While WrestleMania and the surrounding independent shows dominate April discussion most years, plenty of strong stuff comes out in the weeks that follow it. Anyone reading this has likely heard of all the usual suspects from this time — FTR vs. The Young Bucks, Minoru Suzuki vs. Samoa Joe, or CM Punk vs. Dustin Rhodes — so I’m taking a look at great matches that have not received quite the same attention.
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Ilja Dragunov vs. Roderick Strong (WWE 4/7/22)
It feels odd to point to anything under the WWE banner as something “lesser known,” but NXT UK’s status as an actual television show is tenuous at best. The brand only seems to exist when Gunther or Roderick Strong is around, and even then, the show vanishes from the memory soon after.
This match is worth remembering though. Ilja Dragunov’s had some of the best UK Championship matches in the last few years, and here he gets to work with an unleashed Roderick Strong. When Roddy gets to go, he’s one of the best in the whole world, and that’s on display here. All the action is gritty, stiff, and impactful.
They tell a story of dueling limb work that doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but also adds a bit of depth to what could have easily just been a fiery slugfest. Not that there’s anything wrong with just having a fiery slugfest, especially when left to these two. All the selling is well-done, ensuring that everything has a purpose in the match. All in all, what we get is the best match in NXT UK since the last time Ilja and Gunther clashed, which is a monumental feat in its own right.
Hoodfoot vs. Daniel Makabe (SUP 4/17/22)
Hoodfoot has pretty quickly become a must-see prospect on the American independents, while Daniel Makabe has been a perennial favorite of the blogosphere for a years. This isn’t the most obvious matchup given the style clash, but these two make the most of milking that discrepancy for its narrative.
The match starts with Hoodfoot showing that, as a former amateur wrestler, he’s not out of place working on the mat with Makabe. And as things escalate and spill out to the floor for a brawl, Makabe shows that despite his reputation for elegant technique and finesse, he’s got a decent repertoire of solid strikes as well. It’s a compact match as most bouts from these two are and it escalates straight to all the fun head dropping and submission attempts one might expect.
It’s not perfect. I think Hoodfoot’s reliance on the bar fight spot feels a little too jammed in during this match but at least when both him and Dan are throwing heaters, it’s not too much of a problem. Any sins this match has were forgiven by the time I saw Hoodfoot ram Makabe’s head into his own knee to escape a Border City Stretch.
Violence is Forever vs. Suplex Science (SUP 4/17/22)
What can I say? SUP had a great show.
This is an uncomplicated thing, just another tag team banger from the best team anywhere on the independents. I’ve spoken a lot about my love for both Garrini and Ku in Violence is Forever, and everything they do well is on display here. Hard shots, explosive offense, and this very real aura of being unbeatable gods of the region. There’s even some extra wrinkles in here such as Ku selling a bad leg damaged during an ACTION Title match earlier in the show. It’s not an injury that gets a lot of focus in the match, unfortunately, but Ku himself stays mostly mindful of it in ways he didn’t really need to.
Not to sell Damyan Tangra and Alex Kane short here, they were great in this too. Kane’s power gets to shine at the big hot tag. There’s few things in wrestling quite as satisfying as someone as big as Kane just tossing people about with reckless abandon. As for Tangra, he’s someone that’s been receiving a lot of hype in the southeast and this was a match that really made him click for me. I liked how smooth he was on the mat and how well he still fit in to the action when things got more bombastic.
Jonathan Gresham vs. Kevin Blackwood (C*4 4/22/22)
I’m still undecided on Kevin Blackwood. He’s not helped being so closely associated with Daniel Garcia, a man who had a meteoric rise through the industry with a stunning breakout year in 2021. Comparisons are inevitable, and Blackwood’s not someone I trust to deliver in the same way I did Garcia the year before. The repertoire of great performances just isn’t there yet even as 2022 brings more opportunities with higher profile names.
