Randy Orton, Riddle, Ezekiel, and Cody Rhodes vs. Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins, Jey Uso, and Jimmy Uso
WWE Monday Night Raw, April 25
One of the challenges of televised wrestling booking is priming and teasing programs without giving them away. In the ’80s and ’90s, promotions would primarily use one-sided squash matches and promo segments. Ric Flair would slap the figure four on a Mulkey brother, sidle up to Tony Schiavone, and tell Dusty Rhodes that “I don’t do no jobs in front of 70,000 people”; or Honky Tonk Man would “Shake, Rattle and Roll” Mario Mancini while Randy Savage was in a little video box in the corner talking gakked-up trash. That isn’t really the way wrestling works in 2022—now, feuds are mostly advanced in the ring. I wrote last week about how the WWE had been doing match inversion booking to keep the Usos vs. RKBro feud simmering. This week, to celebrate Randy Orton’s 20th anniversary in wrestling, they threw them together with two other WrestleMania Backlash–bound feuds (Cody Rhodes vs. Seth Rollins and Ezekiel vs. Kevin Owens) and rolled it all up into a big eight-man tag.
This was the kind of big star multiman match you often see as the main event on a house show. It felt like WWE was just trying to send the crowd home smiling, while also setting up the Premium Live Event next week. Your group of heels was primarily there to serve as foils, especially for Orton, and these guys play that role well. Rollins’s current character works best when his bravado isn’t earned. His singles matches can be a bit too major-key and baroque, with every big move and kick-out milked past the point of dryness. He works much better in this environment as a guy who wants to put on Macbeth but keeps stepping on a rake.
Owens is also great at this kind of Wet Bandits–in–Home Alone selling. There is a moment when Orton is setting up everyone to get back suplexed on the table—he suplexes Rollins and an Uso, and then to set up Owens he pokes him in the eye; Owens gives out this great yelp, “My eye!” like he was the lost fourth stooge (actually, more like the seventh stooge—there were a lot more than three stooges) before getting dropped on the boards. Owens’s versatility has made him a valuable asset: He can be menacing and violent or valiant and heroic, but he can also just be a goof, and really great goofs are hard to find.
Ezekiel is the wrestler formerly known as Elias, now repackaged—deliberately ridiculously—as Elias’s younger brother. While the Patty Duke Show angle is pretty goofy, I really am digging Ezekiel as an in-ring guy. We really haven’t seen a suspiciously jacked guy with neon ropes tied around his biceps doing press slams for years. You couldn’t throw a rock in 1988 without hitting three of them (the announcers compared him to Jeff Gaylord; I was thinking Conan Chris Walker), and I am surprised how much I missed this type of guy.
The match was pretty formulaic, but the formula really works. It started with some early exchanges, with each babyface getting a chance to shine for a bit. Then Riddle got cut off on the top rope and was absolutely spiked with a reverse superplex by Rollins. The heel team then worked over Riddle through the commercial and after, including a really rib-crunching swanton by Owens. This led to a celebratory hot tag by anniversary man Orton, with the crowd totally primed to see him go off. Orton seems like he is in a good place right now—for a guy who hasn’t seemed exactly invested through a lot of his career, it felt like there was real joy in ripping off his signature powerslams and back suplexes on tables. He felt like an older rockstar who had suffered through down times and was just thrilled to be alive and playing the hits.
I really liked how they set up Orton RKOing the whole team for the finish; each of Orton’s teammates kind of fed him their rival like a point guard throwing a lob. Rhodes disaster-kicked Rollins into an RKO, Ezekiel broke up an Owens stunner attempt and punched him into the RKO, Riddle hit a jumping knee on Jimmy Uso into an elevated RKO, and Orton cut off a diving Jay for his fourth RKO and a pin. The WWE is really great at showcasing someone in a match like this. Orton felt like the biggest star in the world, and for a guy who has had some real staleness to him in the past, it was a hell of a rejuvenation.
Serena Deeb vs. Hikaru Shida
AEW Dynamite, April 27
This was the fifth match in a feud that dates back to last October. Shida was out for two months with a knee injury suffered when Deeb assaulted her with a Kendo stick in January. (It was a story-line injury; Shida spent time in Japan helping produce the Japanese bracket in the AEW Women’s World Championship Eliminator tournament.) AEW hasn’t run that many multi-match feuds in its history, and Deeb and Shida have had more one-on-one matches against each other than anyone else in the promotion’s history.
