ROH Final Battle, Gunther – Miz II | Hulbert’s Weekly Match Guide 12/19


It’s the final Match Guide of 2023 and after doing this for almost eight months, that seems significant. Admittedly, it feels like much longer to me, but such is modern wrestling. Yes, the Bad Bunny match was only May, I’m surprised too. Either way, it’s a packed week to close my year, including another Continental Classic thriller as well as ROH’s biggest show of the year. Those aren’t the only hits under Tony Khan’s umbrella either, as Rampage hosts an explosive trios main event.

Elsewhere, Gunther and The Miz meet again while in CMLL, Mascara Dorada and Rocky Romero do the same. Finally, Will Ospreay adds a personal shootout to his catalogue, or that’s the plan at least. Much graps and no time to waste, to the graphics!

Blackpool Combat Club vs. FTR & Mark Briscoe (ROH Final Battle)


It’s been almost a year since Jay Briscoe’s tragic passing and yet, in so many ways, it still so seldom feels real. That was particularly apparent on Friday, as another Final Battle event arrived. For years now, that’s been a piece of my holiday season, sitting by the Christmas tree as Ring of Honor concludes their latest campaign. As ROH struggled, that show would often be my only reunion with the promotion, but I could always rely on The Briscoes.

Even if given something uninteresting, their presence provided a safety net of sorts. If all else failed, you’d still see The Briscoes. Those memories made up much of my week, especially as ‘The Fight to Honor Jay Briscoe’ approached. It’d be an all-star trios match, with FTR standing alongside Mark against the Blackpool Combat Club’s big three. Initially, the match arrived with a slightly strange ‘Fight Without Honor’ graphic, then being adjusted to the aforementioned ‘Honor Jay’ sentiment.

Interestingly, that process captures the match rather well. It is not only six of the era’s finest wrestlers but more specifically, a scenario in which their goal is simple: honour an icon. That’s quite the task and presented a choice, two differing lanes of potential matches. They could either wrestle a traditional trios bout, taking their time and exploring the range of pairings on display. Then again, they could equally just fight, brawling across the building and bleeding buckets along the way.

Better yet, why not both?

The match is quite literally split into two, starting with that classical six-man before being switched to a wild bloodbath. It’s gratuitous and self-indulgent, but if ever there was an occasion for such swings, this was it. After all, that marriage makes for a fitting tribute to Jay, a legend that was uniquely at home in every wrestling environment. Even within the FTR rivalry alone, Jay showed that range, making magic in the initial epic as well as the Dog Collar horror scene.

Personally, I was thankful for the glance at a more conventional wrestling match, though I concede that it’s the bout’s weaker chunk. It does have a slightly strange feel at times and frankly, that was probably inevitable. It’s a complex scenario in that in so many ways, the matchup is a virtual exhibition, yet it’s drenched in such passion to boot. Even still, there is some wonderful action that emerges throughout, with Dax Harwood and Jon Moxley quite physically setting the tone.

Harwood takes a substantial beating throughout, being isolated for a control segment after the bout’s initial exchanges. As you’d expect, the execution is exemplary, it just feels a touch restrained for reasons that’d later make more sense. Either way, Harwood is a fiery babyface in peril, eventually launching Briscoe’s typically energetic hot tag. Some serious escalation follows, entering the match’s presumed third act only for the bout to be thrown out before a finish.

That unlocks the originally advertised Fight Without Honor, which is the portion that’ll be remembered most. It’s an unhinged display of violence, recapturing the chaos that defined last year’s Dog Collar classic. At ten minutes or so, the portion basically serves as its own race to the finish, unleashing Moxley in particular. Much like his brother, Mark is equally at home in both sections, running wild as the weaponry emerges. All involved adjust seamlessly though, wrestling with such passion throughout.

It’s hard to be anything but romantic about that ingredient, as it’s a serious effort. Even with a pretty thin crowd in attendance, six of the world’s best wrestled as though they had a stadium watching on. Upon thought, I’m not sure that there’s a wrestling gesture more suited to Jay’s legacy than that. As a result, you can’t help but excuse the excess. It’s a match about heart, a fight about love. At the post-show scrum, Mark even described the match as therapy.

