Shingo Takagi’s One-Two Punch, Knockouts Title & TV Tags | Hulbert’s Weekly Match Guide 1/16/24


It was an especially eventful weekend in pro wrestling, as NJPW and TNA accompanied AEW’s usual Collision offering. Beyond anything else though, Shingo Takagi is the story of this edition, producing two of the week’s top matches, starting in Dragongate and then battling Jon Moxley at Battle in the Valley. Elsewhere, Kenoh makes another notable defence of his GHC Heavyweight Title reign, while Ibou, of WrestlePurists finally gets DIY into the Match Guide.

Clearly, there’s much to cover and no time to waste, so to the graphics we go!

Masaaki Mochizuki vs. Shingo Takagi (DG Open the New Year Gate)

With his 54th birthday on the way, Masaaki Mochizuki celebrated his 30th wrestling anniversary at Open the New Year Gate. To do so, he welcomed Shingo Takagi back to Dragongate, who has done it all and more since leaving. This isn’t Takagi’s first time returning to the promotion, but it’s certainly the most significant, reconnecting with Mochizuki. The pair have been frequent foes, most famously sharing a 2015 classic that shapes much of this reunion.

They haven’t wrestled a singles match since 2017 though, with their first bout coming twenty years ago. Even still, their chemistry remains very much intact, picking up where they left off with one of the month’s finest matches thus far. Scenarios like this are always intriguing to me, and they navigate the occasion wonderfully well. Initially, they embrace that inevitable sense of exhibition, working the mat like a spirited spar.

Mochizuki even gets a touch playful, making a show of his handshake offer and encouraging Takagi to increase the pace. Initially, Mochizuki matches that burst, then targeting Takagi’s right arm in order to chip away at his Pumping Bomber. In doing so, Mochizuki swiftly erases that spar-like tone, producing a targeted effort that almost corners Takagi. In response, the former IWGP World Heavyweight Champion suddenly sports a palpable intensity.

The shift arrives with virtual resentment, as though he’s been given no choice by his ageing foe. Takagi quite logically targets Mochizuki’s right leg, only widening the presumed gap between them physicality. That duelling limb work makes up a sizeable chunk of the first half, though admittedly fades beyond that. Even still, those elements provide the match with some shape, working as building blocks that escape that exhibition framework.

As a result, the second half packs an extra punch, as the back and forth thrills feel fitting. Even within that form, they do neatly emphasise momentum also, with Mochizuki taking much of the middle portion. He’s quite staggering here, somehow still performing at an incredibly high level and totally belonging opposite Takagi. In fact, his offence is still the more varied of the two, even at 53 years old.

To be clear, Takagi is superb as ever, because of course. Down the stretch, he begins to dominate, unleashing an offensive frenzy that finally highlights the difference in age. Mochizuki’s defiance takes centre stage in the process, reaching the inevitable conclusion in graceful fashion. While ideally, those initial limb work offerings would have stuck, this is a real treat nonetheless. Perhaps most impressively, it can totally stand on its own two feet.

Certainly, this match is unlocked by the memory of its 2015 predecessor, but Mochizuki is still creating new memories in 2024. This match doesn’t need that investment necessarily, it’s merely enhanced by it. This works regardless, a thrilling main event that’s paced and portrayed with virtual perfection.

Go Shiozaki vs. Kenoh (NOAH Star Navigation)


It’s been an eventful start to 2024 for Kenoh, kicking off his GHC Heavyweight Title reign in style. Kenoh claimed the belt in October, toppling Jake Lee in a match that admittedly, was very much not for me. On January 2nd though, Kenoh would produce an early match of the month candidate, going to war with Manabu Soya. Now, he builds on that effort, climbing even higher for my money with a defence against Go Shiozaki.

This particular matchup arrives with an unusual stipulation, as Shiozaki puts up his “I am NOAH” catchphrase for a shot at the gold. Sincerely, those stakes shape things, as this quite rapidly becomes a rather urgent title tilt. They set the tone for that in violent fashion, as Shiozaki eats a horrifying suplex on the floor after the brief feeling out process. It’s such a perfect jolt for the match that follows, aggressively shattering the familiar structure that was forming.

Kenoh’s follow-up shapes things further, stomping on Shiozaki’s ribs and earning an extended sell. That’s the champion’s target for much of this, ultimately proving pivotal down the stretch. At core though, this isn’t a match about targeted body part work but instead, a direct duel between chop and kick. It’s a pretty literal take on the pairing, but one that’s captured with some ingenious touches. Most notably, Shiozaki clubbing Kenoh’s leg out of the air.

That unlocks Shiozaki’s own work on the leg, instinctively marching through the door that’s swung open in front of him. Kenoh’s sell really adds to the feeling that it’s an organic ploy, struggling for balance following that initial blow. Shiozaki makes a real point of his own efforts on that front, committing to the rib injury and pairing it with a collection of frightening bumps. Again though, it always returns to that aforementioned duel, building to an outright shootout in centre ring.

