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NXT TakeOver: Vengeance Day, NJPW Castle Attack, and NOAH’s return to Nippon Budokan were February’s most anticipated shows, and while each of them featured fantastic matches, there was a world of great wrestling beyond those three events. In this month’s Match Madness, I break down the month of February and share with you the best pro wrestling of today.


WWE

Adam Cole & Roderick Strong vs. Tommaso Ciampa & Timothy Thatcher in the Dusty Classic quarterfinals – 2/3

While this year’s edition of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic was a strange one, overstuffed with teams that had no chance of winning, it did provide a few stellar matches. The first of these was this excellent main event from the February 3 edition of NXT, featuring four of NXT’s top stars. All of these men have chopped it up as part of a remarkable tag team, so even with some fresh partners and matchups, the sheer talent involved made this a treat. There wasn’t really a story to this one, just four dudes beating on each other in a great television main event. (****)

Dakota Kai & Raquel Gonzalez vs. Ember Moon & Shotzi Blackheart in the Dusty Classic finals – 2/14

The inaugural Women’s Dusty Classic was disappointing despite the talent involved. Strange booking and early exits from high-level teams made it difficult to engage with at points. I don’t see how you could be disappointed in these finals, though; these four women wrestled in a TakeOver opener and completely lived up to any hype it got. It was a match of nonstop action with extreme effort. While the psychology was a bit strange—babyface team of Moon & Blackheart beat down on Kai for the heat—the work and closing sequence made up for it. And did you see that doomsday topé? (****)

Johnny Gargano (c) vs. KUSHIDA for the NXT North American Championship – 2/14

Going into TakeOver: Vengeance Day, a common refrain was “Really, TakeOver is tonight?” But despite the complete lack of excitement around NXT as a product, they came through with one of the better TakeOver shows in recent memory, and Gargano vs. KUSHIDA was the pinnacle. We didn’t see any of Gargano’s heelish shenanigans like we might expect (thanks to a dubious kidnapping at the hands of Dexter Lumis). Instead, this was a banger with a great build of drama by the finish. This was KUSHIDA’s best performance yet in WWE, and Gargano still deserves the nickname “Johnny TakeOver.” (****½)

MSK (Nash Carter & Wes Lee) vs. Grizzled Young Veterans (Zack Gibson & James Drake) in the Dusty Classic finals – 2/14

It’s almost unfortunate that this match came on the same night as the women’s Dusty Classic finals, because while that match was excellent, this match was another level. The first five minutes or so were disposable and forgettable, but from then on, this tag match was as spectacular a spotfest as we’ve seen since PWG stopped running shows. Some worried about MSK being utilized effectively in NXT, and others questioned putting a rather unexciting team like the Vets in the tournament finals, but both of those concerns should be put to rest after this match. Outstanding performances from all four men, but Lee (Dezmond Xavier on the indies) was the star, with multiple death-defying stunts and feats of athleticism. Two pretty perfect conclusions to both Dusty Classic tournaments. (****¼)

Honorable Mentions:

The Dusty Rhodes Classic second round match of Raul Mendoza & Joaquin Wilde vs. Gran Metalik & Lince Dorado was about as close to pure lucha as you’ll see in WWE . . .  Many thought Finn Bálor (c) vs. Pete Dunne was excellent, but considering we saw the same style of match done better with O’Reilly, I’ll settle on  “very good” . . . The Smackdown Elimination Chamber of Jey Uso vs. Kevin Owens vs. King Corbin vs. Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro vs. Daniel Bryan had some great action despite its horrendous post-match . . . Karrion Kross vs. Santos Escobar surprised me with a really solid match layout, especially from an entirely cold “grudge match” with a nonsensical build.

