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Bookended by NJPW Wrestle Kingdom at the start and the WWE Royal Rumble at the end, January is always an exciting month for wrestling fans. But there’s far more great wrestling out there beyond those two events. In this month’s Match Madness, I go through all the best wrestling from January 2021.


WWE

Finn Bálor (c) vs. Kyle O’Reilly for the NXT Championship – 1/6

These two had one of the most hard-hitting WWE matches in modern history at TakeOver last November. The rematch was nearly as good (and just as hard-hitting), but the genius of the match layout was the role reversal between the two: Both men suffered injuries at TakeOver, and their response was to target their opponent exactly where they had been injured, leading to a unique game of one-upmanship where it truly felt like these two were in a fight. (****¼)

WALTER (c) vs. A-Kid for the NXT UK Championship – 1/14

WALTER’s championship defense against Ilja Dragunov was last year’s consensus WWE match of the year, and he continued his streak of excellence with the first major title match of A-Kid’s WWE run. Only 23 years old, A-Kid has already put on classics with Zack Sabre Jr. and Will Ospreay, but this match was completely unlike those. Here, we got a believable David vs. Goliath formula with A-Kid firing up for repeated hope-spots before ultimately being chopped down by the monstrous WALTER. (****)

Honorable mentions:

Even after some baffling booking, AJ Styles vs. Ricochet was a great athletic TV match that reminded us that WWE has perhaps the deepest roster in history . . . . There are worse ways to debut than in a fast-paced championship match—even for a provisional title—so you couldn’t ask for much more from Jordan Devlin (c) vs. Ben Carter in the latter’s first WWE contest . . . . Rhea Ripley vs. Raquel Gonzalez was unlike anything else on this list, a complete spectacle of a match where the two brawled all over the Performance Center. Gonzalez is one of the most improved wrestlers in the world . . . . We got a hard-hitting NXT battle between the world champion, his frenemy, and the tag champs in Finn Bálor & Kyle O’Reilly vs. Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch . . . . The men’s Rumble was garbage, but the Women’s Royal Rumble was probably the best one yet, featuring a thrilling climax and the best winner and runner-up possible.

AEW

Kenny Omega (c) vs. Rey Fénix for the AEW World Championship – 1/6

In my AEW Dynamite Breakdown ahead of this match, I mentioned that I thought this could end up being one of the great matches in Dynamite history. I’m happy to say that I was correct, but I should’ve gone further: This was, for my money, the best match in the show’s year-plus run. Omega is one of the best wrestlers we’ve ever seen and one of the few people who can match Fénix’s spectacular athleticism. They both lived up to expectations here. Going into this, the major goal of its booking should have been to convince viewers that Fénix actually had a chance at winning this thing. And with that incredible Fire Thunder Driver followed by Omega kicking out at 2.99, they accomplished that goal. TV matches can get don’t get more exciting than this. (****½)

Darby Allin (c) vs. Brian Cage for the TNT Championship – 1/13

I mentioned earlier that WALTER vs. A-Kid displayed the classic David vs. Goliath story. Well, they did, but they lost some of their sheen because Allin and Cage showed us the exact same formula turned up to eleven the night before. While the NXT UK match was great, this match contained a more believable David (Allin) and a more deadly Goliath (Cage). Cage just ragdolled the hell out of the champion in this match, including one of the most memorable spots so far in 2021: Cage literally tossing Allin from the top rope, through a table, to the floor. I may be the high man on this match, but for someone like me, who watches this much wrestling, it’s rare that a match gets me pumped like this one. (****¼)

The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson) & The Good Brothers (Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows) vs. Dark Order (Evil Uno, Stu Grayson, Alex Reynolds, & John Silver – 1/27

The Young Bucks might be my favorite wrestlers in the world. They are a perfect encapsulation of what makes AEW’s booking and agenting so great: they play to the strengths of every wrestler involved in a match. Who better to take on this evil, bastardized version of the Bullet Club than the ultra-babyface Dark Order? Stu Grayson and John Silver both have incredible hot tags, so instead of being boring and just having the typical one hot tag ahead of the finish, why not book the match to have two? The work was crisp and thrilling and, more than anything, fun. (****)

Honorable Mentions:

AEW started 2021 off with a bang with a remarkable multi-man spotfest tag match in Young Bucks & SCU vs. The Acclaimed & TH2 . . . . Another multi-man match made my list, but this time for storytelling reasons: Chris Jericho & MJF vs. Santana & Ortiz vs. Sammy Guevara & Jake Hager not only determined who the Inner Circle’s designated tag team would be, but also featured a remarkable performance from Guevara, who should be a star when the group inevitably breaks up . . . . In a match of tag team specialists, Jungle Boy vs. Dax Harwood gave viewers the longest non-title AEW singles match in months.

