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June was all about that newsworthy Utami Hayashishita vs. Syuri match from STARDOM. Other notable events included DDT/TJPW/NOAH’s joint CyberFight Festival, NJPW Dominion, WWE Hell in a Cell, the conclusion of DRAGON GATE’s King of Gate tournament, and the coronation of a new AJPW Triple Crown champion. In Match Madness, I rate them all!


WWE

NXT Championship: Karrion Kross (c) vs. Adam Cole vs. Johnny Gargano vs. Kyle O’Reilly vs. Pete Dunne – 6/13

The main event from NXT TakeOver: In Your House was a good litmus test for how much emotional investment you put into wrestling matches. If you like a “cold” match with hot action, you probably enjoyed this, like I did. If you need an emotional hook, this probably fell short of expectations. The only real story here was Cole, Gargano, O’Reilly, and Dunne, four of NXT’s best, trying and failing to keep the unstoppable Kross down. A true spotfest that I suspect would have received massive praise had it happened anywhere but WWE. (****¼)

Tommaso Ciampa & Timothy Thatcher vs. Grizzled Young Vets (Zack Gibson & James Drake) 6/16

Since the pandemic, one minor development in WWE’s in-ring style is their willingness to hit each other really hard. Before, a tag match between these four probably would have been good fun and little more. Now, given the leeway to be as violent and stiff as they wish, we got one of the better TV tag matches in WWE all year. Thatcher and Ciampa remind me of the fantastic ERUPTION tag team from DDT, and Gibson and Drake are a well-oiled machine at this point. That tope doomsday device is one of the most spectacular moves in WWE’s arsenal, and the Grizzled Young Vets have carved out a nice role as the gatekeepers in NXT’s tag division. (****)

Drew McIntyre vs. Riddle – 6/21

Every month or two, WWE reminds us that their main roster has some of the best wrestlers in the world. Riddle, considered by me to be as can’t-miss a prospect as wrestling’s had in years, has mostly floundered on the main roster in a mid-card comedy role. Now that the person in charge seems to see something in him, Riddle has been given the green light to be great. This match finally showed why Riddle had so much hype behind him, with pristine striking, shocking power, and ruthless intensity against one of WWE’s top stars. The upset finish put him over huge, and if WWE can maintain this push, Riddle’s set up for massive success. (****)

Honorable Mentions:

Kay Lee Ray (c) vs. Meiko Satomura was just as good the second time around (with a different result) . . . Bianca Belair (c) vs. Bayley was the best of the four Hell in a Cell matches . . . Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn was the match of the night for Hell in a Cell . . . Johnny Gargano & Austin Theory vs. Pete Dunne & Oney Lorcan re-affirmed Gargano as a truly outstanding in-ring talent . . . KUSHIDA vs. Kyle O’Reilly was a lovely little coda to their NJPW classic from a half-decade ago.

AEW

MMA Cage Fight: Jake Hager vs. Wardlow – 6/18

Maybe the most polarizing AEW television match of the year–but I loved every second of it. The presentation, the spectacle, the sheer irreverence of it all made it such a fun watch. Hager wrestled like an MMA fighter, because he’s trained as one, but Wardlow wrestled like a professional wrestler with suplexes and a hilarious hurricanrana, because that’s what he is. It was a classic instance of the babyface being the better man when push came to shove, and was the most exciting moment of that drab stretch of Friday night AEW shows. (****)

AEW World Championship: Kenny Omega (c) vs. Jungle Boy –  6/26

Despite a lackluster build, this match in this setting was always going to succeed. Omega’s out of his mind as champion, just getting more insane and wacky with every passing week. It contrasted beautifully with the laid-back every-man nature of the Jungle Boy, who wrestled the match of his life. The little storytelling beats enhanced it: Frankie Kazarian stopping interference before it happens and Omega’s weird focus on Jungle Boy’s hair leading all the way to the finish. They really have something with Jungle Boy, and I can’t think of many better ways to send off Daily’s Place than with a big-time world title match like this. (****¼)

Honorable Mentions:

Miro (c) vs. Evil Uno shocked everyone with a surprisingly heartfelt babyface performance from Uno . . . Young Bucks & Brandon Cutler vs. Eddie Kingston, PAC, & Penta El Zero Miedo was crazy Young Bucks action as always . . . Hangman Page vs. Powerhouse Hobbs was the best match of Hobbs’ life. 

