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.
Creed Brothers vs. Legado del Fantasma vs. Josh Briggs and Brooks Jensen vs. Sanga and Grayson Waller vs. Pretty Deadly
WWE NXT, April 12
NXT released Nash Carter, half of its tag team champion team MSK, on April 6, after his ex-wife said he had abused her. It’s grim stuff, and this isn’t the place to discuss the issue. The release set up a five-team gauntlet match for the newly vacant NXT tag titles. The highlight was a tremendous performance by the Creed Brothers, and it is a real credit to them that they were trusted to carry 30-plus minutes of action this early in their careers. Vaunted prospects like the Creeds are usually protected—matched with veterans to hold their hands and give them specific moments to excel. It’s what the company has been doing with Bron Breakker, matching him with trusted hands like Dolph Ziggler, Robert Roode, and Gunther to lead him through his big singles matches. Brutus and Julius Creed, however, wrestled four matches in a row (many against similarly inexperienced opponents) on Tuesday in which they were the focus, and they totally delivered.
The premise of a gauntlet match is that two teams start the match, and when one team loses, it’s replaced with the next team up. The winner gets to advance, and immediately starts another match. It’s a great format for building up equity—and sympathy—in whoever paces the marathon. Here the Creeds opened against Legado del Fantasma in the kind of high-octane sprint that makes up much of today’s tag wrestling. It was sped up, all action-movie stuff, with Joaquin Wilde and Cruz Del Toro of the Legado taking an early advantage with crisp flying moves, only to get caught midair and thrown by the Creeds. It was a cool battle of different kinds of wrestling athleticism, with the dynamic acrobatics of Wilde and Del Toro running into the power and explosion of the Creed Brothers—and it’s always fun to watch little guys get tossed in the air.
The #CreedBrothers and #LegadodelFantasma collide in the opening round of the Gauntlet Match to crown the new #WWENXT Tag Team Champions.@BrutusCreedwwe @JuliusCreedWWE @joaquinwilde_ @RaulMendozaWWE pic.twitter.com/6LrZnEBbbH— WWE NXT (@WWENXT) April 14, 2022
After the Creeds advanced, the second falls had them battling another pair of big, corn-fed guys in a brawl with Josh Briggs and Brooks Jensen (the son of former WWE wrestler Bull Buchanan, who seems to be working some sort of incel gimmick). They started out with a fist bump, which transitioned immediately into a fist fight. Briggs and Jensen powerbombed Brutus through the announce table and it became a two-on-one beatdown on Julius. Briggs is a guy with a nice running boot, good punches, and a stiff clothesline, and that is pretty much all you need to get on my good side as a wrestler. Julius took a big two-on-one beating before Brutus was able to stumble in to break up a pin. Even with Brutus back, it was still all Briggs and Jensen until Brutus was able to avoid a move and hit a brutal-looking sliding clothesline for a quick pin.
Seconds after beating #LegadoDelFantasma, The #CreedBrothers go up against @BrooksJensenWWE and #JoshBriggs in the second leg of the Gauntlet Match for the #WWENXT Tag Team Titles. @BrutusCreedwwe @JuliusCreedWWE pic.twitter.com/EU4HM1raSD— WWE NXT (@WWENXT) April 14, 2022
Next up was the team of Grayson Waller and Sanga. Waller came in with a fake arm injury, which was a nice piece of classic wrestling-heel bullshit. I like Waller, he has a nice, smarmy crowd-taunting vibe, and will take a big beating. He feels like the kind of guy who will have a long career as a Miz-style utility wrestler. (Waller is also a reality show alumnus, appearing on Australian Survivor–maybe the WWE needs to offer an NIL program for The Amazing Race and The Challenge.) Sanga is someone I am super high on, too–he is built like a steel safe door, with huge shoulders, and a neat mustache and beard combo that make him look like a final boss in a kung fu movie. The Creeds were completely wiped out at this point, and I loved how they would somehow manage to execute huge power moves despite seemingly being dead on their feet. It is super impressive to do a deep crotch lift suplex on a block of concrete like Sanga—it’s even more impressive when it seems like you can barely stand.
