clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Best Non-‘WrestleMania’ Matches of ‘WrestleMania’ Weekend

From ROH to NXT to the indies, here are the pro wrestling matches you need to see from all the events outside the big show

GCW/AEW/WWE/Ringer illustration

Biff Busick vs. Jon Moxley

GCW Bloodsport 8, March 31

Much of the talk of Mania weekend has been about Cody Rhodes deciding that the grass was actually greener on the WWE side of the road, leaving rival company AEW, and getting a big WrestleMania moment as a payoff. Jon Moxley is a fascinating counterexample—after letting his WWE contract expire in 2019, he now gets to hang out in a cool stable with Bryan Danielson and William Regal, pretty much call his own booking shots, and show up on indie shows whenever he wants to have wild matches like this. There probably isn’t a 70,000-seat football-stadium moment in Jon Moxley’s near future (although AEW is growing bigger every month), but there is something to be said for doing cooler shit on smaller stages.

Biff Busick never got a big PPV moment in his five years in the WWE as Oney Lorcan (his closest was probably his Summerslam kickoff cruiserweight title match against Drew Gulak or one of his NXT Takeover tag matches), but he was a consistently excellent lower card performer, always ready to bring intensity to an NXT TV or 205 Live match. He recently returned to the indie scene after being part of the 2021 WWE NXT talent cuts, and he clearly saw Mania weekend as his chance to step up and put his name back in the zeitgeist.

This was a match at Bloodsport, a GCW sub-brand run by former UFC champion Josh Barnett that has no-ropes matches worked ostensibly shoot style (a more stripped-down wrestling style that is designed to resemble an MMA fight). This was probably the least shoot style of the matches on the show, as they just went out and had a gritty, violent pro wrestling match, one that saw Busick slicked with his own blood like a newborn baby seal.

The match opened with some solid grappling, until Moxley hit a William Regal–style knee trembler that sent Busick to the floor, where Moxley ripped off a snap suplex. The knee cut Busick badly, and when they returned to the ring Busick was covered in blood. This led to some great visuals as both men exchanged blistering chops and slaps with mists of blood coming off Busick with every shot. The crowd sang the chorus of Busick’s theme song (“Bro Hymn” by punk icons Pennywise) as a defiant Busick fired back, catching Mox with a half-and-half suplex and a huge running uppercut. Mox continued to batter Busick, locking him into a tight chicken wing and a nasty bulldog choke, but Busick refused to tap. He eventually died on his sword, sticking both middle fingers in the air defiantly only to eat another running knee for a KO.

Busick followed this match up with a banger later that day with Minoru Suzuki at the Hitchcock Memorial show and another great match the next night at Joey Janela’s Spring Break with Tony Deppen. He clearly staked his claim as a top star. If this were a Blackpool Combat Club entrance exam on AEW TV, he would have been a made man in that promotion, and he has a bunch of intriguing bookings coming up in GCW and other indie feds. Great example of a talented wrestler grabbing the opportunities offered to him with both hands.

Bandido vs. Speedball Mike Bailey

WrestleCon Mark Hitchcock Memorial SuperShow, March 31

The WrestleCon promoters tried an interesting gimmick for their Mark Hitchcock Memorial Supershow. They offered a $5,000 bonus to the participants of the best match on the show, as voted by the fans. Wrestlers coming to WrestleMania weekend often book a ton of matches over the course of a couple of days (Bandido had five matches, and Bailey wrestled nine times!), so this was a pretty clever way to ensure that the wrestlers on their show wouldn’t be pacing themselves. The whole show was well worth watching but Bandido and Bailey opened the show, set the pace, and took home the cash.

Speedball has recently returned to the U.S. after a five-year immigration ban and he has been on a huge roll since, getting to the finals of the PWG Battle of Los Angeles and signing with Impact Wrestling. Bandido came into the match holding both the PWG and lineal ROH world titles, arguably the two biggest titles in independent wrestling. This was the third match between the two, with Bailey up 2-0 after beating Bandido in both the 2020 WXW 16 Carat Gold Tournament in Germany and the 2022 PWG Battle of Los Angeles.

They came out of the gates hot in this one, with both men avoiding each other’s early attacks, leading to Speedball leaping a baseball slide dropkick attempt directly into a top-rope Asai moonsault to the floor. They kept the match at that pace throughout, with impressive athletic feats including numerous straight dives to the floor, one by each guy, some lightning-quick, violent kicks by Speedball, and some big strength moves by Bandido, including holding Bailey in a suplex position for a count of 60.

The finish run had both guys hit huge finishers, with Bandido landing his 21 plex suplex twice and Bailey hitting a top-rope moonsault double knees to Bandido’s spine and a flamingo suplex. Bandido was able to finally put him away with a moonsault powerslam from the top rope, which is another impressive feat of strength from the short but explosively powerful Bandido. Lots of matches during Mania weekend are worked in this kind of slam dunk contest style, with big flashy moves piled up on each other. It is a very hard match style to work well, and much like in slam dunk contests, big ideas don’t fully come off, or the biggest dunk doesn’t end the show. This was Aaron Gordon vs. Zach LaVine, with each guy going bigger and bigger until the wild end.