Due to those other pieces, the strikes arrive with some depth, also being spotlighted but not overexposed. At 21 minutes, they aren’t rendered redundant, maintaining the volatility befitting their thud. With that being said, it does feel as though they miss a step or two en route to the finish. The conclusion itself is totally logical and matches Kenoh’s initial work, it’s just ever so slightly abrupt.

Either way, it’s a strong GHC Heavyweight Title match, featuring a typically compelling performance from Shiozaki. He’s very much framed as the veteran gunslinger here, an old champion that still sports the weaponry to remain dangerous. With chops and experience, Shiozaki hangs in there, giving this match a certain spirit. He’s not only looking to regain something, but he’s also defending his identity, doing so with knowhow and toughness. 

That’s the centrepiece of this one for me, doing an awful lot for Kenoh’s reign in the process.

Jordynne Grace vs. Trinity (TNA Hard to Kill)


On the first night of IMPACT Wrestling’s TNA reboot, Trinity entered the last chapter of her time in the promotion. Nonetheless, it was a mostly successful night, concluding with the acquisition of Nic Nemeth. Inside the ropes, the night’s best mostly lived in the good range, with this Knockouts Title clash being my personal highlight. It may not have quite been the show’s best match, but I found it to be comfortably the most interesting in style and tone.

Going in, this felt like a potential styles clash, particularly as a babyface match. They’d only shared the ring twice previously also, being on the same team for both outings. Initially, the slightly unusual recipe is evident, sharing a pretty playful opening and trading taunts. They do swiftly establish an idea or two though, with Trinity using speed and strikes for her early success. In response, Grace fires back with size and strength.

It’s her usual physicality that quickly shapes things though, giving this a particular flavour. The key is that Trinity gleefully meets her in the middle, getting more and more comfortable with Grace’s output. It’s a steady climb too, as Trinity goes from feeling a touch unnatural to thriving at the finish line. They effectively work a clash of the titans style shootout, trading varied bombs for much of the runtime.

Speaking of such, 15 minutes is the perfect length for that approach, allowing things to escalate organically. At times, I feel that Trinity can overcomplicate her game, almost sacrificing built-in dynamism for more convoluted offence. Here, it feels as though the deeper they get, the more instinctively she wrestles. Grace’s intensity really brings out the best in her on that front, pushing a serious pace and taking every step with aggression.

That includes bumping, attacking the mat both in-ring and out. Trinity is right there with her too, winding down her stint with the enthusiasm that followed her there. Beyond the noticeable effort, there’s some neat sequencing late also, layering near falls to produce multiple believable false finishes. Beyond anything else though, this is some clobbering, a rough and tough babyface match that’s wrestled with an intensity befitting the occasion.

It’s not the type of match that I’d expect to see often from Trinity’s expected WWE return, but that almost adds to its appeal. This very much feels like a glance at her potential range, adjusting to a type of match that I wouldn’t necessarily expect to suit her. Even as a relatively short run, Trinity’s stint in TNA has reiterated the value of wrestler movement. It’s been refreshing to see her in a bigger role, working with different talent.

With this match, I think she produced the run’s biggest triumph too, ending her reign with a bang. Grace is certainly deserving of another go as titleholder too, with her last championship campaign concluding in a PPV main event.

Daniel Garcia & FTR vs. House of Black (AEW Collision)


One week removed from their Collision main event, FTR and House of Black ran it back in Norfolk, Virginia. Building upon last week’s post-match angle, they had friends this time too, with Daniel Garcia accompanying FTR against the complete House of Black trio. It’s the latter’s first six-man tag together since Wembley, reuniting by going almost 25 minutes against the latest FTR and friend combination. Vintage Collision, and things of that nature.

Seriously though, I found this to be a noticeable improvement on last week, which I enjoyed thoroughly in its own right. The remaining quartet display a more pronounced chemistry, and it’s just tighter across the board. There are less stutter steps, and the timing is far more seamless. Part of that is due to a more restrained layout, even with the extended runtime. This trios match is very much wrestled like a bold ‘Road to’ rendition, not reaching as far for drama.

Once again, Buddy Matthews leads the way in this setting, sharing some gorgeous exchanges with Cash and Dax. In addition, Malakai Black seems more at home this week also, appearing motivated by Daniel Garcia’s presence in particular. Speaking of presence, Brody King’s is noticeable, even when I’m not totally infatuated by his work. To be clear, he very much has his moments on that front too, it’s just his demeanour that dominates proceedings.

