Best of Backlash, Tags & Television Titles | Hulbert’s Weekly Match Guide 5/8


Not long ago, this site hosted ‘The Hoopers Weekly Tour of the World.’ That flame burned bright but sadly, went out slightly sooner than expected. Moving forward, I will be taking on the mantle in some form or fashion but first, I wanted to give The Hooper a chance to conclude his “Tour of the World.”

He said, and I quote, “these reviews are grabbing a hold of me tightly. My pen is hooping taking me to a different place mentally daily and nightly. Will it ever stop? Who knows, as long as these graps don’t stop. Check out the hook of my pen while the Hooper writes it.”

With that settled, let’s get to the very serious business of professional wrestling match reviews. Few important notes here, that I’ll probably reiterate weekly: these are NOT necessarily the week’s best matches. Instead, they are simply a collection of bouts that I’ve decided to cover in more detail. All promotions are eligible but naturally, I’ll veer towards the programming that I’m most familiar with.

Also, no star ratings, those are reserved for Monty’s famed spreadsheet only. Either way, let’s talk about professional wrestling, if you’re into that kind of thing, of course.

Alba Fyre & Isla Dawn vs. Katana Chance & Kayden Carter (WWE NXT)

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I was intrigued by the praise that this match received. Surprised would be unfair but intrigued? Certainly. I’ve always liked this Katana Chance – Kayden Carter team, and they’ve developed nicely too. While certainly familiar with Alba Fyre and Isla Dawn individually, I’ve only seen bits and pieces of their tag team act. Both tandems got called up in the latest draft, making this NXT Women’s Tag Team Title match a pretty unique scenario.

They’re certainly armed with glossy main roster presentations also, both entering in expansive fashion. As for the match, it’s a triumph in agenting, showcasing just about every strength on display. At not even ten minutes, this leans on the challengers’ dynamism, with Fyre and Dawn having their own hits in that regard. Chance and Carter shine bright here though, running wild early, with the latter having a de facto hot tag after just a hint of heat.

The actual cut-off and heat are mostly hidden in the break, and that’s not to say the champions are incapable on that front either. Simply put, the best version of this match is a shootout, an all-action affair in which momentum swings back and forth. This format allowed that, with Chance’s own hot tag coming mere moments after they’d returned from the break. Admittedly, Chance’s fire isn’t the most authentic you’ll see, but her arsenal is nothing if not creative.

They have quite a collection of tandem offence that fits the same description too, with Fyre and Dawn not far behind. At one point, it becomes a quite daring game of one-upmanship, as Fyre’s assisted Swanton is followed by the challengers’ Neckbreaker/450 Splash combination. By law as a match with more than two people, they inevitably work in a big standoff late, but quickly get back to the thrills, including a double Spanish Fly.

After all that, the champions’ finish stacks up impressively, with Fyre hitting a final dive for good measure. I don’t think the work is flawless here, far from it in fact, but their output is such that any miss is easily excusable. It’s very tightly produced and without hardly any dead air, keeping things moving admirably. I like both acts and they meshed well here, hopefully they’ll be positioned to succeed similarly on RAW and SmackDown.

Jeff Cobb vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (NJPW Wrestling Dontaku)


I’ve thought very highly of Zack Sabre Jr.’s time as NJPW World’s Television Champion. ZSJ has delivered against a range of opponents, seamlessly adjusting to the 15-minute time-limit. This particular matchup intrigued me though, as Jeff Cobb didn’t feel like an exactly natural dance-partner. In fairness, I do remember their summer 2016 RevPro bout earning relative praise, but they’d only shared one singles bout since then, meeting two months later in AAW’s Jim Lynam Memorial Tournament.

Thankfully, these two are smart enough to use this slightly unnatural pairing to their advantage. The match is built around the idea that considering his size and more importantly, Olympic wrestling background, Cobb is a stylistic nightmare for Sabre Jr. He has no obvious route to success and they use that, with his early attempts coming covered in caution. After thirty seconds or so, there’s even some wishful thinking from ZSJ, prematurely celebrating that Cobb is “sweating already.”

Unfortunately, even that sole advantage is undercut by the Television Title time-limit. Early on, Cobb quite dismissively throws Sabre Jr. around, with the champion’s ego inexplicably encouraging further examples of the obvious. Cobb is almost too comfortable for his own good however, wasting valuable time and getting himself in trouble as he admires his own work. That ultimately gives Sabre Jr. an opening, targeting Cobb’s previously injured knee. Now operating with one wheel, Cobb shows some urgency, throwing bombs as he looks to take the title via knockout.

