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.
Bobby Lashley vs. Seth Rollins
WWE Raw, September 19
Ever since Brock Lesnar’s cluster bomb-esque impact on the WWF in 2002, WWE has been looking for the next Brock. While recruiting heavyweight collegiate wrestling champions and trying to translate those skills to pro wrestling, there have been some strikeouts (Sylvester Terkay, Denzel Dejournette, Cal Bishop), some mild successes (Jack Swagger, Otis), and some TBDs (Gable Steveson, the Creed Brothers). Unfortunately for them, Lesnar is a supernova, one of the singular athletic talents of this century. He is someone who won the UFC heavyweight title in his fourth MMA fight, and who nearly made the Minnesota Vikings after not playing football since high school. He is also a tremendously intuitive wrestling performer who knows how to channel those athletic gifts into the squared circle.
Bobby Lashley is the most successful “next Lesnar”—while he is not a guaranteed tip-top main eventer, he is a top guy who can hold a world title and headline shows as part of a strong program. It was a circuitous route to get there. After an injury derailed his Olympic wrestling dreams, Lashley signed with WWE and got a big push in the early part of his career, capturing the ECW World title in his rookie year. Lashley also represented then-reality-show-host Donald Trump at WrestleMania against Umaga in a (Trump’s) hair vs. (Vince McMahon’s) hair match. After the McMahon feud, Lashley was put into a big match with John Cena at the 2007 Great American Bash, but he suffered a shoulder injury and was written off TV before eventually being released. If it had ended there, Lashley would have been an interesting footnote in wrestling history, but he just kept at it. He wrestled for Inoki Genome Federation (IGF) and AAA and had two successful runs in TNA/Impact Wrestling, where he was able to develop a character and advance his in-ring skills while also fighting MMA in Strikeforce and Bellator.
When Lashley returned to the WWE after 10 years away, he came back as a fully formed pro wrestler. He had a great heel WWE Champion run as part of the Hurt Business and is currently in an impressive reign as United States champion. His success is an authentic tribute to perseverance and always trying to improve.
I am a low voter on Seth Rollins as a wrestler; I often find his big matches tiresome cardio fests where it seems like the goal is less a fight or athletic contest than just a combination of moves and near falls—the pro wrestling equivalent of a CrossFit competition. However, he has a lot of talent and connection with the crowd, and if you force him out of his formula, you can often get something pretty special. With Lashley, you aren’t going to just be exchanging moves. Instead, Rollins was forced to solve a problem: How do you chop away at a block of granite?
Rollins started the match buzzing around Lashley like a gnat around a rhino. Lashley caught and shrugged off his tope, and in one of the cooler powerhouse spots I have seen in a while, Lashley blocked the Rollins Curb Stomp with the power of his gigantic trap muscles. Rollins was able to avoid a Lashley corner rush during the first commercial break, sending him shoulder-first into the ring post and giving Rollins something to focus an attack on. Rollins worked him over with a bicep slicer and stomps, and once he had Lashley worn down he was able to hit the tope that got shrugged off earlier. With the structure built in, they had a really fun finishing run, with Rollins nearly getting a pin when countering the Hurt Lock with a bridge and an impressive counter in which he jumped in midair and turned a Lashley spear into a pedigree.
The finish was a little flat as they did the shop-worn spot where Matt Riddle’s music played, distracting Rollins and leaving him open for a spear. They used a variation of the same finish in the very next match between Austin Theory and Kevin Owens, and in the main event of SmackDown between the Usos and the Brawling Brutes. It is tough booking finishes for eight-plus hours of TV a week, but there are better and more interesting ways to end a match than that. Great long title match overall, and I found myself much more interested in getting more Lashley vs. Rollins than I am in another round of Rollins vs. Riddle.
Keita Yano vs. Hikaru Sato
Tenryu Project Osaka Crush Night 2022, September 19
With Japanese wrestling icon Genichiro Tenryu currently recovering from a serious spinal injury, last week’s Tenryu Project show was, in many ways, a tribute to the boss; a show where everyone on it had real incentive to show out and perform. Tenryu Project is the current iteration of Tenryu’s vision for a wrestling promotion, which started with the All Japan breakaway promotion SWS in the early ‘90s. SWS ran co-promoted shows with the WWF and saw cool matchups featuring American stars like Ric Flair, Randy Savage, and Hulk Hogan wrestling Tenryu, as well as off-kilter matches like The Rockers vs. The Takanos and John Tenta (a.k.a. Earthquake) and Typhoon against Yoshiaki Yatsu and Haku.
