That title is a little deceptive. I didn’t rank every match.
The WrestleCon Supershow has still not been released as of this writing, and I got tired of waiting around. The WrestleMania Axxess shows, which have aired in part on the WWE Network (NXT), are not accessible in full. The March 27th NXT house show from San Jose will not air at all. I didn’t watch the March 28th SHIMMER show or the Kaiju Big Battel event, because I don’t follow, nor do I have any interest, in either of those promotions.
Here are the eight shows covered in the piece, all of which aired live on various iPPV platforms from Thursday March 26th to Sunday March 29th (with the exception of ROH, which was released via VOD a few days later):
- March 26 – EVOLVE 39
- March 27 – ROH “Supercard of Honor IX”
- March 27 – EVOLVE 40
- March 27 – King of Indies Tournament Night 1
- March 28 –
DGUSAWWN Live “Mercury Rising”
- March 28 – King of Indies Tournament Night 2
- March 29 – New Japan “Road to Invasion Attack”
- March 29 – WWE WrestleMania (not XXXI)
Here’s how this will work. I’ve ranked all 63 matches from all eight shows. We’ll go in reverse order, from worst to first. I’ve also star rated each match, but you may notice that some matches are ranked higher than others despite receiving less stars. These are not typos. Don’t get wrapped up in one match being a quarter star or half star less than another, but being ranked higher. I could go into a long winded explanation of how I can star rate one match higher than another while thinking the lower rated match was better, but very few of you care, and the ones who do probably shouldn’t. It’s just goofy star ratings, so if it annoys you, just ignore them.
63. Brian Cage & Caleb Konley vs Johnny Gargano & Rich Swann (EVOLVE 40) *1/2
I feel bad doing this, because this was well on its way to being a perfectly good match when Swann got hurt. From there, it (understandably) fell completely apart. Once it became obvious that Swann was injured badly, Gabe Sapolsky ran down to the ring to check on Swann and called off the match. This caused mass confusion between the wrestlers, the referee, and the ring announcer, but in real time nobody cared because the situation with Swann looked serious. It turns out Swann was fine, but Sapolsky did the right thing in calling for the finish. *1/2, but in fairness I should probably slap this with a much more fair NR.
62. Nicole Matthews, Portia Perez, Andrea vs Kimber Lee, Cherry Bomb, Mia Yim (Mercury Rising) *
Absolute dogshit. I’ve seen people describe this match as “first day of wrestling school bad”, but that’s an insult to every backyarder who can throw a mediocre looking worked punch who shows up at his first day of wrestling school. This was my first real exposure to Kimber Lee, who draws rave reviews, but she looked really terrible here. After hearing Lee’s cringy, dangerous, and flat out cowardly gender card cop out explanation for taking a full force chairshot to the dome (which looked like it was filmed at knife point by ISIS), and then seeing this abomination, she hasn’t made a fan out of this reviewer. I’ve seen Yim have good matches, and I’ve seen Perez be among the best workers on many shows that featured both men and women, but I can’t give anybody a pass for this mess. It was flat out terrible.
61. King of Indies Battle Royal (KOIT N1) *3/4
Battle royals are almost never good, and this was a battle royal loaded with some of the most indieriffic dudes that you’ll ever see. There were a few recognizable names (Lucha Underground’s Famous B, Championship Wrestling from Hollywood & TNA’s “Pretty” Peter (Norv Fernum) Avalon, among others), but this was largely a collection of local California indie wrestlers being thrown a bone for their hard work and being shoehorned onto the iPPV.
60. Timothy Thatcher vs Drew Gulak (EVOLVE 39) *1/4
The first of roughly 47 Thatcher matches from the weekend, so we’ll have plenty of time to dig deep on him (and we will). I know this little sub section is called “The Bad”, but i’m not truly comfortable calling this match bad, because both guys performed what they were attempting to perform very well. The problem is that this was as dry as sand, and excruciatingly boring. This “match” happens every night at your local MMA gym, as this was a direct equivalent to watching two grapplers roll around for nine minutes. Look, I don’t like death matches. I’m not a big fan of shoot style. Wacky comedy matches aren’t really my thing either. But I can appreciate that different people like different things in their pro wrestling, and I can see what people like in most styles. But I genuinely do not see the appeal and have no idea why people enjoy watching these simulated grappling matches. It wasn’t “bad” in a technical sense, it was just dull as dirt.