Deeb—who spent time in WWE in 2010, retired, and then returned to the ring in 2017 as a fresh-faced veteran—is really fun to watch work as a vicious technician. She not only rips at body parts on the mat, but in a street fight like this she mixes in weapons shots while still keeping a laser focus on her target—in this case, Shida’s injured knee. The match turned in Deeb’s favor when Shida went for a running knee off the apron and landed right into a Deeb-wielded steel chair. Deeb then creatively attacked the knee, tying it up in the ropes in an Indian deathlock, driving the kneecap into a flattened chair, and then entangling it in the ring skirt and smashing it with a chair. For her part, Shida fired back with some chair swings of her own and shots with her Kendo stick.
There was a cool moment when Deeb got a bag full of white powder (her former Straight Edge Society sponsor CM Punk would not approve) and tossed it into Shida’s eyes. Shida then blindly swung her Kendo stick recklessly at Deeb’s eye (Philly street-fighting icon the Sandman would approve), leaving a pretty nasty welt. Shida then kept working the eye by driving knees into it. Modern street fights will often spend a lot of time setting up elaborate prop bumps, but here both women just used the stipulation as an excuse to fling weapons at each other, which made this look way more like a nasty bar brawl than a circus act.
In the end, the knee injury was too much and Deeb won. I was surprised at how decisive this victory was for Serena. Wrestling logic dictates that the babyface coming back after an injury should get a measure of revenge. Here Deeb just demolished Shida’s knee and made her tap cleanly.
Deeb seems set up to be Thunder Rosa’s next challenger for the AEW women’s title, and that has the opportunity to be a really great match, since their matches in 2020 were under-the-radar bangers, while it seems Shida will be moved into a smaller role as part of the Owen Hart tournament. Since Shida already has a long AEW title reign under her belt, she will be easy to heat back up when needed. There is a real value to having someone like that on your roster, who can lose a feud like this but still have the credibility to take a big spot if called upon, and it feels like a first-time Shida vs. Jade Cargill TBS title match is sitting there whenever they decide to pull the trigger on it.
Honorable Mention: Dax Harwood vs. Cash Wheeler
AEW Dynamite, April 27
The consensus pick for best AEW match of the week was clearly the Cash Wheeler vs. Dax Harwood battle of FTR, but it left me a little cold. It felt through much of the match that they were checking off boxes on a “great match checklist” rather than having an organic contest. They opened the match with the same arm-wringer-reversal-kip-up-headlock-takeover-headscissors-counter-kip-up-pause-for-applause sequence you see every pair of indie rookies do when they do “technical wrestling.” It was better executed, sure, but bog standard, and it felt like the match progressed down the same path from there.
It’s the little deviations, the ad-libs, the move or action that is 10 degrees to the left or right that really make a great match, and this match felt lacking in those moments. My favorite part of the match was the maybe-accidental eye poke, which felt different and off-kilter. I wanted more of that, but it pretty quickly continued back on a well-trod path.
Wrestling as an art form is all about taking from the past, interpreting it, tweaking it, and paying tribute. I like that AEW seems to be in conversation with the wrestling that preceded it—it sees itself as a wrestling show more than a television show, and what it does now is informed by what came before. I am also fully aware that this was a match in the Hart Foundation tournament and what that means, but that being said, they should consider cooling it with the Bret stuff. I know what Tony Khan’s tape collection looks like—steal from Bill Dundee or Tatsumi Fujinami or Jim Breaks for a while, make the Youtube side-by-side-comparison video makers work a bit harder. I don’t think this was a bad match; they did a nice job with emotion and both guys have tremendous execution, but Shida vs. Deeb exceeded my expectations, while Wheeler vs. Harwood fell short of them, and I would rather celebrate a pleasant surprise than something that hits the marks but doesn’t transcend them.
LA Park vs. Villano IV
AAA Triplemanía XXX, April 30
There are few things in wrestling more electric than a high-stakes bloody lucha libre brawl in front of a rabid crowd. This match was in Monterrey, Mexico, the first of three AAA Triplemanía—AAA’s version of WrestleMania and historically its biggest show of the year—events this year, which are being run to celebrate the promotion’s 30th anniversary.
