Hawke’s Top 20 Matches from March 2017
Notable Omissions: Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii, AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton, Katsuyori Shibata vs. Zack Sabre Jr., Katsuyori Shibata vs. Minoru Suzuki, Katsuyori Shibata vs. Bad Luck Fale, Bayley vs. Charlotte, Kyle O’Reilly vs. Zack Sabre Jr., Low Ki vs. Sami Callihan, Daisuke Sekimoto vs. Hideki Suzuki, Mike Bailey vs. ACH, Lio Rush vs. Marty Scurll, Matt Riddle vs. Timothy Thatcher,
Just Missed the Cut: The Hardy Boys vs. The Briscoes, Koji Kanemoto vs. Timothy Thatcher, Christopher Daniels vs. Adam Cole, Marty Scurll vs. Sonjay Dutt, Eddie Edwards vs. Atsushi Kotoge, Shigehiro Irie vs. Mike Bailey, Donovan Dijak vs. Jeff Cobb, Jon Cruz vs. Parrow, Jon Davis vs. Parrow, Kota Ibushi, Daisuke Sekimoto, & Jun Akiyama vs. Keiji Mutoh, Isami Kodoka, & Sanshiro Takagi
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20. Zack Sabre Jr. vs. ACH – Evolve – 3/31/2017
This was for Zack’s Evolve Championship.
This match really overachieved by aiming lower (yes, that makes perfect sense). Instead of forcing an epic battle for the AGES or some shit, they just worked a really simple contest that put a premium on logical decision making and competitive action.
Zack started targeting the left arm. ACH fought back. No man was able to dominate the other for longer than a few sequences or really maintain a significant advantage. Eventually, ACH got caught in a triangle in the middle of the ring, and then Zack tied up all of his limbs in knots until ACH was forced to submit. Good stuff.
The post-ROH run for ACH has not been particularly good, but this was hopefully a turning point for him. Zack continues to be much more consistent in 2017 than 2016. These are all positive things. (***1/2)
19. Lio Rush & Jay White vs. The Young Bucks – ROH – 3/4/2017
This was for the Bucks’ ROH World Tag Team Championship.
The Bucks have been doing a really good job over the recent years in ROH with their TV matches. They basically structure their TV matches so that the heat is lost entirely to commercial which makes all of their work seem like fun sprints. That was basically what happened here except there were no commercials because it was a house show. It was just a wild 12-minute sprint. The pace was absurdly fast given the level of difficulty with some of the sequences they pulled off. They probably could have stood to shave off a couple of minutes, but it was a really fun defense overall. Check it out. (***1/2)
18. Dragon Lee vs. Will Ospreay – ROH – 3/4/2017
This was a fun flippy battle. It didn’t reach the heights of Dragon Lee’s battles with Kamaitachi due to the lack of death happening on screen. It was however a few levels above Ospreay’s overly choreographed contests with Ricochet. ROH embracing CMLL talents is a win for everyone involved. They need to make their presence a regular thing. (***1/2)
17. Matt Riddle vs. Matt Tremont – Beyond Wrestling – 3/19/2017
Watch this match here.
This was a barbed wire death match.
This was one of those matches that greatly benefited from the sheer absurdity of its mere existence. Matt Riddle has future Wrestlemania main-eventer written all over him, and here he was working a death match with Matt Tremont.
Riddle braided up his luscious locks and decided to pretty much go all the way with this one. It did not turn into a blood bath or anything like that mind you. Riddle managed to take though the barbed wire bat to the forehead spot, a DVD through a barbed wire board, and several bumps into thumbtacks. Watching non-death match guys delve into death matches almost always works on that “What am I watching!” level, and this was not the exception.
Beyond that, the match succeeded just based on the execution. It was paced very well, and they spaced the big spots out in a manner that allowed them all time to breath. This was exactly how a special attraction midcard match show be done. GOOD stuff. Riddle won after a super fisherman buster through a barbed wire board. (***1/2)
16. American Alpha vs. The Usos – WWE – 3/21/2017
This was for Alpha’s Smackdown Tag Team Championship.
This was a really fun sprint. The SD tag division getting cooled off in the build to Wrestlemania made this a hard-sell for the live crowd. The wrestlers won them over with smart and hard though and ended up delivering a very fun and satisfying contest. All the components of good tag wrestling were on display here, and the sprint-y nature of the match was well-suited to get the crowd revved up. Good stuff! The Usos won cleanly (basically). (***1/2)
15. Matt Riddle vs. Donovan DIjak – wXw – 3/10/2017
This was a first round match in the 2017 16 Carat Tournament.
