wrestling / Columns

Hamilton’s Holiday Pick & Mix: Shiozaki vs. Sugiura, Makabe vs. Ku, Munny vs. Evans, More

December 25, 2020 | Posted by Ian Hamilton

As we’re getting into a rather different holiday season, I thought it’d be nice to take a look at some matches that perhaps flew under the radar this year.

GHC Heavyweight Championship: Takashi Sugiura vs. Go Shiozaki (c) – NOAH The BEST – Final Chronicle 2020 – December 06, 2020
I’m not going to go blow-by-blow for this one, as it’s a long bugger. Over fifty minutes long, in fact. But don’t let that put you off.

When it comes to the Japanese scene, I tend to “background watch” a lot of shows, largely because anyone who’s tried to keep up with every promotion who has a streaming service gets overwhelmed pretty quickly. The number of times there’s been (say) New Japan and DDT live shows overlapping would surprise you – and that’s before you figure in the likes of NOAH and All Japan’s live feeds.

Go Shiozaki is pretty much a Pro Wrestling NOAH lifer. Save for a brief run in All Japan between 2013 and 2015, he’s wrestled there for pretty much his entire career, and has picked up a slew of titles. He’s been the Global Honored Crowd heavyweight champion for pretty much all of 2020, beating Kaito Kitamiya for it on January 4, when most of the western world’s attention on the Japanese scene was diverted to the Tokyo Dome, rather than Korakuen Hall.

Shiozaki’s title run has been characterised by some lengthy matches – with his quickest title defence barely going under the 30 minute mark, and the majority of them going close to the hour mark, but don’t let that put you off this one. Going in, I saw comparisons to the WALTER vs. Ilja Dragunov match from NXT UK TV earlier this year… and my God, I think this one surpassed that. While we didn’t have the visual of Shiozaki nor Sugiura laid out, coughing up blood afterwards, the sheer violence at times made this a match that made me gasp. Short of taping toy gun blanks to their hands, I cannot for the life of me get how those guys chopped so consistently loud.

While the magic formula for the “clap crowd” shows was undoubtedly short, hard-hitting matches, this one bucked the trend, but didn’t feel egregious either. Those with a longer-term following of NOAH have gone the full 5 on this, but for someone dropping by, ****¾ absolutely is nothing to be sniffed at.

Daisuke Ikeda vs. Yuki Ishikawa – wXw Ambition 12 – March 07, 2020
Nestled away in the middle of 16 Carat Gold weekend, among the higher-profile matches (most of which made Larry’s top matches of the month) – was this corker of a match that could rather be reductively described as “watching two grandads fighting.”

Two familiar foes, having first fought back in 1994 in Michinoku Pro, before going through Battlarts, this was presented as the “Superfight” for wXw’s latest edition of their Ambition shoot-style shows. Watching this live from the balcony at the Turbinenhalle, I went a solid **** on this – but could never shake the nagging feeling that I’d perhaps underrated it. Well, that’s what tape’s for…

Well, barely a minute in we get a taste of what’s to come as Ishikawa palm strikes Ikeda, before he was decked with an elbow – and that sets the tone for this one. Strikes from Ishikawa looked to be stopped as Ikeda grabs a leg, before he bit his way free of a response. That drew a humorous “no biting” from the referee, as if he was admonishing two kids, before the pair lit into each other with punches. Tassilo Jung was the ideal man to referee this match between two guys who large parts of the crowd may have been unfamiliar with, with his expressions broadcasting to the crowd “what they ought to be feeling” after some of those strikes.

Tass tries to be respectful, but gets progressively more annoyed with the two naughty children, but they resume with Ikeda kicking down Ishikawa as things headed to the mat, with Ishikawa grounding him with a chancery that ended in the ropes. The second they get the OK to resume? Ikeda just punts Ishikawa in the face. If you couldn’t tell by now, it was that kind of match that more than ticked the “shoot style” boxes.

