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Highlights from May included Will Ospreay’s sole IWGP World Heavyweight Championship defense, a fantastic AEW pay-per-view in Double or Nothing, a shockingly spectacular tag match out of Australia, the finals of the AJPW Champion Carnival, and so much more.

WWE

Isaiah “Swerve” Scott vs. Leon Ruff – 5/4

Promotions letting their talent showcase some of their creativity has been one of the bright spot of the pandemic period. This was an extremely EVOLVE match, considering it featured two alumni of the now-defunct brand including a shooter heel who’s booked like a killer facing off with a bland but athletically gifted babyface, but it moved past that standard with a unique Falls Count Anywhere layout. These two brawled all over the Capitol Wrestling Center in a rare moment of excitement on NXT TV. (****)

Bobby Lashley (c) vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Braun Strowman for the WWE Championship – 5/16

Get a load of this sequence: Lashley picked up Strowman up for a nasty one-armed spinebuster, then immediately followed it it up with an effortless fireman’s carry that sent McIntyre into the ring post. Strowman crushed Lashley with the steel steps. McIntyre took out both opponents and took the fight to the ramp, where Lashley turned it around with a suplex on the ramp, before McIntyre summarily tossed Lashley through an exploding video board. Couple the sheer spectacle with the genuine drama regarding who would walk out of the building as champion, and you have one of the most exciting WWE matches of the year. (****¼)

Roman Reigns (c) vs. Cesaro for the WWE Universal Championship – 5/16

What a performance from Cesaro! This man had me completely convinced that his arm was legitimately injured. The layout was easy to follow: the chase for the superplex. It mirrored the chase for the swing in Cesaro’s wonderful Mania match with Seth Rollins, and allowed every moment to gather meaning. Reigns, to his credit, was the empty space that allowed everything to happen. He destroyed Cesaro’s arm from the very start of the match and rightly capitalized on that dynamic. Reigns was the better man but Cesaro was out of his mind, to the point that he gave it a legit MMA sell at the end, coming to consciousness about 30 seconds after Reigns let go of the guillotine. No Usos, just a challenger elevated and a champion maintained. (****¼)

A-Kid (c) vs. Tyler Bate for the WWE NXT UK Heritage Cup – 5/20

A-Kid might be the single most under-appreciated wrestler in the world. The guy is so young and so talented. I’d put his in-ring acumen even ahead of the similarly aged Bate, thought of as a prodigy in his own right. Everything A-Kid does looks so good and crisp, reminiscent of some of the great young wrestlers in Japan like Yuki Ueno, Yusuke Okada, and Yuya Uemura. I’m not the biggest fan of the British Rounds layout, leading to a pointless first two rounds. But once this match got going, it really flew, with stiff strikes and innovative technical counters all culminating in high spots. (****)

Apollo Crews (c) vs. Big E vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn for the WWE Intercontinental Championship – 5/21

If WWE got their finishes in order, they could have a really strong reputation. Even long, strongly worked TV matches are often overshadowed by some screwy finish that leaves viewers unsatisfied. Considering we got one of those strange finishes here, it’s a testament to the talent of these four that the match ended up being excellent anyway. Nobody in particular stood out, but everyone worked extremely hard. The four paired off with their WrestleMania opponents, which made sense story-wise – and both of those pairings have wonderful chemistry. Matches like this go a long way to re-establishing SmackDown’s midcard as something worth watching. (****)

Honorable Mentions

Ember Moon & Shotzi Blackheart (c) vs. Candice LeRae & Indie Hartwell finally gave LeRae her first WWE title . . . KUSHIDA continued his streak as maybe the hottest wrestler in WWE with KUSHIDA (c) vs. Santos Escobar . . . Featuring Charlotte’s best performance in forever Rhea Ripley (c) vs. Asuka vs. Charlotte Flair was a worthy defense for Ripley . . . Johnny Gargano (c) vs. Bronson Reed was a feel-good moment for the big man . . . Riddle vs. Xavier Woods was a rare instance of WWE letting fantastic talent go to the ring and do what they want.