As is often the case, Sabre Jr.’s efforts to match Cobb in that regard only set him back further. Cobb really is clobbering him too, at one point earning a gasp by just whacking ZSJ in the stomach. No matter how often he drops Sabre Jr. though, Cobb can’t quite close the deal, being slowed by the constant submission attempts that emerge throughout. The finishing stretch is thrilling, as the champion finally begins to overwhelm Cobb with his speed before inexplicably getting himself back into a shootout.

In the end, it’s Sabre Jr. who barely survives with his title intact, being seemingly saved by the bell as fifteen minutes expires. This is a really smart match, one that feels honest to the strengths of both champion and challenger. Sabre Jr. really made the most of Cobb in particular, who admittedly frustrates me at times. Unquestionably, his offence can be striking though and that’s on display here, resulting in an especially impressive performance.

That being said, the initial leg work that turns the tide is lost rather quickly and though logical, the story they tell does mean for a quite bare watch, but it’s still enjoyable, especially late. Ultimately, this is the best possible presentation of this particular matchup and though not exactly natural, it made for a captivating fifteen minutes. Another hit for Zack Sabre Jr.’s reign as World’s Television Champion, intrigued by their take on a sequel.

Darby Allin & Jack Perry vs. MJF & Sammy Guevara (AEW Dynamite)


Divisive as it’s been, I actually thought that Wednesday was a strong night for AEW’s four pillars angle. With backstage interactions throughout the night, this main event felt significant, even if the result was a formality. Dynamite wasn’t armed with an exactly electric crowd but they were with this one from the start, which only helped. The match itself hit the notes that you’d expect, as all involved shared their usual sequences with typical odd couple antics scattered along the way.

It worked a treat and though a mere two weeks of television, this Guevara – MJF dynamic made the most of its time. Their flimsy relationship was a central thread but due to the overlap between them, it didn’t disrupt the match. Any miscommunication felt perfectly in character but so did each and every heel tactic, as two of AEW’s most disdained villains combined seamlessly. There were certainly heel tactics too, as MJF emptied the playbook while they got some heat on Allin.

The extended control segment assisted Perry’s hot tag immensely, which was the right call as for a range of reasons, he has felt much more in need of assistance than Allin. From there, the finish served as an explosive preview of what surely awaits at Double or Nothing, as they showcased some thrilling combinations. It certainly wasn’t mere acrobatics either, as this thing had real physicality, especially late. Whether it be high angle bumps or a simple club to the back from MJF, this had spite.

Inevitably, Guevara and MJF’s deal imploded, neatly setting the stage for the PPV’s “every man for himself” hook. There will continue to be questions about this 4-way’s main event magnitude and frankly, I can’t confidently disagree with those doubts. With that being said, I thought they left Dynamite in a much stronger position than they entered. The endgame was always obvious, but I at least enjoyed their route to that destination.

Mina Shirakawa vs. Natsupoi (Stardom Fukuoka Goddess Legend)


At last month’s All Star Grand Queendom, Mina Shirakawa claimed the Wonder of Stardom Title, dethroning Saya Kamitani in a truly epic encounter. They stole the show in my view, which was no mean feat considering the quite prosperous quality that followed them. Either way, this is Shirakawa’s first title defence, taking the main event spot against Natsupoi. Now, it’s worth noting that I’m no expert on Stardom, and so some context may be lost on me here.

Luckily, most wrestling excellence capably operates without such a thing. That’s the best part, frankly. This match is no different, setting an early pace that seldom declines. Ironically, they actually flirt with a traditional big match opening for a moment or two, but Natsupoi quickly changes that, launching an absolute salvo of strikes that sets the tone. If that doesn’t, the following German Suplex on the apron certainly does. The challenger feels almost possessed on offence, destructive in the most unfazed fashion.

It’s still absolutely frenetic though, that wasn’t my polite way of doing “deliberate pace” wrestling talk. Quite the opposite honestly, Natsupoi’s initial output is such that it’s hard not to bite on an early near fall or two. Every blow still very much counts too, landing with a snap or thud throughout. Shirakawa’s eventual retort feels earned also, as she targets the leg successfully only to be again overwhelmed by Natsupoi almost immediately afterwards.

As a result, the momentum shift doesn’t feel sudden but instead, an organic result of Shirakawa truly chipping away. Considering that initial Natsupoi outburst, a more gradual transition seemed necessary. In control, Shirakawa isn’t exactly cerebral though, instead taking the chance to level the playing field with some bombs of her own. This sets up a borderline horrifying strike exchange, as Natsupoi absolutely flattens Shirakawa within seconds.