“Just A Match”
59. Timothy Thatcher vs Vinny Massaro (KOIT N2) *3/4
Slightly less boring than the Gulak match. I promise we’re going to break down Thatcher soon, and I promise I didn’t hate all of his matches.
58. Ethan Page vs Caleb Konley (Mercury Rising) **
The epitome of the phrase “just a match”.
57. Classic Connection vs Bobby Hart & Sir Samurai vs Famous B & Marcus Lewis vs RockNES Monsters (KOIT N2) **
Marcus Lewis, who I had never seen before, did some cool dives and showed some decent charisma. I’d like to see more of him. I know there are plenty of people who really like them, but I never “got” RockNES Monsters, and I still don’t.
56. Rik Luxury vs Jeff Cobb (KOIT N1) **
Luxury, who looks like every aging, out of shape, bad 80’s gear wearing weekend warrior indie guy who wrestles for the tiny indie that runs the middle school down the street from your house (and who is almost always a volunteer fireman), was the worst wrestler I saw all weekend (non battle royal division). I guess he was perfectly average bell to bell, but his look was so not ironically horrendous that I would have been embarrassed if someone had walked into the room while I was watching this. More on Cobb (and Luxury) later.
55. Chris Hero vs Ethan Page (EVOLVE 39) **
This was not a great in ring weekend for the debuting Ethan Page, but he more than made up for it with some great character work while cornering Johnny Gargano at Mercury Rising. The upcoming Page/Gargano feud is some clever booking by Gabe Sapolsky, as it get Gargano out of the title picture, and in theory should help get Page over as a new star. New directions were the theme of the weekend for WWNLive.
54. BJ Whitmer vs Jimmy Jacobs (Supercard of Honor) **
I hated this feud in real time ten years ago, and these are legit my two least favorite ROH wrestlers of all time, so I had no emotional connection to any of this. Lacey did the big run in at the end (which got no pop whatsoever because unless you watched the WWNLive China shows you probably hadn’t seen Lacey in years, and nobody, and I mean NOBODY in the building knew who she was), which was nice for the full circle aspect of the story, but none of this moved my needle, because the Whitmer/Jacobs feud was always something I would hope wouldn’t be booked for the ROH shows in my area. This had the requisite table spots, suplex’s onto chairs, Jacob’s spike (honestly I had a hard time paying attention to this match and keeping focus, so I’m not even sure whether the spike actually made an appearance or not) and all of the other “remember when” spots that you either really loved or really hated about this feud. They played “The Ballad of Lacey” in the post match and the twelve people in the crowd who seemed to remember any of this shit seemed to enjoy it, so good for them I guess.
53. B-Boy vs Brian Cage (KOIT N1) **1/2
I don’t remember a thing about this match, and didn’t take a single note other than the star rating, so I’m just gonna put the match right here.
52. Vinny Massaro vs El Mariachi (KOIT N1) **1/4
Mariachi did some cool flying, but was very sloppy. But hey, he showed a lot of energy and was doing STUFF, so I applaud his efforts. The veteran Massaro is a much cleaner worker than Mariachi.
51. Adam Thornstowe vs Shaun Ricker (KOIT N1) **3/4
Shaun Ricker had a really bad night, and was responsible for dragging down a match that was very close to being good. He’s normally better than this, and after being released from WWE developmental for attitude issues, he impressed TNA enough at the One Night Only: Gut Check taping to be invited to the last round of Impact/Xplosion tapings as the rechristened “Eli Drake”.
50. Grappler III vs Earl Cooter (KOIT N2) **3/4
Grappler III is our pal Rik Luxury, who should stick with this slightly less awful gimmick, because I almost always enjoy a masked man on some level. Cooter, who has never impressed me, worked very hard here.
