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.
Roxanne Perez vs. Meiko Satomura
NXT Roadblock, March 7
Wrestling prodigy Roxanne Perez, who’s 21, took on the biggest challenge of her career as she defended her NXT Women’s title against the 43-year-old Joshi Puroresu icon Meiko Satomura in the main event of NXT Roadblock. This was a rematch of their September 2022 bout, which Satomura won. Last week’s match was built around mutual respect. Last month, Perez called on Satomura to be her partner against Kayden Carter and Katana Chance. Between last month’s tag team match and last week’s match, there were some vignettes in which Perez attended Satomura’s famously grueling training classes in an homage to the 2000 documentary Gaea Girls, which depicted the violent and abusive regimen that Gaea trainees went through before joining the promotion. That documentary included a famous scene in which Satomura bloodies Saika Takeuchi’s mouth with a violent shoot dropkick. More than 20 years later, Satomura had another student in her dojo and was set to treat Perez as roughly as she has treated Takeuchi.
Satomura dominated the opening minutes, holding on to a top wrist lock and countering any attempts by Perez to flip her way out of it. There was an incredibly cool counter in which Perez went to grab the top rope and backflip out; Satomura just grabbed Perez’s inner leg and blocked the flip. Satomura was just a step ahead the entire time, like a jiujitsu black belt rolling with a green belt and showing them every counter to a counter. There was a long knuckle lock sequence that saw Satomura hit an awesome judo throw, and Perez reversed Satomura’s straitjacket into a straitjacket of her own. Perez was able to send Satomura to the floor with a head scissors, but she dived right into a Satomura elbow, the first big head shot of the match. Satomura then upped the level of aggression, laying in some sharp leg kicks and fast palm strikes to the jaw. Perez fired back, only for Satomura to shove her off and hit a brutal-sounding wheel kick to her jaw. Perez found an opening, getting some roll-ups and hitting some kicks of her own, but her offensive runs were snuffed out in increasingly brutal ways, including a nasty Death Valley Driver and a somersault knee to the back of her skull. They went to the floor, and Perez was able to slam Satomura into the ring post; however, when Perez attempted a Pop Rox on the floor, Satomura smartly grabbed the ring skirt, sending Perez hard to the floor. Satomura then followed up with a Scorpio Rising ax kick, sending Perez face-first into the concrete. Satomura threw her back into the ring and landed some hard kicks, but when she went for the Scorpio Rising again, Perez slipped away and rolled Satomura up for the win.
Satomura made her legendary reputation as a young wrestler in these kinds of wars against veteran fighters like Aja Kong and Akira Hokuto, and she did a great job putting Perez through the threshing machine. After the match, NXT booker Shawn Michaels reran one of the famous angles of his past (after redoing the Barbershop Window angle with Toxic Attraction last month) as Perez collapsed post-match; the announcers treated it as a legitimate medical emergency. Satomura certainly delivered the kind of violence to make the collapse seem plausible, but I am not sure about the purpose of treating this injury as more real than the rest of the show, or about whether it’s tasteful to run this kind of concussion angle, especially only months after Damar Hamlin collapsed during Monday Night Football. I am not sure what this will lead to, either; it didn’t seem like they were trying to put heat on Satomura, turn her heel, or bring about a rematch, although I would love to see a heel Satomura and a rematch. What will the actual follow-up be? Still, this was a great match, and it is a real treat to see an icon like Satomura getting a showcase match on U.S. cable TV 28 years into her career.
Powerhouse Hobbs vs. Wardlow
AEW Dynamite, March 8
The main event of Dynamite last week featured Powerhouse Hobbs and current TNT Champion Wardlow slugging it out over the TNT title in a falls-count-anywhere match. This kind of backstage weapons brawl is something that may be a bit played out, but it does hit harder when you have a pair of hosses throwing each other on top of (and through) things. And it helps that Hobbs is built like a keg of beer and actually made Wardlow look small in this match.
The battle opened with these two brawling in the back, and they did a nice job wrecking a sharp-looking Cadillac. Hobbs whipped Wardlow through one of the doors and then suplexed him on the hood before Wardlow turned the tables, backdropping Hobbs onto the windshield. I enjoy a good car fight; Lord Steven Regal and the Belfast Bruiser’s intense Parking Lot Brawl on Monday Nitro is a hidden ’90s classic, and the Parking Lot Fight between Best Friends and Santana and Ortiz was one of the best AEW matches of the pandemic era. This match was nasty stuff, and I would have preferred it if they’d just spent the whole time turning Hobbs’s rental car into scrap metal.
