Month on the Mat: January

In this monthly recurring series, the residents of Wrestle Inn will offer you their recommendation for a single match you should seek out from the last month. We might not always highlight the “best” match; perhaps we’ll pick a hidden gem instead, or a match that you may not have heard of from a promotion different to what you usually watch. But, we can guarantee that all of these picks will be more than worth your time!

Thumbly Squeezed recommends:
Jamie Hayter vs Emi Sakura, Rampage (AEW, January 27)
The AEW Women’s Championship has not always gotten its due in terms of booking, but that feels so long ago now that Jamie Hayter is on the hottest run by damn near anyone in the entire business and putting on bangers that lead weekly TV. Emi Sakura, a veteran who has faced Hayter before, provided her a less high-octane challenge but allowed us to see a different side of the champ. The two women took their time in brutally beating each other with strikes, chops, suplexes and other impactful offense. This of course suited Hayter just fine, with her finishing things off with one final loud-ass lariat. Pulling off this kind of slugfest is just one more trick of many she’s showing us she has tucked up her nonexistent sleeves.

Caro recommends:
The Judgement Day vs The Usos, RAW (WWE, January 23)
Dedicating nearly an hour to Bloodline storytelling was quite a move for Raw’s 30th anniversary episode, but by the end of this match it proved to be a fruitful decision that won the crowd over. The twists and turns during this match, along with a twist at the halfway point that thrust Sami Zayn into the hearts of the thousands in attendance, further proves why the story of Roman Reigns and the Bloodline is the best storytelling WWE has produced in over a decade.

Ethan Vieira recommends: 
ASUKA vs Mika Iwata, Big Show in Sendai (Sendai Girls’, January 15)
ASUKA has been one of the very best wrestlers on the planet for a while, making it impressive that she has found another gear on her engine entering 2023. A battle of ferocity captured in a tight 14 minutes, ASUKA defend her Sendai Girls’ World Championship against the intense Mika Iwata; the champion showing why she’s at the top of the mountain by taunting her opponenet’s tag team partner on the outside and even doing push-ups. High intensity, pure passion and top tier wrestling, this is what wrestling is truly about!

Connor Maze (Patreon subscriber) recommends:
Taiji Ishimori vs Hiromu Takahashi vs Master Wato vs El Desperado, Wrestle Kingdom 17 (NJPW, January 4)

Kay Quinn recommends:
Yuki Yoshioka vs Shun Skywalker, Open the New Year Gate 2023 – Day 5 (DRAGONGATE, January 12)
Heel champions in wrestling have been a big discussion as of late and DRAGONGATE finally chose to throw their hat in the ring with this absolutely star-making performance. The newest installment of former young ace Shun Skywalker’s ever deepening descent into violence and delusion was an impressive match, featuring some very solid in-ring work and great spots from both him and his opponent. But first and foremost, it was an incredible character piece. Skywalker’s ability to blend out anything unpleasant or unwanted had finally enveloped physical damage and seeing him unravel as he just kept getting up again and again was genuinely terrifying; as was his unhinged post-match promo. If you are a fan of storytelling and character work in wrestling, I highly recommend that you have a look at this match.

Steve Howard recommends:
Jordynne Grace vs Mickie James, Hard to Kill (Impact, January 13)
Following several months of intrigue the pay-off to this story wholly delivered in the ring. Mickie was on a mission to win the title, vowing to retire if she lost on the way to becoming the champion. Victories followed over top competitors such as Tasha, Chelsea, Deonna and Taylor before getting the title opportunity she so deeply clamored for. Mickie made her way to the ring following an emotional entrance ceremony and soon went onto the front foot. Jordynne used her skills and power to get on top and numerous times it looked like Mickie’s career was over. But the ever resilient Mickie fought back and hit a terrific Tornado DDT to end the proceedings and become the IMPACT Women’s World Champion, keeping her career safe and leading to further emotion as she celebrated in the ring with her son Donovan.

Corey Michaels recommends:
Kenny Omega vs Will Ospreay, Wrestle Kingdom 17 (NJPW, January 4)
This new year started off with many incredible matches, but what a standard to set! Will Ospreay and Kenny Omega elevated past the expectations set of them, and even further. The only problem with this match is that it’s the only match I’ll ever watch from now on.

Fusa (Patreon subscriber) recommends:
Shingo Takagi vs Katsushiko Nakajima, Wrestle Kingdom 17 in Yokohama Arena (NJPW/NOAH, January 21)

JJohnson recommends:
Kaito Kiyomiya vs Kenoh, The New Year 2023 (NOAH, January 1)
Keiji Muto might’ve pushed this match down to the semi-main event, but Kaito Kiyomiya and Kenoh were unwilling to be overshadowed by Great Muta’s final singles match against Shinsuke Nakamura; this GHC Heavyweight Championship match was a show-stealer. They wrestled as if they had a fire lit under them. Maybe they did! This was a foray of strikes, building intensity each step of the way. The spot that will live on long in the memory was the sick apron bump, a falcon arrow from the top rope to the unforgiving apron, but the match surrounding that moment shouldn’t be forgotten either. 

Adam Ryan recommends:
Speedball Mike Bailey vs Kenny King (Impact Wrestling, January 19)
This was a first in Impact Wrestling, a no ropes pit fight where knockout or submission was the only ways to win. It didn’t have flashy entrances, the competitors came from under the stands and got checked by the referee similar to an MMA fight. Lots of crazy bumps and spots, Speedball taking a big fall on the ramp and cutting his head open thanks to a lighting rig. While the first half was very methodical, the second half really got into high gear. King introduced a chair and then hit a running blockbuster off the side of the ring onto the floor. Not to be outdone, Bailey landed a huge running knee and a big dive off the ropeless ring post. The ending was nasty, Bailey kicking a chair full force onto a downed King leading the referee to call the match. I loved every minute of this, from the presentation to the in-ring action and the fact that it showed a vicious, more aggressive side of Speedball.

Trent Breward recommends:
Kazusada Higuchi vs Yuji Hino, Sweet Dreams 2023 (DDT, January 29)
BIG. MEATY. MEN. SLAPPING. MEAT. This is Big E’s wet dream as two prime cuts of A5 wagyu thoroughly tenderized each other with one of the more ridiculous prolonged chop exchanges. Half the match is dedicated to each man trying to rip the skin off of the other’s pecs in a battle that served to not only test their opponent’s mettle, but break them down enough to be left vulnerable to more conventional wrestling. Everything about this match is brutal and hard hitting from two incredibly tough and beefy men. This isn’t for everyone, but for those who like a hoss off you’re in for something truly special here. 

Ryan Dilbert recommends:
Maki Itoh and Miyu Yamashita vs Moka Miyamoto and Juria Nagano, Max Heart Semi-Finals (TJPW, January 29)
You knew we were in for something special when Maki Itoh strutted out in that black feathered robe. She and Yamashita thrilled in their domination of the karate-striking Miyamoto and Nagano. And just when you thought this was going to be an absolute steamrolling, Moka and Juria started charging back with a fury. Classic David vs Goliath stuff with a strong pace and kicks, kicks, kicks.