Featured image by Ami Moregore

Hikaru Sato vs. Fuminori Abe (Hikaru Sato Produce Indie Junior Festival ~ We are All Alive 3 3/28/24)

Yes, it says March, but this footage only became available in April.

About 95% of this rocks so goddamn much. These two have wrestled a lot over the years, and with that familiarity comes a real grit and grime when they’re focused on working their way in and out of holds on the mat. It’s that real shoot style goodness where leverage can be won with something as filled with finesse as a well-placed knuckle or something as blunt as a slap to the face. These two do that so well, not only the nitty gritty wrestling but also those big fucking heaters that make the heart soar. Real delightful escalation as the bombs come harder and swifter down the stretch, really amping up until a victor finally shines through.

There’s the smallest things to quibble with. Some of the worse habits of these two do come out as a little silliness does eventually intrude real deep into that something that has felt so real and vicious up to that point. But in that sense, that just ties in even more to the style these two have been pushing. In this case, it’s for the worse, but it’s not something that detracts from how much everything else just rules so goddamn much. In everything but name, a Fighting Detectives main event.

Rating: ****1/4

Mad Dog Connelly vs. Demus (ACTION DEAN~!!! 4/4/24)

Had me barking like a dog in front of my computer screen.

Some matches are for the mind, they’re intricate and layered in their ideas and narrative. Others play straight for the heart, focusing entirely on one’s emotional investment and the need to see someone succeed.

Fuck that noise, this match is for the gut. It’s for the blood pumping through your veins, carrying adrenaline right into the brain. It delivers entirely on its dream match premise of two nutty dudes popping each other in the mouths repeatedly until someone finally drops dead. Violence big and small fills this match. That first flick of the chain that sends it into Demus’ lip is a sign of all that’s to come. And what’s to come is so glorious. A crowd brawl that sends wrestlers bowling into friends I know from group chats, trash cans thrown at full velocity only dodged by the slimmest of margins.

Then at the end, that climactic chain shot. Jesus fucking CHRIST. Just full contact, chain on flesh, the kind of shot that might knock a man’s lights out and sends a few thousand freaks online howling at the moon.

Long live the King of the Dog Collar.

Rating: ****3/4

Daniel Makabe vs. Timothy Thatcher (ACTION DEAN~!!! 4/4/24)

Like the finest shoot style, it’s a match that feels like it’s wrestled in inches. It’s never quite structured in traditional heat segments and comebacks, but rather as a continuous and incremental progression from both men. Everything comes down to the finest details: the positioning of a limb, the ability to leverage a body part to escape a hold, the spot one has in the ring. It’s an immense joy watching how these two go about this fight, with near surgical precision combined with a psychopathic dedication to causing pain. While Makabe comes in wearing Daisuke Ikeda-inspired gear, his ability to weather the storm that is Thatcher’s smothering ability in the ring and finding his spots to not only cut off Thatcher’s momentum but flummox the latter as well reminds me much more of Yuki Ishikawa’s own patient approach to striking at exactly the right time.

As for Thatcher himself, this is just an immense performance from him. The small mechanics of it all, yes, the twisting of limbs and all that. But his expression, so gruff and stern to express just how seriously he takes this–a far cry from the smugness he approached their first match in 2017 with–and then the tiny cracks that shine through at other points. The arrogant glee when he’s wrenching at Makabe’s bones, the sudden trepidation when Makabe is wily enough to come after Thatcher’s own weakened limbs.

And then at the end, once both men have struggled and pushed, gaining inches and inches, the final break: just a punch to the face. Makabe punches out Timothy Thatcher, knocks his lights out, finally wins their series 3-2. The backyarder elevated to one of the best in the world in his final run.

Rating: ****1/2

Eddie Kingston vs. Mark Briscoe (ROH Supercard of Honor 4/5/24)

So much has been made about Eddie Kingston’s influence from the All Japan pillars through the years, and that will never really go away in his work. Even here, we get those in those Kobashi-esque chops and those wonderful head dropping suplexes he favors. In something like this though, we see much more of another hero of Eddie’s: Terry Funk. I’m talking the crazed heel Terry Funk that saw blood and new to dig into it with his fingers, punch away at a wound to make the blood flow. It echoes Eddie’s warnings that he’d been told to wake up by Homicide–another man that new how to split his opponents open. It never crosses too far into being a heel, but this is the antagonistic Eddie that self-destructs and it’s the perfect version of him to not only lose the ROH World Title but also to make the most of the moment’s victory.

And that’s Mark Briscoe.

