Originally published on Fanbyte as “Mike Bailey Keeps Dropping Bangers: Fanfyte’s Best of the Month, May 2022” on June 9, 2022
Featured image by AJ Small
AUTHOR’S NOTE (11/13/23): Part of the process of creating these “Best of” lists for Fanbyte included not covering matches that had been written up in other pieces on the site. As such, these lists don’t always cover my very top picks for the given time period, but covered more of a variety that wouldn’t have received attention elsewhere on the site.
ooking back at May, there’s a lot of great wrestling that I really enjoyed beyond the mainstream American companies. While I like to use this monthly feature to highlight matches from lesser-known promotions, it felt much easier to put a shine on those matches this year when I found myself not quite as enamored with the offerings of bigger companies like AEW.
So while things like MJF vs. Wardlow or the Anarchy in the Arena match still stand out as great matches worth seeing, I think the selection I have below represents what I enjoyed best on a more regular basis. I hope you find something new here that you can enjoy.
Yuji Okabayashi vs. Daisuke Sekimoto (BJW 5/5/22)
I’m not an historian of BJW, but these are two workers I’ve enjoyed greatly in the past. I’ve liked Okabayashi and Sekimoto more as a tag team than I have as opponents though. They had another title match back in 2020 that was good, but not quite what I expected from them given their reputations.
However, something about this encounter just clicked. They seemed to be going much harder at each other with their already vicious strikes, and the little pieces of offense between those meaty bombs had a little more snap to them than usual too. It’s clear these two are incredibly comfortable working together after all these years, but on this night that comfort was able to translate into a real hard-hitting, exciting title match. Can’t help but love the beefiness of it all.
Ultimo Guerrero vs. Averno (CMLL 5/6/22)
When I first really started trying to appreciate lucha, a friend advised me that, generally speaking, lucha libre isn’t really isn’t about the minute details. The experience of a lucha match is often more fluid and free-flowing than that of pro wrestling elsewhere in the world. Atmosphere and vibes take greater precedence over traditional markers of “good pro wrestling” like long-term limb selling, for example.
I get nothing but good vibes from this match. There’s hints towards arm work here, and how carries through the falls may add or detract to its quality for some, but I personally didn’t care too much for how that developed. Instead, I enjoyed just seeing a real great Arena Mexico main event again. It was good to see fans back in that legendary arena. I couldn’t tell you if any production changes were made behind the scenes, but they sounded louder and more raucous than usual. It all played perfectly in this simple battle of Ultimo Guerrero trying to survive and defeat Averno. The best lucha carries you away, and this match did that with ease. Very much a chicken soup match in my book.
Alex Shelley vs. Anthony Henry (ACTION 5/6/22)
Two of the meanest technicians on the independent scene collide. As one might expect from the names involved, a lot of this is built around some real gruesome limb targeting. Henry initiates early by attempting to take out Shelley’s arm, but Shelley raises the stakes by going after both Henry’s arm and leg. It’s really impressive how much gross stuff these two do to each other built around just their limb targeting.
For example, when Shelley does a dragon screw leg whip to Henry in the corner, Shelley clings to the leg after executing the move for just an extra second or two of torque. Later on, when Henry’s coming off the ropes, Shelley dropkicks the side of his knee at a disgusting angle. Henry’s no slouch on offense either. There’s a double stomp he hits to Shelley’s knee in this that looks devastating.
And that’s just the limb work these two do. When strikes start flying, these two throw some honest to God heaters. I pretty much loved this whole thing; it’s easily one of the best matches from the American independents this year. If you only have time for one of the matches on this list, make it this one.
Arisa Nakajima vs. Riko Kaiju (SEAdLINNNG 5/13/22)
I don’t often get the chance to write about joshi, so it’s my great joy to bring everyone’s attention to Arisa Nakajima. In my estimation, Nakajima is the best woman wrestling in the world today. The woman’s just an absolute killer, an ass kicker of the highest degree. That’s highlighted perfectly in this match as she plays the bully against Riko Kaiju.
