September was full of bangers. Don’t believe us? Take a look at AEW: in one month they had Jungle Boy vs. Adam Cole, Bryan Danielson vs. Kenny Omega, Miro vs. Eddie Kingston, CM Punk vs. Darby Allin, and The Young Bucks vs. the Lucha Brothers, to name the matches we were able to cover. In New Japan Pro Wrestling it’s G1 Climax season, which thus far has given us Tomohiro Ishii vs. Shingo Takagi, Kazuchika Okada vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tetsuya Naito across nights one and two, Zack Sabre Jr. vs Shingo Takagi on night three, Kenta vs. Tomohiro Ishii and Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Kota Ibushi from night five, and Kazuchika Okada vs. Yoshi-Hashi on night six. And elsewhere in the mainstream, WWE keeps booking great matches for Saudi Arabia, perhaps the place on earth which is least conducive to great wrestling.
Our best of lists have always been more of a suggestion than a declarative statement, more of a guidepost than a comprehensive guide to literally everything that happened during the month. In that spirit, here are four matches we think you’d enjoy, from another AEW banger to a special appearance by a legend at GCW, to a BJW title match. Let’s start there.
Yasafumi Nakanoue vs. Takuya Nomura (BJW 9/20/21)
This is the match where Takuya Nomura wins the BJW Strong Heavyweight Title. If you don’t follow BJW, that’s not a spoiler that’ll matter much to you. If you do follow BJW, then you’ll have already heard the news and understand that it’s the whole appeal of this match to begin with.
Takuya Nomura might be the best wrestler in Japan not under the banners of Bushiroad or CyberAgent. As one half of the Astronauts tag team with Fuminori Abe, he’s become a can’t miss act in BJW. He brings a lot to the table as a worker—solid fundamentals on the mat, a brisk sense of pacing, and heavy handed striking.
All those come to the fore here, a rematch of their 30 minute draw from July 23rd. Nakanoue’s held the belt all year long and while he’s built up a decent catalogue of great matches this year, he’s rarely the driving force behind them. That being said, he does well to trade blows with Nomura here. The meat of this match is these two just teeing off on each other—thudding elbows and crispy palm strikes. We’re even graced with a shoot headbutt or two to keep things real spicy.
Any Takuya Nomura match with a decent opponent has a strong chance of being great. But for him to finally be given his due as a top singles champion in BJW? That’s special and well worth the watch.
Homicide vs. Minoru Suzuki (GCW 9/24/21)
Minoru Suzuki decided this year, for whatever reasons, to not wrestle in G1 Climax 31, and instead embark on an extended tour on the USA, where he is booked for quite a few dream matches. Some of these matches may be dream matches for Suzuki as well.
This was pretty apparent on the evening of 9/24/2021, when Suzuki faced indie legend Homicide in the main event of Game Changer Wrestling’s GetLostALot event at the Melrose Ballroom in Astoria, Queens. The two had an encounter in AEW earlier in the week at their big show elsewhere in Queens. But even if you had no foreknowledge of what happened at the Arthur Ashe Stadium earlier in the week, it didn’t matter.
What did matter, was seeing the look of pure happiness on the faces of both Suzuki and Homicide. They loved this match. They loved the idea of this match. Both men were grinning ear to ear whilst chopping fuck out of one another. There was a joie de vivre about the match you rarely see in professional wrestling… or at least, a joie de trying to beat the vivre out of your opponent. It wasn’t a technical match; that was the previous week v. Jonathan Gresham in GCW in LA. But it was a FUN match, especially for the competitors in it. That made the match.
Suzuki submitted Homicide in the end, and afterwards, said “Thank you, Fucking Homicide!” So said we all. Suzuki won the match, but really, Happiness won.
Keisuke Ishii vs. Shigehiro Irie (Ganbare☆Pro 9/25/21)
I’m writing this on October 1st, the launch date for the all-new Wrestle Universe, a streaming service for the Japanese promotions NOAH and DDT, including all of DDT’s sub promotions. This is important for me because for the past few years I’ve felt burned out and completely uninterested in any wrestling that took place in a year that begins with a “2.”I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but there’s been a lot going on in the world over the past few years. But slowly, modern wrestling is creeping back into my life, and so far, I’m glad to see my own enthusiasm return. This match, the semi-main event of DDT Sub-promotion Ganbare☆Pro’s “Bad Communication – ULTRA Pleasure Style 2021” (DDT and its associates are the all-time undisputed champions of event names) wasn’t even the reason I chose to watch this show. I was there for the tag-team main event celebrating the 20th in-ring anniversary of Ken Ohka, a guy I really liked when I paid attention to this sort of thing a few years ago. But I had some time to spend, so I figured I’d check out some of the other matches leading up to it. I’m glad I did.
With no commentary (which is standard for most Ganbare☆Pro shows) and a reduced-capacity crowd on hand, this match feels much more intimate and intense than it would have with people talking all over it. Not that the crowd wasn’t into it; you can tell they were, but they’re more respectful and appreciative than loud and rowdy. This match isn’t technically perfect, but it drew me in from the start. These two men have been wrestling each other for years, and that collective history was evident here. Even if you don’t follow the careers of either of them, you can tell these guys have fought before. You like mat wrestling? It’s here. You like high-flying action? That’s here, too. You like straight-out brawling? This match has it. But most of all what it had for me was that magic spark that reminded me why I like this silly sport in the first place. It may not make anyone’s match of the year list, but I’ll always remember Ishii vs. Irie as the one that finally fully brought me back to the sport I love.
Ruby Soho vs. Dr. Britt Baker D.M.D. (AEW 9/22/21)
When Ruby Soho was released by WWE this year, I tweeted that she was the most talented free agent on the market. I was privileged enough in my days as a wrestling commentator to see her in the early stages of her career, to see how quickly she improved, how driven she was to make something of herself in the industry. She was bafflingly never quite given the chance to prove herself in the WWE, and while she judiciously avoided the jailbreak imagery that many use when they quit or are let go, it truly felt like Soho was being set free from a system that didn’t understand what she brought to the table.
Against Britt Baker, a wrestler who so convincingly wrestles like she’s out for blood that fans stop cheering for her as soon as she starts wrestling, Soho got to reemerge as one of wrestling’s best in-ring babyfaces, particularly on the sell. The Ricky Steamboat “boxer on the ropes” sell is as common as mud now, but when Soho did it after eating Baker’s offense it was hard not to feel sympathy for her, which is an emotion rarely evoked in AEW’s women’s division. It’s early, and a lot of pieces are already in place, but from this match it’s hard to see how Soho, like a Serena Deeb, doesn’t make it a lot better by virtue of her presence. I look forward to seeing what climbing the ladder looks like for her as much as I’ve enjoyed watching Baker stay on top of it.