Wardlow and Hobbs proceeded to brawl in a production trailer, where Hobbs got chucked through the back wall. Eventually, they fought into the arena and ended up in the ring, where they exchanged some big blows, including an F5 by Wardlow and a pair of Spinebusters by Hobbs. Wardlow put Hobbs through a table with a Swanton, which brings a large amount of weight down on top of someone. Wardlow followed that up with a powerbomb on the ramp and then dragged him to the stage. We then got the finish, which honestly didn’t land for me. QT Marshall returned from a hiatus to attack Wardlow with a chair, and then this new pair powerbombed Wardlow on a pretty obvious crash pad for the win. I like Hobbs having the TNT title, but this seems like it might set up a long feud with Wardlow, and I would have been fine with this being a one and done. I also generally like Marshall, but he seemed to be at his level leading a group of comedy stooges on Dark: Elevation rather than managing one of AEW’s top champions. For Hobbs, this seems like a step down from Taz; I would have preferred to see him on his own.
Lately, there have been some injuries from falls off the stage, including by Anna Jay, who is still out after taking a powerbomb from Willow Nightingale in a street fight. But if you’re using a crash pad, it has to be much better hidden than this one. He should have at least dropped farther than two feet through a bit of plywood. It looked way too safe; sell me on the magic trick. Still, I am a Hobbs guy—he absolutely looks cut out of granite, and I have really enjoyed the Oaklandness of his promos and vignettes. I hope this can really propel him into that group of future AEW foundational pieces.
Tank vs. Matt Tremont
ICW No Holds Barred Volume 43, March 11
A pair of grizzled death-match icons stepped between the chains to brutalize each other in the main event of ICW No Holds Barred Volume 43 in Tennessee on Saturday night. Tank has the gray beard and scarred body of a backwoods gang leader, the kind of guy who would stare Raylan Givens straight in the eyes and hold a shotgun under the table in an episode of Justified. He is 52 years old and has been leaving pools of blood (both his own and his opponents’) on ring mats in the Southeast for the last 27 years. Matt Tremont is sort of the northeastern version of Tank. “The Bulldozer” has been wrestling for 16 years, he founded H20 wrestling (a wrestling school and promotion in New Jersey), and he’s the current IWTV Independent Wrestling World Champion.
They have a long history. Tremont grew up watching Tank gouge and maul in NWA Wildside, which had some back-of-the-television-dial syndication deals in the late ’90s. They previously faced off in a pair of death-match tournaments—the IWA Deep South Carnage Cup in 2013 and the IWA Mid-South King of the Death Matches Tournament in 2015. When Tank retired in 2017—it’s wrestling; retirements never stick—he handpicked Tremont to be his ostensible final opponent at the legendary Landmark Arena in Cornelia, Georgia (it’s sort of the CBGB of gory southern indie wrestling). This weekend’s match was their first against each other in six years, and Tremont was coming in with a 3-0 lifetime record against Tank.
Tremont came to the ring with a group of his students from H20, and Tank was accompanied by his manager, the Mephistophelian Rev. Dan Wilson, who is maybe the only person in wrestling actually pulling off “Satanic cult leader” (both the House of Black and Bray Wyatt would be hugely improved if Rev. Dan were doing the talking and shrieking for them). Chattanooga is Tank’s hometown, and there was a raucous and partisan crowd rooting for the local legend.
The match was simple in the best way: Two big brutes were adding extra scars to their already misshapen bodies. Tank opened Tremont up first with a traditional fork (both Tank and his long-time tag partner, Iceberg, were mentored by Abdullah the Butcher early in their careers), and Tremont responded by stabbing Tank with a BBQ fork. They alternated shots with light tubes and big punches, but mainly, they just brutalized each other with grody headbutts that had the wet and hollow sound of a pumpkin getting tossed off of a bus bench. At one point, the men sat across from each other in chairs and exchanged lightbulb-assisted headbutts, as if a bar bet had gone horribly wrong. There was actually some limb work in this match; Tank smashed Tremont’s ankle with a cinder block and slapped on a figure four. Tank nearly got the win with a Saito suplex on the side of the hard wooden ring steps, but Tremont kicked out right at two. Tank then charged at Tremont while holding a light tube bundle, but Tremont sidestepped him, sending Tank crashing into the corner in an explosion of glass. A roll-up gave Tremont the win, although this match was much more about the gruesome journey than the result. Tank is owed an IWTV title shot, and I would love it if he finally crested the Tremont hill and took the title off him.