The #CreedBrothers look to continue their dominant run in the Tag Team Gauntlet Match when they square off with @GraysonWWE & @Sanga_WWE. @BrutusCreedwwe @JuliusCreedWWE #WWENXT pic.twitter.com/ZotX8BlXEn— WWE NXT (@WWENXT) April 15, 2022
Pretty Deadly came in for the last spot to pick the bones, and they are another great, hateable heel team who has come over after a long NXT U.K. title run. It is impossible to cheer for guys whose hair looks that silky and conditioned. This final fall was a one-sided beatdown, with the Creeds flopping around the ring exhausted and Pretty Deadly taunting them and executing double-team moves. It was a super-smartly worked match, though, as they built to a huge inside cradle near fall, and some big kickouts, wringing a lot of drama out of a match in which one team had basically no offense. Pretty Deadly won the belts, but the crowd was left eager to see the Creeds get their revenge on an even playing field—a very smartly booked and excellently worked piece of television wrestling. It felt like it elevated all 10 men involved, and the Creeds are must-watch talents at this point.
Samoa Joe vs. Minoru Suzuki
AEW Dynamite, April 13
Samoa Joe’s legendary war against Kenta Kobashi was both the peak of Ring of Honor as a promotion and the capstone of Joe’s iconic run in that promotion. The idea was to match up the homegrown heavyweight badass with the iconic Japanese star who the diehard fans had watched have all-time classics on bootleg tapes. With AEW owner Tony Khan being an old-school tape trader himself, and buying Ring of Honor and signing Samoa Joe, it is unsurprising that he would try to recreate that magic and run his own version of Joe vs. Kobashi: Joe facing off with another hard-hitting Japanese wrestling icon in Minoru Suzuki.
After the success of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction there was a spate of films released which tried to capture that style—lots of chewy dialogue and stylized violence. This match was the Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead version of Kobashi vs. Joe—it had a lot of the same beats and rhythms without approaching the magic of the original. Still, Things to Do in Denver When You Are Dead is a blast—Christopher Walken is menacing, there’s some good Treat Williams and Andy Garcia stuff, and it’s overall a nifty movie. Samoa Joe vs. Minoru Suzuki was a similarly nifty match. Both guys showed real intensity, laid into each other, and delivered a crowd-pleasing fight, even if it was a bit derivative.
Part of the magic of the original match was seeing Kobashi in the U.S. for one of the first times, and in contrast Minoru Suzuki has been making towns. He has had over 30 matches in the U.S. in the past year, dream matches against guys like Bryan Danielson and Chris Dickinson, battles with up-and-coming young stars like Dominic Garrini and Daniel Garcia, and oddball styles clashes against guys like Effy and Nick Gage. It is a super busy schedule for a wrestler in his fifth decade, including several years as a top-level mixed martial arts fighter. If you meet Minoru Suzuki’s quote he will come to your town and crack your local star in the jaw—great for legacy, but not so much for mystery.
Some background: Suzuki began his career as a New Japan Pro Wrestling trainee, before leaving New Japan to become part of the Newborn UWF promotion, a shoot-style promotion which attempted to put on matches which more resembled real combat sports. After the dissolution of the UWF, Suzuki moved to the Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi promotion, run by Suzuki’s trainer, Yoshiaki Fujiwara. Eventually a group of wrestlers in that promotion, including Suzuki, Ken Shamrock, and Masakatsu Funaki, decided that they wanted to turn pro wrestling into real fighting and founded Pancrase, which was arguably the first mixed martial arts promotion. Suzuki was at one point one of the top MMA fighters in the world, before injuries and a punishing schedule took their toll (Pancrase fighters would fight almost once a month, and Suzuki had 43 fights between 1993 and 1998.) After a 10-year MMA career, Suzuki returned to pro wrestling and has had an additional 20-year run as a top performer in Japan.
At this point in his career, especially in the U.S., Suzuki works a specific formula. He is going to focus mostly on making faces and throwing hard forearms, and Samoa Joe is a great opponent for a match built on that template. Early in his career, Joe traveled to Japan to tour in the Zero-One promotion. The head of Zero-One, the legendary Shinya Hashimoto, told Joe that the most important thing in wrestling wasn’t moves, but the fire in your eyes. Joe’s athletic prime may be behind him, but he still has that fire, and that intensity was obvious in the opening exchange with both wrestlers tearing into each other and throwing skin-blistering chops. You could watch in real time as both wrestler’s chests reddened and blistered, and after the first minute their chests both looked like undercooked hamburger meat. The match continued along that vein, with both fighters standing and exchanging hard shots to see which one would falter first.
We did get a couple of submission attempts. Suzuki put on a nasty Fujiwara armbar in which he not only attacked the elbow, but also twisted at the wrist and fingers—it’s those kinds of details that separate master technicians like Suzuki from your average wrestler working a grappler gimmick. The finish was really smooth, with Joe using his power to turn a hanging Suzuki armbar into a muscle buster for the pin, the win, and the ROH TV title. (Joe had never held that title before, although to be fair it was a title started after Joe left the promotion.)