Similarly, Garcia’s increasing popularity strengthens the match’s babyface – heel dynamic, even if he’s still not entirely comfortable on that side of the fence. In role, he’s a natural babyface, but he’s not yet there in terms of performance. That’s most noticeable in his slightly clunky hot tag, but not everyone can be Cash Wheeler. It’ll come I’m sure, particularly with outings such as this. Speaking of such, Garcia is factored into FTR’s usual hits rather well throughout.

His aforementioned hot tag is launched by some heat on Harwood, which is more of the same from House of Black. That’ll never be the highlight of these matches, usually being where they’d benefit from a slight trim. All involved keep the people onboard though and once they go into the finish, you get a much better look at the faction’s appeal, providing such offensive variety within the chaos.

The first sign of that chaos brings Norfolk to its feet too, feeling like an earnt explosion after such a restrained prior stretch. Late, they’re able to again focus on the conflict between Black and Harwood, with the former threatening a submission. The finish itself is a touch abrupt compared to last week’s conclusion, but that’s about the only place that I’d say this falters where the predecessor thrived. Otherwise, it’s an almost surprisingly smooth ride for its runtime.

Certainly, it’s not a match to change anyone’s mind, but if you enjoy the play call, this’ll scratch a familiar itch. In fact, the execution here is especially engaging, actually climbing above the formula’s norm in my view. Really strong television main event and an impressive improvement on last week, yet again closing Collision on a high.

Eddie Kingston vs. Gabe Kidd (NJPW Battle in the Valley)

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It’s been over two years since Eddie Kingston’s first war with Gabe Kidd, and an awful lot has changed since. At the time, Kingston wasn’t even a month removed from he and CM Punk’s memorable duel, then riding a career rollercoaster in 2022. This latest campaign was Kingston’s most successful yet though, entering the new year as a Triple Crown Champion. Meanwhile, Kidd has become a BULLET CLUB War Dog, officially announcing himself as a name to note.

Along the way, this rematch has almost been looming, an inevitable sequel that’s intrigue only increased with Kidd’s constant verbal attacks. Those attacks return Kidd to a familiar scenario, ultimately making this a complete contrast to his match with Will Ospreay. While that match worked as a modern main event beyond the hatred, Kidd’s natural strengths seemed somewhat stifled by it. Here, however, his raw hatred and intensity are completely unlocked.

They set the tone with a fitting aggression, as Kidd jumps Kingston before the bell. In fact, much of this match’s magic takes place on opposite ends of the sanctioned contest, with that portion merely providing a bridge. The brawling is venomous throughout, fuelled by hate and utterly chaotic. As a result, the eventual finish feels totally at home, an unavoidable result of the nastiness that follows Kidd to the ring.

The content is secondary in that sense, as it’s much more a matter of atmosphere and tone. Blow for blow, it isn’t especially dissimilar to your usual Kingston fare, including extended chop battles as well as a headbutt exchange late. His motivation is noticeably different though, with Kidd drawing a vengeful spite from the always fiery champion. At just over 11 minutes, the actual match is perfectly paced too, never losing its edge to excess.

Instead, the palpable danger is able to climb steadily, ultimately launching a superb post-match angle. This is a good example of how wrestling matches can’t, or at least shouldn’t, exist in a vacuum. From an imaginary spreadsheet point of view, this isn’t the complete version of Eddie Kingston vs. Gabe Kidd, but it’s quite obviously the right match. This not only suits the build but better yet, sets up other matches, imagine that!

It’s an incredibly effective piece of business, with the crowd reaction telling a tale. They barely even waste a moment on shunning the inconclusive finish, as they are too swept up in the drama instead. As a result, “Eddie” chants greet the continued brawling, swiftly framing this dynamic as one that could define Kidd’s ascent. It feels potentially pivotal for Kingston also, particularly as he looks to make this title reign count as something significant.

This entire episode is a home-run, somehow even becoming hot enough to escape the usual NJPW STRONG production woes. It feels like a play from yesteryear, as the unrelenting territory brawl invades a modern US supercard. Magical pro wrestling and Eddie Kingston at his absolute best, embracing Gabe Kidd’s incredibly refreshing instincts. His aggression and energy are encouraged here, yet perfectly channelled for the start of something special.

Hopefully that comes to fruition but for now, their unofficial first step serves as a frenzied reminder of wrestling’s simplicity. Glorious graps.

Jon Moxley vs. Shingo Takagi (NJPW Battle in the Valley)


Even operating in the co-main event spot, Jon Moxley vs. Shingo Takagi certainly felt like the lead attraction for NJPW’s Battle in the Valley event. After all, it had been over four years since their one and only singles bout, meeting in a fiery G1 Climax shootout. Since then, Takagi has cemented himself as a major league heavyweight, guiding NJPW through much of the pandemic and even winning their top prize.

