It’s a week for the television match, as the big men are back. Indeed, Dynamite hosts Kenny Omega’s return to singles competition, while Bryan Danielson enters an alleged dream match on Collision. In addition, Rampage earns its own headlines, being taken over by CMLL for its pound-for-pound opener. WWE have a hit of their own in that domain also, as Drew McIntyre’s road to the dark side continues, meeting Sami Zayn on RAW.
Elsewhere, IMPACT Wrestling returns to PPV as well as the TNA name, even bringing in Will Ospreay for the occasion. Finally, All Japan Pro Wrestling continues its encouraging 2023, as Kento Miyahara and Yuma Aoyagi meet again. This is a television cut of the guide and with two ad breaks to navigate, there’s no time to waste. To the match graphics!
Kenny Omega vs. Kyle Fletcher (AEW Dynamite)
In July, I reviewed the Dynamite main event between Kenny Omega and Wheeler Yuta. At the time, I commented on how novel that outing felt, as we’re increasingly without Omega matches such as this. Since returning to the ring, Omega’s singles output has mostly been limited to the biggest and best bouts which while wonderful, takes away these television snapshots. Since that Yuta match, Omega has wrestled just three singles bouts, with this latest one being his first on AEW TV.
His opponent has some momentum also, as Kyle Fletcher receives another sizeable opportunity not even two weeks after his duel with Bryan Danielson. The result is a better match, with Omega’s inactivity playing a part in that regard, frankly. At this point, an Omega singles bout is enticing regardless of opposition, giving this a noticeable atmosphere. That was only helped by Omega’s pre-match interview too, sharing the screen with AEW World’s Champion MJF.
Fletcher enters with his own segment, cutting a live promo prior to Omega’s entrance. The idea is that he’s trying to prove a point after being blamed for a recent tag loss by Don Callis. That unlocks some early aggression from him too, crowding Omega and swiftly belonging in terms of physicality. That’s important, as Omega gives him some space to fill, plugging in sparks of signature offence but wrestling rather selflessly, especially early.
Part of that is done by establishing the match’s lead theme beyond cool moves, as Fletcher is noticeably familiar with Omega’s repertoire. He’s often a step ahead, forcing Omega to counter his counter as they ramp things up. In terms of taking a control segment, Fletcher is still finding himself but on sheer physicality, he overcomes those hurdles quite seamlessly here. It’s pretty brief anyway, as they go into those aforementioned cool moves upon returning from the break.
This is where Fletcher really shines as an Omega opponent, being insane enough to fully unlock Kenny’s range. Particularly with this television runtime, Omega is able to really let loose here, producing some of his most explosive work of 2023. Fletcher has some hits of his own on that front, showcasing his own offence as they enter a race for the match’s most expansive bump. Fletcher ultimately wins that duel, being given the perfect ammunition with a spectacular V-Trigger.
When Omega is on offence, this is unsurprisingly glorious but his selflessness doesn’t hurt the match either, which is a credit to Fletcher. At not even thirteen minutes, this is ideal pro wrestling TV, serving two stories with a frantic thriller. Obviously, the PPV main events and such are more important, but I do hope that we get more of these Omega matches in the coming months. In some ways, these are the outings that most embody an all-timer’s greatness, for my money.
Regardless, an absolute triumph, and Fletcher’s strongest singles showing yet.
Mistico vs. Rocky Romero (AEW Rampage)
Billed as a duel for Mexico’s Pound-for-Pound crown, Mistico and Rocky Romero met for a significant bout on Friday’s Rampage. Beyond the match itself, this symbolised a shift, as AEW welcomed CMLL under their umbrella after years of partnership with AAA. Under any circumstances, that’s noteworthy, but especially after CMLL’s 2023. These two wrestlers have been central to that campaign, with Romero reinventing himself by producing the finest work of his career.
Mistico has managed similar in recent years while also being an outright mega-draw for the promotion, with that even translating to ticket sales for Wednesday’s television taping. AEW did a decent job of setting the stage for such an occasion also, steadily painting the picture over a week or so of promotion. In addition, they actively embraced the promotion’s usual presentation too, using CMLL referee Edgar Noriega and also using 2-out-of-3 falls rules.