AEW

The Pinnacle vs. The Inner Circle in Blood & Guts – 5/5

Blood & Guts was exactly what it needed to be: violent, competitive, exciting, and yes, bloody. FTR and Wardlow looked like killers. Guevara, Santana and Ortiz were so easy to get behind. And the match ended in a way that was completely understandable from a booking sense. MJF forcing the Inner Circle to give up – not because he had them beat, but because they wanted to protect their beloved leader Jericho, was genius, adding loads of heat ahead of their follow-up at Stadium Stampede. And the finish was a nice stunt that I didn’t mind. (****½)

Young Bucks (c) vs. SCU for the AEW World Tag Team Championships – 5/12

Aside from my complete befuddlement while trying to understand the match’s story, the action itself was fantastic. I did not want to see SCU break up here. Christopher Daniels added so much to the match with his gusher that made it seem like he was up against insurmountable odds. He botched a BME, and that botch ended up helping the match. Kazarian is an entirely competent wrestler that adds nothing to the singles division, so it felt like the match was for his career too. (****)

Darby Allin (c) vs. Miro for the TNT Championship – 5/12

Just a notch below the underrated Allin vs. Brian Cage classic from earlier this year, this match was all about the seemingly unshakeable match-up of Allin being faced off against a monster. Miro was the foil this time around, just killing Allin with terrifying throws and awkward bumps. While aggressively boring Scorpio Sky and Ethan Page interference threatened to hurt this match, the hot closing stretch resulting in the first AEW TV title change of 2021 made it all worth it. (****)

Serena Deeb (c) vs. Riho for the NWA Women’s World Championship – 5/30

These two gave me one of my favorite wrestling moments of 2021, and they couldn’t have done it any better! This match was competitive, back-and-forth, technical, cerebral, and and fun. It was already better than their excellent first contest from earlier this year, but the rabid crowd that hated Deeb and lived and died with everything Riho did launched this match into the clouds.(****¼)

Hangman Page vs. Brian Cage – 5/30

After a year of wondering whether the Hangman could maintain his unique aura without fans, we got our answer: He can. This was a perfect way to kick off the pay-per-view: two excellent and gifted wrestlers beating the hell out of each other. Page got the crowd going with his charisma and Cage dazzled with feats of strength. And despite being on a pay-per-view, the match furthered a story in a natural way, with Cage almost certainly leaving Team Taz in the near future. Page has wrestled two fantastic AEW openers (this match and vs. Omega at last year’s Full Gear), leaving viewers salivating at the opportunity to see him in a world title-length main event contest. (****)

Young Bucks (c) vs. Jon Moxley & Eddie Kingston for the AEW World Tag Team Championships – 5/30

The best match on an incredible pay-per-view. The dynamic in this match was unreal, and all the little touches, like Mox and Kingston’s “Wild Thing” entrance, or the Bucks’ completely insane wardrobe and hair, the multiple outside parties getting involved, all added to the spectacle. Moxley and Kingston hitting a Doomsday Device using genuinely valuable shoes was hilarious. And more than anything, this just confirmed to me that the Bucks are some of the best performers in wrestling history who can work any style against any team. (****½)

Kenny Omega (c) vs. PAC vs. Orange Cassidy for the AEW World Championship – 5/30

90% of this match was unbelievable. Omega and PAC were at the top of their game. They are absolutely perfect in everything they do in the ring. The nearfalls were awesome: PAC hitting the Black Arrowk clean, Orange nearly stealing the win, Aubrey Edwards not making it in time to count three for Orange. I could’ve done without the TNA-level over-booking at the finish, everything before it was magic. (****¼)

The Pinnacle vs. The Inner Circle in Stadium Stampede – 5/30

The original Stadium Stampede was special; nothing was ever going to touch it. But I was still entertained by these two stables going to war for our enjoyment. The sight gags in this were great, from the giants Hager and Wardlow facing off to Spears’ evil villain chair room to FTR and Tully hanging out at the bar to Urban Meyer of all people getting involved. We also got a beautiful moment of the contrived “cinematic” experience moving to the wayside in favor of live action, with the incredible Guevara giving fans the best feel-good moment this side of Bianca Belair at WrestleMania. This may be the last cinematic match we see for a long time; I’d say they went out with one of the best. (****)

Honorable Mentions

It’s hard to get much more of a feel-good moment from a match than Jon Moxley (c) vs. Yuji Nagata . . . Serena Deeb (c) vs. Red Velvet elevated both women above mid-card limbo . . . Young Bucks (c) vs. Varsity Blonds capitalized on Brian Pillman’s spotlight beautifully . . . Snake gimmicks aside, Miro (c) vs. Lance Archer was like an Archer G1 match . . . Sting & Darby Allin vs. Scorpio Sky & Ethan Page was all nostalgic excitement and fun.