As you would expect, this was such a fun contest. Both guys went in there and packed in plenty of fun action in a very compact package. These two are just so charismatic and work so hard that they basically get over as huge stars wherever they go. They are the future of professional wrestling if professional wrestling has any fucking idea what it’s doing. LOVELY STUFF. Riddle won via Bro-Mission. (***1/2)
14. Matt Riddle vs. WALTER – wXw – 3/12/2017
This was a semifinal match in the 2017 16 Carat Gold tournament.
This was a real fun battle. Big Daddy Walter really plays the role of a big very well. He moves well for his size, and he very believably dominates his smaller opponents. Riddle admirably fought against him here, but he took him head-on too much of the time. He’s used to being able to simply out-fight the majority of his opponents because of his advanced skill. That didn’t work here, and Walter put him away with a folding powerbomb. GOOD WRESTLING. (***1/2)
13. The Young Bucks vs. The Hardy Boyz – ROH – 3/4/2017
This was for the Bucks’ ROH World Tag Team Championship.
This was genuinely one of the savviest ROH booking decisions in quite some time. Turning the Hardys/Bucks feud into a surprise one-month angle is one of those things that wrestling needs more of in general.
The WWE has established wrestling to be this never-series soap opera with no real beginnings and ends. Every other wrestling company should aim to get away from that.
The Hardys popped up a month early here and had an impromptu tag title match. Both teams ran around for a bit and provided some fun action. The match was larger than anything physically done in the ring. The surprise match and sudden exit from TNA for the Hardys elevated this one all on its own.
The Hardys winning was totally the right call, as it meant the company was actually capitalizing on an act that people enjoy. You go, ROH. You did something right here. Next step: capitalize on great talent that YOU produce. (***1/2)
12. The Young Bucks vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. Roppongi Vice – ROH – 3/10/2017
This was a street fight for the Hardys’ ROH World Tag Team Championship.
This was yet another fun tornado sprint from the Bucks in ROH. All the components of the match worked out quite well. The Bucks and Hardys continued their mini-feud. RV acted as intriguing wild cards in the match. They utilized the plunder well. Trent? did stupidity for my entertainment. They structured the match so that the stupidity got increasingly more and more stupid. This was good pro wrestling. Hardys retained after Jeff hit Trent? with a ladder assisted Swanton. (***1/2)
11. Brock Lesnar vs. Kevin Owens – WWE – 3/12/2017
Oh yes. Oh yes, this was beautiful. Owens jumped Brock and started punching the hell out of him as the latter attempted to take off his shirt. From there, Owens went for the quick kill with a senton atomico. Brock kicked out. Owens didn’t hesitate though. He immediately followed up by going for a moonsault.
Brock managed to German him off the top rope though. From there, you knew Brock was going to win. They did manage to throw in one last great moment to make this even more satisfying.
Brock was doing the parade of Germans. Owens was able to grab on to the ropes at one point though. Brock swiftly transitioned to a sleeper which forced Owens to let go of the ropes. Brock then promptly hit the final German before finishing him with an F-5. Beautiful. (***3/4)
10. WALTER vs. David Starr – wXw – 3/10/2017
This was a first round match in the 2017 16 Carat Gold Tournament.
These two really went for the jugular here. Walter played the roughest hoss possible. Starr played the most fiery babyface possible. They worked as hard as they could and delivered an electric match. There were definitely some moments where you would have hoped that they would slow down *just* a tad, but this was a wild match and a phenomenal end to night one of the 2017 carat. Walter won via sleeper. (****)
9. Darby Allin vs. Ethan Page – Evolve – 3/31/2017
This was an anything goes match.
The in-ring success of Ethan Page and Darby Allin is one of the great stories going on right now in wrestling. (Not the actual storyline mind you.) These are two guys who clearly try so hard to be good every time out there, and they totally earned this chance to main event one of the biggest Evolve shows of the year (especially after their fantastic battle in February).
Darby Allin has done all the wrong things to get attention and to make a name for himself in the past twelve months. He has taken the stupidest bumps on the smallest of shows. He came across like a desperate idiot who had no idea what he was doing. Those (like me) were the fools though. It worked, and Darby is now very much one of the most over acts in Evolve.
Ethan Page has been one of the most frustrating wrestlers on the indies for a good few years now. This dude clearly cares so much. This dude clearly tries so hard. He’s just SOOOOO bad so often in singles matches. He also has often been put in a position to fail by being treated completely seriously as a singles main eventer. Every wrestler has a role in a company. Page is never going to be The Guy for your company.
That leads us to this feud and their blowoff here. This feud has been a classic case of emphasizing wrestlers’ strengths and then putting them in a position to succeed. Darby Allin has been allowed to rely on taking massive beatings and then doing a handful of stunts per match. Ethan Page has really found his niche in Evolve as the midcard plunder wrestler who takes himself too seriously.
