Alexander – Ospreay & Hashimoto – Sareee Sequels, Joe’s First Defence | Hulbert’s Weekly Match Guide 1/23/24


While it’s been anything but quiet outside the ring, this week has been 2024’s first exhale inside the ropes. To be clear, that still didn’t prevent a couple must-see bouts from emerging, it just allowed for a detour or three along the way. I wasn’t able to cover the latest war between Chihiro Hashimoto and Sareee in last week’s Guide, so it bleeds over into this edition, standing alongside Josh Alexander and Will Ospreay’s own rematch as the week’s best.

Elsewhere, HOOK earns headlines as Samoa Joe’s first contender, while Buddy Matthews shows Daniel Garcia the way of Colliding. Those aforementioned detours are the real treat though, as Operation Trick continues, HonorClub spotlights Bryan Keith and most importantly, Nic Nemeth works Puerto Rico. Glory days folks and with that, to the graphics we go!

Chihiro Hashimoto vs. Sareee (Sareee-ISM Chapter III)


Last May, Sareee wrestled her first match since leaving WWE, headlining her own show opposite Chihiro Hashimoto. After nine months outside the ring, it was quite the welcome back to wrestling too, shaking off any rust by trading bombs with an old foe. More than anything else, that reunion felt like a chance for Sareee to express herself, swinging big and painting broadly. The match contained bursts of differing bouts, combining for a strong start to Sareee’s new chapter.

By contrast, this is a more focused effort, actually sporting a mostly traditional structure. There are defined, extended spells of momentum, each of which arrive packed with a palpable tension. That sense of danger is the bout’s centrepiece for my money, a simmering hostility that frames the predictably brilliant action. It’s immediately present too, sharing an extended staredown at the bell. It’s a standoff that swiftly sets the tone, remaining present throughout.

That ingredient still generally serves as a backdrop though, as the content is relatively restrained for the first act and change. Hashimoto takes Sareee to the mat, wrestling tactically for a dominant opening stretch. It’s the pairing’s most natural form, with Sareee being a traditional babyface, fighting from underneath as Hashimoto steers the ship with authority. Sareee’s selling only encourages Hashimoto’s usual offence, clubbing away with increasing ferocity.

Along the way, Sareee frequently flirts with a comeback, finding fleeting hope spots throughout. As a result, it never feels as though they’ve settled, even within a sustained segment of dominance. In addition, that rhythm provides such jeopardy to Sareee’s actual comeback, feeling in doubt until she fully turns the tide. Once that happens though, it’s an almost equally one-sided stretch, still maintaining the stylistic contrast that defines this pairing.

Sareee’s success comes from an increase in speed, overwhelming Hashimoto with strikes in the process. That allows for a natural escalation, with Sareee’s urgency bringing that contained tension to the fore. Perhaps most impressively, Hashimoto even has some hope spots of her own, threatening another cutoff as Sareee builds momentum. After fighting her way back to a level playing field, Sareee ups the ante, powerbombing Hashimoto from the apron to the floor.

The previously bubbling animosity then fully explodes, brawling through the building as Sareee passionately punishes Hashimoto with right hands. Suddenly, it’s the instinctive, spiteful match that Hashimoto had actively avoided at the bell, sacrificing her advantages for an outright shootout. Their initial patience allows the later physicality to pack an extra punch too, marching to the final line with volatile exchanges, including a headbutt flurry from Sareee.

As they veer further and further towards raw violence, Sareee increasingly feels as though she’s slaying a horror movie villain, not relenting until the job is done. Hashimoto relishes that role too, returning fire with some of the year’s most staggering offence thus far. It’s a special match, drawing such drama from the inevitable. That ill will looms over the rest, steadily bleeding into the bout before ultimately drowning it with hatred.

This is one of 2024’s finest bouts yet, a borderline masterpiece that with a main event cadence, builds toward something truly extraordinary.

Carmelo Hayes & Trick Williams vs. Edris Enofe & Malik Blade (NXT TV)

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It’s been awhile since we last checked in on Operation Trick. Too long, if you ask me. Since winning the Iron Survivor Challenger, Williams’ slightly uneasy dynamic with Carmelo Hayes has continued to develop, waiting for his shot at Ilja Dragunov in the meantime. That relationship is the focus here, as Hayes and Williams enter the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, meeting Edris Enofe and Malik Blade in the opening round.

