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.
Villano IV vs. Psycho Clown
AAA Triplemanía XXX: Tijuana, June 18
“It’s Decoration Day / And I knew the Hill Boys would put him away / but my Daddy wasn’t afraid / He said ‘We’d fight to the last Lawson’s last living day.’” - Drive-By Truckers, “Decoration Day”
Lucha libre is, at its heart, a family business; most of the great luchadores in history (El Hijo del Santo, Eddie Guerrero, Negro Casas, Andrade) are second- or third-generation performers. That family history allows storylines and rivalries to run through multiple decades with the children and grandchildren fighting their fathers’ battles. The Alvarado family and the Mendoza family are arguably the two largest and most important dynasties in lucha history, and their bloody and violent family feud has been raging for nearly 40 years.
Villano IV is the last active member of the Villanos’ team of brothers. The Villanos were one of the great teams in lucha history, holding multiple trios and tag titles and serving as one of the top draws of the UWA promotion. The Villanos are the sons of legendary Rey Mendoza, who was one of the biggest lucha stars of the 1960s and ’70s. He had five sons who became luchadores and wrestled as Villanos I-V.
Villanos III, IV, and V were the main trios team, with Villano III additionally holding multiple titles as a singles star, with Villanos IV and V having a U.S. run in WCW in the late ’90s. Their feud with the Alvarado family (the Brazos) started in the mid-1980s, as the Villanos and Brazos traded trios tag titles, all leading up to an iconic, blood-soaked mask versus mask match in 1988 with the Villanos reigning supreme and unmasking the Brazos. The Villanos victory did not slow down the feud, as various members of both families would go to war in tiny gyms and big arenas for the next four decades. Along with the five Villano brothers, there are four third-generation Mendozas currently wrestling.
Psycho Clown is the son of Brazo de Plata (a.k.a., Super Porky), the most charismatic of the original Brazo brothers team. There were six Brazos who were the sons of Shadito Cruz, who was a moderately successful wrestler himself before becoming one of the more acclaimed trainers in lucha history. In addition to the Brazos, there are 10 third-generation Alvarados, with Psycho Clown being the biggest star of that group.
Clown has main evented four previous TripleManias (AAA’s version of WrestleMania) winning Apuestas bouts against Texano Jr., Pagano, and Rey Escorpion and the mask of Dr. Wagner Jr. in one of the biggest Apuestas matches of the 21st century. This match was part of the Ruleta de la Muerte mask tournament, which AAA has been running all year. This match was on the second show of a three-show TripleMania to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the event. The loser of this match would have to wager his mask at the third and final TripleMania of the year in Mexico City in October, against Pentagón Jr. (a.k.a., Penta Oscuro in AEW), who lost earlier in the night to Blue Demon Jr.
Psycho Clown came to the ring in a Psycho Clown mask featuring the Brazos symbol on the forehead and a T-shirt with his father’s face on it. Brazo de Plata passed away last year, and Psycho had a chance to avenge his father’s biggest loss if he could force Villano IV to risk his mask. The 57-year-old Villano IV was fighting to hold on to his family’s legacy, as well; he is the last brother still wrestling, just one of two brothers still alive, and both Villano III and Villano V previously lost their masks.
Earlier in the show, there was a spectacular five-way match between Fenix, El Hijo del Vikingo, Laredo Kid, Bandido, and Black Taurus which was the absolute apex of athleticism and beautiful craft, the kind of match that launches a thousand GIFs. There was nothing beautiful and athletic about this match, however—it was an ugly, grimy fist fight. Two guys dragging each other into the gutter to see who will survive.
Villano got the early advantage, jumping Psycho before he got through the ropes and cracking his skull against the ring post. Villano then ripped the top of Clown’s mask and broke a beer bottle over his head, opening him up. He then threw him to the ramp and started smashing the back of his head against the ramp, like a kid beating a pinata to see what was inside. Villano IV dominated the opening minutes, pounding Psycho Clown’s head with punches, even trying to bite off the iconic tongue on Psycho’s mask. Clown then ripped off a three-kick combo to take over. It was payback time, and Clown cracked him with a chair, ripped his mask, and smashed him with a beer bottle of his own, which he used liberally across Villano’s head.
