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.
Jericho Appreciation Society (Chris Jericho/Jake Hager/Matt Menard/Angelo Parker/Daniel Garcia) vs. Blackpool Combat Club (Bryan Danielson/Jon Moxley), Eddie Kingston, Santana and Ortiz
AEW Double or Nothing, Anarchy in the Arena match, May 29
A five-on-five brawl throughout the stadium, with weapons, copious amounts of blood, and carefully stage-managed chaos—in some sense it was barely a wrestling match, but in another sense it was exactly what a wrestling match should be. There’s a long history of anything-goes brawls that spill out into the crowd (and beyond), and this delivered perfectly. All 10 wrestlers approached this like they were fighting for their lives, and they kept that intensity throughout. When matches like this fail, guys are walking around the arena holding each other by the hair, setting up whatever big stunt they planned out with big pauses before the moments. In this match, every wrestler kept every second violent.
I got excited when I saw the Jericho Appreciation Society come out for the match in their all-white matching Backstreet Boys “I Want It That Way” video outfits—it was a great veteran move by Jericho to wear white to an abattoir. I also adored the ECW-era New Jack tribute with “Wild Thing” playing on repeat for the first 10 minutes of the match—it really gave the match a wild energy, amped the crowd up, and gave Jericho a big heel moment when he ripped out the soundboard to stop the song.
The match quickly turned into a race to see who could donate the most blood to their clothes and the arena floor. Matt Menard broke out to an early lead after getting a fork jabbed in his head—he looked like he’d bobbed for apples in a bucket full of marinara sauce. Bryan Danielson put in his application later in the match, when it looked like a mafia barber tried to slice his neck with a straight razor, and by the end of the match Eddie Kingston looked like he was stumbling away from a train derailment.
The match was filmed like an epic battle scene from a movie, like the Battle of Aqaba in Lawrence of Arabia. The camera would shift constantly from Chris Jericho trying to jab Moxley’s eye out with the stem of a pair of sunglasses, to Garcia dragging Kingston around the concourse by a belt around his neck, to Santana and Ortiz setting up a crazy table spot. The viewer never got settled—a new horror was right around every corner. Jericho wasn’t the flashiest performer in this match, but he was tremendous as the aging egomaniac who found himself floundering in deep waters, and he had a constant look of aghast befuddlement on his face as he watched the havoc he’d wrought. Daniel Garcia is the youngest guy in the match and fought like a jacked-up kid, intense, fast and reckless—he hasn’t paid the wages of war like the other guys in this match, and he still had the brashness of someone with the best parts of life ahead of him.
My God, what a moment for Eddie Kingston—on the preshow he cut an all-time promo when he discussed how this feud with Jericho has derailed him emotionally. “I drink to drown my demons, but they know how to swim,” he said, and he wrestled this match like a man going through a dissociative episode. The end of the match saw Moxley and Danielson isolating Jericho and Hager in the ring, ready to finish them off. Danielson had Jericho tied up in the LeBell lock, and Eddie came staggering down the aisle, covered in gore, holding a gas can looking like the last survivor of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It was one of the great visuals in wrestling history. Eddie splashed gasoline on both Jericho and Danielson and tried to light Jericho on fire, only for Danielson to tackle him and save Jericho’s life. This eventually led to Danielson and Kingston brawling, Moxley getting thrown into a sheet of barbed wire, and Danielson falling to the numbers game and getting choked out by the ring rope.
The great Tarzan Goto passed away this weekend, and this served as an inadvertent memorial tribute to the kind of wild wars he had in FMW and various other Japanese promotions. The history of wrestling was written in the blood-soaked floors of Korakuen Hall, Arena Naucalpan, Roberto Clemente Stadium, Tupelo Sports Arena, and countless other VFW halls and community center gyms. These 10 wrestlers brought that grimy, ugly spirit to T-Mobile Arena and harkened back to those smaller but somehow bigger days.
CM Punk vs. Hangman Adam Page
AEW Double or Nothing, AEW World Heavyweight Championship match, May 29
While the Anarchy in the Arena match was hyper-violent perfection, we also had a big-time world title change in the main event. A hard-fought battle that made up for what it lacked in precision with what it delivered in intensity and struggle. Adam Page’s AEW story arc has been all about battling his own self-doubt. The insidious thing about imposter syndrome is that it can get worse the more you achieve. Page won the world title and defended it against the top contenders in big PPV main events, but his biggest enemy is always himself. The build to this match has been all about CM Punk subtly undermining his confidence. It has all been under-the-surface trolling: complimenting Page on his achievement, but confidently asserting his own superiority. Nothing overt, but a smirk here, a little bit of applause there, a condescending pat on the back to top things off. Page came into this match boiling over and the fact that Punk met that fury with faux humility made him even angrier.
