In terms of great wrestling, March was like a three-act play. Act one was the first few weeks of the month which saw great matches from Europe, ROH and Japan. The next couple of weeks were a quiet second act. Act three was the lead-in to WrestleMania weekend where wrestling exploded, leading us to yet another fine month of high level pro wrestling.
10. CWF 6 Pack Elimination Match
CWF Mid-Atlantic 3/22
(My Rating: ****1/4)
The participants in this match were: Trevor Lee, Chip Day, Otto Schwanz, Cain Justice, Smith Garrett and Aric Andrews. This match had so many moving parts and a lot of story elements that as a casual follower of this promotion I could only catch some of. What I was able to grasp was the story of this match, and it was structured beautifully.
This was for Trevor Lee’s CWF Championship and it featured the Television Champion (Andrews) and the Rising Generation Champion (Justice). Justice, though not quite a full heel, clearly had an antagonistic relationship with super babyface champ Trevor Lee. Lee did everything in this match to establish himself as the man. He was in the ring against everybody, and longer than anybody. In this promotion he really does feel above everyone else. The best exchanges he had were with Chip Day, a guy I discovered late 2015 having great matches against the likes of Cedric Alexander and Tomasso Ciampa. This match really made me want to see a singles match between Lee and Day.
CWF protected its champions; the guys without belts were out first (though Day was protected in defeat as well). That left Lee to have to take down the two other champions in the promotion to retain, and they had some great near falls and heat down the stretch. I like elimination matches and this one was booked nigh perfectly.
9. South Pacific Power Trip vs British Strong Style
(My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****)
All aboard the SPPT bandwagon!
Sadly it’s a bit late as some visas are expiring soon, but man, have these guys found themselves this year. Travis Banks has been great for a while, possibly even being the best wrestler with the least amount of notoriety in the world. But TK Cooper has improved vastly. In a lot of ways he was the star of this match, which is amazing considering the talent he was in there with. I haven’t even gotten to British Strong style, who were absolutely awesome in this as well. The sequences of strikes and throws and double team moves were at times breathtaking. They may have even pulled out the best pro wrestling sequence I’ve seen all year. This match really highlighted the ceiling of what tag team wrestling can be. Had it gone five or six minutes longer it’d be in discussion for Match of the Year.
8. Mark Andrews vs Will Ospreay
(My Rating: ****1/2, VOW rating: ****1/2)
These two have excellent chemistry. Their rivalry in PROGRESS is long and storied. But this match was a stark contrast to their previous bouts, as Will Ospreay is a much darker and more sinister character than he once was. And he worked that style to a T.
In this match, not one time did Will Ospreay do a flip. I was looking out for that. He did one tope, and that’s it.
I know it’s a vast minority, but there are people who criticize Ospreay and other high fliers for their flippy dos and “choreographed gymnastics.” “That’s not real wrestling!” they’ll decry to all who will listen.
Well, here’s a Will Ospreay match for you. Sure, Mark Andrews does a bunch of flips, and then Ospreay proceeds to beat him down mercilessly for it. Ospreay’s heel heat segments here were 100 times more compelling than HHH’s “working the knee” spots at WrestleMania. You can’t watch this match fairly and say Ospreay doesn’t know how to work.
I should also mention that Mark Andrews was really great here, as he consistently is. The ropes broke during the match (which has happened to Ospreay twice in two months now) and Andrews still pulled out some incredible aerial offense. It’s unreal.
7. Mark Andrews vs Shane Strickland
(My Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****1/4)
As great as the Ospreay match was, I found this to be even better. No heels in this match. But a ton of flipz. This was a total showcase match. There was little to no story besides the usual game of one upping each other. My friend and fellow comic Benel Germosen texted me his theory for how they came up with the go home sequence for this match: Andrews went up to Strickland and asked, “Hey Shane, can you do things that are impossible?” And Strickland replied, “Sure, I do impossible shit all the time.” That’s as good a theory as any. Strickland has come a long way the last couple of years, and his performances in Europe, and particularly in Progress, have made him a true standout to look out for.