That sincerity is so striking too, pushing beyond any reasonable limit to honour Jay. The result is an incredibly touching watch, particularly as the smoke clears. It’s a loud, mammoth match but one with such soul. There will never be another Jay Briscoe, and if it wasn’t already obvious, his impact is encapsulated by this effort. Six pro wrestling all-stars swinging for the fences, doing absolutely everything in their power to do Jay’s memory justice.

Frankly, that says more than my words ever could.  Dem Boys Forever.

Athena vs. Billie Starkz (ROH Final Battle)


The saga between Athena and Billie Starkz has dominated the second half of ROH’s 2023. The pair first met in The Owen, battling on the Forbidden Door pre-show in June. Athena ultimately advanced, since quite forcefully taking Starkz under her wing as a “minion.” That relationship has taken many forms, from comedic skits to main event tag matches, with Starkz eventually standing up for herself in the final weeks of this most recent event cycle.

The result is a second straight PPV main event for Athena, welcoming Starkz to that stage at just nineteen years old. In so many ways, this angle has always had a double-meaning in that regard, as the story’s core ingredients are evident in both performance and presentation. Over the past few months, Athena’s presence really has been transformative for Starkz, making her increasingly confident on camera and shining a light on her potential.

In addition, it’s added immense depth to her natural character, arming an obvious underdog with a worthy mountain to climb. Even before the bell, it felt like Athena’s biggest triumph as champion yet, using her space to elevate a talent that could shape this division’s future. On Friday though, it was about the present as at just nineteen, Starkz had to deliver in the biggest match of her life. Thankfully, she managed that and so much more.

This exceeded even my most optimistic expectations, comfortably closing a five hour show. The atmosphere is the match’s biggest challenge, both in their understandable fatigue as well as the setting. Athena is at home here, combining with the television’s minimal exposure to create a challenging crowd dynamic. Garland is very much ready to cheer the champion, which adds a bump or two in the road towards their most natural match.

Thankfully, they are both just about perfect in their respective roles, allowing them to navigate the route without overly altering their destination. Athena is very much a pro at the peak of her powers right now, a wrestler that it’s all clicked for. As a result, her matches have a sizeable floor based purely on the things that she can do well in any setting. She’s simplified her game in that sense, bumping big and hitting hard.

With those two boxes always ticked, Athena is an incredibly reliable force as champion. Starkz strives to match her in that regard, bringing it with immediate physicality and taking a fiery shine. Athena soon cuts her off regardless, providing the match with its expected shape. That’s where the aforementioned atmosphere tests them most, as Starkz sells a sustained beating, emerging with a bloody forehead almost immediately. At first, the response for Starkz is minimal.

They both wrestle with such commitment though, as Athena’s spite and Starkz’s selling combine for an undeniable dynamic. Even if Garland won’t boo Athena, they are increasingly keen on Starkz, rooting her upright as Athena dishes out an absolute clobbering. More than any fundamental or technical skill, this is Starkz’s actual strong suit, consistently thriving as a throwback babyface. She’s always fighting, wearing such anguish on her face in the process.

It’s a masterful segment, almost giving the people no choice but to embrace their direction. As duelling chants emerge, Starkz manages a double down, then getting the better of the match’s first elaborate back and forth sequence. As Starkz rallies, she maintains that prior selling, wrestling with palpable desperation as she claws back to neutral. Her offence is mostly up to the task too, with any stutter steps being disguised by a bumping clinic from the champion.

Best of all, Starkz’s increasing success showcases her own aggression. That not only matches the build but better yet, unlocks the fans that remain behind Athena. It’s suddenly a shootout, escalating steadily as the challenger’s momentum provides a bridge to the third act. From there, it’s the epic befitting Final Battle main event, with Athena unleashing the offensive range that’s defined much of her career. Starkz isn’t far behind either, producing multiple highlights of her own.

