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Sheamus and Gunther Painted an Ugly Masterpiece (and the Acclaimed Stole the Show)

A huge pro wrestling Labor Day weekend featured a brutal Clash at the Castle and an impressive AEW World Tag Team title match

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.

Sheamus vs. Gunther

WWE Clash at the Castle, September 3

Pro wrestling can be truly beautiful. The grace of El Hijo del Santo floating like a kestrel during a plancha, the thrill of watching a technician like Bryan Danielson or Yoshiaki Fujiwara solve a puzzle made of the limbs of their opponent, the joy of seeing a great babyface wrestler overcome the odds with a crowd living and dying on every punch. But as great as it is to watch something beautiful, sometimes you just want to see something ugly.

Sheamus and Gunther put on a masterpiece of ugly wrestling during WWE Clash at the Castle on Saturday. A ragged, violent, and punishing fight, in which every blow and move felt like a struggle. WWE Intercontinental Champion Gunther is famous for painting purple canvases on the chests of his opponents with his chops. Wrestlers like PCO, Jack Starz, and Ilja Dragunov have all seen their blood vessels burst like grapes. Sheamus’s fish-belly-white skin is the perfect canvas for Gunther; Sheamus bruises badly in a normal match, with competitors that don’t compare to the kind of punishment Gunther would inevitably put him through.

Gunther’s most acclaimed matches (under his previous moniker Walter) against wrestlers like Dragunov, Darby Allin, and Tyler Bate were worked with a David vs. Goliath format. Gunther is a great Goliath—imposing, implacable, and vicious—but this match was more of a King Kong vs. Godzilla–style bout, as he faced off with someone closer in size. Gunther’s shed a lot of his bulk and has more of a CrossFit/protein smoothie body compared to the rugby lock/pitchers of beer body he had as Walter; at this point, Sheamus may have been a bit thicker. Sheamus wasn’t trying to stick and move and look for openings—he was wading in and trying to trade shot for shot with Gunther. The match had the feel of a ’70s heavyweight boxing fight, the wrestling equivalent of Ron Lyle vs. George Foreman: two beasts throwing everything they had at each other until one went down and stayed down, unable to answer the count.

The opening of the match was a great bit of business, with Ludwig Kaiser reintroducing Giovanni Vinci and reforming Imperium, the stable which dominated NXT UK for years. Imperium came to the ring to face off with the Brawling Brutes (the faction comprised of Sheamus, Ridge Holland, and Butch) before the match started. Kaiser and Vinci brawled with Butch and Holland, while Sheamus and Gunther stood there staring daggers at each other. When the bell rang, they just unloaded back and forth with the bruises and welts forming quickly. Gunther took control by side-slamming Sheamus on the steps and then alternating between lacerating chops and forearms and breath-sapping clubs to the back. Sheamus was able to stem the tide when he bounced Gunther’s head off a table, and then toured Gunther around the ring and ringside, hitting his 10 Beats of the Bodhrán forearm smashes on the table, ring apron, and ring barricade. Sheamus ate some big, painful shots in the match but delivered some of his own, including a nasty-looking palm thrust to the face and a concussive kick to the side of Gunther’s head.

The struggle involved in every move in this match really put over the war they were involved in. Nothing was executed easily, or cleanly. Sheamus had to put his entire body into the lift to get Gunther up for the White Noise—you could see the strain in every tendon and muscle. Gunther didn’t land either of his powerbombs cleanly, with the landing on the first one putting a target on Sheamus’s bad back.

I also liked how the match didn’t end with a series of complicated near-falls and reversals; these guys just landed haymaker after haymaker until Gunther clubbed Sheamus with a clothesline and pinned him. It could have been the running Sheamus knee a minute earlier that ended the match, or any of the chops and kicks to the head by either guy earlier. It could easily be Sheamus landing the light-dimming shot next time. Imperium coming back sets up some variation of them and Brawling Brutes just pummeling each other for the next couple of months. I can think of no better way to kill 12 minutes on SmackDown than by unleashing this group of frothing wild men to try to beat each other to death. It is also great to see Sheamus get some well-deserved accolades, as he received a standing ovation from the crowd after the match. He has consistently been one of the best wrestlers in the world for years, but rarely gets a spotlight to really show it; let’s hope they run this match back and he gets to show and prove that fact once again.

