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The Usos Unify the Titles, Bryan Danielson Reminds the World Who He Is, and Eddie Kingston Finds a Brawl on His Day Off

The top pro wrestling matches of the week

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Bryan Danielson and Jon Moxley vs. Matt Sydal and Dante Martin

AEW Rampage, 5/20/22

The Blackpool Combat Club angle has had some tremendous positives. We’ve gotten a chance to see William Regal in menacing video packages talking about knifing people in the face, and Regal as a great guest on commentary. There has been an elevation of Wheeler Yuta and a wild bloody classic match he had with Moxley to cement his role, and it has great merchandise. It has, however, sidelined Bryan Danielson a bit. Danielson ended 2021 and started 2022 on a huge roll of tremendous memorable singles matches, reminding everyone that he is the best wrestler in the world. But since the start of the BCC, he hasn’t had a ton of in-ring time at all.

Moxley has been spending his off days hitting the indies and having blood-soaked brawls seemingly every week, but outside of matches against Trent Beretta and Yuta, Danielson has spent the past couple of months in trios matches and tag-team bouts that have been either squashes or focused more on his partners. This Rampage main event was along those lines as well, but it did feel like Danielson got to stretch out a bit and show off—and remind everyone who the American Dragon is and what that means.

The match was structured like a tricked-out version of the Anderson brothers vs. the Rock ’n’ Roll Express, a pair of violent bruising veterans trying to grind down and punish a team of more athletic highfliers, with the latter team using its agility to steal big moments. Blackpool Combat Club make an especially vicious pair of Andersons, and Sydal and Martin are an especially explosive version of Morton and Gibson.

At this stage of his career, Dante Martin is like a blue-chip basketball prospect trying to figure out the NBA. He’s like a wrestling Jonathan Kuminga—he might miss some rotations and you might not want to play him much in the playoffs, but then he will break out a dunk or spin move that completely blows your mind. We got the whole Dante package in his hot tag in this match—he threw some back elbows that probably need to go back to the drawing board, but also an incredible running plancha over the top rope where he levitated in the air like a 1950s sci-fi film UFO.

For his part, Matt Sydal has gone through a transformation over the years. At one point, he was the 2000s version of Dante Martin, the highest flier and quickest mover on any card, and one of the most dynamic wrestlers in the world. He has seasoned himself into a consummate professional, still able to break out a big spot, but tremendous at the little connective strings that hold a match together. I especially liked his early section with Moxley—somehow, despite swimming in the same pools for years, those two had never wrestled each other before, and they ripped off a bunch of cool exchanges. I really dug how fast Sydal whipped off his leg drop, and how he countered Moxley’s contemptuous slaps with a big high kick. It feels like they could have a killer nine-minute match against each other, and I think Sydal would be a good repeat television antagonist for the BCC—he could mentor a group of Peace, Love, and Pro Wrestling athletic stylists (Martin, Griff Garrison, Lee Moriarty) against the more violent and punishing Blackpool Combat Club and the Sports Entertainment–based Jericho Appreciation Society.

This match was a Danielson show through and through, demonstrating brutality and technical execution at a level above anyone else in the world. He really leaned into the mauling in creative and vicious ways. He put Martin in a Romero Special and just blistered him with elbows to the side of his ear. He put Sydal in a hammerlock and started to bend his forearm away from his body like he was trying to snap a twig from a tree. (Regal said the move was called a Pig’s Ear in England, which may have been a great local colloquialism or horseshit that Regal made up on the spot, but I loved it either way.) Danielson also landed a gorgeous double underhook superplex that he floated over into the LeBell Lock for a nifty near-fall, and set up a chance for Martin to fight his way to the ropes.

The Sydal and Martin team got one hot near-fall with Sydal hitting a Meteora knee drop on the apron to take out Danielson and Martin hitting his double springboard moonsault on Moxley for a very close two-count. But after that, order was restored, with Danielson wrapping Sydal up in a triangle choke and Moxley punishing Martin with brutal Goodridge elbows. We got a post-match beatdown by the Jericho Appreciation Society to set up the PPV, including Danielson getting his leg trapped between the ring and the ramp, and the whole package was a satisfying bit of televised wrestling business. Hopefully we will get to see Danielson back in more high-profile matches soon, but this run has been a heck of a run of minor performances. The true greats don’t just release killer hits, they also can totally rock out on a B-side or album track.

Randy Orton and Riddle vs. the Usos

WWE SmackDown, 5/20/22

WWE has been building to this tag-team title unification since WrestleMania. It has been an entertaining build, with multiple singles matches between the four combatants, along with an eight-man tag and a main event trios match (Usos teaming with Roman Reigns and RKBro teaming with Drew McIntyre) at WrestleMania Backlash. This unification match was originally scheduled for that Premium Live Event, and it is still a bit unclear why it got delayed. Regardless, it happened on SmackDown, and it was worth the wait. The Bloodline cut a pre-match promo at the beginning of the show in which Roman Reigns said that the Usos would either unify the titles or be kicked out of the Bloodline, which did telegraph the outcome a bit—there was no way the Bloodline would end on a same-day angle on SmackDown. Still, all four of the wrestlers are professionals and they delivered a big match full of stakes and drama.