Those first two acts are such a hit that their closing stretch feels entirely earned, allowing them to produce a far more organic epic than I had anticipated. Some superb near falls emerge along the way, including a Lexy Nair spot that went smoother than it had any right to. They probably do go a beat beyond their absolute peak, ending on a slightly flat note after such thrills, but it’s a staggering triumph nonetheless.

This is, for my money, the definitive match of Athena’s reign thus far. Every single piece of this is representative of why her 2023 has been special, the perfect World’s Champion. Starkz is no passenger either, wrestling well beyond her years for a truly special match. This isn’t just a worthy main event but in my view, the night’s best match full stop. On a night where ROH’s remaining existence was validated, this story continued to lead the way.

Mascara Dorada vs. Rocky Romero (CMLL Super Viernes)


2023 has been a significant year for CMLL, as well as both Mascara Dorada and Rocky Romero. Well over two decades removed from his professional debut, the latter has managed a career-best campaign, shining a light on Dorada’s potential in the process. By comparison, the 21-year old is just two years into his own career, earning headlines as part of CMLL’s encouraging 2023. In July, these two combined for one of the year’s best matches, led by a heel masterclass from Romero.

Quietly, they wrestled again last week, meeting in Major League Wrestling. That entry was a greatest hits cut of their original thriller, making this rubber match the far more recognised rematch. It’s a worthy sequel too, even earning some match of the year hype of its own. It doesn’t quite climb that high for me, but maintains many of the qualities that defined their July hit. With that being said, they aren’t immediately present for me personally.

It’s a sequence heavy opening, which produces mixed results. At its best, that showcases silky smooth work, otherwise reminding you of Dorada’s youth. That’s a slight theme for me here, as Dorada is given a greater chunk of the bout. He’s unquestionably spectacular and showcases enough encouraging range to boot, but he’s also still a work in progress. That’s inevitable, to be clear, it’s just more noticeable as Romero gives Dorada more room.

That shift is central to the match too, as it very much feels as though Romero can only delay the inevitable. He’s constantly using tricks and taking shortcuts, yet can merely slow Dorada’s continued ascent. Romero is great at finding a home for those instances, maximising his own space and feeding Dorada’s retorts gorgeously. Dorada certainly gives him offence worth feeding too, producing multiple highlights within the bout’s opening act.

That seesaw rhythm is one of the match’s defining traits, but Romero still takes a more sustained control segment along the way. The transition is memorable also, as Dorada gets greedy with a daring dive from the steps. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Romero’s heat is my favourite portion of the match, targeting the back and pacing things wonderfully. He’s just about perfect in that regard, sprinkling crowd work within focused physicality.

His work gives the match some shape, also forcing pockets of physicality from Dorada. That was a highlight of their first bout and stands out again here, hinting at the wrestler that Dorada may become. For now though, he’s an exciting prospect leaning on athleticism, and the result is a thrilling watch. At times, it feels as though he’s just throwing things at the wall, which makes for a neat contrast to Romero’s polish, providing their dynamic with some chaos.

Once again, Romero is able to meet Dorada in the middle on that front too, bring his own firepower to the party. As they veer towards the finish, that element highlights Dorada’s toughness, shocking Romero with multiple kickouts. That chunk packs a considerable punch, probably playing runner-up to Romero’s control segment as my favourite. Dorada’s instincts are very impressive on the sell, reaching out to the people as his torn mask unveils some desperation.

There is one particular near fall that jumps off the page, serving as a perfect bridge to Dorada’s final rally. It’s a really strong match, even if slightly rougher around the edges than its CMLL predecessor. This is quite the pairing though, as Romero not only maximises Dorada’s current skill-set but actively encourages other emerging elements. It’s a priceless experience for the 21-year old, showcasing his potential against a veteran somehow at the peak of his powers.