NJPW

NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Championships: Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, & YOSHI-HASHI (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, & BUSHI – 6/2

In this era of limited interest in NJPW, the CHAOS team of Goto, Ishii, & YOSHI-HASHI haas quietly carved out a place as one of the most reliable acts in the company. They’re just three rock solid wrestlers who can elevate when the time comes. Of course, it helps to go against an equally reliable team in this Los Ingobernables de Japon team of Naito, SANADA, & BUSHI. This match was long, an increasingly frequent NJPW epic that went 31 minutes, but I’d say it almost completely earned that length with great action throughout. The customary YOSHI-HASHI closing stretch always takes these matches up a notch. (****)

Kota Ibushi vs. Jeff Cobb – 6/7

This was the hottest feud NJPW had created maybe all year, and its grudge match delivered. Cobb has been one of NJPW’s true bright spots since the pandemic, re-inventing himself as a Lance Archer-esque monster instead of the patterned brawler type like Ishii or Goto. Ibushi, meanwhile, is one of the few wrestlers who can match Cobb one on one for athleticism, making this a deeply interesting matchup of oneupmanship. With the winner likely receiving a shot at the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, the stakes were high, and this lived up to expectations as the semi-main of NJPW’s #2 event. (****¼)

IWGP World Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada vs. Shingo Takagi – 6/7

You already know this match was great. It wasn’t an all-time classic like some are suggesting; it would have fallen somewhere in the upper half of Okada defenses during his two year reign as champion. But beyond the in-ring work, which was stellar, what really elevated this match into something special was the booking. This match was all about Shingo. He stole the show from Okada, something that is almost impossible to do. His years of hard work, honing his craft as one of the best wrestlers in the world, paid off here with the biggest prize in puroresu. I was a proponent of Shingo winning this match ahead of time, but I didn’t think NJPW would actually do it; I’m thrilled that they did. (****½)

Kota Ibushi vs. Yuya Uemura – 6/23

One of the more interesting things NJPW has done since the pandemic is this Young Lion trial series involving Uemura and Yota Tsuji. It sees the two Young Lions – each of whom has wrestled for over three years at this point – face off against some of NJPW’s top stars one on one. The best of the bunch was this wondrous encounter between legitimate HOFer in his prime Ibushi and Uemura, who I (and others) have likened to a young Keiji Mutoh. These two pulled out all the stops in an undercard match at Korakuen Hall, with stiff strikes, how-did-they-think-of-that reversals, and just enough of a nearfall battle to put the slightest hope in your mind that Uemura might win. After this match, there’s no doubt: Uemura’s ready for the big stage. (****)

Honorable Mentions:

Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa (c) vs. Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr. finally put to bed this drawn-out but weirdly underrated tag title feud . . . El Desperado (c) vs. YOH was pristine action for the junior title . . . Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Yuya Uemura proved once again why Sabre’s the most consistent man in there with Young Lions . . . SHO & YOH (c) vs. Taiji Ishimori & El Phantasmo was a wacky but ultimately enjoyable title match with a fun finish.

STARDOM

Utami Hayashishita, Momo Watanabe, & Saya Kamitani vs. Giulia, Syuri, & Maika – 6/8

Sometimes all you really need for a wrestling match is good wrestlers and a simple story. Everyone in this match is great (and at least five of the six participants are actively better than they were at this time last year), and the story was simply that this previewed big matches for the big Tokyo Dream Cinderella show. Maika and Kamitani set the stage for meeting in the Cinderella finals, Watanabe and Giulia reminded us that they did *not* want to be put together in the shuffle tag at the big show, and Hayashishita and Syuri gave us a taste of their upcoming all-time classic match. A big-time Korakuen main event. (****)

Cinderella Tournament Finals: Saya Kamitani vs. Maika – 6/12

These two are each among the most improved wrestlers in the world over the last year. A year ago Maika was a boring half-shooter whereas Kamitani was a ball of manic energy who could seemingly do nothing in the ring that looked crisp or accurate. Now, Maika’s as reliable in the ring as anyone on the Stardom roster and Kamitani’s like a young Will Ospreay, keeping all that mania but channeling it into exciting wrestling matches. Both women sold the effects of their singles matches from early on in the night, with Maika especially doing a really believable job selling the leg. This simple match was a perfect Cinderella finals with the right winner. (****)

World of STARDOM Championship: Utami Hayashishita (c) vs. Syuri – 6/12

The match that catapulted Stardom beyond a niche product into something that had the entire wrestling world buzzing. Utami Hayashishita, who I believed had no chance at being a worthy World of Stardom champion when she won it, has become perhaps the best women’s wrestler in the world. Syuri, whose in-ring work was always solid but who always left me struggling for emotional investment, put in a relentless hard-hitting performance on the level of any Ishii or Shingo match.