NJPW

Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay – 1/4

In terms of pure in-ring talent, there may not be two wrestlers more gifted than these two. Even with those impossible standards, this match somehow lived up to its billing. It wasn’t an extravagant Okada epic nor was it a high-flying Ospreay spotfest. Instead, these two opted for something more physical and tangible. In the pandemic-era Tokyo Dome environment, the chops, lariats, and dives all landed with a real weight to them. Unlike most NJPW matches, this felt personal and passionate; not just in the sense of them feuding, but in willing a match to “classic” status through effort alone. (****¾)

Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Kota Ibushi for the IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Championships – 1/4

NJPW hedges their extremely predictable booking with great matches and just enough suspense to keep people engaged. Kota Ibushi’s coronation was a lovely reversal of the previous year’s Tokyo Dome, where Ibushi not only lost his double title challenge on Day 1, but a new champion was crowned on Day 2. Neither of those things happened at this year’s Wrestle Kingdom. Instead, Ibushi simply worked an incredible, hard-fought match and won the championships. This match was completely different than previous Naito/Ibushi matches—a good thing, for their necks’ sake—but just as great, with the prospect of Jay White challenging the next night lingering behind the two as they wrestled. (****½)

Shingo Takagi (c) vs. Jeff Cobb for the NEVER Openweight Championship – 1/5

Jeff Cobb’s growth in NJPW from being just another big guy to a must-see attraction has been wonderful to watch. This is the difference: instead of being a cheap imitation of Tomohiro Ishii or Hirooki Goto, Cobb is now the new Lance Archer, the monster who can perform spectacular athletic feats against the most reliable workers in the business. And he’s putting on better matches than Archer ever did, including this one, the best match of Cobb’s career. That’s not to diminish Shingo’s contribution—he’s one of the best wrestlers in the world, after all—but only a handful of wrestlers could pull off a match like this. And kudos to Shingo, who elevated the NEVER Openweight title into a legitimate secondary belt after NJPW’s unification. (****½)

Kota Ibushi (c) vs. Jay White for the IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Championships – 1/5

“Switchblade” Jay White is a singularly phenomenal character in wrestling. In 2021, there just aren’t many people who are so willing to let a match live and die with their opponent. It’s telling that after two days of a Wrestle Kingdom that included so many great matches and a Kota Ibushi coronation, much the talk of wrestling media was White’s post-match promo. From how he jaws with his opponent, delusional but believable in a manner not unlike Chris Jericho to how he interacts with the officials and fans, White understands the little things better than anyone. And this match was 48 minutes of “the little things,” or the ultimate reward for fans who have been invested in both men’s stories over the past two years. (****¾)

Will Ospreay vs. Satoshi Kojima (No DQ) – 1/30

In the pandemic era, it’s been a struggle for wrestlers to get real crowd heat for their programs. That was not a problem for Ospreay and Kojima, though. Ospreay’s brutal strikes and weapon shots made the beloved Kojima that much more sympathetic. It all culminated with this fantastic no disqualification match in Nagoya. It’s clear that NJPW understands that if you book something like hardcore matches sporadically, they tend to feel more impactful. On a day where American indie GCW put on a 24-hour stream of mostly hardcore matches, Ospreay and Kojima blew everything from that series out of the water. (****¼)

Shingo Takagi (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi for the NEVER Openweight Championship – 1/30

When people ask, “What makes NJPW the best promotion in the world?,” this match provides the perfect answer. It was flawless in many ways. Takagi, the champion, went 50/50 in a classic with the greatest Japanese wrestler of the 21st century in Tanahashi. Tanahashi, meanwhile, elevated the NEVER Openweight title into a more legitimate secondary championship after the IWGP Intercontinental championship was unified with the heavyweight title.