NJPW

Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Jay White for the NEVER Openweight Championship – 5/3

Lately, there’s been a lot of hand-wringing among English-speaking fans about match length in NJPW. This 39-minute NEVER Openweight battle won’t change opinions on that. Tanahashi and “Switchblade” were just made to be rivals. Big-time battles like this one go a long way in establishing the NEVER title as a worthy successor to the defunct Intercontinental. (****¼)

Will Ospreay (c) vs. Shingo Takagi for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship – 5/4

I don’t have much else to say about this match that hasn’t already been said. I firmly believe that in terms of overall consistency, these two are the best wrestlers in the world. The near-unanimous praise for this match among hardcore fans speaks volumes. I will say this, though: There have been better stories, more affecting emotional hooks, and hotter crowds in the past. But in terms of strictly in-ring work? This is as good as professional wrestling gets. (*****) – MATCH OF THE MONTH

Honorable Mentions

Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tanga Loa showcased both wrestlers’ skill as singles wrestlers . . . Jon Moxley & Chris Dickinson vs. Yuji Nagata & Ren Narita was a nice setup for Moxley vs. Nagata . . . Kota Ibushi & Master Wato vs. Great-O-Khan & Jeff Cobb was the best match on the three-day Korakuen Hall stop late in the month . . . Tom Lawlor (c) vs. Chris Dickinson was one of the better matches in NJPW Strong history and a worthy first defense for Lawlor.

DRAGON GATE

Keisuke Okuda (c) vs. U-T for the Open the Brave Gate Championship – 5/5

The best match from Dead or Alive saw Okuda continue to come into his own as Dragon Gate’s midcard champion. He’s interesting in that he’s a shooter killer, but he’s such a likable babyface that he’s frequently booked to wrestle from below. That’s a mistake, so it was nice to see him face off against the underdog U-T. Okuda brutalized young U-T with strikes and chokes until a shockingly hot closing stretch with cradle exchanges and life-or-death submission fights—fitting for an event called “Dead or Alive.” (****)

Dragon Kid vs. SB KENTo Lucha de Apuesta – 5/5

Dragon Gate’s embrace of lucha libre allows them to sometimes participate in one apuestas match. This year, the wily veteran Dragon Kid put up his mask against 21-year-old prodigy SB KENTo, who put his hair on the line. This had all the drama you could want. The circumstances around it added even more heat to the proceedings, with KENTo essentially taking a dive to get a shot at taking Kid’s mask. Kid smacking a guitar over KENTo’s head and tapping him out provided a nice little coda to the devastating R.E.D. vs. Toryumon Generation feud from last year. (****)

Susumu Yokosuka vs. Kzy – 5/12

The first great match in this year’s accursed King of Gate tournament saw Natural Vibes implode. Even in front of an abysmal empty arena environment, they put on a great show. Of course, you’d be hard-pressed to find two wrestlers who represent what Dragon Gate stands for than these two, with hot, fast-paced action, stiff strikes, and little in the way of wasted energy resulting in a match that moved past the empty arena. (****)

Shun Skywalker vs. YAMATO – 5/12

This was the best match in 2021’s King of Gate tournament. After watching, I couldn’t shake the comparison to another Ace vs. young upstart champion match: Go Shiozaki vs. Kaito Kiyomiya from NOAH in January of last year. Both matches were incredible, hard-hitting affairs, with the veteran pinning the prodigy for the latter’s first loss in forever. YAMATO has been distracted with constant betrayals at the hands of future R.E.D. members; this match proved he’s still the best Dragon Gate has. (****¼)

Shun Skywalker vs. Kaito Ishida – 5/16

Skywalker and Ishida wrestled the best Dragon Gate match of 2021 back in March for the Dream Gate championship. Their King of Gate rematch was like a little tiny baby version of their classic first encounter. Ishida destroyed Skywalker’s knee (again), R.E.D. were complete annoyances at ringside (again), and Skywalker fired up for a one-of-a-kind babyface comeback (once again). The dynamic of Skywalker as the golden boy, but nasty Ishida being able to match him move for move leads me to believe they’ll be career-long rivals. If they both continue to improve at this rate, it’ll be can’t-miss. (****)

Kzy vs. Jason Lee – 5/21

Kzy was a true standout in a stacked 2021 King of Gate tournament. He wrestled the best match of Jason Lee’s career in the tournament, with Lee showing more fire and energy than he usually does in matches. The former Cruiserweight Classic competitor always seemed to have something not quite there, but here against Kzy, that fire showed itself. Dragon Gate has a ton of young guys, and Lee’s on the older side of that class, so for him to finally come into his own as a member of Masquerade is very encouraging for his future. (****)

