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FTR and the Briscoes Up the Ante (and Darby Allin’s Sacrifice)

The Briscoes and FTR go two out of three falls, Brody King does a number on Darby Allin, and more in this week’s best pro wrestling matches

AEW/WWE/Ringer illustration

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.

The Briscoes vs. FTR

ROH Death Before Dishonor 2022 (July 23, 2022)

When I wrote about FTR vs. the Briscoes I over WrestleMania weekend, I talked about how difficult it can be to deliver on a dream match, how the expectations in the minds of fans are often nearly impossible to live up to, and how wrestlers who seem like they will meld on paper can fall short in the ring.

It may be even harder to deliver on a rematch to a classic: Now you have to recapture the magic of the first match while changing it just enough that it doesn’t feel like a photocopy. The fact that the Briscoes and FTR were able to go out and replicate (and possibly even surpass) their classic match from March was an even bigger credit to both teams.

So much of what made the first match between these two teams special was the pacing; there was no bloat, no overkill, and each near-fall and big spot felt like it was in the right place. It revved the engine when it needed to be revved, cooled the jets when they needed to be cooled, and the climax was climactic. It is a natural fear that when you take a one-fall match and make it three falls—a.k.a., when you take a 27-minute match and extend it to 43 minutes—the pacing will suffer. However, incredibly, it didn’t; this match, for the ROH World Tag Team Championship, built to three crescendos instead of one and avoided the overkill that can plague much of today’s wrestling.

The match opened with a feeling-out process, collar and elbow tie-ups, headlock takeovers, and shoulder tackles. The first big moment came when Jay Briscoe reversed a headlock into a nasty back suplex on Dax Harwood, sending Harwood to the floor, where the doctor checked on his neck. This quickly established Harwood’s neck as a story line for the match. There was a neat callback a moment later when Cash Wheeler dropped Jay with a back suplex of his own, but Jay shoved away the ringside doctor when he went to check. The Briscoes are a bit wilder, a bit more reckless; they would rather be hurt than show an ounce of weakness. After a really entertaining back-and-forth first fall, with some memorable hard shots by both teams, the Briscoes were able to get the win when they catapulted Harwood into the ring post and dropped him with a Doomsday device top-rope clothesline that dumped Harwood right on that previously damaged neck.

The second fall would be an iconic tag match all on its own. An injured Harwood had to start the match after being pinned in the previous fall. The Briscoes lay in a vicious beating, chopping his chest raw and bloody and cutting off multiple tag attempts. Harwood was finally able to get the tag to Wheeler, they brawl a little on the floor and there is a huge near-fall where Wheeler got brained by the ring bell, opening up his forehead. The announcers, Ian Riccaboni and Caprice Coleman (who did a great job all show), were putting over the Briscoes’ two out of three falls match sweep streak from 15 years ago, and it really amped the danger of each Briscoes pin attempt in the second fall. Normally, no one would buy that the match would end in two falls, but the Briscoes being the sweep kings put a little bit of doubt in the crowd. The Briscoes almost got Wheeler again with a Spicoli driver/Froggy elbow double-team, but Wheeler was able to pull him out and FTR landed a surprise Big Rig to tie it up.

As the third fall started, Harwood was bleeding from his chest, and Wheeler and Mark Briscoe were bleeding from their foreheads. They all just took a deep breath and waded back in. A nasty ref bump allowed Jay Briscoe to get a visual pinfall with the Jay Driller, which was then followed up by another Big Rig from FTR, but the groggy ref let Jay be the first person to kick out of the move, according to Coleman on commentary—anyway, it’s wrestling, so print the legend. With the ref now semi-conscious, we got a couple more big near-falls, and then they just started trading hard shots to the face. I especially loved that Jay Briscoe and Dax Harwood weren’t going your turn, my turn with the shots, but throwing combos, blocking, and juking (hard shots, too). I would be surprised if nobody woke up with a swollen eye or split lip.