The rule bending continued with eye gouging and mandible claws, before they just went back to kicking each other to pieces. Christ, Ikeda! The fighting spirit and resilience keeps the crowd on-side as the pair just went in for haymakers and headbutts, to the point where almost an uncomfortable laughter broke out. That laughter’s replaced with appreciative applause as they began to go balls to the wall, with Ishikawa’s head kick leaving Ikeda laying as both men looked understandably spent.

A running headbutt from Ikeda gets shocked groans, then roars as both men got up, but in the end it was a head kick then a follow-up knock that proved to be too much for Ishikawa. Perhaps uncomfortable to watch at times, but a fantastic throwback to the Battlarts style – and a match that I can vouch was one that Timothy Thatcher was going out of his mind for.

Now for some matches that probably flew under your radars…

3-2-1 BATTLE! G0 Tournament 2019 Final: Daniel Makabe vs. Judas Icarus – 3-2-1 BATTLE! Hindsight:2020 – January 10, 2020
Winner gets a shot at the Solid Steel (solid steel!) title… Icky dives into Makabe at the bell with a flying knee, then squished him with a back senton as he looked to shut down the main event in quick time. A PK follows too, but it’s not enough as Icarus continued his breathless start by landing a gamengiri before he kicked out Makabe’s knee… only to get pulled down into a triangle choke.

Icarus brutally headbutts his way free and chops Makabe by the ropes, before he cartwheeled his way in for a nice hiptoss. Makabe replies by kicking out Icarus’ knees, but a choke’s countered as Icarus rolled back to try and pin Makabe in the hold, before he went back to the strikes with almost a springboard Torpedo Moscau… which is caught and turned into a choke.

They’re right by the ropes, so they’re back up as Makabe stomps in Icarus’ bare feet, but that doesn’t hinder the Judas in the ring as he was able to sidestep a corner dropkick from Makabe, then springboard in… only to get pulled inbetween the ropes and kicked in the back of the head. We finally have something resembling a breather as Makabe began to ground Judas with a chinbar, but they’re in the ropes as Judas got free. A snapmare lets Makabe ground Icarus with an inverted cravat in the middle of the ring, a la Kassius Ohno for the few people who watch NXT UK, before Makabe blocks a back body drop and hits a butterfly backbreaker instead. A butterfly suplex is next, with Makabe floating over into a two-count before he went to the armbar, instead opting to use Judas’ arm to choke himself with.

Icarus fought free and threw some uppercuts, but gets caught in the ropes as Makabe pulls a WALTER by choking on Icarus across the middle turnbuckle with his boots. A STF follows, with Makabe clinging on before Icarus got to the rope, dragging himself outside for respite. Respite that was short-lived it seemed, but he’s able to sweep the leg to trip Makabe knee-first onto the ring before he windmilled at him with right hands. Makabe counters a suplex by dragging Icarus into a front facelock, before some knees were caught as Icarus swung some more on the way to a Fisherman suplex. Another uppercut from Icarus drops Makabe, who pops up and is met with a pair of springboard uppercuts that almost ended the match. A small package gets Icarus close, as does a twisting suplex as it seemed that kicking at Makabe’s knee was like dishing out a dose of kryptonite… On the mat, Icarus pins an arm behind Makabe’s back with a hammerlock, but the short-range clothesline is ducked as Makabe smashes back in with a baseball punch and a bridging German suplex for a near-fall, before a Makabe lock was broken… so he could turn Icarus into a Tim Thatcher-esque seatbelt cradle for a near-fall. Now THAT’S learning from your rivals!

Icarus keeps throwing shots though, so Makabe goes for the leg and hits a leg-trapped German suplex before floating into another Makabe lock… trapping Icarus in the middle of the ring, nowhere near the ropes before the pair somehow rolled their way into the bottom strand. That looked like it did more damage to Icarus’ taped-up shoulder than first thought, but it’s a ruse as Icarus is back up to trap Makabe in the ropes… and if you’re watching along, you’ll know I popped for this: HE KICKED HIS LEG OUT OF HIS LEG!