I love watching Shingo work, yet I lived and died with every move Tanahashi made in this. Last year’s Hiromu Takahashi vs. El Desperado BOSJ final was evidence of what a rocking closing sequence can do for a match, and here, Shingo and Tanahashi had a closing stretch just as dramatic and powerful, starting with Tanahashi being dumped right on his head on a Made in Japan. The difference here was that the entire match was up to that standard: Heady, epic, engaging, accessible, dramatic, brutal, and every other positive quality you could possibly ascribe to a wrestling match. This is the 2021 match of the year; I will be shocked (thrilled, more like) if something surpasses it. (*****)

Honorable Mentions:

Even if EVIL’s championship reign missed the mark, the Tokyo Dome was absolutely rocking for EVIL vs. SANADA, more so than in any other match outside of the two main events . . . . If you’ve seen Taiji Ishimori (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi before, you’ve seen this one: spectacular, but just a little bit aimless . . . . Shingo Takagi, Hiromu Takahashi, & BUSHI vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, SHO, & Master Wato was the best of NJPW’s initial three-night Korakuen stint . . . . We got a shocking but fun 30-minute draw from Kota Ibushi, Hiroshi Tanahashi, & SHO vs. SANADA, Shingo Takagi, & Hiromu Takahashi.

AJPW

Violent Giants (Suwama & Shuji Ishikawa) (c) vs. Kento Miyahara & Yuma Aoyagi for the AJPW World Tag Team Championships – 1/2

This match was notable because it featured one tantalizing stipulation: If the Violent Giants (maybe the most consistent and storied Japanese tag team of the 2010s) were to lose this match, they would have to break up—permanently. Booking-wise, it made complete sense for Miyahara and Aoyagi to win, but with that stipulation, suddenly all bets were off. What we got was your typical excellent Violent Giants tag match where they just beat on their opponents until a white-hot finish, but seeing Aoyagi – who challenged for Suwama’s Triple Crown Championship the next night—tap out the giant was one of the most memorable images of Wrestle Kingdom weekend. (****)

Suwama (c) vs. Yuma Aoyagi for the AJPW Triple Crown Championship – 1/3

Just about every single Triple Crown defense of his has been excellent, but this had to have been one of the best so far. Aoyagi had a tumultuous 2020 and lost a ton of momentum from an ill-fated heel turn, but after some work (and this match), he’s better positioned now than ever. His performance against Suwama was that of a typical undersized babyface. I was stunned when I came to the realization he was the only challenger for Suwama to fit that description.

I’m a big supporter of Suwama’s, even at his more seasoned age. He’s consistently and engaging while providing us those lovely little individual moments of violence we often crave from pro wrestling. Like most Suwama matches, the best part of this contest was its closing stretch, a brutal back-and-forth with rumbling lariats and pounding backdrops—just enough drama to desperately want a title change. (****¼)

Koji Iwamoto (c) vs. Fuminori Abe for the AJPW World Junior Heavyweight Championship – 1/24

Outside of NJPW, there’s not much coverage given of other junior heavyweights in Japan. These two, though, have seemingly made it their mission to correct that, throwing out enjoyable, extremely hard-working performances many of their matches. Abe, a journeyman wrestler who has made his name in deathmatch promotions like BJW and BASARA, adds a unique physicality to his work, making him one of the most exciting AJPW junior title challengers in a long time, while Iwamoto is far and away the best junior in AJPW’s division. Together, they gave us a hell of a match, 13 minutes of athletic, innovative sequences, but not in the high-flying junior style you might expect. Instead, this felt like a game of athletic one-upmanship, and one of the best AJPW junior matches in recent memory. (****)

Suwama (c) vs. Shotaro Ashino for the AJPW Triple Crown Championship – 1/24

Ashino challenged for Suwama’s Triple Crown just six months ago in the empty arena post-pandemic setting and gave us one of the best empty arena match of the era. Because of the short time between challenges, many people were surprised to see Ashino in this spot so soon. To me, it made sense to have the match again in a far more exciting Korakuen Hall setting, in front of paying fans. And while I don’t think this match lived up to their first contest (Ashino had been built up like a monster upon signing with AJPW after WRESTLE-1 folded), it was still the typical enjoyable Suwama defense that I love. There was plenty of storytelling here, too – Ashino, despite being a heel, got a raucous round of applause for his first big AJPW match in front of fans as well as a show of respect from the champion. Despite his two title failures, the sky remains the limit for Ashino. (****)

Honorable Mentions:

Koji Iwamoto & Ikuto Hidaka vs. Takuya Nomura & Fuminori Abe was a star-studded dream match for fans of Japanese indie wrestling that set up Abe’s title challenge . . . . In a remarkably bold, booking move, Zeus vs. Masato Tanaka only went 10 minutes after Tanaka pinned one of AJPW’s top stars clean in the middle. Tanaka should get a title match eventually, and there’s more they can get out of this matchup, but what we got was great . . . . Yoshitatsu (c) vs. Jun Kasai was the AJPW debut of deathmatch legend Kasai, who won the GAORA TV title in an absurd TLC match . . . . Speaking of absurd, Atsuki Aoyagi vs. Rising HAYATO was a wonderfully competitive 20+ minute war between two relative youngsters that ended in, of all things, a double KO.

Pro Wrestling NOAH

Go Shiozaki, Kaito Kiyomiya, Naomichi Marufuji, & Takashi Sugiura vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima, Kenoh, Masa Kitamiya, & Manabu Soya – 1/10

Beyond bringing Keiji Mutoh back, this is as star-studded an eight-man tag as NOAH can put on. The babyface side contained NOAH’s four top stars, all of whom have held the GHC Heavyweight Championship for an extended period of time. The heel side contained top heel stable Kongoh’s four heavyweights, including the current GHC National champion and last year’s N-1 Victory winner. The booking of this match was smart, as it’s half hour-plus runtime meant that every single competitor got a showcase moment. All eight men worked really hard, but it was Nakajima and Sugiura who starred for their respective teams. (****)

Honorable Mentions:

Katsuhiko Nakajima, Kenoh, & Masa Kitamiya vs. Takashi Sugiura, Kazushi Sakuraba, & Kazunari Murakami was a nice little preview for Kenoh’s very good eventual title defense against the absurdly costumed Murakami . . . . I was lower than most on Daisuke Harada (c) vs. Hajime Ohara, but I still thought it was essentially a perfectly-worked juniors match . . . . Kenoh and Murakami’s interactions were the star yet again for Kenoh, Manabu Soya & Tadasuke vs. Takashi Sugiura, Kazunari Murakami, & NOSAWA Rongai, as they threw what looked to be shoot punches at each other . . . . Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Junta Miyawaki was a masterclass in how to work a veteran vs. young up-and-comer match . . . . Kenoh (c) vs. Kazunari Murakami lived up to expectations as a kickboxing exhibition, especially considering there was no way Kenoh was losing.

STARDOM

Utami Hayashishita (c) vs. Maika for the World of STARDOM Championship – 1/17

When Maika challenged for Utami Hayashishita’s world title after the latter’s incredible defense against Momo Watanabe, I tweeted this: “Zero faith that Hayashishita and Maika will be able to put on a great match.”

I’m thrilled to report that I could not have been more wrong. This match was excellent, reminiscent of two things in particular: NJPW main event epics, and the aforementioned Watanabe’s best work. My concerns were that Hayashishita had never wrestled a truly great match against anyone other than Watanabe and Mayu Iwatani, and I had never seen Maika wrestle a great match, period. Luckily, these two worked their tails off with some truly enjoyable grappling and a hot closing sequence that had me clamoring for Maika to win the big one out of nowhere. With this match, Hayashishita established herself as worthy of dethroning Iwatani as champion. (****¼)

Honorable Mentions:

Momo Watanabe vs. Syuri wrestled to a draw in this early singles match that had everyone salivating for more . . . . The first great STARDOM trios match of 2021 featured Utami Hayashishita, Momo Watanabe, & AZM vs. Giulia, Maika, & Natsupoi . . . . The opener for STARDOM’s major Korakuen show, Saya Iida (c) vs. Unagi Sayaka, gave Iida her first title defense and allowed Unagi to live up to some potential . . . . AZM (c) vs. Kaori Yoneyama was the hit-or-miss High Speed formula distilled down to its purest form . . . . The second-best match from STARDOM’s great Korakuen stop was Tam Nakano vs. Starlight Kid, a continuation of the intriguing Stars vs. Cosmic Angels feud . . . . Momo Watanabe & Saya Kamitani vs. Syuri & Himeka vs. Bea Priestley & Saki Kashima vs. Mayu Iwatani & Ruaka started slow but ended up excellent with Watanabe and Syuri furthering their current program with some great interactions. 

