This is the season of giving, and the sport of pro wrestling has done its fair share of that so far.
For example, AEW and WWE have ongoing tournaments that allow several wrestlers to showcase their in-ring skills in a high-stakes context. On Friday, Ring of Honor aired a Final Battle that earned plenty of acclaim from fans. New Japan Pro Wrestling just finished World Tag League, and Impact (soon to be Total Nonstop Action again) continues to chug along with consistency.
In short, there are enough good matches to fill multiple stockings, so let’s show some love to a fraction of those offerings.
These three pro wrestling matches are worth your time.
Honorable Mention: Orange Cassidy (c) vs. “Bounty Hunter” Bryan Keith- AEW International Championship (AEW: Collision- Winter is Coming) (***1/2)
In terms of AEW appearances, we’ve seen Bryan Keith a couple of times, most notably against “Hangman” Adam Page on the Sept. 2 episode of Rampage. That match lasted only three minutes and Page ultimately got the enhancement win, but Keith stood out with the limited time he received.
Several months later, Keith got another big spot on an AEW show. This time, he wrestled Orange Cassidy for the International Championship on the “Winter is Coming” edition of Collision. In this duel with one of the best wrestlers in the world, the 10-year gunslinger kept up with Cassidy’s arsenal of high-flying precision and trademark subterfuge, putting on a show in his home state.
Cassidy retained his International Title, but it took him executing a snug rollup to scrape by Keith. Hopefully, we see more defenses from Cassidy against visiting independent wrestlers.
Willow Nightingale and Kris Statlander vs. Mercedes Martinez and Diamanté- Texas Street Fight (AEW: Collision- Winter is Coming) (****)
Every once in a while, we see one of these gruesome women’s hardcore matches in AEW, and they never disappoint. Add this street fight between Diamanté, Mercedes Martinez, Kris Statlander, and Willow Nightingale to that growing list.
This match featured the usual hardcore fare — blood, tables, chairs, glass, and thumbtacks — and the crowd loved every bit of it. They particularly enjoyed watching Statlander and Nightingale punish their opponents without needing a Hattori Hanzō sword or the recitation of Ezekiel 25:17. They didn’t even need to cut off anyone’s ear.
All they needed was a bit of fighting spirit to beat their bitter rivals.
Dragon Lee (c) vs. Tyler Bate- NXT North American Championship (WWE NXT Dec. 12, 2023) (****)
The “Dominik Mysterio as North American Champion” experiment has thankfully ended. Yes, there have been worse champions and better champions have had worse reigns, but few of them have felt as pointless. It seemed like the only reason WWE gave him the belts was for the optics of every member of The Judgment Day holding a belt.
Now that Dragon Lee is champion, WWE can return to booking great title matches. The promotion got things off to the right start on the Dec. 12 episode of NXT by pitting Lee against Tyler Bate in the former’s first title defense.
These two could probably sleepwalk their way to a good match; their chemistry, athleticism, and timing carried things on Tuesday and it resulted in a tremendous outing.
We’ll see if Lee keeps this pace up. His next title defense being against Butch is a good sign that it will.
Athena (c) vs. Billie Starkz- ROH Women’s World Championship (ROH Final Battle 2023) (****
The term “prodigy” gets thrown around a lot in pro wrestling, but if it applies anywhere, it would for a 19-year-old who just main evented a pay-per-view. It becomes an even more apt descriptor when you deliver a match that lives up to the months of build-up.
In the Final Battle main event, Billie Starkz challenged Wrestler of the Year candidate Athena for the Ring of Honor Women’s World Championship. It was the culmination of months of bullying from the champion, and Starkz unleashed that frustration from that torment with a thunderous forearm to her nemesis seconds after the opening bell.
This set the tone for the rest of the bout. Eventually, Athena took control with her aggressive barrage of offense — even causing Starkz to bleed — allowing Starkz to comfortably slide into the babyface-in-peril role. The fact that it led to a 50/50 crowd split IN ATHENA’S HOMETOWN should tell you how effective this strategy was.
It led to a feverish Starkz comeback that saw her crank up the intensity with potential victory in her grasp. But Athena wouldn’t let the title that she’s held for over a year slip through her fingers. Even though Starkz kicked out of the Despicable Knee (at one!) and avoided the O-Face, she got the submission win after 28 scintillating minutes. In the end, though, Starkz’s efforts earned her a measure of Athena’s respect, with Starkz thanking the champion with a hug.
Even though she didn’t win the title, this felt like a star-making moment for Starkz. For her part, Athena did everything she could to accomplish this goal by bumping around for the challenger and constantly selling frustration with her fighting spirit. What could’ve been a mere showcase for Athena in Texas became the potential first step in Starkz ultimately beating Athena for the world title.