Now, I’m aware of that team but if I’ve seen them wrestle, it was almost certainly in passing. Their prior outings have generally been on the shorter side anyway, not having a lengthy TV opportunity since last June. This tournament tag is slightly different though, opening the show with some time and focus at their disposal. From a presentation point of view, it’s an immediately enticing television package, with both acts visually belonging on this stage.

Far more impressively though, their work isn’t far behind. Hayes and Blade set the tone, sharing a snappy opening sequence that’s sharp for the former, let alone his less experienced foe. While it’s a far less expansive exchange, Enofe and Williams gel neatly also, providing a promising flash of their own. Admittedly, that initial snap does fade a touch as the match unfolds, with some space creeping between the individual pieces along the way.

It never fully breaks the bout’s broader momentum, but is noticeable after their initial rhythm. In fairness, it’s a somewhat challenging scenario, working an extended babyface match that’s continuing an arc between the winning team. Considering the outcome, Hayes and Williams’ potential dissension is mostly concealed, with the latter simply being spotlighted more than his partner. The announcers push that shift, bringing some surprising subtlety to NXT.

Without a clear heel team, the match’s middle portion momentarily suffers, trading momentum until Blake and Enofe finally take control. It’s a brief segment but to their credit, highlights their potential as a heel act. They cut the ring off and operate purposefully, even targeting Hayes’ back for a minute or two. If anything, the match would’ve benefitted from an extension to that segment, as Hayes makes the tag with minimal interruption.

Thankfully, Williams’ sheer charisma warms up the potentially cold tag, transitioning the match to a snappy finishing stretch. Trick’s improvement is obvious and while he still has instances of clumsiness, they are increasingly infrequent. Athletically, he continues to jump off the page also, with the rest of this lineup having their own highlights in that regard. The finish unlocks their offensive range, attaching some thrills to the mostly conventional outline.

It’s well executed too, with efficient agenting being unlocked by noticeable chemistry. Good match, navigating a slightly unusual task with confidence and poise.  

HOOK vs. Samoa Joe (AEW Dynamite)

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In his first defence as AEW World’s Champion, Samoa Joe met a unique contender. Just over two years removed from his in-ring debut, HOOK took his first swing at the big time on Wednesday, battling a man that his father once managed. Granted, that was a brief moment during one of Joe’s most unfortunate career chapters, but it adds to the matchup’s novelty nonetheless. In truth though, this pairing didn’t need much assistance in that regard.

Over his 47 prior professional matches, HOOK has barely been in jeopardy, let alone operated as an underdog. That’d inevitably be his role here though, with a glaring size disparity to accompany their differing experience levels. Going in, I feared that those ingredients would be concealed by a familiar back and forth shootout, but was quickly reminded of a familiar lesson: don’t doubt Samoa Joe. Indeed, this is the furthest thing from familiar, a distinctly perfect final product.

With two clear goals in mind, this match takes a very specific route, operating with purpose from start to finish. While his usual demeanour is unchanged before the bell, HOOK wrestles with an urgency befitting the occasion, jumping an unsuspecting Joe at the bell. It’s such a seamless path to the challenger’s shine, believably framing his success without requiring a detour. That’s an increasing theme with Joe’s recent work, often having a simple answer to a matchup’s looming questions.

Admittedly, HOOK’s work isn’t always pristine, particularly in that initial flurry. The quality is a touch inconsistent, swinging back and forth between flimsy and fiery. In the long term, that’s a box for him to tick but in this case, it’s almost to the match’s advantage. After all, that’s the appeal here on some level, as HOOK isn’t just another contender. Instead, he marches to the beat of his own drum, allowing his more unorthodox offerings to sport a charm.

Joe gives him just enough space too, soon producing yet another perfect cutoff of the Yokozuna variety. From there, it’s an utter masterclass, as Joe batters HOOK with such disdain. His presence remains unmatched, transforming the setting as he steers the ship. Dynamite was a terrific show, but it only felt truly blockbuster for this ten minutes or so, as Joe provides such a palpable big fight feel. In mere seconds, Joe makes a sympathetic figure of HOOK.

That includes a stunning table spot, with Joe’s chaotic control segment ensuring that they complete one of those two goals. He feels as dominant as ever here, starting his likely transitional reign in style. In managing that feat with such ease, HOOK is swiftly at the finish line for his own destination: portraying defiance in response. This isn’t so much about HOOK the super fighter but instead, his unusual, instinctive toughness. 