DRAGON GATE

BxB Hulk & KAI (c) vs. Kota Minoura & Jason Lee for the Open the Twin Gate Championships –  1/12

Hulk and KAI have been such a fun team atop the Twin Gate division for the past few months, and despite seeing this match before – Minoura & Lee were the ones who dropped the titles to R.E.D. – it felt quite fresh thanks to Minoura & Lee’s addition to the brand-new MASQUERADE stable. Hulk & KAI are so tantalizingly slimy and unlikable that it’s nearly impossible for a babyface to not get over against them, but Lee’s performance in particular transcended that, leading to a hot finish in a Korakuen Hall main event spot. (****)

Shun Skywalker, Jason Lee, & La Estrella vs. Eita, Kaito Ishida, & Dia Inferno vs. YAMATO, Dragon Kid, & Keisuke Okuda – 1/17

Considering the talent involved in this match, anything less than excellence would have been disappointing. This was vintage Dragon Gate, with bodies flying all over the ring, old veterans squaring off with upstart youngsters who in turn square off with dastardly, cheating heels. There were two focal points of this match: (1) the just-debuted high-flyer extraordinaire Estrella, who is the runaway favorite for 2021 Rookie of the Year, and (2) a lovely little coda to the phenomenal Ishida vs. Okuda feud. When those two faced off and decided to just beat the hell out of each other, ignoring the orders of their teammates, this contest immediately became my favorite Dragon Gate match of the month. (****)

Honorable Mentions:

SB KENTo, KAZMA SAKAMOTO, & Takashi Yoshida vs. Kzy, Susumu Yokosuka, & Genki Horiguchi was an interesting little preview for the following night’s Triangle Gate title match . . . . Which was even better. SB KENTo, KAZMA SAKAMOTO, & Takashi Yoshida (c) vs. Kzy, Susumu Yokosuka, & Genki Horiguchi was exactly what I expected it to be, the typical fun trios action I expect from DG, but with a compelling post-match angle involving Yoshida to close the show.

Miscellaneous promotions

ZERO1: Hayato Tamura (c) vs. Masato Tanaka for the ZERO1 World Heavyweight Championship – 1/1

This ZERO1 Heavyweight Championship match featured two men at complete opposite points in their careers. Tanaka has seen and done it all, winning championships around the world; Tamura has wrestled less than 40 matches in his professional career. But both are phenomenal in-ring talents, and they combined to create the best ZERO1 match since the start of the pandemic. The work was like any other epic you’ve seen, but what set this match apart was the environment. Korakuen Hall was absolutely rocking for this title match, especially considering Tanaka’s a bigger star than they’ve had in years. Tamura is preternaturally gifted and it will be very interesting seeing where he eventually ends up. (****¼)

GCW: Alex Colon vs. Atticus Cogar – 1/1

Deathmatch wrestling was rather lackluster in 2020, as more than perhaps any other style, it relies on the audience buying in to gradually more convoluted and complicated hardcore spots. GCW is a prime example of this: too often, their deathmatches are quite patterned, with some cool spots but little in the way of a story to latch onto. Colon vs. Cogar looked like it’d go down that road itself, but as it built and built, it ended up being better than most American deathmatches of last year. Colon is as good as American deathmatch workers get, but Cogar clearly had something to prove here. He bled and bled, but the story was that he, as a 44OH lackey, just isn’t as good as Colon.

The match’s climax, where Cogar’s just desperately tossing light tubes into Colon’s red-steaked face, unable to put away the legend, is one of the most memorable in-ring images of 2020. To transcend GCW’s awful production values and create something impactful is a testament to the layout and work of Colon and Cogar. (****)

BJW: Yuji Okabayashi (c) vs. Yasufumi Nakanoue for the BJW Strong World Heavyweight Championship – 1/2

If you’ve seen one BJW Strong title match over the last few years, you’ve seen them all, but that doesn’t mean that they’re any less enjoyable. With such a cut-and-paste match layout, viewers begin to notice the little things. All of a sudden, instead of all these beefy men being interchangeable, Nakanoue, who wrestles exactly like NJPW legend Satoshi Kojima, of all people, came across like a major babyface in this title challenge. Okabayashi is one of BJW’s top stars, and he only held the title for a few months, so not many people expected a title change here. But Nakanoue’s years of hard work were rewarded in this match, where he won the first singles title of his career, the rare fresh face atop BJW’s Strong division. Special shout-out to him literally saving Okabayashi’s life on a superplex attempt. If you watch this match, that moment will make you jump out of your seat. (****)

