There’s more great pro wrestling in 2023 than we know what to do with. Normally, 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. This week, with two nights of WrestleMania 39 taking over SoFi Stadium, we’re looking at the best matches from this year’s Showcase of the Immortals.
Logan Paul vs. Seth Rollins
Logan Paul demonstrated once again that he is a wrestling prodigy as he put on arguably the performance of Saturday night in an overloaded ’Mania full of great performances. When praising Paul, most people have focused on his athleticism, and there were several moments of eye-popping athleticism in this match. I have been watching a lot of El Hijo del Vikingo matches over the past couple of days as he has been all over ’Mania weekend, and I am not sure Vikingo did anything as eye-popping as Logan’s box jump leap onto the top rope directly into a moonsault, especially considering how big Paul is. He also got amazing height on both of his frog splashes. However, the really shocking thing for me was how well he has developed the little nuances that separate great professional wrestlers.
I love how Paul has incorporated his boxing background (as questionable as that Mayweather fight was, he still has trained a lot) into pro wrestling. All of the talk about the titanium screw in his right hand is classic pro wrestling bullshit, the kind of thing Paul Boesch might have thought up in the 1970s, adding danger anytime Logan Paul lands a big shot. It is really hard to make a pro wrestling punch look credible without knocking your opponent silly and it is something people who have trained in disciplines other than wrestling often struggle to do. All of Paul’s punches looked great—from the early body shots to Rollins’s ribs to that huge near-fall right hand, they all looked like they were thrown and landed full force. Even Paul’s missed punches looked great—they all looked aimed right at Rollins’s chin rather than way over his head, which can be an issue with lots of missed punches and clotheslines. I also really appreciated how he subtly leaned into contact; Rollins’s triple topes looked better than they had in years, and a lot of that had to do with how Paul caught them by stepping forward rather than by leaning back. Paul also leaped from the top rope into the superkick, which set up the match-ending stomp.
KSI making a surprise appearance as the dancing Prime energy drink mascot at ringside worked well, too. Paul doing the Triple H water spray with the energy drink on the top rope, so he couldn’t see the switcheroo, was another bit of clever detail work. Rollins’s current character is so extra that he fit well into the hyperbolic world of a Logan Paul wrestling match, and he did a nice job quarterbacking the match, making sure the big moments hit big enough and at the right time. Paul’s apparently not under contract with WWE, but wants to continue with the company; he has a lot of other irons in the fire, but I would love for him to be the heel who takes the title from whatever babyface finally beats Roman Reigns. Can you imagine Sami Zayn or Cody Rhodes or Jey Uso finally cresting the wave of Roman Reigns, only to lose the belt to an obnoxious dilettante dipping his toe into wrestling in between other social media stunts? That would spark tremendous levels of heat.
Rey Mysterio vs. Dominik Mysterio
One of the things that has made Rey Mysterio an all-time great is his earnestness—the sense of emotional openness and vulnerability that he can convey. He has been part of some of the (on-paper) goofiest angles in wrestling history, but he can make the crowd invest in a ladder match for custody of a child, or a match in which you need to poke out your opponent’s eye, or a match in which 80,000 fans want to see you beat up your son. Dominik may not have reached the in-ring level of his father yet (which isn’t really a slam—Dom has gotten very good, but Rey is an all-time great), but he has definitely inherited that ability to commit fully to whatever he is doing.
Dom posturing like he is a hardened criminal after spending a night in county lock-up is just tremendous delusional heel work; he makes the crowd believe that he believes in it, and the sniveling spoiled nepo baby who thinks he is a gangster is a great wrestling character. Especially in contrast to his gentle, hardworking father. Imagine if we could all watch Tom Hanks beat up Chet Haze; that is basically what we got at WrestleMania.
The match itself had some really strong moments. I dug how Dom shit-talking his family at ringside led to two of the big momentum shifts in the match: first, how him tossing water in Aalyah’s face allowed him to cheap shot a distracted Rey; and later, when his mom slapping him let Rey get back on offense.
I have been watching Rey Mysterio wrestle for almost 30 years and he is still breaking out bumps and offense I have never seen; here he got catapulted face-first into the bottom turnbuckle full speed in a move that looked like it could have broken his neck. The in-ring stuff was very good; clearly Dom and Rey have been training together for years, and they had that easy familiarity of longtime opponents, even if this was their first solo match against each other. I thought the finishing run got slightly overstuffed, with the Judgment Day, the new LWO, and Bad Bunny all interfering. I imagine they are setting up something for Backlash in Puerto Rico, like Rey and Bad Bunny vs. Damian Priest and Dominik, allowing the Rey vs. Dom feud to continue. With the WWE running more international shows lately, I really need to see Rey vs. Dom, hair vs. mask, at an Estadio Azteca stadium show in Mexico City; really blow it out. I think these two could pull off something that epic.