AEW

Kenny Omega, Karl Anderson, & Doc Gallows vs. Jon Moxley, PAC, & Rey Fénix – 2/3

One of the great things about AEW is that wrestlers lose. While WWE refuses to beat anyone of value—therefore ensuring nobody gets over—AEW understands that a decisive victory sets up future events far better than a DQ or count-out finish. Not just that, but what they also understand is that when because you beat someone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that wrestler will get buried on TV in the future. Fénix’s performance here was a perfect example of that philosophy, as he completely showed out like only he can do with a one-of-a-kind comeback on major superstars, flying all over the place until, yes, he was beaten. This was exactly the type of big-time star-studded main event that AEW has been delivering week in and week out. (****¼)

Kenny Omega & KENTA vs. Jon Moxley & Lance Archer – 2/10

This was must-see television. As somebody who has fallen in and out of watching weekly wrestling television, I can safely say I haven’t had this much fun with a television match . . . maybe ever? KENTA’s debut on AEW TV was a thrilling Falls Count Anywhere spectacle that took the ultra-fun Young Bucks vs. Butcher and Blade formula and amplified it to eleven. They fought all over Daily’s Place, into the kitchens, back behind the staging, and eventually inside the ring. Archer wrestled as an absolute madman in this one, finally displaying the full range of monstrous athleticism we expected when he signed with AEW. (****½)

Riho vs. Serena Deeb – 2/17

For all the talk of AEW having a “weak women’s division,” it certainly doesn’t come across that way on television. Riho and Deeb’s matchup in the first round of the AEW Women’s Eliminator Tournament is the best American women’s match of 2021 so far. There’s so much to like here: actual justified limb targeting, ebbs and flows in the action, and a hot climax featuring a classic comeback from the ultra-babyface Riho. The fact that it came in her return match after almost a full year out of AEW just adds to Riho’s underrated case as one of the best women’s wrestlers alive. And Deeb was no slouch here, proving that her signing to AEW can pay dividends on television just as it undoubtedly will behind the scenes. (****)

Jon Moxley, Rey Fénix, & Lance Archer vs. Eddie Kingston, The Butcher, & The Blade – 2/17

Same old story, here: yes, Dynamite featured a fantastic, star-studded main event. While this show will be remembered for the post-match signing of the Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch between Omega and Moxley, the match before it lived up to AEW’s current main event standard. It was notable for displaying how well AEW understands showcasing their talent; the Moxley team should have been the focus, and they were. Butcher & Blade were great bases for Archer and Fénix’s off-the-charts athleticism, respectively, and I love that Moxley and Kingston appear to be eternal rivals (and potentially partners down the road). (****)

Hikaru Shida, Mei Suruga, & Rin Kadokura vs. Emi Sakura, Maki Itoh, & Veny – 2/28

Due to its low profile and the fact that it wasn’t a tournament match, I worry that this six-man tag will be overlooked. Don’t let it. This was an all-out war of a tag with nonstop action from bell to bell. I love that this match even exists in the first place: the four first-round losers in the Women’s Eliminator Tournament wrestling alongside Emi Sakura and the current AEW Women’s Champion in Shida. It allows those one-and-done competitors to get a second look from the AEW audience, and I’d say that all of the talent involved made the most of it. However, Veny stood a level above even that, showing completely unique athleticism and power as she threw kicks and moonsaulted all over the place before eventually falling to the champion. (****)

Honorable Mentions:

Britt Baker vs. Thunder Rosa was easily the best match of Baker’s career . . . ASUKA (Veny) is one of the most talented unsigned wrestlers in Japan, and Emi Sakura vs. Veny lived up to expectations . . . Young Bucks (c) vs. Santana & Ortiz was interesting in that a title change felt more plausible than most TV title matches  . . . Yuka Sakazaki vs. Emi Sakura is a dream match for joshi fans and one that lived up to expectations, even in an empty dojo setting.