Action Andretti & Top Flight vs. El Hijo del Vikingo, Komander & Penta El Zero Miedo (AEW Rampage)


Rampage. The main event match earned considerable praise, as Dante and Darius remained alongside Action Andretti for a fireworks display with an all-star lucha libre unit. This combination was teased mere moments following Martin’s aforementioned Dynamite triumph, rocking Minneapolis with arguably the best match of The Hardys’ AEW run, leaning on Brother Zay along the way.

Regardless, this is a match that’s buzz isn’t hard to fathom. In fact, the hype immediately made sense, as it’s a talent pool that provides thrills in even their most restrained outings. This didn’t seem likely to be very restrained either, being purposely positioned as the ultimate party match. That’s framed neatly by the announcers, promising something spectacular by simply highlighting the stylistic overlap. It’s a subtle, but logical touch, portraying the match’s tone as an inevitable result of their athleticism.

They have time to tell that story too, as this is less outright shootout than I had anticipated. At sixteen minutes or so, it is able to place a few building blocks first, which I think greatly assists the later insanity. The match uses that time to explore a range of different pairings, also establishing immediate physicality on the part of Dante. He and Komander still share a showy sequence or two in setting the stage, it’s just more singular within much of their opening exchange.

Andretti and Vikingo manage a similar rhythm, pushing the pace while still colouring within the lines to begin with. Penta is used to adjust the tone a touch, with Martin providing his own trio’s power in order to match that shift. Their strike exchange supplies a certain grit, with the action soon exploding from there. Beyond that initial portion, the combination offence increases, as both teams flurry for extended bursts that culminate in consecutive dives.

They then regain the match’s prior shape, again using that runtime for a brief control segment on Vikingo. The work itself isn’t much, nor does it need to be, that pause just allows for some shape. As a result, Vikingo’s rally packs an extra punch, ultimately launching Penta’s typical hot tag in addition. That comeback then fully unlocks things, running wild with a six minute race to the finish that includes a memorable set piece on the apron.

As usual with this genre’s best, it’s a combination of innovation and execution. The ideas are absurd but they mostly arrive in such sharp fashion, with all involved being close to their absolute best in that regard. They’re only assisted by the atmosphere also, as an enthusiastic Texas crowd embraces their every step. Admittedly, the finish does struggle to surpass the rest, which is a common issue with going quite as bonkers as this eventually did.

Either way, this is a blast and the kind of match that should define AEW’s trio belts. For now, it’s already been a trend of sorts on Rampage, with the luchadors being present for many of the taped show’s recent highlights. Even still, this is slightly different, using that extended runtime for some variety. They don’t have to rush and instead build to the closing chaos, hinting at that inevitability for much of the first half. It’s not what you’ll remember necessarily, but it certainly provides some depth.

Everyone shines here, though it’s hard to look past Dante Martin, who has inexplicably picked up exactly where he left off. Really enjoyable match, an absolute thriller to close Rampage.

Gabe Kidd vs. Will Ospreay (RevPro Uprising)


After an extraordinary 2023, Will Ospreay concluded his campaign opposite Gabe Kidd. With a nasty build, this RevPro main event earned my attention, feeling slightly different to Ospreay’s touring norm. To be clear, that’s never a reflection of his effort, as Ospreay’s year has been defined by an eagerness to maximise every setting, almost to a fault in fact. Even still, this felt like a chance to increase his catalogue’s already impressive variety, producing something spiteful.

It wouldn’t be a solitary effort in that regard, as Ospreay’s Tokyo Dome classic with Kenny Omega sported a similar edge. That pre-match animosity is the only real comparison for what Ospreay had with Kidd here, even if on a smaller stage obviously. Theoretically, this matchup had an advantage of though also, as it wasn’t wrestling the expectations of something grand or epic. Instead, it could fully embrace the shootout that it had been framed as.