Extra Credit Match
Willow Nightingale vs. Athena
ROH on HonorClub, February 25
This column generally reviews matches as they happen. While wrestling fans used to wait for the great matches that weren’t on PPV to circulate through-tape trading circles, now pretty much all the great wrestling is available either live or close to it. There are some exceptions, though, and since I endeavor to be a completist (and especially since ROH is going old school and taping its TV weeks in advance), I cover those exceptions as Extra Credit matches.
Athena’s first couple of months in AEW felt a bit aimless. She was one of the bigger names on Jade Cargill’s résumé (losing to Cargill at All Out) and was part of a four-way for the women’s title at the Grand Slam edition of Dynamite. But she hadn’t really found anything to make her stand out and was shuffled down into working AEW Dark and Dark: Elevation. However, she struck gold almost by accident in October when she was taking on local Canadian wrestler Jody Threat in Toronto. Threat got a hometown hero reaction, and Athena called an audible and started working stiffer to play off of that reaction. That led to a bit of a Twitter tempest accusing her of being unprofessional. Athena smartly leaned into that energy and turned heel, adding a stiff crowbar offense to her style and really turning her career around. Athena was a heel for most of her career before her WWE stint as Ember Moon, and she is just way more natural and engaging throwing heat and talking shit.
Willow Nightingale, by contrast, is one of the most endearing babyfaces in wrestling. She has a smile that lights up an arena and great timing on her comebacks. She also has the size and strength to seem totally credible standing in the pocket and trading taters with Athena.
Nightingale took the opening moments of the match with a pair of big shoulder blocks and a cross-body. Athena then got down to business with a teeth-clicking forearm, a slap to the mouth, and some trash talk. Nightingale announced her presence by dropping Athena with a receipt and hitting two rolling vertical suplexes and a fisherman’s suplex for a near fall.
Athena took control back by wrenching Nightingale’s arm over the top rope, and then she really began to lay in a beating with stomps, kicks to the back, and nasty diving forearms. Athena is really great at landing audible shots; every forearm and kick echoes through the arena, and the soundtrack of thuds and slaps really adds to her matches. Athena then took Nightingale to the floor and trapped her arm into the space between the stairs and the ring post; Athena drop-kicked those stairs, hyper-extending Nightingale’s shoulder and elbow. Athena took a bit too long basking in the boos of the crowd, and Nightingale was able to use her power, catch a hurricanrana to the floor, powerbomb Athena on the apron, and hit a Death Valley Driver on the floor. They both barely beat the count, and after rolling back into the ring, Athena started jaw jacking (and slapping) Nightingale; she called her “porcelain,” which is a great wrestling insult. This fired Nightingale up, and she went on a big run, hitting Athena with a huge forearm, a clothesline in the corner, and a big Spinebuster. Nightingale’s arm gave out when she attempted the Babe Bomb (her version of the Doctor Bomb), which gave Athena the opening to slap on a crossface and a Fujiwara armbar. Nightingale was able to get to the ropes, but she got lifted into a spinning drop right into Athena’s feet for a close two count. Athena took too much time making a shocked NXT face (a tendency she should have left in Orlando), which caused her to miss a top-rope move, leading Nightingale to hit a huge Pounce shoulder tackle and a Babe Bomb for another close two. Athena then took a powder to the floor and went up the ramp; Nightingale followed her into the trap. Two thumbs in the eyes, a fireman’s carry slam on the ramp, and an O face later, Athena retained her title. Athena cracked Nightingale with the belt post-match, knocking her out cold into the stairs with a Meteora before shaking her unconscious hand to abide by the Code of Honor in a great bit of despicable business.
This was a first-time singles match between these two, and it felt like a feud that should anchor ROH’s women’s division going forward. It may be the best women’s match in ROH history; I loved every second of it. Engaging babyface versus nasty, violent heel is as classic a wrestling archetype as it gets, and both women played their roles perfectly. If they run this back at Death Before Dishonor, it could be a sneaky show stealer.
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.