The match began with a real intense physicality, both guys landing skin-blistering chops, both the knife-edged and open-hand varieties, and the physical toll of the early part of the match made the raggedness of the final part feel earned. The crowd was split between the two contestants, and Page’s demeanor was great—he seemed totally flummoxed that the crowd was cheering Punk. With each look it felt like he was saying to the crowd “You’re buying this guy’s bullshit?” It felt the way an opposing point guard might feel about Chris Paul at the end of a seven-game series. At one point Page dropped Punk with a thumping rolling elbow, looked down at him in disgust, and waved to the crowd to cheer him some more.
Punk is a master at exploiting mistakes, and he used Page’s first Orihara moonsault attempt to land a superplex and Page’s second attempt to try a buckshot lariat—Punk attempted it twice, but blew the spot both times. It clearly wasn’t what he was intending, but it kind of worked within the story of the match, in which hubris was the fatal flaw of both men. The final stanza devolved a bit into unnecessary forearm exchanges, a string of millisecond-close near falls, and the crisis-of-conscience finish—with Page trying to decide whether to use his championship belt as a weapon or not—which is something that we saw so frequently in NXT 1.0 that it began to lose meaning. It doesn’t make it an empty moment, but it didn’t live up to the nuance the feud had established to that point.
Still, I like what this sets up. Page lost the title because he wouldn’t go far enough, and that clearly sets up a dark turn in his personality. As good as this match was, a rematch with Adam Page luxuriating in his disdain for Punk and abandoning his principles will be even better.
Charlie Dempsey vs. A-Kid
WWE NXT UK, May 26
I’ve written a lot about NXT-UK and how it serves as this bizarre pocket universe of the WWE, where the traditional rules of the promotion don’t apply. I don’t think that has ever been more true than this match. Here we have a long British Rounds match, where the first half was conducted almost entirely on the mat while the second half had some absolutely brutal strikes and sheer head-drop suplexes. This resembled nothing else in the WWE currently, and few things in the history of the promotion (there was a William Regal vs. Chris Benoit match on Velocity that was stylistically similar but didn’t get this much time, and Bryan Danielson got to work a long mat-based match against Drew Gulak at Elimination Chamber 2020, but it didn’t have the same level of brutality). There is some real value to being totally ignored.
A-Kid is a 25 year old Spanish wrestler who ended up on the radar of wrestling fans when Dave Meltzer gave a match between him and Zach Sabre Jr. on a Madrid indie show in 2018 a five-star rating, calling it a “perfect wrestling match”. This got A-Kid on bigger independent shows like Progress Wrestling in the U.K. and Pro Wrestling Guerilla in the U.S., and he got signed to the NXT UK brand in 2019. As good as the Sabre Jr. match was, this one was a step above it, and it is wild that a Spanish indie match may end up more high profile then one on a WWE show on the WWE Network.
Charlie Dempsey is the son of William Regal. Outside of a handful of small European indie matches, he has wrestled almost exclusively on NXT UK. This was his ninth match in the WWE, and only the 38th match of his career. Judging by the quality we’ve seen from him in NXT UK, that is a nuclear ascent, and he was incredible here. William Regal is one of my favorite wrestlers ever and I am not sure he had more than a dozen matches in his career this good.
The match was conducted in six three-minute rounds, with the first wrestler to two falls declared the winner. It’s a novel kind of throwback format; there’s a Heritage title in NXT UK which is defended with similar rules–A-Kid was the first champion, but the belt is currently held by Noam Dar. The early rounds of this match were almost entirely grappling, with Dempsey really showing what he can do. He hit arm drags and leg throws where he put himself in almost a full bridge with the throw—just beautiful stuff. He also broke out a Cattle Mutilation variation where he trapped A-Kid’s arm in a hammerlock with his foot before bridging into the chinlock—really awesome submission work, which is both unique and plausible. You might get one or another, but rarely do you get both. Dempsey is great at small details, and this match had plenty of huge moments, but my favorite thing might have been when Dempsey ground his knee into A-Kid’s forearm and pulled up on his wrist and hand, bending it at an awkward angle—it was simple but painful-looking. A-Kid also delivered on the mat, hitting a bridging chicken wing, an Imanari Roll into a kneebar, and a smooth transition from a rear naked choke into a guillotine.
They used the end of the rounds cleverly in this match. Dempsey ended the second on a nasty twisting backbreaker, and A-Kid absolutely spiked Dempsey on springboard-flipping DDT to end the fifth, but time ran out before the three counts on both. Dempsey was able to get the first fall in the third round, floating over into a nasty bow-and-arrow submission where he nearly touched A-Kid’s heel to the back of his head, and A-Kid tapped fast to avoid too much punishment. The match got punchy after that with some big back and forth strikes, including some jaw-jacking uppercuts by Dempsey and powerful jumping kicks by A-Kid, one that cut Dempsey over the eye and another that dropped him, giving A-Kid the second fall. Dempsey was on goofy street in the last round after he was drilled with the DDT, but broke out some of the Regal family guile: He grabbed a towel, threw it into the ring, and as the ref removed it, he tossed A-Kid a pair of brass knuckles, then as the ref was disarming A-Kid, Dempsey drilled him with a right hand and landed a bridging Regalplex for the pin. It was a fun bit of shenanigans to end a match that was otherwise deadly serious, and shows that Dempsey may have some sizzle to go along with his impeccable steak.