Villano has a smooth bald head underneath his mask, giving us a great visual of the blood on Villano’s bald head also coloring his mask. Psycho plopped Villano down into a chair in the crowd and flattened him with a running dive over the guardrail, and then broke a vuvuzela over his head. After both men had their long sections of control, it broke down into more of a back-and-forth fight, with both guys throwing some of the best-looking rights, lefts, and hooks I have seen in years. It had the feel of a great Mexican boxing match in the final rounds, like Érik Morales vs. Marco Antonio Barrera, with both guys eschewing defense and just unloading hard shots on each other.
Psycho Clown broke out some more plunder, destroying a board by powerbombing Villano through it (which was an insane bump for a 57-year-old man) and tossing down some thumbtacks. The tacks actually backfired on Psycho, as he got drilled with a punch and broke his fall by putting his palm on the mat straight into thumbtacks. We got a ref bump as he tried to break up a furious fist fight in the corner before Clown hit an air raid crash into tacks for the win. Great, hard-hitting brawl which had all of the emotion you want out of a huge-stakes lucha libre match.
Villano IV is going on to fight Pentagón Jr. in October with his mask on the line, and he is likely to lose it. It should be a very good match, although it doesn’t have the Hatfields vs. McCoys backstory of this match. It really felt like Psycho, not Pentagón, should have been the one to get to hang the mask on his wall. Still, this has been an all-time last-ride run for Villano IV. He had a war with L.A. Park in the first round, another one with Psycho Clown on this show, and will go on to main event the biggest lucha show of the year. If you are going to go out, go out like this.
Roman Reigns vs. Riddle
WWE SmackDown, June 17
Roman Reigns’ sporadic appearances since he unified the WWE Championship and the Universal Championship to become the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion have led to some major booking challenges for the WWE. For the majority of the 21st century, the WWE has built its television and premium live events around having two world champions, one on SmackDown, one on Raw. Both having their own programs allowed for either championship match to main event a big show, allowed for multiple title chases and big feuds to be paid off. Since WrestleMania, however, not only has there been only one world champion, but he has also been an absentee landlord, not defending the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship on TV or during premium live events and being completely MIA for weeks at a time. The silver lining on that cloud, however, is that when Reigns does show up, it really feels like a huge deal. In previous years, a title defense on TV against someone like Riddle would feel a bit throwaway—here, it had a real big-fight feel, like a Mike Tyson heavyweight title bout.
It also shows how the WWE has prioritized its television relationships with Fox over its big premium live events. Reigns was completely absent from Hell in the Cell and will be completely absent from the upcoming Money in the Bank show, but is defending the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion in the apex of a feud against Riddle on SmackDown.
Riddle came into this match determined to avenge his friend/mentor Randy Orton and was aggressive from the beginning, jumping Reigns right at the bell with a diving elbow, powering Reigns into the corner and peppering him with body shots and rapid-fire kicks to the body, only to be nearly decapitated by a big uppercut by Reigns from the corner. It was a stiff, energetic start to the match, and throughout the match Riddle continually tried to speed up Reigns, attempting to get him into more of a full-court fight as opposed to the more half-court, slow-it-down offense Reigns prefers. Early in the match, Reigns tried to bail to the floor to catch a breather and Riddle just pasted him with a running punt and cleaned him out with a corkscrew moonsault. Reigns was able to slow the match down a bit after the commercial break by dropping Riddle with another huge uppercut, but soon Riddle sped things up again, unloading suplexes and strikes on Reigns. For much of the match, Riddle was able to force Reigns to counterpunch and react, which created an interesting contrast to the way many of the Reigns title defenses had been worked in recent years.
Since Orton’s injury, Riddle has been working a lot of Orton tribute spots in his matches. While that kind of cover-band wrestling can be trite and uninspiring, Reigns and Riddle worked in a bunch of cool variations here, with Riddle catching a Reigns spear attempt with an Orton-style powerslam, Reigns dropping Riddle with the Orton back suplex on the announce table, only for Riddle to respond with a table suplex of his own and then the Orton draping DDT. Riddle’s first RKO attempt was blocked, but he was able to counter a Reigns spear with a second RKO for a near fall which the entire Target Center bit on. Riddle then hit a big senton and went for a springboard, only to get bisected by a Reigns spear that stiffened him like a board, giving Reigns the win. It was one of the best Reigns matches of his championship run, and it felt like there was a fair amount of meat left on the bone between these two. The crowd seemed super invested in Riddle winning the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship, and he was a fresh face in what had turned into a relatively stale main-event scene.
