Iron Survivor Triumph, All-Star Tags & Tournaments | Hulbert’s Weekly Match Guide 12/12


For the guide at least, it’s all about tournaments as we near 2024. In AEW, the Continental Classic is heating up in a major way, with Bryan Danielson unsurprisingly leading the charge. Meanwhile in Japan, both AJPW and NJPW earn a slot with their respective tag leagues, including an ambitious effort from the latter’s final. Speaking of final, IMPACT Wrestling conclude their era as IMPACT Wrestling, closing 2023 with an all-star tag of their own.

Finally, NXT’s DEADL1NE (pop) event produces an outright triumph with their latest Iron Survivor Challenge. So much wrestling, so few hours. Nonetheless, to the graphics we go!

Hokuto Omori & Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Kento Miyahara & Yuma Aoyagi (AJPW Real World Tag League)


All Japan’s Real World Tag League got underway last month, continuing recent tradition by flying under the radar since. That changed slightly on Wednesday, with Korakuen Hall hosting the tournament’s biggest match yet. The bout doubled as a ‘Road to’ tag between Katsuhiko Nakajima and Kento Miyahara, continuing the build to their upcoming title tilt. That match is set for December 31st, tasked with a tough act to follow after their July thriller.

Nonetheless, this tag match scratches the necessary itch, producing a strong main event while also previewing the promotion’s blockbuster attraction. This atmosphere is perfect for those objectives, embracing every interaction between champion and challenger. They don’t make them wait for that dynamic either, kicking the match off by picking up where they left off. Nakajima’s best work is often accompanied by a palpable tension, the unique sense that he could explode at any moment.  

That’s especially evident opposite Miyahara, whose usual confidence feels slightly cramped by their history. Over a decade ago, Nakajima had Miyahara’s number and based on their aforementioned July reunion, that hasn’t changed since either. Worse yet, Nakajima is now staying in Miyahara’s home, putting his feet up for good measure. As a result, the Triple Crown Champion is very comfortable with this matchup, scoring first and tagging out with smug satisfaction.

Nakajima claimed AJPW’s top prize by defeating Yuma Aoyagi, who Miyahara brings in as Hokuto Omori enters. The latter is somewhat of an odd man out here, but really makes the most of this spotlight, rising to the occasion with an impressive performance. He’s immediately on point, producing a sharp flurry only for Nakajima to reject his offer of a tag. That’s quietly a theme, as Nakajima very much feels as though he’s only in attendance to cement his advantage over Miyahara.

Their interactions are sprinkled throughout, exploding again as the bout’s illegal men, with Miyahara landing a piledriver on the apron. After some action at ringside, that launches a control segment on Omori. It’s nothing particularly memorable, but the looming threat of Nakajima does provide a noticeable edge. That’s only heightened by Aoyagi actively taunting him, earning some focus of his own from the champion. It’s an interesting role for Nakajima, as he’s not exactly Ricky Morton.

In fairness, he doesn’t try to play house afire babyface here anyway, showcasing fitting spite and swiftly reigniting the war with Miyahara. That unlocks their most elaborate shootout, increasing the bout’s preview portion as the magic between them takes centre stage. With that in mind, Aoyagi and Omori do a terrific job in making their own portions stick, matching that intensity and maintaining the match’s momentum. Their efforts allow the closing combination offence to feel significant, rather than a mere distraction.  

This isn’t one for a year-end list, nor is it trying to be. It’s just about perfect for the occasion though, delivering on the matchup itself while shining a light on their December 31st main event.

Mark Briscoe vs. Swerve Strickland (AEW Dynamite)


The gold league reached new heights on Wednesday, as Mark Briscoe and Swerve Strickland met for the first time. Considering their contrasting Continental Classic directions, this matchup could’ve so easily come and gone without incident. After all, the outcome was never really in doubt, even with Briscoe’s tournament hopes hanging in the balance. Once again though, Briscoe outwrestled his push and presentation, producing Wednesday’s strongest tournament bout yet opposite Strickland.

That took some doing too, as Montreal wasn’t exactly rocking at the bell. With that in mind, their approach is even bolder, taking their time early and committing to a classical pace. Briscoe is steering the ship in that regard, wrestling with caution after losing his first two tournament bouts. Both those matches were fiery, physical shootouts, forcing Briscoe to try something different. As a result, he engages in a more traditional wrestling match, swiftly taking things to the mat.