In addition, this match had the novelty of its stipulation, as Takagi entered Moxley’s domain of No DQ. Naturally, that process included streetwear, featuring the jeans and kneepads combo, wrestling’s only acceptable approach to such an occasion. The charm of such a recipe is of great value to this match too, particularly during the first half or so. That portion is mostly familiar in content and layout, even while marrying the weaponry with more conventional pockets of action.

As you’d expect, Moxley is visibly at home during the more chaotic bursts, with that steadily producing the match’s solitary narrative. When it’s a more simplistic firefight, Takagi generally thrives, with Moxley’s initial success coming from furniture and such. That adds a neat wrinkle to what’s mostly more of the same from Moxley, who’s visibly relishing the matchup. Moxley’s approach soon leaves Takagi covered in blood, stumbling around ringside as his white top turns red.

They make that colour count too, with Takagi selling for an extended stretch, falling victim to multiple glorious visuals along the way. Once again though, his response comes as a result of Moxley leaving his toys to the side. Takagi makes him pay for trading bombs, clubbing back to neutral as the match nears its half-way mark. Speaking of such, it’s definitely a bloated bout, though the extended finish very much assists this particular match.

The deeper they get, the more that Takagi adjusts, embracing his surroundings and returning Moxley to a familiar crimson mask. At that point, the match transforms, running wild after overcoming any of the occasion’s shortcomings. It’s a unique scenario, after all, as this doesn’t really have a reason to exist beyond “that’d be cool.” Thankfully, that assumption is proven increasingly accurate as they swing bigger and bigger down the stretch.

With both men covered in blood, there no longer needs to be a reason really, it’s already spoken for. At that juncture, the match is able to fully embrace its unhinged instincts, working with utter desperation as they trade absurd near falls. It’s very much a match that’s unlocked by the talent involved, forcefully pushing this into something special. Don’t get me wrong, there are some sharp ideas that crop up along the way, but that’s never really the point.

Certainly, it’s not without a blemish or two, with some of the setup time being an issue throughout. However, they go so far here, operating with such an enthusiasm that I couldn’t help but be swept up in the affair. It’s not as transcendent by any means, but it has a similar effect to Hangman – Swerve in that regard, always going a beat beyond what you’d recommend only to make it worthwhile anyway.

By the end, I found this to be virtually undeniable. It’s self-indulgent and ridiculous, but it’s also two of the world’s finest going absolutely berserk with complete freedom. That freedom may not necessarily produce results that work for you, but this packed a substantial punch for me, one of 2023’s best bouts thus far in my view.

DIY vs. The Judgment Day (WWE RAW)

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For months now, Ibou, of WrestlePurists has been trying to sell me on this main roster DIY project. He has mostly failed. However, this match earned rave reviews and features Dominik Mysterio, so I can only be fair by including it in the Match Guide. Silliness aside, I don’t dislike DIY, it’s just been awhile since I’ve truly cared. Granted, that’s rich coming from the FTR fanatic, but they lost me with their singles feud and I’ve never got back onboard since.

Regardless, this is a triumph. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not one for your year-end list, but this works in a fashion that’s genuinely encouraging for DIY’s future. The finishing stretch will dominate the headlines but to me, that’s not really the story here. It goes without saying that if given the space and time, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa are more than capable of combining for a big finish.

That’s certainly the case here too, really rocking an initially tame live crowd. The closing stretch is also assisted by their prior restraint, saving much of the match’s tandem offence for that portion. With that in mind, it’s the rest of this match that jumps off the page for me, with Dominik Mysterio providing the secret sauce. Mechanically, JD McDonagh does much of the work, setting the stage by sharing an extended opening exchange with Gargano.

Even from the apron though, Mysterio is such a pivotal piece of this match, earning a reaction with the simplest antic or glare. He’s not the only one that’s getting a response though, as DIY actively climb in that regard here. The expanded runtime allows for an actual babyface shine and naturally, it works a treat. It’s a mostly traditional flurry also, overcoming a hurdle or two and hooking the people with their chemistry and energy.

That only makes Mysterio more valuable, as his eventual cheap shot packs an extra punch. Smartly, that’s the transition to some heat, launching a control segment that’s much more about defence than offence. In terms of content, there isn’t actually much, but they’re so underhanded in delaying the inevitable that it really builds upon the match’s emerging momentum. At one point, the referee misses a potential hot tag which earns relative heat, then multiplying as soon as Mysterio capitalises.

It’s remarkable, and makes him an almost singular piece of a roster featuring far more experienced talent. Speaking of such, Ciampa’s eventual hot tag does the trick, even if it’s undercut on television by a frustrating ad break. At that point, the building blocks are in place and the finishing stretch can run wild. Obviously, DIY will not always have Dominik Mysterio opposite them but even still, this was an encouraging watch.

Well before the finishing stretch, their work had things trending in the right direction, colouring inside the lines with great success. Good TV match, an ideal setup for DIY’s upcoming tag title shot.  

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