Hideki Suzuki vs. Kaito Kiyomiya

NOAH N-1 Victory 2022 Grand Final, September 3

This match was the finals of the N-1 Global Tournament which is Pro Wrestling NOAH’s version of the G1 Climax, a round-robin tournament with the winner getting a shot at current GHC Heavyweight Champion Kenoh.

Kiyomiya is the 26-year-old ace of Pro Wrestling NOAH, the next generation of a lineage that goes through Mitsuharu Misawa, Jumbo Tsuruta, and Giant Baba. He won the 2018 N-1 tournament and went on to win the GHC title at the age of 22, making him the youngest champion in that promotion’s history. He held that title for a little over a year and is looking to regain the belt from his generational rival, Kenoh.

Hideki Suzuki is from a different wrestling heredity. He was trained by the legendary British shooter Billy Robinson in the UWF dojo and started his career in the Inoki Genome Federation, a promotion run by the legendary Antonio Inoki. He has wrestled as a freelancer in Japan as a disciple of both Robinson’s Snake Pit style and the Inokism style of Antonio Inoki. In many ways, this final was Baba’s lineage against Inoki’s, a family feud that dates back to the early days of Japanese wrestling.

Suzuki, who returned to Japan after an abbreviated training stint in NXT, is a grinder, working a methodical pace based on grounding his opponent and controlling him on the mat. Kiyomiya was perfectly willing to go hold for hold with Suzuki, and the first half of the match was built around basic, effective wrestling like headlock takeovers, wristlocks, and hammerlocks. The intensity and technique of both guys elevated the work. These were simple moves done complexly, with Suzuki especially demonstrating an ability to always regain control and add small tweaks to make a move look more painful. Suzuki was the first to break the mat struggle, landing some hard uppercuts and body shots. He then hit a big backbreaker and some forearms on the lower back and kidneys before forcing Kiyomiya to work out of a tight body vice.

Kiyomiya was able to escape and dropkick him to the floor, and then cracked him with a running dropkick on the floor. They got back into the ring and exchanged uppercuts and suplexes before Suzuki hit the one huge highspot of the match, throwing a monstrous side suplex on the ring apron, with Kiyomiya flying high and landing hard. The fact that they built to one big spot made that move mean way more than if it had been one of a dozen huge moves in a row during a spotfest. The impact and force of that move led to an epic finishing run. Suzuki threw Kiyomiya in the ring and hit a top rope butterfly suplex and a penalty kick for a close near-fall. Suzuki went for another butterfly suplex but got dragon screwed by Kiyomiya, who then drilled him with a Shining Wizard knee strike. Kiyomiya went for another Shining Wizard, but Suzuki caught it and rolled beautifully into an STF. After a heated struggle, Kiyomiya was able to fight his way to the ropes. He then got thrown with another butterfly suplex but was able to escape a follow-up butterfly, land a hurricanrana, and then drill Suzuki with two nasty Shining Wizards for the pin.

Suzuki felt like a mountain that Kiyoyama had to struggle to climb, and the struggle he overcame made his victory feel like a real achievement. NOAH is a bit more under the radar compared to other Japanese promotions these days, but Kiyoyama is clearly one of the top under-30 wrestlers in the world, and will be a big part of the next generation of wrestling, while Suzuki will continue to stoically move forward, looking for backs to pulverize and arms to twist.

