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 New Day vs. the Usos
WWE SmackDown, November 11
In the 1980s and ’90s, it was common for tag-team feuds to run for years and years and match after match. The Hart Foundation and Killer Bees had 53 matches between 1985 and 1988, the Hardy Boyz faced off against the Dudley Boyz 37 times between 1999 and 2002 (and that’s just two-on-two matches, not counting the three-ways with Edge and Christian), and, of course, the most famous tag feud of all, the Rock ’n’ Roll Express wrestled the Midnight Express 224 times—their first encounter being in 1984 and their last being in 2011. (And that is just the Dennis Condrey and Bobby Eaton version of the Midnight Express; there were another 68 matches between the Rock ’n’ Rolls and the Stan Lane and Bobby Eaton version of the Midnight Express).
We don’t nearly see that kind of thing in modern wrestling; while it feels like the Young Bucks and the Lucha Brothers are in this long-running storied rivalry, they have had just nine tag matches against each other. The exception to that trend is the feud between the Usos and the New Day: Their match on SmackDown was the 41st tag match between a New Day team and the Uso brothers (there are many more if you factor in three-way and four-way tag matches). The feud started in 2015 and both teams have had their turns as babyfaces and heels—here, the New Day are the babyfaces and the Usos are the Bloodline, which at this point has transcended the dividing line between “heel” and “babyface.”
This match wasn’t just the latest salvo in a legendary rivalry; it was also Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston’s attempt to stop the Usos from breaking their record for longest tag-team title reign. They did a great job of building this record as important to both teams, and the structures of pro wrestling allowed for something pretty unique. Jordan, Pippen, and the ’96 Bulls didn’t get to lace up their sneakers and try to lock up Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to keep them from 73-9. Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris never were able to snap their chinstraps and try to gash the 2007 Patriots defensive line to keep New England from going undefeated. The New Day, however, were right there defending their record in the ring, fighting not only to win the titles but to keep their place in history. Those stakes really added to the match. The work itself was great; you could tell the previous 40 matches had led them to develop a rhythm, but they also threw enough twists in this bout to make it special. After an initial back-and-forth section, the Usos took over, low-bridging Kofi to the floor, whipping him into the barricade, and landing a great-looking tope. The Usos then slowed the match down to that deliberate Bloodline pace, working over Kingston with some hard shots.
After a couple of near misses, Kingston was able to make the tag, which led to a big Woods babyface comeback. This led to some big New Day near falls, including a great-looking top rope leg drop by Woods and a Kingston SOS rollup. The Usos took control with superkicks, and hit Woods with a double Superfly Splash—their pre-Bloodline finisher—leading to a big Woods kickout. Usos then set up for the 1D, but Kingston pulled Jey out and the New Day hit a Midnight Hour on Jey on the floor, and then one in the ring on Jimmy for another intense near fall. Both teams then did a double stare-down hockey fight (which is a spot that has really been done to death lately), Woods goes to the floor and gets super kicked over the barricade. With Woods out of the picture, Kingston was forced to fight off a double superplex attempt only to jump into an elevated 1D for the Uso win.
The New Day had been floundering a bit since Big E’s injury, but when a team has the history they do, it is easy to rehabilitate them for a big spot. They did a great job building up the record as a big deal leading up to this match, and it felt like a real achievement when the Usos were able to get the win. Wrestling at its best is a balance between sport and melodrama. Because the results are predetermined, you can manufacture a huge sports moment, and the record’s fall felt like one of them.
Bryan Danielson vs. Sammy Guevara
AEW Dynamite, November 9
There was a real groundswell among AEW fans for Bryan Danielson to capture the AEW World Championship after the CM Punk situation. Danielson is the best wrestler in the world and has been for decades; many people believed it was time for him to take the reins of the company. That may not be who Danielson is, though. He is a guy who could have coasted on “YES!” chants and WWE-style main events for the rest of his career, but he just wants to go out and have cool long wrestling matches. He is the wrestling equivalent of a punk band who somehow found himself on a major label but is plain uninterested in making a radio hit. Danielson provides an atmosphere where he gets to take talented young wrestlers like Daniel Garcia and Sammy Guevara and have long, interesting, hard-hitting matches while hanging out with William Regal. He has stumbled into his best life and may have very little interest in taking on the pressure of being the face of a wrestling company, especially one like AEW in its current state.
Sammy Guevara is the most polarizing member of the young core in AEW. He comes off as coarse and arrogant, which rubs people the wrong way, and he has certainly been front and center in some of the backstage incidents that have enveloped AEW in the past several months. I am all in on Sammy, though; “handsome, arrogant Zoomer who is more interested in being flashy than in his fundamental skills” is a great wrestling gimmick; the same smirky obnoxiousness that may have made Eddie Kingston and Andrade take a swing at him backstage makes him a compelling performer. It is refreshing to see a wrestler working heel with zero interest in being embraced by fans; Sammy isn’t really doing a postmodern heel thing where the fans boo him because they love him and appreciate his “heeling.” The crowd really seems to hate Sammy, which leads to a great payoff when Danielson gets his hands on him in this best-two-out-of-three falls match.