Susumu Yokosuka vs. Dragon Kid – 5/22

Block B blew away the rest of the King of Gate tournament, and it was thanks to veterans who haven’t lost a step like Kid and Yokosuka. You could’ve sent this match back in time 15 years and it would’ve been worked in the exact same way. You’ve got the eternally underrated powerhouse Yokosuka throwing bombs with high flyer Kid coming back with his unbelievable body control and athleticism, even in his mid-40s. (****)

Eita vs. Kzy – 5/23

After being Dream Gate champion for much of last year, Eita has had a near-silent 2021. In fact, this match was a rematch from Eita’s reign last year, where the leader of R.E.D. retained the title through dubious means. In classic wrestling storytelling style, which Dragon Gate does better than anyone else, Kzy got his win back here after an extremely competitive back-and-forth match and a compelling babyface vs. heel battle. The look on Eita’s face kicking out right after the three count was rendered made this one priceless. (****)

Honorable Mentions

Kzy, Susumu Yokosuka, & Genki Horiguchi (c) vs. Dragon Dia, Jason Lee, & La Estrella gave us exciting new Triangle Gate champs . . . King of Gate is always full of draws: YAMATO vs. Keisuke Okuda was the best of them this month. . . Kzy vs. Dragon Kid was yet another Block B highlight, as was Eita vs. Dragon Kid . . . World champ vs. midcard champ is always a compelling hook, and Shun Skywalker vs. Keisuke Okuda worked it well.

Pro Wrestling NOAH

Masato Tanaka vs. Kaito Kiyomiya – 5/2

Tanaka and Kiyomiya wrestled a rare major non-title singles match in front of no fans, ant it was excellent as expected. There was plenty of drama even with Tanaka as the current ZERO1 champion, as Kiyomiya made an appearance for the indie last month; Tanaka vs. Kiyomiya for that title would have been ZERO1’s biggest match in years. There was nothing all that spectacular here, an exciting, dramatic back-and-forth physical matchup with a clean finish. (****)

Kazunari Murakami & Takashi Sugiura vs. Masaaki Mochizuki & Naomichi Marufuji – 5/3

Marufuji is the next challenger to Keiji Mutoh’s GHC Heavyweight Championship, so who better to match him up against than the terrifying Murakami, a similarly psychotic individual who shrugs off normal attacks and must be beaten to a pulp to be surpassed. Of course, the other two participants in this match (Sugiura and Mochizuki) are no slouches either, with Sugiura being NOAH’s most consistent performer in 2021 and Mochizuki performing better here than in his home promotion of Dragon Gate. Four old guys beating the hell out of each other is about as NOAH as it gets in 2021. (****)

Kaito Kiyomiya vs. NOSAWA Rongai – 5/22

This may have been May’s most controversial match. On paper, it looks terrible: NOSAWA Rongai (a midcard junior heavyweight who also happens to be NOAH’s booker) defeating the promotion’s ace Kiyomiya via countout is baffling and borders on booking malpractice. But man, what I saw in this match was thrilling. NOSAWA kills Kiyomiya with a chair shot, and Kiyomiya blades, leading to one of the most disgusting gushers I’ve seen in a non-deathmatch setting. Kiyomiya wrestles hard, and the right way, but he’s eventually outsmarted by the cheating NOSAWA, leading to a loss to one of the lowest members on the NOAH pecking order. I firmly believe this is the start of something huge for Kiyomiya; what a way to kick it off. (****)

Naomichi Marufuji & Takashi Sugiura vs. Kaito Kiyomiya & Yoshiki Inamura – 5/23

For whatever reason, this venue in Niigata leads to some cavernous silence during matches. I remember two wrestlers going to a 30-minute draw in last year’s N-1 Victory at this venue and it was one of the most boring matches all year. So when we got to the closing stretch of this matchup and the crowd came alive, it really was a testament to these four’s hard work. Of course, it’s helpful that Kiyomiya bled all over for the second straight day. Blood doesn’t happen much in NOAH, so to see the light-skinned and fair-haired Kiyomiya dotted with red made for quite the visual. (****)

Katsuhiko Nakajima & Masa Kitamiya (c) vs. Mohammed Yone & Shuhei Taniguchi – 5/31

