April was a hell of a month in pro wrestling. Besides the back half of the most jam-packed WrestleMania Weekend ever, the multiple big NJPW shows, the AJPW Champion’s Carnival and PROGRESS staying hot there was quite a bit to sink your teeth into. Here we only celebrate the best, let’s get into it.
South Pacific Power Trip vs London Riots, PROGRESS 4/23
(My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****)
If I extended this list, SPPT would also have matches ranked #11-13 on here. That’s how good this tag team has become. 1/3 of the way through the year, and I want to vote them Tag Team of the Year already. The main problem with that is this was their last match possibly of the year as TK Cooper and Dahlia Black had to bid farewell to the UK and return to New Zealand.
I’ve followed the UK scene since late 2014 and I must say; I haven’t seen another UK tag team connect with crowds and consistently deliver such high quality matches as SPPT. They were excellent in this match as well. Joe Lanza said on a recent episode of the flagship Voices of Wrestling Podcast that TK Cooper was his most improved wrestler of the year, and I hadn’t thought of that until he said it but there’s an excellent case for it. It’s to the point where I can’t even say the great Travis Banks is even much better than TK in these matches. They’re both great.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the Riots as an in ring commodity. I’ve always respected what they meant to PROGRESS, though. I have to say this is the best straight up tag match I’ve ever seen them have. I truly can’t put over SPPT enough, but I can admit the Riots were great here as well. A lot of people rise to the level of their competition, and that’s what I felt like the Riots did here.
This match also made me realize where my line is for high spots in wrestling, after Rob Lynch delivered a Canadian Destroyer. For some reason, I can watch guys do reverse ranas all day, but I’m starting to feel like there’re too many destroyers in wrestling. And they’re never a finish. I know it’s an indie thing, so maybe the destroyer has just become my personal sacred cow; more on that later.
This is the final SPPT match for now, as if you needed more reasons to watch it. And the post-match had me all emotional, too. I implore fans of tag team wrestling to watch all of the SPPT matches from my columns so far this year.
Hiromu Takahashi vs Ricochet, NJPW 4/29
(My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****1/4)
We all knew this would be great.
Ricochet’s first 30 seconds of offense alone was probably shared in gif form everywhere. My good friend and fellow comic Benel Germosen does not like Ricochet, but even he had to admit that right now, the man is one of the best wrestlers in the world. It’s undeniable. And were it not for the man they call The Rainmaker, would there not be a strong case for Hiromu Takahashi for Wrestler of the Year, thus far? The man is clearly a big future star in this company.
I was sad when Hiromu squashed KUSHIDA, not just because I would’ve loved to see another proper match between the two, but because I just love KUSHIDA…but it’s so clear how good that booking was at this point. Hiromu’s on fire. And Ricochet’s performance in this match made Hiromu look every bit as great as he is. Who can stop Hiromu? Can anyone? Who knows? And that, my friends, is what makes pro wrestling fun and interesting.
The Hardy Boyz vs The Young Bucks, ROH 4/1
(My rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****3/4, Meltzer Rating: ****1/2)
The dream match comes to life.
This wasn’t the first time these two teams wrestled, but it was their first ladder match together. It was every bit the spectacle you would expect. How insane is it that Jeff Hardy still wrestles like this in 2017? Sometimes I feel like we take this man for granted, but seriously, it’s insane what this guy has done to his body and continues to do night in and night out. Edge and Christian have BOTH retired, a while ago. Would you have taken that bet in 2001?
The fun twist in this feud of course, has been Matt and Jeff’s “brokenness” that they kind of sort of were allowed to play into here. Three of these men killed each other, and Matt Hardy relied on his character work to keep himself over and relevant in the match. Nick Jackson pulled of what may be the spot of the year, going from ladder to ladder to springboard Swanton Bomb to the floor putting Jeff through a table. I stood up alone in my room watching this and said “What the fuck even.”
What are also absolutely insane are the true parallels the Bucks and Hardy’s have. My sister watched part of this with me and didn’t understand why Matt Hardy was throwing superkicks and who the weird guy with the white streaks in his hair was. No joke. But besides the obvious with the looks and the names, the fact that both teams have the younger brother that does more of the high spots makes me wonder if someday we’re going to see a Nick Jackson singles run.
This match had a lot of hype to live up to and it lives up to every bit of it. Drawing ROH’s biggest gate in history, I can’t imagine a single fan went away disappointed with this stellar main event.
Tetsuya Naito vs Juice Robinson, NJPW 4/29
(My Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****1/3)
What a run Juice Robinson has had.
