clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Vikingo and Kenny Omega Turned Their Dream Match Into a Beautiful Reality

Elsewhere, Ilja Dragunov and JD McDonagh continue their battle while Timothy Thatcher takes on AIW hero Dominic Garrini

AEW/Ringer illustration

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.

Kenny Omega vs. El Hijo del Vikingo

AEW Dynamite, March 22

The AAA Mega Champion El Hijo del Vikingo arrived on U.S. television for the first time and conclusively demonstrated that he is the most spectacular wrestler in the world. This was a match that AAA had been trying to run for several years, and was set to be a Triplemanía main event in 2021 before Omega was put on the shelf with a hernia injury. AEW took advantage of Vikingo getting a work visa and ran the match instead as a Dynamite main event.

This was the most spectacular television debut since Rey Mysterio and Psicosis blew everyone’s minds on ECW Hardcore TV in 1995. Vikingo came out smoking, hitting Omega with a bullet tope that he followed up with a tope con hilo. Omega landed some forearms but soon found himself in the corner, where Vikingo took advantage, hitting a hurricanrana. At that point, Tony Schiavone was stammering in awe as he tried to explain what Vikingo was capable of. Vikingo then took Omega to the floor and landed a shooting star press off the apron to the floor before nailing a springboard 450 off the second rope, which Omega sold like he had aggravated his old core injury.

While Omega has plenty of flash in his game, he worked a heavy, more violent style to contrast Vikingo’s pyrotechnics. Hard chops, big suplexes—Omega was trying to slow everything down. Omega could run and gun with Vikingo and keep up, but he instead tried to keep his offense in the half court. Omega hit a couple of nasty backbreakers; it looked like Omega was breaking a branch for firewood over his knee, it just happened to be Vikingo’s back. Omega then set up a table and after monkey flipping Vikingo on the ring apron, Omega attempted to snap dragon Vikingo off the apron through the table. Vikingo was able to reverse out of that and hit a front-flip rana off the ringpost, sending Omega from the apron to the floor. Omega was able to take back control, but when he attempted a top rope Awesome Bomb, Vikingo reversed it midair into a rana, which spiked Omega on the top of his head. Vikingo then landed an inside-out springboard Phoenix splash right on the damaged midsection for a close two-count.

Vikingo then went for a springboard hurricanrana, but Omega caught him and drilled him with a pair of powerbombs, a snap dragon suplex, and a V-Trigger. When Omega gets rolling, he can unleash a tidal wave of brutal offense; it’s like getting caught against the ropes by prime Manny Pacquiao, the combinations just overwhelm. Vikingo was able to squirm his way out of a One-Winged Angel and bounded to the top rope, drilling Omega with a swan dive poison rana, which Omega took at a rough angle on his neck. Vikingo then rolled him onto the table and ripped off a running springboard 630, sending Omega through the table with a loud crunch. It was one of the most spectacular one-two shots in wrestling history, and at this point the crowd’s mouths were agape, like 1890s French audiences seeing Lumiere’s Arrival of a Train.

They went back into the ring and exchanged some forearms, which isn’t a strength for either individual and is probably the hackiest spot in wrestling. After that small misstep, they got back to the fireworks, with Vikingo getting a two-count with a sunset flip bomb. He then went to the top and tried a 630 but Omega moved, and Vikingo bounced off the mat like a superball. A V-Trigger and a One-Winged Angel later gave Omega the win, but Vikingo came out of this match a star. Vikingo was the highlight factory, but a ton of credit also needs to be given to Omega. A lot of the complicated Vikingo spots require both guys to pull off, and Omega based for those moves like he had spent a career as a lucha rudo, and also he did a great job of controlling the match and finding the right moments to showcase Vikingo’s supernova offense.

After this match was announced, we were treated to some of the silliest Twitter discourse in quite a while. People were concern trolling and pretending to be upset that Vikingo was just announced with no vignettes or squash matches, or responding with “who?” to any discussion (as if it was 1986 and Google doesn’t exist).

