It was a busy weekend for professional wrestling and though I’m still recovering from the rollercoaster ride, it’s time to overanalyse some graps. Clearly, it was all about the main eventers this week, from IMPACT Under Siege to AEW Double or Nothing, and so that’ll be our main focus. NXT Battleground inexplicably emerged as a smash hit also though and Best of the Super Juniors concluded while elsewhere, WWE crowned a new World Heavyweight Champion.
Clearly, there’s much professional wrestling to nit-pick but first, I must reiterate that these are NOT necessarily the weekend’s best matches, simply a selection that I wanted to expand upon.
PCO vs. Steve Maclin (IMPACT Under Siege)
While I have my doubts about his qualifications for the role of World’s Champion, I like Steve Maclin an awful lot. With that being said, I have to concede that I didn’t have much interest in PCO as his challenger. Then, an image or two from this match emerged and I quickly felt incredibly silly for ever doubting PCO in such a spot. He is, of course, dangerously insane and even at 55 years old, that’s more than enough to ensure that this act still works.
It’s a simple formula, as PCO effectively plays punching bag, eating every possible blow and landing in any fathomable weapon. Upon thought, no punching bag suffers like this, PCO is a singular force in that regard. Inevitably, that’s what this match is too, but there’s a very violent twist to boot as in the bout’s opening act, Maclin eats a trash can shot that leaves him absolutely covered in blood. It’s an insane amount of blood, extreme enough for the most gruesome slasher flick, let alone wrestling.
The visual is really quite revolting as it’s not just the blood, which is now pouring in every direction but the visible wound itself, visible throughout. That pairs the challenger’s outrageous stunt bumps with an even more overt danger, adding a desperation that glues one spot to the next. In truth, it’s really just a compilation of insane ideas but with that blood, it feels like Maclin is racing against the clock. He’s not just trying to kill the monster anymore, he’s simply trying to survive.
The attempts to murder that monster certainly continue too, as Maclin mostly maintains control, even when covered in red from head to toe. There are a few clunky moments but the outright insanity is such that it’s impossible to care, with Maclin even taking a staple gun to PCO’s mouth at one juncture. That’s a spot that’ll live long in the memory and PCO gets his money’s worth too, going full Frankenstein before using pliers to remove the staples.
Crazy as they read, those words still don’t do this justice, it’s a truly horrifying watch. Clearly, no matter how much blood was on Maclin’s head, PCO was taking these bumps regardless, that’s simply his shtick. Bless him for that too, it’s worked a treat, even if the viewing experience borders on uncomfortable at times. Either way, this match finds a very specific tone when those same bumps are accompanied by Maclin’s petrifying visual, finding an intensity that makes each frightening fall feel necessary.
These two would’ve managed something fun regardless but this is one of one, stumbling upon the secret sauce to make this the best match they could possibly produce together. Credit to them, their efforts earned some well-deserved hype, even if it would’ve benefitted from a quieter weekend of wrestling. One final thing, if you see a man’s mouth stapled shut by a guy literally leaking blood from his forehead, please don’t chant “we want tables,” they probably have something far crazier in mind.
AJ Styles vs. Seth Rollins (WWE Night of Champions)
Tasked with establishing the new World Heavyweight Title as WWE’s workhorse belt, these two had a few factors going against them. Firstly, they were opening this event, which while usually a positive, didn’t exactly scream prestige for this emerging prize. In addition, it was hard to doubt the result, with this belt feeling destined for Seth Rollins all along. Those challenges are present once the bell rings, considerably limiting the bout’s drama and yet, I still enjoyed this very much.
There’s a charm to this match, a certain knowhow to Styles’ performance in particular. He’s not what he was and at 45 years old, how could he be, but Styles is simply too smart to fail in this position. Even without feeling like a genuine threat to Rollins’ inevitable title win, he gives everything in attempting to maximise this moment, somehow making me believe for a fleeting moment or two. In that sense, it’s a momentary glance at Styles’ finest work.
By contrast, Seth Rollins is in the form of his life right now but historically, I haven’t always loved him in this kind of scenario. There’s an artform to the traditional main event style match, doing the dance in a twenty minute title tilt. Rollins isn’t bad at it necessarily, I just think his strengths are better showcased in more compact, explosive showings. I believe that’s on display here, especially late, but there’s a certain cadence to this early, that timeless seesaw rhythm.
