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.
Chris Jericho vs. Jon Moxley
AEW Dynamite (August 10, 2022)
AEW put on a hell of a big show this past Wednesday. “Quake by the Lake” seemed a little like a response to the post-Vince momentum that the WWE has had in recent weeks, and did a great job showcasing the variety that AEW excels at. It opened with a fun car crash brawl with the casket match between Darby Allin and Brody King—those two are really well-matched opponents and there were some huge moments and a pretty grody blade job by King. That match was followed by a lucha dream tag between the Lucha Brothers and Los Ingobernables, and the show was closed out with a long, hard-fought, and bloody world title match between Interim AEW world champion Jon Moxley and Chris Jericho: the kind of classic that would have fit as well in 1973 as it did in 2022.
The story leading up to this match is that Moxley called out Chris Jericho’s mid-’90s persona “Lionheart” Chris Jericho, who billed himself as the last survivor of the Hart family dungeon. Jericho came out to “White Zombie” (his ECW theme music), clean-shaven and wearing his old tights and leather vest. It is a fun idea that Jericho has these different versions of himself he can call back to, although in the ring it mainly consisted of a couple of arm drags and some lucha submissions in the opening minutes.
The match really kicked into gear when Jericho grabbed Moxley’s earring and ripped it out of his lobe. Mox rolled to the floor and came up with the entire side of his head covered in blood. Jericho lasered in on the ear and ripped, punched, and stomped it, damaging Mox’s equilibrium. Jericho has a great sociopathic vibe when he gets violent: the smiling and joking slip a bit and you get a glimpse of the emptiness underneath.
They exchanged hard shots and submissions until Jericho locked on the Walls of Jericho and held it through an entire commercial break; they really milked a ton of drama out of that move, and when Moxley finally broke the hold he really looked like he had wrung every bit of energy out of his body.
Jericho went for his springboard dropkick and got tossed hard to the floor, which Moxley followed up with a Macho Man–style axe handle dive to the floor, rebreaking Jericho’s nose. That was the first glimpse of Jericho’s vulnerability and was the announcers’ reasoning for how Moxley was able to kick out of a bat shot and a Judas Effect, explaining that Jericho’s difficulty breathing meant he couldn’t fully execute the move. It was a great bit of storytelling by Taz and William Regal, which did a nice job of justifying how Mox could kick out of a move that had always sealed the deal for Jericho.
Mox was able to avoid a rush and send Jericho headfirst into the exposed turnbuckle, which led to Jericho quickly catching up with Moxley in the spilled plasma race, going from dry to soaked almost immediately. The ability to bleed quickly is an underrated wrestling skill; Tommy Rich was a master of it, and Jericho was downright Rich-ian in this match. This was a really impressive performance from Jericho: Say what you will about him, there aren’t many 51-years-olds in wrestling history who could pull off a big-time, long, physical world title match like this. Both men ended the match with a fight between the bulldog choke and the Lion Tamer until Mox was able to grab hooks and sink in a tight choke for the tap. This led to a brawl between the Jericho Appreciation Society and the combined forces of the Blackpool Combat Club, Eddie Kingston, and Ortiz, which led to a huge return from current AEW World champion CM Punk, who had been kayfabing his injury by limping his way through San Diego Comic-Con. Punk and Moxley’s face-off felt like a huge moment, and their unification match could be the biggest match in AEW history. With Bryan Danielson back next week, and Kenny Omega seemingly back soon, it feels like business is about to pick up going into All Out at the beginning of September.
Kazuchika Okada vs. Tom Lawlor
NJPW G1 Climax 32 - Tag 15 (August 10, 2022)
“Judo” Gene LeBell died recently at the age of 89. LeBell had one of the great American 20th-century lives. He was like a character from a James Ellroy novel. In addition to a long pro wrestling career as both a wrestler and a promoter, he was arguably the first American mixed martial artist, beating boxer Milo Savage in a wild fight in 1963 that nearly ended in a riot. He also refereed the Muhammed Ali vs. Antonio Inoki fight in Japan, worked as a Hollywood stuntman, and was said to be the inspiration for Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. He also was convicted of accessory to murder (later overturned), apparently choked out Steven Seagal and made him shit his pants, and helped train Chuck Norris, Roddy Piper, and Ronda Rousey.
Tom Lawlor spent 14 years in MMA fighting, including an eight-year stint in the UFC. His road to pro wrestling was paved by Gene LeBell. The announcers discussed the different paths Lawlor and Okada took to pro wrestling—Okada dropped out of high school to train in Mexico with Ultimo Dragon before joining New Japan, and that lucha style is the underpinning of his current style. Lawlor, however, is a collegiate champion wrestler who earned a black belt in Brazilian jujitsu. Lawlor has only been a regular pro wrestler since being suspended from the UFC in 2017. Lawlor had been a champion in NJPW Strong in the U.S., but this was his first tour in Japan and thus his first G1 tournament.
The G1 Climax is a round-robin tournament that New Japan has been running since 1991. (There were earlier tournaments in New Japan, but those aren’t officially part of the lineage.) The G1 has been won by the biggest stars of New Japan, including Shinya Hashimoto, Keiji Mutoh, Masahiro Chono, Shinsuke Nakamura, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Kenny Omega (who became the first foreigner to win the G1 Climax). Okada came into the G1 this year as the defending champion and has won the tournament three times. With 28 wrestlers in four blocks, this was the biggest G1 ever.