Strickland adjusts accordingly, having his own success in that domain as they battle for control of the headlock. I always love little themes such as this one, shining a light on something that’s so often used as a throwaway ploy. At times, the headlock is like a box that needs ticking but with matches like this, you reiterate its entire purpose. With that hold in particular, Briscoe successfully dictates the pace, then ramping up the intensity and targeting Strickland’s injured shoulder.

It’s a slightly challenging dynamic for those in attendance, mostly observing as the bout’s babyface takes an early control segment. In fairness, the crowd are ready to cheer Strickland anyway, they just aren’t rushing to do it at Briscoe’s expense. Either way, they soon find a more familiar form, with Strickland turning the tide and responding to the support via spiteful spit. That accelerates their road to the match’s most natural shape, returning Briscoe to his usual role.

There’s also this sense that those initial efforts were merely delaying the inevitable, with any poise quickly leaving their dynamic. Before long, it’s sporting the intensity of Briscoe’s prior bouts, with Strickland producing his snappiest tournament showing yet. With a big suplex on the floor, Strickland finds a target of his own, somewhat vaguely circling the lower back before settling in a hold. They trust their direction, letting the people root Briscoe upright for his eventual comeback.

As usual, it’s glorious, naturally taking the match up a notch or two, seamlessly launching the back and forth ahead. As that action arrives, it’s very apparent that their patience has paid off, feeling truly earned in a fashion that has the previously tame crowd rocking. It’s just about perfect in that sense, building gradually and finding rare form late. In fact, its biggest flaw is that it ends sooner than necessary, as they could’ve easily pushed that slow build a beat or two further.

It’s a great match regardless, showcasing immediate chemistry within a matchup that I personally found hard to picture. Both men have slightly quirky styles yet they gelled seamlessly, interestingly doing so with a mostly traditional bout. In fact, I’d go as far to say that at times, it feels like a borderline throwback, being wrestled with such control. They show immense polish here, trusting their story and ultimately reaping the benefits.

Bron Breakker vs. Dijak vs. Josh Briggs vs. Trick Williams vs. Tyler Bate (NXT DEADL1NE)

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Last year, NXT did the unthinkable: introducing a new match type that didn’t entirely suck. In fact, it actually earned positive reviews. That match was of course the Iron Survivor Challenge, marrying the Iron Man with the Championship Scramble, adding a dash of King of the Mountain to boot. That description is both apt and unfair, as it’s far simpler in execution than it reads on WWE’s own ruleset graphic, let alone my take on the matter.

While I heard good things, I didn’t actually catch either Iron Survivor match last year, making Saturday’s male entry my first. On paper, it’s not a lineup that exactly thrilled me, even with some undeniable talent involved. With that being said, this is one the year’s most emphatic agenting triumphs, being produced to perfection without feeling overly contrived. That’s made possible by a relative restraint in terms of multi-man sequencing, which surprised me considering the stipulation.

Dijak and Josh Briggs set the stage, sharing a portion that ranges from clumsy to impressive. They are swinging big in fairness, also wrestling to a limited atmosphere as naturally, fans are aware that the early momentum swings will soon be rendered irrelevant anyway. Tyler Bate provides the pairing with a different dynamic, battling both as the triple threat action is kept to a minimum. It’s a steady opening ten minutes, featuring a couple neat ideas without overextending.

The match then noticeably shifts, with Trick Williams entering to a star reaction. That’s nothing new but better yet, his work is encouraging here too, being showcased seamlessly throughout. It’s suited to his skill-set in fairness, using athleticism to plug in blockbuster spots. Bron Breakker is similarly at home in this environment, receiving an incredible introduction as he makes an immediate impact. Not long ago, I was very keen on him receiving an early call-up but this heel run feels more and more worthwhile.

It’s allowing him to lean further in the direction that’s most suited to his current game, operating with palpable intensity. He and Williams swiftly share a staredown in centre ring, foreshadowing the finish while equally focusing on the match’s two biggest prospects. As the others get back involved, those snappy set pieces return also, again arriving with surprising restraint. They do smartly reset things as the final five minutes gets underway, briefly getting everyone back involved.

Initially, Williams is kept in the background of that segment, or as much as that’s possible at least. Breakker actively removes him from the picture at one juncture, ultimately launching Williams’ comeback for a genuinely superb finish. It’s the kind of conclusion that not only rocks those in attendance but actively assists this match type, producing a moment that’ll always be used as an example of what’s possible. That’s a fitting final product, as this is impressively focused throughout.