49. Willie Mack vs Jody Kristofferson (KOIT N1) **3/4
I have a lot to say about Willie Mack further down the page. I don’t think Kristofferson has ever impressed me. He’s a charisma black hole.
48. Luster the Legend vs Jeckles (KOIT N1) **3/4
47. Paige & AJ Lee vs The Bella Twins (WrestleMania) **3/4
The worst match at WrestleMania, but it was fine. WrestleMania just happened to be a very good show. Everybody worked hard.
46. Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal (WrestleMania) **3/4
Better than the KOIT battle royal, but not nearly as good as the Andre battle royal from WrestleMania XXX.
45. Tommy End vs Timothy Thatcher (EVOLVE 40) **
I probably underrated this a bit because it had one spot that thoroughly annoyed me, and then I rated the match in the moment while still peeved about that spot. The match peaked with a great striking sequence where End knocked out Thatcher cold (which Thatcher sold very well) with a crescent kick, but then instead of going for the easy pin, End sat down in the corner and tried to win via referee ten count. End wasn’t incapacitated, he was fully conscious and able to attempt a pin had he wanted to. The match lost me right there. Maybe something went over my head. Was this some sort of respect deal where he didn’t want to pin a man who was clearly knocked out? Was this some sort of macho bullshit where End wanted to win by ref stoppage as opposed to pinfall? Whatever the case, it was lost on me, came off incredibly stupid, and badly hurt the match.
44. Doc Gallows, Karl Anderson, Tama Tonga vs Katsuyori Shibata, Hirooki Goto, Tomoaki Honma (Road to Invasion Attack) **3/4
43. Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt (WrestleMania) **3/4
Go home Taker, the aura is gone. With that said, one match per year for a massive payday is great work if you can get it. Wyatt just isn’t very good, but the right people are behind him.
42. Captain New Japan & Mascara Dorada vs Cody Hall & Kenny Omega (Road to Invasion Attack) **3/4
Cody Hall still looks mostly out of place on such a loaded and talented roster, but he’s showing improvement, particularly in closing stretches where he generally keeps up just fine in a promotion where that can be a real challenge because of the hot (and intricate) finishes that many of the matches have. His spinning lariat is a great looking move that always pops the crowd.
41. Jay Briscoe vs Samoa Joe (Supercard of Honor) **1/2
This was the worst Jay Briscoe match I’ve seen in ages. It just never got going and never found a second gear. Joe, who was working on a bad knee, looked like he was moving in quicksand. The crowd never really got into it. This by all rights had the potential to be a match of the year contender, and ended up being the most disappointing match of the weekend. It may ultimately end up being the most disappointing match of the year.
40. reDRagon vs The Kingdom (Supercard of Honor) **3/4
The Kingdom have the uncanny ability to drag every team they face down to their level. Young Bucks, Gallows and Anderson, The Addiction, and now reDRagon have now all arguably had their worst match ever against these guys. In fact, the two worst reDRagon matches I’ve ever seen have now been against The Kingdom (this match, and the Glory By Honor bout from San Antonio). It’s not that these Kingdom matches are bad, they just don’t fit the style of the promotion. When I watch The Kingdom I feel like they should be trolling the babyface teams in Continental or Central States circa 1984.
39. Tommy End vs Biff Busick (EVOLVE 39) **3/4
Busick is a guy that I have really turned the corner on, and as far as the new breed group of grapplers goes, he tends to show the most charisma. I enjoyed this, and this is another match that I probably underrated a bit.
38. John Cena vs Rusev (WrestleMania) ***
Three stars is probably a little generous here. In fact, looking at this in print, I should probably flip flop this match with the End/Busick bout. This was a nice little RAW match at best, and it had a shitty, flat finish. After their great Fastlane match, I was expecting something much better than what we ended up with, especially for a show like WrestleMania. It didn’t help that the wrong guy won. Rusev’s long undefeated streak went out with a whimper, and the big win was given to the very last guy on the roster who needed the rub. Ultimately Roman Reigns should have been the man to eventually beat Rusev, and Rusev could have gone into that match stronger than ever after winning a feud with Cena. Cena losing wouldn’t have hurt him one bit at this stage, and ultimately his role moving forward should be to elevate future big time heels anyway.
