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.
Mandy Rose vs. Roxanne Perez
WWE NXT, July 12
Good professional wrestling can be a very simple thing. The babyface being beaten down before their big opportunity is a tried-and-true pro wrestling story, going back decades. Having a beloved figure fight their way through injury while the crowd cheers them on is one of those things that is always going to work. It worked when it was Ricky Morton with a broken face or Ricky Steamboat with a smashed larynx and it works with Roxanne Perez and busted ribs.
Perez is just 20 years old, but already a seven-year veteran. She started her wrestling training at the arguably irresponsible age of 13 and began training under WWE Hall of Famer Booker T at his Reality of Wrestling school at 16. She was the first ROH women’s world champion and has been pushed big during her NXT stint, winning the NXT Women’s Breakout Tournament and capturing the NXT Women’s Tag Team Championship with Cora Jade just two weeks ago (considering the aftermath of this match, there is clearly a curse on WWE women’s tag titles). Perez has a great sense of timing and a natural babyface charisma that shines through. She doesn’t have the physical gifts of Bron Breakker, but is clearly positioned in the same way. She is the blue-chip prospect of the NXT women’s division, just like Breakker is on the men’s side. Breakker will main event WrestleMania at some point, and likewise, Perez seems destined for the top women’s championship match.
In basketball, there is a concept called a “second draft,” where a team will take a chance on a highly touted prospect who didn’t work out at his first location with the hope that a change of scenery can unlock something. Julius Randle going from being renounced by the Lakers to All-NBA second team is the best current success story (let’s forget about last season), and I think Justise Winslow has been second-drafted by three teams at this point. WWE has been using NXT as a home for the wrestling equivalent of second draft prospects, using it to reboot acts that have become stale or failed to catch on.
Mandy Rose had a long main-brand run with a handful of moments—an Elimination Chamber match, a Mania battle royal, a “Loser Leaves the WWE” match at SummerSlam. She was part of the most recent WWE attempt to do a Miss Elizabeth/“Macho Man” Randy Savage and George “the Animal” Steele–style love triangle, with Dolph Ziggler and Otis. She never held a title, never really had a big stage moment. During her run in NXT, however, she has been positioned as a star, holding the NXT Women’s Championship since October and along with Toxic Attraction has been the main pushed distaff act in NXT 2.0. Their act works pretty well, although I find the aesthetics puzzling: Toxic Attraction all dress and style themselves like Vivid video stars of the mid-’90s. It doesn’t appear to be a throwback gimmick, although at this point it would be like someone in ’90s WWE dressing like a bobby-soxer and it being unremarked upon. Cora Jade, who was playing the role of Dick Murdoch in this version of DiBiase vs. Flair, is also styled super weird, dressing like Avril Lavigne, even though “Sk8er Boi” was 2002. With a skateboard she doesn’t ride, a backward-hanging loose baseball cap, fishnets, colored highlights, and armbands, it is a lot of stuff—basically a Lita Halloween costume from someone young enough to actually dress as Lita for Halloween.
The match hit all of the notes. Rose has a simple move set but can kick and stomp taped ribs and drive them into the ring apron, and that is pretty much all you need for this kind of match. They did an excellent job sprinkling in some moments of hope for Roxanne—a small package, a backslide, a crossbody—but she mostly took a nasty beating. This set the stage well for her big moment, when Perez avoided a corner shot that sent Rose to the floor. Perez then hit a tope, cleaned out the other two members of Toxic Attraction, and then landed a Pop Rox (her version of a Code Red) on the floor on Rose. Perez rolled her back in, setting up for the big upset, only for her partner and best friend Cora Jade to smash her in the ribs with their title.
It is the kind of betrayal that has fueled wrestling story lines for as long as there have been wrestling story lines, and the post-match beatdown by Jade was really spirited (even though her pre-cut skateboard broke as she was swinging it). This type of booking has been used so much over the years because it works so well, and I imagine Perez vs. Jade will have a ton of heat. A violent feud is the natural next step for Perez, and it will be interesting to see her work in those particular wrestling muscles.
Young Bucks vs. Swerve in Our Glory vs. Powerhouse Hobbs and Ricky Starks
AEW Dynamite, July 13
Multi-team scramble matches are where the Young Bucks really excel. They are really excellent at directing traffic, which is required with so many wrestlers. Having multiple teams in the match allows for lots of huge moments when the third team can break up the pin instead of needing an excessive number of kickouts—a type of overkill that can be a real issue in normal Young Bucks tag matches.
Another thing that made this match stand out was the variety of the wrestlers involved. I am not a huge fan of Young Bucks matches in which they wrestle other Young Bucks-ish teams. Four Bucks or even six Bucks can be a lot of Bucks; you just end up with a bunch of mirror spots and sameness. Here we just had Swerve Strickland in the role of alternate Buck; a guy who may even be more athletic and more skilled, with the complex, elusive exchanges that the Bucks specialize in. The mirror exchanges in the opening parts of this match were fun, with Swerve doing the Bucks stuff even faster and with more bounce. The Young Bucks are getting to be Older Bucks, and they sell the frustration of getting outshined really well.
Ricky Starks has some of that athletic style as well, but also excels at a lot of the shticky parts of the Bucks. I really liked the section when Starks and Nick Jackson both walked the top rope and met each other in the middle, only to get crotched. It was also fun when Starks joined the Bucks superkick party on Keith Lee, only to get dropped by the Bucks right after as he tried to pose with them.
Then we have the big boys, who were the highlights of this match. Powerhouse Hobbs is built like a refrigerator and he broke out some very cool power moves, including a hanging vertical suplex and a spot where he landed a spinebuster on Keith Lee, and then used Lee as a landing pad for spinebusters on his other three opponents.