I didn’t necessarily expect that, as this stipulation demands a certain chaos, yet this is always achieving something worthwhile. It’s not totally without that chaos either, being performed with a spontaneity that allows each piece to organically connect. All things considered, I’m not sure that this possibly could’ve gone better, a home run for the genre.

Josh Alexander & Zack Sabre Jr. vs. The Motor City Machine Guns (IMPACT Final Resolution)

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In their final event under the IMPACT Wrestling name, the former and soon to be TNA hosted Zack Sabre Jr. The current NJPW World Television Champion had previously appeared at the second Multiverse United show but for all intents and purposes, was making his promotional debut here. His assignment? An all-star tag to conclude this era, standing alongside Josh Alexander opposite The Motor City Machine Guns. Unfortunately, the setting doesn’t quite do that matchup justice.

Nonetheless, these styles don’t require much pomp and circumstance anyway, still combining for an enjoyable technical showcase. Beyond the general skill on display, the match features some neat ideas also, with Alexander and ZSJ’s interplay being the highlight. It’s not a ‘can they co-exist’ dynamic either, as they mostly operate rather well, Sabre Jr.’s usual quirks just organically provide material. At one point, they debate which limb to work, supporting their suggestions with evidence.

On the other hand, The Motor City Machine Guns remain a well-oiled machine, using two smart tags in the bout’s opening act. That contrast is a recurring theme, particularly as they trade control segments. The makeshift pairing ultimately settles on Shelley’s leg, by the way, soon feeding a pretty tepid Sabin tag. As you’d expect, the work ranges from solid to superb, with Shelley and Sabre Jr.’s initial duel on the mat trending towards the latter.

For whatever reason, I couldn’t quite fathom that they’d never wrestled before, supplying the matchup with a neat novelty. It’s very much wrestled with that importance also, sporting an all-star layout over its near-30 minute runtime. Unfortunately, that’s where the limited atmosphere hinders the bout, as the match just isn’t received as much of an attraction. As a result, their gradual build is tested, making for a slick but somewhat cold viewing experience.

That feeling is only exacerbated by the unique scenario, as it’s ultimately an exhibition. More specially, it’s an exhibition that‘s concluding a chapter that’ll soon be irrelevant, as IMPACT effectively starts over again in 2024. Either way, the match provides a glance at each available scenario, with Sabin and Shelley regaining control by working over ZSJ. The NJPW grappler plays a surprisingly engaging babyface in peril, finding a slick transition to Alexander’s own hot tag.

His comeback threatens to launch the finishing stretch, only for them to slightly reset afterwards instead. The match struggles for a rhythm in that sense, operating at a steady pace that seldom escalates until the very end. That’s where the length makes things tougher, with the isolation of Sabin feeling a touch aimless, let alone the hint of heat on Alexander that follows. Once it arrives though, the actual closing portion does very much deliver, increasing the pace for a sharp conclusion.

As expected, it’s a good match, even if bloated. This is a case where the occasion was actively limiting but on sheer style and skill, they could only fall so far. It’s a comforting watch in that sense, feeling like a world class spar that you’re secretly sitting in on. That may not have been what anyone had in mind when the matchup was announced, but it’s a pleasant watch nonetheless, adapting to the setting with a polished main event.

Claudio Castagnoli vs. Eddie Kingston (AEW Collision)


With his back against the wall after an 0-2 start, Eddie Kingston met a familiar foe on Collision. He and Claudio Castagnoli were tied at one win apiece in 2023, reigniting their rivalry from over a decade prior. That included one of the finest bouts of either man’s career at Supercard of Honor, producing a classical World’s Title tilt on WrestleMania weekend. Kingston fell short on that night, then redeeming himself at Arthur Ashe stadium, becoming double champion.

That sequel didn’t quite reach the heights of its original but had the pivotal happy ending nonetheless. This rubber match is an interesting middle ground between those efforts, pushing a serious pace while still swinging for something epic. I think the second half of that equation provides a bump or two in the road late, but it’s a thrilling ride to that point. Kingston wrestles with palpable urgency at the bell, being greeted by a similar approach from Castagnoli.

The initial shootout is natural for these two anyway, with their established bad blood bringing a familiar fire from both men. This particular scenario allows them to really embrace that direction though, as Castagnoli is keen to bounce back from his own defeat while Kingston is outright desperate. That increased importance produces one of the more sustained shines of Kingston’s AEW career, charging into a dive as well as some of his biggest bombs.

