WarGames, Continental Classic & Starrcade ’85 | Hulbert’s Weekly Match Guide 11/28


After an eventful week, it’s only right that we make history with the Match Guide. For the first time, we’re headed back through history for this edition, concluding the guide with a celebration of Starrcade 1985’s anniversary. Elsewhere, The Survivor Series hosts two hit WarGames matches, while AEW kicks off the Continental Classic. In addition, we revisit Ring of Honor’s Pure Rules, as Lee Moriarty and Wheeler Yuta reunite for a ‘television’ cut of their indie epic.

Speaking of indie epics, WrestleCade returns also, featuring a first-time matchup between El Hijo del Vikingo and Jacob Fatu. As always, these aren’t necessarily the week’s best matches, they are simply a collection that I’ve opted to expand upon. With that reiterated, to the graphics!

Jon Moxley vs. Mark Briscoe (AEW Dynamite)

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After a polarising Full Gear, AEW kicked off a new PPV cycle with something slightly different. Fans have wanted a round-robin tournament from the promotion for years, with AEW now finally answering the bell for the inaugural Continental Classic. It comes at an interesting time, as Tony Khan’s territory prepares for a pivotal 2024. The promotion’s identity has been a topic of debate as of late, with this tournament being an encouraging sign for many longtime viewers.

It got underway on Wednesday, with Jay Lethal and Swerve Strickland leading the way. Even with the latter’s immense popularity, I found that to be a puzzling choice, slightly stumbling out of the blocks but rebuilding from there. Jay White and Rush delivered, steadying the ship before wrestling’s safest bet closed the opening night. For the first time ever, Jon Moxley would stand opposite a Briscoe, meeting Mark for a matchup that couldn’t feel more natural.

Once the bell rings, it plays out that way too, concluding Dynamite with the show’s best match. With just over eleven minutes at their disposal, they don’t waste much time on the formalities. Instead, Briscoe and Moxley trade blows almost immediately, meeting for a shootout that swiftly earns a very different atmosphere from the undercard. Within that work, Briscoe takes a brief shine, using his flashier offence to create a momentary contrast.

That creates a subtle timing vs. speed element, with Moxley halting Briscoe via big boot. Moments later, Briscoe is covered in blood, fighting uphill from there. That’s where the match really begins to climb, with Briscoe producing yet another sublime babyface performance. In response, Moxley only has to deliver more of the same, picking up where he left off against Orange Cassidy. Operating as the match’s bully, Moxley gives Briscoe an awful lot to sell, pushing the people even further in Mark’s direction.

In truth, they barely scratch the surface here for my money, mostly producing a glance at what they’re capable of together. Even still, it’s very good, and the highlight of Wednesday’s TV. This pairing is just seamless, combining for quality in a scenario that’s not even especially suited to their stylistic overlap. With more time and a personal conflict between them, these two could probably make the kind of magic that’d live forever.

For now though, this is a treat in its own right. Two of wrestling’s roughest and toughest fighters going to war, meeting in centre ring for a bruising slugfest. This tournament feels important for Moxley in particular, getting back in rhythm after a peculiar few months. Just on quality of opposition, I’m hopeful in that regard, especially based on Moxley’s most recent form. As for Briscoe, there’s nothing left to say, an absolute ray of sunshine within the current wrestling landscape.

Lee Moriarty vs. Wheeler Yuta (ROH on HonorClub)


Last month, I checked in on Lee Moriarty, impressing in a razor sharp television tilt with Darius Martin. This week, he entered a more notable contest, relatively speaking under the ROH umbrella at least. It’s been over two years since Moriarty’s last singles match with Wheeler Yuta, famously going 52 minutes as the latter became IWTV Champion. In AEW, they’ve met just once, being on opposite sides of a BCC vs. AEW young lions trios match.

Three days after they taped this match, both Moriarty and Yuta would appear on television, taking part in AEW’s three hour Saturday night block. Moriarty assisted Keith Lee’s latest reboot, while Yuta reclaimed the ROH Pure Title, upsetting Katsuyori Shibata. On Ring of Honor TV, this match was the bridge to that title shot, being contested under Pure Rules. It’s just Moriarty’s third bout under that ruleset, last doing so opposite Rocky Romero.