When he first showed up in NJPW people didn’t know what to make of him. He was mocked in numerous places for his “shuck and jive” punches. I didn’t know what future he would have here. He decided to start from the very bottom as basically a young lion and work his way up. A truly humble act and the perfect mindset to have on a venture like this. And then here he is; main eventing a major NJPW show with the #2 guy in the company, and a worldwide top superstar in Tetsuya Naito.
Juice’s journey was a joy to follow and the exact right way to build a guy in the eyes of viewers and fans. It’s the exact opposite of the push a certain man on SmackDown is receiving at the moment, which has soured this particular writer on that product for the foreseeable future. But Juice is a different story. In this match he showed all of the fire we’d known him to have. He was not as experienced or really, as good as Naito. But he was all heart.
Naito was brilliant in this match too. Though he hasn’t had as many high level classics as Kazuchika Okada and even Hiromu this year, this man is a sleeper candidate for Wrestler of the Year in my view. I wrote about this after his 5 star affair with Elgin… the nickname wrestling genius seems to truly be taking form this year. It’s one thing to put on classics with guys like Tanahashi and Elgin, but to guide a guy like Juice Robinson through the biggest match of their life, first true main event…it speaks volumes about Naito, to me. The Naito of old would have great matches with Tomohiro Ishii and Kazuchika Okada, sure…who wouldn’t? But this Tetsuya Naito is on a whole new level. I don’t think he’s getting the credit he really deserves; despite everyone acknowledging that he’s great.
I’ve barely touched on the match but it’s truly excellent. The counters and reversals these guys came up with were innovative and exciting. Naito avoided the pulp friction (unprettier) like death, as well as once again developing and showcasing new ways into and variations of the Destino. The eventual Naito and Okada match is going to be so incredible, since both of these men have developed their finishes to almost an anime level of variety and scale. But let me not get ahead of myself.
Matt Riddle vs Walter, PROGRESS 3/26
(My Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****1/2)
Big lads wrestling. That’s what this, and the PROGRESS Atlas title, is all about.
My hot take on Walter is that now that Chris Hero is gone, he’s our new Chris Hero. Find me a better bully style wrestler than Walter on the planet right now, I defy you. The man does everything right. The way he uses his size, to the way he conveys himself, to his brutal chops and offense…I talked about TK Cooper earlier but Walter may be my vote for most improved this year. The Walter of old was good, no doubt, but he’s seemed to be on another level so far this year.
And of course, Matt Riddle was excellent here too. It never ceases to amaze me how good this man has become so fast. The sequences these men pulled off were incredible in this match. Power moves, no selling, strike exchanges…real strong style stuff here. If you look at the matches Matt Riddle has had defending the Atlas belt, you can argue it’s been as good a title run as anyone’s over the last year.
This being the third match between these two, and probably my favorite, I still can’t wait to see them go at it again. Take this match on tour. Do this at BOLA, I don’t care. More of these two, please.
Mark Andrews vs Pete Dunne, PROGRESS 3/26
(My Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****1/4)
So, PROGRESS had a hell of a month. What can I say? This was the main event of their show of the year contender, Chapter 46. And it was arguably the best match on the show.
This was the prototype of a great indie wrestling show main event. Great sequences, a bunch of cool high spots, near falls, false finishes…the one uncharacteristic thing about it was there was a ton of interference. Weirdly, it didn’t bother me. I’m sure there are others who would disagree, but it all seemed within reason to the storyline. British Strong Style desperately wants to keep their titles, to continue to have leverage over the company. Uber babyface Mark Andrews wants to restore prestige and honor to the PROGRESS title.
Dunne and Andrews have wrestled each other all over the world, and a lot recently. But put in this main event style setting they really showed what they could do. Andrews isn’t as big a star as Ospreay or Dunne at the moment but this guy is as innovative a flyer as there is in the game. And Dunne, to his credit, plays his part as well as anybody. Loved the wrestling and storytelling in this match.
Will Ospreay vs Jimmy Havoc, PROGRESS 3/26
(My Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating, ***1/2)
That’s right, more PROGRESS!
I call them as I see them. I enjoyed this match more than Arnold Furious, who reviewed this for VOW. I can see why. Many would call this match “excessive”. For my money though, this match was the perfect encapsulation of violence and brutality a feud like this needed to go off on. This feud has been three years in the making, going back all the way to the show PROGRESS aired for free on Youtube, when Havoc comes out and threatens to cut off Ospreay’s fingers at Chapter 13. That’s where this feud STARTED. What other way could it possibly end?
I feel like these guys went out there to have the greatest gimmick match of all time. I don’t think they accomplished that, but what they did accomplish was quite awesome. I was emotionally invested, torn and elated at various points during this festival of carnage. Arnold did bring up in his review a good critique about the escalation of violence not being quite right in this match, and I somewhat agree with that. Mostly for one spot. The avalanche Essex destroyer through the table. Kickout at two. Refer to my earlier point about destroyers in indie wrestling. But yeah, I wouldn’t have had that been a near fall. How about just no cover after a spot like that? Just have both guys sell.
