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.
Asuka vs. Becky Lynch
WWE Raw, June 20
In many ways, the story of professional wrestling right now is about what is absent rather than what is present. The story of AEW’s Forbidden Door pay-per-view was almost more about the names that weren’t there (Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, Kenny Omega, Tomohiro Ishii, Kota Ibushi) than the ones that were. Anyone fantasy booking an AEW vs. New Japan Pro Wrestling card would have had all of those names front and center, but injuries and politics have forced them to go in a different direction. Similarly, the WWE is trying to put on 10 hours of weekly television (three hours of Raw, two hours of SmackDown, two hours of NXT, and an hour each for Main Event, NXT UK, and NXT Next Level) while missing many of their big names. Cody Rhodes, Randy Orton, and Rhea Ripley are all hurt, while Sasha Banks and Naomi are on political deep freeze and Roman Reigns is like McNulty in Season 4 of The Wire: Sure, he is still on the show, but you are barely going to see him.
This week, the WWE decided that a good way to fill its television time would be to let Becky Lynch and Asuka wrestle multiple times in long-ish matches. Having talented over wrestlers like these two ready to step up is a bit of a wrestling cheat code. Raw opened with a five-way to see who would replace Rhea Ripley in the WWE Raw Women’s Championship match at Money in the Bank. Carmella beat Lynch, Asuka, Liv Morgan, and Alexa Bliss in a battle that matched up Lynch and Asuka for large portions of the bout. Carmella is far from the most exciting opponent for current champion Bianca Belair, and it feels a little like Belair has been sidelined even if she is holding the championship. Meanwhile, Lynch is treated like the biggest women’s star on Raw, despite being on a losing streak. Lynch and Asuka came back out later that night to have a Raw main event for a spot in the Money in the Bank match.
This was a sharp-knuckled brawl, with both women throwing live rounds from the start. Lynch jumped Asuka in the rampway before she got her gear off and they pretty much went from there, with both women going for arm submissions in the opening minute, which turned into rolling on the ground and punching each other. The match remained at that intensity and stiffness for the entire 12-or-so minutes. There was a great moment when Asuka was repeatedly striking Lynch with body kicks, only for Becky to catch her and crack her jaw with a huge elbow. The one stiff momentum-changing elbow meant so much more than a hundred of the tough-guy elbow exchanges that have infested wrestling as of late. Asuka put on an ankle lock and they did one of the niftier ankle lock counters I can remember, with Lynch trying to roll out and Asuka just stepping into each roll and keeping on the hold until Lynch was finally able to fling her face-first into the turnbuckle.
The end came after Asuka attempted a powerbomb to the floor, only for Lynch to counter with a nasty leg drop on her throat. Lynch then dove off the apron right into Asuka’s knee. Both women barely dove into the ring to avoid a count-out, and Lynch tried both the Manhandle Slam and the Disarm-Her submission only to get rolled up both times. Lynch kicked out of the second rollup only to walk into a high kick right to the jaw (which sounded like a tree limb cracking in a storm) for the KO win. This was a surprisingly clean and convincing win by Asuka, and it leaves Lynch a bit at sea for Money in the Bank, as she is not in the Raw Women’s Championship match or the Money in the Bank ladder match. Can’t imagine she’ll stay uninvolved entirely, though, as the WWE clearly views her as one of its top stars, and when the bench is as slim as it is now, you have to make sure everyone who can play gets minutes.
Fred Rosser vs. “Filthy” Tom Lawlor
NJPW Strong, June 25
This was the climax of a feud that has been percolating for the better part of the year. In a tag match, Rosser was the first person to pin Lawlor in NJPW Strong, which then led Lawlor and his Team Filthy cohorts to cut Rosser’s hair. Rosser got a shot at Lawlor’s Strong Openweight Championship but fell short to a choke. After feuding with Team Filthy in multiple tag, trios, and four-way matches earlier this year, Rosser demanded a title shot. Lawlor refused at first, but then made Rosser put up his NJPW Strong career—and re-shave his newly regrown hair—to earn the title opportunity.