I am not sure where either of these guys can go from here—both are talented, both are young, but A-Kid is pretty small. Dempsey is already great at what he does, but I don’t know if there is a place in the larger WWE for that thing. It feels like he should get released and go have Wheeler Yuta’s career. Still the inevitable Ilja Dragunov match will be awesome if he stays in NXT UK. It’s always very exciting to see a new wrestler with this much promise, and I am in to watch whatever he does going forward.
Asuka vs. Becky Lynch
WWE Monday Night Raw, May 23
I told myself I had covered NXT UK enough and that I would move on to the mainstream WWE product, but the Dempsey-A-Kid match got the best of me. But there was good wrestling in WWE proper this week. and so I wanted to give some shine to this bout—a headline match on Raw with two of the world’s preeminent female wrestlers giving their all.
Asuka has been the most successful Japanese wrestler in the history of the WWE, beginning her WWE career with a two-and-a-half year undefeated streak, winning the Royal Rumble, being a two-time Raw women’s champion and one-time Smackdown champion. She has basically been sidelined for the last year, first by injury and then by the dreaded “creative has nothing for you” curse. With the women’s division of the WWE being thrown into utter chaos by the Sasha Banks and Naomi work stoppage, Asuka is the perfect wrestler to bring it some stability. This match was built around Becky Lynch attempting to insert herself in the women’s title match at the Hell in a Cell premium live event, and Lynch wrestled the match with the ferocity of the stakes.
Becky pushed pace impressively in this match–she was almost always moving forward, throwing punches, attempting clotheslines, forcing Asuka into being a counter puncher. Asuka is great at counterpunching; she landed some hard strikes and crunched Becky with a big snap German suplex, really dominating the match from her back foot. However, the story of the match was that Becky speeding things up caused Asuka to make her big mistake: she threw Lynch into Raw champ Bianca Belair, who was seated at ringside, and then went for a big kick on Lynch but missed and accidentally KO’ed Bianca. This allowed Becky to get into the ring first, and roll up Asuka when she dove in to avoid a countout. Three-way matches are never as appealing as regular one-on-one matches, but Becky has been integrating desperation into her ring work in a really interesting way and Bianca and Asuka are such compelling performers, there is really no way for the PPV match not to deliver.
Sasha Banks is such a one-of-a-kind performer and Naomi has such a connection to the audience that you would expect their departure to be a huge blow to WWE, but you wouldn’t know it from this storyline. That’s a real advantage to having such a deep bench. You can just grab Asuka off the shelf, dust her off and throw her right in the title picture without really missing a beat.
Slade vs. 1 Called Manders
Limitless Wrestling, May 28
This was a no-rules street fight between two of the toughest, meanest guys in indie wrestling. Hard, nasty fighting full of uncalled-for chair shots to the head and hard-winging forearms and kicks.
Manders played linebacker at the University of Iowa, and was convinced to try pro wrestling by fellow Iowa football alumnus Ettore Ewen (Big E). He was trained at the Black and Brave Academy by Marek Brave and Tyler Black (aka Seth Rollins). He comes into the ring with a black cowboy hat and cowbell and wrestles like a throwback to old-school ‘80s and ‘90s All Japan Pro Wrestling cowboys like Stan Hansen and Bobby Duncum. If Giant Baba was still alive he would have a job for life.
Slade is an old-school wrestling enigma. He’s listed as being from Rikers Island and comes to the ring in blue jeans and a farmer’s tan. He has a pair of the greatest dead glassy psychopath eyes in wrestling. He isn’t a big guy, but in a bar you would rather fight the Big Ten Football linebacker than this wiry guy in the corner who would absolutely open up your throat with a broken vodka bottle.
The match started in the aisle with both guys throwing heat at each other and got uncalled-for very quickly, with Manders running across the arena only to get met with a chair between the eyes. Two more nasty chair shots later Manders started leaking blood. They went back and forth with big weapons shots, including Manders lariating a chair into Slade’s face and splintering a table with a running powerslam. Sometimes you just want to see two tough guys have a fist fight, and this was the perfect match for a time like that. The match really went to the next level at the end, when Manders set up two chairs with the backs together, and went to powerslam Slade on the backs. Slade slipped out, and hit two chokeslams on those chair backs, with the second one bending the back of the chair down at a gruesome angle. It looked like the kind of thing that would lacerate a liver and puncture a pancreas. Slade then handcuffed his own hands together and choked out Manders with the chain. It was an incredible visual—Manders’s eyes bugging out, blood running down his face, life draining out of him, while Slade sociopathicaly smirks as he attempts murder. It looked like a convict murdering a guard during a horror film prison riot—the body on the floor would just be the start. In a world where so many wrestlers, especially on the indies, have parasocial relationships with their fans, it is nice to still have a guy you would cross the street to avoid if you saw him on your sidewalk.
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.