Castagnoli survives that outburst long enough to respond with one of his own, resetting the match via an early near fall. Kingston is always wrestling with his own emotions, but that’s especially central to his matches with Castagnoli. In fact, it’s often a matter of containing that hatred, sticking to a gameplan rather than wrestling naively. That theme is maintained in this rubber match, with Kingston’s frantic first act only allowing Castagnoli to eventually take over.

As a result, the match soon finds its ideal rhythm, with Kingston fighting from underneath, launching chops at the first sign of space. They barely even slow Castagnoli though, who increasingly overwhelms Kingston with his unique combination of aggression and athleticism. If Bryan Danielson is the perfect wrestler, Castagnoli isn’t far behind, providing yet another mountain for Kingston to climb. If anything, Castagnoli presents an even greater contrast to Kingston, which shapes much of their rivalry.

Castagnoli retains that initial urgency in control too, battering Kingston and only stopping to occasionally admire his handywork. For much of the runtime, Kingston is merely surviving, and even that is in question as Castagnoli steers the ship. It’s awhile until Kingston musters what you’d consider a comeback, instead simply toughing it out long enough for his chops to wear on Castagnoli. His signs of life begin to slowly expand, with Castagnoli holding his feet long enough to pay the price.

That opens the door for Kingston’s actual comeback, clubbing his way out of the hole that he’d dug for himself. From there, it’s a race to the finish, engaging in the match’s first back and forth momentum swings of note. Unfortunately, I think they extend that portion a beat or two far, slightly missing their natural conclusion. That’s not even really a criticism of those final minutes either, more of a compliment to their work prior to that point.

Either way, the finish itself is superb, circling back to Supercard which at its best, this match threatens as their finest. I’m not sure that it quite manages that, particularly with the slightly uneven bridge to their finish, but these two are just incredibly watchable together. They are made to fight one another, perhaps AEW’s most perfect contrast of all.

Andrade El Idolo vs. Bryan Danielson (AEW Collision)


Not even two months removed from their alleged “dream match,” Andrade El Idolo and Bryan Danielson met again on Saturday’s Collision. As usual with Danielson though, this rematch has a very different flavour to its predecessor. In fact, it is the Continental Classic’s official eye work match, which became inevitable with Danielson’s broken orbital bone. Andrade is an interesting choice for that role, entering as a somewhat undefined babyface supporting act.

He adjusts seamlessly though, turning in one of the strongest performances of his AEW run. In fairness, that’s a theme with Danielson opponents, but this feels slightly different. Even at his in-ring best, Andrade’s game seldom leaned on spite, yet that’s a defining trait here. He portrays that aggression with relative subtlety too, allowing for an escalation befitting the occasion. It’s initially a clean wrestling match, building on their October bout with more of the same.

The early exchanges are mostly traditional as a result, with Andrade again testing himself on the mat. In the first act, he makes a point of securing the headlock, returning to that hold throughout. It has an immediate, potentially inadvertent effect on Danielson’s eye, increasing the intensity as strikes emerge. That shift brings a rash dive from Danielson, exacerbating his injury in the process. In response, Andrade accepts the invitation to rough things up, landing a boot to Bryan’s eye.

The match finds a very distinct form from there, as Andrade removes Danielson’s eyepatch and goes to work. Danielson embraces that firefight, launching headbutts and accelerating his own demise. Bryan’s bravery adds an interesting wrinkle to Andrade’s approach, as it’s almost as though that defiance leaves him with no choice but to go further. Danielson refuses to concede, forcing Andrade to charge through the door that he kicked open in the heat of battle.

Andrade’s own ego is present also, still sporadically returning to the wrestling match that he failed to win in October. It’s all about Danielson’s bloody eye though, even earning a gouge from Andrade who begins to display more and more of that aforementioned spite. That ingredient isn’t always conveyed by what Andrade does either, so much as how he does it. The gouge and such speaks for itself, but there’s a palpable edge to Andrade general approach, sporting an almost desperate snarl.  

The direction allows Andrade’s current game to spread its wings, focusing on physicality more than flash. In his bulkier frame, the contrasting approach can produce a slight clunkiness and while that remains in attendance here, it feels tonally at home. He manages an impressive balance in his approach also, leaving himself room to target the eye further until that conclusive onslaught. As a result, Andrade’s post-match concern feels feasible, as he wrestles to win more than anything else.