In execution, they wind up in a slightly frustrating middle ground. At its best, this is quite superb, packing a punch befitting the build’s flavour. They make a great start in that regard, charging to centre ring for an electrifying exchange. It feels dangerous and hateful, the kind of battle that could produce a knockout at any moment. The atmosphere reflects that jeopardy too, initially responding with a raw excitement rather than the usual appreciation.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a charm to that response, particularly as an international star stops through. This wasn’t that though, instead feeling like the kind of domestic dustup that’s filled stadiums in boxing. Unfortunately, they are unable to maintain something so unique. The work is always sharp, it just steadily trends towards a more familiar framework. Their runtime plays a part in that flaw as while this isn’t anything crazy in length, it is at odds with that opening burst.

They go 24 minutes here and so inevitably, somewhat settle. After spilling to the floor, Kidd eventually takes over, leading a control segment with blood covering his forehead. That pause takes the edge off proceedings, noticeably altering the atmosphere. Those in attendance are still engaged, they are simply observing rather than truly living and dying with each momentum shift. Granted, that’s a tough box to tick, but they were on the right track with that initial exchange.

That vitriol doesn’t totally dissipate either, it’s just one factor rather than the outright centrepiece. Throughout the match, there are pockets of fire that are so enticing, these glimpses of something truly special. They are accompanied by a more conventional main event though and again, it’s good action, yet just feels a touch wasteful. With that build, it certainly seemed like something more distinct was within reach. Nonetheless, it’s a good match, often showing signs of something great.

As usual with Ospreay, the closing fireworks are worth the wait, attaching an impressive finish to a match that for me at least, doesn’t quite come together. It’s never bad or anything close to it, simply uneven at times. Regardless, there’s something to this pairing, so hopefully they’ll meet again before long.

Daniel Garcia vs. Eddie Kingston (AEW Collision)


In August 2021, Daniel Garcia had his first real shot at the big time, standing alongside 2.0 against Darby Allin, Eddie Kingston and Jon Moxley. The eventual JAS members fell short opposite AEW’s all-star babyface trio, unknowingly finding their most consistent rival in the process. Three months later, Garcia was an established member of the roster, meeting Kingston in their first singles match. The pair showed immediate chemistry, closing a Rampage shortly after Kingston’s shootout with CM Punk.

Over the year that followed, Garcia and Kingston battled frequently within the broader pro wrestler vs. sports entertainer war. That included a singles bout prior to the iconic Anarchy in the Arena affair. Since last year’s Blood and Guts match though, they haven’t shared the ring once, riding separate rollercoasters for much of the past eighteen months. Kingston has emerged from his own slight scare, rebounding after a shaky start to 2023 with one of his strongest chapters yet.

That uptick in form arrived with Kingston’s G1 campaign, then returning stateside for his double title win over Claudio Castagnoli. Meanwhile, Garcia was riding high as Kingston faltered, only to have struggled since. The summer was a particularly thin stretch for Garcia, with the Continental Classic providing him a lifeline. That’s an awful lot of context for a pretty predictable tournament tilt, but I think it’s pivotal to this match, a contrast that’s evident throughout.

While Kingston is the wrestler with remaining Triple Crown hopes, this match is very much about Daniel Garcia. Initially, that may not necessarily be apparent either, as Garcia uses his speed advantage for surprising success with strikes. Kingston’s urgency opens the door for him in that regard, swinging wildly as Garcia stick and moves. They swiftly take a familiar shape from there, with Garcia targeting Kingston’s left leg via violent dragon screw.

That briefly positions them similarly to their aforementioned 2021 meeting, with Garcia steering the ship as Kingston sells. Instead though, Kingston fights his way back into control, operating as the match’s grizzled veteran. It’s a reminder of Kingston’s often underrated versatility, absolutely thriving as an almost frustrated favourite. He batters Garcia with disdain, desperate to bring a fire out of the young grappler. It’s a sustained beating, steadily encouraging Garland to embrace their increasing Garcia fandom.

Kingston manages a remarkable balance in that regard, unlocking Garcia as in the in-ring babyface without even slightly diminishing his own standing. He’s still Eddie Kingston, beloved as ever, he’s just never needed a win more. By contrast, Garcia is a man with nothing to lose, showing defiance and virtually encouraging the beating. It’s not the right match for him to wrestle, but it’s the one that his heart needs right now, toughing it out before returning to Kingston’s leg.