There was an interesting moment early in the match when Riddle was whipped hard into the corner and slumped down. The referee threw up an X, which historically has been used to denote a legitimate injury, and the doctor slid into the ring to look at Riddle’s hip. When they returned from commercial, they were working a regular heel beatdown, so it was unclear whether he was hurt for real or if it was a storytelling device. (After the match, WWE.com listed him as injured, but that could be a worked result of the post-match beatdown.) Riddle’s bad hip gave the Usos a bull’s-eye and they worked it over with headbutts and stomps as Orton seethed on the apron. There was a great moment during the face-in-peril section when Riddle came very close to getting a tag, only to get back suplexed by Jey Uso, who then put his finger to his lips to quiet the crowd like Steph Curry hitting a dagger 3-pointer in a road game. Orton didn’t have a lot to do in this match, but he is so great at the little things, he milked every moment he was on the apron, living and dying with every failed Riddle tag attempt, so that when he finally got the tag the crowd was rabid to see him take over. After his offensive run, Orton tagged Riddle back in relatively quickly to set up the final run, which ended with Roman Reigns sneaking out and holding Jey’s leg to disrupt a super RKO attempt by Riddle, sending him crashing to the mat and prone for a big splash and the pin.

Post-match, the Bloodline laid waste to Riddle and Orton, including Jey putting Riddle through the announce table with a superfly splash where he got a ton of height and distance. They didn’t really get the chance to stretch this out as much as they would have in their initially scheduled match at WrestleMania Backlash, but it is still a great example of consummate professionals putting on an entertaining high-stakes main event.

This was clearly set up as the middle of a story rather than the end, and it nicely sets up both Riddle and Orton as future Roman Reigns contenders, and a possible rematch of this match at the Hell in a Cell event. It is a smart move for the WWE to unify its titles; having multiple world champions means that both champions are diminished. Splintering titles was one of the things that hurt the popularity of boxing, and having multiple world champions in the same wrestling promotion never made a lot of sense. Building to a big Bianca Belair vs. Ronda Rousey match to unify the women’s title as well would be the kind of match that could headline a big event like Summerslam or next year’s WrestleMania.

Eddie Kingston vs. Isaiah Broner

AIW Gauntlet for the Gold, 5/21/22

There was no reason for this. Eddie Kingston was making his return to the Cleveland-based AIW, which was one of his home promotions during his pre-AEW career on the indies. He could have easily shown up in basketball shorts, run through some comedy spots, taken a couple of easy bumps, hit the backfist, and given a post-match speech about how much he loves the fans and indie wrestling. No one in the crowd would have felt let down; they would have seen a television star and gotten their money’s worth. But that aint this and this ain’t that.

Eddie Kingston is Eddie Kingston for a reason, and he instead participated in an ungodly war, the kind of match that left both guys writhing in pain on the mat after the bell. Isaiah Broner is one of the most intimidating wrestlers in the world. He looks like a more cut up and tatted Kimbo Slice, and has mastered a murderous stare that would liquify the bowels of nearly anyone he glanced at. He also wrestles like he looks—there are many guys who look like killers and wrestle like dancers, but Broner comes forward with heavy hands and light dimming shots, and Kingston is pretty much the perfect opponent for a toe-to-toe fistfight.

Eddie opened the match with a thick thudding chop, and Broner responded by clicking his jaw with a thunderous forearm shot. Broner threw fists through Eddie’s head and sent him staggering to the floor. That set the tone for the match, as Eddie realized that it could be fatal to try to stand and trade with Broner, so he tried to ground him on the mat. (Eddie is a Yonkers street fighter but also trained Brazilian jujitsu at American Top Team.) Broner was able to get Eddie up in a brutal Samoan drop, landing full weight on his ribs, and no one can make a big move mean more than Eddie Kingston. Eddie looked like he whispered to the ref that he was hurt and then rolled to the floor and sold the move and the subsequent brutal Broner body shots like he had ruptured his spleen. He was shaking and acting like he was going to vomit, and his distress really added to the chaos and danger of the match.

Eddie was able to snatch a Divorce Court armbar on Broner back in the ring, and tried to tear his limb off with a Fujiwara armbar, holding the move for an extra beat when Broner grabbed the rope. While both men were damaged, they still just teed off on each other; Broner nearly decapitated Eddie with one of the nastiest lariats in wrestling, and a stumbling Eddie threw a desperation enziguri that stung Broner on the ear, only to get obliterated with another lariat, with Broner damaging his arm as much as he damaged Eddie’s neck. Broner also dropped Eddie with another elbow to the temple; forearm smashes are the most spammed move in wrestling, but Broner throws them like Mike Tyson left hooks. Eddie fired back and eventually chopped Broner down with multiple backfists and head-dropping suplexes, with Broner able to kick out until he couldn’t do it anymore. It felt like Kingston needed to empty his entire clip to bring Broner down and in the end, both guys came off looking like total badasses.

Broner is going to be a star—he can really convey danger and that is a huge part of being a great wrestler. He would be on the short list of people I would sign and push if I were AEW or any pro wrestling company. Kingston is a national treasure. He has clawed and fought for years to get a showcase spot in a major promotion, and when he finally achieved his dream he came back to Akron, Ohio, on his day off and tossed himself into an inferno just for the hell of it.

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. He is on Twitter at @philaschneider.