Judas mixes up PKs and stomps to the knee as he tried to ground Makabe ahead of a springboard Torpedo Moscau. Makabe’s back up, but his baseball punch is kicked away as Icarus came agonisingly close from a butterfly driver… which forces Icarus into extreme measures as he headed to the top rope, only for Makabe to log roll to the outside and out of reach. A tope from Icarus follows, but he’s caught as Makabe took him into the entrance way for a tombstone… which hurt Makabe’s bad wheel just as much as it did Icarus’ head. It led to a count-out tease, but rather than take the count-out Makabe pulls Icarus back in in a show of sportsmanship…

Except Makabe instantly pulls Icarus into an Octopus stretch, which is broken up as Icarus powered up… but he throws some shots rather than Makabe, and almost got was made to pay before he finally hit an ushigoroshi for the nearest of near-falls. Icarus keeps going with a hammerlock clothesline, but he takes too long to follow up and can only get another two-count! Another hammerlock follows as Icarus tries to lift up Makabe for another clothesline, but there’s no power in it, and Makabe pulls him down in an armbar before a stomp to the ankle led to a GODDAMN SITTING CATTLE MUTILATION. The Makabe Lock π! Makabe lifts a foot to increase the pressure, and it works as Icarus taps out to end a fantastically frenetic final. My God.

Judas Icarus more than held his own here, setting the early pace and he damn well hung for the entire match – but in the end, perhaps going barefoot wasn’t the best for his game plan, nor was having a bad shoulder. I want to see more of this, and judging by the fact that fans threw money in the ring afterwards, I’d guess the 3-2-1 Battalion do too! ****

Makabe would get his Solid Steel title shot two weeks later – but 3-2-1 BATTLE! would seemingly go into mothballs in March, following a series of allegations against the promotion and some of it’s key figures…

Thomas Shire vs. Fred Yehi – St Louis Anarchy Spirit of Spaulding – August 07, 2020
Yehi’s coming off of an epic iron man match with Jeremy Wyatt about six weeks earlier – a match that I still need to get around to watching – and Shire’s one of those names that’s slowly bubbling up on the indies. The last time we saw him was in a loss to Daniel Makabe at the Strong Style Series in the before times…

Shire absolutely towers over Yehi, but they start with a lock-up as they end up trading places in the ropes. Yehi cheapshots Shire, who strikes back… but chops take the big back backwards before he dumped Yehi to the mat with a slam. A brief pause leads to a knuckle lock that saw Shire power Yehi down with, but Yehi manages to slip out as he took Shire to the mat and into a stretch, rolling Shire into a pinning attempt. Another waistlock sees Shire escape, but they’re right by the ropes… so Shire takes it back to the middle as he ends up eating some more chops. Yehi grounds him again, using a side headlock… before the resulting push-off led to Shire just bouncing the former EVOLVE tag champion to the mat with a shoulder tackle.

A drop toe hold keeps Yehi there, but he escapes out, having tied up Shire’s legs in a deathlock… which ends with Yehi kicking Shire away after a break had been called for. From the stand-up, Shire picks the leg and drills Yehi’s knee into the mat, before busting out some bodyscissors to keep things on the deck. Yehi tries to tweak the ankle to get free, so Shire rolls him down for a pinning attempt, only for Yehi to get free as it’s back to the chops. Shire decks Yehi with an European uppercut, before an uppercut to the back of the knee set up for another submission attempt, this time in the form of a Trailer Hitch. After a rope break, Yehi pulls himself up and begins to kick away at Shire, before a leg sweep led us to the Garvin-ish stomps. Some bodyscissors from Yehi give Shire something to fight out of, which he does as a spinning toe hold was quickly kicked out of by Yehi.