Hayashishita is Kazuchika Okada. She’s an infallible champion with pristine work and a preternatural gift for understanding exactly what should happen and when. Syuri is Minoru Suzuki, a hybrid shooter/brawler with crushing strikes and killer stretches. They went a full half hour, and it was incredible; then, when the draw came, I hated the finish, because it was the exact same finish as Syuri vs. Giulia from six months prior. But when Syuri demanded more time and the match restarted, it became genius once again. It was the longest match in STARDOM history by 13 minutes and it earned every single second of that length.

My only slight qualm is with the finish: To me, unless the work is jaw-dropping to a point that it’s made of things I’ve never seen before, a match without a winner will never live up to that five-star standard. But the fact that I can list an issue I have with the bout and it’s still the clear match of the month proves to me what these two women accomplished in the Ota Ward. (****¾) – MATCH OF THE MONTH

Honorable Mentions:

With four wrestlers of this caliber, you knew Utami Hayashishita & Momo Watanabe vs. Mayu Iwatani & Starlight Kid would be good . . . Mayu Iwatani, Starlight Kid, & Koguma vs. Natsuko Tora, Saki Kashima, & Ruaka continued a streak of great MK Sisters matches ahead of their unforseen breakup . . . Mayu Iwatani, Starlight Kid, Koguma, Hanan, & Rin Kadokura vs. Natsuko Tora, Konami, Saki Kashima, Fukigen Death & Ruaka was all saccharine storytelling melodrama . . . Giulia, Syuri, & Maika. vs. Tam Nakano, Mina Shirakawa, & Unagi Sayaka far outpaced the boring DDM vs. Cosmic Angels title match from the month prior.

AJPW

Junior Battle of Glory Round 2: Hikaru Sato vs. Fuminori Abe – 6/2

This was unlike anything else AJPW’s done all year and featured the only instance of blood in the entire tournament. Sato’s a wily technical veteran at this point who stands out against the relatively tame AJPW junior backdrop whereas Abe is guaranteed to bring the violence whenever he wrestles. The headbutts in this one were terrifying, and the fact that they beat on each other so badly early on in the tournament made for a nice story when the winner faced the powerful El Lindaman in the next round. (****)

Junior Battle of Glory Finals: El Lindaman vs. Akira Francesco – 6/2

Is there a more simple and effective story in wrestling than the powerhouse heel being conquered by the small, athletic, and spectacular babyface? These two worked that story to perfection, with Lindaman’s smarmy bleach-blonde hair and sculpted physique tossing Francesco all over the place only to be taken out with a million reckless dives in return. Francesco’s win set up his elevation from undercard rookie to AJPW junior division mainstay, and to outlast 15 other men in a tournament shows the faith they have in the 22-year-old youngster. (****)

AJPW World Tag Team Championships: Kento Miyahara & Yuma Aoyagi (c) vs. Shuji Ishikawa & Kohei Sato – 6/9

The NEXTREAM tag title defenses have found a reliable pattern: beat the hell out of Aoyagi, get to Miyahara for the hot tag, and bring in Aoyagi at the very end to put him over strong, choking out a bigger opponent with a guillotine. That’s exactly what we got here, and the formula was upped thanks to their gargantuan Twin Towers opponents, two men well-versed in violence (Ishikawa through deathmatches and Sato through shoot-style). The crowd wasn’t rocking for this one like they have been at many recent AJPW Korakuen Hall events but this is a match that’s almost impossible to screw up. (****)

AJPW World Junior Heavyweight Championship: Koji Iwamoto (c) vs. Akira Francesco – 6/26