That critique aside, I loved the escalation of this down the stretch. Barbed wire, thumb tacks, baseball bats, grandfather clocks, legos and even a Nazi staff (it’s not Nazi, it’s regal) all used to maim one another. Mid match this becomes a loser leaves PROGRESS match. And then Havoc can’t lose. Why? Because as Arnold Furious puts it, “PROGRESS means more to Havoc than to Ospreay”. While that certainly wasn’t the case in their last title match, the times have indeed changed. And that, my friends, is why pro wrestling is sometimes beautiful.
Authors Of Pain vs Revival vs DIY, NXT 4/1
(My Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****1/2, Meltzer Rating: ****1/2)
Speaking of beauty, this match was a work of art. Has there ever been a better triple threat tag match? Maybe the SmackDown six one at Survivor Series 2002? I liked this match more and nothing else comes to mind. I watched this live with my girlfriend and I said to her multiple times, “I wish you were familiar with the history of these characters. You’d be able to see how brilliant this is.” I thought everything about this was just about perfect except that DIY being eliminated first gave a weird dynamic to the closing stretch. Were we supposed to root for Dash and Dawson? It felt like we were but also like they weren’t trying to give us anyone to root for, so that was weird.
My friend Benel sent me a great text during this match stating, “This is why tag team wrestling matters. Singles wrestling is the story of heroes and villains. Tag team wrestling is the story of nations and empires.” Usually pro wrestling isn’t wont for such grandiosity but in watching this match I felt it was completely deserved. I’ve been higher on AOP than most and I thought all 6 men delivered a compelling match and story here.
Trevor Lee vs Chip Day, CWF Mid Atlantic 4/26
(My Rating: ****3/4)
One of the most fun things to follow in wrestling for me in the past year has been Trevor Lee’s CWF title reign. It’s right up there with NJPW, PROGRESS and Kento Miyahara for me. I look forward to his title defenses much like I do a big NJPW show or an NXT Takeover. Every defense has been different, and they’ve all delivered; but perhaps none as much as this.
After Lee and Day’s interactions in the six-pack challenge the previous month, this was the logical next defense for Lee to have.
Chip Day is a guy I discovered late in 2015 having great matches against WWE bound talents like Cedric Alexander and Tommaso Ciampa. I knew he was good, but he was excellent in this match. This was an absolute wrestling classic, probably the best indie match of the year so far. The striking from both men, the build to key spots and moments, the fighting spirit, timely reversals and dramatic near falls…this match had it all. Although I knew Chip Day couldn’t win it felt at numerous points in the match that he had it won. If you are a fan of Trevor Lee, I believe this match will make you a fan of Chip Day.
Kazuchika Okada vs Katsuyori Shibata, NJPW 4/9
(My Rating: *****, VOW Rating: *****, Meltzer Rating: *****)
So far every month the #1 choice for me has been fairly obvious. Every month so far this year I’ve given a match five snowflakes (except for the Dome main event which got six). This match was the longest in the making, and may end up being the swan song for the breakout performer in it, one Katsuyori Shibata.
Shibata had always been a star but this propelled him to feeling like a real top guy. One of my concerns with Shibata being pushed as a top star was whether he could deliver in a NJPW long main event. Well, I was half right because he did deliver one of the best matches I ever saw, but it was at a steep price which I’ll address more later. As for this match, this is REQUIRED VIEWING. As much as Naito/Elgin or the Dome match is. All wrestling fans must watch this. We all blocked out seven hours to consume WrestleMania this year, and while it wasn’t a terrible show, the 45 minutes it would take to watch this match is so much more valuable.
These two men are stark contrasts which is what helps make it great. The fighter/real shooter in Shibata vs the pretty boy Ace of the company in Okada. They had contrasting styles and philosophies, and when you get that kind of dynamic in a big time match, it’s what can lead to a big time rivalry.
This felt like a fight, more so than Elgin/Naito or Omega/Okada. Because that’s Shibata’s style. He had the fight at the Dome with Goto, and here he brought the fight to the IWGP champ, the nigh unbeatable Kazuchika Okada. Much like the Dome match, and even the Suzuki match or Tiger Mask W match, Okada wrestled to his opponent’s style. Trading strikes with Shibata, trying to beat him at his own game. Even sitting down in the middle of the ring and doing the warrior slaps. Okada has been developing more of a strong style edge to him lately. In matches against Tanahashi & Naito it’s all about who the better wrestler is, but in these recent defenses against the likes of Suzuki and Tiger Mask W and the king of shooters in Shibata, he’s had to fight. Okada continues to mature and is no doubt the wrestler of the year so far in 2017.