Shire returns to the strikes, blistering Yehi with an uppercut… but he’s quickly taken down as a low dropkick from Yehi made sure that no momentum was built. Uppercuts from Shire just turn into a German suplex from Yehi, who rolls Shire towards the ropes for some more stomps, sending him to the apron… giving Shire time to recover as he returned in with a low dropkick and some stomps of his own. Another slam bounces Yehi as Shire went up to the middle rope for a knee drop, before he trapped Yehi in the corner with more chops. Yehi returns the favour, before he launched himself off the ropes with sit-out stomps that sent Shire to the outside… and in the blink of an eye, the match turned on its head. Yehi teases grabbing a chair, but ends up taking things back inside for more chops, before some scrambling led to Shire uncorking some more European uppercuts.

An uppercut to the bank sends Yehi sailing outside, as another one connects off the apron, which led to a double count-out tease, but they make it back in… with Shire finding a second wind as he sprints into another uppercut, before a double underhook suplex threatened to build momentum. Yehi comes back with more stomps and a knee strike, following up with a Flatliner and a Koji Clutch that looked to force a submission. Shire’s height means he’s able to scoot towards the ropes for a break, but Yehi tries to stay on top of him. It doesn’t work as Shire’s back with a clothesline and a German suplex, before he responded to a small package by just blasting Yehi with a leaping knee. He follows Yehi into the corner for some shots as the two looked spent, but instead Yehi opted to restart things in the middle of the ring as we entered the final ten minutes of the time limit.

They tee off on each other with elbows, with Shire busting out a chokeslam… but he stalls and gets caught in a Koji clutch briefly as both men looked to finish things. A roll-up from Yehi comes to nought, as Shire comes back with a barrage of lariats… but Yehi wants more. That suckers hire in for a brief airplane spin, but another lariat is the result. More strikes keep the pair at close quarters, before a leg sweep and a short-range knee strike inched Yehi ahead, before a brainbuster almost ended things.

Yehi goes in with a choke on Shire, before he gets shoved off into the ropes… Shire rebounds with a sleeper suplex before a spin-out torture rack looked to get Shire the win… which came seconds later as he sat down on Yehi’s leg pick attempt to score the three-count. Shire closes out the first night of the Spirit of Spaulding with a big win – in a match that almost felt like it was entering “epic for the sake of an epic” territory. Regardless, this was a cracking match with a little bit of everything – strikes, submissions and brawling – which could well be a difference maker by the end of the tournament. Keep an eye on Shire, but this match just reinforced a long-held belief I’ve had: promotions across the land are increasingly missing out by turning a blind eye to Fred Yehi. ****

That match was part of what was meant to be the first of many nights from the Spirit of Spaulding tournament… but because of covid and cancellations, the entire tournament ended up being abandoned.

Wrestling Resurgence Championship: Charli Evans vs. Gene Munny (c) – Wrestling Resurgence Over The Top Rumble – March 7, 2020
Gene won the title in June 2019, having beaten Spike Trivet for Jack Sexsmith’s vacated belt – and has had two successful defences thus far, having beaten Chris Brookes and Rampage Brown.

The pair start off keeping it simple, with Munny taking down Charli with a side headlock… but she escapes and drops a knee to the arm, making an early point of targeting that limb. Munny counters back with a full nelson, but Charli slips out again and went for a Test of Strength… but she’s forced down, only to bridge up to avoid an early pinning attempt.

Evans is up and has luck with a shoulder tackle, before some kicks keep Munny down as she kept going back to that arm. Wrapping the arm around the ropes confirms that game plan further, as did an armbar on the mat. Going for the arm so much turned the crowd on Charli, as she took Gene into the corner for chops, before Gene came back from nowhere with a slingshot spear… which hurt Gene’s shoulder a little more.

Corner-to-corner clotheslines follow until a thrust kick and a capture suplex drew a solid two-count. Gene went too soon for Ainsley Lariat, but Charli blocked it before she got caught with a double legdrop. They head outside as Evans fought back, throwing forearms and chops that Gene responded to as he swatted down the Aussie with a double chop.