It’s your classical babyface bout, even if the offence on display is more neat and tidy than anything explosive or snappy. It’s spread out smartly enough though that each offering still packs a punch anyway. The pacing is slower than many would’ve liked or even expected, but each momentum shift feels deliberate, almost every instance seeming consequential. I love that first act and the crowd did too, chanting “this is awesome” before they’d even really done anything overly expansive.
The deeper they get though, the more that Styles takes and the match settles into something more steady than engrossing. They don’t lose me in that middle portion, but the match feels less dynamic for the direction. In an ideal world, it would have probably worked better with Rollins in control, picking a body part and working over the older man. Rollins was getting his hand raised here though and so, it’s Styles who dictates the pace before ultimately falling short.
Even still, there are some genuine highlights in that middle act, showing flashes of the offensive fireworks that you could’ve presumed were in Styles’ past. Unfortunately, they lose their way slightly late. The work’s quality noticeably declines and Rollins’ selling is inconsistent after Styles focuses on his knee. That admittedly rough landing doesn’t erase my enjoyment of the ride though as warts and all, much of this served as pro wrestling comfort food for me.
There is a quality to this archetype that I will always appreciate. Two babyface wrestlers with overlapping fanbases, listed alongside one another as WWE’s in-ring best, doing the dance. I’m not here to debate the accuracy of that perception, especially in 2023, but I enjoyed this very much. While not blessed by any build or uncertainty of outcome, this was your traditional World’s Title tilt, the back and forth battle that’s too often drowned in something more complicated.
It’s far from perfect but at its best, this is wrestling stripped to its raw ingredients. More specifically, it’s possibly the final chance to see Styles in a match of this ilk, a flawed but charming reminder of his greatest hits.
Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn vs. Roman Reigns & Solo Sikoa (WWE Night of Champions)
The Bloodline formula isn’t for everyone but I must say, it’s greatest hits remain for me, which was my main takeaway from Night of Champions. Granted, the match itself served as a mere backdrop to the eventual angle that came within its finish, but there’s a lot to like here before the Usos’ melodrama even arrives. It’s worth noting that solely on concept, I’m a sucker for the all-star tag, which Reigns’ presence alone solidifies this as.
Owens and Zayn are a main event act in their own right too, and this has palpable heat, with the latter receiving a hero’s welcome. It’s Reigns’ response to that adoration that for me at least, steals the show, which is admittedly absurd considering the work put in elsewhere. Zayn is at home as the babyface in peril, embracing the role of ragdoll and being scrappy throughout. Owens remains a constant highlight also, again pairing this tale’s theatrics with a no-nonsense aggression and grit.
I thought Sikoa was impressive here as well, even if he remains slightly short on weaponry in an extended heat segment. Before and after that portion though, his offence was noticeably sharp, only assisted by perfect placement and extraordinary bumping from the champs. It’s all about Reigns however, even as he simply stands on the apron. He’s the conductor, maximising his star presence and giving this a prestige that it simply wouldn’t have otherwise. With a mere glare, his heat expands.
It’s not exactly a thriller until the final act, especially without much of an extended shine early. The audience are so with them though that it doesn’t really matter, as they are along for the ride regardless. Reigns has become an embodiment of every veteran’s cliché critique and he’s so over that with this presentation at least, it works for him almost monthly. The “deliberate pace” that we hear so much about doesn’t disconnect a single viewer, only increasing the volume of those “Roman sucks” chants.
All of this is ideal for the tag team arena, setting the stage for Owens’ eventual hot tag. The intensity of Owens is such a pivotal ingredient whenever he clashes with The Bloodline’s more stoic output. He injects an energy and excitement at the exact moment it’s needed, elevating the bout with just a single offensive flurry. Speaking of such, it’s the Owens – Reigns action that we get here which ramps things up, taking this from good to borderline great before the actual finish even gets rolling.
That quickly follows anyway, as Zayn makes his own comeback on Solo, allowing for some immense near falls late. The finish itself involves The Usos though and more specifically, their aforementioned melodrama. Like almost everything on display here, it won’t be for everyone and understandably so, but it’s yet again for me, as I remain almost embarrassingly invested in the latest ups and downs of Jimmy and Jey. Investment is the secret sauce in that regard, and this team has mine.