Unfortunately, this match isn’t much. On talent alone, its floor is something worth watching, but there isn’t much climbing beyond that. It’s odd, as even at just eight minutes or so, it’s armed with some worthwhile ideas, they just don’t quite come together. In fairness, much of that is due to the setting, as this is just another victim of the current ROH predicament. There are some fleeting “Wheeler sucks” chants, they simply aren’t rooted in much actual interest.

Their match doesn’t really help in that regard, nor does Moriarty’s general standing. Unfortunately, Lee just doesn’t have any juice right now, which is a real shame. I found his initial performances in AEW to be somewhat inconsistent, but it’s still unfortunate to see his television presence be so limited as we near 2024. Nonetheless, his potential remains on display in flashes here, sharing some slick grappling exchanges with Yuta.

Along the way, Moriarty makes some inroads on the arm, also throwing a big boot as the bout’s first heavy strike. That launches a mini-firefight, returning to that form later. Yuta’s slightly stuttered comeback of sorts feels a touch out of place though, even if it’s accompanied by some sharp returns to the arm by Moriarty. There’s an attempt at escalation also, including a big time superplex as well as an exchange of illegal right hands. Unfortunately, neither does the trick for Chicago.

This is a decent match that on skill alone, features some engaging work. Unfortunately, it barely scratches the surface of what they’re capable of. After all, these two were at the forefront of that emerging indie era, with Moriarty since being given an especially bumpy road to the national stage. Thankfully, time is still very much on his side but for now, a nice little match that’s less than the sum of its parts.

El Hijo del Vikingo vs. Jacob Fatu (WrestleCade SuperShow)

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On a night featuring six hours of “content” from the big two, this year’s WrestleCade event flew under the radar. In fairness, it’s never exactly dominated the headlines, but this particular SuperShow had some action worth watching. Andrade El Idolo battled ‘Speedball’ Mike Bailey in a first-time bout while elsewhere, El Hijo del Vikingo met Jacob Fatu met for the same. In any setting, that is an insane matchup, let alone on a Winston-Salem convention show.

In execution, it’s exactly what you’re imagining and more, too. Considering the occasion, it’s far closer to this pairing’s ceiling than my forecast had suggested. It’s still probably a step or two short of that in terms of outright thrills but my goodness, it’s a blast nonetheless. Early on, it takes a mostly familiar shape, with Vikingo’s speed fuelling a typically flashy shine. Fatu responds with timing and power, catching Vikingo for his cutoff and taking an extended segment from there.

The thing is, even with these traditional elements, the match feels absurd. They are both so uniquely explosive, executing even the simplest formula with staggering bursts of athleticism. Fatu is special in that no matter how spotty his work gets, that fear factor is never blemished. For want of a better word, he can veer incredibly “indie” at times, but it’s all delivered with such menace and spite that his aura remains entirely intact.

That’s a rare trait, one central to the greatness of a Vader, or Joe. Vikingo’s selling isn’t much, wasting no time on Fatu’s mandatory nerve hold but offering frequent hope spots regardless. Once his comeback arrives, the match is able to fully transform into the gif-heavy shootout that the graphic suggested. Vikingo is obviously spectacular but he’s unlocked to a level here that he seldom will be when opposite monsters.

Fatu can not only take his most daring offence, he can actually elevate it, bumping violently as they go through the gears. Better yet, Fatu is totally at home as the momentum swings back and forth, bringing his own highlight reel to the party. It’s an outrageous stretch, as Fatu’s athleticism allows for some quite astonishing visuals. Perhaps craziest of all, they even wrap things up in a nice bow, concluding with an almost unfathomable clean finish.

This match rocks, an absolute thriller that delivers on the pairing’s potential. The second half is especially unhinged, not because the content is anything new but more the execution and beyond that, the unique talent involved. It’s a matchup with a video game feel, especially as Fatu pulls off feats that feel as though someone has cheated their way to a maxed out skillset. Ideal popcorn graps, refusing to settle even as it actively attempts to.