That being said, this match is great. Another addition to Gresham’s growing list of delivering strong matches as a travelling champion-style figure on the independents. He foregoes a lot of the standard tropes and trappings he brings to these indie matches and opts for something a little more straightforward—hit Blackwood in the face and let him hit back.
Ironically for someone mostly famous for his kicks, it’s Blackwood’s elbows in this match that really stood out. He gets some decent crunch on those, and Gresham fires back in kind. There’s still room for Gresham’s flourishes which provide some great nearfalls down the stretch. Hoping that Blackwood stays on this track as it’s always good to have a showcase with one of the best in the world.
Biff Busick vs. Kevin Ku (C*4 4/22/22)
Two of the best heavy hitters on the independents just crash into each other at full force. This starts hot with Biff jumping Ku at the belt and it doesn’t really let up. The opening moments are filled with the two just hitting each other incredibly hard around the ring. There’s hints at some handwork in the opening but that fades into the background as things get deeper. At some point this takes a turn into hardcore plunder which isn’t quite where I would have taken things, and it does feel a little bit of a step down from what they had been setting up, but the bumps still look great. Definitely see this one. The names involved promise obvious quality, even if it feels like they still left quite a bit on the table should this happen again.
HARASHIMA & Naomi Yoshimura vs. Kazusada Higuchi & Hideki Okatani (DDT 4/24/22)
DDT’s in a weird place right now. Their top star of the last few years, Konosuke Takeshita, has flown off to the States for a yearlong excursion, which means DDT feels like they’re at a point of transition. This has led to a reshuffling of the top stables in the company, with a greater emphasis on much younger talent coming up through the ranks.
The company’s going through some growing pains through all those changes and their output has been a little less consistent than years prior. That’s why this tag jumps off the page so much. It’s a shining example of what I enjoy DDT so much for — being a company that can deliver even on its tour show tag matches.
Especially impressive is Hideki Okatani’s performance in this. He was always one of the more promising young talents in DDT — just look at his participation in the 2020 All Out/Junretsu rivalry for proof — so to see him grow into his place on the roster is heartening. His interactions with Naomi Yoshimura here are so heated and vicious that the two of them kind of steal the show. That’s even more impressive when you consider the other pairing here is HARASHIMA and Kazusada Higuchi, two men who have incredible chemistry together and have had many of DDT’s best matches over the last few years. The veterans deliver as they always do, but it’s the motivation from Okatani and Yoshimura to elevate themselves to their partners’ level that really make this worth seeing.
Go Shiozaki vs. Kaito Kiyomiya (NOAH 4/29)
I’ve gotten a fair amount of pushback for my less than favorable opinion on modern NOAH. The company saw a bit of a renaissance in Western fandom around 2020, coinciding with Go Shiozaki’s fourth reign with the GHC Heavyweight Championship. While there’s a handful of great matches from NOAH in the last few years, I’m generally much lower on the promotion and its workers than most.
I think even the most dedicated NOAH fan in 2022 can admit that there’s a lot of reasons not to like the promotion. Even if you’re more of a fan of the in-ring product than I am, there’s the convoluted main event politics as well as questionable — to put it as generously as possible — foreign imports into the company.
That’s why when it’s great, boy, does it really stand out. Go Shiozaki and Kaito Kiyomiya are pretty easily the most likeable wrestlers in the entire company. Shiozaki is the ever-suffering ace, body battered and broken from years of service, yet again called upon to hold the company together in a time of crisis. Meanwhile, Kiyomiya is a spirited babyface who’s shown a ton of heart in his recent performances.
Shiozaki isn’t a perfect wrestler. Sometimes his lariats don’t land with the same oomph as his chops and his arsenal of power moves can be hit and miss. But that’s part of his appeal to me. Nothing ever comes easy for him, even as the veteran worker against this upstart. As for Kiyomiya, he attacks Shiozaki in this match with such scrappiness and fire that I’m convinced he could be one of the best wrestlers in the world if placed in a better promotion.
It’s a great match, the best Japanese main event in a stacked weekend for the country. Go Shiozaki is NOAH — imperfect, breaking down, but occasionally wonderful.