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.
Jeff Jarrett vs. Orange Cassidy
AEW Dynamite, March 15
Jeff Jarrett is the last master of a dead art; he’s like the final speaker of a dying language. When Jarrett puts down the guitar, the Memphis wrestling tricks of Jackie Fargo, Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee, Eddie Gilbert, and countless others will pass with him. That particular kind of heat-seeking, sleight of hand, crowd work, gaga, and horseshit is what allowed the aforementioned icons to have great matches well into their 60s, and it’s what has allowed Jeff to be a highlight of nationally televised wrestling at 55.
Orange Cassidy is a more 2023 version of the kind of shticky character-work wrestlers that Memphis was often filled with. While the main events of Mid-South Wrestling shows could be epic wars between Lawler and Dutch Mantel or huge tag matches with the Rock ’n’ Roll Express and the Fabulous Ones, the undercards were often filled with an assortment of oddities. In some ways, Cassidy is a spiritual grandson of “Roughhouse” Fargo, Bota the Witch Doctor, or Nightmare Freddy, wrestlers who brought their own specific physics and geography to every match they were in. Jarrett spent his childhood sitting at the learning tree of Memphis wrestling greats and the first part of his career working those weekly Memphis shows, where he main-evented against Lawler one week and wrestling oddballs like Judge Dredd or Man of the 90s the next week. It really makes him the perfect wrestler to work magic with Cassidy … and make one of my dream AEW matches come true.
Jarrett came to the ring with his entire Wack Pack—Jay Lethal had a fake arm sling; Sonjay Dutt had his silly pencil, channeling the annoying pest energy of peak Jimmy Hart; and Satnam Singh wore a pink pin-striped vest and dress slacks combo like a cater waiter who fell into the ooze that created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Cassidy came out with the All-Atlantic title in his backpack and switched it out for the new AEW International Championship. (Randomly changing belt names is a very Memphis thing to do, too.)
The match opened with a pair of Jarrett hip tosses and slow, obnoxious Fargo struts. Cassidy responded by putting his hands in his pockets and running off some fast offense, flummoxing Jarrett before Cassidy landed awkwardly on his bad knee, a knee Jarrett had smashed with his guitar the week before. The glee on Jarrett’s face when the knee buckled was something special; he’s the most despicable pro wrestling creep. Double J then tried some hands-in-the-trunks-mocking kicks, only to see Cassidy fire up and knock Jarrett around the ring. Jarrett is unsurprisingly great at selling punches, staggering back rather than taking flat-back bumps. Not only is that style of selling easier on the body, but when he does finally take a bump, it also means more. Jarrett was able to take control again when he knocked Cassidy off the apron and then took him on a tour of the arena, cracking him with great-looking uppercuts and lead jabs. Cassidy fired back but took a nasty spill over the barricade, with his knee clipping the top and sending him hard to the floor.
Jarrett got Cassidy back into the ring, put on a Sharpshooter to troll the Canadian crowd, and then applied a sleeper hold that Cassidy hulked out of by putting his hands in his pockets and hitting a jawbreaker. Some Singh interference allowed Jarrett to put on the figure four, which Cassidy punched his way out of with great right hands, a totally awesome moment of babyface fire.
We then got a great bit of bullshit, starting with a ref bump on Bryce Remsburg, but before Jarrett could use the guitar, Aubrey Edwards power walked down the aisle to stop him and eject Singh and Dutt. Cassidy then hit a tilt-a-whirl DDT, but while he was setting up for the Orange Punch, Jarrett distracted a still woozy Remsburg enough for a miraculously cured Lethal to drill Cassidy in the head with Paul Walter Hauser’s purloined Golden Globe. That led to a super-close two-count that every fan in the audience bought into (years of Jarrett keeping the TNA title with screwy finishes had conditioned the crowd). Trent Beretta came down to take Lethal out, which allowed Cassidy to drop Jarrett with the Orange Punch; Jarrett sold it like he’d been hit with a mallet. It might have been the only flat-back bump Jarrett took in the whole match, and he made it count.
I really adored this match; shopworn shtick gets shopworn because it works, and they broke out all the hits to deliver something memorable. I love how both of these guys are working completely differently from anyone else on the roster, and they were two unique tastes that tasted great together.
Sheamus vs. Drew McIntyre
WWE SmackDown, March 17
WWE celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by having Sheamus and his old friend Drew McIntyre bruise each other up to see who would go on to face Gunther for the Intercontinental title at WrestleMania 39. Sheamus and McIntyre have been either teaming up or feuding for nearly 20 years, battling in two-out-of-three falls and Last Man Standing matches in Irish Whip Wrestling before going on to fight for the Florida Heavyweight title in Florida Championship Wrestling, the pre-NXT developmental territory. They had some matchups during McIntyre’s first WWE run and have both teamed up and feuded since McIntyre returned. This match was set up when Sheamus got upset that McIntyre was butting into his long-running issue with Gunther and attempting to shoehorn himself into the Intercontinental title scene. After a double pin during a fatal five-way the previous week on SmackDown, this match was set up to see who would get the big title match at the big show.
McIntyre offered a handshake that Sheamus rebuffed, and they were at it. This was just what you wanted and expected from these two: hard-nosed heavyweight wrestling with no quarter taken or given. One thing I really love about watching Sheamus is that he doesn’t always land his shots in expected places; clotheslines will hit at the clavicle and side of the jaw, and forearms will sneak up to the temple or down to the side of the throat. McIntyre’s shots are thrown more traditionally but land with no less force, and it wasn’t long into the match before welts and bruises started to form on Sheamus’s industrial-shower-curtain-white skin. The match went into commercial with McIntyre hitting a great-looking superplex that had really good distance—these are two huge guys, and they went flying halfway across the ring.