If nothing else, it certainly rocked the live crowd, developing The Bloodline angle in a major way to a raucous ovation. As much as I enjoyed the action here, it’s not the match’s main appeal to me. Instead, this is yet another case of Reigns wrestling a match that at this point, only he can successfully. That’s not a slight on anyone else either, it’s just a result of his truly singular presentation and for me at least, makes for a quite fascinating watch.
He gets so much out of so little, a complete contrast to the overall industry trend. Each time, I find myself wrapped up in these tales too, inexplicably engaged by the latest rendition of ref bump and run-in. I don’t know, there’s simply a charm to this formula for me, a timeless quality that’s increasingly uncommon for my money. Great match, even if I concede that each strength I’ve listed could be cited as a flaw.
Master Wato vs. Titan (NJPW Best of the Super Juniors)
As a very casual observer of this tournament and frankly, NJPW in general at this point, I was surprised to see this matchup emerge as the Best of the Super Juniors final. Master Wato has never jumped off the page for me but this promotion feels increasingly daring in that regard, with this being the latest bold swing to connect. Even as the eventual victor though, Wato isn’t the headline here in my view, which says more about his opponent than any misstep of his own.
From start to finish, Titan is simply outrageous, producing one of the most spectacular offensive displays that I can recall. Even for this tournament, it was striking, a simply staggering level of execution. The acrobatics themselves are immense but they’re also delivered with a palpable desperation, each landing sharper than the last. He feels like a man possessed, rising to the occasion and making the absolute most of this moment. Again, none of the above is a slight on Wato.
He does an admirable job of matching Titan’s pace, especially early, also building the match’s foundations with some slick mat work. He’s a spirited, plucky presence also, fighting uphill and staying alive throughout. Beyond anything physical though, Wato is simply the heart of this match, allowing for a quite staggering fan investment. The heat for this is almost unfathomable and though Titan’s work only encourages their excitement, they’re seemingly hooked by a connection to Wato.
In terms of structure and such, there’s not really much to explore, it’s a match shaped by the quality of execution. The work speaks for itself in that regard, an all action thriller. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not just mindless stuff, there’s simply no sense complicating this thing’s appeal. Titan does work over Wato’s leg some but it’s mostly a backdrop, an idea that they return to where necessary and happily exclude otherwise. That’s not my favourite trend, but it certainly doesn’t hurt the bout’s drama.
Instead, Titan’s eventual submission attempts are an incredibly effective false finish, creating one of the year’s most magical moments. As Wato fights towards the bottom rope, it’s impossible to question the consistency of the tale being told, you can only be swept up in its electricity. That stretch is simply enthralling, the kind of struggle that makes this feel like the biggest match imaginable. In this context, it could be reasonably framed that way also, which is a credit to the courageous matchmaking.
Some matches just connect, working in a fashion that erases the imaginary “rules.” This is one of those, an astonishing thriller that’s not built on any broad ideas or genius attention to detail but instead, world class pro wrestling unlocked to its wildest potential. Simply spectacular, a transformative win for one man and a star-making showing for the other.
Dijak vs. Ilja Dragunov (NXT Battleground)
I must concede, I’ve never been a great believer in Dijak. NXT Battleground earned almost universal acclaim though and this match was the centrepiece of that praise, even being deemed a match of the year candidate. This is a Last Man Standing match, with the core idea being that Dijak is keen on testing just how much Ilja Dragunov enjoys pain. Now, that concept isn’t necessarily portrayed with much subtlety but thankfully, it demands the core ingredients that belong in both men’s best work.
With this outline, Dijak is able to showcase his whole offensive arsenal, which remains varied as ever. Dragunov not only relishes the chance to sustain each bomb, but appears in absolute agony throughout. He has a palpable passion for this kind of punishment, which certainly serves Dijak well but it’s far from one way traffic, only veering in that direction late. There’s an immense intensity to Dragunov’s work and it forces an aggression out of Dijak that I don’t always associate with his game.