Rosser is best known for his time in the WWE as Darren Young. He was a member of Nexus and a former WWE tag champion with Titus O’Neal as a member of the Prime Time Players. Rosser was the first WWE wrestler to come out publicly, which got a lot of publicity for him and the WWE at the time. However, that publicity faded, Rosser got injured and released from the WWE, and the he disappeared from wrestling for a bit. Just when the wrestling world forgot him, Rosser was able to reinvigorate his career in NJPW Strong, and this was the biggest match of his time there. This was as old school a babyface performance as you are likely to see in 2022 wrestling: a guy who has been beaten down by life, given a second opportunity, and fighting to keep that chance alive against a sleazy jerk who wants to humiliate and brutalize him.
Tom Lawlor, an ex-UFC fighter who returned to professional wrestling after being suspended from the UFC, fills the latter role beautifully. He has really embraced his “Filthy Tom” persona, especially in NJPW Strong, where he has been the top heel of the promotion for the past couple of years. He wrestled this match in tasseled jean shorts for goodness’s sake, spending parts of the match jaw-jacking with Rosser’s mother in the crowd. Every great hero needs a villain and Lawlor played that role with gusto.
They went back and forth early, with Rosser using his power and athleticism to counter Lawlor’s technique. The match hit another level when Lawlor threw a judo arm whip that sent Rosser to the floor. Lawlor then jumped on his back with a choke and dragged him up the ramp and back through the curtain. You hear some clanking of chairs and Lawlor then drags the ref back into the ring to get him to start a count. Rosser then comes stumbling from the back, saturated with blood, with strings of gore coming off of his head and out of his mouth. The members of Lawlor’s Team Filthy crew (JR Kratos, Royce Issacs, and Jorel Nelson) come out to block the entrance to try to stop Rosser from getting to the ring before the count. A group of babyfaces (Rocky Romero, Alex Coughlin, and David Finlay) clear out Team Filthy and Rosser barely beats the 20-count to continue. It was the kind of despicable act by Lawlor that totally turns a crowd, and they were fully behind the beaten, bloody but not bowed Fred Rosser as he tried to fight against the odds.
Lawlor put on a guillotine choke with a body scissors, but Rosser was able to fight out and they exchanged big shots while Lawlor hung off the body lock. Rosser took big shot after big shot, getting up slower and slower until he was able to reverse a choke on the outside to a tombstone on the concrete. Now both men were damaged and it was a fight to see who could close the show. Lawlor slapped on multiple choke variations but Rosser kept fighting. Lawlor was able to hit the straightjacket knee to the back of the head after he spit in the direction of Rosser’s mother, but Fred got a dramatic kick out right before three. Lawlor then kisses Rosser right on his bloody forehead, getting blood all over Lawlor’s lips, true sicko shit by Filthy Tom. He then put on what seems to be a final choke, which Rosser fights and fights, including climbing to the second rope and driving them both into the mat. Rosser was able to roll through and reverse into his own choke, which he then shifted into a crossface chicken wing, a move taught to him by Bob Backlund during the ill-fated WWE period when Backlund was trying to “Make Darren Young Great Again.” He then shifted the chicken wing into a nasty chicken wing STF for the tap-out and the title.
Sometimes wrestling is at its best when it is an old-fashioned morality tale. A hard-working hero fighting against all odds to fulfill a lifelong dream. Rosser is probably best known for his facial resemblance to John Cena, and this was a performance worthy of classic Cena. Rosser closed the show by thanking the fans and his family for standing by him, and even got an ECW Arena–sounding crowd to chant “Thank you, Grandpa” for his 87-year-old war hero grandfather. It is great that pro wrestling can still work like this unambiguous good triumphing over irredeemable evil.
Will Ospreay vs. Orange Cassidy
AEW x NJPW Forbidden Door, June 26
The Forbidden Door pay-per-view was truly snake-bitten, with injuries and politics forcing audibles and booking changes up and down the card. It was truly a credit to AEW and a nuclear-hot Chicago crowd that the show delivered to the level it did. I was torn about which match to write about this week, as Claudio Castagnoli vs. Zack Sabre Jr. was a clinic. The pro wrestler formerly known as WWE superstar Cesaro’s huge AEW debut received a monstrous pop and pitted Castagnoli’s ungodly strength against Sabre’s whirling dervish limbs. However, I was expecting the surprise to be Castagnoli, and I was expecting the match to be great; it lived up to those expectations, but Orange Cassidy vs. Will Ospreay blew my expectations out of the water.
