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A Tale of Two Pushes

This week, Dominik Mysterio and Konosuke Takeshita wrestled in two big matches, showcasing why they are both on the brink of stardom

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 Mysterios vs. the Usos

WWE Raw (Aug. 1, 2022)

The first real week of Triple H–booked WWE had his fingerprints all over it. We got renewed pushes for NXT favorites like (Tommaso) Ciampa and Shayna Baszler, and returns from the wilderness placed in big roles like Dakota Kai and Karrion Kross. It really did feel like someone else had their hand on the tiller (it wasn’t a great sign for Vince McMahon projects like Omos and Ezekiel that they were facing off in the opener of Main Event). The match lengths seemed boosted as well, with five matches on Raw going over 10 minutes. The main event of the first Helmsley-era Raw, however, was a pair of old reliable teams, with three of the wrestlers having been WWE in-ring mainstays for decades.

Rey Mysterio celebrated his 20-year WWE anniversary, which is pretty amazing considering he looked broken down during the end of his WCW stint in the late ’90s. Wrestlers rarely retire, but if you had asked me in 1999, I would have guessed that Rey would be hobbling his way through lucha indie shows in five years, not about to embark on one of the greatest runs of the 21st century. He is a master of the seven-to-15-minute television match, and is also perfectly able to step into a showcase role on a big show. Rey is 47 years old now, and still looks great; if the company keeps him as a member of a tag team, where his partner can shoulder some of the work, it wouldn’t shock me if he had another decade-plus in his body. Stem cell treatment is pretty amazing.

The Usos have been consistently great for years now as well, and they are in the middle of a great heel run. They keep getting showcase spots on both Raw and SmackDown as well as all the premium live events, and they deliver every time. They were tasked here with stewarding a long, traditional tag match, where the babyface team would have some big moments, but fall obviously short. They looked great working over both Rey and Dominik Mysterio and showed enough moments of vulnerability to sell the crowd on the possibility of a big upset.

The opening section of the match was some classic Rey, as he danced around both Usos, including one move in which he turned a chest-first, baseball-slide-style throw into a somersault onto his feet. That baseball-slide setup is something Rey has been doing for years, and he has a bunch of cool variations on it—taking it as a nasty bump, using it as an offensive splash, and whipping out variations of his roll-through counter. Watching Rey is like seeing a band for the 20th time, and still being amazed at the variations they put on their biggest hits.

The Usos took over during the commercial break and worked over Rey, which led to Dominik’s energetic hot tag. Dominik attempted a pescado and got caught and driven spine-first into the ringpost, leading to a second heat section by the Usos, which was mostly during the commercial break. The post-commercial Rey hot tag was great stuff; he still has one of the fastest head scissors of all time, and there is a great near fall with the Mysterios hitting a double 619, followed by Dom drilling a frog splash with great height. Dom also took out Jey Uso with a big tope, which looked Arena México–worthy as opposed to the running hugs that often pass for topes in the WWE. Dominik’s inexperience cost him, though, as he hesitated on a 619 attempt only to run right into the 1D for the pin.

It feels like we are going to get a verdict on the Dominik Mysterio experiment soon. They are clearly setting up Dom joining with the Judgment Day, turning heel, and feuding with his father. He hasn’t wrestled heel before, and his father had only one short, ineffective heel stint in late ’90s, Vince Russo–stained WCW, so this is going to be a new role for him. Dominik is two years and 115 or so matches into his career, and he is like a promising mid-draft NBA player about to start his third season, wrestling’s Anfernee Simons or Jordan Poole. Now is the time to see whether he can shoulder a bigger role.

Dominic Garrini vs. Daniel Makabe

Scenic City Invitational Tournament 2022 (August 6, 2022)

This match was a special attraction on the second night of the Scenic City Invitational Tournament 2022. The SCI is an annual independent wrestling tournament that has served as a sort of convention for independent wrestling fans since 2015. Over the years the tournament has mixed bigger names like Jimmy Rave, 2 Cold Scorpio, Darby Allin, and Matt Riddle (who won the tournament in 2017) with lesser-known but talented wrestlers from the Southeast area like this year’s winner, Jaden Newman. Both Makabe and Garrini lost the previous day in first-round matches, and thus faced off on the second day in a non-tournament match in a battle between two of the premier technicians in independent wrestling.

Garrini is a top 10–ranked Brazilian jiujitsu competitor who has won many combat grappling championships. He was trained to wrestle in the AIW Academy by Johnny Gargano and now works there as a trainer himself. Garrini has achieved most of his success as a member of the Violence Is Forever tag team with Kevin Ku. They are the most decorated tag team in indie wrestling, winning the IWTV tag team of the year three times, and currently holding the ACTION Wrestling, Black Label Pro Wrestling, C*4, and Southern Underground Pro tag titles. On the previous night, when Ku and Garrini matched up against each other in the tournament, they brought a wagon to the ring to hold all of their title belts. Garrini is obviously very skilled on the mat, and is great at adapting his jiujitsu skills into interesting pro wrestling mat work. Jiujitsu is a defensive martial art at its core, and Garrini is excellent at using his opponents’ offense to bait them. He has also matured into one of the hardest hitters in the indies, throwing punishing leg kicks, hard chops, and violent headbutts.

Makabe is a veteran of the Pacific Northwest punk and indie rock scene, who has carved a niche as an innovative mat technician. He is a pro wrestling polyglot, borrowing holds from grappling masters of all different disciplines. He has wrestled against lucha libre llaveo maestro Negro Navarro, Japanese shoot-style icons Daisuke Ikeda and Yuki Ishikawa, and the top mat wrestlers of the current U.S. scene, like Timothy Thatcher, Fred Yehi, and Alex Shelley. Makabe took those experiences (and voluminous tape study) and created his own unique mat wrestling style. He never stops moving on the ground, shifting and adjusting submissions, never giving his opponent time to adjust and counter. As soon as they think they have the answers, Makabe changes the questions.