This is how you make a star. Francesco – who just over a month ago was an undercard prelim guy, not far removed from a NJPW Young Lion – is now the AJPW World Junior Heavyweight Champion. He won the historic Junior Battle of Glory to earn the shot, beat the undisputed top guy in AJPW’s junior division to win the title, and did so at AJPW’s biggest show since before the pandemic. The match was great, all back-and-forth action (Iwamoto’s as rock solid as they come) that highlighted Francesco’s immense potential as a high-flying babyface. The best match of Francesco’s career to this point. (****)

AJPW Triple Crown Championship Tomoe Battle: Kento Miyahara vs. Jake Lee vs. Yuma Aoyagi – 6/26

Devastating circumstances forced Suwama, who had a genuinely phenomenal run as Triple Crown champion, to vacate the title due to a positive COVID-19 test ahead of what was supposed to be Lee’s coronation. At first I was puzzled by the decision to replace Suwama vs. Lee with this Tomoe Battle, essentially a gauntlet of matches between two out of three people where one person has to pin the other two in succession to win. It felt strange to essentially “punish” Lee for circumstances out of his control by having him face two additional men, and I was worried AJPW might call an audible and put the championship back on the “safe” choice of Miyahara.

Luckily, the match was exactly what I hoped it would be. I went (****¼) on the opening matchup between Miyahara and Aoyagi, which would have been a worthy main event on any Champion Carnival show. The second, between Miyahara and Lee, was pure domination from the latter until a great apron piledriver was the equalizer, leading to a thrilling sprint (****). And the final contest (****¼) between Lee and Aoyagi was all heel vs. babyface, with the pre-destined conquerer Lee finally earning the biggest prize in All Japan. AJPW knocked it out of the park overall. (****½)

Honorable Mentions:

El Lindaman vs. Rising HAYATO was yet another example of why Lindaman’s appearances in AJPW recently have been must-see . . . CIMA (c) vs. Koji Iwamoto allowed Iwamoto to win the title to drop it to Francesco, and gave us an extra really good match . . . Shuji Ishikawa (c) vs. Yuko Miyamoto saw Miyamoto out of a deathmatch setting show why he’s still remarkably good no matter what he does.

Miscellaneous Promotions

[BJW] Ikkitousen Finals: Ryuji Ito vs. Drew Parker – 6/28

This year’s BJW Ikkitousen deathmatch tournament was snakebitten, with cancellations, changes of venues, and postponements marring a truly remarkable field of talent. The tournament started all the way on March 3, taking nearly four full months to complete from start to finish. Luckily, good booking and a lovely story saved the finals and elevated them into something special.

It also gave us the single nastiest bit of gore in deathmatch wrestling in 2021, with Parker suffering a deep laceration after being sent through a glass board and subsiquently cascading blood all over Korakuen Hall. However, the image of seemingly all of BJW’s staff patching Parker up and supporting him in this victory mirrors the big choice to give him this tournament victory; the leap of faith it took for Parker to stay in Japan during a worldwide pandemic mirrors his unbelievable Swanton Bomb from the top of a 10-foot ladder to win the match. Beautiful. (****¼)

[CYBERFIGHT] Konosuke Takeshita & Yuki Ueno vs. Kaito Kiyomiya & Yoshiki Inamura – 6/6

The best match at the big-budget CyberFight Festival supershow was this interpromotional tag match between four of the best young wrestlers in DDT and NOAH, respectively. Each of these men got a chance to shine here, but the real showcases were actually saved for the two “lesser” stars from each team: Ueno and Inamura. The refrigerator of a man Inamura wowed with some classic Fighting Spirit~ power moves and Ueno achieved one of the more notable wins of his career, pinning ostensible future (current?) NOAH ace Kiyomiya. Just four wrestlers being great. (****¼)

[DDT] HARASHIMA vs. Yuji Hino – 6/20

Hino’s first singles main event since returning to DDT late last year showed why he’s so beloved in puro circles. He and HARASHIMA inverted the classic “chop down the big man” story, instead turning Hino into a surprising babyface outlasting HARASHIMA’s relentless limb targeting. Hino was my pick to win this year’s King of DDT tournament, and having made the semifinals at this time of publication, I’d say he’s more than earned a spot as the victor. (****¼)

