. Wheeler Yuta
AEW Rampage, April 8
Blood in pro wrestling has a long and glorious history. I wrote an entire book about it, and the earliest match in that book is from the 1950s. Blading goes back to the earliest days of wrestling. The old adage was “red means green,” and that was the rule that wrestling lived by for much of its existence. Some of my earliest memories as a fan were afternoons spent in DeLauer’s Newsstand in Oakland, thumbing through wrestling magazines with full-color pictures of a gory Dusty Rhodes or Tommy Rich drenched in his own plasma.
Blood as a storytelling device had mostly disappeared from mainstream professional wrestling—the last authorized blade job in WWE was Shawn Michaels at Great American Bash in 2008, where he bled so much the match had to be stopped prematurely. While there has been occasional accidental (“hardway” in industry speak) bleeding since, WWE has been a functionally dry promotion for 14 years. CMLL, the largest promotion in Mexico, and New Japan Pro-Wrestling, the biggest promotion in Japan, have similarly banned the practice. AEW, however, has brought gore back in a big way, with Jon Moxley leading the way down the red road.
After leaving WWE in 2019 (where he was known as Dean Ambrose), Moxley has established himself as one of the great bloodletters in wrestling history, in the spirit of Abdullah the Butcher or the Sheik, except instead of using forks and pencils to carve up opponents, Moxley is using his fists, elbows, knees, and head. Moxley followed up painting the ring with Biff Busick’s blood at Bloodsport over Mania weekend by exsanguinating Wheeler Yuta on Rampage.
This was an absolute star-making performance by Yuta, a loss that turned him into a made man in one night—in a way that can be done only in the shade of red. Yuta had been fighting for the last several weeks to earn the respect of the Blackpool Combat Club of Moxley, Bryan Danielson, and William Regal. He had a spirited fight with Danielson the previous week, and here he was trying to prove to Moxley that he had grown since Moxley’s previous two convincing victories over him.
Yuta opened the match by catching Moxley with a wild dive as Mox was trying to enter the ring. Yuta had a short advantage at the beginning, which came to an end when Moxley threw him to the floor and stomped his head into the metal stairs. Yuta came up bloody and it just kept flowing, matting his hair and beard, spraying out in tiny jets. There were real Grand Guignol vibes for the entire match.
The rest of the match was Yuta dying a glorious death, taking huge move after huge move from Moxley, drenched in his own blood but refusing to lose. At one point Moxley locked in a Sharpshooter, giving us a visual callback to the famous Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin WrestleMania match as Yuta fought his way to the ropes with his face dripping. Yuta had a couple of big moments of offense. He dove on Moxley with a plancha, putting him through a table, and even landed Danielson’s signature head stomps and a Superfly splash for a big near fall. Yuta escaped Moxley’s bulldog choke and reversed it, and also got two huge kickouts; one off Moxley’s Paradigm Shift DDT, and later off an elevated version of the same move (which actually might have been one kickout too many for the story they were telling), only to be finally choked into unconsciousness.
Post-match, Yuta accepted handshakes from Moxley, Regal, and Danielson and drew “BCC” (for Blackpool Combat Club) on his chest in his own blood. I was skeptical of Yuta going into this match, but this kind of against-all-odds gritty babyface performance is made to silence doubters. If red still equals green, Yuta just bled his way into a big career.
Hoodfoot vs. Necro Butcher
XPW: Killafornia, April 9
The corpses of wrestling’s disreputable past rolled back the stone and crawled out of the grave this weekend on FITE TV. This show marked the return of Xtreme Pro Wrestling to its home in Los Angeles after nearly 20 years away (give or take a couple of reunion shows in 2008 and 2009). XPW was started (and rebooted) by porn producer Rob Black, who brought his seedy and violent aesthetic to pro wrestling, including but not limited to having his stable of porn stars appear as valets. An even grimier West Coast–based cousin to Extreme Championship Wrestling, XPW would use ECW stars like Sabu, Terry Funk, Sandman, and Shane Douglas along with a group of homegrown lunatics including Pogo the Clown, Supreme, Homeless Jimmy, and the Messiah.
The promotion was probably best known for non-pro-wrestling incidents like a brawl with ECW wrestlers and security at an ECW PPV, New Jack shooting on Vic Grimes in a scaffold match and trying to legitimately murder him in the ring, and an incident when ex-champion Messiah was attacked at his house and had his thumb cut off with garden shears. (An attack that the America’s Most Wanted television show intimated was organized by Rob Black as revenge for Messiah sleeping with his wife.)
In a world as sleazy as pro wrestling, XPW was at another level. Now, after being the subject of a Dark Side of the Ring documentary episode, XPW is back with a nearly seven-hour marathon King of the Deathmatch tournament. In this past weekend’s event, the next generation of garbage wrestling shared the stage with many of the sordid characters of XPW’s past, who came out to get their flowers.
This show also saw the return of iconic brawler Necro Butcher. (His first match back was on a show last month, but this was his first high-profile match.) Necro had a “live fast, die young” career on the indie scene, starting as a death match wrestler and winning tournaments in CZW and IWA Mid-South and then having a series of more traditional brawls, some of them classic wars with many of the top indie stars of the day. His throwdown with Samoa Joe is considered one of great brawls of the 21st century, and he had lesser-known but equally harrowing fights with Super Dragon, Low-Ki, and Bryan Danielson.
Necro was known for taking unreasonably violent bumps, and didn’t exactly live a healthy lifestyle, so his prime was pretty much over by 2007. He had a mixed-bag ROH run, which lasted until 2011, and after that he was basically semi-retired, working tiny indies and Insane Clown Posse shows until retiring for good in 2016. Necro had a return match for ICW in 2020 against Shlak where he looked frail and sick, and he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which seemingly shut the door on any return to wrestling. However, he recovered and has launched a remarkable comeback.
In this match, he looked like the old Necro Butcher, maybe a little slower, but still willing to unload straight punches to his opponent’s jaw, take uncalled-for bumps, and get smashed with chairs.
Hoodfoot has established a cult reputation of his own, working promotions like Paradigm Pro Wrestling and ICW No Holds Barred. Hoodfoot is like a pro-wrestling version of Kimbo Slice, landing wild concussive blows and taking lots of punishment on his own. The death match part of his career is relatively recent, but he has already gifted himself some ragged scars.
The match incongruously started with some chain wrestling, with Necro actually showing some nice amateur riding and ground control, before inevitably erupting into the expected fistfight. These are two guys with very heavy hands, and Hoodfoot pounded the body and Necro smashed him back with his signature chop and right-hand combination. The match also had some stiff chair shots, the type that have been banned in more mainstream pro wrestling promotions.
The match was more of a gritty street fight than a wild, stunt-filled death match, although the floor and ring were strewn with broken glass like an alley behind a dive bar. Necro’s age and infirmity really added to the match’s atmosphere—he isn’t the fearsome figure of his youth, but William Munny, an old gunslinger pulled off the farm for one more doomed mission. He mostly used his guile, throwing a punch straight into a steel chair to disarm Hoodfoot and driving the back of his head into Hoodfoot’s balls to block a powerbomb.
The finish saw Necro struggle to lift the massive Hoodfoot, nearly suffering a hernia but getting Hoodfoot over for a Death Valley Driver. Necro is a divisive figure, and XPW is a divisive promotion, but it was a weird treat to see them both back, both playing their specific and bizarre song.
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.