BJW: Masashi Takeda & Takumi Tsukamoto vs. Shunma Katsumata & Drew Parker – 1/4

Last year, BJW’s Death division was dominated by people who are unfortunately past their prime. 44-year-old Ryuji Ito and Minoru Fujita (43) were the champions the entire year. But based on what BJW has given us so far in 2021, they recognize that that was a mistake, and their booking reflects that. Takeda and Tsukamoto are well-established deathmatch veterans in the middle of their prime, and Katsumata and Parker are both under 25 years old. They combined here to create a deathmatch with tons of energy, one that showcased the young guns even in an expected loss. Katsumata is the most exciting young face in Japanese deathmatch wrestling, and Parker is willing to break himself to get a match over—just watch him take a bump through light tubes onto a board with nails in this contest. (****)

BJW: Takumi Tsukamoto, Masashi Takeda & Violento Jack vs. Drew Parker, Kankuro Hoshino & Masaya Takahashi – 1/11

This is how you make a new star. During the entrances, Violento Jack was revealed as the mysterious “X” competitor, the mystery man who would complete the team of BJW’s best. To be completely honest, I was indifferent to his appearance. He’s a regular for Jun Kasai’s FREEDOMS promotion, where I never saw much in the way of Jack’s potential. In this match, however, the action was absolutely non-stop, and everyone (including Jack) worked their tails off in the main event of Korakuen Hall. (****)

TJPW: Miyu Yamashita vs. Maki Itoh – 1/4

Considering the promotion and one of the wrestlers involved, the fact that this match makes my list should tell you something about how good it is. I’ve long maligned the in-ring quality of Tokyo Joshi Pro, and Maki Itoh is perhaps my least favorite act in the company. But here, instead of doing the cutesy BS and storytelling melodrama that we usually get from TJPW, these two decided to wrestle their own condensed version of last year’s Kota Ibushi vs. Minoru Suzuki classic. Yamashita was Ibushi, killing her opponent with shoot kicks; Itoh was Suzuki, shrugging off every last blow and fighting back for more. This was one of the best matches in company history and a star-making performance from Itoh, who could be a household name down the line. (****)

ICE RIBBON: Hamuko Hoshi (c) vs. Haruka Tsukushi for the IW19 Championship – 1/9

If Ice Ribbon had a passable, timely streaming service, there would almost certainly be more than one match from the fast-rising joshi promotion on this list. Unfortunately, their January 23 show, featuring the promotion’s biggest possible match, Suzu Suzuki vs. Tsukasa Fujimoto for the ICExInfinity title, has not aired at the time of publication. Instead, we are left with a match that out of all the contests in this list, is probably the one I would’ve given the smallest chance to reach the four-star rating. Hoshi has never really been as good as her card placement indicated, but she faced Tsukushi, one of the most underrated women’s wrestler in the world, here in an excellent back-and-forth title match that kicked off the build to Tsukushi eventually winning the promotion’s top prize, likely later this year. (****)

SEAdLINNNG: Nanae Takahashi & Miyuki Takase vs. Ryo Mizunami & Itsuki Aoki – 1/11

Having only wrestled four matches in the last year, the controversial Takahashi has continued to prove that she belongs thanks to multiple hardworking performances in high-profile spots. This match ended up being about 90% as good as a typical SEAdLINNNG main event, and if you know the standards of the promotion, you understand that this was a great match. Of course, if you’re Takahashi, it helps to have fantastic talent around you, including Takase, the ace of Actwres girl’Z, and Mizunami, one of the most reliably charismatic workers on the indie joshi scene. (****)

SEAdLINNNG: Yoshiko & Sareee vs. Arisa Nakajima & Tsukasa Fujimoto – 1/11

No promotion outside of NJPW and perhaps NOAH has a higher main event standard than SEAdLINNNG. Any time you get some combination of these wrestlers in there (Yoshiko and Nakajima are involved the most), it’s a spectacle. What sets SEAdLINNNG apart is the sheer hard work: the cardio and physical endurance necessary to go all out for nearly thirty minutes just isn’t something that most people have. This tag match was as good as any SEAdLINNNG tag match from 2020, featuring perhaps the best women’s wrestler in the world in Yoshiko, the best women’s tag team in the world in the Best Friends, and the most sought-after free agent in joshi, Sareee, who has since made her trip to the United States after signing with WWE. This is as good as (21st century) joshi gets. (****½)