6. Tomohiro Ishii vs Katsuyori Shibata
(My Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****3/4)
There was a surprisingly small amount of buzz about this match. I think people in general tend to sleep on the NJPW Cup. I don’t know why, as the results of the matches are actually more important than results of G1 matches, since it’s single elimination.
To me, every Tomohiro Ishii main event deserves a ton of buzz. This man may be the best pro wrestler I’ve ever seen. And honestly, this was one of the best Shibata performances I’ve seen in awhile. Of their series, I would say this is probably the third best match these two have had against each other, which is nuts because this match ruled. The violence, the striking, the suplexes, the no selling, the collapses in heaps of exhaustion…everything you’d expect from these two, and it all worked. Ishii’s selling was unbelievably great, Shibata’s offense was brutal. A violent work of art, this match was.
5. Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Go Shiozaki
(My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****1/4)
I feel like this was a big match for both men. This was the first challenger Nakajima’s had that I felt he had any real shot of losing to (although it would be a terrible booking decision to do so, obviously). Go will never be the top guy everyone thought he could be. But he worked his ass off here, and is legitimately a great worker overall. The battle between Go’s chops and Nakajima’s kicks was exciting to watch, as the crowd seemed truly invested in who would break first.
Nakajima’s been on a great run with this title and he conveys a different aura than other babyface champions. The look Nakajima gave Shiozaki right before that final roundhouse kick to the head spoke a thousand words. NOAH’s been on a role this year, and Nakajima has been a huge part of that.
4. Keith Lee vs Donovan Dijak
(My Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****1/2)
In my opinion, this was the best match of WrestleMania weekend and Keith Lee was the breakout star of it. I can see this dude main eventing a WrestleMania someday, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
What these two big men were able to do was nothing short of incredible. These guys pulled out moves that we see the cruiserweights do. And when they had to, they used some devastating power moves on each other as well.
This was a spectacle, a true showcase of big man athleticism and what pro wrestling has evolved (pun necessary) into in 2017. Expect big things from both of these men for the rest of the year, but especially Keith Lee, who’s got presence and charisma for days. He’s also got a great theme song, which you can get from him directly. Just hit him up on Twitter.
3. Tomohiro Ishii vs Kenny Omega
(My Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****1/2, Meltzer Rating: ****3/4)
My dream match happened.
Since I heard Omega in an interview say he wanted to work with ishii, I’d been waiting with baited breath for this match. It happened, and it was awesome. What was really interesting about this match is that we saw a wide range of different offense employed by Ishii. He usually only uses a few moves and then sells really well. That’s all he ever needs. But this was a different kind of match. Ishii used a top rope hurricanrana, a running knee strike and reversed the One-Winged Angel into a stunner. The latter may have been the best reversal of 2017.
Omega bumping for Ishii’s lariats was a joy to watch unto its own. Tomohiro Ishii was no doubt the MVP of the NJPW Cup this year (as he was last year), and this was the best match of the whole thing. And as great as it was, I feel like they could do even better. And I want them to. I need this rematch somewhere down the line. Someone tell Gedo for me.
2. Kazuchika Okada vs Tiger Mask W
(My Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****1/2, Meltzer Rating: ****1/2)
I guess because of the Tiger Mask gimmick and the title not being on the line, I didn’t go into this match expecting it to be anything special. I was mistaken.
It really is a testament to how good Okada is and how hard he works that he took the bumps and wrestled as well as he did in this match. We all know that Tiger Mask W is Kota Ibushi, and we all know that Kota Ibushi is awesome, but it seemed so strange for them to just have a match here. Well, seems like the whole point of it was to have a really awesome match, and that’s what we got.