The champion learns from that mistake, briefly focusing on the leg directly, rather than again playing with fire. After slowing Natsupoi down, Shirakawa showcases her own offensive range but the challenger stays alive, almost scoring a quick win on more than one occasion. It often feels as though Shirakawa is simply outgunned, in fact, almost completely unable to wrangle Natsupoi. She can however, always just clobber her some, that works on just about anyone.

The actual answer is, of course, the leg, and that route of attack keeps Shirakawa in the game. The eventual result is an extended Figure Four Leglock false finish that changes the match. Natsupoi has a few responses left, each feeling more desperate than the last, but the damage is done and Shirakawa soon closes the show. Even still, this felt about Natsupoi in a way not dissimilar to how the Grand Queendom match felt about Shirakawa.

She’s such an unrelenting force of nature here, an ice cold assassin. In that sense, Shirakawa’s first match as champion often positions her as the nail, rather than that persistent hammer she portrayed in her title win. She adjusts effortlessly, even matching Natsupoi where necessary. This was terrific, a super strong start to Shirakawa’s reign and a staggering showcase of Natsupoi along the way.

Christopher Daniels vs. Samoa Joe (ROH on HonorClub)


Over 22 years removed from their first bout, Christopher Daniels and Samoa Joe did the dance again on this week’s Ring of Honor TV. These two last shared the ring in 2015, as Joe teamed with AJ Styles against The Addiction, Daniels and Kazarian. That was Joe’s final date in ROH before going full-time with NXT after early merchandise sales that supposedly stunned WWE brass. Joe’s World’s Television Title was on the line here, a belt that he’s hilariously held since April 2022.

At just under six minutes, this is a greatest hits version of their classics from yesteryear. There is an energy to this though, an enthusiasm that’s defined Joe’s latest revival as well as frankly, much of Daniels’ career. The Florida crowd is with them, embracing the history on display and especially getting behind Joe. These two immediately respond to that, subtly adjusting their roles in response to the early “Joe” chants.

There is no reason to go against that grain and so away we go, Daniels backing away cautiously while Joe operates as a straight-ahead killer. The big man still takes a brief control segment, allowing the audience to show Daniels some love too. Ultimately though, it’s a compilation of Joe’s trademark offence with Daniels sprinkling an offering or two himself. It’s not a great match by any means, and probably settles at something decent, but it’s a nice piece of history nonetheless.

The old warriors had some fun here and the crowd enjoyed the ride with them. They aren’t who they were but Daniels and Joe are willing to embrace who they are, which keeps both in the game. In truth, this pairing probably warranted a brief build but even still, I’m thankful that this happened. Better yet, I’m thankful for what both men have meant to wrestling, let alone their continued output in 2023.

Bianca Belair vs. IYO SKY (WWE Backlash)

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The opening match of a PPV blessed by an all-time great crowd, Bianca Belair and IYO SKY were positioned to succeed. Well, on Saturday night they were anyway, though admittedly, this one’s build didn’t garner much anticipation. That’s been a trend with Belair title defences, a unique case of being underserved by creative while remaining completely dominant once the bell rings. IYO SKY’s time on the main roster has been somewhat inconsistent also, which didn’t exactly help.

Ultimately though, it’s Bianca Belair vs. IYO SKY, and some things are simply destined to rule.

This particular match will be remembered for its atmosphere, as the crowd was not only red hot but also firmly in SKY’s favour. While it makes some sense with a little thought, that came out of nowhere, but transformed the match regardless. Don’t get me wrong, the action itself was left untouched. There was no sudden shift, no switching of roles, as they instead stuck with a layout that didn’t exactly lean into the audience’s preference.

Even still, I maintain that prior claim: the crowd transformed this match. It was the surprising flavour that accompanied the action, elevating any thrills with a unique emotional hook. Even without veering in that direction, they allowed the atmosphere to take centre stage too, working a big match opening that embraced the energy. Before long, SKY targeted the arm for a segment that again, in an ideal world, is probably left on the cutting room floor as frankly, it worked against the adoration for her.

This particular crowd was so unfathomably hot though that it didn’t really matter, as they stuck with them until this match found its most natural form. That is, of course, an absolute offensive showcase. Better yet, an explosive shootout. As they traded near falls, the crowd was able to really react organically, rooting SKY from one bomb to the next. These two women are so dynamic, just spectacular in every which way, and that quickly became the story as this one escalated.