The match delivers too, which is an important piece of the puzzle that’s been built by the factors above. Admittedly, it does take some adjusting to, especially with those more authentic touches. It genuinely feels like a CMLL title tilt somehow transported to AEW Rampage which while awesome, is a slightly jarring vibe. That’s most noticeable early, even with an engaged crowd, as they go to a pretty quick first fall that noticeably catches some off-guard.
The work to that point is already a treat though, basically serving as Mistico’s shine within the match’s wider framework. In response to being submitted, Romero then jumps him and takes over, making the second fall his heat segment. This is where Romero really shines, always wrestling way beyond his frame. Mechanically, Romero is silky smooth and a gorgeous watch, but his work as a heel has been a revelation as of late.
He manages to feel like such a mountaintop, wrestling with palpable arrogance and pacing things perfectly. He’s not afraid to get nasty either, uncorking right hands and just regularly roughing Mistico up. There’s a real restraint to his work in control also, steering the show with steady offerings and saving his more expansive offence for later. That arrives once he levels things up, making for a terrific deciding fall. It feels earned too, with the second fall already trending in that direction.
The match sports a comforting rhythm, escalating gradually with each piece building on the last. They have the time to do that also, which is why Rampage was probably the perfect place for this venture, ultimately going twenty minutes or so. That allows them to even pace things in that third fall, spacing out the highlights and maintaining something resembling their prior pace. As a result, the match is armed with a connective tissue, meaning that third fall feels like a culmination rather than some separate piece.
While not quite great, this is very good and has actually improved with each viewing for me. More than anything else, it’s just such a smooth watch, rooted in a traditional structure and bringing a classical title tilt to Rampage. Again, it’s no masterpiece but I loved this honestly, a great example of the wrestling that AEW should strive to present.
Kento Miyahara vs. Yuma Aoyagi (AJPW Raising An Army Memorial Series)
In February, Yuma Aoyagi once again challenged Kento Miyahara for his Triple Crown Title. It was his third time in that seat, previously falling short in 2022 as well as 2020. Elsewhere, they’d wrestled another six singles matches, with Aoyagi remaining winless thus far. That didn’t change in February either, even after an often dominant performance. In the dying moments, Aoyagi simply couldn’t break Miyahara’s grip, ultimately succumbing to a German suplex as a result.
Nonetheless, it felt like a matter of when for Aoyagi, rather than if. Two weeks after that match, All Japan Pro Wrestling would receive a shock, as Yuji Nagata dethroned Kento Miyahara to become Triple Crown Champion. That opened the door for Aoyagi, defeating Miyahara on the Champion Carnival’s opening night, then going on to defeat Nagata in July. Now, he meets Miyahara again, battling with their usual roles reversed as Aoyagi looks to make it two straight over the ace.
That’s quite the scenario and at times, the match meets that and more, but it takes them awhile to reach that point. Clocking in at just shy of half an hour, this one takes things slow early, understandably opting for a gradual escalation. That’s initially portrayed with refreshing intensity, as they wrestle cautiously, pondering the dangers of each position. This sets the stage for the inevitable bombs, as Aoyagi uncorks a forearm that Korakuen Hall reacts to accordingly.
Proud of his not-so-clean break, Aoyagi then takes advantage of Miyahara’s aggression, scoring first as the pace increases. That takes them to ringside where admittedly, their deliberate approach is somewhat undercut. As usual, Miyahara lands his thudding headbutts, though it very much feels as though he’s merely ticking that box. Aoyagi remains in control regardless, quickly taking back over as he throws Miyahara around ringside. They spend an awful long time on the floor, achieving little along the way.
It’s mostly aimless unfortunately, killing a few minutes more than anything else. In fact, they actively lose that initial intensity, as Aoyagi gets playful wit some fans which while endearing, doesn’t quite match their original tone. They quickly rebuild that element upon returning through the ropes, even without anything especially expansive. Aoyagi remains ahead, bossing things in centre ring as they steady the ship with a decent, even if slightly thin control segment.