It’s that trait that stuns Joe, rather than any unforeseen skill advantage. The latter would’ve been much tougher to buy, with this direction also suiting HOOK’s more singular persona. For my money, they find a sweet spot with HOOK’s comeback too, only briefly rattling Joe before meeting a brick wall. Joe’s timely counter leads him home, needing more of that experience advantage than he’d initially anticipated. As a result, Joe wears a noticeable surprise afterwards.

It’s a wonderfully effective piece of business, neatly marrying two feats that seamlessly assist one another. More than anything else though, it’s an outright thriller, doing all that and more in under nine minutes. As a performer, HOOK still has a ways to go, but this was potentially transformative for his character. That was his reward for toughing it out through a thunderous beating, as Joe continued to maximise his current skill-set.

Inexplicably, the big man is in the midst of a new prime to kick off 2024. Physically, he’s not what he was but as a complete package, Joe may have never been better. This match captured that magnificently, elevating HOOK mightily in the process.

Bryan Keith vs. Claudio Castagnoli (ROH on HonorClub)


Since emerging at Final Battle, Bryan Keith has made the most of his opportunities under the Tony Khan umbrella. That trend continued on the latest episode of Ring of Honor TV, battling Claudio Castagnoli in a first-time matchup. Well, a first-time singles matchup at least, as these two actually battled in a brief tag match on an October Rampage. While that was a mere enhancement match for Castagnoli and Wheeler Yuta though, this was something substantial.

At just shy of thirteen minutes, they have a surprising amount of time to play with here, using that space for a specific match. Castagnoli’s size advantage jumps off the page and is immediately emphasised, dismissively towering over Keith in their initial lock-up. Even as the outgunned underdog though, Keith isn’t rattled, not budging in response to Castagnoli’s disdain. Instead, Keith continues to chip away, firing low kicks for his first success.

It’s a match very much about Keith’s persistence, fighting uphill but doing so with vigour. Their dynamic develops accordingly, as Castagnoli acknowledges Keith’s fire with a hint of frustration. The former ROH World Champion tests Keith on the mat as well as the feet, broadly steering the ship as duelling chants emerge. That’s not only a credit to the promotional newcomer but also the match’s intriguing building blocks, as these tapings are usually cold.

Once Castagnoli shakes off Keith’s early low kicks, they settle into a an engaging rhythm, with Keith scratching and clawing his way up the proverbial mountain. Even though he’s continually knocked back down, Keith continues to climb, firing away with immense quantity. That pace doesn’t come at a cost either, with Keith’s work remaining sharp throughout. He’s been consistently impressive in that regard, offensively at home on a national stage.

That’s pivotal here, as Castagnoli really forces him to earn his room, only improving the bout’s standard by doing so. Keith’s scrappiness and selling combine for a winning babyface formula, getting the people onboard just in time for his DDT counter. Even then though, Castagnoli has an answer, with Keith hanging tough rather than finding a sustainable route to victory. That’s a refreshing touch, with the closest thing to an upset actually coming from a flash knockdown instead.

It’s a case in which Keith is simply delaying the inevitable, but uses that opportunity to define his in-ring identity. Especially at this runtime, they could’ve quite easily worked a more generic back and forth bout, but this is far more complimentary to Keith’s major league range. Here, he makes the most of a simple outline, even utilising a late set-piece in which Keith struggles to pick Castagnoli up before finally making it happen.

That single spot captures this one rather well, a glance at the gutsy newcomer that’s turning heads in defeat. Castagnoli doesn’t lose anything for the endeavour either as again, he forced Keith to earn it, only selling for the offence that deserved to dent him. Good match, even if not the most expansive version of this pairing. Instead, it’s a more specific take that’s suited to the setting, bringing a quality television tilt to HonorClub.

Josh Alexander vs. Will Ospreay (TNA iMPACT!)


In October, Will Ospreay stopped through IMPACT Wrestling, earning the brand some headlines in the process. He wasn’t the only driving force on that front though, as Bound for Glory came to a close with the announcement that in 2024, the TNA name would return. Earlier that night, Ospreay had added a new hit to the promotion’s archives, sharing a thriller with ‘Speedball’ Mike Bailey. That wasn’t Ospreay’s only date though, battling Josh Alexander the following night.

Their TV main event didn’t draw the same hype as the Bailey bout, but fared comparatively among critics. Frankly, that baffled me, as the match never quite came together in my view. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a floor to any Ospreay match, let alone one with a talent of Alexander’s calibre, but I didn’t feel that this climbed much beyond than that. Thankfully, they’d have a chance to right that imaginary wrong, meeting again on the first episode of TNA’s reboot.