Charlotte Flair vs. Rhea Ripley
Rhea Ripley captured the SmackDown Women’s title from Charlotte Flair on Saturday night in one of the most physical women’s matches in WWE history. There was a fair amount of talk about which match would main-event the first night of WrestleMania 39, and it seemed that Ripley and Flair went out to prove to WWE that the company made a mistake not giving them that spot.
The opening sections of this match had both women throwing hard shots back and forth. Flair is really great at using her long limbs to throw strikes—every bit of those bony elbows got driven right into Ripley’s jaw—and she uses her long legs to get real torque on her kicks. She isn’t as thickly built as Ripley, but as Thomas “Hitman” Hearns demonstrated, sometimes length is power. There wasn’t a lot of artifice on the strikes in this match—both women seemed to be throwing stiffer strikes and not particularly caring where they landed. A lot of WWE matches feel very smooth, but there was a raggedness to this match which really made it compelling; the beauty was in the ugliness.
The second half of the match was the big bomb portion, and it kept a similar energy, with both women taking some really punishing blows. Flair hit a DDT reversal of a Riptide, which Ripley took directly on the crown of her head and sold like Wile E. Coyote getting struck by lightning. Later, Flair somehow took a top rope German suplex by landing on her throat, and later, in what is going to be one of the most memorable moments of the entire weekend, Flair over-rotated on a released German suplex and landed directly on her nose. We had a great finishing run, with Flair hitting a breathtaking Orihara moonsault, only for Ripley to lock in a prism lock, forcing Flair to the ropes. The actual finish was awesome, with Ripley clonking Flair’s head off of the top of the turnbuckle and hitting an Avalanche Riptide for the win. They kept the over-dramatic kickouts and shocked faces to a minimum and just had a violent, ugly, awkward war, a smudge of grime on an otherwise pristine and shiny Night 1 of WrestleMania.
The Usos vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn
Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn became two of the most unlikely WrestleMania headliners ever; a pair of kids from Canada, guys who were called too small, too fat, and too indie to ever make a mark on the big leagues. SoFi Stadium is 25 miles away from Reseda, California, where they broke out in the U.S. for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, and they came into WrestleMania rocking the PWG logo and Super Dragon’s mask on their tights, and left the ring holding the Undisputed WWE Tag Team titles and ending the reign of the Usos.
This was the first tag match to main event since WrestleMania 1, and both teams delivered a match worthy of that spot. The entire story building up to this match has been Zayn fighting from behind, proving himself worthy, and this match had Zayn take several big beatings, with Owens mostly on the apron straining for a hot tag. Those are very traditional tag team wrestling roles in which both guys play notes perfectly. Zayn has such a connection with the crowd, and they are desperate to see him survive to fight another day, and Owens has the kind of quick-strike explosive offense which works great as a guy coming to clean house.
The end of the match was a series of big near-falls, with Owens almost scoring a win with a stunner after a Helluva Kick. The Usos then strafed Owens with superkicks and nearly took him out with a stereo Uso Splash. They then set Owens up for a super 1D, which he countered with a top rope fisherman’s driver. Owens then inverted the story of the match by making a hot tag to Zayn, who cleaned Jey’s clock with three straight Helluva Kicks, embracing him the same way he embraced Owens at Survivor Series, before finishing him off. Great moment for Owens and especially Zayn as they get their huge win and huge moment, a moment which meant even more because it wasn’t overshadowed by a similar Cody moment the next night.
Gunther vs. Sheamus vs. Drew McIntyre
There were a lot of tremendous moments in the two nights of WrestleMania; all of the matches I wrote about in this column were special in different ways, and even the matches I didn’t write about were great, including the four-team spotfest on Saturday night, which rivaled even the biggest indie shows over the weekend. Brock Lesnar and Omos colliding like dueling stegosauri, Bianca Belair living up to her “Miss WrestleMania” title by overcoming Asuka to become 3-0 at ’Mania. Great stuff and a pretty varied buffet of different types of wrestling.
However, there are times when you go to the buffet just for the red meat. Grizzled, hard men beating the tar out of each other has been the basis of pro wrestling as long as it has existed, and the three-way Intercontinental title match delivered the gritty, brutal violence it promised. These three rained blistering, bruising, echoing shots in the spirit of tobacco-chewing, beer-drinking fighters like Wahoo McDaniel, Ronnie Garvin, and Johnny Valentine.
I am not a fan of three-ways as a rule; they tend to encourage wrestlers to attempt complicated three-person spots, adding too much seasoning to the stew. These three pretty much avoided those pitfalls. Basically, they beat on each other until one guy would have to take a powder because his chest was mottled and bloody and all of the wind had been punched out of his sails, then the two guys remaining would try to punch through each other’s rib cage until the third guy recovered.