[DRAGON GATE] Kzy vs. Kota Minoura – 6/3

DRAGON GATE’s G1-equivalent King of Gate tournament was simultaneously very good and disappointing this year; very good in the sense that everything we saw was entertaining and some of the best DG wrestling all year, but disappointing in that only about half the tournament made tape, including only one Minoura match. It made Minoura’s flawless run through his block (aided by positive COVID-19 tests from Ben-K and Naruki Doi) feel un-special. Luckily, the finals lived up to expectation, with presumptive favorite Kzy outlasting Minoura in a 20-minute battle after both had already wrestled earlier in the night. Minoura’s a superstar and his time is rapidly approaching, but it feels like Kzy may be destined to take the Dream Gate title away from Shun Skywalker very soon. (****)

[DRAGON GATE] SB KENTo, KAZMA SAKAMOTO, Diamante, & Dia Inferno vs. Kota Minoura, Jason Lee, Dragon Dia, & La Estrella – 6/5

This company always seems to come out hot after a big event, and their return to Kobe two days after the King of Gate Finals at Korakuen was evidence of that. This match was a classic DG main event, taking the top heel stable and the top babyface stable and just letting them go all out for 20 minutes in front of a fully invested Kobe crowd. The best aspects of the match were Diamante and Estrella displaying Japanese lucha libre that you’ll only see from DG and Dragon Dia & Dia Inferno resuming their hot feud from before the former’s injury. (****)

[GAEAISM] Chihiro Hashimoto, DASH Chisako & Mika Iwata vs. Mei Hoshizuki, Mio Momono & Rin Kadokura – 6/13

The one-off GAEAISM show was a celebration of, of course, the revered but also occasionally overlooked GAEA Japan joshi promotion. It was essentially a co-produced show between Marvelous and Sendai Girls, two indies with limited distribution but solid talent and connections (current NXT UK champion Meiko Satomura is the face of Sendai Girls, whereas Marvelous talent frequently appears for Stardom).

This main event, which was essentially for all the titles between the two companies, was truly incredible stuff. It was an elimination tag featuring the current anchors of each promotion, each of whom have upward mobility and will continue to get better with time. But the real highlight was the unbelievable closing stretch between Hashimoto and Momono, featuring a headbutt stretch as absurd and ridiculous as any you’ll ever see. I truly wish these two promotions had a wider distribution platform because the talent levels in this match were ridiculous. (****½)

[GCW] Effy vs. G-Raver – 6/5

GCW’s Tournament of Survival 666 was one of the best deathmatch tournaments in American history, and it kicked off hot with this awesome matchup between Effy and G-Raver. Raver’s a deathmatch mainstay in America at this point, but it’s not really Effy’s style, leading to a nice story hook of trying to overcome the odds. There was tons of brutal stuff here, from a meteora through chairs to a million thumbtacks being stuck after a bump through a door. Also, this match involved salt and vinegar chips. You ever got a paper cut and tried to eat those? Yeah. (****)

[GCW] Alex Colon vs. Atticus Cogar – 6/5

Colon vs. Cogar has rapidly become perhaps the hottest deathmatch feud on the American indies. They had an overlooked but incredible matchup on the first day of the year and anticipation built for their eventual rematch. There was no guarantee this match would happen – this was the finals of an eight-man tournament – but it’s undoubtedly the best match they could’ve put on. Colon’s the resident king of American deathmatches, but Cogar had quietly built up wins over big names like Masada and G-Raver. The match was insane; I’d liken it to something like Kenny Omega (Colon) vs. Rey Fenix (Cogar), but in deathmatch form. I really wanted to see Cogar win here so we’d be guaranteed to get a rubber match, but what we got (that air raid crash through glass to the floor!) was spectacular. (****¼)

[ICE RIBBON] Orca Uto & Risa Sera vs. Jun Kasai & Rina Yamashita – 6/13

Hard for a Japanese intergender deathmatch tag to get much more reliable than the husband and wife team of Uto and Sera facing off the resident king and queen of deathmatch wrestling for their respective genders in Kasai and Yamashita. While these tournament finals were engaging on their own, they served as a tantalizing teaser for the Sera vs. Yamashita title match later on in the month. (****)

[ICE RIBBON] FantastICE Championship: Risa Sera (c) vs. Rina Yamashita – 6/26

These two faced off at Ice Ribbon’s big Yokohama show last year and tore the house down with one of the most spectacular deathmatches you’ll see. Yamashita bled buckets, we got leaps off a high ladder, and we even got an appearance from Manami Toyota driving a motorcycle. Their sequel this year was just as good. It didn’t have anywhere near as much pageantry as last year’s, but this was probably a better match overall, with approximately one million light tubes being broken throughout. Yamashita’s big title victory sets up a match between her and Suzu Suzuki, which should be just as great. (****)