In honor of his brother, and his own legacy too, Mark bleeds. It’s a simple thing to amp the ante of a match with blood, but here, it just means too much. It is for his own blood after all–for his blood brother Jay Briscoe who bled buckets against champions past and finally got it done in 2015, for his family at ringside wanting to see a dream come true. It’s all about the blood for Mark and he lays it all on the line for us. With his brother’s finishing move, Mark Briscoe makes staying loyal since Day 1 feel worth it if even just for one night.

Rating: ****1/2

Bryan Danielson vs. Blue Panther (CMLL Super Viernes 4/5/24)

Alexis Salazar

It feels like celebration.

There’s a special kind of alchemy at play Bryan Danielson steps into Arena Mexico. He clearly draws a specific audience to him–likely a little more hardcore of a fan than the typical Arena Mexico fare–which makes him both a beloved international figure but also still an interloper. And that’s what makes the dynamic of this match feels so rich. Danielson’s younger, strong, closer to his peak. But this is Blue Panther’s home. Arena Mexico is not only where he built his legend, but had it stripped away from him as well. And this match is not about “pro wrestling” in the American sense, it is about lucha libre plain and simple.

Danielson plugs himself into Panther’s match and style here. It’s not the first time he’s done so, notably pulling a similar trick when wrestling Bandido last year, but there’s something so much more raw and authentic about it with the right setting and a true maestro at the helm. One gets the impression, that even if Danielson’s in control of the match, it’s Panther pulling the strings, dictating the battles that need be fought and testing Danielson’s proficiency. That only shifts later on when Danielson has to bring his more familiar elements in like the knee strikes and the kicks, but he finds himself a little out of his depth with an old man who won’t be knocked out easy. It’s really only a minor distraction, a bit of a cheap trick, that wins Danielson the day in the end.

And at the end, Danielson pays respect to the master before him, and Panther celebrates the beauty of what’s come since. How could you not feel it when it’s this real?

Rating: ****1/4

Gunther vs. Sami Zayn (WWE WrestleMania XL Saturday 4/6/24)



Let’s be totally honest and point that that moment does elevate things a little for me. One of those examples of restraint, patience, and promotional guidelines all paying off for one beautiful moment. For the first time in his WWE career, Sami Zayn busts out that crazy move to win a title at WrestleMania. Beyond that, we have a match built around Gunther’s signature stiff strikes, Sami’s always great selling, and a pretty simple if blunt narrative about Gunther’s hubris finally catching up to him. It’s not the most complex thing in the world, but combined with the occasion and the talents of two of the best in the world, and something great was bound to happen.

Rating: ****1/4

Chihiro Hashimoto vs. Shinya Aoki (DDT April Fool 4/7/24)


A pretty stunning display here. The way these two riff and grapple down on the mat feels so timeless, like something that could be dropped into any time of pro wrestling and be just as effective and great. What these two offer is pure commitment to the most basic of fundamentals. They work close to the mat for a majority of this, grabbing and struggling against their holds, giving us variations on that classic problem/solution wrestling with a shoot style twist to it. What’s perhaps most admirable about it is just how much they’re able to draw in the viewer. They move at a rhythm that demands your attention, even with the slightest movements. There’s such strain and power put behind even the simplest moves that when shoulders go down for a pinfall attempt, one actually gasps at a kick out even though no major power maneuver has been executed.

As a time limit draw too, one of the most natural feeling ones of the year. Not only that escalating tension that occurs so organically, but also the sense that there was more to give in those final moments. The time limit feels like an interruption of something that could have gone on another hour or just five more minutes depending on how these two went at it. Some of the finest straight up wrestling you’re bound to see all year.

Rating: ****1/4

Sami Zayn vs. Chad Gable (WWE Raw 4/15/24)

Once again, the talents of Sami Zayn as one of history’s great babyfaces cuts through all the bullshit. Here, he’s aided by one of the WWE’s genuinely great production choices with that beautiful tracking shot through the halls of the Bell Center and entering through the Montreal crowd. It’s beautiful, genuinely moving in a way so little of the WWE feels like at all.

Bell to bell too, what we get here is great. It’s gutted by the commercials, yes, but there’s just enough footage here to get us over the threshold. The early exchanges leading into Sami tweaking his ankle (a recurring injury in the last few months) gives us a nice thread to go through the match. Gable’s never able to sustain an attack on the leg for long as he has in previous bouts, but Sami’s selling is just so good. Always looking a little hobbled and labored through every moment of this. And given that they’re playing with limited TV time and constant momentum shifts, they choose to focus the finishing stretch on just straight bombs. Those big Germans, even one into the turnbuckle, such great bumps to get this thing moving.

Still wish Gable won here (or at Mania, or back in October), but even the heel turn works extremely well for me. German to the floor is gross and an ankle lock in the turnbuckles is a great image too. A predictably great outing from two of the WWE’s best.

