The past several years have seen WrestleMania weekend (or as Drew McIntyre dubbed it several years ago, Wrestling Week) expand just beyond a few companies running shows the weekend of the big event to an all out six-day extravaganza. While the big shows remain NXT Takeover, Mania itself and the RAW after, which I call Smarkamania, companies from around the world will be running shows, and we may see in excess of two hundred matches before the end of Smackdown next Tuesday.
So getting down to a “Top Ten Matches” list is not an easy task for sure. There are plenty of absolute gems that will be missed here. But if you’re gonna be watching wrestling on a time crunch, these are the ones that I would not miss…
10) Progress World Title Match: Travis Banks (C) vs. Shane Strickland ‘Progress Chapter 66: Mardi Graps’ — Friday, 12 pm CDT
Some of the rest of the matches are there because they are unique or unusual, some because they are the culmination of long buildups and storylines. This match is neither of these. It simply put, two of the best young wrestlers in the world, meeting up for the first time.
Banks, the reigning Progress World Champion, is a star in the making. The New Zealand born Brit just has a different way of moving around the ring and has a hard-hitting style. Strickland, also known as Killshot in Lucha Underground, has emerged in the past year as one of the best Indy wrestlers in this country, winning titles in CZW and Defy. This is just best on best for sure.
There are few performers on the indy wrestling scene to emerge in the last few years that are unique as Joey Janela, The Bad Boy, who has made his name especially in a revitalized Combat Zone Wrestling. Some people love him, others not so much. You can count me in the latter group. I don’t get it.
That being said, his ‘Joey Janela’s Spring Break’ show was one of the most original and unique shows that one can ever say, and this year’s edition promises to be just as unique. Janela certainly found himself one of the most unlikely opponents possible, in the legendary Japanese wrestler the Great Sasuke, the legendary high flyer and former Japanese Congressman who has rarely appeared in the United States, the last time being for the 2011 Chikara King of trios Tournament. For many, it is a dream match that is everything that they didn’t know that they always wanted. For me, it is that train wreck that I want to look away from, but I simply just can’t…
8) NXT Championship Match: Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas vs. Aleister Black ‘NXT Takeover: New Orleans’ — Saturday, 7 pm CDT (WWE Network)
Ever since he came on the scene in NXT, fans have waited for this moment for Aleister Black. The ultra-cool Dutch kickboxer with icy stare and the best damn entrance music in wrestling has run throughout pretty much everyone put in front of him to get to this moment, this main event. The most ironic part about this is that he is facing for the NXT Championship, Andrade Cien Almas, the man he faced in his NXT Television debut…
While the story for most in this match is Black, Almas deserves his due. This man was being setup to the jobber to the stars, the guy who loses at every takeover, but ever since he was paired with Zelina Vega, Cien has found another gear and has been an excellent heel NXT champion. These two are bound to have an incredible match and they are going to have to follow some incredible stuff. The only thing that holds this match from being further up the list frankly is that the outcome seems inevitable. After all, Black was made for this moment, and Almas is main roster ready. But things aren’t always as they seem in NXT…
7) Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn ‘WrestleMania 34’ — Sunday, 6 pm CDT (WWE Network)
Daniel Bryan is going to wrestle. I don’t have to say anything else.
Riddle’s second appearance on this list comes on a show of his own creation — Bloodsport. Probably the most unusual show to go down this weekend, the show will put the greatest practitioners of the shoot style of wrestling against each other in matches that for the most part, can only end by submission or knockout only. Riddle was first scheduled to face Low-Ki and while that would have made this list as well, the main event of this show went up several notches when MINORU SUZUKI, the reigning IWGP Intercontinental Champion and a pioneer of Japanese MMA, stepped into replace Low Ki.
So basically, you have a former UFC welterweight contender, a guy who was looking like a legitimate top 10 threat before he left versus a MMA pioneer. Never mind that these two are both excellent pro wrestlers, that enough is enough to get the blood pumping. This is one going to be fun as hell and for those who love the shoot style of pro wrestling, it is hard to imagine it being any better.
