Wes Lee vs. Charlie Dempsey
WWE NXT – April 18th
Wes Lee is doing a similar, but lower profile thing on NXT that Orange Cassidy is doing on AEW. Having this long varied hard fought title run, against a bunch of very different opponents. NXT has a bunch of stylistic variation, with guys like Ilja Dragunov, Axiom and Bron Breakker wrestling in wildly different ways, unlike main roster WWE (which tends to get a bit homogenized). Charlie Dempsey is one of the most unique wrestlers on the WWE roster. The son of William Regal, he wrestles the hard technical style like his father, Terry Rudge or Dave Taylor, he is seconded by Drew Gulak who is really the only other wrestler in the WWE working this way.
Dempsey throws in cool innovative spots in every match he is in, and he has some real nifty flourishes here, including a killer leg-hooked inverted cravat cradle, and a chinlock where he wrapped his own arm underneath the crook of his own knee. Lee had a fun hit and run section early in the match, but most of the match was just Dempsey grinding on him, really wrenching a hammerlock, while using armdrag variations as almost headdrops. It really felt like a violent Fit Finlay squash from WCW Saturday Night, which is one of my platonic ideals of pro-wrestling. Lee is really explosive and his comebacks look great, including a fun series of body and headshots, and his finishing KO shot is a cool backflip kick which Dempsey took right on the crown of his head. Dempsey and Gulak did a post-match beatdown, and I would be very into a rematch or a Gulak vs. Lee match. Dempsey is still less than 70 matches into his career and is already very high on my must-watch list.
El Hijo Del Vikingo vs. Dralistico
AEW Rampage – April 22nd
The 25 year old Vikingo has been on a tear in 2023, wrestling 27 times while ping-ponging back and forth between the US and Mexico. After his breakout match in AEW against Kenny Omega Tony Khan has been using him in ROH, but this was his first match back on AEW proper since then. Dralistico is an interesting wrestler, sort of a mix between his two brothers, some of the highflying of Dragon Lee with the more thuggish brawling style of Rush. He isn’t as good at either style as his brothers, but the combination works nicely. Vikingo is obviously a breathtaking offensive wrestler, but, man, we need to talk about the bumps he is taking: Virtually the first move of the match is Vikingo missing a full speed tope con hilo and torching his spine on the ring ramp. It is a bump Jerry Estrada would cross his eyes at, and Vikingo is breaking it out in one of his four matches this week, not to mention the ‘rana to the floor he eats near the close.
I liked how Dralistico grounded Vikingo and beat on him for the middle part of the match, really built nicely to Vikingo running off his crazy offense near the end, including a wild diving Canadian Destroyer off the top rope onto the ring apron, and the 640 senton which ended the match. I really think with all of the lucha talent that AEW has now, that they would be better served throwing out some trios matches, rather than just running singles every week.
Something like Rush/Dralistico/Gringo Loco vs. Bandido/Vikingo/Kommander could blow the roof off, and now that they are going to be running 7 hours of TV a week (2 hours ROH, 2 Hours Dynamite, 1 Hour of Rampage and 2 Hours of Collision) it would be a great signature for one of the shows. Imagine if Collision opened most weeks with a WCW style 13 minute trios match with the craziest luchadores in the world, it would guarantee something on the show was must see.
Mercedes Mone vs. Mayu Iwatani
Stardom All Star Grand Queendom – April 23rd
This was for the IWGP Women’s title, and Mone’s first singles match in Japan. Iwatani is one of the Three Daughters of Stardom, along with Kari Hojo and Io Shirai (AKA Kairi Sane and IYO SKY in the WWE). She was the one who stayed in Stardom and kept the promotion afloat, and it makes a lot of sense that she was Mone’s opponent in her first Stardom match.
Mayu took early control with some really sharp kicks to the back, but Mercedes was able to hit a pair of running knees in the rope and a jumping meteora which sent Mayu hard to the floor. She followed up with a springboard meteora from the second rope, adding some seasoning to her normal moveset for her Japanese debut. Mone kept going for her Money Maker finisher and Iwatani kept finding escapes, reversing it three times before Mone was able to land it, but too close to the ropes. Mone started taunting the crowd after a backcracker, allowing Iwatani to hit a Dragon Suplex. She followed that up with a tombstone, moonsault and one final Dragon Suplex for the win.
It was a surprisingly convincing win for Iwatani, and it leads to obvious questions. Iwatani is scheduled to wrestle in LA for New Japan in May, and was reported to extend her contract at least until that show, but there is obviously a huge show coming up in August for AEW, and they are going to need every bullet in their gun. For Iwatani it was a well-deserved win, and if Mone ends up reupping with New Japan/Stardom for the long term, there is an obvious story for a rematch.