June was a busy month in professional wrestling. The marquee event of the month, of course, was AEW and NJPW’s Forbidden Door, but elsewhere, on the indies, in Japan, and in Mexico, there were so many great matches that we had to split Joseph’s monthly best of column in two. Check out the five matches below, then come back tomorrow for more.
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Matt Tremont vs. SLADE (GCW 6/4/22)
SLADE is a fascinating case. More than any other wrestler working right now, the quality of SLADE’s matches depend almost entirely on the abilities of his opponent. That’s not at all to say that SLADE’s an incapable wrestler who requires carrying though; quite the opposite, in fact. Rather, I find that there’s a certain inflexibility to SLADE’s aura. He creates a sink or swim atmosphere for his opponent. One either meets it head on and rises to the challenge, or one flounders and pretty much dooms the match from the get go.
You can guess which kind of opponent Matt Tremont is.
Tremont’s a mainstay of the American deathmatch scene, and it’s not hard to see why. There’s a real down-to-earth, blue collar charm to the guy that radiates through the screen. Despite his proclivity for violence, he never comes across as overly malicious or sadistic. He’s just a hardworking man toiling in a difficult field. A big part of that is his selling, which grounds so many of his matches. There’s an old school quality to his selling — it’s big and expressive. Tremont always plays to the cheap seats, no matter the size of the crowd.
There’s nothing too over the top violent in this. Most of it is pretty standard fare for deathmatch fans, but it’s the relentless pace that these two approach the material with that elevates it. SLADE and Tremont move with a certain recklessness which intensifies the innate violence of the genre. There’s hardly a whiff of cooperation to any of this, both men crash head on with this continuous struggle through every spot.
My personal favorite moment would be Tremont just walloping SLADE’s head with a whiffle bat studded with thumbtacks. The tacks burst in such a beautiful way before dotting SLADE’s head for the rest of the match. As far as American deathmatches go, I don’t think there’s been a better one this year.
“Speedball” Mike Bailey vs. Konosuke Takeshita (West Coast Pro 6/10/22)
Coming to America has been the best thing for Konosuke Takeshita. The start of Soup’s year saw him be present in many very good to great matches but rarely be the drivers in any of them. On top of that, his KO-D Openweight Title match hadn’t been able to deliver in the ring for me. Cinnabon and national TV have reinvigorated Takeshita. Stripping back his opportunities to straightforward, more compact matches play exactly to his best strengths.
And really, if you want to have a good match in 2022, you do it with Mike Bailey. These two already have history, having worked together in DDT in the late 2010s, and I think that comfort and familiarity shows. Soup sticks to all things he does well like big power spots and stunning athleticism while cutting away some of what dragged down his most recent run in Japan like his Plus Ultra submission finisher. Bailey, for his part, is reliable as ever. He’s gotten so good at structuring a match around big spots that escalate neatly towards the finish. Another notch in Bailey’s belt of great indie matches, and a promising sign of Takeshita’s revitalized energy in the States.
Minoru Tanaka & Yu Iizuka vs. Takanori Ito & Seichi Ikemoto (GLEAT 6/11/22)
As far as shoot style in 2022 goes, this is what I want to see. All four of the wrestlers involved have been a key part of GLEAT’s UWF division over the last couple of years. GLEAT’s use of the UWF ruleset has been a neat little selling point that help them stand out against their larger competitors in Japan, and this match illustrates all the best qualities that style brings. It’s a very simple, airtight match filled with slick chain wrestling on the mat and meaty striking.
In my opinion, Ikemoto’s the standout here as everything he did looked fantastic whether on the ground or on his feet. Really though, it’s splitting hairs to select a best performance as all four men shine. Whether it’s Tanaka’s steady veteran presence, Iizuka’s youthful determination, or Ito’s no nonsense kicks, everyone brings something to the party here.
As with much of GLEAT’s catalogue, this is free to watch on YouTube so give it a chance if modern shoot style interests you at all.
FTR vs. The Wolves (ASW 6/11/22)
It’s been a little over a decade since I’ve actively looked forward to a match featuring The Wolves. I don’t think that’s an unfair take — most people who know their work would probably agree that they peaked in the early 2010s during their ROH run. And as Eddie Edwards continued his solo career in Impact Wrestling while Davey Richards took time off from the industry, their cache as a team only dropped further.
But I’ll watch pretty much anyone against the best tag team in the world right now, so I sought this out. FTR deliver on everything you want from them. Weighty, crisp pro wrestling that leans heavily on old school tag tropes. The latter works especially well in this smaller setting, a darkened arena that can call to mind days long past. Any time Dax and Cash get into the ring, both leave me with the impression that I’m watching two of the best wrestlers on the planet.
All that’s what you expect from FTR but what stood out for me is how much I enjoyed The Wolves in this. Davey Richards, in particular, was a bit of a standout here. I’ve been hot and cold on Davey’s recent run of singles matches, but here he turned in my favorite performance of his since coming back to wrestling. Instead of leaning on grappling and stiff strikes, Davey becomes an old school stooge heel. He takes a gigantic bump out of the ring and over the barricade, just a classic pratfall to set the tone of the match.
FTR and The Wolves don’t reinvent the wheel here, but the classics are the classics for a reason.
Kazusada Higuchi, Daichi Hashimoto, & Yuma Aoyagi vs. Daisuke Sekimoto, Shuji Ishikawa, & Yuji Hino (Fortune Dream 6/15/22)
Looking at those names, the first thing that comes to mind would be a standard Japanese hoss fight. One expects a lot of big beefy striking and solid blows — lariats, elbows, chops. This match delivers on that promise well, of course. Of particular note is the near full minute of pure violence between Kazusada Higuchi and Shuji Ishikawa where they trade some killer blows including a crazy headbutt exchange.
What makes this stand out though is the tone. There’s a very lighthearted nature to this whole thing despite how hard everyone’s hitting each other. In that regard, Higuchi puts in a really strong performance. He moves seamlessly between borderline comedic reactions and selling to the most gruesome offense you might see on any given day.
The match is a bit long in the tooth going to a 30-minute draw, but there’s just too much charm in this to deny its merits.