37. Ethan Page vs AR Fox (EVOLVE 40) ***
This was a rehab win for Fox, who won it with the Lo Mein Pain after Johnny Gargano beat him one night earlier after surviving the same move. Fox needed a strong win to set up his match with PJ Black the next night, and he got it. Page losing ultimately didn’t matter, because he got his heat back with the heel turn at Mercury Rising. Another example of very strong A-B-C booking by Sapolsky over the course of the weekend.
36. Ricochet vs Matt Cross vs Joey Ryan (KOIT N1) ***
I’m not much of a Joey Ryan fan, so I would have preferred a Prince Puma vs Son of Havok one on one match. This under delivered. Ricochet didn’t have a great weekend.
35. Intercontinental Ladder Match (WrestleMania) ***
I’m so over these multi-man ladder car crashes. Nothing resonated with me.
34. TenKoji & Yohei Komatsu vs Manabu Nakanishi, Ryusuke Tagushi, Yuji Nagata (Road to Invasion Attack) ***
33. AJ Styles, Yujiro Takahashi, Bad Luck Fale vs Gedo, Kazuchika Okada, YOSHI-HASHI (Road to Invasion Attack) ***
Exactly what you would expect from matches like this on a New Japan spot show. Predictably a lot of the veterans mailed it in, and the standouts for me were Komatsu in the first match, Gedo in the second. Gedo was so good in his match that I now very badly want to see a Gedo vs Styles main event at Korakuen Hall (it will never happen), in the same vein as the great Gedo vs Prince Devitt match from a few years ago that blew the roof off of that same building. I truly believe Gedo is one of the best workers in New Japan.
32. Ultimo Dragon vs Juventud Guerrera (KOIT N2) ***
The Sonny Ono cameo was a cool little surprise. The Sonny Ono angle was unneeded and almost killed the match. This was ultimately a harmless little bout that ended up being a lot of fun. I saw some brutal reviews, but I’m not sure what people were expecting out of two guys with a combined age of 88 years old. All told, I thought they both acquitted themselves very well. I enjoyed it.
31. Jay Lethal vs Jushin Thunder Liger (Supercard of Honor) ***
You can tell that these ROH guys are always super excited to be working with Liger, who without a hint of hyperbole or abuse of the word is a true living legend. Liger’s mask & full body suit are like an anti aging disguise, and he works so smart that it’s very hard to tell that he’s slowed down over the years. It never hit the gear that I would have liked it to, but I liked how they built things around Liger landing the palm thrust and how terrified Lethal was of the move. Liger singles matches these days always manage to do just enough for me to enjoy them.
30. Adam Thornstowe vs Timothy Thatcher (KOIT N2) ***
29. Chris Hero vs Timothy Thatcher (Mercury Rising) ***
28. Dylan Drake vs Timothy Thatcher (KOIT N1) ***
The Hero match was the best Thatcher match i’d ever seen, until a few hours later when it was edged out by the Drake match. As you can see, I obviously think the Hero/Thatcher match is wildly overrated, but i’m going to say similar things I said in the Thatcher/Gulak blurb. Thatcher’s style just isn’t my bag, and I don’t see myself ever turning the corner. I’ve come to terms with it, and i’m done trying to force the issue. I fully recognize that what he does he happens to do very, very well, and me personally not being entertained by his style does not preclude me from recognizing that he’s great it. I did I like all three of these matches, and I liked all three of them for different reasons. I’ll write more about Thornstowe later. The Hero match had the cool story of Hero not quite being able to keep up with Thatcher on the ground, and Thatcher not quite being up to Hero’s level in the striking department (although I have to bring up the point that if, say, a New Japan wrestler no sold the way Thatcher did at the end of this match, during the sequence where he ate multiple Hero boots, many of the people who sing the praises of Thatcher would crucify the New Japan wrestler, and I heard nary a peep out of those people regarding the Thatcher no sell). It also had an element of old vs new, with post-NXT Hero now in the indie veteran role. The Drake match had the best finish of the three, and Drake brought a different type of charisma to the table that you usually don’t see opposite of Thatcher, which made for a fun dynamic. Thatcher is eventually going to have a match that I love, just as I’ve seen death matches and shoot style matches and comedy matches that I loved. But more often than not, he’s going to bore me, just as death matches make me roll my eyes, shoot style just makes me want to watch real shoots, and comedy matches usually have comedy that just doesn’t land. We like what we like, and some things just don’t appeal to us. Is Thatcher good at what he does? Yup. In fact, he’s probably great. Do I enjoy his work? Nope. These things do not have to be mutually exclusive.