Breaking the count, Munny heads back outside to pop up Evans onto the apron for a forearm… but a second slingshot spear’s caught as Charli looked to go for an armbar, only for Munny to get out again for a Sick Kick. A Dragon screw from Evans bought her time, as did an Exploder suplex off the ropes, before running boot strapped Gene in the corner.

Evans heads to the middle rope for a crossbody that plants Gene for a near-fall – and all that arm-and-shoulder work was clearly causing Gene trouble. Munny digs deep for a spinebuster for a near-fall, before a punch KO’d Evans in the ropes… she’s back with forearms before shrugging off superkicks to drop Gene with a lariat. They both beat the standing ten count as they traded forearms and elbow strikes, before Evans evaded Gene and rolled him up into a knee strike for a near-fall. Straight from the kick-out, Munny’s caught in a Fujiwara armbar, but he’s able to drag himself to the bottom rope just in time. Still, Gene fought on using his good arm before a Vader Bomb out of the corner caught a running Evans.

A shotgun dropkick gets Gene a near-fall too, as Evans rolled outside for some respite. She turns it into a game of possum too, pulling Gene’s legs between the ropes as his foot got hooked, meaning he couldn’t defend himself from a series of stomps, before Evans surprised Gene with La Mistica into a Fujiwara armbar… which again ended in the ropes. From there, Charli keeps clubbing away on Gene, before she ran into a chokeslam/powerbomb… only for an Ainsley Lariat to get countered into a Fujiwara armbar for the flash submission! Add another belt to Charli’s collection – following a really good outing that saw Charli come in with a game plan that was executed to perfection. Gene nearly overcame it, but in the end too much damage had been done to that arm for too long. ***¾

Kevin Ku vs. Daniel Makabe – SUP Stay Cold – January 05, 2020
Makabe’s back in SUP after having to pull out of his prior appearance after injuring his ear the prior day at the SCI. That Chelsea shirt’s getting a LOT of use these days…

Ku tries to feint some kicks early, before Makabe pulled him in for a side headlock as they looked to grapple early on. Makabe goes from armbar, to headlock to takedown, but Ku’s quickly out as Makabe looked for a cravat instead. Makabe keeps the hold on despite Ku’s attempt to break free as they roll to the mat for a chinlock, only for Ku to get free and trip Makabe ahead of a tied-up curb stomp that Ku really had to work for, as Makabe struggled in EVERY step.

That curb stomp’s good for a near-fall as Makabe went into the corner for refuge, but he’s just met with a barrage of body blows and elbow as as Ku stayed right on him. Makabe does get free and lights up Ku with chops as they had a battle in the corner, leading to Makabe choking Ku across the middle turnbuckle a la WALTER, ending when Ku looked to use some headscissors to knock Makabe away as the Canadian took a nasty spill to the floor. Makabe rolls in to beat the count, but there’s hardly anything left in the tank as Ku took an easy cover for a near-fall, then went to work on that back. A modified abdominal stretch on the mat a la Razor Ramon adds to the pressure as Makabe then had to block a half crab, kicking Ku away before he came back with a chop.

The Big Unit baseball punch misses at the first two times of asking as Ku again goes for a half crab, but small joint manipulation from Makabe stops that. More strikes break out before Makabe was shoved into the ropes for a rebound German suplex, before he returned to go for a powerbomb… that Ku floated out of as the Big Unit punch landed… at the same time as a Ku forearm!

Fighting back from their knees, Ku and Makabe swing for the fences as Makabe took Ku down for a STF… a leg grapevine’s next as they end in the ropes. So Makabe’s back to chops in the corner, which Ku eventually ducks as he issues a receipt on the way to some European uppercuts in the same corner. Ku tries for a springboard out of the corner, but Makabe just dropkicks him out as a German suplex almost led to a win. A Makabe Lock’s next, but Ku rolls free of the Cattle Mutilation and replied with a Backdrop Hold that almost won him the match. We’re back to THUNDEROUS, GODDAMN CHOPS before a snap brainbuster and a gutwrench into a back cracker had Makabe rolling into and clinging the ropes. SMART.