After an injury-plagued last chapter in his WWE career, Joe definitely seems rejuvenated. He has wrestled only three matches since 2020, and it seems like that time off has let his body heal. Joe is an icon, and it feels like there is still some tread on his tires.
The post-match angle saw Jay Lethal and Sonjay Dutt attack Joe and the lights-out debut of former Dallas Mavericks second-round draft pick Satnam Singh. The 7-foot-2 Singh is certainly huge, but the beatdown didn’t look impressive, and having the lights go out is the kind of thing which portends an impressive surprise, not someone whose most notable achievement is averaging 1.6 points and 1.4 rebounds per game in two G League seasons. There is certainly time for the Joe versus Lethal/Dutt/Singh team feud to turn around, but it was an inauspicious start, and there are so many more interesting things to do with even a diminished Samoa Joe—as this match plainly showed.
Jon Moxley vs. Will Ospreay
New Japan Windy City Riot, April 16
No matter how much of a Jon Moxley fan you are, you probably didn’t ever foresee Moxley planting himself in a near-permanent spot in this column every week. But since his return to wrestling in January, he has been focused, in great shape, and putting on weekly classics in AEW and in other promotions.
Early in Moxley’s career he was compared to Roddy Piper, both for the cadence of his promos and the way he moved in the ring. When that comparison was made, most people were thinking of WWF heel Piper, which was certainly the peak of Piper’s popularity. In the past several months, however, Moxley has moved into the territorial Piper stage of his career. The Roddy Piper who had blood-soaked, violent wars with icons like Buddy Rose and Greg Valentine, a man who would drag his opponents down into the filth and turn every match into a muddy, rain-gutter street brawl.
This match, the main event of the New Japan Windy City Riot in Chicago, was in that mold. Moxley was taking on Will Ospreay, a former IWGP junior heavyweight and world heavyweight champion, and perhaps more impressively a man who has established himself as the top foreigner in Japan. Ospreay was once known as one of the most graceful and spectacular high-flyers in the world, although since shifting to heavyweight wrestling he put on 20 to 30 pounds of muscle, and focused his offense on hard, borderline unprofessional strikes (he recently put Sanada on the shelf after fracturing his orbital bone). This crowbar version of Ospreay is a much more natural matchup for the Blackpool Combat Club’s blue-eyed brawler.
Ospreay met Moxley in the aisle and they started throwing hands in the crowd. They briefly went into the ring so the bell could ring, but went to the floor again, with Ospreay hitting a wild flipping tornillo plancha. After hitting that move he started strutting, and his crew—the United Empire—on the floor started gassing him up, telling him he was the best in the world. Just a great “asshole upper-crust soccer jerks starting a pub fight and sucker-punching the working class guy” vibe from that crew. They brawled some more on the floor and Moxley got distracted briefly by the United Empire, which allowed Ospreay to fling a chair at his face, opening him up. Ospreay dominated the next section of the match, pounding at Moxley’s cut only to get dumped on his head when he tried a fancy handspring flip. That was sort of the theme of the match—anytime Ospreay tried to make it pretty, Moxley turned it ugly. Mox dropkicked Ospreay off the apron and sent him brutally head-first into the ring barrier.
The match went back and forth from there, with Ospreay trying to use his athleticism and Moxley trying to muck it up and make it messy. There was a great moment when Ospreay tried a big springboard and Moxley just snatched him out of the air with a sick elbow to the jaw. Moments later both guys were on the apron with Moxley biting and scratching, until Ospreay was able to get separation and land a diving springing cutter to the floor, which led right into Ospreay putting Moxley through a table with a beautiful diving Randy Savage elbow drop.
Ok I’ve never seen this Will Ospreay fella go but watching his match against Moxley he’s got some good shit pic.twitter.com/LCIEHkaUFy— John H. (@Jgangsta187) April 18, 2022
There were some huge moments of violence in the final stanza. Ospreay hit a Hidden Blade back elbow, which looked like it knocked two years of math right out of Moxley’s brain, and Moxley absolutely drove Ospreay’s head through the mat with a curb stomp. The finish run of this match felt a bit overdone—there were probably two or three too many dramatic kick-outs and wild reversals, the kind of stuff that is better as seasoning (and sometimes big New Japan matches can be really overseasoned). The finish also seemed weirdly blown, as Ospreay kicked out at two but the ref called for the bell anyway. Still, despite its flaws this was a big-time bloody maximalist main event, with Ospreay stepping up and meeting Moxley blow for blow and blood spray for blood spray. Another week, another red-stained ring canvas—this Moxley run is something really special.
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.