5) WWE World Championship Match: AJ Styles (C) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura ‘WrestleMania 34’ — Sunday, 6:00 pm CDT (WWE Network)
For the moment that Shinsuke Nakamura debuted at NXT Takeover Dallas two years ago, fans have been dreaming of this matchup. Styles had the WWE a mere two months before, and weeks before that fateful day in Orlando, Nakamura and Styles had closed out their New Japan Pro Wrestling careers with an amazing IWGP Intercontinental Title match, won by Nakamura. We have been waiting…
And now, we finally get this, on the biggest stage of them all. Nakamura has won the Royal Rumble and is chasing Styles’ title. Guys, the WWE did something right…
4) NXT North American Championship Ladder Match: Ricochet vs Adam Cole vs ECIII vs Lars Sullivan vs Killian Dain vs Velveteen Dream ‘NXT Takeover: New Orleans’ — Saturday, 7:00 pm CDT (WWE Network)
There are a lot of multi-man matches of all sorts going down around New Orleans this weekend, many of which have oodles of talent. But no match has the diverse lineup of talent as this match right here. Think about you Ricochet, EC3, and Adam Cole, three men who were formerly the top stars in Lucha Underground, Impact Wrestling, and Ring of Honor. That in itself is amazing. Then you add Dain, Sullivan, and Velveteen, three of the most original talents that NXT has seen in recent years.
Did I mention it’s a ladder match? For a new championship?
3) WWE Smackdown Women’s Title Match: Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka ‘Wrestlemania 34’ — Sunday, 6:00 pm CDT (WWE Network)
One of the most overused terms in wrestling is “Dream Match.” But there are no other words that can used to describe this match other than Dream Match. You can argue that no two women have been so well promoted for their in-ring talent in wrestling history as have Charlotte and Asuka. Of course, Charlotte, the daughter of Ric Flair, has become larger in life because of her name, her stature, and her incredible athletic ability. She also has always shined when the lights are on brightest, a big match performer.
Meanwhile, Asuka has yet to lose since coming to the United States. She was an unbeaten NXT Women’s Champion and has somehow managed to stay strong since she joined the main roster in November, what seems like an almost undoable feat. And now we have these two women who have been kept apart for their entire tenure. This is what you hope for. This is everything we want from wrestling. Damn, I can not wait.
2) Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa ‘NXT Takeover: New Orleans’ — Saturday, 7:00 pm CDT (WWE Network)
Two years ago, these men came into the WWE together, as a tag team known as DIY. They came from the opening matches all the way to the NXT Tag Team Titles and the main event of NXT Takeover Chicago. But that night, after a dramatic loss in a ladder match to the Authors of Pain, Ciampa turned against Gargano, but also destroyed his knee in the process.
We have waited for Ciampa to heal, yet meanwhile the silent torturing of Gargano continued, as Johnny Wrestling became the Hero that NXT has needed over the last eight months. And when Johnny was at his lowest point, after a dramatic loss in a NXT title match against Cien Almas, Ciampa returned to savage his partner, and later, got him kicked out of NXT. But now Gargano will get show at Ciampa in an Unsanctioned, anything goes match.
1) Kenny Omega vs. Cody Rhodes ‘Ring of Honor Supercard of Honor XII’ — Saturday, 7:30 pm CDT (Honor Club/ROHWrestling.Com)
In some ways this was inevitable. There was no way Cody Rhodes, with his heritage, with his past stardom, and his ego could stand with anyone being the leader of the Bullet Club but him. It didn’t matter the success that the BC has obtained, an ungodly amount of success for anyone outside the WWE system. Cody had to be the leader. This had to happen.
And now we have Kenny Omega, the best bout machine, the former IWGP United States Champion, facing Cody, the former ROH World Champion. We have all taken sides. Team Kenny vs Team Cody. The future of wrestling outside the WWE depends on this match. It simply doesn’t get any better.
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