Ku’s done his knees with that back cracker, and that’s a big bull’s eye for Makabe who faked out going for the knee and went for a Fujiwara armbar, then went back for a knee bar by the ropes. The only way out was for Ku to kick his way free, sending Makabe into the buckles before catching him with a small package for the win – before any more damage could be done to the knee…

Given how frequently we’re picking out Makabe’s matched for ad hoc reviews, it should be no surprise we’re huge fans of him here. He’s in a rich vein of form right now, and I’d dare say that among the best technical wrestlers on the scene today – especially those who are getting regular singles matches to display their stuff. Makabe sticks to that maxim that you “should make everything mean something” – be it struggling to defend a hold that others would simply let happen to them… or adjusting offence depending on what’s already happened in the match.

I’d be remiss to leave out Kevin Ku here – he’s improved massively since we first saw him in Dojo Pro (remember that?). While working singles here, his team with Dominic Garrini looks to have improved his confidence by leaps and bounds, and is another name from the US indies who you ought to keep an eye out on. Given how low profile his 2019 trip to Europe was (the highlight of which was being a late addition to wXw’s World Tag Team Festival), you’ve got to think a second tour, with a higher profile, is on the cards. Get on these hype trains – it’ll be picking up steam throughout 2020… ***¾

DDT Universal Championship: Chris Brookes vs. Konosuke Takeshita – DDT Into The Fight 2020 – February 23, 2020
Brookes has successfully gotten the Human Fly remix off of Lucky Kid, but his attempt to blindside Takeshita at the bell went bad as his missile dropkick was caught and turned into a powerbomb.

They end up outside early on as Chris got a Brookesing, before Takeshita took him up into the seating decks. Stomping on Chris’ hands does the trick, but Takeshita had his legs swept from under him as he ran… and after crashing to the floor, he’s pulled into an Octopus stretch. Takeshita gets free to pop Brookes into a stairway, before a running knee has Chris crawling back towards the ring… stopping only to swing a metal guardrail into Takeshita like a really shiny catflap.

On the ring apron, Brookes gets his own back for the stomping, before he draped Takeshita across some railings in the crowd and stomped him between some sections of seating. Finally they make it into the ring, where something resembling a regular match broke out, with Brookes working over Takeshita’s arm. Chops followed in the ropes, before Takeshita surprised Brookes with a Blue Thunder bomb for a near-fall.

A diving clothesline off the ropes, then a DDT keeps Takeshita in front, but a gamengiri out of the corner and a back senton off the top rope turned it around. At least for a moment, as he gets caught on the top rope with Takeshita looked for a superplex, only for Chris to slip free and shove him onto the apron as we passed the ten minute mark. Takeshita returned to the top rope, but had to fight out of an avalanche Praying Mantis Bomb attempt, slipping through so he could hit a German superplex instead. A springboard something or other’s countered into a cutter from Brookes, as a Shoop cutter quickly followed for a near-fall… before Takeshita countered out of a Praying Mantis Bomb in order to cut things off with a dropkick.

After waffling Brookes with a Shining Wizard, Takeshita keeps going as he looked to go for a Tiger driver… but switched it up into almost a package powerbomb for a near-fall. I’ve no idea what to call that! The pair go back and forth until Takeshita’s clothesline is no sold… the punch wasn’t, before Brookes countered a Last Ride into a sunset flip for a near-fall. The Praying Mantis Bomb’s next for another two-count, as another Octopus hold took Takeshita to the mat, only for it to be broken as Takeshita powered up and climbed the ropes, dumping Brookes with an Air Raid Crash onto the turnbuckles.