The REALLY Good
27. Rey Horus vs Lil Cholo (KOIT N1) ***
Don’t let the relative lack of stars fool you, because this ruled. Cholo (Mr. Cisco of Lucha Underground) is a guy who is always better than I expect him to be, and Horus may have been the breakout star of the weekend (he was immediately booked for the next set of EVOLVE shows following his performances here). This was the perfect opener. Hot action, good flying, crisp work, and a nice tidy length. I really enjoyed this.
26. Austin Aries & Roderick Strong vs Uhaa Nation & Ricochet (Mercury Rising) ***1/4
Ricochet set the bar very high last year, and this year he’s having some trouble clearing it. This was a good match, but like a few other matches over the weekend (Joe/Briscoe, Cena/Rusev) it failed to meet my (admittedly high) expectations. As a side note, Austin Aries needs to be the next guy who leaves TNA and tears it up once he’s free.
25. Jeff Cobb vs Brian Cage (KOIT N2) ***1/4
With the benefit of better opponents, both of these guys produced a better match than they did on Night 1. Everybody knows about Cage at this point, so I won’t waste time talking about him. “Mr. Athletic” Jeff Cobb, a 5’10” 200 lb fireplug, is a former Olympian, representing Guam in 2004 in wrestling. As his moniker would indicate, he’s deceptively athletic, and pulls off some freakish looking feats of strength and balance (making him very similar to Cage in that regard), most notably his reverse powerslam, a move so awesome that I am not nearly a skilled enough writer to describe with any justice. Cage crams a lot of stuff into his matches while tiptoeing the line of excessiveness, but he usually manages to not cross it. This had a lot of near falls and big moves for a match of its length, but none of it felt like overkill. Fun match.
24. Adam Thornstowe vs Luster the Legend (KOIT N2) ***1/4
These two are a regular tag team (Reno SCUM) and had their first singles match against each other here. This was tag partners beating this shit out of each other, with a semifinal spot in the tournament on the line. I can dig that. And I did.
23. TJ Perkins vs Drew Gulak (EVOLVE 40) ***1/4
22. TJ Perkins vs Tommy End vs Biff Busick vs Drew Gulak (Mercury Rising) ***1/4
I was very happy to see Perkins and Sapolsky kiss and make up, because they’re a good fit for each other right now. It seems like ages ago, but there was a decent chance EVOLVE would have been built around Perkins in 2010, after Bryan Danielson signed with WWE and the Davey Richards EVOLVE/ROH/New Japan fiasco happened. Perkins is one of the most versatile wrestlers around, and is a perfect fit for a roster currently in transition from the remnants of the DGUSA era style workers to the new era of grapplers and strikers, because he can work seamlessly and at a high level with all of them. The four way match was one of the more cohesive matches of its type that I’ve seen in some time.
21. Shinsuke Nakamura, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, Rocky Romero, Beretta vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, Togi Makabe, Tetsuya Naito, KUSHIDA, Alex Shelley (Road to Invasion Attack) ***1/2
20. Seth Rollins vs Randy Orton (WrestleMania) ***1/4
Great finish lifts a mediocre match.
19. Christopher Daniels vs Roderick Strong (Supercard of Honor) ***1/4
Daniels has quietly been very, very good on this current ROH run. The long term story of his chronically injured back is a very clever thing to build matches around, and was a tailor made narrative to play off of in a match against backbreaker master Roderick Strong. Daniels is one of the smoothest professionals I’ve ever seen. A sneaky all time great between the ropes who does everything well.
