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.
Bryan Danielson vs. Daniel Garcia
AEW Dynamite (July 27, 2022)
Pushing a young wrestler can be a perilous thing. It is like picking fruit: If you pick a nectarine too early, it is going to be sour, but if you leave it too long, it rots on the vine. We have all seen wrestlers get the Icarus push, where they fly closer to the sun than their wings will allow (I am a little concerned about how melty Theory’s wax wings look right now, for example). We have also seen talented wrestlers stuck in limbo so long that when the promotion finally gets behind them, the midcard stench can’t be washed off.
At 23 years old, Daniel Garcia is clearly one of the blue-chip prospects in the wrestling world. AEW doesn’t have a developmental league like NXT, so their job is trickier: They need to develop their talent under the same hot lights as the main eventers. Garcia started as a lackey and tag partner of his upstate New York indie brethren 2point0 and has been given bigger opportunities as a member of the Jericho Appreciation Society (JAS). As part of JAS’s feud with Eddie Kingston and the Blackpool Combat Club, Garcia has been part of a couple of the acclaimed multi-man matches, having an especially great performance in Anarchy in the Arena. He’s also had singles matches against big stars like Kingston, Darby Allin, CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, and Jon Moxley, along with a showcase match against fellow young lion Wheeler Yuta at the last Ring of Honor pay-per-view. He has been very competitive in all of those matches, but prior to Wednesday he was still winless in singles matches on Dynamite, Rampage, or pay-per-view (he has several singles match wins on AEW Dark and AEW Dark: Elevation that are much lower profile). When Garcia was announced as the return opponent for Danielson in the main event of Dynamite, I think most people assumed that Garcia would be dealt another competitive, hard-fought loss. Danielson would make him look good, give him some moments, and tap him out. However, AEW decided that now was the time to pick the fruit.
During his successful WWE run, Daniel Bryan was booked as a talented underdog who could use skill and unmatched heart to outkick his coverage and reach heights he shouldn’t have been able to scale. Bryan Danielson in AEW has been booked very differently. He is the best wrestler in the world, one of the best wrestlers of all time, and anyone in the ring with him is going to be outclassed. The Dragon can be beaten, but anyone who does it is going to have to crawl over a desert of broken glass and scorpions to get there. Beating Danielson in AEW is beating the best, and no matter the circumstances, that win means something.
Danielson came out super aggressive, jumping Garcia and working him over with hard body kicks and his jumping dropkick in the corner. Outside of a couple of nice hammerfists by Garcia, Danielson was steamrolling him. Then he went to the top rope and landed a dropkick, but banged hard on the back of his head.
Danielson retired from wrestling for two years because of concussion-related symptoms. At the time of his retirement, he had suffered 10 documented concussions and doctors discovered a lesion on his brain. In this match, he was returning from a three-month absence rumored to have been the result of an additional serious concussion. A bump from a similar top-rope dropkick is what caused him to lose feeling in his limbs in a Raw match against Randy Orton in 2013. Danielson fans must view every match he’s had since his return from retirement in 2018 as a gift, but each of those matches has a shadow over it. Danielson loves wrestling, he does it as well as anyone in history, and he almost assuredly shouldn’t be doing it.
Great art can be uncomfortable, and there is something very uncomfortable about watching Danielson lie glassy-eyed on the mat, his real-life trauma being used as a storytelling device. Still, what a masterful story it told. You could see Garcia working through his initial hesitation before launching an attack on the head. Garcia came back from a car accident that nearly ended his life and cost him six months of his young career. Garcia knows that it can be all taken from him, but he is a young lion that hasn’t had his chance to lead the pride, and if he needs to put Danielson down to do it, he will. Garcia pulled back the mats outside the ring and dropped Danielson headfirst on the concrete, opening a gash on his forehead. Garcia then went to work on that cut and the injured head, and Danielson did a tremendous job selling the damage: at one point Garcia hit a headbutt and Danielson just slowly collapsed, laying his head on the mat.