[IMPACT] X-Division Championship: Josh Alexander (c) vs. TJP – 6/3

This was one of the best Impact matches in years. I was pretty skeptical at first that they’d be able to make a 60-minute Iron Man match work, especially in an empty arena setting, but it’s a testament to the intelligence and creativity of these men that they hit the mark. Very little of the match was boring (although the first 20 minutes or so felt “skippable”) and it escalated really nicely towards the finish. I loved the touch of having the rest of the locker room come out to witness this feat in person, and while they were selling exhaustion, I felt like they could’ve gone a half hour longer by the finish. Alexander in particular has upped his game in 2021 and is the presumptive favorite to dethrone Kenny Omega in Impact. (****¼)

[NOAH] Cage Match Lucha de Apuesta: Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Masa Kitamiya – 6/26

While many decisions that NOAH makes continue to puzzle me, the talent of the wrestlers always shines. This wasn’t necessarily the blow-away encounter you might expect from a blood feud involving Nakajima and Kitamiya, but it was still a very strong cage match designed to continue the latter’s ascent up the NOAH pecking order. It’s difficult to surpass Kitamiya’s leglock headbutt combination in terms of melodrama, but he somehow did so here with a completely absurd senton attempt from the top of the cage that resulted in him bouncing three feet off the canvas post-impact. Despite the cage match and hair vs. hair setting, this feud feels far from over. (****)

[SEAdLINNNG] ASUKA (Veny), Makoto., Hanako Nakamori, Ayame Sasamura, & Riko Kaiju vs. Nanae Takahashi, Arisa Nakajima, Yumiko Hotta, Honori Hana, & Riko Kawahata – 6/16

Only Stardom can contend with SEAdLINNNG for the joshi company that most reliably puts on a great main event. This unique Captain’s Fall elimination tag was classic babyface vs. heel stuff, with Beyond the SEA champ ASUKA coming across as a monster. On the opposing team, Takahashi was a perfect babyface, so completely beloved by the SEAdLINNNG crowd that everything she did had them eating out of her hand. We had legends of the past (Hotta) and present (Nakajima) wrestling alongside young SEAd talent in one of the most purely enjoyable joshi experiences of 2021. (****¼)

[SEAdLINNNG] Nanae Takahashi vs. Ryo Mizunami – 6/17

From babyface vs. heel sports entertainment style the night before to pure puro booking the following night, this #1 contender’s match delivered the goods. Mizunami got that great moment to shine in AEW and hasn’t really been used since, so it was great to see her in an important match here. If you’ve watched these two, you know what to expect: a million lariats, suplexes, and backdrop drivers, plus some absurdly effective charismatic performances from each. ASUKA vs. Mizunami should be fantastic. (****)

[SENDAI GIRLS] Sendai Girls Tag Team Championships: Chihiro Hashimoto & Yuu (c) vs. Mio Momono & Rin Kadokura – 6/27

This was a lovely little coda to the massive GAEAISM main event two weeks prior. The champion Team 200kg were fantastic bases for Momono and Kadokura’s manic energy. While Yuu and Kadokura did their part effectively (they both wrestle in quite a similar way to their respective partners), this was once again all about the interactions between Hashimoto and Momono, leading to a thrilling title change at the match’s conclusion. (****)

[TJPW] Princess of Princess Championship: Miyu Yamashita (c) vs. Sakisama – 6/26

Sakisama is one of the most interesting characters in TJPW, and while I don’t love Neo Bishiiki-Gun as tag champs, I can’t deny the completely unique aura she brought to this title match. She was built up as this monster heel; not in the sense that she hits particularly hard, but in her supernatural ability to shrug off punishment and come back fighting. It’s a great inversion of her babyface persona in sister promotion DDT. Of course, the match wouldn’t work if Yamashita wasn’t the best striker in joshi, and the stiff slap and kick sequence towards the end of this match was one of the more engaging TJPW moments of the year. (****)

[WAVE] Miyuki Takase vs. Mio Momono – 6/1

I haven’t loved this year’s Catch the WAVE tournament overall, but when you get the two best wrestlers in the tournament in the same block, you’ve set it up for success. This awesome one-of-a-kind interpromotional battle between the ace of Actwres girl’Z (Takase) and the current flavor of the month in joshi (Momono) was perfectly worked, perfectly paced, and exactly what you want out of a big-time singles match like this in a round robin tournament. (****)