The match played on their familiarity with each other; after 20 years in the ring, there aren’t many surprises. McIntyre blocked Sheamus’s first attempt at 10 Beats of the Bodhrán early, and when McIntyre went for the Claymore, Sheamus countered with a jumping knee that totally dimmed McIntyre’s lights. The match ended with both guys leaning on each other and flinging hard, short clotheslines at each other’s necks. A short headbutt by McIntyre and a knee by Sheamus sent both men stumbling into opposite corners; they then ran headfirst into their opponent’s outstretched feet for a double knockout. I really liked it when Gunther stopped the ref’s count to yell at both downed wrestlers like he was a furious prison camp guard, although I would have preferred it if he had beaten on both guys himself for the DQ rather than involving Imperium.
This sets up a three-way between Sheamus, McIntyre, and Gunther at WrestleMania. I would rather see a singles match between any of these guys—hell, how about a round-robin? Three amazing 10-12-minute fist fights would be way better than these guys trying to shoehorn in three-person spots. Still, even though it isn’t my preferred setup, there’s no way this won’t be great. Sheamus and Gunther are basically perfect opponents, and I can’t imagine how much they’ll amp it up for WrestleMania. McIntyre slots in great as a third-wheel brute who’s also willing and eager to try caving chests in. It definitely feels like the ’Mania match that will leave me with the biggest grin on my face.
Natural Vibes (Big Boss Shimizu and Kzy) vs. M3K (Masaaki Mochizuki and Mochizuki Jr.)
Dragon Gate Memorial Gate, March 18
This was a battle for the Open the Twin Gate Championship, a.k.a. Dragon Gate’s tag team titles. Natural Vibes had just returned from an excursion to the U.S., where they wrestled in Texas, Philly, and New Jersey, including defending those belts against indie icons the S.A.T. (Joel and Jose Maximo) and the newest variation of the FBI (Little Guido and Ray Jaz), which is a diverse pair of teams to defend against in 2023. Natural Vibes are a fun Hart Foundation-ish combo of speed and power, with Kzy being a really fast Dragon’s Gate–style wrestler, and Shimizu being much more of a bulldozer. They were defending these titles against the team of legendary 53-year-old Masaaki Mochizuki and his 20-year-old son, Mochizuki Jr., who debuted in May 2022 and is one of the more impressive rookies in recent years. Mochizuki Sr. has been playing the role of overbearing sports dad, pushing and micromanaging his son, and it has led to some real success, although the younger Mochizuki has begun to bristle a bit at his father’s heavy hand. Mochizuki Sr. couldn’t have looked cooler for this match, rocking some Chow Yun-fat glasses, a dragon bomber jacket, and a pair of trunks with “Since 1994” on his ass. If that were my dad, I would be damn nervous about letting him down, too.
The match opened with a fast rope-running section between Jr. and Kzy, and then a shoulder block battle between Sr. and Big Boss. The Mochizukis took over on Kzy, peppering him with sharp kicks and elbows; Sr. has been one of the hardest kickers in wrestling for years, and Jr. was throwing his hips into each shot, as well. Kzy caught Jr. with a sharp uppercut, and he and Big Boss took over, wearing down the kid for a bit. This led to Sr. running in and breaking up multiple pin attempts, which then caused Jr. to angrily push him out of the ring and take on the challenge himself.
Jr. was able to take back control, hit a big brainbuster, and tag in pops for the hot tag, which included the elder Mochizuki hitting a fun out-of-control plancha over the top rope. The match then moved into the classic Dragon Gate finishing run, with big moves breaking out all over the place; I especially liked the Mochizukis chopping down Big Boss with multiple kick combos, the classic Mochizuki Sr. brainbuster, and the awesome Big Boss running chokeslam on the younger Mochizuki. Big Boss then attempted the same move on Sr., who countered it with a brutal rolling armbar, which then got broken up by a super high and impactful Kzy frog splash. Jr. then ran in and drilled Kzy square in the jaw with a spinning karate kick, and then got a super close near-fall with his beautiful bridging German suplex, which is probably the best-looking German suplex in wrestling. Mochi Jr. then took out Big Boss on the floor with a triangle moonsault, leaving Kzy and Sr. in the ring to have a super-fast martial arts exchange which looked like something out of a Tony Jaa movie. Kzy got caught multiple times, but was able to duck and kick out of pin attempts, and managed an octopus-hold roll-up for the win.
When Dragon Gate matches get cooking, they can really sizzle, and I like how the Mochizuki family added some real stiffness and violence to a style that can sometimes look a bit like modern dance. Martha Graham never wheel-kicked anyone in the mouth.
There isn’t the same tradition of second-generation wrestlers in Japanese wrestling as there is in lucha libre and wrestling in the U.S. Shinya Hashimoto’s son, Daichi, has had a nice career, Katsuyori Shibata and Shota Umino’s fathers were both referees, and Gran Hamada’s daughter, Ayako, has had success in both Japan and Mexico. However, there isn’t even close to the Japanese equivalent of El Hijo del Santo, Psycho Clown, the Rock, or Cody Rhodes in Japan. I really think, with the start he has had, Mochizuki Jr. really has the chance to be the best second-generation wrestler in puroresu history, and I am really looking forward to seeing him progress over the next year.
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.