I think this was a really effective way to introduce Vikingo; his singular attribute as a wrestler is that he does things that seem to defy the way human beings can move. You get only one chance to debut those spots, and it makes a lot more sense to break out his front-flip dragonrana in a main-event showcase match with Kenny Omega than in an Isiah Kassidy or Tony Nese undercard match setting up the Omega match. Considering the match gave those quarters a rating boost for the show and invigorated the live crowd, it was clearly the right call.

One of the best things about AEW is that it is in conversation with the rest of the wrestling world. For the most part, WWE is hermetically sealed; there is a world outside of it, but it can be referred to only obliquely. AEW, in contrast, will bring in wrestlers from outside promotions and weave them into the stories they are telling, whether it is MJF bringing in Nick Gage or Juventud Guerrera to take out Chris Jericho, Aero Star and Samuray Del Sol challenging FTR for the AAA tag titles on Dynamite, or Mance Warner just showing up to brawl and bleed with Jon Moxley. Vikingo vs. Komander for the Mega title is already signed at ROH’s Supercard of Honor, and I imagine AEW will either be looking to sign Vikingo, or at least use him more, but even if this was a one-off excursion, it would still be an absolute win.

Ilja Dragunov vs. JD McDonagh

WWE NXT, March 21

Old enemies Ilja Dragunov and JD McDonagh attempted to end their feud in a hyper-violent fight on NXT last week. They initially battled in Progress Wrestling, but also had a pair of wars in NXT UK, a brutal anything-goes empty arena match during the height of the pandemic in 2021, and an awesome Loser Leaves NXT UK match in 2022 (when McDonagh wrestled as Jordan Devlin). During their time in NXT, they have been part of a three-way for the NXT Championship with Bron Breakker at NXT Halloween Havoc 2022, and have both put each other on the shelf. First, a McDonagh Twister left Dragunov passed out and bleeding internally; when Dragunov returned, McDonagh wound up in the hospital with a broken orbital bone. It’s wrestling, so injuries are always a mix of legitimate and kayfabe, but both men are so violent that you totally believe the toll they would take on each other.

Dragunov may be the most intense wrestler in the world, and McDonagh matches his level every time they are in there with each other. As soon as the bell sounds, they just start wailing on each other with a hockey fight spot, but unlike nearly every other hockey fight spot in wrestling, they really were throwing hands recklessly; I wouldn’t have been shocked if someone had come out of that exchange with a swelled-up eye or split lip. A couple of minutes later they did a slap exchange, and it ended with McDonagh clapping Dragunov right on the ear. The stiffness and recklessness of these two even during simple things really lays bare the safety of most WWE wrestling. This isn’t leg slaps and camera cuts to impersonate impact—they are headhunting.

McDonagh took control by throwing Dragunov to the floor, with Dragunov’s neck and head getting caught up on the second rope. McDonagh then worked him over pretty nastily, including hitting a DDT, which caused Dragunov to do a full neck bridge as a bump. McDonagh hit a gnarly-sounding slap before ducking the bounce-back enzuigiri, only to fall for a second bounce-back enzuigiri moments later. Dragunov started striping McDonagh’s chest with chops before hitting a deadlift waist lock side slam into a bridged pin—which is one of the more unbelievable throws I had never seen before; it could have been “Dr. Death” Steve Williams’s finisher in 1986. Dragunov went for his Torpedo Moscow flying headbutt, but McDonagh caught him in midair and tried to lock on the Twister, which previously sent Dragunov to the hospital. Dragunov was able to reverse out of it and land some nasty mounted punches, and then hit his massive diving forearm, which detached McDonagh’s retina earlier in the year. They both rolled to the floor, and we ended up with somewhat of an unsatisfying finish after they tumbled into Dragon Lee (who was sitting at ringside) and all began to brawl, forcing the match to be called a no contest.