18. Matt Sydal vs Cedric Alexander vs Tommaso Ciampa vs Moose vs Caprice Coleman vs Andrew Everett (Supercard of Honor) ***1/2
This was exactly what it looked like on paper.
17. Drew Galloway vs Uhaa Nation (EVOLVE 40) ***1/4
16. ACH vs Mark Briscoe (Supercard of Honor) ***1/2
I’ve seen ACH wrestle dozens of times, including many times live, and the man simply never has a bad match. Ever. He’s right up there with AJ Styles or anybody else you can come up with right now in terms of consistent delivery of entertaining matches. He’s as physically talented as anybody in wrestling.
15. Michael Elgin vs Frankie Kazarian (Supercard of Honor) ***1/2
The first of two matches…
14. Sting vs Triple H (WrestleMania) ***1/2
…that i’m going to be ripped for ranking too high. First, let’s tackle the Elgin match. It seems as though the entire world has turned heel on the guy, and I do understand why, but I enjoy his “excessive” (and I don’t always agree that he “does too much”, for what it’s worth) style, because I like action in my wrestling and i’m willing to sacrifice some selling and psychology to get it. This match was built around working Kaz’s neck, which is something you don’t see every day, and I found that interesting. As for Sting vs Triple H, it was not a bell to bell ***1/2 star match. Not even close. But it was FUN. Once that nWo music hit, logic and critical analysis flew out the window. This was wacky nostalgic fun, and despite the Vince McMahon masturbatory finish, and despite the fact that none of it made any sense (why is the nWo helping Sting? Why would Sting shake Triple H’s hand?), I enjoyed the novelty of Sting in a WWE ring, and I enoyed the match for it for what it was.
13. Jeff Cobb vs Willie Mack (KOIT N2) ***1/2
Willie Mack had four matches over the course of the weekend, with three of them making my top 13, and you’re going to have to wait to read up on the last two which were among the best of the best of the entire weekend. Prior to these shows, I had never particularly been a fan of Mack. He wasn’t someone I necessarily disliked, but he also never really connected with me either. His performances in the King of Indies Tournament have instantly made me fan, and now I totally see why people rave about him. I’m not sure if I’ve seen anybody have three matches in one night as good as the three Mack had on Night 2 of this tournament since El Generico’s three match run on the second night of the ROH Race to the Top Tournament in 2007 against Chris Hero, Davey Richards, and Claudio Castagnoli.
12. Drew Galloway vs PJ Black (EVOLVE 39) ***1/2
Like Mack, PJ Black checks in with a ton of stuff in the upper echelon of the rankings, with all three of his bouts cracking the top 12.
11. Ricochet, Rich Swann, Uhaa Nation vs Brian Cage, Caleb Konely, TJ Perkins (EVOLVE 39) ***3/4
This match had some great work and some cool spots, but I bumped it up a quarter star or so for the clever little story they told with Perkins. As noted earlier, Perkins returned to EVOLVE for the first time in five years, and did so as a hired gun of the heel Premier Athlete Brand. Perkins performed badly (kayfabe) and ultimately lost the match for his team, leading to So Cal Val (who is yet another talent that TNA completely wasted for many years, as she is an absolute natural as a heel valet) kicking him out of the group exactly one match into his run. What was great about this was the subtlety. You didn’t have Lenny Leonard on commentary beating you over the head with the idea that Perkins was struggling, and there was no tease of dissension during the match. Perkins had a bad night, Val was annoyed and read him the riot act, Perkins had enough and hand waved her, and Val kicked him out of the group. Everybody reacted naturally and within their characters, even to the point of the other PAB members trying to cool things down between Perkins and Val instead of resorting to the tired formula of the immediate post match beatdown from the brainless heels who do whatever their manipulative manager desires. Wrestling doesn’t have to be obvious, insulting, and repetitive. It can tell the same exact stories it has always told while being subtle and keeping you on your toes with different ways of accomplishing the same objective. Sapolsky’s booking knocked it out of the park all weekend long.