Brody King vs. Eddie Kingston (AEW Collision)


Tasked with closing a three hour block of Saturday night wrestling, Brody King and Eddie Kingston met for their first singles match since 2018. This felt like a different scenario for Kingston, reflective of his recent title wins. He’s not only the established singles wrestler here, but considering the scenario, he’s also the de facto favourite. I mean, not really, but after putting his belts up in the tournament, the framing of Kingston is noticeably different.

That’s reiterated by King’s infrequent singles outings as of late also, with this being his first televised one-on-one match since June. All of that is irrelevant at the bell though, as this particular matchup positions Kingston where he’s most comfortable, slotting back into the role of underdog. There’s a tactical element to his performance, trying to contain King early but almost immediately being lured into a slugfest instead. That trends in the direction that you’d expect, putting King firmly in control.

It’s an interesting look at Brody’s current game as a result, being given the space to decide this match’s ceiling. Kingston’s selling speaks with itself, playing the hits in that regard and staggering from one bomb to the next. King impresses on his side of the arrangement also though, operating with poise yet still broadly swarming Kingston. He finds an encouraging balance on that front, keeping things moving while maintaining the aura that’s been built in his trios matches.

I’m intrigued as to how that element carries over to the rest of Brody’s campaign, as Kingston generally assists AEW’s big men in that regard. King certainly doesn’t need any help in terms of physicality though, bringing it as always and clubbing Kingston throughout. At almost seventeen minutes, this is stretched a touch thin, settling into the right rhythm but probably sticking with it a beat or two long.

Fortunately, the people are with Kingston regardless, rooting him upright after three hours of TV wrestling. Kingston’s comeback is stuttered, including a strong near fall on his sudden Uraken. They then return to that initial shape, trading chops as on sheer grit and toughness, Kingston begins to make inroads. As usual with Eddie, there are some nice touches that emerge along the way, including him chopping King down prior to his short DDT.

Those moments allow Kingston to battle Brody in back and forth action without undoing their prior work. Instead, King remains dominant, receiving the ideal presentation to kick off his Continental Classic campaign. Good match, wrestled with the desperation and urgency befitting this tournament’s potential.

Becky Lynch, Bianca Belair, Charlotte Flair & Shotzi vs. Damage CTRL (WWE Survivor Series)

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On a night where CM Punk once again became the story, WWE may have quietly achieved a first for me personally. I’ve generally struggled with the promotion’s take on WarGames but this year, I thoroughly enjoyed both editions. Certainly, neither is without a familiar flaw or two, they just both come together for my money. Broadly speaking, the women’s WarGames match is more of the same, yet the execution is enough to freshen that formula up.

They entered with some momentum in that regard, riding the wave of Damage CTRL’s recent reinvention. After a slightly shaky first run, that act has really found new life as of late, being bolstered by the additions of Asuka and Kairi Sane. Once again, their opponents are a squad of babyfaces, though this build’s pacing had been noticeably sharper. That’s reflected by Chicago’s immediate interest, with the more energetic live crowd assisting most of this PLE.

As usual, it is very set piece heavy, a match built around a collection of stunts and such. Those emerge in some form or fashion before even the opening five minutes are concluded, with Dakota Kai playing a role almost immediately. Shotzi builds on that trend, bringing some weaponry of her own as things steadily escalate from there. Again, it’s nothing new in terms of approach, simply benefitting from tighter agenting and more importantly, stronger performances.

There’s a visible comfort in this environment, a confidence that only unlocks the incredibly talented lineup. IYO SKY is the standout in that regard, producing a match-stealing performance among a group of composed and committed showings. While her skill-set is obviously nothing new, SKY has really grown into this run, spreading her wings with the increased focus. Everyone brings it though, having moments to shine that feel more organic than last year’s entry.

Part of that is an overall uptick in pace, stringing spots together in a fashion that captures a sense of chaos. In WWE, these matches have an obvious ceiling in terms of violence so this is one of the two lanes remaining, with the other being covered later. That chaos is especially evident late, flowing from one highlight to another as they sprint towards a finish line that usually arrives with an exhale. Here, it’s purposeful and has time to breathe without taking the edge off any prior action.