NJPW

Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c) vs. Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr. for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships – 2/10

Ever since the phenomenal two-night Wrestle Kingdom 15 in January, NJPW has gradually been whittling away at any good faith I have in the company when it comes to unexciting programs and constant interference in matches. Occasionally, though, they strike gold with that formula, and this IWGP Tag Team Title contest from New Beginning is a perfect example of that. I could write an entire essay on how this match layout was so much more satisfying and entertaining than the similarly nonsense-intensive junior heavyweight tag title match from a few weeks prior, but ultimately, it comes down to the talent, timing, and an all-around understanding of how to make wrestling compelling, and these four have those characteristics. In a time where so little of NJPW’s product stands out, that’s impressive. (****)

Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs. SHO for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship – 2/10

When NJPW wrestlers win singles matches, they are often booked for championship matches next, so when Hiromu’s stable-mate, BUSHI, won a singles match against Master Wato earlier on the show, and since NJPW fans understand that faction members almost never challenge each other, it made me pause. “Wait, could SHO win this thing?” What we got was an awesome match. (****¼)

Jon Moxley (c) vs. KENTA for the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship – 2/26

On the same day that Moxley was officially announced as winning the Thesz/Flair award for Wrestler of the Year, he made his return to New Japan to defend his championship against KENTA.

It had been a full year since Moxley had his IWGP US Championship reign put on hold because of the pandemic, but in that time he managed to establish himself as one of AEW’s top stars. This match completely lived up to my expectations. KENTA was especially great and full of energy in this. The match itself was hard-hitting, intense, finished with drama up until the final bell. (****)

Jay White vs. Tomohiro Ishii – 2/27

“Switchblade’s” never-ending feud with CHAOS led to matches with Kazuchika Okada and Hirooki Goto in the past, but I think he has the best chemistry when he’s in the ring with Ishii. These two followed up the emotional conclusion to last year’s G1 Climax Block A with a match that was just as good as any out of the tournament. In terms of storytelling, I’d say last year’s matchup was more engaging, but as a pure wrestling match, this built on their foundation together, showing off stellar athleticism and some unbelievable counter-wrestling. This was Ishii’s first great match of 2021, but it will not be his last. (****¼)

Kota Ibushi (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship – 2/28

Ibushi and Naito had a 2019 series of matches that bordered on reckless endangerment. I think together they found their sweet spot in terms of timing and chemistry here, between guaranteed brain damage and thrilling action that still looked dangerous. The story with this one was the about future of the Intercontinental title: If Naito won, we’re back to normal, but if Ibushi won, things could change for good. I was mildly surprised with Ibushi’s win, but the fact that the result was up in the air only helped build the match’s drama. (****¼)

Honorable Mentions:

I think Ryusuke Taguchi is one of the best wrestlers alive, so Taiji Ishimori and Phantasmo vs. Ryusuke Taguchi & Yuya Uemura unsurprisingly showed out on a random Korakuen card . . . Kota Ibushi (c) vs. SANADA worked, but it had very little drama . . . Yuji Nagata appearances are always a treat, so Kota Ibushi and Yuji Nagata vs. Tetsuya Naito and was plenty of fun . . .  Kazuchika Okada and Tomohiro Ishii vs. Jay White & EVIL was a star-studded breath of fresh air after a million LIJ vs. Ibushi & co. main events . . . After a baffling first title match, the El Phantasmo and Taiji Ishimori (c) vs. El Desperado and Kanemaru rematch would go on to blow the first one out of the water . . . For an eight-minute empty arena singles match, Chris Dickinson vs. Ren Narita was terrific.

NOAH

Naomichi Marufuji & Jun Akiyama vs. Kaito Kiyomiya & Yoshiki Inamura – 2/12

The star-studded “special tag match” is a classic staple of major puroresu shows, and this was the version of that match chosen for NOAH’s return to Nippon Budokan. The surprising thing about this one was the teamwork and chemistry between everyone. Akiyama hadn’t worked for NOAH since 2018, Marufuji is off and on with his motivation, and Kiyomiya and Inamura have only been associates for a few months — not to mention Inamura only recently graduated from NOAH’s version of “Young Lion” status. But this was such a beautifully crisp and well-worked tag match, a testament to what can happen when you get four great workers and a one-of-a-kind environment together. (****)