Kaiju’s in her rookie year but already shows some great fire and determination against Nakajima in this. It’s clear that there’s room for her to grow but this Nakajima holds her hand well throughout the entire encounter. Really all Kaiju has to do is absorb a beating and try to fire back, and the match works. Simple storytelling of the young kid stepping up to the top woman in the promotion, and getting knocked back down for their trouble.
Daniel Makabe vs. Bryan Keith (SOS 5/13/22)
Daniel Makabe wrestling in a small room where commentary gets blasted over the sound system? Nature must be healing.
Even beyond that, this recalls some of Makabe’s best work from the days of 3-2-1 Battle! Being more of a freelance worker with no real roots in a home promotion means that Makabe rarely gets to do much more than just indie dream matches for any company that’ll have him. And although this is a debut for SOS against a first-time opponent in Bryan Keith, they do well to create a clear babyface/heel dynamic that does a lot to add some depth to the encounter.
Makabe plays the canny technician against Keith’s dastardly bruiser. Keith plays his role so well here, with little actions like going to an eye rake to escape an armbar. Small, mean pieces of offense like that always win over my heart. They mostly play off that technician vs. bruiser dynamic but expand on it in really fun and interesting ways. As I mentioned last month, Makabe’s a great striker in his own right so he looks right at home trading heaters with BK. More than that though, he’s steady and gradual picking apart of BK’s arm through offense big and small makes for an interesting narrative anchor in the finishing stretch.
Speaking of the finish, cribbing from Fujiwara and Tenryu’s notes with a flash chop to the throat? That’s targeted content, and unfortunately, I’m an absolute sucker for it. A really great match that does so much with so little.
Lee Moriarty vs. Mike Bailey (Enjoy Wrestling 5/19/22)
Enjoy Wrestling’s aesthetic just works for Lee Moriarty. It’s a pretty show to look at no matter who’s wrestling but Lee Moriarty just feels right at home with all the 80s-style neon colors and crisp cameras. At the same time, Enjoy Wrestling running out of Pennsylvania also means that Moriarty’s always within striking distance of his hometown. Every time he appears on these shows, he’s greeted like an absolute hero and it does a lot to make him come across as the biggest deal in the world at Enjoy Wrestling.
Getting Lee Moriarty in there with Mike Bailey basically guaranteed fireworks. There’s nothing too fancy or intricate about this match, just two great workers doing cool stuff together. It’s the kind of almost effortlessly awesome banger that Bailey has populated his year with. Even then, there’s moments that really highlight how skilled and thoughtful Bailey can be as a worker.
One gets the vibe that he didn’t come into this match expecting to be a treated as a heel — he’s even the first to initiate a handshake at the start of the match — but as soon as he gets even a whiff of the crowd turning on him, he becomes a bully. He takes that antagonism from the crowd and channels it into a beating on the hometown boy that only makes Moriarty’s eventual comeback shine all the more.
Kevin Ku vs. Alex Kane (ACTION 5/21/22)
Another month, another Kevin Ku banger.
To be fair, it’s not been the easiest month for Ku. He’s spent a lot of his time working the weekly Uncharted Territory where despite being booked against dream opponents on paper, none of his bouts have really met the high expectations set.
That being said though, this ACTION Championship defense against Alex Kane showcases Ku’s talents at their best. There’s the heavy striking that you’ve come to expect from him, of course, but also the fun narrative wrinkles that take it a step beyond. Much of the match is built around Ku trying to overcome Kane’s power by steadily wearing down the challenger’s arm.
It’s a thoughtful approach that takes Ku from being just a fun offensive wrestler to someone creating real interesting match structures with his singles bouts. It all pays off with a flash finish reminiscent of Bryan Danielson and Roderick Strong’s wars in 2005. It’s a finish that you don’t quite expect, but once the dust settles, it can’t help but leave you satisfied.