[WARRIOR WRESTLING] Laredo Kid, Aramis, Arez, & Dragon Bane vs. Black Taurus, El Hijo de Canis Lupus, Gringo Loco, & Golden Dragon – 6/5

A rare live report from me here, as I saw the best live match of my life this past month at Warrior Wrestling in Chicagoland. This Lucha War of Attrition for the new Warrior Lucha Championship featured the very best independent luchadors out there. It was an even better sequel to the awesome WrestleMania weekend spotfest at GCW Spring Break, all ridiculous and spectacular dives for a half hour. Was it perfect? Absolutely not, there were plenty of botched moments and the live crowd was tired. But I had the time of my life, and I enjoyed watching this match as much as any other in 2021. (****½)

Honorable Mentions

YAMATO vs. Kota Minoura was the biggest win of Minoura’s career . . . Shun Skywalker & Masaaki Mochizuki vs. Kzy & King Shimizu continued to establish Shimizu in Natural Vibes . . . Alex Colon vs. Nolan Edward showcased Edward as someone to look out for in deathmatches . . . Kenoh, Katsuhiko Nakajima, Manabu Soya, Haoh, Nioh, & Tadasuke vs. Sanshiro Takagi, Akito, Kazusada Higuchi, Yukio Sakaguchi, Naomi Yoshimura, & Yukio Naya was a ridiculous and hilarious and surprisingly heartfelt interpromotional battle . . . Miyu Yamashita (c) vs. Yuka Sakazaki was a worthy CyberFight title match for TJPW . . . Jun Akiyama (c) vs. HARASHIMA was *also* a worthy CyberFight title match, but for DDT . . . Keiji Mutoh (c) vs. Naomichi Marufuji ended Mutoh’s polarizing reign with him busting out the moonsault for likely the final time ever.

Chris Brookes vs. Tetsuya Endo was the best match of the first night of King of DDT . . . Shinichiro Tominaga & ASUKA (Veny) vs. Kouki Iwasaki & Itsuki Aoki was the best match of the first night of Ganbare Pro’s intergender tag tournament . . . Genki Horiguchi, KING Shimizu, Kzy & Susumu Yokosuka vs. Dragon Kid, Kagetora, Keisuke Okuda & YAMATO allowed Horiguchi some major fun in his homecoming . . . Kenny Omega (c) vs. Moose was yet another very good Omega title match . . . Takashi Sasaki vs. Maya Yukihi allowed Yukihi to show what she can do in a deathmatch . . . Katsuhiko Nakajima & Tadasuke vs. Masa Kitamiya & Kinya Okada was perfect hype for the upcoming Nakajima vs. Kitamiya war.

Sakura Hirota vs. Miyuki Takase showed why Hirota’s not just a comedy character . . . Willow Nightingale vs. Masha Slamovich affirmed that American indie women’s wrestling is still going strong . . . Tetsuya Endo vs. Kazusada Higuchi was a huge win for the big man in King of DDT . . . Konosuke Takeshita vs. MAO was a nice sequel to their wonderful D-Oh match from last year . . . Violento Jack vs. Drew Parker sent Parker to the finals of Ikkitousen over one of the tournament favorites . . . Minoru Suzuki & Meiko Satomura vs. Jinsei Shinzaki & Nanae Takahashi was a lovely sendoff for Satomura . . . Kosuke Sato, Ryota Hama and Yasufumi Nakanoue vs. Shigehiro Irie, Yuji Okabayashi and Yuya Aoki was classic BJW Strong division goodness.

Wrestler of the Year through June:

1. Shingo Takagi
2. Will Ospreay
3. Giulia
4. Kota Ibushi
5. Syuri
6. Kento Miyahara
7. Kenny Omega
8. Konosuke Takeshita
9. ASUKA (Veny)
10. Tsukasa Fujimoto
11. Utami Hayashishita
12. Yuki Ueno
13. Yuma Aoyagi
14. Suwama
15. Shunma Katsumata
16. Kazusada Higuchi
17. Tam Nakano
18. Jon Moxley
19. Matt Jackson
20. Hiroshi Tanahashi

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