The Funky Express are undoubtedly my least favorite part of NOAH. Three of the four members barely do anything, and the member that does – Taniguchi – is not only completely misused, but also eats most of the pins. So I was very pleased to get perhaps Yone’s best performance in years in this big-time tag match against the Kongoh brutalizers of Nakajima and Kitamiya. Nakajima was unbelievable here; his kicks, already the best in wrestling by a mile, seem to get stronger and louder every time he wrestles. And Yone put together a surprising babyface performance that reminded us why he’s not defined by his “Boogie Wonderland” entrance. (****)

Honorable Mentions

Kaito Kiyomiya vs. Ikuto Hidaka was a wrestling clinic, as expected . . . Masato Tanaka vs. Yoshiki Inamura was a nice sequel to the Tanaka/Kiyomiya match the night before . . . HAYATA, Seiki Yoshioka, Yoshinari Ogawa & Yuya Susumu vs. Atsushi Kotoge, Daisuke Harada, Hajime Ohara, & Junta Miyawaki was 40 minutes of crisp action, elimination-style.

STARDOM

Giulia & Syuri (c) vs. Momo Watanabe & AZM for the Goddesses of STARDOM Championships – 5/2

The highlight of STARDOM’s spring was undoubtedly the beginning of Giulia and Syuri’s reign as tag team champs. With a roster as stacked as theirs, seemingly every top matchup for these belts has the chance to deliver the goods. Their first defense just so happened to be one of the best matches in the history of these belts, taking on the always-consistent MomoAZ of Queen’s Quest. There’s a ton of talent in this match; Giulia, Watanabe, and Syuri are all in the main even picture. But I thought 18-year-old AZM was the one that elevated it into classic territory with her timing, energy, and willingness to take a ton of punishment shining through. (****¼)

Giulia & Syuri (c) vs. Mayu Iwatani & Starlight Kid for the Goddesses of STARDOM Championships – 5/15

Aside from a one-of-a-kind all-star matchup with Yoshiko, 2021 has been a quiet year for Mayu Iwatani, who has predominantly been preoccupied with a rather uninspired version of Oedo Tai. This second great title defense for Giulia & Syuri just served to let Iwatani show she’s still at the top of her game. It also served as an important sequel to two big-time title matches over the last year: Iwatani defending the red belt against Syuri and Giulia defending the white belt against Kid. That latter match was a classic, and while Kid still has a ways to go (just punch harder!), there was more than enough excitement to make this one worthwhile. (****)

Mayu Iwatani vs. Giulia – 5/23

This was essentially STARDOM’s Hana Kimura memorial match. Iwatani and Giulia, STARDOM’s two top stars, just so happened to be Kimura’s final two singles opponents. Both of those matches ended in time limit draws, so it was fitting to get the same here. Pitting wrestlers on the level of these two against each other isn’t something STARDOM usually does on a random house show, which made the gesture all the nicer. Even if they hadn’t put together a great match, I would’ve loved it; luckily, it’s Iwatani and Giulia we’re talking about, whose stiff strikes and unmatched facial expressions made this dramatic until the final second. (****)

Honorable Mentions

Utami Hayashishita, Momo Watanabe, Saya Kamitani, & AZM vs. Giulia, Maika, Himeka, & Natsupoi continued the impressive streak of great QQ-DDM matches . . . Natsupoi vs. Mina Shirakawa was another fantastic performance from the much-improved Poi . . . Giulia vs. Maika was the highlight of round 2 of Cinderella . . . Utami Hayashishita & Saya Kamitani vs. Tam Nakano & Mina Shirakawa saw these four working even harder than expected on the anniversary of Hana Kimura’s death.

BJW

Takuya Nomura & Fuminori Abe (c) vs. Yuji Okabayashi & Shigehiro Irie for the BJW Tag Team Championships – 5/4

BJW may be the promotion with the most inconvenient proportion of attendance and talent (good!) to video streaming distribution (bad). Their exciting Ikkitousen deathmatch tournament – the G1 of deathmatch wrestling – was distributed along no less than five different streaming options, almost a different one every single show. So even though this match is must-see on paper (Astronauts lead many people’s “best team in Japan” lists, and Okabayashi and Irie are the type of powerhouse that match up well with them), I don’t think anyone really saw it! That’s disappointing, because this was one of the best tag team matches in Japan all year, with all the strong style physicality you could want out of these four. Find it if you can. (****¼)