This match hit the next level for me when Shibata did something no one else had ever done. He withstood a Rainmaker. Okada drove his arm into Shibata’s chest, and Shibata wouldn’t go down. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. The top guys in the company had gotten to kick out of the Rainmaker (Tanahashi, Naito, Omega), but none had ever withstood it before.
This was the Shibata show, as it was designed to be, and the crowd was molten hot for him to win the title here. Hell, I even thought he would. But much like Naito with Juice, it was much of the brilliance of Okada that let Shibata show what he could do. And just like every other big match Okada has had this year, it got his opponent even more over in defeat, and made everyone want to see a rematch. That’s how you draw money, folks. Not short term chump change, Okada has secured a house for a future rematch with this man, or if Shibata has other big matches against other top NJPW stars.
That is, if the man ever wrestles again. I feel I can’t write about this match without addressing the fact that this man damn near killed himself throwing a shoot headbutt in this match. Was it a memorable spot and great visual? Yes. Would the match have been any worse without it? No. Shibata could’ve given Okada a hard lariat in that spot instead and it would’ve had the same effect. Now, far be it for me to tell these grown men what to do with their bodies. They are professionals, after all. But when it comes to head stuff, it’s not just about your body anymore. If you mess up your brain, that could affect other people as well. And I’m not trying to just draw an overreaching Chris Benoit comparison or anything. Let’s say that never even happened, I’d still make the same point. Your brain affects your behavior. Messing with that is not just messing with your own life. It can and will affect other people. Now I know I have no power to change how these men wrestle or anything, and hey, some people speculate that this whole thing may be a work. I hope it is, I love to think wishfully. But I couldn’t write about this match without giving my thoughts on it.
To quote the great James Franco in the Judd Apatow classic, Pineapple Express, “Safety first. Safety first then teamwork.” That’s what makes a great wrestling match, safety and teamwork. Y’know, besides psychology and athleticism and storytelling etc.
Work safe, everyone.
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs Bobby Roode, 4/1 (My Rating: ****, Meltzer Rating: ****1/2)
- AJ Styles vs Shane McMahon, 4/2 (My Rating: ****, Meltzer Rating: ****)
- Brock Lesnar vs Goldberg, 4/2 (My Rating: ***1/2, Meltzer Rating: ***1/2)
- Jake Lee vs. Kento Miyahara, 4/16 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ****1/4)
- Daisuke Sekimoto vs Joe Doering, 4/16 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ****)
- Shuji Ishikawa vs. Suwama, 4/16 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ****1/4)
- Daisuke Sekimoto vs Kento Miyahara, 4/25 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ****)
- Jack Sexsmith vs Travis Banks, 3/26 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ***3/4)
- Mark Haskins vs Axel Dieter Jr, 3/26 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ****)
- British Strong Style vs The Hunter Brothers, 3/26 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ***3/4)
- *South Pacific Power Trip vs Shane Strickland & Sami Callihan, 3/31 (My Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****1/2)
- British Strong Style vs Ringkampf, 4/23 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ****)
- Cody vs Jay Lethal, 4/1 (My Rating: ***3/4, VOW Rating: ***3/4, Meltzer Rating: ***3/4)
- Marty Scurll vs Adam Cole, 4/1 (My Rating: ***3/4, VOW Rating: ****, Meltzer Rating: ***3/4)
CWF Mid Atlantic
- All Stars (Arik Royal, Brad Attitude, and Roy Wilkins) vs. Chet Sterling, Ric Converse, and Trevor Lee, 4/12 (My Rating: ****)
- Hiroyo Matsumoto vs. Meiko Satomura, 4/16 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ****)
- Aja Kong vs. Chihiro Hashimoto, 4/16 (My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****1/4)
- New Girl In Town Rosemary vs. Sebastian Suave, 4/9
- Brent Banks vs. Jeff Cobb vs. Michael Elgin vs. TARIK, 4/9
- Takehiro Yamamura vs T-Hawk, 4/7 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ****)
- South Pacific Power Trip vs Catch Point, 4/1 (My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****1/4)
- Keith Lee vs Kyle O’Reilly, 4/22 (My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****1/4)
- Kyle O’Reilly vs Fred Yehi, 4/23 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ***3/4)
- Zack Sabre Jr. vs Lio Rush, 4/23 (My Rating: ****, VOW Rating: ****)
*I wanted to include this tag match in the top 10, but it happened in March technically and didn’t have the emotional weight of SPPT’s farewell match. That said, everyone should watch it, it’s awesome.