For this anniversary, AAA is running a Ruleta de la Muerte tournament, with eight legendary masks on the line. In Mexican wrestling, the mask is more important than any title belt, and losing your mask in a luchas de apuestas match is career altering—and potentially career killing. The first-round matches all happened on this show on Saturday night, with the losers advancing to the semifinals on the second show, and then the losers of the semifinals advancing to a Mask vs. Mask match on the last show.
The tournament has a couple of younger stars in it, with Psycho Clown and Pentagón Jr. (a.k.a. Pentagon Oscura/Penta El Zero Miedo from AEW), but the tournament is mostly filled with legends well into their golden years. On this show, we had 55-year-olds Último Dragón and Blue Demon Jr., 62-year-old El Hijo de Rayo Jalisco Jr., and 69-year-old El Canek. Canek is so old he body-slammed Andre the Giant before Hulk Hogan did, and beat Lou Thesz to win a world title. There were some real booking shenanigans in other matches on this show to make sure that guys like Rayo and Canek won their matches so they wouldn’t have to wrestle more than once, and so the second round could have more active wrestlers in it.
This match also had a pair of well-seasoned veterans, with 56-year-old LA Park wrestling 57-year-old Villano IV, but honestly, mid-50s is kind of the prime for brawling luchadores, and these two just tore into each other with violent abandon.
Villano IV is the last active member of the Villano brothers team (I-V). They were all sons of the legendary Rey Mendoza,who was one of the biggest stars in Mexico in the 1960s and ’70s. After insisting that his sons get college degrees, he allowed them to train as wrestlers; Villano IV was the youngest brother, and had his most acclaim when teaming in WCW with his brother Villano V and (separately) feuding with the Brazos trios team (and the assorted Alvarado family). The Villanos won the masks of the Brazos right here in Monterrey in 1986. (Psycho Clown is the son of Brazo de Plata, a.k.a. Super Porky, which sets up big stakes for their battle against each other in the next round of this tournament.) Villano IV is the betting favorite to eventually lose the entire tournament and his mask, but if that’s the case he certainly will want his last big run to be memorable.
LA Park became an icon during his time as La Parka, “the Chairman” of WCW, a giant dancing skeleton who smacked people with steel chairs. However, in the 20 years since, he has cut a swath through Mexico as the best brawler of the 21st century. He has had multiple memorable wars, including capturing the mask of Pierroth Jr. in Monterrey in one of the biggest apuestas matches of the last 30 years, and winning the hair of El Mesías and the mask of El Hijo del Fantasma (a.k.a. WWE’s Santos Escobar) at previous Triplemanías. Park hasn’t stuck around at any promotion very long, as he is as famous for burning bridges as he is for swinging chairs. He recently was fired from MLW when he and his sons turned a story line real by taking real chair shots on Alex Hammerstone and Jacob Fatu; and he has been brought in for multiple short runs in CMLL, which always end with his being suspended or fired for brawling in the crowd. Park may be the last true wrestling outlaw; in the spirit of Bruiser Brody, he’s a larger-than-life icon who refuses to play nice with his opponents or promoters.
Villano IV started the match waiting in the aisle for Park to appear, and he jumped him immediately, hitting a DDT on the ramp and ripping his mask and bloodying him with chair shots. V4 dominated the first part of the match, touring Park around the arena, smashing him with headbutts and nasty shots right to his kidneys. Villano even bit the bloody forehead of Park and spit the blood in the air Muta-mist style. After a heaping amount of abuse, Park was able to turn the tide when V4 missed a punch and smacked the referee (who had been interfering and blocking Park from throwing closed fists for some reason—refereeing in Mexico is always a bit suspect). Park then went wild, knocking Villano 4 to the mat and obliterating him with harrowing chair shots. Park power-slammed V4 through a wooden board and just started smashing his own bloody head into the now-bloody head of his opponent. By this point, Park’s mask was nearly all the way off of his face, and it looked like he was wearing the world’s most heavy-metal COVID mask. When they got back into the ring, they exchanged near-falls after a pair of low blows. Eventually both men just ended up on their knees exchanging awesome-looking punches back and forth.
It felt like the end of the “Thrilla in Manila,” two all-time warriors, past their primes, refusing to die a quiet death, throwing punches with every ounce of energy left in their body. Park ended up winning with a rollup, advancing Villano IV to the next round of the tournament, but the old cliché is true in a match like this. There were no winners, but there were no losers either, just a pair of broken-down street fighters having one last throwdown in the dust.
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.