Miyahara’s comeback ups the ante but doesn’t turn the tide for long, with Aoyagi responding via brainbuster on the apron. That transforms the match, drawing an urgency from Miyahara as he’s left with no choice but to get desperate. He lures Aoyagi into a downright shootout from there, forcing a rough brawl that allows him to level things up. At the first sign of success, Miyahara increases the spite, pushing that emerging door only further open.
That sets the stage for an expansive closing stretch, with an extended Aoyagi submission spot serving as a bridge. This is where the match shines brightest by far, truly exploding in a fashion that’s worth the wait. In particular, that includes a return to Miyahara’s fatal waist lock, going back to that image on multiple occasions in order to portray this dynamic’s development. It’s a superb finish, concealing some of the flaws that had emerged beforehand.
This is a bloated main event and takes awhile to find itself, even if they make it count once they get there. It’s a very good match, I just can’t help but feel as though it’d be an astonishing 20-minute bout. That’s a lazy way of framing things though, particularly as their February meeting went a similar length. Simply put, I’m always ready to embrace a deliberate slow build, I’d just like those early exchanges to establish some important ideas.
Instead, this is a pretty vague watch until they pick up the pace, which makes for a slightly uneven final product. Effectively, it’s a match of two halves but when it’s good, this thing is great, yet another hit for Miyahara’s 2023.
Mike Bailey vs. Will Ospreay (IMPACT Bound For Glory)
On a night in which their return to the TNA name dominated the headlines, IMPACT Wrestling also hosted their most noteworthy bout in some time. In fact, I’m not sure that a single match has escaped their bubble to this degree in well over a decade. That’s no surprise, and is just another day at the office for Will Ospreay of course, but it certainly allowed the later rebrand to pack an extra punch.
This match was originally booked for Multiverse United, the IMPACT x NJPW collaboration from WrestleMania weekend. Ospreay was injured however, with Hiroshi Tanahashi stepping in instead. Even still, Ospreay has wrestled ‘Speedball’ Mike Bailey before, sharing four previous singles matches. The first of those took place in the 2015 Battle of Los Angeles semi-final, since battling on three occasions in England. Most recently, they closed RevPro’s (first) Ten Year Anniversary show, wrestling for the promotion’s top title in August 2022.
That history is evident in this meeting too, as their chemistry is central throughout. It is the match that you’d expect, and rightly so, as this isn’t the pairing to subvert expectations with. In fact, their natural route is a perfect fit here, providing IMPACT’s biggest show with their underneath show stealer. Ultimately, it plays that role and then some, actually going beyond that and flirting with the top tier of Ospreay’s 2023 thrillers.
For the most part, it’s a shootout, an athletic showcase of the highest order. There are some nice ingredients to accompany those highlights also, as Ospreay is positioned to play the powerhouse here. His offence is well suited to that role, pairing neatly with his increasing reputation as a knockout artist. That’s evident for two portions in particular, though they start with a fittingly flash opening exchange. Soon enough however, Ospreay does take a brief control segment.
That’s the first occasion in which his size and strength advantage are central, loosely targeting the back and quite violently chopping Bailey to the mat. It’s nothing overly substantial, but just sets the stage for an extended burst from Bailey, making his comeback as they return to those initial sequences. Eventually, Ospreay surges back ahead, reiterating Bailey as the bout’s underdog until an explosive shootout arrives before the finish.
Now, as you can probably tell, this is not a match about any broad ideas, structural choices or anything in-between. Instead, this is a match about those aforementioned exchanges and sequences, which are hard to do justice in a format such as this. It must be said that at times, this is outright breathtaking on that front, marrying creativity and innovation with astonishing execution. Bailey is rapid and somehow, Ospreay’s increased size doesn’t prohibit him from keeping up.
In addition, it’s just about right at eighteen minutes too, reaching the finish line as it veers towards excess. This is not as ambitious as much of Ospreay’s 2023 but frankly, I think that works in the bout’s favour. It isn’t bloated or stretched thin, instead being tasked with its ideal purpose: go berserk and steal the show. It manages that with ease, rocking the house with an electric encounter.