This all set up a five-way with Dragunov, McDonagh, Axiom, Wes, and Dragon Lee for NXT Stand & Deliver. That is a lot of fun guys in one match, although I would rather just see these two fight again one-on-one, or Dragon and Wes fight one-on-one, or Axiom against anybody. One issue with these big shows like Stand & Deliver and WrestleMania is that in an attempt to get as many wrestlers as they can on the show, they end up overstuffing some of the matches. Dragunov vs. McDonagh feels like the kind of iconic rivalry that we will look back at years later as a hidden gem, the way people reminisce about Lord Steven Regal vs. Fit Finlay matches despite most of them happening on WCW Saturday Night or in the undercard of a Nitro. I doubt either guy will ever have a big main roster moment, but I am perfectly happy watching them blow the roof off the performance center any time they want to run it back.

Timothy Thatcher vs. Dominic Garrini

AIW 2-1-SYXX, March 24

Timothy Thatcher stepped away from the indies for a two-year NXT run and has returned to a scene with a lot of younger generation wrestlers working his style. While he has spent most of his post-WWE stint in Japan for Pro Wrestling NOAH, he has had the opportunity to take on some of that next group. Thatcher has had bangers with Kevin Blackwood, battled Wheeler Yuta twice (once in Beyond and once in Ring of Honor), and this weekend, for Absolute Intense Wrestling, he took on Dominic Garrini, a jiu-jitsu purple belt who is one of the most skilled grapplers and hardest hitters on the indie scene.

The match opened with some mat wrestling, with Thatcher attacking limbs and being very mindful to stay out of Garrini’s guard. Every time Garrini tried to bring him close, Thatcher would use his long limbs to keep his distance. It was a cool contrast, with Thatcher using his catch wrestling style to work body parts, while Garrini was using jiu-jitsu to look for openings to sink in chokes and armbars.

Thatcher tried for a keylock, and Garrini was able to roll through and take top position and send Thatcher to the floor. I could have watched them in a grappling chess match for an hour, but they moved on to throwing heat. Garrini landed some nasty inside leg kicks and Thatcher responded with some meaty European uppercuts, and nasty grounded knees to Garrini’s ribs and kidney. Thatcher then started working over the wrist and hand of Garrini in gross fashion—stomping on it, twisting the fingers, setting up the arm, and driving his knee right into the side of his elbow.

Garrini was able to fire back with a nice German suplex, and a jumping knee which Thatcher sold like he got hit by a Cro Cop high kick. Thatcher absorbed some big kicks to his chest and ribs but was able to roll through with a kimura. Garrini got a two-count with a short stump-puller piledriver, and then they just started throwing. There was a cool spot where Garrini caught Thatcher’s arm on an uppercut attempt, only for Thatcher to headbutt him in the nose, bar-fight style. Thatcher then hit a taste-cleansing slap, only to see Garrini crush him with a lariat. Garrini then set Thatcher up and dropped him down with a Muscle Buster. Thatcher tried to roll to the ropes with the last bit of his energy, but Garrini rolled him up for the win. I really like how Thatcher doesn’t insist on a bunch of near-fall 2.9 sections in his matches, he just throws bombs instead, and if a big enough one lands, the match is over.

Garrini is primarily a tag wrestler with Kevin Ku (under the apropos name of Violence Is Forever) in most other indies, but I love him as the hometown dream match wrestler in AIW. He has had great matches with Eddie Kingston, Tom Lawlor, Matt Cardona, Alex Shelley, Zack Sabre Jr., and even Dan Severn over the past decade, and he always delivers when put in that spot. He feels like a guy who deserves a Japanese tour at some point and could work well in ROH or AEW. Thatcher is in a great position, too; he can work NOAH tours and then just come back to the U.S. and have his pick of opponents and opportunities. He has a Josh Barnett rematch at GCW Bloodsport 9 during ’Mania weekend, and I would love to see him mix it up with guys like Daniel Garcia, Mad Dog Connelly, and Matt Makowski, and while he recently stopped off in both AEW and ROH, I think he works best as a traveling samurai, dropping in and tearing joints asunder.

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.