Certainly, there are still venomous shortcuts within that route but broadly, it’s not enough to undercut his current presentation. Regardless, it’s yet another hit for the Continental Classic and more specifically, a unique addition to Danielson’s astonishing 2023 catalogue. Perhaps most impressively, this was actually wrestled before Danielson’s tremendous Rampage main event with Daniel Garcia, a match in which he embodied an entirely different role. What is there even left to say at this point, it almost feels unfair.

As a result, Andrade was the story here for my money, or at least the one that didn’t feel obvious. For all his talent, Andrade was asked a question here that I’m not sure he always could’ve answered. On Collision though, he had the perfect response, attacking Danielson’s gaping weakness without totally erasing his usual image. That took a more nuanced performance than we’ve come to expect from Andrade in AEW, whose best work has generally been shaped by firepower and thrills.

It’s not quite the Continental Classic’s best match thus far, but it’s distinct in a fashion that felt destined for a different Danielson matchup. I sense that this tournament’s biggest hits remain ahead but once it’s complete, these two need an extended rubber match to settle the score.

Bishamon vs. Guerrillas of Destiny (NJPW World Tag League)


An all-champion clash closed this year’s NJPW World Tag League, as Bishamon looked to complete their threepeat against the current Strong Openweight titleholders. In 2021, Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI toppled House of Torture in twenty minutes, then clocking in at just shy of thirty with their 2022 triumph over Aussie Open. Naturally, they took another step in that direction this year, battling El Phantasmo and Hikuleo for a whopping forty minutes.

That runtime dominated much of the immediate conversation, with substantial praise playing runner-up. Now, I do think that it’s important to judge each match on its owns merits but naturally, that bold choice will shape much of any assessment. It’s so extreme that you can’t help but approach the bout as an experiment of some kind, giving it a unique novelty for someone nerdy enough to write a professional wrestling match guide.

In fairness, it’s a good match, featuring a few bursts of something beyond that. It’s basically split into two differing halves, with the first being mostly conventional. They take their time at the bell, engaging those in attendance and positioning building blocks with some traditional action. Phantasmo and YOSHI-HASHI lead the way in that regard, setting the stage until a control segment on Goto. An early YOSHI-HASHI hot tag follows, then launching some heat on ELP.

Among this lineup, Phantasmo is most suited to playing babyface in peril, embracing the role that later unlocks the match’s closing stretch. The actual work in control isn’t much though, being mostly serviceable in both directions. One genuine issue that the length creates is an inevitable lack of urgency, as each man’s game feels at least somewhat stretched thin. As a result, they have to pace themselves in a fashion that gives the match’s first half an almost exhibition feel.

Either way, Hikuleo produces an encouraging hot tag, transitioning the match to its second half. That chunk is basically an extended finish, though not in the sense that it’s constant back and forth action. Instead, there are still prolonged portions of dominance, they are just portrayed by near falls and tandem offence as tags admittedly fade to the background. Goto and Hikuleo set the stage for that shift, combining for a double down that signals genuine escalation.

Unfortunately, they take that step early enough that well shy of half an hour, a natural finish feels within reach. That’s especially noticeable as Phantasmo and YOSHI-HASHI share an exhausted duel in centre ring. It’s the right wrestling at the wrong time, displaying refreshing struggle but doing so early enough that they are without many rungs left to climb. Even still, they do a nice job of maintaining some shape, with a Guerrillas of Destiny portion allowing Goto’s own hot tag.

The match is then built around ELP’s defiance, returning to that babyface in peril role as he’s cornered by Bishamon. The IWGP champions are genuinely great as they head in that direction, stalking ELP before launching a virtual mugging. Their finish is strong also, sporting its own identity that builds on the rest rather than going in circles. That segment will steal the headlines and understandably so, as it really does deliver, producing palpable drama in the process.

With that being said, this is a case in which I have no choice but to utilise that frustratingly familiar critique: this would only be helped by an edit. The middle portion is unnecessarily bloated and while they get there in the end, it doesn’t have the heat to disguise that excess. In addition, it’s probably short on a key idea or two for this length, and would’ve benefitted from something more specific if forty minutes was a non-negotiable task. 

Nonetheless, there’s an awful lot to like here and even with that bloat, it’s a good match. El Phantasmo turns in a particularly impressive performance and everyone takes a sincere swing at the challenge. In the end though, it still very much feels like a challenge, even with those positive qualities. An admirable effort with some really strong individual pieces, just one stretched thinner than necessary.

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