Tenryu then ran the WAR promotion. (WAR initially stood for Wrestling and Romance, Wrestle Association R later.) WAR became a favorite of U.S. tape traders for both their hard-hitting Tenryu main events and their juniors division, which was headed by Último Dragón yet included U.S. stars like Chris Jericho, Lance Storm, and Rey Mysterio Jr. Tenryu Project started in 2010 as a place for Tenryu to run shows in which he headlined, and ended when Tenryu retired in 2015. However, the promotion was reinstated in 2020 and has been running several times a month since April 2021.
This match was for the Tenryu Project International Junior Heavyweight Championship title, an event dating back to the WAR days that was previously held by Último Dragón, Gedo, and Chris Jericho (who, at the time, wrestled under the name Lionheart), among others. It has been the main title in the Tenryu Project, frequently headlining their shows.
Hikaru Sato started his career as an MMA fighter competing in Pancrase Hybrid Wrestling, primarily from 2000 to 2008. Sato transitioned over to pro wrestling as an associate of former King of Pancrase, Minoru Suzuki, when he made his return to pro wrestling. Sato primarily wrestled in Dramatic Tag Team (DDT) and All Japan, in addition to helming his own offshoot promotion Hard Hit, which focused more on stiff, shoot-style wrestling.
Keita Yano started his career in Battlarts, being trained by the legendary grappler Yuki Ishikawa. When Battlarts folded, Yano became a pro wrestling vagabond, representing a mat work and grappling-heavy style in numerous tiny promotions throughout Japan. Yano is like the pro wrestling equivalent of an obscure punk rock band: hardly anyone knows him, but those who do are fanatics. He is one of the best mat wrestlers in the world and can often be found wearing Joker makeup and stretching a barely trained guy on a blue mat with no ropes in the back of a Pachinko parlor. A main event title match on a Tenryu show is one of the highest profile matches of Yano’s career, and it was cool to watch him do his specific oddball thing on a bigger stage.
The match started with both guys circling and feeling each other out, hesitant to attack. Yano shot for the leg and took Sato down, leaving Sato to scramble desperately for the rope. Sato then landed the first blow, a lacerating body kick that looked like it sent Yano’s liver through his spinal cord. This quickly established the dynamic for the match: Yano was a boa constrictor on the ground, but Sato was a viper on his feet.
Sato’s kicks and slaps sounded like firecrackers going off. You could see Yano getting more and more beaten down with every brutal shot. However, when Yano could get the match to the ground, he was dynamic—moving from grounded cobra twists to small package chokes, tight ankle locks to rolling cradles. Yano needed to catch Sato in a trap he couldn’t escape before the pounding took its toll. Eventually, the match approached the 30-minute time limit and Sato began having some success on the mat himself, finally spinning the beaten and bruised Yano into a high-crotch cradle for the pin. Excellent technical wrestling by both guys, which also had a liberal dose of cringe-worthy violence, a worthy tribute to their ailing leader.
Bryan Danielson vs. Jon Moxley
AEW Dynamite: Grand Slam, September 21
An unsurprisingly awesome match with a surprising finish. I think most people saw this match as Bryan Danielson’s ascension to the title. Moxley had just come off of an excellent and lengthy title run and had been rumored to be taking some time off before the Punksplosion at All Out. Danielson hadn’t won the AEW World Championship title yet, but eventually won both the ROH and WWE titles that Punk once held. Moxley won their first match against each other in AEW, and Danielson successfully avenged his previous losses (something they talked about in the video package leading up to this match). Even though they seemed to be setting up Moxley vs. MJF on television, it just felt like Danielson’s time––until it wasn’t.
AEW has been very good at not having swerves for swerves’ sake; they tended to pay off stories in the way they were expected to be paid off. Adam Page climbed the mountain and beat Kenny Omega back at Full Gear 2021, and The Acclaimed were able to take the momentum of their pay-per-view match and win the Tag Team titles earlier in the night. The fact that they tend to go with the expected result does make something like Moxley winning this match more surprising, in a good way. As a booker, you want to find a balance between being too predictable and no one being able to guess your finishes, and results like this help with that balance.
Danielson dominated the early moments of the match, taking down Moxley at will with strafing chops and body kicks. It was a similar pressure-fighter approach that he used against Jericho the week before. Moxley is the younger man, but he has worked a punishingly heavy schedule since returning to wrestling, and testing his gas tank made a lot of sense. Moxley had his early moments but would continue to be cut off, including by a diving knee of the apron to Moxley’s temple, and a nasty German suplex on the ring apron. Danielson then drove Moxley’s shoulder into the ring post and started smashing and twisting away at the arm and shoulder. The first 10 minutes of this match were the equivalent of a 10-8 boxing round for the Dragon, but Moxley was able to find some purchase when he caught a top-rope dropkick attempt and transitioned into a half crab, cranking on the ankle Dragon already damaged in last week’s match against Jericho.