It’s an electric watch even if unfortunately, probably without the finish it deserved. I don’t mean a title change there either, or even something clean necessarily, this particular deal just wasn’t my favourite. I got the idea and understand what it means for Damage CTRL, it just undercut the drama in my view. Nonetheless, this was fabulous, an absolute thriller that’s paced to perfection. It speaks to just how watchable SKY is that even while remaining heel, she couldn’t help but give the people offence to cheer.

To her credit, Belair kept her head admirably too, as this was no doubt a surprise for all involved. For me, this was Belair’s best match since last year’s WrestleMania and SKY’s strongest main roster performance by a distance. There’s a lot to work with here moving forward also, so this pairing will hopefully return to the match guide before long.

Bad Bunny vs. Damian Priest (WWE Backlash)

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I adore pro wrestling because somehow, someway, this is the logical way to conclude my first weekly match guide. Don’t get me wrong, I expected a good time but this? I’m not sure even the wildest optimist could’ve foreseen such a thrill. This San Juan Street Fight was advertised as the first half of Backlash’s “double main event.” In truth, it was never sharing that moniker, regardless of placement. Bad Bunny has impressed in his prior outings but this was something entirely different, to say the least.

Considering the stipulation, you’d be forgiven for expecting an unofficial faction fight here. Your expectation wouldn’t necessarily be wrong either, as that’s indeed in attendance but yet, there’s so much more before we ever even veer in that direction. This is, as advertised, an actual match. Bad Bunny and Damian Priest, one-on-one. That sounds ridiculous and on some level, it obviously is, but they do a remarkable job of at least papering over some immediate cracks.

Priest’s power advantage is present throughout, with only overconfidence opening the door for any retort. Bad Bunny’s success is mostly limited to weaponry, as he swings for the fences with just about anything that he can get his hands on. Even still, Priest always feels a single right hand away from reclaiming control. In fact, Priest has the match won without too much trouble, halting his own pin after South of Heaven.

I appreciated that detail, as it establishes that Priest had Bunny beat, with only his arrogance getting in the way. Granted, they go another twenty minutes from there and so yeah, that logic falls apart pretty quickly with much thought but whatever, I respect the effort to maintain some ground rules. Ultimately though, this spectacle is such that even without those details, you’d be hard-pressed to have anything but a smile on your face.

Bad Bunny is so enthusiastic, just absolutely gleeful at the chance to do some craziness in this setting. Priest is quite remarkable too, providing the match with an authenticity that it so easily could’ve been left without. His performance is as grounded as it possibly could be, protecting himself while still seamlessly shining up Bad Bunny’s insanity. Meanwhile, the crowd is going berserk at every turn, maintaining the atmosphere that Bad Bunny’s instantly iconic entrance created.

That’s no mere luck either, as they keep this thing moving. They don’t rest on their laurels here, constantly adding another piece as they fight across the building. The match is eventually transformed by Priest’s own missed kick, as he destroys his leg on the ring-post. Bad Bunny then goes to work with some quite legitimate limb work, which is an incredible sentence that I just typed. That brings out The Judgment Day and after almost twenty minutes, the presumed faction warfare proceeds.

Even that far exceeds expectations though, as we get both Carlito and Savio Vega, with the former getting an especially outrageous ovation. The outnumbered Judgement Day are gloriously pathetic in retreat, eating signature spots left and right. After all that, we return to Bad Bunny and Damian Priest for their very own finishing stretch, protecting the big man as he eats an absolute onslaught before finally being pinned. That included a truly terrifying Sliced Bread #2, I must note.

In the celebrity wresting match genre, this may be the new gold standard. It is, in that realm at least, a genuine masterpiece. This thing goes 25 minutes and is an almost unparalleled rollercoaster, just packed with thrills. There’s a sense of sincere triumph as Bad Bunny celebrates with the LWO, Carlito and Vega afterwards. It feels like a genuine moment, the kind that’ll live forever. I truly believe that’s the case for this whole match, honestly, as it’s so truly singular.

This manages to feel like a genuine main event match without losing the shenanigans and spectacle that celebrity cameos require. It finds an almost perfect middle-ground in that regard, serving as the deserved centrepiece for a show far from short on quality. He’s still got years ahead of him of course, but this’ll almost certainly be the match that Damian Priest is most remembered for, and I mean that as a compliment of the highest order.

He was truly immense here, pitch perfect in a uniquely challenging role. Certainly, you can pick holes in this match. It’s almost certainly too long and even with extraordinary agenting, requires some squinting to maintain much logic. It’s such a joyous scene though, so willing to delight that I can only be swept up in the euphoria.  I very much enjoyed Brock Lesnar and Cody Rhodes’ eventual closer but in all the ways that matter, this was the true Backlash main event.

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