Danielson was able to get back in the match when he reversed a superplex attempt into a top-rope back suplex. Danielson sold it like he might have gotten a stinger, but slowing down Garcia allowed him to get his legs back, and it was a competitive match after that. Both wrestlers delivered some great reversals on the mat; I especially dug Garcia using a monkey flip to escape Danielson’s head stomps and maneuver Danielson into a cross armbreaker. The finish saw Danielson go on a bit of roll, only for Jake Hager to grab Danielson’s foot, distracting him enough for Garcia to land a nasty piledriver and a lean-back sharpshooter to make Danielson pass out. This is obviously huge for Garcia, who in one match has elevated himself to the top of AEW; Danielson doesn’t lose (often) in AEW, and Garcia made him pass out from the pain.
I am not sure how you book a wrestler with post-concussion syndrome. Traditional Japanese booking will often have a top star lose his first match back to show the importance of rust, but that usually isn’t because of a damaged brain. I am not sure that AEW can ethically justify potentially aggravating Danielson’s past injuries like they were a bad knee. I could see the Dragon back on the shelf for a while, only to come back for hellacious revenge. However they book it, Garcia vs. Danielson III has become one of the most anticipated matches in current wrestling. They have sold me the ticket.
Black Taurus, Gringo Loco, and Jack Cartwheel vs. ASF, Komander, and Laredo Kid
GCW The People vs. GCW (July 29, 2022)
There was a mini-WrestleMania weekend in Nashville this past weekend in conjunction with WWE SummerSlam. The biggest show was Starrcast running a stacked event for Ric Flair’s Last Match, but there were also shows by Black Label Pro, New Japan USA, and GCW. One of the first big Mania weekend shows was in 2006 when Ring of Honor ran Supercard of Honor in Chicago the same weekend as WrestleMania 22. ROH imported six wrestlers from the Dragon Gate promotion in Japan. Do Fixer (Dragon Kid, Genki Horiguchi, and Ryo Saito) took on the Blood Generation team (CIMA, Masato Yoshino, and Naruki Doi) and had a spot-heavy trios match which was given five stars by the Wrestling Observer and set a template for that kind of match as an indie wrestling showcase.
GCW has been running six-man lucha tag matches that are in the spirit of WCW lucha matches of the ’90s and those Dragon Gate trios matches of the mid-2000s: wild move after wild move, with wrestlers pulling off unbelievable spots with ease. No vegetables, all dessert.
The rudo team consisted of Jack Cartwheel, a jacked-up former gymnast who is the master of the titular cartwheel (in this match he cartwheels twice while holding Komander and then spins him into a powerbomb); Black Taurus, a powerhouse AAA luchador built like a dorm fridge and sporting a menacing black mask; and Gringo Loco, a Chicago native who trained in the legendary IWRG school in Mexico and serves as the conductor of these wild spot-fest symphonies.
The técnico team had Texas indie luchador ASF, who is an evolutionary version of Rey Mysterio; Laredo Kid, a young veteran highflier who has been paired with Taurus in Impact Wrestling and teamed with the Lucha Brothers in AEW; and Komander, who is currently the hottest aerialist in the world and a master at running the top rope like a tightrope.
These matches are about the wild spots, and this had the most GIFable spots of any match GCW has run—just risky move after risky move. Loco and ASF have been paired up in GCW and the indies as both partners and opponents, and that familiarity really showed. Early in the match, ASF hit a front flip dive to the floor into a spinning rana, something you can only pull off with a dance partner you have battled with a lot. Near the end of the match, he ripped off a dragon rana, which looked like something on fast-forward. Black Taurus and Laredo Kid are also frequent opponents, including in a fun series on Impact; they had a bunch of interactions, including an incredible moment when Taurus tried to flip Laredo into a torture rack backbreaker only to get spiked with a nasty crucifix bomb.
Komander was the star, as he clearly saw this match as an opportunity to make his name in the U.S. He hit three of his wild rope tricks; the first saw him run across the top rope, leap from one corner to the other and spring off into a stratospheric flip dive. He then walked the rope into a shooting star press into the ring and finally ran the top rope again to cut off Gringo Loco and hit a sunset flip powerbomb.