Yasufumi Nakanoue (c) vs. Daisuke Sekimoto for the BJW Strong Heavyweight Championship – 5/5

Poor Sekimoto may be close to the end of his run, but at the very least we know he can still bring out a great main event when needed. Nakanoue has been extremely solid but slightly unspectacular in his first reign as champion, and he sorely needed a win over BJW’s top star to really help establish him. This match was exactly as advertised if you know these wrestlers, as the Satoshi Kojima imitator Nakanoue gave us a great babyface performance against the brick wall Sekimoto, leading to a worthy defense for the Strong title. (****)

Masashi Takeda vs. Ryuji Ito – 5/16

The best match from block action of this year’s Ikkitousen tournament featured the presumptive favorite to win the whole thing in Takeda matched up with beloved BJW veteran Ito to see who would win their block. It wasn’t quite the epic I expected, going only 11 minutes (which I suspect was due to both men bleeding profusely), but Takeda’s not a patient “build to big moments” type of wrestler anyway. These two wasted no time in brutalizing each other with everything in the playbook, including Ito sending Takeda through a series of glass boards and then proceeding to pour five pounds of salt over Takeda’s back. Ito pulled off the upset, leaving Ikkitousen wide open for now. (****)

Honorable Mentions

Ryuji Ito & Yuko Miyamoto vs. Drew Parker & Hideyoshi Kamitani showed Parker continuing to excel in these deathmatch tags . . . Daichi Hashimoto, Kazumi Kikuta, Takuya Nomura & Yuya Aoki vs. Daisuke Sekimoto, Yuji Okabayashi, Yasufumi Nakanoue, & Shigehiro Irie saw the cream of the Strong division do what they do best . . . Isami Kodaka vs. Akira Hyodo was a fun upset win for fan-favorite Hyodo.

DDT

Yuki Ueno (c) vs. Soma Takao for the DDT Universal Championship – 5/4

Has there been a better title run in 2021 than Ueno’s as Universal champion? The guy is well on his way to being DDT’s top star with continued displays of unreal athleticism and conditioning. That matches up well against opponents who show a lot of grit and aggression, so goth prince Takao was a nice little foil for Ueno this time around. This match was in an empty arena, limiting its ceiling, but Ueno’s become better than anyone this side of NJPW at those back-and-forth counter sequences at the end of matches, leaving you guessing as to who’s walking away with the title. (****)

Konosuke Takeshita & Shunma Katsumata vs. Kazusada Higuchi & Yukio Sakaguchi – 5/10

The pairings here are so natural it’s ridiculous, with kaiju big boys Takeshita and Higuchi chopping and suplexing each other all over the place while Katsumata’s manic energy works to keep the shooter Sakaguchi at bay. In a stacked Ultimate Tag League, this match stood above the others. (****¼)

Jun Akiyama & Makoto Oishi vs. Konosuke Takeshita & Shunma Katsumata – 5/27

It’s always fun when a wrestler picks up the biggest win of his career. Katsumata pinning the legend (and KO-D Openweight Champion) Akiyama was a thrilling moment to set up the Ultimate Tag League finals. The leadup to that finish saw each team’s powerhouse (Akiyama & Takeshita) taking turns battering their opponents’ much smaller tag partner (Oishi and Akiyama), a hook that looked like it would lead to Akiyama stretching Katsumata into submission—that is, until Takeshita ran in, broke up the hold, and Katsumata capitalized with the roll-up victory, propelling his team into the finals later that night. (****)

Konosuke Takeshita & Shunma Katsumata vs. Yuji Hino & Daisuke Sasaki – 5/27

After the Eruption vs. Nautilus epic last October, DDT is the only promotion that I trust to have their talent wrestle multiple times in one night. Being competent bookers, they had the heel DAMNATION team receive a nice hour-long break ahead of the main event whereas the babyface 37Kamiina had to immediately come into these finals after a war with Junretsu. And really, considering the talent of everyone involved, that’s the only hook you need to make this into something special. Hino’s relentless pursuit of Katsumata, only to be met with perhaps the only talent in DDT that can match him in power in Takeshita was so much fun, and 37Kamiina are worthy winners of this year’s Ultimate Tag League. (****)