We get an absolute killer surprise table spot, as Wheeler snatches Mark Briscoe off the top rope and back suplexes him both through a table, which had been adjusting during the outside-the-ring brawling 20 minutes earlier. It is so much cooler than grabbing a table, setting it up, basking in a “We want tables” chant, and milking a bunch of “dramatic” reversals. Instead, everyone forgot about it until it came into play. It was left with just Jay Briscoe and Dax Harwood to battle it out, with Harwood kicking out of a Jay Driller (which is really my only complaint in the match, as it felt like one near-fall too many) and Harwood planting Jay Briscoe with a second rope piledriver for the win.

They earned every bit of their standing ovation, and every minute of the 45 minutes the match went. I‘ll have to go back and rewatch their Supercard of Honor match to see which one I like more, but it was wild that they were even able to make it a discussion. The Briscoes are officially in Ring of Honor now, but I don’t think they can run this back again. It will be interesting to see where both teams go from here, but I don’t think they can go wrong.

The Street Profits & Madcap Moss vs. the Usos & Theory

WWE SmackDown (July 22, 2022)

The biggest elephant in the smallest room this week was Vince McMahon’s retirement from the WWE. For the past 40 years, the major promotion in American professional wrestling has been the singular vision of a single person. A famous micromanager, McMahon would frequently rip up scripts the day of shows, and scream talking points in the ears of play-by-play announcers. Longtime fans know weird McMahon vocal tics, gross things he thinks are funny, and how he humiliates someone.

Two weeks ago, McMahon was strutting around backstage giving the Jordan Belfort speech from The Wolf of Wall Street, and this week he Friday-news-dumps his retirement and doesn’t even come out to get that final crowd adulation dopamine hit. There is clearly an Andre the Giant–sized boot about to drop, likely something much worse than the already-repellant allegations recently reported.

The current corporate structure, with Stephanie McMahon rolling back the stone and returning as co-CEO along with Hollywood power broker Nick Khan, seems put together with spit and chewing gum. Stephanie is two months removed from a “leave of absence” where she got buried in the press, and it feels like whatever scandal sent McMahon to the farm to live out his days might make it untenable for any McMahon to be in a power position. Her husband, Paul Levesque (a.k.a. Triple H), was named head of WWE creative this morning, a huge turnaround from getting NXT taken from him last September and much of his hand-picked talent and key allies getting jettisoned. Triple H got a lot of praise for the smart fan-friendly booking in NXT, but the challenges of booking an entire promotion are very different from booking a developmental territory where talent gets called up before they get stale.

McMahon still has the majority of the voting shares and it seems unlikely, despite what he claimed, that he will be willing to just sit in a chaise lounge next to a pool with a glass of sweet tea and a stack of Harry Bosch novels. He might not be in the earset, but I would be shocked if there weren’t long, poorly punctuated emails sent weekly.

There is also the reemergence of first ballot Hall of Fame carny Jeff Jarrett, who has somehow wrangled himself not only an office job and a special ref gig at SummerSlam, but also a spot in Ric Flair’s retirement match. During the 1994 steroid trial, McMahon briefly handed over control of the company to his wife Linda while Jeff’s father, longtime Memphis promoter Jerry Jarrett, ran day-to-day operations, and it doesn’t seem coincidental that, during another crisis, the Jarrett family returned to the fold.

Nick Khan is the person we know the least, but he is a well-respected ex-Hollywood agent who is far enough removed that he won’t get caught with splatter. Khan is a childhood friend of the Rock, and the Anoa’i wrestling family currently holds both the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship and the Unified WWE Tag Team Championship. In addition to siring over a dozen pro wrestlers, the Anoa’is have a long history of promoting, and it seems like a Dwayne Johnson figure-headed, McMahon-free WWE would be an easy sell to networks and shareholders who have to be sweating in their cereal after the past month.