Komander’s balance is incredible; it feels like the kind of thing a kid would do with a wrestling toy but nothing an actual human being would be able to pull off. Loco is clearly a mad scientist; each time GCW runs one of these matches, they try to top themselves, putting intense spins on wild spots they’ve done before, and Loco is the constant. This match was the apex of what GCW has been working toward, although I am amped to see them try to top it.
Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns
WWE SummerSlam (July 30, 2022)
John Mulaney is famous for emptying out his notebook of old rejected sketches when he comes back to host Saturday Night Live after years of working as a head writer. Now that he has the juice, he can load up “Diner Lobster” or “Airport Sushi” after years of being knocked down in pitch meetings. I can just imagine Triple H getting the word he was put in charge of creative, pulling out his old booking notebook, and yelling out “TRACTOR!!”
Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns probably weren’t the first choice for this year’s SummerSlam main event—injuries to Cody Rhodes and Randy Orton seemingly led the WWE to go to its default backup plan and call in Lesnar, running back a ’Mania main event that felt pretty decisive when it happened. (During the brief period post-Vince retirement when it looked like Lesnar might walk, WWE was allegedly going back to its Plan C and calling in Goldberg to replace him, and I am sure the Undertaker was stretching and waiting by his phone in case Goldberg twisted his knee.) Reigns vs. Lesnar is a match that didn’t seem to have a lot of new notes to play, but instead of just another retread, they leaned into chaos to deliver something memorable, easily their best match against each other since WrestleMania 31 in 2015.
Lesnar came down to the ring driving a huge tractor and started the match by diving off the front loader shovel with a Thez press onto Reigns. That chaotic energy was kept throughout the match. Lesnar dominated early, throwing hard belly-to-bellys on the floor, including one off the stairs, and even threw Reigns off a stage into a cameraman. After taking a big beating, Reigns was able to use a distraction by a creeping Paul Heyman to Samoan drop Lesnar through a table, cutting up his back. The match went into the ring and they did some “greatest hits” spots from their previous matches, with attempted spears, F5s, and Superman punches, but just when I thought it would go out with a whimper, it went with a bang. Lesnar hit a flapjack through a broken piece of table, which looked like it gave Reigns whiplash, and then climbed back into the tractor, lifting Reigns up with the shovel, and dumping him into the ring. Lesnar then hit a couple of F5s and suplexes and put Reigns down with a triangle choke.
When Reigns beat the count, Lesnar went back to the tractor and in one of the single wildest moments I can remember, used the front loader to upend and flip the entire ring on its side, sending Reigns ass over tea kettle out of the ring. The Usos then ran out only to get chucked recklessly by Lesnar, including Jey taking a belly-to-belly on his face, Necro Butcher vs. Samoa Joe–style. The ringside mats were crumpled up and it looked like a climactic action movie fight in the rubble of an exploded building.
Heyman did a tremendous job begging Brock for mercy (“He is my meal ticket, he is how I feed my children”) only to get F5’d through a table, which is a ridiculous bump for a 56-year-old man with a history of neck problems. That allowed Reigns a chance to spear Brock, leaving both men laid out. That led to an attempted Theory Money in the Bank cash-in (how do you cash in on Last Man Standing match? Just stand there?), only for Lesnar to wreck him once again, which feels like an ongoing rib at this point. Reigns then pounded on Lesnar with chairs and the briefcase, and Lesnar did his awesome selling thing where his body turns multiple colors like a chameleon as he continued to stagger to his feet. Eventually, the Bloodline just buried him under the various rubble, and Reigns stood on top of a purpling Lesnar, who was trapped underneath broken tables and chairs. Lesnar lost again, but came off like a total star, in a way he hasn’t in a while. WWE billed this as the last match, but I can’t imagine it won’t run this back again when it’s in a pickle, and if they deliver something this great I wouldn’t mind it in the least.
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.