There’s more great pro wrestling in 2023 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.
Bayley vs. Becky Lynch
WWE Raw, February 6
This cage match was a redo of a failed attempt to run this match on the 30th-anniversary Raw show last month. That match was cut for time, but they got the Raw main event spot here and plenty of time to work. This iteration of the Becky Lynch–Bayley feud has been going on since Lynch’s return as part of Bianca Belair’s WarGames team at Survivor Series, with Bayley and her Damage CTRL partners jumping Lynch any chance they get. Their overall rivalry dates back to NXT in 2014, when Lynch turned heel on her former tag partner Bayley and joined up with Sasha Banks to feud with Bayley and then-babyface Charlotte Flair. That Four Horsewomen era of NXT was really what launched this current boom in American women’s wrestling, and the four women involved became some of the biggest stars—male or female—in 21st-century pro wrestling. Bayley would return the favor five years later when she attacked Lynch with a chair, turning heel for the first time in her career and starting her amazing transition from a beloved kids’ idol, the babyface “I’m a Hugger” Bayley, to the sour-faced, hated heel she currently plays. There is some poetic justice to the fact that this round of the feud—a brutal cage match—came in Orlando, Florida, the home of NXT and the place where their WWE careers and relationship began.
Current WWE cage matches are usually worked more like ladder matches; the cage is a structure to use for highspots—a platform for spectacular moments more than for anything violent, Jimmy Snuka’s Superfly splash from atop the steel cage taken to its logical extreme. This is in contrast to the old-school cage matches of the ’70s and ’80s, when the cage was primarily used as a way to lock hated rivals in with each other and a punishing weapon to batter and bruise the opponent. This match was much closer to the old-school style (without the blood), as it was a hard-hitting, hate-filled match, both women throwing stiff fists and kicks and slamming each other hard into the enclosure.
The match opened with some trash talk, leading Lynch to start throwing some really nice-looking hockey-fight right hands at Bayley, only for Bayley to cut her off with a kick to the patella. After each blocked the other’s initial attempts to slam their opponent into the cage, Lynch was the first person to taste steel, landing awkwardly on the cage. The bumps in this match felt a little ragged, adding to the sense of danger and violence. Bayley attempted to make an early escape by climbing the fence, but her ascent was soon haulted when Lynch drop-kicked the cage. This caused Bayley to lose her balance and fall to the mat, clipping the top rope on the way down. Lynch then sent Bayley into the cage twice, and as Bayley was lying on the mat, stunned, Lynch sandwiched her into the cage two more times with a dropkick.
There were several really nasty battles on the top rope, where they slammed each other into the sides of the cage and teetered precariously, leading to falls from the top that felt unplanned and unprotected. I really liked Bayley countering a leg drop with a poorly applied knee bar (they even called out the lack of technique in the commentary); it felt like what someone would do if they were fighting for their lives. Bayley doesn’t know jiujitsu, but she’ll grab on to a knee and try to twist it off anyway. After the knee bar, they went back to brawling on the middle of the top rope, which led to Bayley hitting a super Bayley-to-Belly for a near fall. They then climbed all the way to the top of the cage and started fighting up there; all the falls from the top earlier in the match set up the danger of this moment. It almost felt like a scaffold match—every strike could lead to a terrible end. Lynch was able to lock on her Dis-arm-her Fujiwara armbar on the top of the cage, which caused Bayley to fall. But before Lynch could escape the cage, Damage CTRL’s Iyo Sky climbed to the top to cut her off, and then Dakota Kai threw in a crutch for Bayley to use. Soon, Lita’s music hit, and the early-2000s icon came down to clean house, taking out Damage CTRL and slamming the steel door on Bayley’s head. Bayley then did a Man-handle Slam and a pin.
I didn’t love the run-in; they were doing some pretty great stuff between the two of them and didn’t need to be upstaged by a nostalgia act. It’s WrestleMania season, though, and I am happy that the rumored Becky Lynch, Lita, and Trish Stratus–Damage CTRL match appears to be going down. Lynch, Bayley, and Damage CTRL have been doing great work all year and deserve a high-profile slot.