Their feud concluded here in absolutely tremendous fashion. It was one of the few times in recent indie wrestling history that felt like a series of matches between two guys really organically progressed to the point that an epic presentation of a match felt totally earned. These guys busted out everything they had in their arsenal for this one, and it came off so well. Kudos to both guys and Evolve for overcoming the odds by producing one of the most compelling and unique main events all year. Darby finished the match and the feud with a death-defying splash off a giant ladder that put Page through a table. (****)
8. Io Shirai vs. Kairi Hojo – Stardom – 3/20/2017
This was for Io’s World of Stardom Championship.
With both women likely heading to New York in the not-so distant future, Stardom wisely had them go at it one final time. Fittingly, they worked the battle like it was a clash of the titans who were throwing everything at each other.
Io is the better performer of the two, and she worked like it for the majority of the match. Hojo was right there though and made Io earn every inch. Hojo kept clawing and digging for everything that she got that you could not help but believe she might win. The momentum was arguably on her side down the stretch, and the drama down the stretch was great as a result.
This was a really fun title match between two top stars. Long-term fans probably will also find lots of small touches that elevate it more for them. Everyone should watch it though. Io won cleanly via moonsault. (****)
7. Paul London vs. Bad Bones – wXw – 3/10/2017
This was a first round match in the 2017 16 Carat Tournament.
This was so good. They wisely stuck to the big vs. small story and executed it very well. London really shined here as the veteran junior who knew how to give himself a fighting chance against the much stronger and bigger opponent. He showed great fire and took an even better beating. He believably almost won a few times (including a great back-to-back shooting star press sequence late in the match), and he made Bad Bones seem all the better for beating him as a result. This will probably be one of the true hidden gems of 2017. (****)
6. Keith Lee vs. Ricochet – Evolve – 3/30/2017
Watching Keith Lee for the past year has been a strange experience. In places like Beyond Wrestling, he was positioned as a tremendous professional wrestler who was already capable of greatness. In ROH, he was an undercard tag wrestler in a company that was in desperate need of genuine greatness.
While it was great that a place like Beyond gave Keith a fantastic platform to showcase his true potential, ROH misusing him for so long was clearly the bigger story. How could a company that was on the verge of bleeding talent and truly in need of a massive shakeup miss the ball on Keith so badly?
ROH’s failure has been Evolve’s gain though. (And as Evolve’s 2017 Wrestlemania weekend will prove/has proven, ROH’s failureS will be Evolve’s gainS.)
Keith Lee proved here that he is already one of the best wrestlers in the world, and that he has all the tools to become a major star. He has the charisma. He has the personality. He has the size. He has the ability to dominate a match in a truly compelling manner.
Here, he spent most of the match effortlessly destroying Ricochet. The issue for him though was his overconfidence. He didn’t have that killer instinct needed to just finish Ricochet then and there when he clearly had the chance.
That gave Ricochet an opening, and Ricochet took full advantage of it. He needed every move in his arsenal, but it was enough. A 630 finally kept Keith Lee down to give Ricochet the win.
While it was beyond questionable to give Ricochet a win over Keith Lee given the context of their careers in Evolve, there was no doubt they told an amazing story here and put on a legitimately great match. (****)
5. L.A. Park vs. Rush – Baracal Entertainment – 3/11/2017
As you would expect, this was a crazy brawl with blood, guts, and violence everywhere. It was absolutely glorious most of the time.
Beyond the great violence and destruction in there, this match also featured a great contrast in characters. Rush is this incredible rudo who makes himself seem extra hateable with everything that he does. Park is this fat brawler who still manages to bust out beautiful tope suicidas and planchas. When you combine that dynamic with the violence they perform on one another, it’s basically a can’t miss situation.
The only real issue with the match was that they seemed to run out of steam bit in the final minutes. That lull coinciding with a ton of overbooking and a convoluted finish ended things on a less-than-satisfying note. Those issues were nowhere near enough though to not call this one great. It will almost definitely be one of the most memorable spectacles of the year and something non-lucha fans should seek out. Park won after the referee reversed his original decision. (****1/4)
4. Donovan Dijak vs. Keith Lee – Evolve – 3/31/2017
This was a fucking statement match if there ever was one. After this match, pro wrestling will have no choice but to feast their eyes and bask in the glory of Donovan Dijak and Keith Lee. These are two of the best going today, and they give the fans their best effort almost every single time out.