It’s a somewhat similar scenario, combining for the central match of another post-PPV TV taping. Whether it’s the new name, setting or something in-between though, this match just operates at a different level entirely for my money. There’s an energy to this, an intensity that defines its lofty ceiling. After all, this isn’t a match about concept or structure, instead thriving as a booming action blockbuster. As a result, it’s that intensity that they lean upon, which suits both wrestlers’ skill-sets.

Alexander is especially unlocked by that approach, with his usual enthusiasm leading the way. I always admire Alexander’s commitment, particularly on these shows, as he obviously takes immense pride in representing this promotion. With that being said, I don’t always love the way that his effort is channelled. As a main event player, Alexander has certainly produced some quality work but at times, I’ve found the extended runtimes to be a poor fit for his game.

Those occasions are almost never bad matches, but they do feel like the wrong match at times. Whether it be misplaced limb work or uneven pacing, Alexander’s bigger swings can detract from his raw, instinctual qualities as a passionate wrestling machine. Thankfully, that’s the Alexander in attendance for the entirety of this Ospreay match, wrestling with the intensity of a grappler defending homecourt. It’s about his own status too, equally chasing redemption.

From the outset, the work is superb, arriving with a noticeable crunch. They capture a gorgeous balance in that regard, as a violent snap accompanies the sequencing’s silk.  It’s a frightening pace too, especially considering the match’s substantial length. In fact, a finish feels feasible as they cross the half-way point, stunning Las Vegas with a horrifying table spot. That’s the only outright stunt, but it’s far from the bout’s lone burst of violence, with single strikes making that a theme throughout.


At just shy of 25 minutes, their intensity does provide a challenge or two, including a brief lull as Ospreay seemingly nears the finish line. It’s a touch jarring and almost resets things as they go through an ad break, but the electricity of their exchanges swiftly steady the ship. Perhaps most remarkably, they still very much save the best for last too, with the final few minutes inexplicably improving upon the rest. That feat feels impossible as the closing stretch arrives too, which reiterates the sheer quality of their output.

It’s an offensive masterpiece, sporting such variety and layering these highlights in a way that feels surprisingly natural. If the match has a centrepiece beyond those thrills, it’s about Alexander’s aforementioned motivations. Even without the belt, he very much feels like TNA’s closest thing to an ace, leading them into this new era by proving that he and his promotion belong on this level. Admittedly, that’s not exactly groundbreaking in concept but for the first TV main event back as TNA, it’s undeniably fitting.

Through that lens, this match may be most impressive. It’s comfortably better than anything on the Hard to Kill PPV, giving TNA’s weekly TV a chance if nothing else. Obviously, they won’t have matches of this calibre every Thursday, that’s impossible. As a mission statement though, this was perfection, making the absolute most of Ospreay’s final guest spot for the promotion.

Nic Nemeth vs. Ray Gonzalez (WWC Euphoria)


As Nic Nemeth’s WWE stint came to a close, it seemed totally feasible that at 43 years old, he’d be content to conclude his career. Even if not an official retirement, Nemeth certainly didn’t feel like a natural candidate for the independent world tour. After all, he’d spent his entire career inside the WWE system, presumably being paid handsomely for doing so. However, that clearly hasn’t left Nemeth any less hungry, making his intentions apparent since appearing at Wrestle Kingdom.

The following week, Nemeth made his TNA debut to close Hard to Kill, pairing his NJPW aspirations with a stateside home. Those two settings wouldn’t be Nemeth’s only hosts though, capturing my attention with this date in particular. Living up to the NWA World’s Champion blueprint that he cited, Nemeth made his way to Puerto Rico, appearing for World Wrestling Council. Though he’s already taped two matches for TNA, this’d be his first non-WWE bout to air.

His opponent? Ray Gonzalez, a 51-year old Puerto Rican wrestling legend. Gonzalez debuted in the promotion, then named Capitol Sports Promotions, all the way back in 1990, famously jumping to the International Wrestling Association in 2002. He returned to WWC in 2008, wrestling there exclusively since. Admittedly, I was unaware that he remained active until this match graphic emerged, somehow adding further novelty to an already unfathomable scenario.

Now, that doesn’t exactly translate to something good, but it absolutely converts to a weirdness that my deeply troubled fandom relishes. Speaking of weird, Eddie Colon of Primo fame is operating as Nemeth’s manager here, both entering to the old Dolph Ziggler theme. In addition, Nemeth receives a star response, even though he’s very much framed as the bumping heel. Physically at least, that dynamic makes sense regardless, with Nemeth feeding an early salvo of right hands.