Honorable Mentions

Daisuke Sasaki, Tetsuya Endo & Yuji Hino vs. Kazusada Higuchi, Yukio Sakaguchi, & Yuki Iino vs. Konosuke Takeshita, MAO, & Shunma Katsumata was a match with the type of all-action multi-man match that DDT is doing better than most . . . Chris Brookes (c) vs. Saki Akai (c) featured one of Akai’s career-best performances in a big spot . . . Yukio Sakaguchi vs. Yusuke Okada was five minutes of empty arena shoot-style heaven . . . HARASHIMA & Naomi Yoshimura vs. Yuki Ueno & MAO was a beautiful return match for Yoshimura . . . Konosuke Takeshita & Shunma Katsumata vs. Daisuke Sasaki & Yuji Hino previewed the finals nicely without giving too much away . . . Akito & Yusuke Okada vs. Toi Kojima & Yuki Ueno continued Okada’s streak of butting heads with DDT young boys.

Miscellaneous Promotions

[AAA] Latigo vs. Villano III Jr. vs. Abismo Negro Jr. vs. Hijo Del Vikingo vs. Aramis – 5/15

The pandemic has limited our opportunities for seeing both (1) lucha libre and (2) indie-riffic spotfests. This match was the best of both, with all five men flying around the ring like their lives depended on it. Vikingo, in particular, was spectacular, showing why he’s the most exciting young talent in Mexico today. (****¼)

[AJPW] Suwama vs. Shuji Ishikawa – 5/4

A big battle between the former Violent Giants is always appointment viewing, even at their advanced age. Since the team broke earlier this year, it made the match so dramatic and fun, and one of the best matches in an excellent 2021 Carnival. (****¼)

[AJPW] Kento Miyahara vs. Jake Lee – 5/4

AJPW’s best match of 2021 so far was also its most important. After the thrilling heel turn by Lee the month prior, AJPW fans were desperate to see whether AJPW’s bookers would have the guts to follow through with him winning the Carnival and eventually the Triple Crown. Thankfully, they did, and they did so under impossible circumstances: an empty arena. AJPW came up with the genius idea to throw staff and preliminary wrestlers out there to act as “fans,” hooting and hollering while Lee pummels Miyahara’s midsection and Miyahara fires up with his one-of-a-kind comeback. Few 2021 matches have built up this level of drama; after this, there’s only one more step to finishing Lee’s rise. (****½)

[BEYOND] Lee Moriarty (c) vs. Wheeler YUTA for the IWTV Independent Wrestling Championship – 5/6

52 minutes! That’s how long this epic IWTV Independent Wrestling title match went, and I’d say it earned them all. We got a ton of exhausting, innovative technical action and a compelling story: Moriarty outwrestled YUTA from the start, until YUTA started taking shortcuts on the way to victory. Indie wrestlers have not been afraid to go long recently (just look at the atrocious Jordan Oliver vs. Tony Deppen iron man match from GCW earlier this year), but few actually put in the work and creativity to make it worthwhile. Moriarty and YUTA did so here. (****¼)

[GCW] Lio Rush vs. Starboy Charlie – 5/15

The US indies are in dire straits right now. There are a ton of solid workers who can put together a good wrestling match, but very little in the way of talent that will excite you or make you want to tune in. Two of the few who can actually accomplish that are Rush and Charlie, who wrestled the best GCW match since WrestleMania weekend this month. Rush might be the fastest guy in wrestling and Charlie is unbelievable for his age, the best male 18-year-old wrestler out there today. The innovative sequences and athleticism made this match a true highlight on an exceedingly bland scene. (****)

[#HanaMatane] Kagetsu, Hazuki, Konami, & Death Yama-san vs. ASUKA, Syuri, Natsupoi, & Mio Momono – 5/23

What more could you want from Hana Kimura’s memorial show? All her best active stablemates, including the one-night-only returns of legend Kagetsu and eternally underrated Hazuki, facing off against four of the most exciting women’s wrestlers in Japan, including ASUKA (who you may know as Veny from AEW), who was Kimura’s best friend. This was seventeen minutes of nonstop tag action. When wrestlers return, a common thing to say is that they “haven’t lost a step,” but Kagetsu could have turned around and wrestled for the World of STARDOM championship the next day and you would’ve never known she had been gone for over a year. I didn’t want it to end. (****½)

[#HanaMatane] Kagetsu vs. ASUKA – 5/23

I didn’t want the eight-man tag to end, so thankfully, ASUKA challenged Kagetsu to a rematch, and we got it! Booking a surprise main event, a true dream match that is only possible under these circumstances, was the perfect way to end the Hana Kimura memorial show, a beautiful tribute to a woman lost too soon. (****¼)