In this one, they delivered yet another great heavyweight battle in what will hopefully be their never-ending series. They threw bomb after bomb at each other, and the match progressively got more and more exciting. They managed to suck in a quiet crowd as well and whipped them into a frenzy. Just fantastic professional wrestling in every way. Only the most incompetent people in business could manage to make these two seem like meaningless undercard geeks. (****1/4)
3. WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov – wXw – 3/12/2017
This was the finals of the 2017 16 Carat Gold Tournament.
While this match told the story of Ilja surviving a massive beating, overcoming the odds, and slaying the giant in epic fashion to win the 16 Carat, the big take-home message of this match was that Walter REALLY needs to be exposed to more and more audiences. This is a big fucking boy who really can fucking go.
The way he dominated Ilja was truly impressive. It was not just the mauling that you would expect. He managed to combine several different elements of a great beatdown. He was always a step ahead of Ilja. He was moving with a pace of a much smaller man. He treated every moment like it was crucial to his success. It was beautiful.
It was the kind of performance that makes you immediately question how badly the rest of the wrestling business is fucking up if they are not actively seeking him out. This is the kind of guy who clearly needs just the right break to truly unleash whatever his full potential is as a performer.
Could he be a major gaijin star in Japan? Could he be the ROH World Champion? Could he a PPV main-eventer in WWE? I have no fucking idea, but I would really like to find out. Ilja managed to win after hitting the dreaded leaping headbutt again. (****1/4)
2. Drew Galloway vs. Zema Ion – AAW – 3/17/2017
Watch this match here.
This will likely be one of the very best AAW matches of the year. Both guys, who are almost definitely peaking as performers right now, went all out to deliver the best match possible.
Zema set the pace and tone from the start by jumping Galloway and throwing big spots right at him. He knew the much larger and stronger Galloway had a clear advantage so he could not waste any time. It was just exciting AND smart wrestling (see, it can be done!).
Galloway was clearly not going to go down just like that. He came storming back and was just mauling Zema. It started with these two incredible belly-to-belly throws that seemed to legitimately send Zema from one end of the ring to the other. That sequence was an amazing exclamation point to signal the change in control. Fantastic stuff.
From there, the match played out largely how you would expect. Galloway used his size and strength advantage. Zema would occasionally make fiery comebacks where he would just throw whatever he had left at Galloway. The predictability of the story did not detract from what they did though in any way.
Beyond a somewhat “off” final minute or two, this was damn near everything you could have wanted from this one. Go out of your way to see it. Galloway won with the giant swinging Future Shock. (****1/4)
1. Bobby Fish vs. Jay Lethal – ROH – 3/10/2017
Absurd. That is the only word that comes to mind when thinking about how good this match ended up being.
Bobby Fish is one of those talented dudes who just clearly works a lot of the time like he doesn’t care at all. That becomes even more clear when you see performances like this one.
His work on top here was focused, smart, subtle, and relentless. He came across here as basically the perfect midcard wrestler. He seemed like the “automatic” wrestler that should always be good for a quality match on each show.
He started out early on with a BRUTAL sole kick to the abdomen of Lethal. My gawd, was it ever fucking brutal. You knew within a minute or two, just from that moment, that this was not going to be your typical match.
The next great moment came when Lethal went for his tope suicida. It was a standard comeback spot that was timed generally when a lot of people do it. What was special about? Fish basically avoided the dive and forced Lethal to crash in the guardrail…abdomen first. All of a sudden, Lethal has taken two huge shots to one portion of his body.
From there, Bobby had firm control. He also had a clear weakness to attack. They did a great job of keeping it competitive though so it was never too one-sided or repetitive. This led to Lethal finally connecting on the tope suicida he missed the first time.
Fish didn’t back down though in the slightest. Instead, he invited the challenge and just fired back with a blistering series of strikes and whatnot. He knew he was better rested so inviting Lethal to attempt a few shots actually was the SMART thing to do. He won that battle easily.
He made a mistake though. He lost sight of what he had accomplished in the match and overplayed his hand. He over committed to the ankle lock for no reason, and Lethal exploited that by hitting an Ace Crusher out of nowhere.
Bobby didn’t recognize his mistake and later went for the ankle lock again. Perhaps in a match where he was able to focus on the leg, that decision would have gotten him the win. Lethal was able to get to the ropes here.
Now, the race was on. Fish decided to double down on the leg work. Lethal was now just throwing bombs with the tiny opening that he had. Lethal crossed the finish line first when he was able to connect on the Lethal Injection.
What in the fucking world happened here. This match was like living and breathing proof that wrestlers are so lazy most of the time, as it didn’t take any extra PHYSICAL effort to make this match great. It was just mental effort. A little bit of thought mixed in with a typical midcard physical effort gave us a great fucking match. FUCK. (****1/2)