Alex Shelley vs. Josh Alexander (IMPACT Bound For Glory)
On paper, it was hard to argue with IMPACT’s Bound For Glory main event. Last year, Alex Shelley and Josh Alexander produced one of the promotion’s finest title tilts, adding another hit to the latter’s impressive reign. In March though, that reign came to an abrupt halt, as an injury took the title from Alexander. Since then, Shelley has finally claimed the big one, defeating Steve Maclin in an upset at June’s Against All Odds event.
As a result, this was a natural direction, with Alexander returning to reclaim the prize that inside the ropes, he never lost. In execution, it’s not quite as you’d hope, even with some encouraging sparks emerging along the way. For whatever reason, they seem to struggle for a clear direction, drifting slightly instead in a fashion that greatly contrasts to their prior match. That was very focused, increasing Shelley’s believability as a contender and earning genuine drama.
This isn’t without similar ideas, particularly considering Alexander’s injury. That’s a natural target for Shelley and he’s veering that way throughout, it’s just a very gradual piece of the puzzle. At times, it almost feels as though they’re wrestling two matches: pairing a back and forth main event with those limb work ingredients. Even still, there are some neat touches, with Alexander’s injury being exacerbated by an ill-advised block at one juncture.
In addition, Shelley later evades Alexander’s shoulder tackle, with the challenger flying into the ring post. That felt far more organic than you’re currently imagining, and was an improvement on the overdone chop alternative. It’s not really the cutoff though, as Shelley instead does that exact chop spot while Alexander remains in control. I think their destination shaped things in that sense, as the match feels overly concerned with protecting Alexander.
I don’t mean that as some kind of commentary on ego either, it’s just not this match’s finest form. Shelley constantly chips away at Alexander but the challenger continues to roll, weakening the leg in doing so. That direction does have its moments, particularly as Shelley is forced to uncork an onslaught in order to even rattle Alexander, who bosses his role as a Terminator-style wrestling machine. Eventually, Shelley does take control, but they soon transition to a finish.
Ironically, that stretch is very NJPW at one point, with an extended counter wrestling sequence exciting Chicago. The comparison doesn’t exactly stop there either, as it feels attached in a fashion not dissimilar to some of those more hollow IWGP epics. Nonetheless, this is a good match, but settles about there for me. It just never fully comes together beyond that, struggling for a natural main event rhythm that truly hooks the people.
It’s mechanically tight and has some engaging elements, they just don’t quite marry as you’d like. It’s unfortunate, as their 2022 meeting was quite a distance better for my money, but this certainly isn’t a miss by any means either. Again, it’s just good, which has been a theme for me with this title scene’s recent output.
Andrade El Idolo vs. Bryan Danielson (AEW Collision)
The latest stop of Bryan Danielson’s unofficial retirement tour, ‘The American Dragon’s flawless 2023 continued on Saturday’s Collision. Opening the show opposite Andrade El Idolo, this was the rematch of a two-bout series from 2018, going ten minutes or so on consecutive SmackDown episodes. Here, they have almost double the time and a fresh Memphis crowd, sporting an impressive atmosphere considering the lack of build or setup. That’s not a criticism either, this is a wrestling show.
I find that folks often go from one extreme to the other with that topic, which slightly infuriates me. Pro wrestling promotions absolutely need a broader purpose and key stories to follow, but they can also book a cool match on occasion without anyone calling the police. There’s a healthy middle ground to be found, but I digress. Anyway, Andrade El Idolo vs. Bryan Danielson. Well, it is good, because of course.
Unlike their prior encounters, this is a babyface match, which very much shapes their approach. The first act is a clean wrestling contest, reaching frequent stalemates that the crowd acknowledges. Along the way though, Danielson makes inroads on the injured left arm, which has been a theme throughout Andrade’s in-ring return. As usual, Danielson portrays this just about perfectly, wrestling with intent but not going far enough to undercut his babyface connection.
Instead, the work on Andrade’s arm is subtle, being accompanied by more traditional babyface sequences. Those instances unlocks Andrade’s athleticism, which remains quite frightening. He’s still able to operate with such speed, seamlessly transitioning to bursts that his frame shouldn’t really be capable of anymore. He again wrestles with noticeable attention to detail also, increasingly guarding his arm as Danielson begins to veer in that direction. It’s nothing dramatic, just an adjustment to his stance and such.