Sheamus and Gunther have danced this dance before, but I was impressed with how McIntyre kept up; the chops he threw were as lacerating as anything thrown by either Sheamus or Gunther and when he unloads his big knees and kicks, he really unloads them. The finish was tremendous. Sheamus drilled Gunther with the Brogue Kick and covered him, finally on the verge of capturing the Intercontinental title that had eluded him for so long, only for McIntyre to pull him out at the last second. Sheamus and McIntyre then just started obliterating each other with headbutts and knees and Brogue Kicks and claymores. Eventually, they just started punching each other in the face and stood exhausted, holding each other up while winging clotheslines to each other’s necks. Sheamus hit one more Brogue Kick, and just when you forgot about Gunther, he came flying off the top rope like a piano dropped from a fifth-floor apartment. Gunther then powerbombed Sheamus onto McIntyre before drilling McIntyre with a second powerbomb for the win. Glorious stuff; the kind of exhausting war of attrition that makes pro wrestling truly great. I imagine when Sheamus and McIntyre were training together in Ireland, they emptied many a pub in fights just like this, and I imagine this was a real thrill to bring that bar brawl to WrestleMania. What more can we say about Gunther; he was the WWE’s hidden secret for years on NXT UK, but man, does he work well on the biggest stage. If the company is looking to further extend Roman’s reign, they could do a lot worse than the Bloodline vs. Imperium. Gunther has proved he belongs right on the top, and he proved it by stealing Sunday night.
Roman Reigns vs. Cody Rhodes
Coming up on 1,000 days as Undisputed WWE Universal champion, Roman Reigns has a specific formula, the same way Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, or “Stone Cold” Steve Austin did before him. You can call out the beats of the match as they happen. The huge cut-off Superman punch here was great. The big table spot here was pretty big, as was Roman kicking out right at the last second, which is something he is as good at as anyone in wrestling history. There is going to be a ref bump and a run-in, and a bunch of near-falls based on that.
It’s a formula, but there is nothing wrong with a formula; every Mission: Impossible movie is basically the same, and I will be at opening night for the next one, just like I read every Harry Bosch novel and enjoy a steak at a good steakhouse. Sometimes you just want what you are promised, delivered in an excellent way, and Roman Reigns did that again in the main event of WrestleMania 39.
In many ways, this was a match carried by the crowd heat. In the past year especially, WWE has done a great job of booking Roman in situations in which the crowd has been rabid to see him lose, whether it was McIntyre in the U.K., Zayn in Montreal or even Logan Paul in Riyadh. You plug a monstrous antagonist into that formula and you can get something really special. (Is there enough time before Backlash to heat up Carlito Colon? Wrestling has more than one royal family.)
I was a bit skeptical that Cody Rhodes would be able to get to the level he needed to be at, to be the opponent for Reigns at WrestleMania. (I didn’t really think Lesnar was at that level last year, and that match was underwhelming.) However, give Rhodes credit, they played all of the babyface notes to prime the crowd for him. Cody was doing it for his father, fulfilling a lifelong dream, even handing his weight belt to Jon Huber’s son in the front row. Rhodes had 80,000 people eating out of his hands with every near-fall. When Cody countered the Superman punch with the Dusty Rhodes Flip, Flop, and Fly, and then started with the multiple Cross Rhodes, I was sold! I was convinced that the company was definitely giving him the title and ending Reigns’s historic title reign, and then all of a sudden it didn’t. Instead, Solo Sikoa ran out from the crowd (after being ejected earlier in the match for interference), jammed his thumb into Rhodes’s neck, then tossed Rhodes into a Roman Spear, and once again Reigns and the Bloodline were on top. WWE suckered me in, just like it did in Montreal, and while I thought it was a bad idea to have Zayn lose that match, I think it was a good idea to have Rhodes lose this one.
With how great the Bloodline story has been over the past several years, they deserve a chance to wrap it up in a clean way. Cody was always a bit of a usurper; he kind of shoehorned his way into the story in the last couple of months, quivering his lip and talking about Dusty and the crowd cheered him on, but he doesn’t make sense as the next top star. We have seen what uncut top guy Rhodes looks like, and by the end of his time in AEW, the fans were begging for something else. I don’t think a torn pec, a Royal Rumble win, and a couple of weeks of promos have put him in the position to get the big win. That was never the story the company was telling.
The story has always been about Roman as the brutal paterfamilias, belittling and abusing his family and friends, manipulating them by shining his sun on them, and then taking it away. Why did it make sense for that reign of terror to be ended by Cody, someone with only a tangential attachment to the family? If it wasn’t going to be Zayn who did it, it has to be Jey Uso. The whole story started with Jey Uso; it has been his emotional torment we have been following for three years. If someone is going to take Roman Reigns down, it should be blood who takes down blood(line).
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.