Lee is built like a Volkswagen minivan and spent the match running over, stoning, and flinging his opponents. Swerve even used him as a launch pad for a moonsault to the floor. Lee had a really serious case of COVID in early 2021, and he hasn’t really gotten his athleticism all the way back since, but he still had a ton of charisma and is really good at being a brick wall.
We got the traditional wild near-fall finishing section, with Lee and Swerve hitting a powerbomb/top rope stomp combo, Starks and Hobbs hitting a rope walk doomsday cutter, and the Bucks cracking everyone with belts and superkicks. The match ended with Lee running wild, laying out the Bucks with sneaker shots, tossing Hobbs over the top rope with a belly-to-belly suplex, pouncing Starks from Savannah to Decatur, and finally wiping everyone out on the floor with a flip dive, which looked like a manatee doing a belly flop into a pool. Swerve then crushed Starks with a top-rope stomp to win the match.
This was a surprise title change; I think most people expected AEW to build to a Young Bucks vs. FTR match, with the Bucks holding the AEW World Tag Team Championship and FTR holding their trio of tag team championships (the AAA World Tag Team Championship, the ROH World Tag Team Championship, and the IWGP Tag Team Championship). With that match still out there, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a short reign for Strickland and Lee, but they are both guys who have been spinning their wheels a bit since coming over from the WWE. A big victory like this will do wonders for their credibility going forward, even if they don’t hold the belts for very long.
“Mad Dog” Austin Connelly vs. Max the Impaler
PPW Terminal Combat 2, July 15
Intensity. It’s something that can’t be taught in pro wrestling school, but separates good wrestlers from all-time greats. That ability to convey—with your eyes or your movements—the desire to win at all costs, hate for your opponent, and an unwillingness to back down for even a second. Roddy Piper had it, Shinya Hashimoto had it, Eddie Kingston has it.
There are a lot of wrestlers on the independent scene who can do spectacular things, things that seem to violate the laws of physics, things that deliver creative twists on shopworn moves, things that make incredible GIFs. There are way fewer wrestlers who can make you believe that they are willing to kill their opponent or breathe their last breath on the mat trying. Austin Connelly and Max the Impaler are far from household names, even among fans who are well versed in indy wrestling, but they absolutely make you believe.
Connelly was coming into this match on a big run in Paradigm Pro; he was the defending PPW Heavy Hitters champion, a title created as part of their UWFi Rules Contenders Series. The matches are contested under the shoot-style rule set of the ’90s Japanese promotion UWFi: no rope running or hard strikes, with matches only being able to end via points, submission, or knockout. It is an interesting experiment, taking wrestlers who aren’t trained in that style and seeing what they can deliver under those constraints.
There have been unsurprisingly mixed results, with some real bangers and some absolute messes. Connelly has been a standout from the beginning, initially coming in as a tryout guy who lost his first couple of matches and eventually defeated bigger-named indy guys like Hoodfoot, Dominic Garrini, and even Daniel Garcia on the way to winning the Heavy Hitters title. Connelly comes at his opponents with constant pressure, swarming them, never letting them breathe, and pressing forward, either getting knocked out or pummeling opponents into submission. He fights like a pro wrestling version of Julio César Chávez. One of Connelly’s last losses on PPW was to Max the Impaler, a terrifying figure who manages to look like an extra from Mad Max without seeming even a little like a cosplayer. They are all snarl; every match they are in feels like an action hero got thrown into a sand pit to fight the monster kept there.
This rematch was fought under Terminal Combat rules, where the first five minutes are fought in that UWFi rule set, after which an alarm sounds, switching the bout to a no-rules weapons match. This is the second time PPW has run a show with these rules, and the first time it really worked. The dissonance between the two match types was always too much, and they just ended up neither fish nor fowl. Here, all of the strikes in the first part felt like weapons shots anyway, and all of the weapons shots in the second half felt like fighters trying to KO each other with their fists and feet.
In all of Connelly’s previous matches, he has burst forward as the proverbial mad dog let off of his chain, but in this match, he was hesitant: circling Max, testing attacks, but not committing. Connelly shot for the leg and got pummeled, only to back up and regroup. Max threw some brutal clubbing shots, including one which looked like it might be a quick KO, only for Mad Dog to barely beat the three-count. Connelly was able to lock on a triangle armbar, but one huge forearm dislodged him, and a similar Fujiwara armbar attempt was rebuffed. Max basically dominated the five-minute UWFi section, looking like a puzzle Connelly couldn’t solve.
When the alarm sounded and the match switched over to a weapons match, the brutality escalated. Max flung a garbage can at Connelly’s head, and they both exchanged hard chair shots to the kidneys and spine. Connelly tried to choke Max with a shirt and a piece of wood, while Max tried to punch through his head.
The finish came when Max threw Mad Dog through a door and smashed broken pieces of it on his body until shrapnel flew into the crowd. A decimated Connelly was able to crawl to his chain and with a demented, rictus grin on his face, he wrapped the chain around his fist, punched through a section of a door Max swung at him, smashed Max in the head with his chain, and then choked them unconscious while screaming “DIE, DIE, DIE” at the top of his lungs.
Every punch, kick, stomp, forearm, chair shot, and table shot in this match felt full force, and both wrestlers seemed to push themselves to a level of violence well past a normal match, even a normal weapons brawl. There were parts of this that were hard to watch—it felt less like a wrestling match and more like Dan Dority fighting Captain Turner in Deadwood. Like one person was going to be left dead and the other profoundly damaged. The kind of match that doesn’t leave you joyful as much as it leaves you in shocked awe. Both of these wrestlers are relatively early in their careers, but they have already figured out so much. I can’t wait to see the kinds of harrowing places their careers will take them.
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.