Unable to claim a clear advantage, both men begin to show frustration, with a rough lockup from Andrade earning a sharp left chop. He responds accordingly, launching a sudden shootout that’s rich with intensity. That shift ultimately favours Danielson, taking a control segment during the break and increasing his focus on Andrade’s left arm. He’s able to get nasty with it now too, as any spite feels earned by that aforementioned firefight.
Andrade’s stance again adapts to that weakness, charging in southpaw as he gets desperate for a retort. It eventually arrives via flying elbow, finding an answer to one of Danielson’s signature combinations. During his comeback, Andrade’s selling comes and goes a touch, but it’s almost worth it for some of the range that he unleashes. Again, it’s unfathomable that he can remain so dynamic with such a bulkier frame, particularly after fifteen minutes or so of action.
As they near the finish line, Andrade begins to weaken Danielson’s leg, adding some weight to his own submission manoeuvre. Ideally, that would’ve came a stretch sooner, as it really does add an awful lot to their eventual submission race. At core though, this match is at its best when they trade bombs in centre ring, exchanging knockout blows between bursts of classical pro wrestling. It’s clearly an (extended) television cut of this pairing, but that’s still awful sweet.
Bryan Danielson is once again in rare form and Andrade El Idolo has been mostly terrific since returning to the ring, meaning that this delivered exactly as you’d expect. Again, it’s no epic nor is it trying to be one, but this is fabulous television wrestling. More specifically, it’s a refreshing babyface match, maintaining that genre’s core ingredients without sacrificing any physicality. Very good bout, AEW’s best of the week for my money.
Drew McIntyre vs. Sami Zayn (WWE RAW)
Since Jey Uso’s move to RAW, Drew McIntyre’s gradual heel turn has begun to accelerate. Now set to challenge for Seth Rollins’ World Heavyweight Title at Crown Jewel, McIntyre’s arc has become one of Monday’s lead stories. For now though, McIntyre remains a babyface, even if an increasingly disgruntled one. This week, he was able to continue his presumed progression towards the dark side, meeting Sami Zayn, a member of WWE’s emerging babyface all-stars.
It’s a natural fit for that purpose too, as it’s a pairing that’ll always position McIntyre in a certain role anyway. Even if he was the outright babyface working a heel Zayn, McIntyre would be dominant, shaping things with an even more extreme variant of his usual physicality. That’s still the case here, but allows McIntyre to trend further towards his expected destination, operating as the match’s antagonist without overly leaning in that direction.
At first, it’s a vaguely respectful wrestling match, battling for an advantage with tactics and technique. Even as they exchange holds though, there’s a slight edge to McIntyre, operating with a hint of smugness as he pushes Zayn away. In response to the roughness, Zayn snatches the week’s best headlock, attempting to wrangle McIntyre in the process. Interestingly, the first act is greeted by duelling chants, which noticeably fades once they find their shape.
That’s assisted by an arrogance from McIntyre, tackling Zayn to the mat and making him pay for chopping first. He flirts with some heat from there, shutting Zayn down a time or two as he threatens to flurry. Even during McIntyre’s sustained spells of momentum, the match has a palpable life, as Zayn constantly fires back. He’s always using the space given to him, providing the match with some offensive range while also bringing his own physicality.
In response, McIntyre is able to ramp things up further, clobbering Zayn throughout. He fully takes over as they go into an ad break, catching Zayn’s dive and launching him over the announce table. We return to that aforementioned sustained momentum, with Zayn’s comeback arriving before long. Beyond the initial burst, Zayn continues to roll with a staggered onslaught, finding multiple answers as McIntyre attempts to slow his retort.
It’s a neat idea executed seamlessly, really engaging Dallas with a relatively minimal closing stretch. That’s an example of how no match exists in a vacuum, with this being granted a head start by their ongoing angle. The people are already invested, allowing them to plug in a simple match with great effect. Granted, it’s executed wonderfully well, serving as yet another reminder of how effortlessly Zayn can still deliver in this context.
Ultimately, they handle some business with the finish, advancing McIntyre’s story on the road to Rollins. Very good match, another television cut that embraces that context.