Team Gringo (Gringo Loco, Abismo Negro Jr., Demonic Flamita) vs. Team Laredo (Rey Horus, ASF, Laredo Kid)

GCW “Gringo Loco’s the Wrld on Lucha,” April 1

The lucha libre trios match was introduced to American audiences during the late ’90s in World Championship Wrestling. Stars like Rey Mysterio Jr., La Parka, Juventud Guerrera, and Psicosis performed increasingly mind-blowing stunts and opened the eyes of many wrestling fans to what was possible in a wrestling ring. In recent years, there has been a resurgence in the U.S. indie scene of those kinds of matches, including a new young group of luchadores who came from Mexico to work alongside U.S. wrestlers who grew up watching luchadores blow minds on Nitro or Thunder. This style was especially prevalent during WrestleMania weekend. With so many shows stacked up in Dallas, there were many luchadores available and a built-in audience with multiple lucha federations already established in the area.

Gringo Loco has been at the forefront of this resurgence—he worked four trios matches over the weekend with various opponents. Loco is a Chicago native who was trained primarily in Mexico, becoming a star with the IWRG promotion during the early 2010s. He retired from wrestling young, only to be drawn back in and become a mainstay on GCW shows. This match was on a special lucha-themed GCW show run by Loco that was main-evented by a Triplemanía rematch between Psycho Clown and Dr. Wagner Jr.

Loco brought in GCW newcomers Rey Horus (a former ROH trios champion) and Abismo Negro Jr. to mix in with regular GCW trios competitors Flamita, ASF, and Laredo Kid. The match was full of exciting, boundary-pushing spots. The Gringos team are expert bases—rudo wrestlers who excel at serving as dance partners for athletic tecnicos—and the complex ranas and arm-drags came off flawlessly. The rudo team also unloaded some pretty wild triple-teams, including a moment when they elevated ASF into the air only for him to get super speared to the mat.

ASF, who is probably the least-known of the six men in the match, got the flashiest moments—he was the smallest guy by far, and got spun into multiple head scissors and ranas. This included the spot of the night (and maybe the weekend) when he bounced off the second rope while the two rudos strung it like a guitar string, catapulting him into the atmosphere and into a huge rana on Loco. We got some very cool triple dives, super ranas, and a couple of big bombs by Gringo Loco, including a spinning top-rope powerbomb–just highlight after highlight.

It is so much fun to watch the resurgence of this style, and for there to be a chance for talented luchadores to come over from Mexico and star in the U.S. Hopefully the Wrld on Lucha becomes a yearly tradition because the entire show was a delight.

FTR vs. The Briscoes

ROH Supercard of Honor, April 1

Successfully pulling off a dream match has to be one of the trickier things to do in professional wrestling. Oftentimes the match in the ring can’t live up to the match in the fans’ minds. When the British Bulldogs and the Rock ’n’ Roll Express faced each other in 1989 in Kansas City, it was solid but not the iconic matchup of two of the greatest teams of the ’80s many expected. Bret Hart and Mitsuharu Misawa (under the Tiger Mask 2 gimmick) wrestled each other in All Japan in 1990—it’s a match nearly every wrestling nerd has tracked down, and nearly every wrestling nerd has been underwhelmed. FTR—one of the clear-cut standard-bearers in the modern tag-team ranks—has had matches with the Young Bucks and Lucha Brothers that haven’t really delivered the heights that were anticipated when they joined AEW. This match between the Briscoes, the single most iconic tag team in Ring of Honor history, and FTR, the most acclaimed tag team in NXT and one of the top teams in AEW, has been building for months. Both teams have been firing at each other on social media. When it was finally announced for ROH’s first show under the ownership of Tony Khan, the fans’ anticipation was through the roof.

Well, they did it. They put on a match that even exceeded those expectations; put on the best match of the entire weekend and a real contender for the best match of the year. It started with a feeling-out process, with both teams milking every lock-up, headlock takeover, and dropped toehold for maximum crowd reaction. The match just simmered, threatening to boil over, but staying in the pot. Even Dax Harwood spitting in Jay’s face led to Dax taking a powder outside the ring and cooling off the match. Harwood got tossed to the floor, and Jay played king of the mountain, knocking Harwood off the apron until he lost his composure and tossed a chair into the ring (which was caught cleanly by referee Paul Turner in one of the more impressive spots of the match).