The first part of this match was contested on the mat, which is where you want these guys to live. Lots of aborted attempts to lock in submissions—this wasn’t two guys exchanging holds, it was both attempting attacks that then would get stymied. There was a great moment when Makabe locked in a Twister, only for Garrini to break the grip, trap the leg, and shift into a Twister of his own, which Makabe broke by grinding his fist into Garrini’s cheekbone.

They then stood up and the match transitioned from a battle of technique into a battle of toughness. Both guys started throwing absolute fastballs, including a rare good-looking pro wrestling elbow exchange, with both guys just pounding on the neck and side of the jaw. There were a couple of great near-fall submission attempts by both guys, Makabe countered a clubbing right into a Fujiwara armbar, shifted to a knee bar, shifted again into an STF, and then a Fujiwara on the opposite arm, all before Garrini was able to get to the ropes. Garrini jumped into a flying triangle and landed a stacked armbar before Makabe was able to escape. They then just went back to throwing shots, and the normally heavier-handed Garrini got outstruck as Makabe was able to KO him with a massive straight punch right to his temple.

This match was a spiritual sequel to the wars Daisuke Ikeda and Yuki Ishikawa had in Battlarts and Fu-Ten in the 1990s and 2000s. Two running buddies just taking each other to the limit and pushing just a little past said limit. Great mat wrestling and thunderous strikes, all in a compact 10 or so minutes; this was always a bit of an indie dream match for me, and they delivered.

Post-match, Makabe discussed how a back injury has led him to wind down his wrestling career, and how this was likely his last match in the Southeast. That made this match a little bittersweet, as what felt like the start of an epic rivalry is instead likely to be the end of one.

Makabe never wrestled on TV, nor did he ever want to; he was an outsider artist. He did his idiosyncratic thing as well as anyone in the world and became a rock star in tiny rooms. If this is the end of his career, he will leave a deep legacy within a niche of the sport; there are baby Daniel Makabes popping up all over the indie wrestling scene. He is the indie wrestling equivalent of that iconic 1976 Manchester Sex Pistols show: Hardly anyone was there, but everyone that was formed their own band.

Claudio Castagnoli vs. Konosuke Takeshita

AEW Battle of the Belts III (August 6, 2022)

Konosuke Takeshita has been wrestling since he was 17 and has been one of the top stars of the DDT Pro Wrestling promotion in Japan for the past 10 years. He has held the KO-D Openweight Championship five times, and has wrestled the biggest stars of that promotion, including Kenny Omega, Kota Ibushi, and Jun Akyiama. Since April he has been on an excursion to the United States, where he has wrestled in both AEW and throughout the independent scene. While he has had some real success on the indies beating wrestlers like “Speedball” Mike Bailey, Davey Richards, and Lee Moriarty, he came into the ROH World title match on Saturday with a losing record in AEW, winning some matches on Dark and against Ryan Nemeth on Rampage but losing hard-fought matches against Jon Moxley, Eddie Kingston, and Adam Page. Despite falling short, those matches have turned Takeshita into a made man in AEW, garnering big reactions from the crowd despite being on the losing end of the stick. Takeshita is a dynamic offensive wrestler, and Claudio Castagnoli is a perfect opponent for a wrestler who has a large bag of tricks.

The match started out fast, with both guys rushing in and attempting big strikes, but it slowed with Castagnoli taking Takeshita down and grinding on him, constantly returning him to the mat when Takeshita tried to press the pace. Takeshita tried a pescado dive to the floor, but Castagnoli sidestepped him and drove his back and kidneys into the ring apron. Castagnoli put a bull’s-eye on Takeshita’s back for the next couple of minutes with the nastiness the Blackpool Combat Club is becoming known for, with several hard backbreakers and a couple of grinding submissions on that back.

Takeshita was able to get rolling a bit with a jumping rana, and the final stanza of the match saw both men landing big bomb after big bomb. Takeshita got a great near-fall with a turnbuckle DDT and a frog splash, and Castagnoli got one himself when he intercepted a Takeshita shoulder block with a big uppercut, knocking him out of the air with ease. There was a section when both guys no-sold suplexes, which I could have done without (although the crowd gave them a standing ovation right after, so what do I know?), but outside of that the finish run was dramatic and well executed, including Takeshita hitting a jumping knee and brainbuster combo that I really thought was a title change. I loved the dominance of the finish, too. Following a bunch of back-and-forth near-falls, Castagnoli snatched Takeshita out of the air mid-high knee with a Death Valley Driver, rocked him with a jumping uppercut, nailed a lariat, hit some of the Blackpool Combat Club signature hammer and anvil elbows, and dropped him with the Ricola Bomb for the pin. Great job of establishing Takeshita as a dangerous championship-level wrestler, but still clearly showing that Castagnoli is a threshing machine when he gets rocking.

I imagine that they will give Takeshita one big win over a star before he returns to Japan, and when he gets that win, it will blow the roof off the arena. Just a great job of taking someone basically unknown to a U.S. audience and minting him as a star for years to come. Even when he returns to DDT he will be able to come back to AEW when needed and coast off the goodwill this run has given him. This really shows the advantage of the Forbidden Door policies of AEW: They allow them to establish and use wrestlers not on their payroll, like Takeshita, Will Ospreay, or Hiroshi Tanahashi and have them exist in the AEW Universe, ready to be slotted back in big roles at any point while still keeping them fresh.

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.