A springboard senton into Brookes is good for another near-fall, but rather than follow up on him, Takeshita lets Brookes get to his feet… and gets caught with a mounted key lock. That’s broken up and almost countered with a suplex until Brookes laid him out, and maintained wrist control, which worked against him. A ripcord German suplex attempt backfires for Takeshita who’s rolled up for a few near-falls, before a rebound German suplex and a knee strike set up Brookes for a Last Ride…

…except he gets free and shocks Takeshita with a figure four clutch, like Darby Allin’s Last Supper, and that’s the win! The lad from Tipton did good! Those of you worrying the year in Japan would be aimless, well, quit worrying – it’s going to be just fine. ***¾

Black Label Pro Championship: Tom Lawlor vs. Erick Stevens (c) – Black Label Pro Nobody Puts BLP In A Corner – January 18, 2020
We get going with Lawlor looking for, and getting a waistlock takedown, before Stevens made it into the ropes. An overhead wristlock attempt’s helped when Lawlor trips Stevens, as he proceeded to roll him down for an attempted side armbar, but it’s broken in the ropes as Stevens just slaps Tom’s arse. Another lock-up takes us to a shoulder tackle from Stevens, before some missed punches from Lawlor took us into some pinning attempts as neither man seemed to be able to forge an advantage. Stevens tries to make an opening with a chop, but Lawlor takes him down as we get a long shot of the ref’s arse rather than a scramble on the mat.

Stevens throws a right hand after they stood up, but got met with a mid-kick as Lawlor began to throw some shots… upgrading to chops as “old man Stevens” fought back. Forearms and uppercuts have Erick back in the corner for, yep, more chops, before a missed boot gave Stevens an opening as he pulled the former UFC fighter down into a grounded Octopus stretch. Lawlor manages to roll back to try and pin Stevens, but ends up trapped in an Anaconda Vice briefly, before Stevens let go to try and get Lawlor in the middle of the ring with a Romero special… instead opting to just stomp the knees into the mat after a fake-out. Forearms to the back keep Lawlor down, but Tom’s able to get up and traps Stevens with some right hands and another kick to the back.

PKs follow from Lawlor, which Stevens tries to shrug off, before he caught a kick… only for Lawlor to roll him into a heel hook, then a good ol’ Figure Four. Which Erick broke as he rolled to the floor, taking Tom with him. Oof. Back in the ring, both men were the worse for wear, but it’s Lawlor who’s throwing first, connecting with a clothesline into the corner before he took the champion to the top rope for a superplex. Lawlor holds on… but a second suplex got countered into the End of Heartache suplex/backbreaker combo a la Roderick Strong, before we went back to the forearm strikes. Then chops. Then jabs, as Lawlor looked to pull ahead, only to get caught with a back elbow before he eventually planted Stevens with lifting reverse DDT for a near-fall.

Stevens returns with a full nelson into a backbreaker, before a Tiger Driver brought a near-fall for the champ, but things still remained even as Lawlor looked for a rear naked choke that was broken in the corner… the same corner that Erick swiftly slammed Lawlor into seconds later. Lawlor catches Stevens with a running boot as the latter spent too long playing to the crowd, before a low-angle superplex dumped Stevens, who rolled to the outside. That looked nasty, especially given his recent concussion issues. Lawlor goes outside, but is swept onto the apron as Erick teases a low-pe… and got kicked away. A hook kick in the ropes followed from Lawlor, but he’s met with a fireman’s carry gutbuster and a pumphandle driver in quick succession as the near-falls keep coming. A sit-out Burning Hammer’s next as Lawlor had his go, then again as he countered an O’Connor roll into a rear naked choke, but Stevens rolled free.

Wash, rinse repeat as Lawlor clings on with the rear naked choke for a second and third time, but Stevens again fights free before a hard lariat and a Doctor Bomb STILL only drew a two-count. They go back to strikes as the big throws didn’t work, with Lawlor battering Stevens with flurry of forearms, before he was met with a German suplex… and a spin-out lariat for a one-count?! Now the BLP crowd are on their feet… sort-of… and it’s not long as forearms to the head and a Jackhammer finally gets Stevens the W. I expected this to be hard-hitting and was not disappointed one bit – the pace was a little too deliberate for my tastes at the start, but when this got into gear, they really were swinging for the fences! ***¾