Kenoh (c) vs. Masakatsu Funaki for the GHC National Championship – 2/12

Despite not necessarily being conducive to typical “star ratings,” Kenoh’s GHC National Title run as MMA simulator extraordinaire has been unlike anything else in puro right now. I had very much enjoyed his previous defenses against the likes of Kazushi Sakuraba and Kazunari Murakami, but as a pro wrestler, the 51-year-old Masakatsu Funaki is still on another level. In fact, Funaki is like a perfect middle ground between those two, with the refined grappling of Sakuraba combined with the theatrical confidence of Murakami. What we saw was some absolutely insane stuff, hard strikes a-plenty, and goblin prince Kenoh barely escaping with his championship. (****¼)

Go Shiozaki (c) vs. Keiji Muto for the GHC Heavyweight Championship – 2/12

This was the most notable occurrence in wrestling for the month of February. Muto, age 58, winning the GHC Heavyweight Title, from the infallible Shiozaki of all people, was about as polarizing as something in puroresu can get. And that’s understandable, as wrestling promotions throughout history have relied on nostalgia and refused to create fresh stars.

But this match was different. It was NOAH’s first Budokan main event in a decade, with Muto  fighting to be the third person to win the three major Japanese world championships, and it just made sense to give him this crowning moment and give NOAH some buzz. The match was a complete spectacle, with an enthralling limbwork fight at the start and a completely bonkers closing stretch that resulted in one of the few moments post-pandemic where you wouldn’t know crowds weren’t allowed to scream. The finish was beautiful, with Muto landing a pained hurricanrana roll-up to win the title. But make no mistake: Shiozaki was the heart and soul of this match, and was the reason it ended up as great as it did. I’m writing this under the impression Muto is losing the title in his first defense to Kaito Kiyomiya, but if I’m wrong, my opinions on this match may change. (****¾) – MATCH OF THE MONTH

Honorable Mentions:

Daisuke Harada (c) vs. Seiki Yoshioka was a great little sprint and a feel-good moment for Yoshioka on the biggest stage of his career ….. Kazushi Sakuraba, Kazuyuki Fujita, Kendo Kashin & Takashi Sugiura vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima, Kenoh, Manabu Soya & Masa Kitamiya was a star-studded tag encounter that got plenty of time setting up multiple title matches.

STARDOM

Giulia vs. Unagi Sayaka – 2/6

Ever since making the jump from Tokyo Joshi Pro, Unagi Sayaka has gotten better than I ever would have guessed. Stardom has rewarded her hard work with a seven-match trial series against Stardom’s top stars. Though it was her babyface performance that helped elevate this otherwise solid match into something better. Giulia is out of her mind as a character right now; there’s nobody in wrestling that elicits more sympathy from her opponent. She absolutely brutalized poor Sayaka in this match, furthering her feud with Sayaka’s stablemate and leader Tam Nakano. There were few matches in February that I was as enthralled with as this one. (****)

Giulia (c) vs. Starlight Kid for the Wonder of Stardom Championship – 2/13

Speaking of Giulia, she turned right around a week later and gave us one of the best matches in company history. In a way, this was a spiritual sequel to the epic Hiromu Takahashi vs. El Desperado Best of the Super Juniors final from last year, where a confident top star (Giulia/ Hiromu) toyed with a masked upstart (Kid/Despy) and created something transcendent. This was easily the best performance of Kid’s career, flying all over the place with a manic energy she’s developed as Mayu Iwatani’s loyal disciple. This was not wrestling choreography. It was a challenger who desperately wanted to win a championship by any means versus a champion who is simply better. Stick around for the post-match angle if you seek this one out; your jaw will drop, even if you don’t know the characters involved. (****½)

Bea Priestley & Konami (c) vs. Maika & Himeka for the Goddesses of STARDOM Championships – 2/14

This tag title match featured four wrestlers firmly entrenched in Stardom’s upper middle card, each of whom rarely take pins and consistently is in some sort of title picture. All four of these wrestlers are a major factor in Stardom’s present and future, but this match was all about the Jumbo Princess Himeka, who put out one of her best performances in Stardom. The two were compelling together; the technicians ,Konami and Maika, grappling for position, while the bigger Priestley and Himeka rammed themselves into each other repeatedly. But the closing stretch, where it finally seemed like Himeka would win her first championship in Stardom, is what sealed this match’s spot on the list. (****)