That finish feels entirely connected to the rest in fact, with Bayley serving as the glue throughout anyway. This is one of her best performances since returning last summer, carefully walking that WarGames line between aggression and cowardice. Damage CTRL in general just feel as though they’ve been transformed, and considering their recent additions, rightly so. On the other hand, Bianca Belair is far more suited to the hot tag role, with Lynch being the perfect babyface to set the stage.

Perhaps the match’s most impressive feat is in its navigation of the babyface advantage. That element was decided by a Ruffles poll of some sort, and could’ve quite easily lowered the ceiling on this. Instead, it’s barely a factor at all, being overcome by some creative agenting that maintains Damage CTRL’s heel slant. They lean on chaos here, packing the match with content and executing every step with energy and spirit.

It’s a substantial improvement on last year’s match, all without changing much conceptually. The execution is the story here, embracing an excited Chicago crowd with one of WWE’s most engaging WarGames yet.

Cody Rhodes, Jey Uso, Randy Orton & Sami Zayn vs. Drew McIntyre & The Judgment Day (WWE Survivor Series)

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If the women’s WarGames match picked a lane of energy and chaos, this took a more theatrical, traditional route. The centrepiece of RAW’s recent programming, this main event was the presumed conclusion to The Judgment Day’s extended war with Monday’s top babyfaces. That build has been executed rather well, leaning on the promotion’s increased star power and giving the heroes an almost Avengers dynamic. Beyond that, it’s a match about Randy Orton’s return, coming back after eighteen months away.

Warts and all, this is probably my favourite WWE WarGames match yet. Tonally, it just hit the spot, overcoming individual issues with a bigger picture that I was thrilled to see. The heat isn’t always quite where you’d hope, with Finn Balor and Seth Rollins actually sharing a compelling opening duel to a mostly limited response. Their work is razor sharp though, wrestling with palpable intensity and launching one another into the fence.

Balor immediately slots into the role that’d define his place in the match, bumping gleefully. He is the worker of The Judgment Day and remains silky smooth, leading the way in a fashion that gives this a familiar frame. JD McDonagh follows suit, bumping even more wildly and further cementing Judgment Day’s role here. While obviously a pushed act, they’re still a heel faction that under the brightest lights, serve as a punching bag for the all-stars.

For WarGames, that’s just about perfect. McDonagh does bring some weaponry with him and admittedly, those elements are still in attendance for this main event. With that being said, they feel far more secondary than in the opener, which isn’t a criticism of either. These two matches work alongside each other as they don’t feel identical. There’s overlap in the content itself, it’s just portrayed differently. Where the opener had action, this has a touch more spite.

It’s no ruthless slugfest, to be clear, the deliberate pace just allows for a different tone. Any issues with heat are overcome by the babyface lineup’s sheer popularity too, with Jey Uso’s entry receiving a hero’s welcome. Even with the remaining furniture, it feels rooted in something simpler, a reminder of WarGames’ core ingredients. It’s a basic rhythm, going back to that familiar cycle of contained heat and hot tag.

Booking has assisted Damian Priest with a noticeable aura and here more than ever, his performance matches that presentation. He roughs things up further, with Sami Zayn then outright transforming the match, because of course. His work has been superb throughout 2023, adjusting to wear and tear with an almost unmatched wrestling brain. Just as this had begun to wander, Zayn injects it with the life necessary, launching a momentum that’d ultimately lead them home.

Unfortunately, the Drew McIntyre piece isn’t quite where I’d hoped. After his initial flurry, he steadily fades into the background, or at least closer in that direction than the compelling build forecasted. There is no fading to the background for Cody Rhodes of course, bringing right hands and mean faces, as god intended. That provides a seamless bridge to Dominik Mysterio’s mini-showcase, reiterating his place as the heat of The Judgment Day.

Mysterio is booed before even taking a step towards the double-ring, arriving after some heavy-handed theatrics between Rhodes and Rollins. As The Judgment Day take control, Chicago is almost entirely onboard, being hooked by a smooth escalation. Orton’s return is handled perfectly too, not walking out cold but instead cutting off Rhea Ripley’s intended cash-in. The rest is simply euphoric, as Orton plays the hits with a glint in his eye, being fed by a delighted team effort.