SEAdLINNNG: Yoshiko & Sareee (c) vs. Arisa Nakajima & Nanae Takahashi for the Beyond The SEA Tag Team Championships – 1/22

I know, I know: If you take three participants from a ****½ tag match and replace the other, the new match will probably still be really good. And that’s exactly what happened in this Beyond the SEA tag title match, with Takahashi replacing Fujimoto from the absolute classic just eleven days prior. Unfortunately, the reality is that at this stage in her career, Takahashi simply cannot keep up with the athleticism of SEAdLINNNG’s other top talent, so she did put a bit of a ceiling on the match’s quality. Still, she worked extremely hard, and this had all the hallmarks of every thrilling SEAdLINNNG main event match I love. (****)

IMPACT: Kenny Omega, Karl Anderson, & Doc Gallows vs. Rich Swann, Chris Sabin, & Moose – 1/16

The most noteworthy television wrestling angle in recent memory got its first major in-ring conflict with the main event of Impact’s Hard To Kill pay-per-view. Originally scheduled to be Swann teaming with the Motor City Machine Guns, COVID concerns forced Alex Shelley to pull out at the last minute. While it would have been fun to see MCMG run back their greatest hits in a major spot, it turned out to be a minor blessing in disguise: Moose, Shelley’s replacement, gave the performance of his life. Moose’s athletic talent has always been there, and he clearly thrives in this wild setting where he can get in there, do something spectacular, and get out. But the best part of the match was the awesome closing sequence between Omega and Swann, who should be having a singles match down the line. (****)

Honorable Mentions:

United States

The MLW Middleweight Title got some much-needed attention for Myron Reed (c) vs. Lio Rush . . . . Despite no crowd and a hilariously unsatisfying finish, Moose vs. Willie Mack worked thanks to the sheer effort of everyone involved . . . . Dragon Lee (c) vs. Rey Horus was the exact same match as their PWG encounter, meaning it was excellent . . . . Matt Striker and D’Lo Brown were obnoxious on commentary discussing whether Manik was actually TJP for Manik (c) vs. Rojit Rahu vs. Chris Bey, but at least the match was X-Division comfort food . . . . Eddie Edwards vs. Sami Callihan was as slow-build a hardcore match as you can get, with a good climax.

Japan

WAVE gave viewers a star-studded indie joshi six-man tag in Kaori Yoneyama, Rin Kadokura & Yumi Ohka vs. Ayumi Hayashi, Mio Momono & Miyuki Takase . . . . Ryuji Ito vs. Yuki Ishikawa showed glimpses of why BJW gave Ito the title for much of last year . . . . Despite some nerves at the start, Yuka Sakazaki (c) vs. Rika Tatsumi was still much better than most TJPW Main events . . . . We knew the challengers weren’t winning, but Yukio Sakaguchi & Kazusada Higuchi (c) vs. CIMA & Soma Takao put a nice bow on the STRONGHEARTS/DAMNATION storyline . . . . Tsukasa Fujimoto & Sareee vs. Suzu Suzuki & Ibuki Hoshi was a great preview for the Suzuki vs. Fujimoto ICExInfinity title match, which would’ve surely made this list if it had aired in time . . . . Keisuke Ishii vs. Ikuto Hidaka was a battle of perhaps the two most overlooked and underrated junior heavyweights in Japan . . . . ERUPTION appear multiple times in this section, but the highlight of Kazusada Higuchi & Yukio Sakaguchi vs. Yuki Ueno & Keigo Nakamura was Nakamura showing off his unique gifts for in-ring work . . . . Yuki Ueno vs. Yusuke Okada showed the world why Okada was such a sought-after free agent after leaving AJPW . . . Konosuke Takeshita & Yuki Ueno vs. Kazusada Higuchi & Yukio Sakaguchi hyped multiple upcoming championship matches, and if the quality of the house show previews is this strong, the actual title matches will surely hit the four-star mark come next month.


Wow, that was a lot of matches! Even in a pandemic world, there is still a ton of great wrestling out there—and this was just the best wrestling from January! Trust me, all of these matches are worth seeking out if you have the time.

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