The match is at its best in those little pockets of physicality, trading blows with bad intentions. There are some more expansive set pieces that hit also but Dragunov is a master of these heated shootouts, firing back but never undercutting the bigger man. Unlike many of these matches, they don’t lose that fire to the available weaponry either, instead focusing on two central elements that keep the match moving. The steel steps are the first of those, making up much of the middle act.
There are the obvious hits in that regard, from Dragunov’s DDT to his later coast-to-coast high spot. The beauty of Dragunov though is that he can make the simplest ideas stick, producing my favourite steps spot by simply taking a brutal whiplash bump. Later, the match veers in Dijak’s direction, more loudly returning to that prior notion of him testing Dragunov’s penchant for pain. They use the kendo stick for that purpose, with Dijak violently whacking Dragunov while demanding answers.
Admittedly, I didn’t love the theatrical presentation of this portion as more than anything else, it wasn’t necessary. Dijak was genuinely battering Dragunov, the violence spoke for itself without any ongoing dialogue in-between. That’s an issue for me throughout honestly, though it’s hard to stress about when they’re offering such brutality. Great as he is, Dragunov can be dangerously dramatic and just as his intensity brought a fire out of Dijak, his histrionics encouraged some questionable responses also.
Even still, I really like this match. It’s packed with aggression, built upon a roughness that’s constant throughout. There’s a sense of danger and it’s much more raw than you’ll usually get in this often sanitised setting. Here, the physicality is such that they escape those confines, executing a few core set pieces well enough that this organically evolves into something epic. They don’t let the stipulation get in their way either, often using the ten count as a dramatic double down rather than constantly halting the action.
Instead, this thing is paced pretty much perfectly, with outright clobbering providing the connective tissue between those bigger highlight reel moments. That clobbering is the highlight for me, two heavy hitters setting the tone via harsh, hateful exchanges. Dijak’s athletic talent goes without saying, the challenge for him is projecting danger, portraying genuine menace. Certainly, Dragunov only helped him in that regard here but this was a career best effort regardless.
Vicious and violent, fifteen minutes extremely well spent.
Darby Allin vs. Jack Perry vs. MJF vs. Sammy Guevara (AEW Double or Nothing)
Though the build was increasingly divisive, there was never much doubt surrounding the in-ring quality of Double or Nothing’s pillars four-way. Some questions about the style of hit perhaps, but little concern regarding its ability to wow the crowd nonetheless. I’m not sure that this was ever going to answer those specific questions, but this remained a triumph in my view. As you’d expect, there’s a great degree of creativity on display, especially as the pillars share evolving sequences.
That was inevitable considering the type of talent featured, but MJF’s usage prevents each of the issues that such an approach presents. Whenever the athletic exchanges veer towards something resembling an exhibition, MJF sprinkles in the personality that could be lacking otherwise. Everyone has their moments and there’s no passengers, but it’s the MJF show for me, absolutely relishing the role of bumping heel while also showing his always impressive offensive range where necessary.
The challengers aren’t merely doing moves either, with each man having their own showy set piece or two along the way. Even when it’s just the physicality though, the match often benefits from that approach, as they’re operating at a rapid pace that gives the previously quiet live crowd no choice but to engage. Much as he did in the Full Gear four-way, Sammy Guevara shines bright here, positioned pretty much perfectly in a bout of this ilk. It’s all action and that’s where Guevara’s most at home.
His aforementioned set piece comes as MJF again asks him to lay down however, being timed perfectly as the crowd had just got behind him. While he trends one way, Perry goes the other, having a choice in the bout’s final moments and ultimately opting against pulling the trigger. Darby’s character quirk is my personal favourite within this match though, continuing his never-ending headlock takeover war with MJF, giving the bout a few great near-falls as well as its eventual finish.
There’s a neat sequence in the middle also, as each man lands their mentor’s signature move. Speaking of that middle chunk, it features an outrageous exchange that really gets the place rocking, but is so far from the finish that they almost have to rebuild things in the final act. That’s an issue with match’s almost 28-minute runtime, stretching this outline to its limits and after such a hot start, inevitably struggling to portray any sense of escalation.