Best of all, they don’t add many beats beyond that either. That’s the story, with Orton getting a prettier version of the treatment that awaited Dusty Rhodes in 1994. The babyfaces conquer and that’s enough, utterly overwhelming The Judgment Day for an electric closing stretch. It’s a reflection of WWE’s 2023, or the best of it anyway, as heroes stand tall in a fashion that was unfathomable just two years ago.

Wrestling isn’t complicated. Give the people what they want and more times than not, they’ll go home happy. That about sums up my experience with this. It’s no masterpiece and has similar issues to some of the WarGames matches that have drove me insane, but it also just knows the box that it needed to tick. Even without the violence that I’d like, this captured the essence of WarGames for me, using a more traditional approach for something truly triumphant.

Magnum T.A. vs. Tully Blanchard (Starrcade ’85: The Gathering)


Believe it or not, it’s been almost seven months since the match guide’s debut. At the time, I intended to quite often head back in time, celebrating wrestling anniversaries with retro reviews. To 2023 wrestling’s credit though, I’ve seldom even had to consider that play, being given a full slate by the current promotions. This week however, it’s a touch thinner. There’s been a lot of watchable action, just very little to truly explore beyond a throwaway thumbs up.

With that in mind, today marks 38 years since Starrcade ’85. Billed as ‘The Gathering,’ the event would emanate from The Omni as well as the Greensboro Coliseum, sporting packed houses in both. Not even six months later, WrestleMania 2 would respond accordingly, taking their emerging powerhouse to three different locations. Beyond the box office attraction (and ultimately controversial finish) of Dusty Rhodes vs. Ric Flair, Starrcade ’85 is a show ultimately remembered for one match.

Tully Blanchard is the NWA United States Heavyweight Champion, and has been since July, taking the title from Magnum T.A. in Charlotte. They’ve been battling for most of 1985, even kicking off the year with a couple weeks of Television Title draws. That rivalry has only escalated since Blanchard stole the US crown, being handed a foreign object by a disguised Baby Doll. The result is this classic, an I Quit match inside the Steel Cage.

It is, of course, one of the most singular masterpieces in pro wrestling history. More than perhaps any other bloodbath, this embodies hatred. It is a raw, visceral war, a brawl soaked in venom. This is a match that you remember the feeling of more than anything else. There are iconic images and moments that emerge along the way, but it’s more sustained than that. It has this very particular tone, a tint that’s never been fully recaptured since.

Perhaps most impressively, they avoid a blur of brutality to boot. It boasts too much authenticity for that, held high by two performances that feel entirely genuine. These two simply know who they are, and feel incredibly real as a result, which only makes the picture they are painting scarier. It’s the unspoken things in that regard, the way that Magnum bravely stalks while Blanchard cautiously circles. It’s nothing dramatic or glaring, just the makeup of both men.

Another example comes with Blanchard’s first clear advantage, going to the eyes in order to briefly take control. Even still, those subtle elements are secondary to the intense violence. The momentum swings are mostly deliberate, using clear shifts between pockets of ferocity. Whenever they stand and trade, it’s electric, earning that rumbling roar in response. Those instances are mostly confined to explosive pockets though, maintaining the bout’s almost uncomfortable realism.

It feels grounded in that way, particularly as Blanchard shoots an early takedown to contain Magnum. There’s a desperation to those efforts, a reflection of the scenario’s danger. From the bell, it feels like a fight for survival, fought with an urgency befitting the stipulation. Even with that initial intensity though, there’s an overwhelming sense of escalation. The match builds in a fashion that makes it increasingly unrecognisable, veering beyond wrestling’s usual parameters.

As shrieks of agony accompany screams of defiance, you feel as though you’re seeing something that you shouldn’t be. While gruesome, it’s not the graphic nature that steers that ship either, it’s the palpable intent. This feels too personal for a spotlight and wrestling ring, the kind of conflict that no sanctioned outcome can truly settle. It’s dangerously, frighteningly human, an unapologetic showcase of just how far hate can push someone, even a hero.

Even within the glossiest catalogue of classics, there is no confusing this for another hit. It’s distinctive, a masterpiece that takes its own room in your wrestling memory. There is no replicating the magic that Magnum T.A. and Tully Blanchard made at Starrcade ’85, the medium’s definitive portrayal of hatred.

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