That produces some genuine drama as Garcia flirts with a submission win, ultimately reigniting the passionate duel that for now, favours Kingston. It sure feels like a moment for Garcia though, a return to the instincts that defined his early days. Garcia is still wrestling with his own direction and identity, stumbling into answers by fighting first, and thinking second. Kingston gave him no choice in truth, clobbering a clue or two his way with one of the more spiteful beatings of his AEW stint.

Clearly, Garcia’s response wasn’t the route to victory, but it may have provided a shortcut to his eventual rebound. Either way, this is simply exhilarating, an examination of a superb wrestling prospect that’s fighting his way out of a funk. They manage all that and more in just twelve minutes too, which encapsulates these two at their very best. Quietly, one of AEW’s most engaging in-ring pairings, with this being their finest outing yet.

Gunther vs. The Miz (WWE RAW)

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At Survivor Series, Gunther and The Miz had a pretty good match. However, I did think that it was overstated in some circles, particularly as a drastic overachievement on the part of Gunther. To me at least, it felt likely that they could do better, as I wasn’t convinced that their PLE match was necessarily the right one. Gunther armed The Miz with an awful lot of space in that setting, giving the match a certain insincerity.

It was as though their focus was more on convincing us of something false rather than embracing the logical route. Thankfully, this sequel rights that wrong and as a result, quite emphatically laps their November meeting. To be clear, not all of that is about the matchup itself either. Gunther is increasingly unlocked on TV, as match placement is less important and with RAW’s length, his time is virtually unlimited.

The extended runtime helps tremendously in this case, as Gunther can take more of the match without sacrificing his challenger. Much of this 21-mintue runtime is dominated by Gunther, with two key chinks in his armour emerging along the way. The first is a continuation of Miz’s Survivor Series strategy, firing low kicks at range. Gunther really makes Miz earn those here, firing back almost immediately but reiterating the potential weakness anyway.

That’s a trend throughout, as Gunther is selective with where he sells and as a result, Miz is framed far more believably. As doors open, Miz’s experience allows him to take a step or two through them, including an early submission attempt that hobbles Gunther. It still only gets the challenger so far though, with Gunther firing back via powerbomb on the apron as they go to a break. That launches his extended heat segment, dominating proceedings and talking trash throughout.

Miz does a nice job of staying alive as the babyface, showing immediate life as they return from that prior break. In addition, he comes closest to a comeback when producing quantity, requiring multiple blows to even rattle Gunther. More than anything else though, Miz is positioned to show grit and toughness rather than technical skill or thunderous strikes. He’s the gutsy veteran who even without an answer, will continue to ask questions.

In this case, he lives long enough to be supplied a second target, as the champion’s chop thuds into the post. It’s an overused momentum shift, and particularly familiar in Gunther’s work, but provides a neat transition nonetheless. As they return from a second break, Gunther remains in control anyway, with Miz pulling at that hand to break free. Even once Miz’s comeback arrives, Gunther swiftly responds, positioning those rallies of flashes of hope more than anything sustained.

As a result, there’s a desperation to the closing stretch, being greeted by a raucous atmosphere befitting that tone. Miz’s defiance keeps him in the ballgame, ultimately scoring two electric false finishes late. As usual, Gunther’s conclusive response is blunt and emphatic, breaking Des Moines’ heart. This is quite the triumph, working in just about every department that the original fell short. Again, that match was good in its own right too, which says a lot about this sequel.

The extended runtime is handled magnificently, presenting this with impressive authenticity. It’s not just one of The Miz’s best matches but more specifically, his strongest babyface outing by far. By the bout’s conclusion, this crowd feels genuinely desperate for a title change, which perfectly captures the success that this was. Very good match, an example of magnifying the obvious rather than losing your way with detours. It just makes sense, which is perhaps the centrepiece of Gunther’s current candidacy for wrestling’s best.

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