The work on the ankle evened out the match, and from there they exchanged submissions and big bombs, including Danielson locking in the cattle mutilation and Moxley defenestrating Dragon with a huge lariat. Danielson got a big near-fall with a busaiku knee. Moxley then pressed the match to an even higher gear, stomping right on Danielson’s Achilles, just a gross-looking move that felt like it violated a code. He followed that up with a curb stomp (possibly a shout-out to his former Shield teammate Rollins) and a Death Rider DDT for a super close near-fall. Danielson responded with some gross stomps to the neck and head, and a LeBell Lock; but Mox was able to escape, hit a Death Rider on the ramp, and then a sleeper in the ring. Danielson tried for a roll-up counter, but Moxley was able to regain his back, flatten Danielson out, and get the win.
These two are really well-matched in the ring, and this was another war. I was a little surprised at the lack of blood, especially in a big Moxley match, and I could have done without the two dozen or so cutaways to MJF making Statler and Waldorf faces in the SkyBox. Moxley as champion makes sense; he is one of their biggest stars and has proved he can be the focus of the promotion. Moxley as the face of AEW against agitator MJF works, maybe more so than Danielson in that role.
Still, I am not sure what they’re doing with Danielson’s booking—he is being booked like a guy who is trying to win the big one but keeps falling short, setting him up to eventually crest that mountain and fulfill his dream. It’s an age-old wrestling story, but also one Danielson has already done. He is a six-time world champion! He already won the big one six times. The narrative of LeBron’s 2012 NBA championship was LeBron overcoming failure and proving himself; that wasn’t the story of his 2020 Lakers bubble title. That story makes sense for Eddie Kingston or Darby Allin; it just seems off for the greatest wrestler in the world, someone who at 41 years old is much closer to the end of his journey than the beginning.
Honorable Mention, Live Edition
Flamita vs. Bandido
Big Lucha, September 23
When I am not writing and podcasting for The Ringer or writing books, I teach the LSAT (DMs are open if you want to go to law school!) and work in admissions at Emory Law School. It’s Law Fair season, and when I saw Mexico City on the docket, I jumped on the chance to double-dip and check out some live lucha libre. While I also got to see a traditional Arena Coliseo CMLL show headlined by the iconic and ageless Negro Casas, the standout match happened on my first night at Big Lucha.
I landed Friday night at the airport, immediately grabbed an Uber with my luggage, and headed to Bandido’s Gym for the Big Lucha show. I arrived at the beginning of a very long elimination gauntlet. As I came in with my roller bag, a lady from the promotion tried to move me into the dressing room, I guess assuming I was there for their Mexico vs. The World bout. (Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my gear. Also, I have no gear, training, or skill).
The pre-main event show was a bit messy but had some really spectacular moments, especially from Gravity (who did a balcony dive) and Komander (who hit a couple of his mind-blowing rope tricks, including doing a pirouette on the top rope). It also had maybe the worst match I have ever seen live with Blue Demon, Dr. Wagner Jr., and Skayde grabbing a giant padded envelope and a commemorative stamp and mailing it in. The main event was the culmination of a year-long feud between Big Lucha (represented by Bandido) and Black Generation (represented by Demonic Flamita). This was coming off their previous show when Black Generation beat up Bandido’s father, and the winner of the bout would be crowned the first Big Lucha World Champion.
While they tossed each other into the crowd and exchanged hard chops, this wasn’t really worked like a blood feud; instead, it was wrestled like a dramatic title match, with big moves and near-falls. Sometimes that match type can feel a bit sterile, but when you add in the atmosphere and the crowd living and dying with each near-fall, it really works.
The match started with both guys exchanging holds and a standoff, until Flamita sent Bandido to the floor, wiping him out with a Tope Con Hilo. They returned to the ring but again spilled to the floor, where Flamita hit a huge monkey flip. They brawled among the crowd (not near me, luckily; I had all my bags), and then returned for a dramatic finishing run. Flamita got a big near-fall on a 450 splash, and Bandido hit a perfect Dragonrana and a 21 Plex for close counts before finally getting the win with a triple rotation La Mistica armbar.
.@bandidowrestler becomes the first ever @BigluchaMx World Champion! One of the most spectacular finishes of the year! 3x Satellite Mistica! pic.twitter.com/943OjaTWQf— Rob (@LuchaGifs) September 24, 2022
Bandido’s Gym has a great atmosphere, loaded with fans who are super enthusiastic about the local products. While there are always some rudo fans who root for Flamita, this was primarily a rabid Bandido crowd. He was a superstar at home fighting his main rival for a title, and the ground shook. Nothing more pro wrestling than that.
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.