It would be hard for any match in the ring to approach the drama and intrigue going on in the boardroom, but being able to throw out the Usos and the Street Profits on TV for 15 minutes is a good crutch to lean on. The idea of setting up a six-man tag match with people wrestling on your next big event is a longtime WWE booking trope, so there wasn’t anything noticeably changed on day one. The Profits and the Usos have their patterns down pat at this point, and it was also a good showcase for Moss and Theory, who are being positioned as part of the next group of stars.

Angelo Dawkins was especially bouncy in this match, wrestling like a guy who didn’t want to end up like Tucker of Heavy Machinery if the Street Profits break up. Much of the match was the heels working over Madcap Moss, which is good experience for someone who hasn’t worked baby face a ton. They clearly right now see him as a future asset, and the more reps, the better. They really need to trash-can that nickname, though; I don’t think anyone has called anything “madcap” since the last ’70s Dom Deluise road movie.

Theory is an interesting case; he is clearly getting a big push and got some moments in this match to shine, but he got completely wrecked in the post-match yet again by Brock Lesnar. Lesnar apparently walked out of SmackDown when he heard the Vince McMahon news, so his future is pretty murky. No idea why you can’t let Theory, who theoretically is the next big star, get in at least one piece of offense before getting smashed. Instead, like at Elimination Chamber, Lesnar treated him like a CrossFit Mulkey brother.

There is lots of intrigue going into SummerSlam and some can’t-miss matches (Street Profits vs. the Usos, Becky Lynch vs. Bianca Belair), but nothing is particularly fresh. I would think that one of the ambitious people in the management mosh pit sees SummerSlam as a chance to make a big statement, and we might see something surprising. Let’s just hope the in-ring product is as interesting as the tea leaves.

Darby Allin vs. Brody King

AEW Dynamite (July 20, 2022)

I came into his AEW run as a bit of a low voter on Brody King. He always looked like a rampaging beast, but didn’t really hit like one. (Which, ironically, is a criticism you can levy against his namesake Bruiser Brody as well … actually, let me bury that talking point 6 feet deep and salt the ground so it doesn’t grow again.) Brody King wrestled like he looked here, and laid in an all-timer of an ass-kicking. Darby Allin may be the best in the history of wrestling at taking a huge beating and wrestling a compelling match. He is the King of the Davids, and it often doesn’t matter who the Goliath is. Allin has been focusing a lot on big stunt matches and tags with Sting, and it has been a while since we have seen him take one of his glorious shitkickings, and man did I miss watching Darby Allin get beat up.

Allin opens the match with a tope, but King catches him in midair and lifts him throat-first against the ring post like Thanos. King spends the first five minutes of the match tossing Allin around the ring like a garbage man throwing trash in the back of a truck. Brody King threw Darby Allin like he had zero interest in where and how safely he landed. He also chin-checked Allin with two huge forearms and sent him tumbling out of the ring with a single hard chop.

Allin is amazing at figuring out sensible ways to get his moments; he never just hulks up and starts throwing implausible suplexes, he always either uses his brain as a weapon or his body as a weapon, and often both. Here he wrapped his belt around Brody’s legs and tripped him to the floor; then, with King’s legs entangled, Allin drilled him with a rocket tope. King took back over, but missed his somersault senton, allowing Allin to hit a Code Red and a super painful-looking arm stretch submission. Allin shifted to a rear naked choke, only to see King stand up with Allin on his back and send them both somersaulting into the turnbuckle, a move that left Darby trembling like a car crash victim. Allin was able to jab the back of King’s head with the turnbuckle spike but got caught with the choke sleeper sheer drop to the floor, which was the move that won King the Royal Rampage earlier this month.

Allin was able to beat the count, but he should have stayed down, because King obliterated him with a disgusting sit-out gonzo bomb. There was a post-match spooky off with Sting and Malakai Black, which should lead to some fun stuff in the ring, and some absolutely insufferable Malakai Black goth phase promos. Incredible performance by both guys; it really felt like Darby Allin went out there and sacrificed his long-term health and happiness to make Brody King a star.

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.