Okada came into this match with a 3-1 record, while Lawlor was 2-2, rallying with two straight wins after dropping his first two matches. Okada is the ace of New Japan, the biggest star in the promotion, and this was easily the biggest match of Lawlor’s career, while in some ways this was just another night for Okada. That difference in motivation was in many ways the story of this match.
Lawlor had a focused, violent attack on Okada’s arm, dropping him early with a Fujiwara armbar, mangling and twisting at Okada’s wrist and fingers. Lawlor then took his external jorts (Lawlor always wears a pair of slightly larger jean shorts, which he removes to reveal a smaller and tighter pair, an important part of the “Filthy Tom” presentation) and wrapped them around Okada’s wrist before driving Okada’s arm into the ring post. Every time Okada would start to get on a roll, Lawlor would go back to that arm, using world-class grappling to punish Okada’s joints, including a cross arm breaker that he spun into a triangle choke, holding the choke and twisting Okada’s arm into a double wrist lock. Okada was able to hit a couple of his signature dropkicks to jar Lawlor’s head, but he was on his back foot for nearly the entire match. Lawlor kept applying nasty submissions that Okada needed to get to the ropes to break. That arm damage even kept Okada from pulling off his Rainmaker clothesline, as he didn’t have the strength to spin Lawlor around. Lawlor then tried to set up his NKOTB (Nasty Knee on the Brain), leaving Okada to resort to roll-ups to escape the punishment, eventually dropping down on a flying armbar attempt and stealing a pin, despite looking like a beaten man. Impressive performance from Lawlor, as he dominated a legendary champ, only to lose on a bit of a banana peel. It feels like this G1 made Lawlor, and I won’t be surprised if he becomes a regular on New Japan tours.
New Japan uses tournaments like the G1 to set up future story lines, and Lawlor pummeling Okada feels like something that will be paid off in the future. Okada is an ace for a reason, and great champions can pull off wins even when they don’t have it that night; he was able to gut this one out.
Gunther vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
WWE SmackDown (August 12, 2022)
Strong Style is a term that is often misused in U.S. wrestling circles. It was coined by Antonio Inoki who used it to describe the matches he would have with legitimate martial artists and refers to mixing in submissions and martial arts strikes to have a wrestling match more closely resemble a real fight (as opposed to Shoot Style wrestling, which relies exclusively on those holds). It was the house style of the heavyweights of New Japan Pro Wrestling in the 1990s, especially the great Shinya Hashimoto. This contrasted with the Odo, or King’s Road style—popular in All Japan Pro Wrestling and personified by Mitsuharu Misawa and Kenta Kobashi—which tried to incorporate more storytelling and dramatics. Shinsuke Nakamura crowned himself the “King of Strong Style” during his tenure in New Japan, claiming the mantle of Antonio Inoki. This was seen as a dig at his chief rival Hiroshi Tanahashi, who he believed strayed into more of a U.S. style. Current WWE Intercontinental champion Gunther, with his straightforward bulldozing attack, was the perfect opponent for Nakamura to bring Strong Style to the WWE, and they had a match that wouldn’t have been out of place in Korakuen Hall in 1996.
Gunther was a big tubby boy during the WALTER days, especially pre-WWE, but he has lost a ton of weight and now has almost a swimmer’s physique. He hasn’t lost any of the pop on his shots, though, and landed some chafing chops and concussive clotheslines during this match. The match was very physical from the jump, with Nakamura cracking Gunther with hard chopping kicks to the thigh, Gunther was able to hit a big boot and drop Nakamura with a chop, and it became clear early that Nakamura could stand and trade with the heavy-handed Gunther. A second strike exchange saw Gunther drop Nakamura with a slap to the ear, and Shinsuke sensibly decided to shift his attack and go after Gunther’s arm, flipping into a flying armbar which he cranked nastily.
Nakamura then aimed some sharp kicks to the elbow, sticking and moving, only to again get floored with an open hand skillet to the chest. That was how it progressed, Nakamura using his speed and elusiveness to land three shots, and Gunther dropping him with one. Nakamura found his openings, though, catching a Gunther top rope splash and locking in a triangle, and smacking a sliding Gunther in the head with a big knee for a near KO. Nakamura then went on an offensive roll, dropping Gunther with a sliding German suplex, and setting up for Kinshasa running knee, only to get obliterated with a clothesline, a shot so hard it crumpled Nakamura. I liked how we never really got another Nakamura offensive moment after that; he was able to kick out and break a sleeper attempt but never slowed the Gunther train. Eventually, a dropkick to the back and a big powerbomb closed the show for the Austrian champion. Too many finishing runs in wrestling matches are just guys exchanging big moves; here, once Gunther hit that clothesline, it was only a matter of time and all Nakamura could do was try to survive.
One change in the Triple H era is that there has been a renewed focus on the Intercontinental and United States titles. With Roman Reigns holding both world titles and only appearing occasionally, it is really helpful for the other titles to be treated like a big deal, and this had all of the trappings and presentations of a big-time title match, as did the Bobby Lashley vs. Ciampa U.S. title match on Raw. It was also great to see a rejuvenated Shinsuke Nakamura. The winds of change are blowing in a positive direction for the former NXT champion (and for Gunther, who was rumored to be in the doghouse a bit under Vince McMahon) and he will hopefully have some opportunities to really show out. Gunther also seems like a future world champion, especially in the eventual post–Roman Reigns world, and a Reigns versus Gunther match could really be something special.
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.