Those instances produces some of the match’s brightest bursts, as Gonzalez uncorks blows at ringside. It’s proper wrestling, with the pretty boy villain getting clobbered by our conquering hero. Gonzalez even sprinkles some athleticism in, landing a sweet dropkick as his babyface shine continues. Nemeth’s eventual cutoff arrives with some right hands of his own, then playing a Rick Rude tune or two while in control. There isn’t a great deal of heat in response, even as Nemeth tries a trick or two.

Gonzalez hooks them as a babyface nonetheless, reaching for the people and getting them onboard. Those same right hands follow, earning Saturday Night’s Main Event sells from Nemeth. Whenever the pace increases, they meet a slight bump in the road, still earning drama with Gonzalez’s late figure four leglock anyway. Speaking of drama, all of the above plays runner-up to the shenanigans that conclude this piece of business, including a truly absurd finish.

Colon inadvertently throws powder in Nemeth’s face, then cheating his way to a victory that’s overturned by a second referee. Afterwards, they go into a post-match angle that legitimately features at least two different turns, somehow circling all the way back to Nemeth making a babyface save for Gonzalez himself. Oh, Steve Maclin is there too, handling some TNA business in the process. It’s glorious nonsense, a fitting way to finish Nemeth’s time machine trip.

As for the match, it’s more interesting than good, but there are flashes worth your time nonetheless. Nemeth clearly works hard and while he’s understandably not a natural fit in the setting by any means, that’s also the appeal. To translate, it’s exactly what I expected it to be, all while still feeling impossibly strange. I’m thankful for this treat, a gift to me and me only, as Nemeth begins his campaign as NWA World’s Champion.

Buddy Matthews vs. Daniel Garcia (AEW Collision)


Quietly, this Collision-exclusive feud has been a highlight of AEW’s encouraging start to 2024. In fact, this war with FTR may be the best work of House of Black’s entire run, which is admittedly damning with faint praise, I suppose. Either way, both the traditional tag and six-man delivered, with this singles bout following suit. Daniel Garcia has rebounded impressively from a shaky stretch in 2023, using his Continental Classic campaign to launch an underdog babyface run.

He’s not the only part of this rivalry in rhythm either, as Buddy Matthews’ own form has been notable. It’s not nearly as pronounced as Garcia’s journey, of course, but Matthews has been razor sharp nonetheless. That trend continued on Collision, further testing Garcia’s Collider qualifications. Even at just eleven minutes or so, it’s not short on ideas, pairing the inevitable action with a refreshing depth. Early on, they even build around the shoulder tackle, with Matthews overpowering Garcia to the mat.

It’s such a simple thing, but cements Garcia as the underdog while embracing the physical contrast on display. That disparity also allows FTR to organically play a part in Garcia’s ongoing progression, encouraging him from ringside as he builds up momentum for a successful tackle of his own. They build on that with a familiar Matthews’ play call, seemingly hurting his knee only to violently cut Garcia off via DDT.

Matthews truly relishes the chance to feign an injury, always introducing those frailties with a believable misstep. It’s an example of the underrated subtlety to his work, often earning more attention for his frame and offence. On the other hand, those details are the strongest part of Garcia’s game, hardly ever regaining his balance following that sudden DDT. Everything arrives with a stagger or stumble, wrestling with the heart befitting his new role.

As a result, there’s an urgency to the match that allows Garcia to quite spitefully target Matthews’ injury, playing to his strengths out of necessity. It’s such a smart match in that way, taking an indirect route to Garcia’s comfort zone. Beyond anything else though, it’s also an absolute thriller. Matthews’ firepower leads the way on that front, uncorking some thunderous blows and producing one of his finest offensive outings.

They are a natural fit for one another in truth, particularly for this snappy TV outline. Matthews has the experience and polish to play Garcia’s music, also providing the dynamism befitting this runtime. It’s another hit for a feud that’s quietly come together in 2024, bringing further in-ring quality to Collision. That’s been Matthews’ role for much of the show’s existence in truth, assisting Garcia’s ascension in the process here.

Garcia’s confidence is palpable right now, again wrestling instinctively after his Continental Classic efforts. It’s a return to the approach that allowed Garcia to jump off the page to begin with, it’s just a more refined version of that package. Each week, he feels further at home, telling his own tale within this faction firefight.

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