Danielson came out of the blocks early, lacerating Guevara with chops and hard kicks to the body and sending him to the floor with a hard dropkick to the chest. Tay Melo got in the way to block Danielson from hitting a tope, and Sammy took advantage by winging a chair right in Danielson’s face for the DQ. It was a nasty shot that opened up a cut over Danielson’s eye and left Guevara in a good position despite being down a fall. Guevara then aggravated the cut in between falls by hitting Danielson in the eye with a microphone, all while chewing gum and smirking. He then went into the ring and did snow angels while the crowd chanted “Fuck you, Sammy!” (You have to love his commitment to being a piece of shit.)
Guevara evened things up quickly by dominating the second fall, knocking Danielson loopy with a sick GTH right to his temple to win it, bending the Dragon’s neck at a troubling angle. Guevara kept the assault going in the third fall, locking a crossface across Danielson’s bad eye (and possibly broken nose). Danielson went on a bit of a run after cutting off a dive with a jumping knee, but Guevara took control quickly again, beating up Danielson on the outside, which included a great jumping dropkick to a seated Danielson. A banging of heads sort of reset the match and led to a great finishing run with lots of great counter-wrestling by both guys. Guevara caught a running knee and turned it into a Liontamer, Danielson spun out of multiple GTH attempts grabbing limbs, and Guevara reversed Danielson’s headstomps into an awesome monkey flip springboard somersault DDT, which was a spot I have only ever seen prime Rey Mysterio pull off. The actual finish saw Guevara attempt a Swanton, land hard on Danielson’s knees, and get yanked into a LeBell Lock that saw Danielson adjust and trap Sammy’s arm to add extra torque for the tap.
Just another classic to add to the already-overstuffed résumé of Danielson. He was gone for nearly three years and wrestling fans assumed he would never perform again. Not only did he come back, but there is an argument that his post-injury run has been as great as his pre-injury run, when he had already put together a Hall of Fame–level career. Every match since has been a special gift, and if all we ever get is just Danielson showing up on television twice a month and having stellar matches like this, it is more than any of us could hope for.
Kasey Catal vs. Mickie Knuckles
ICW No Holds Barred Volume 36, November 12
This weekend found the world of deathmatch wrestling on full display, with GCW running the seventh Nick Gage Invitational, XPW headlining a show with SHLAK defending their XPW King of the Deathmatch title against former WWE referee Drake Younger, and ICW No Holds Barred’s latest show being main-evented by a battle of generations featuring the inaugural Queen of the Deathmatch Mickie Knuckles and Kasey Catal (née Kirk), who currently holds the ICW American Deathmatch World Championship.
Knuckles was trained by Ian Rotten and Chris Hero and was a big part of the glory days of IWA-Mid South. She is a nearly 20-year veteran, starting her career in 2003 and winning the first Queen of the Deathmatch in November 2006. She has become much more active in the past couple of years as part of the resurgence of hardcore wrestling. Mickie has a great vibe to her, like the den mother of a biker gang or the biggest fan of a once-successful hair metal band who now mostly plays star fairs.
Kasey Catal is driving down the path paved by women like Mickie Knuckles and LuFisto. As Kasey Kirk, she became the most over act in ICW No Holds Barred, capturing their main belt from Joel Bateman in September. She had been part of a duo with her husband (and fellow deathmatch worker) Brandon Kirk, but after beating Matt Tremont last month she rechristened herself with her maiden name and is refusing Brandon’s help in matches.
Often, this style of wrestling can feel like an exhibition of stunts without any real intensity—Mickie and Kasey fought like they had more at stake than just a belt; this was a battle for who would inherit this red world. Mickie jumped Catal at the bell, setting the tone for the entire match, which had plenty of huge bumps and stunts but also had the gritty feel of a nasty bar fight. Mickie is known for her super stiff headbutts and uppercuts and she landed some corkers, but Catal was also landing forearms to Knuckles’s chest that sounded like a heavyweight boxer hooking a heavy bag. Mickie was trying to prove her relevance in a scene that she helped create but might be passing her by, while Kasey was trying to solidify her sordid throne by defeating the former queen.
Mickie has a big size advantage and she used that size well, landing a hard running hip attack through a bundle of lightubes. Catal was able to shift the momentum by putting Mickie through multiple panes of glass on the floor, including one particularly impactful diving chairshot. Mickie, using her power to reverse momentum, fought back with a spinning black hole slam, a huge release German suplex, and another slam, all three landing on a ring littered with broken glass. However, when Mickie tried to set her up for a superplex through a glass pane, Kasey reversed and dropkicked her through the glass and hit another diving chairshot for the win.
Post-match, an emotional Mickie told Kasey, “I am so proud of you” and “I had to crawl to get here, but watching you walk makes it all worth it.” You don’t expect emotional resonance at the end of a match like this, but it was bizarrely heartwarming. Despite the literal bad place they were both in, it seems like, emotionally, they are now both in good places. It has been great to see Mickie Knuckles return as a relevant figure in wrestling rather than just a cautionary tale.
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.