The Top Ten
10. The Young Bucks vs Tiger Mask & Sho Tanaka (Road to Invasion Attack) ***1/2
This was the opener, and it was my favorite match on the show. The Bucks, who were IWGP junior tag champions at the time, gave their opponents a shocking amount of offense, especially Tanaka, and this ended up being far more dramatic than it needed to be. I’ve talked about ACH delivering every time he hits the ring, but the Bucks are the undisputed tag team champions of having great matches every single time out. It’s gotten to the point that we probably have to start giving them consideration as one of the greatest tag teams of all time. The Bucks do it their way, with their own style, they don’t care who doesn’t like it or how many crusty veterans complain about cramming in too many spots, and that mindset has helped their careers skyrocket. The Bucks revitalized a dry tag scene on two continents and have been so influential that they have a “gotten to” WWE, so miffed that the team turned down an NXT deal, name dropping their catch phrases on WWE TV. Wrestling needs more acts like the Bucks who have the guts to do things different and carve fresh paths.
9. Ricochet vs PJ Black (EVOLVE 40) ***3/4
8. AR Fox vs PJ Black (Mercury Rising) ***3/4
Black had three very good matches that fell just a tad short of the tough 4-star mark, and overall he was one of the five best individual performers of the weekend. I liked the Fox match the best of the three, but choosing between them is essentially splitting hairs. More good booking set up the finish. Black lost his first two matches of the weekend, and desperately needed a win. Fox lost to Gargano (which was a symbolic end to their rivalry), but bounced back with a win over Ethan Page. Fox then did some of his patented 5-star commentary for Black’s loss to Ricochet to help hype his match with Black, which Black ultimately won to salvage his weekend. With Fox now done with WWNLive, all of this couldn’t have worked out any better, even if some of it was luck. Fox lost to two stars who are staying with the promotion (presumably in Black’s case), and his lone win (which was needed to boost him up for the the Black match) was over Page, which as noted earlier doesn’t hurt Page a bit because Page was rejuvenated with a heel turn later. Every domino fell into place perfectly, and it’s weekends like this that make you realize how shitty it is for bookers when a key talent has to pull out of a show or an entire weekend of shots. As for Black, he’s only taken sporadic bookings since walking out of WWE, but his performances over the weekend proved he can hang working the style and pace of the high level indies.
7. Cesaro & Tyson Kidd vs Los Matadores vs The Usos (WrestleMania) ***3/4
The preshow opener was the best match on the entire WrestleMania card, which was a solid card, until the main event. Incredible action with the right finish (the crafty heels stealing the pin).
6. Johnny Gargano vs AR Fox (EVOLVE 39) ****
5. Johnny Gargano vs Drew Galloway (Mercury Rising) ****
Two matches that are probably better appreciated if you are invested in EVOLVE/DGUSA/WWNLive booking and the creative long term direction of Gargano. We’ve discussed the Fox match already. The Galloway match was hurt for me by the crowd brawling (which I’m told came off much better live), but was revived by the return of the GARGANO ROPE, which was the impetus for the great Gargano heel turn a few years ago, and played a role in his victories over Shingo and Akira Tozawa. Gargano tried to use the rope again last year in his Mania Weekend Open the Freedom Gate title defense against Ricochet, which took that particular match to another level, but it backfired. Gargano’s protege, Ethan Page, offered the rope up to Gargano against Galloway, which was a great tease, but Gargano refused to use it. Gargano lost moments later, and Page did the heel turn in the post match. The upcoming Gargano/Page feud will get Gargano out of the title picture for the time being, as the company focuses on new faces at the top, namely Timothy Thatcher. This match, which was for both the Open the Freedom Gate and EVOLVE titles, should have closed the show but Galloway had to make a flight. Galloway was steady all weekend. That word, “steady”, can really be used to describe his entire post-WWE run.
4. Chris Hero vs Biff Busick (EVOLVE 40) ****
I’m probably the only person on the planet who preferred this match to the Hero/Thatcher match. I’m going to throw more roses at the EVOLVE booking (last time, I promise). With Busick rumored to be on the way out, he loses a couple of matches, including one to Hero, who gets a strong win to build him up for the big Thatcher match. Hero, in the role of respected indie veteran, picks up two wins and then plays gatekeeper for Thatcher, who is very clearly being groomed for the top spot. Sometimes this stuff looks so easy in hindsight, but we all know fitting these pieces together can be trickier than it looks. The EVOLVE booking was one giant puzzle all weekend, and once the borders fell into place it all came together perfectly.