Honorable Mentions:

It’s always a fun time when Queen’s Quest explodes, and Utami Hayashishita & AZM vs. Momo Watanabe & Saya Kamitani was no different . . . Syuri (c) vs. AZM was the customary very good defense from Syuri and a nice showing from young AZM . . . Stardom loves mixing things up to heat up programs, and the star-studded Utami Hayashishita vs. Saya Kamitani vs. Giulia vs. Tam Nakano four-way previewed the Budokan double main event . . . Momo Watanabe & AZM vs. Syuri & Natsupoi featured Watanabe and Syuri killing each other and AZM furthering the story of being three steps ahead of challenger Natsupoi.

DDT

HARASHIMA & Yuji Okabayashi vs. Kazusada Higuchi & Yukio Naya – 2/14

Three massive men and one Ace came together in this big-time tag match that reflected the NOAH special tag match from just a couple days prior. HARASHIMA and Okabayashi are two of the very best performers in their companies, Higuchi is the most compelling wrestler in DDT, and Naya is an awkward-looking legit 6’8″ giant who continues to get better at taking some extreme punishment. The veterans pulled no punches dealing out some serious damage to young Naya, while Higuchi, who exists outside the face/heel spectrum, seemed to only exists to look extravagant on the apron, and sometimes tag himself in to chop his opponents down. Naya, like NOAH’s Inamura, is someone to look out for. (****)

Konosuke Takeshita, Akito, Shunma Katsumata, & Yuki Ino vs. Daisuke Sasaki, Yuji Hino, Soma Takao, & Mad Paulie – 2/14

I’m baffled that there aren’t more great multi-man matches like this one. Some of the most spectacular matches of the 21st century are all-out bonkers six-, eight-, or even ten-man tag team matches. Think the DragonGate showcase in ROH or Young Bucks & Adam Cole vs. Ricochet, Will Ospreay, & Matt Sydal, except this time, replace the absurd acrobatics and athleticism with nonstop bomb-throwing. The stars of this match were eternal bomb-dropper Yuji Hino and the just-returned Ino, whose interactions gave me flashbacks to the big beefy lads wrestling craze a half-decade ago. There were multiple crazy moments in this match. Even Paulie worked hard. (****)

Yuki Ueno (c) vs. Yukio Sakaguchi for the DDT Universal Championship – 2/14

Ueno is the golden boy of DDT, the preternaturally gifted (and handsome) secondary champion who will undoubtedly be a major player in the promotion for decades to come. What’s the best way to knock someone like that down a peg? Bring in the deadly shooter. Sakaguchi is everything you could want in that archetype, a fighter who comes off like a truly bad dude, whether he’s laying in mid-kicks or locking his opponent in a nasty choke. And while I think the match could have been even better, the storytelling we got made it a treat. (****)

Tetsuya Endo (c) vs. Jun Akiyama for the KO-D Openweight Championship – 2/14

DDT’s Kawasaki Strong show was absolutely a reflection of sister promotion NOAH’s return to Budokan just two days prior. The most obvious example of this was this match, as the older legend challenged for a championship he’d never won. It went over 30 minutes long, with a build consisting of mostly limb work until the two really started getting into it. Akiyama is champion again in 2021. (****)

HARUKAZE, Keisuke Ishii & Kouki Iwasaki (c) vs. ASUKA, Hagane Shinno & Shinichiro Tominaga for the GWC Six-Man Tag Team Championship

Ganbare Pro is a promotion where every show I watch feels like finding a diamond in the rough. The show that this came from was the exception to that rule, however, as the talent involved made it as close to an all-star matchup as you can get from the fifth-most important promotion under the CyberFight umbrella. Ishii (no relation to Tomohiro), ASUKA (who just made her AEW debut as Veny), and Shinno are three of the very best independent wrestlers in the world, and they brought their A-game in this match, displaying sensational timing, athleticism, and razor-sharp striking abilities. Narimasu Act Hall, essentially DDT’s home base, has been frequently very cold during the pandemic, but fans were red-hot for this one. (****)