Swerve in Our Glory vs. The Acclaimed

AEW All Out, September 4

One of the great things about AEW pay-per-views has been that despite one’s thoughts about the booking decisions or story line build, they consistently overdeliver in the ring. All Out, however, was a show where most of the big matches, even when they were excellent, felt like they fell slightly below expectations. In addition, the show as a whole seems overshadowed by CM Punk setting fire to the post-show press conference. However, the AEW World Tag Team title match between Swerve in Our Glory (Swerve Strickland and Keith Lee) and the Acclaimed (Anthony Bowens and Max Caster) totally blew me out of the water. I imagine if folks had taken bets on the match of the night before the show started, this might not have broken the top 10, but that’s why they play the games.

Coming into the match, this was ostensibly “face versus face,” but a minute in the crowd started chanting “Oh, Scissor Me Daddy” in the same cadence of the “Swerve in Our Glory” theme, making it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a 50-50 crowd response. I thought it was very smart of Lee and Strickland to adjust and work the match as straight heels, from Lee refusing Caster’s handshake and jawing with Billy Gunn, to Strickland mocking the scissors gimmick.

The match really pushed itself to the next level when Bowens slipped off the second rope and hurt his knee. It looked like an accident, and was either a clever fake blown spot or a very clever post-botch audible. Strickland viciously went after that knee, throwing Bowens over the top and landing a diving chop block on the floor; Strickland and Lee then hit an awesome-looking combo knee breaker back in the ring. Bowens was a tremendous face in peril—he has great energy and kept selling the bad knee with every move he attempted. Selling a knee well is a tricky thing to do; lots of times wrestlers will just run through their offense unaffected and after they are done will clutch the knee and make a pained face. Bowens however, tried hard to never plant full weight on the leg, and when he did he would stumble and fall.

There was a great moment in the middle of the match when the Acclaimed hit a huge double superplex on Lee, only for Strickland to follow with a Swerve Stomp on Bowens and then viciously rip at his knee. Strickland was a real prick in this match; it was like he reacted to the crowd booing him by giving them something to boo about. Strickland would talk about Bowens being fragile, injury-prone, and letting his partner down in the pre-match buildup, and Bowens felt like he was fighting his way through real pain to prove him wrong.

The Acclaimed got a big near-fall after Caster was able to lift Lee in a fireman’s carry drop in a huge show of power, and then the Acclaimed followed that up with a combo slam and Mic Drop elbow for a 2.9 count which actually had the crowd chanting “bullshit!” when Lee kicked out. Strickland then took Caster out with a Death Valley Driver on the ring apron, which left Bowens to fight two-on-one. He almost pulled it out against all odds when his knee collapsed and he fell down, causing Swerve to miss him and kick Lee, which Bowens followed with a roll-up. I fully thought the roll-up pin was going to do it, but instead we got another agonizing kick-out by Lee and a Lee and Strickland combo double stomp and powerbomb for the win.

The Acclaimed is a fully homegrown AEW team who rose from Dark and Dark: Elevation to a top spot. The relationship with Billy Gunn has spun into gold, and their “Scissor Me Daddy Ass” shirt is a huge seller, not to mention being a gimmick they will be able to milk for years. Bowens will be at a wrestling convention in 30 years scissoring fans for $20 (although with inflation, it will probably be $200). They aren’t just meme wrestlers, though—a classic tag match, with a crowd-favorite babyface team fighting against a vicious team of heels, is one of the match structures with the highest floor and ceiling, and the Acclaimed were the Rock ’n’ Roll Express in this match. Give a lot of credit to Strickland and Lee for realizing that they needed to be the Anderson brothers.

It has seemed likely for a while that Strickland will eventually turn heel on Lee—and he was definitely the most vicious of the two in this match—but as a team, they were so good here that I would like them both to just turn heel. Lee has a natural condescension in his interview style, almost like a 2020s Nick Bockwinkel, and I really like him telling the Acclaimed to pull their pants up and stop their silly rapping, like he was their father. When you hit oil like AEW did with this matchup, you keep drilling; I can’t wait to see a rematch with the Acclaimed eventually winning the titles.

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.