It’s never boring, quite the opposite, it’s just slightly repetitive as it nears the conclusion. This group certainly isn’t short on ideas, but there are so many of them that in that final act, I’m left almost exhausted. Even still, I like the finish and thoroughly enjoy the match. It’s a really fun time, a quite spectacular fireworks display that’s not without the “moments” that the build forecasted. If you loved this story, you’ll adore the match but even without that investment, it’s a good time.
Admittedly, it’s probably not the type of match to convince anyone sceptical about the participants’ main event stature, but I’m not sure that was ever going to be the case anyway. Beyond anything else, this is a four-way and that ensured a certain type of match, regardless of intention. In fact, the bout’s extended main event length is probably its biggest flaw, in my view. Regardless, MJF is the headline for me, quite comfortably reiterating his place as the leader of this particular pack.
Blackpool Combat Club vs. The Elite (AEW Double or Nothing)
Armed with one of AEW’s strongest builds yet, Anarchy in the Arena 2 certainly delivered. After much speculation otherwise, this closed Double or Nothing after all, providing an unusually weak event with an electric main event. Naturally, comparisons are being made to the original, some favourably, others less so. I side with the latter in that particular argument, but think such a comparison only does this sequel a disservice. Obviously, it’s a different line-up, a better one even, but it’s stripped of any mystery.
Anarchy in the Arena provided a pretty apt clue but until we saw last year’s match, it was hard to imagine exactly how that’d look. Perhaps it’d be your standard plunder multi-man, or maybe just maybe it’d be one of the greatest matches in AEW history. That element of the unknown is singular to the original and can’t possibly be regained here, no matter how brilliant the talent involved is. Even still, this all-star squad gives their own take on that outline, and it’s a wonderful watch.
The Elite quickly match Blackpool Combat Club’s intensity, brawling across the building in a fashion befitting the match’s branding. They immediately recapture that distinct chaos, Wild Thing again blaring in the background. The violence isn’t far away either, as Rick Knox is busted open after just a few minutes. Whereas last year’s bout was built upon the babyfaces’ outright pursuit of The Jericho Appreciation Society, this sequel features more back and forth action, before settling into some Blackpool Combat Club control.
Everyone brings it here but on both sides of the ball, Jon Moxley is an absolute force of nature in this environment. I have seldom seen such palpable passion for this kind of carnage, an outright glee at the chance to brawl. On offence, Moxley is a sinister destroyer but he’s even more at home playing Terry Funk, feeding both Omega and Page with that signature stagger. Castagnoli isn’t far behind, embracing the environment just as seamlessly as The Elite.
He and Matt Jackson have an extended brawl through the building though admittedly, there is seemingly less “arena” on display otherwise. The anarchy is certainly there however, almost to a fault at times as major moments clash with one another. There’s an undeniable charm to that, but it doesn’t walk the line quite as perfectly as last year’s, even missing a barbed wire bump at one juncture. While it’s not quite as chaotic, the match benefits from BCC’s control in that regard.
The Elite feel as though they are actively adjusting to the violence at times, fighting valiantly in a virtual road game. That allows thing to ever so slightly settle before the expansive finish, which is set into motion by the exploding superkick. The match is more interesting for the sense that The Elite are fighting uphill, also allowing the final back and forth sequences to stick. Some of the saves late are slightly off but just as any hitch last year, its shielded by the literal anarchy occurring anyway.
The closing stretch itself is every bit as spectacular as the blockbuster match graphic would suggest, an outrageous effort from all involved. The sheer execution is simply immense, pro wrestling’s elite trading bombs. They really are bombs too, pairing any innovation with the outright violence that you’d expect from this environment. Wheeler Yuta shines particularly bright late, having a defiant outburst before even scoring the conclusive fall over Omega of all people.
In this line-up especially, it’s easy to view Yuta as outgunned but he very much belongs and when it seems otherwise, that’s the perfect shtick anyway. Regardless, it’s a terrific match and after some reflection, barely beats out the four-way as my personal favourite from Double or Nothing. They had an awful lot to live up to with this and in many ways, were doomed to fail in that regard but at the very least, they came impressively close to last year’s masterpiece.
Not quite there for me but others will disagree and frankly, even making it a conversation is impressive in my view. Either way, bring on Blood & Guts, especially with Konosuke Takeshita now seemingly in the mix.