Bryan Danielson vs. Rush
AEW Dynamite, February 8
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Bryan Danielson’s love of lucha libre mat wrestling and how he got to scratch some of that itch in his awesome match with Bandido. However, lucha libre contains a multitude of styles, including high-flying, intricate mat wrestling as well as brutal, bloody brawls. In El Paso on Dynamite this week, Danielson went nose to nose and blow to blow with El Toro Blanco Rush in a nasty brawl that would have felt right at home in the middle of the 1980s, when both wrestlers’ hair would have been on the line.
Rush is one of the best brawlers in the world, a tank of a man who hits like a lumberjack felling a tree. He is the latest in a long tradition of Mexican brawlers—not only luchadores like Sangre Chicana, Perro Aguayo, and L.A. Park, but also boxers like Juan Manuel Márquez, Rubén Olivares, and Julio César Chávez. No give, no back foot, just full-force forward movement, with every shot looking to send his opponent to the mortuary.
There was a bunch of pre-match mishigas: MJF paid José the Assistant and Preston Vance to lock Danielson in his locker room while MJF harangued Aubrey Edwards to count faster in an effort to get Danielson counted out of this match. That was all moot once Danielson hit the ring; Danielson and Rush immediately started ripping into each other. This highlighted one of the things that makes Danielson an all-time great: his eagerness to match his opponents’ strengths. Rush started laying in these huge bass drum chops, and you could see the glee on Danielson’s face as he fired back with equal force.
Rush hurled Danielson to the floor and cracked him with a running dropkick that bounced Danielson’s head off the metal ring barrier. This opened a cut on Danielson’s head that Rush ripped at, widening the wound with his fingers (this was followed by Rush licking Danielson’s blood off his palm). They moved to the ring apron, exchanging chops and slaps that elevated in intensity and force until Rush threw Danielson belly-to-belly off the apron. The Dragon landed hard on his tailbone, spraying blood on the camera lens.
Did not even notice till now that when Danielson got belly to belly’d to the outside droplets of blood splashed on the camera lens wtf— Wrassle Hoss (@wrasslehoss) February 9, 2023
This might be may fav match of the night #AEWDynamite pic.twitter.com/K7ne2WWIYh
Rush continued the beating through the commercial break, switching between thundering shots and taunting, giving himself a shower with a water bottle, and lounging on the mat after stomping Danielson on his bloody head. Danielson was able to grab an arm to shoot for a LeBell Lock, but Rush was able to get to the ropes before he locked it on. Rush took a powder to the floor and walked away from a Danielson dive, only to get drilled when Danielson switched directions and cracked him with an El Hijo del Santo–style tope past the ring post. He hit Rush with a dropkick on the floor and another top rope dropkick but made the mistake of trying to trade fists with Rush again; the power punching of El Toro Blanco wore Danielson out. After a jumping forearm, Rush hit a pile driver, nearly ending Danielson’s quest for a title shot. Danielson kicked out and then caught him with a Busaiku Knee, cutting off a running dropkick for a near-fall of his own. Somehow, they just went back to it, smashing each other with forearms, and when they got tired of that, they started slamming their heads into each other until Rush dropped Danielson with a concussive slap. Rush went for a German suplex, but Danielson flipped out and drilled him with another Busaiku Knee for the sudden three count. It felt more like a respite than a finish, as we could have easily seen them just get back up and pound on each other for another hour.
This is yet another link on the great match chain Danielson has been building for 20 years now. Rush is currently the best in the world at what he does, and Danielson showed up willing to match him, blow for blow. Dragon looked like he had been brawling in Corona-soaked Tijuana ring aisles his entire career. Rush looked incredible as well; he has delivered in every match he’s had in AEW, but this was the first time he really captured the magic he had with Negro Casas or L.A. Park in Mexico, a.k.a. the wars that made him such a phenomenon. This match was primarily part of the MJF vs. Danielson story, but when that is over, I want AEW to run this match back. A wrestling superfan like Danielson has to have a big-time luchas de apuestas on his bucket list. AEW needs to book a big Mexico City show and run Rush vs. Danielson, cabellera contra cabellera, and really let them sizzle.