When he was signed initially as part of the inaugural class of AEW, I wasn’t convinced that Cassidy’s shtick would work on a bigger stage. On the independents, his matches would often require his opponent to play along, so the whole match would be a big wink about how stupid pro wrestling is. Post-modern ironic pro wrestling is the pits—nothing is worse than bad improv comedy, and wrestling comedy rarely even reaches the level of a beginner UCB class. However, AEW has smartly shifted his character 10 degrees to the left, where instead of treating wrestling as a joke, Cassidy uses the hands in the pockets and the soft kicks as a way to taunt his opponent and pull them out of their game.
Ospreay is another wrestler I was relatively low on. He seemed to be the avatar for video game wrestling, where a match was just a sequence of big moves, one after the other, with little connective tissue. Where the flip looked amazing, but the kick to the stomach looked like crap. Since becoming a heavyweight, however, Ospreay put on a bunch of muscle, started delivering mustard on his shots, and slowed everything down just a bit to let the spectacular moves marinate.
While I turned around on both guys before this match, I still didn’t think they could deliver this—a roller coaster of a match that tied together big memorable moments with a well-paced and dramatic story.
The match opened with Cassidy having his hands in his pockets, but still able to outmaneuver and evade the hyper-athletic Ospreay. Ospreay is at his heart a jock bully, and having the nonchalant hipster out-flash him, while seemingly not caring one way or another, drove him nuts. Ospreay took control after blasting Cassidy with a running dropkick on the floor, one which was assisted by his United Empire henchmen, Aussie Open. Ospreay then methodically and violently pounded on Cassidy, with a brutal spinning backbreaker, hard kicks, and violent Irish whips, all while gloating and taunting the crowd. Ospreay, the fast athletic marvel, took control of the match by slowing it down. Cassidy responded to Ospreay’s brutal Kawada kicks to the forehead by standing up and defiantly putting his hands back into his pockets, dropping Ospreay with a no-hands dropkick, kipping up and hitting soft, slow, taunting Kawada kicks of his own. This enraged Ospreay, who clocked Cassidy with an elbow; Cassidy responded with a full-force superkick and some full-force Kawada kicks of his own. Cassidy wrestles like a pitcher with a great off-speed game: He lulls you with the changeup and then blisters by the fastball.
All of the early mind games by both guys set the table for a wild ending. Cassidy got some very close near falls with a diving DDT and flip stunner, and broke up a top-rope suplex by smashing Ospreay’s head right into the ring post camera. Fans watching at home got a special treat, as the great camera angle allowed us to see Ospreay’s head smash and then break the camera. Cassidy hit a Beach Break for a super close near-fall, and was able to avoid the first Hidden Blade and hit a rana reversal out of the Storm Breaker for another super-close 2.9-count near-fall before finally getting smashed with the Hidden Blade and a Storm Breaker for the win.
They then had a feel-good moment, as Katsuyori Shibata came to the ring to rescue Cassidy and Roppongi Vice from a post-match United Empire beatdown. Shibata had basically been retired since suffering a subdural hematoma in a match. He has had a couple of exhibitions since, but I think this was more an opportunity to perform in front of a crowd than any setup of a future match. Cassidy had been out due to injury for a while previous to this, and even before the injury had been spinning his wheels. This was the kind of performance that put the whole locker room on notice: With so many wrestlers out with injury, there are opportunities to be had, and this was Cassidy trying to prove he is undeniable. Ospreay is already a big star in Japan, and he showed a new American audience what he can do.
It is unclear where the relationship between New Japan Pro Wrestling and AEW goes from here, but this show clearly set up more business between Cassidy and Ospreay, and whether that happens in New Japan or AEW, I am eager to see it run back. Nothing is better as a fan than to have a piece of art surprise you, and this was a great match out of nowhere on a great show out of nowhere. Truly a treat.
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.