It got more aggressive after that, with both teams having short sections in which they were able to cut off the ring and work over a single opponent. The punch-and-chop exchanges were top notch. The match then spilled to the outside and it broke down into the fist fight that fans expected from the jump, with the brawl meaning more because it was delayed. FTR catapulted Jay face-first into the bottom of a table, cutting his head on the bolts underneath. FTR then isolated Jay, pounding away and keeping him from a tag. In classic old-school tag-wrestling fashion, they teased Jay’s big escape multiple times before Mark was finally able to tag in and clean house.

There was a big finishing run with both teams getting close near-falls with double-teams—FTR with a slingshot powerbomb-superfly splash combo and the Briscoes hitting FTR’s big rig finisher on them. Just as the match seemed to be reaching an end, they did a very clever restart, with Cash Wheeler hitting a rolling DDT on Mark on the floor and Jay responding by spiking Cash with a Death Valley driver before hitting Dax with a hard suplex from the ring apron to the floor. All four guys were laid out—the doctor came out to check on them, and the frenzy dissipated.

The crowd then began to cheer on both teams to keep the fight going, almost like an amped-up rock crowd eager for an encore. Both teams dragged themselves into the ring and crawled to their feet only to pitch back into the fire. It came down to Jay and Dax going toe-to-toe after a Mark dive took out Cash. The Briscoes set up for a doomsday device, their killer move, only for a brief Cash interruption that caused enough of a delay for Dax to slip off Jay’s shoulders. Cash then slipped into the ring and FTR hit a big rig for the win and the titles.

It sounds simple but the pacing was just tremendous. Both teams played the crowd like a conductor, bringing them up and slowing them down, until the crescendo. Cool moves are great, but in pro wrestling it is less important what you do than when you do it, and this match demonstrated that perfectly.

It will be interesting to see where this goes in the future. The Briscoes’ status with ROH—which was recently acquired by AEW—seems very much up in the air. They seemed to set up a three-way feud with the Young Bucks, who levied a post-match attack on both teams, but it also felt like the Briscoes’ swan song from ROH, where they have been since the very first show. An extended feud between these teams could be one for the ages, but even if we only get to see it once, the dream match delivered.

Grayson Waller vs. Solo Sikoa vs. Cameron Grimes vs. Santos Escobar vs. Carmelo Hayes

NXT Stand & Deliver, April 2

The car-crash ladder match has been a WrestleMania staple since the turn of the century, when Hardy Boyz, Dudleyz, and Edge and Christian had the first multi-man ladder match at Mania 2000. Before it became its own PPV, the Money in the Bank ladder match was a big part of each WrestleMania as well, sticking stars without a place on the card into a big match to fall off ladders. The NXT Stand and Deliver show wasn’t technically part of WrestleMania, but it happened on the same day in the same arena, and the wrestlers in this match were clearly trying to die hot death in ways that lived up to the wild Mania matches which preceded them.

NXT has been taped exclusively in Florida studios for the past couple of years, so this was the largest crowd anyone in this match had wrestled in front of by a factor of a hundred (outside of Santos Escobar, who wrestled in front of some big crowds during his time in Mexico for AAA). Carmelo Hayes especially feels like a big show act, and he looked like he belonged on a big stage.

One unique thing about this match was all the use of seconds. Escobar came to the ring with the other members of Legado del Fantasma (Joaquin Wilde, Raul Mendoza, and Elektra Lopez), who all got to whip out some big dives; Carmelo Hayes was accompanied by Trick Williams, who got a big fall and bump off of a ladder; and Grayson Waller was with his bodyguard, the gigantic Sanga who was the highlight of the match. He looks like a badass thug in an action movie with a black suit and orange dress shirt and cool beard, and at one point he ripped a ladder apart with his bare hands. There was a ton of bonkers shit in this match, but I just came away wanting to see more of Sanga.

The match was filled with legacy wrestlers, which is a big part of the development strategy for NXT 2.0. Solo Sikoa is a member of the Anoa’i family, son of Rikishi, and the younger brother of the Usos and another cousin of Roman Reigns; Santos Escobar is the son of lucha legend El Fantasma; and Cameron Grimes was trained by his father, Tracey Caddell, who was part of the North Carolina OMEGA crew that included Shane Helms, Jason Arhndt, Cham Pain, Shannon Moore, and the Hardy Boyz.

The story of this match was Grimes trying to fulfill a promise to his late father to win a WWE title. In many ways, these ladder matches are contests to see who is going to take the most mind-boggling bump, and former Australian Survivor star Grayson Waller won that contest going away climbing to the top of a 15-foot ladder and crashing horrifically through a ladder set up on the ring apron. It looked like the Mick Foley fall off of the Hell in the Cell, and deserves to be remembered in that company.

Grimes got the feel-good win. He is a super-talented wrestler who had a lot of big highlights on the independents before coming to WWE. As Trevor Lee, he held the Impact X Division title three times, and he competed in super-long classic title matches in CWF Mid-Atlantic including a match against Roy Wilkins that went 105 minutes. He has shown a real skill at character work, which should keep him employed, but whatever his future, it was very cool he got a big WrestleMania moment.

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.