Kazusada Higuchi and Yukio Sakaguchi (c) vs. Konosuke Takeshita and MAO for the KO-D Tag Team Championship

The magic of ’90s AJPW will never be truly captured again for a modern audience, but I’ll be damned if this match didn’t come close. With their 2021 start, ERUPTION immediately made me regret snubbing them from my Wrestling Observer Awards ballot: They are the best tag team in Japan right now. The challengers were stellar too, with MAO impressing with one-of-a-kind athleticism and misdirection in a vain attempt to keep Sakaguchi at bay.

The lasting moment from this match, what elevates it from “excellent” to “one of the best tag matches all year” for me, was its cataclysmic closing stretch. Higuchi and Takeshita turned monstrous, throwing bomb after bomb at each other, neither being entirely unable to put the other away. Their calamitous interactions went up to eleven when Sakaguchi slapped his own partner in the face, as if to say “Just put this guy away!” It had me silently screaming in the middle of the night, waiting to see what they’d do next. (****½)

Shunma Katsumata (c) vs. MAO for the DDT Extreme Championship – 2/28

DDT was filled with great matches in February. It was capped off with a bona fide DDT bout, the type that only DDT could put on: a Kid’s Room Deathmatch. The rules of this match were that it was no disqualification, so long as the weapons used were approved by the referee, a father of three, as items that could reasonably appear in his children’s rooms. The other stipulation was that a cumulative count of 37 ended the match, and every time the referee counted “One . . . Two . . . ” those digits would also be added to the count. This was insane and brutal and exhausting and hilarious, and a testament to the creativity and passion of everyone involved. (****¼)

Honorable mentions:

Chris Brookes & Miyu Yamashita vs. Yuki Ueno & Shunma Katsumata from Brookes’ produce show left me needing to see more of Yamashita in an intergender setting . . .  Hideki Okatani & Mizuki Watase vs. Toi Kojima & Yusuke Okada was like an NJPW Young Lion match turned up to eleven . . . Naturally, with six of the company’s top stars, Konosuke Takeshita, MAO & Yuki Ueno vs. HARASHIMA, Kazusada Higuchi, & Yukio Sakaguchi was stellar . . . #StrongHearts returned to DDT in thrilling fashion, taking on JUNRETSU in Jun Akiyama, Makoto Oishi, Yusuke Okada, & Hideki Okatani vs. CIMA, T-Hawk, El Lindaman, & Shigehiro Irie.

Miscellaneous promotions

ZERO1: Shinjiro Otani vs. Hayato Tamura – 2/7

The legend Otani taking on the prodigy Tamura in a Korakuen Hall main event was a perfect main event for ZERO1’s 20th Anniversary show, and a great way to gear fans up for Otani’s upcoming appearance in AJPW’s fabled Champion Canival. (****)

FREEDOMS: Jun Kasai & Kenji Fukimoto vs. Masashi Takeda & Takayuki Ueki – 2/9

Considering most shows involve Jun Kasai and Masashi Takeda, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. This match, officially titled a Stimulation Input Bloody Human Crossing Deathmatch, inexplicably starred Takayuki Ueki, who killed himself performing some truly insane stunts in this. This was not for the squeamish, but if you can hold it down, it’s a thrill to watch. (****)

FREEDOMS: Toru Sugiura (c) vs. Toshiyuki Sakuda for the King of FREEDOMS Championship – 2/9

Alongside Go Shiozaki and Suwama, Toru Sugiura has had one of the best championship reigns of anyone in Japan over the last year. This match was a spectacle, featuring multiple death-defying moments, like a backdrop suplex onto light tubes to the floor, a Canadian destroyer through glass, and a wooden skewer stabbed all the way through Sugiura’s cheek. This was the best deathmatch I’ve seen so far in 2021. (****¼)

SEAdLINNNG: ASUKA, Kaho Kobayashi & Ryo Mizunami vs. Ayame Sasamura, Itsuki Aoki & Rina Yamashita – 2/10