3. Willie Mack vs Adam Thornstowe (KOIT N2) ****
2. Willie Mack vs Rey Horus (KOIT N2) ****
Willie mother f’n Mack. Throw in the Cobb match, and he had three truly awesome matches in the span of roughly 90 minutes, and all three of the matches were different. The Cobb match was completely different from the Thronstowe match, which was your epic bomb throwing, big move tournament final. The Horus match, which I was this close to ranking #1 overall for the entire weekend, was Mack matching Horus’s spectacular offense move for move, with tons of hot action and near falls. Mack was on his game and felt like the superior worker in all three of his bouts, which is not meant to take a single thing away from the men he faced, who all had great weekends as well. Despite the amazing performances put in by Mack, Thornstowe came out of this as the wrestler that I was most impressed with of all, because while Mack may not have ever been my cup of tea, he has always had a great reputation as a worker so the fact he impressed me wasn’t a complete surprise. Conversely, Thornstowe had been a total non entity to me previously. In fact, Thornstowe was so under my radar that I didn’t even realize that I had seen him wrestle several times previously until I went on my Adam Thornstowe research and watch kick after loving his matches so much here. If you are an indie promoter who saw these shows, and you haven’t at least picked up the phone to have a discussion with Thornstowe, you need your head examined. This guy is FUCKING GREAT, with a great look and a cool persona, who works his ass off in the ring, and he’s starting to put it all together. I have zero doubt that as a single, or with tag partner Luster the Legend (as Reno SCUM), that Thornstowe would get over in any promotion in the country, and that includes NXT, where as a team I think Thornstowe and Luster would get over instantly. He strikes me as a guy with very high upside, and if i’m Gabe Sapolsky or ROH or CZW or AAW or anybody else, i’d get in on the ground floor of this dude immediately. Most people feel like Thatcher was the star of the weekend, and if you dig Thatcher I could see that stance, but for me, this was the breakout weekend for Horus and Thornstowe.
1. Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns (WrestleMania) ****
This match was well on its way to being a certain MOTY contender…until the cash in. It’s not that I hated the cash in, because I didn’t. The cash in was well timed, protected both Reigns and Lesnar, and was a good piece of storytelling. But what it also did was ruin the trajectory of what was shaping up to be a potential classic, all time match. Had the match had any sort of legitimate finish, with either Reigns completing the comeback after taking the epic beating, or running out of gas and losing valiantly after refusing to die early, i’d very likely be hyping this up with my top three matches of the year, Tanahashi/Okada, Nakamura/Ibushi, and Shiozaki/Doering, or Ishii/Honma, or anything else you want to bring up as one of the best matches of 2015, and i’d very likely have it flirting with 5-stars. Even with the cash in it was a fantastic match, and easily the best Roman Reigns performance ever. The selling by both men was top notch. I loved the “you can beat me up but you can’t kill me” smirk on Roman’s face as he was taking the Brock beatdown, which got him over with me more than anything he’s ever done, and I loved Brock’s unique and dramatic “will he or won’t he be taken off of his feat” whirling dervish selling during the Reigns comeback. I came out of this feeling like Brock was the best worker in the world, and he has brought a serious, big time aura to WWE World Title matches that we probably haven’t since the days of Bruno Sammartino. And then just as this was turning into something special, Rollins hit the ring. Even though the angle came off well, for me the cash in kills that match in terms of being in the MOTY conversation. That’s uber nerd talk though. This was a great match, the cash in worked, and all of this was a tremendous capper to what proved to be a super deep weekend of wrestling, even if the weekend ultimately didn’t produce a true MOTY contender.
Top 5 Performers of the Weekend
- Willie Mack
- Adam Thornstowe
- PJ Black
- Rey Horus
- Brock Lesnar
Top 3 Shows of the Weekend
- King of Indies Night 2
- Mercury Rising
- EVOLVE 40