Rating: ****

LaBron Kozone & Violence is Forever vs. Tom Lawlor & West Coast Wrecking Crew (DPW No Pressure 4/20/24)

In this we get a taste once again of what Violence is Forever can be capable of with the right opponents and the right focus. Specifically, we get Kevin Ku turning in one of the year’s best face in peril performances as he finds himself on the wrong side of the ring for a good half of this match. I wish his blood flowed a little freer, but in terms of just selling and committing to the Steamboat rule against the bullying forces of WCWC, Ku was excellent. It’s the just the main piece though in a match structured around a strong sense of camaraderie among teammates, escalating tensions, and a tag segments that really take their time to develop.

In short, it’s the year’s best Collision tag main event. A little rough around the edges like with Dom whiffing right before his elimination, but with enough thought and straight up hard hits to make the journey worthwhile. One of DPW’s best matches this year.

Rating: ****

LA Park vs. Rush (Lucha Libre Elite Fronton Mexico 4/21/24)

Always a bit of a miracle when this match happens, if only for the propensity for these two to be thrown into four-ways or even their announced singles matches turning into tag matches instead. One gets the impression there’s always a bit of a fraught politics going on in terms of what they can do together. Leaving all that aside though, when they touch, it’s just some of the best lucha brawling one can find. This never reaches the absurd peaks of their late 2010s work, but what’s great is still great. Recklessly throwing anything pinned down at one another, the stiff chops, the headbutts, and this time, the stabbing! Oh good god the stabbing! Park does a real number on Rush halfway through the match, slicing the man open good and really getting a gusher going. Rush spends the back half with his whole chest covered in gore and it’s enough raw violence to offset things like the ref bumps and the occasional downtime. Lucha libre is the strongest style.

Rating: ****

Bryan Danielson vs. Will Ospreay (AEW Dynasty 4/21/24)

On the one hand, Danielson gets so much right here. Primarily in the early half of the match, forcing Ospreay to play his game with the chain wrestling and really making Ospreay earn his openings. Danielson does this by using the classics, such as dragging Ospreay into problem/solution wrestling before then zoning in on Ospreay’s midsection as a target. It’s a clever choice from Dragon here, picking a target that interferes the least with Ospreay’s arsenal while still being something Danielson himself is adept at attacking. The results on that end are mixed, I’m not quite as down on Ospreay’s midsection selling as others have been (I think he’s unremarkable at it, which is better than bad) but Danielson trying to focus on anything at all in an Ospreay match was never really going to lead anywhere major.

The match does tend to wander a bit when Ospreay’s the one dictating the pace a bit more. We get highlights though, genuinely great moments like the avalanche tiger suplex or even Danielson cutting off the Oscutter with his Busaiku Knee. These feel suitably large and grand for the occasion, but they come with the typical problems for Ospreay as well. While it’s not nearly as bad as other bouts of his, including matches I preferred such as the Kenny Dome match, I still feel like he rushes a bit from moment to moment. Again, he’s better at letting things set in here than usual, but it’s enough slightly off to keep this from the higher reaches of greatness.

Rating: ****

Chuck Taylor vs. Trent Beretta (AEW Rampage 4/27/24)


In their signature stipulation match with the company, Trent and Chucky T. deliver on exactly what’s expected. What that entails is blood, big bumps onto cars, carnage with weapons, and basically zero downtime. This has the benefit too of lacking some of the lighter comedic elements of previous parking lot brawls, it’s just a straight up fight that really puts over the personal nature of the animosity between these two. Stabbing each other, flinging debris at each other, and those sweet, sweet bumps through glass. Really doesn’t get much better than that as far as simple brawls go. If it’s legitimate Big Dust’s last go, it’s a hell of a way to leave.

Rating: ****

Mio Momono vs. Mayumi Ozaki (OZ Academy Battle Big Bonus 4/28/24)

OZ Academy

With this rematch, Mio Momono vs. Mayumi Ozaki firmly sets itself as perhaps the best women’s rivalry of the decade. I’ll be the first to admit that in all likelihood, this is the end of it, Mio probably never gets her revenge on Ozaki, and if she does, then not in any timely fashion. But the sheer raw nerve they pat into together just works so goddamn well. Momono proves herself not only an exceptional underdog, but a hero ready to learn as well. Here, she charges at Ozaki instead of letting the veteran get the jump on her like last year. She’s a powerhouse, a firecracker of energy, and it once again takes every trick in the book plus help from basically the entire OZ Academy roster to stop her. At the heart of it too, just so goddamn sympathetic as a babyface. Always fighting back, always scrapping, and seeming like she could take on the whole word if given the chance.

This does lack some of the focus of the initial title match, especially with the run ins zapping away some of the electricity of the star pair at the center. But it’s strong enough to cut through the noise and still be one of the year’s best title matches.

Rating: ****

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