However, post-match Riddle disappeared and the company brought back Brock Lesnar to run that feud back for seemingly the 732nd time. We are only two and a half months removed from Reigns convincingly beating Brock at WrestleMania, and it felt like they needed a much longer break before this matchup felt fresh again. It seems pretty clear that Orton was next up for Roman, and that Cody Rhodes was probably Plan B, but even with those injuries, returning once again to Brock feels like the act of a creative team out of ideas. Now with the people in charge likely concerned with upcoming legal issues, it feels like this summer the behind-the-scenes drama might overshadow what the WWE delivers in front of the camera. Despite that, this was a heck of a championship defense, and booking aside, Reigns is still a superstar and totally compelling in-ring performer—hopefully, the ninth time will be the charm, and Brock and Reigns will deliver at SummerSlam.
Dax Harwood vs. Will Ospreay
AEW Dynamite: Road Rager, June 15
With Bryan Danielson and CM Punk both sidelined with injuries, Dax Harwood is in the role of AEW TV match workhorse. Despite the comically preposterous number of championship belts floating around AEW right now—the AEW World Championship, the Interim AEW World Championship, the AEW Women’s World Championship, AEW TNT Championship, the recently announced AEW All-Atlantic Championship, ROH World Championship, ROH World Television Championship, ROH Pure Championship, FTW Championship, AEW World Tag Team Championship, AAA World Tag Team Championship, the ROH World Tag Team Championship, Owen Hart Men’s Tournament winner, Owen Hart Women’s Tournament winner, the AEW TBS Championship, ROH Women’s World Championship, Revolution Pro Wrestling’s Undisputed British Heavyweight Championship, the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship—there isn’t a television championship being defended weekly. Harwood has seemingly taken it upon himself to wrestle in the style of those old WCW World Television Championship defenses by great wrestlers like Arn Anderson, Bobby Eaton, and Steven Regal, matching up with a wide variety of opponents and having great 12- to 15-minute matches. Harwood taking on Will Ospreay wasn’t on my AEW dream match checklist, but it was a surprisingly natural matchup, and its quality was a testament to the level Harwood is performing at.
This was a battle of a dirt-under-his-fingernails pro wrestler against the ultimate showman. Ospreay is one of the most athletic wrestlers in the world, and is best known for high-wire spotfests with wrestlers like Shingo Takagi, Kota Ibushi, and Ricochet. Harwood is clearly more of a throwback, and that dynamic played out early in this match, with Harwood putting on a top wristlock and Ospreay athletically flipping out and taunting him. Harwood then backed Ospreay into the corner and hit him with a chop which Ospreay sold by flipping off of his feet, in a very Shawn Michaels/Dolph Ziggler exaggerated style, Harwood then responded by glaring at him and stopping his heart with a chop which landed twice as hard. It was like Harwood telling him “We aren’t going to be doing that shit here.”
Ospreay has put on a lot of muscle since his days as a junior heavyweight and he fired back with some very hard shots of his own, like he was determined to show he was a tough bastard as well, including a diving springboard elbow to the brain stem of Harwood and his running Hidden Blade elbow to the back of the head. That move always looks utterly reckless and unprofessional—but when it doesn’t legitimately injure his opponent, that’s a feature, not a bug. Harwood also broke out some big spots to show he could play in Ospreay’s realm, including a killer springboard Liger bomb and a release German suplex, which Ospreay took right on the base of the neck. They had a bunch of dramatic near falls before Ospreay took over and won convincingly with an Ospreay cutter and the Hidden Blade running elbow. When Ospreay is in with a fellow maximalist wrestler, the match can sort of spin out of control. However, when he is matched up with a more minimalist performer like Jon Moxley or here with Harwood, his worst instincts can be tempered and you can really end up with something special. His upcoming pay-per-view match with Orange Cassidy will be fascinating; I could see it completely going off the rails, or coming together and being something cool and different.
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.