This was an enjoyable tag match with legitimately nonstop action that has become a trademark of SEAdLINNNG shows. The star of this one was Mizunami, who had a great sequence in this with women’s wrestler of the year candidate, Yamashita, who herself has had a rock-solid start to 2021. (****)

Bloodsport 5: Jon Moxley vs. Davey Boy Smith Jr. – 2/20

VIOLENCE! I feel like that’s one thing that’s missing from a lot of American wrestling. That doesn’t apply to Jon Moxley, however, who seemingly can’t help himself, whether it’s bloodying his face or trying to grapple with a taller and heavier wrestler. It was easily the best thing Bloodsport put on over the two shows they produced in February, and is as good as  Suzuki vs. Riddle or Suzuki vs. Josh Barnett as “best match in Bloodsport history.” I loved the dynamic of Smith responding to Moxley’s dirty brawling with a more refined approach, suplexing Moxley until he couldn’t move. (****)

ICE RIBBON: Tsukasa Fujimoto (c) vs. Rina Yamashita for the ICExInfinity Championship – 2/20

Fujimoto, as synonymous with Ice Ribbon as any wrestler is with their promotion, is leading the field currently in my women’s wrestler of the year rankings. Yamashita is a typical outside challenger, a wrestler who shows up in a company and never gets pinned. She’s unique in that she’s a legitimate deathmatch wrestler who has bled alongside the likes Masashi Taked and Minoru Fujita. This was your typical great Fujimoto title defense in the main event of a hot Korakuen crowd. (****)

Honorable Mentions:

Minoru Suzuki & Hikaru Sato vs. Yuji Nagata & Yuma Aoyagi was the best match from the Giant Baba memorial show . . . AAA returned with their AutoLuchas shows, and Drago Kid & Hades vs. Argenis & Lady Maravilla was the best of the bunch . . . Takanori Ito vs. Takumi Baba was one of the most violent, short, no-blood matches you’ll see . . . After being absent due to COVID-19, it was nice to see Lindaman back for El Lindaman (c) vs. ASUKA . . . Mammoth Sasaki & Violento Jack (c) vs. Minoru Fujita & Rina Yamashita was the right call for a title change, as Fujita and Yamashita are an excellent deathmatch team . . . Balancing between thrilling babyface/heel dynamic and oppressive heat, Arisa Nakajima & Nanae Takahashi vs. Momo Watanabe & Saya Iida was excellent.

Daydream exploded for the top title in TJPW with Rika Tatsumi (c) vs. Miu Watanabe . . . Takumi Tsukamoto (c) vs. Kankuro Hoshino was a fun deathmatch with some sickening bumps . . . For all the concerns around PROGRESS’s botched return, Cara Noir (c) vs. Dan Moloney was an excellent main event . . . Maya Yukihi & Maika Ozaki (c) vs. Cherry & Matsuya Uno continued Yukihi’s streak of stellar tag performances in her long absence from Ice Ribbon’s main event scene . . . Suwama (c) vs. Kohei Sato followed the typical Suwama title defense just a little too closely for it to stick out . . . Dia Inferno, Diamante & HipHop Kikuta vs. Bokutimo Dragon, Punch Tominaga & Ryo Saito was a fun conclusion to the DRAGON GATE mini-tournament, with Boku showing up and showing out against his former stable.

Wrestler of the Year (so far)

  1. Shingo Takagi
  2. Kota Ibushi
  3. Hiroshi Tanahashi
  4. Kenny Omega
  5. Tsukasa Fujimoto
  6. Jon Moxley
  7. Giulia
  8. Jay White
  9. Kazusada Higuchi
  10. Yukio Sakaguchi
  11. Will Ospreay
  12. Go Shiozaki
  13. MAO
  14. Rey Fénix
  15. Konosuke Takeshita
  16. Maika
  17. Tetsuya Naito
  18. Kazuchika Okada
  19. Rina Yamashita
  20. Keiji Mutoh

 

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