[ICE RIBBON] Jun Kasai vs. Suzu Suzuki – 5/5

Suzuki’s seven match deathmatch series, running the gauntlet of some of the most brutal deathmatch wrestlers in Japan, has been one of the most purely enjoyable wrestling experiences of 2021. Matching the 18-year-old against Jun Kasai, however, is a whole new level of terror. One underreported facet of this match is that the venue where they wrestled technically banned deathmatches; the fact that Kasai wrestled like a man who wanted to inflict as much violence as possible on the prodigy Suzuki allowed me to completely forget about that rule. Babyface vs. heel, the past vs. the future; it’s all classic pro wrestling stuff, done perfectly by these two. (****)

[PWA] VeloCities (c) vs. Aussie Open for the PWA Tag Team Championships – 5/8

This was the best tag team match of 2021 so far. I have so sorely missed seeing Aussie Open around; they were a constant presence on the British indies, had already been making appearances for PWG in the States, and were well on their way to a NJPW contract until the pandemic happened. This was the first match I saw of them since the pandemic, and they wrestled the best match of their careers. Much of the credit should go to the white-hot crowd as well as the VeloCities themselves, who were wonderful diminutive babyfaces against the well-oiled machine of Aussie Open. Be on the lookout for both tag teams to break out as soon as restrictions are lfited. (****¾)

[ROH] Bandido vs. Flamita – 5/3

MexiBlood explodes! The longtime tag team partners wrestled a singles match on a random weekly episode of ROH and summarily tore the empty-arena house down with insane feats of athleticism, stiff strikes, and a brutal blood feud ending. Bandido was always the bigger star of the two, so creating the natural hook of Flamita taking shortcuts to win makes all the sense in the world. If ROH knows what they’re doing, we’ll get a rematch at their next PPV. (****¼)

[TJPW] Rika Tatsumi (c) vs. Miyu Yamashita for the Princess of Princesses Championship – 5/4

Thank you, Rika Tatsumi, for the best Princess of Princesses title reign yet. Even though it only went four months and featured four matches total, all four matches exceeded expectations and got better with each one. The empty-arena drama here was given even more stakes understanding that the winner would defend against international star Yuka Sakazaki at the NOAH/DDT/TJPW produced CyberFight supercard in June. And while Tatsumi had a wonderful run, she did lose here to Yamashita, the promotion’s best wrestler and top star, but along the way, she turned the TJPW top four of Yamashita, Sakazaki, Shoko Nakajima, and Mizuki into a top five. One of the best matches in company history. (****¼)

Honorable Mentions

Koji Doi vs. Shotaro Ashino let Doi show some character after a rather unspectacular Carnival . . . Kento Miyahara, Yuma Aoyagi, & Atsuki Aoyagi vs. Shuji Ishikawa, Kohei Sato, & Fuminori Abe featured six wrestlers so good it’s impossible to imagine it being bad . . . Latigo vs. Arez vs. Aramis vs. Toxin vs. Dinastia was a worthy prequel to the Vikingo five-way a week later . . . Nick Gage (c) vs. AJ Gray continued to establish Gage’s reign as GCW champion . . . Black Taurus vs. Octagon Jr. vs. Villano III Jr. was a wild three-way marred by injury . . . Tracy Williams (c) vs. Tony Deppen showed why ROH believes so highly in Deppen . . . Hijo Del Vikingo, Octagon Jr., & Myzteziz Jr. (c) vs. Rey Escorpion, Texano Jr., & La Hiedra saw Vikingo legitimately wrestling too fast for his opponents to keep up with.

Wrestler of the Year rankings (through May):

1) Shingo Takagi [NJPW]

2) Will Ospreay [NJPW]

3) Giulia [STARDOM]

4) Kota Ibushi [NJPW]

5) Tsukasa Fujimoto [ICE RIBBON]

6) Kenny Omega [AEW]

7) Kento Miyahara [AJPW]

8) Konosuke Takeshita [DDT]

9) Suwama [AJPW]

10) Shunma Katsumata [DDT]

11) ASUKA/Veny [Freelance]

12) Jon Moxley [AEW]

13) Tam Nakano [STARDOM]

14) Yuki Ueno [DDT]

15) Syuri [STARDOM]

16) Hiroshi Tanahashi [NJPW]

17) Rey Fénix [AEW]

18) Kazusada Higuchi [DDT]

19) Matt Jackson [AEW]

20) Nick Jackson [AEW]

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