Lio Rush vs. Kylon King
Wrestling Open, February 9
Wrestling Open is a promotion that runs a weekly Thursday night show on IWTV from the White Eagle in Worcester, Massachusetts. They are an offshoot of longtime indie promotion Beyond Wrestling, focused primarily on new talent, and have grown a stable of young wrestlers who have developed quickly with regular ring time. Kylon King is one half of the Miracle Generation tag team, who got to the finals of the T3: Territory Tag Team Tournament. This was the biggest singles match of King’s career, taking on Lio Rush almost two weeks after Rush defeated his tag partner, Dustin Waller.
Lio Rush is in the very top tier of wrestlers when it comes to crispness and execution. He is incredibly fast and has a real snap to the application of his moves; his work mirrors the explosiveness of a Ja Morant. His matches do have a tendency to veer into indie overkill territory, which is why I have tended to enjoy him more in a promotion with guardrails like WWE than in his indie matches. His pre-pandemic NXT Cruiserweight title reign was one of the more under-the-radar runs of the past decade, he had some absolute killers with Oney Lorcan, Drew Gulak, Angel Garza, and Jordan Devlin before being released in WWE’s wave of COVID-19 era budget cuts. Rush had short stints in AEW and even in the MTV Challenge franchise before seemingly settling in New Japan Pro-Wrestling and in the indies. One of the things I liked so much about this match was the built-in structure, which kept it focused. Kylon King was in his home arena, in front of fans he performs for every week, stepping up several levels to challenge a veteran with a deep résumé, and Rush was going to make him prove he even belonged in the same ring with him.
Rush opened the match dismissively; he refused to lock up with King, going behind and slapping him in the back of his head, and trash-talking Dustin Waller, who was at ringside. Rush weaved away from King’s punches with great, Pernell Whitaker–style head movement and slapped King in the mouth. King then got nose-to-nose with Rush and actually made him flinch, schoolyard style, with a fake punch. King then went on an offensive run, including a very cool Northern Lights suplex. Rush, though, can just turn on the burners and proceeded to evade an attack, knocking King to the ground, and wiping him out with a low tope between the first and second ropes. Rush then took control, using amateur wrestling body locks and rides, and throwing some crossfaces which landed like left hooks to the side of King’s head. Rush continued his offense with some sharp body kicks before ripping off some pushups to show how little King was stressing him.
King was able to get back in the game by sidestepping a rush into the corner, and hitting a high kick. He was then able to get Rush on the top rope and work him over enough to hit a huge hanging top rope superplex. King got a near-fall with a bridging German suplex, but Rush was able to regain control with a gnarly bottom rope springboard stunner, which King sold like the Rock. Rush then hit a spinning thrust kick, which looked like it knocked King’s head sideways. Rush began taunting King with little kicks to the head, but King caught his foot and decked him with a straight right hand.
As the match moved into the final five minutes of the 20-minute time limit, both men began to go all out. King hit a big top rope moonsault to the floor, taking out both Rush and his own partner, and then threw Rush into the ring, dropping him with a brainbuster for a super close two-count; King followed this up with a leaping tombstone for another two-count. King tried for a moonsault but missed; Rush capitalized with a spear that would make his old running buddy Bobby Lashley proud. Rush went for a tombstone, which King reversed, but then Rush reversed it into a hybrid Canadian destroyer–tombstone piledriver—a move that sounds ridiculous on paper, but maybe only Lio Rush has the athletic snap to pull off. Rush then hit a great-looking frog splash for the pin, moments before the bell rang for the time limit.
Rush has an IWGP Junior Heavyweight title shot coming up in NJPW and also wrestled in the Jersey J-Cup this weekend, but I think he may be at his best in this role. Rush is just great as a cocky veteran showing up in smaller promotions, putting young kids through the paces, and making them earn their stripes. Think touring NWA World Heavyweight champion Ric Flair dropping into Portland and making everyone believe that Brett Sawyer might pull off the upset of a lifetime. King was a little sloppy at times—although few people can match Rush in execution—but he absolutely came out of this match a made man in this building.
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.