Okada continues to work in different variants and sequences involving the Rainmaker and the wrist clutch that precedes it. It’s truly sublime work he’s doing with this and I always wonder if he’s going to run out of ideas at some point, but he never seems to. Tiger Mask pretty much worked like Ibushi except his finish is the Tiger Driver rather than the Phoenix Splash. Having the new mask must’ve helped too. When he hit the Avalanche Tiger driver I thought it was over, I couldn’t believe Okada kicked out of that. Then we got a similar sequence we saw Ibushi have with Nakamura at The Dome. We saw Tiger Mask W, hero to all, punch Okada right in the face. Okada had none of it and fired back with a shotgun dropkick and then stomped W into the ground. Between this match and the Suzuki match, Okada’s been developing more of a rough edge to him. It’s not been all about technically sound wrestling and his pretty dropkicks, dude’s been fighting people. He’s going to need that against Shibata.
1. Ilja Dragunov vs Walter
(My Rating: *****, VOW Rating: *****)
This was the first Ilja Dragunov match I’ve ever seen and I’ll never forget it. This was the finals of the annual 16 carat gold tournament. Walter has been a tour de force this year. After watching him in this match and his Ringkampf matches, and the way he defeated Matt Riddle earlier on this show, I feel like he’s become the new best bully style wrestler on the indies. He’s Chris Hero now.
Ilja Dragunov was the perfect foil for Walter here. A babyface full of fire and fighting spirit. Walter chopped Dragunov’s chest until the skin started peeling off. Then he kept chopping him. At one point Dragunov paused during a chop exchange to examine his battered chest, and in an amazing visual, he peeled some of his own chest skin off, looked at it, and fired up. From there on there were bombs being thrown and near falls and Walter continuously attempting to put Dragunov away with the sleeper. On this night, Dragunov was invincible. There are times when booking your babyface as superman is absolutely effective, and this was one of those times. Dragunov put in one of the best babyface performances I’ve ever seen. I don’t know how big of a star Ilja Dragunov will become, but on this night and with that performance, he’s a superstar in my book.
- Marty Scurll vs David Starr, 3/6 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ***1/2)
- Will Ospreay vs Drew Galloway, 3/6 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ***3/4, Meltzer Rating: ****1/4)
- Matt Riddle vs Cody, 3/13 (My Rating: ****)
- Keith Lee vs Ricochet, 3/30 (My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****1/4)
- Zack Sabre Jr vs ACH, 3/30 (My Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****3/4)
- Fred Yehi vs Matt Riddle, 3/31 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ****)
- Darby Allen vs Ethan Page, 3/31 (My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****1/2)
Ring Of Honor
- Cheeseburger vs. Chris Sabin vs Punishment Martinez vs Frankie Kazarian vs Hangman Page vs Silas Young, 3/10 (My Rating: ***3/4, VOW Rating: ***3/4, Meltzer Rating: ***)
- Jay Lethal vs Bobby Fish, 3/10 (My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****1/4, Meltzer Rating: ****)
- Marty Scurll vs Lio Rush, 3/10 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ****1/4, Meltzer Rating: ****)
- RP Vice vs Young Bucks vs Hardys, 3/10 (My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****1/2, Meltzer Rating: ****1/2)
- Christopher Daniels vs Adam Cole, 3/10 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ***3/4, Meltzer Rating: ***3/4)
- Jay Briscoe vs Jay White, 3/22 (My Rating: ****1/4)
- Travis Banks vs Jordan Devlin, 2/26 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ****)
- Jimmy Havoc, Morgan Webster & Mark Haskins vs British Strong Style, 2/26 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ***3/4)
- Ringkampf vs Hunter Brothers, 3/19 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ****)
- Pete Dunne vs Jimmy Havoc, 3/19 (My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****1/4)
- Hajime O’Hara vs Hitoshi Kumano, 3/12 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ****)
- Mike Bailey vs Shigehiro Irie, 3/20 (VOW Rating: ****)
- Konosuke Takeshita vs Harashima, 3/20 (VOW Rating: ****1/2)