Another WRESTLEMANIA came and went, and with it a slew of great indie matchups and mixed WWE results. Below, a number of Hard Time Blues contributors got together to re-cap the most noteworthy matchups of the week.
37KAMIINA vs. Chris Brooks and Yoshihiko [DDT]
If you really want to get caught in the magic of professional wrestling it requires a certain suspension of disbelief. This comes into play in matches featuring large size differences, different fighting backgrounds, and sometimes it can play an important part in telling an underdog story. Personally I find taking wrestling at face value to be part of the fun; the story being told in the ring is all I need to know, the more absurd it is the more I enjoy it. My pick for MATCH OF THE WEEK Wrestlemania 2023 is the team of MAO and Shunma Katsumata, known as 37 KAMIINA, vs. Chris Brooks and Yoshihiko, from DDT Goes Hollywood. In kayfabe, Yoshihiko is a feared competitor with a combination of strength, fortitude, and high flying skill that rivals some wrestling legends; while in real life it is simply a stuffed training dummy. While Yoshihiko is occasionally helped by a masked figure dressed in all black (think stagehand in a broadway performance) that the other wrestlers ignore, the wrestler involved is in a “fight” against themself, struggling to get the upper hand against an opponent that “knows” their every move.
YOSHIHIKO JUST STOLE THE ENTIRE MANIA WEEKEND.
Holy fucking shit. pic.twitter.com/vhWvauW14E
— Drainmaker 🌧️ 💵 (@DrainBamager) March 31, 2023
Throughout this match MAO and Shunma give Yoshihiko a weight that can be felt through the various tests of strength and submission holds the dummy locks in. Making Yoshihiko feel real is key to selling the performance; other wrestlers pitted against Yoshihiko during Wrestlemania week failed to meet the pace necessary, instead making him feel exactly like he is: stuffed with cotton and unable to stand on his own. The closest thing I can compare a Yoshihiko match to is Jim Carrey fighting himself. Successfully selling a match against an opponent that isn’t fighting back takes something special, it’s a test in one’s ability to make this sport we love entertaining and believable. [Maxwell Flynn]
Joey Janela vs. Kota Ibushi [GCW]
The Ukrainian Cultural Center served as the site of Kota Ibushi’s return to professional wrestling after a nearly 2 year hiatus. Gone were the Halls and Stadiums he wowed for over a decade in New Japan Pro Wrestling, traded for Game Changer Wrestling’s LA Home. Kota wrestled twice for GCW, first at Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport vs. the bare-footed workhorse “Speedball” Mike Bailey, then on March 31, 2023 at Joey Janela’s Spring Break where he would be taking on The Man on the Marquee in the Main Event. This was the most anticipated independent match of an exhaustive wrestling weekend for many fans, and as the crowd buzzed with jubilant impatience moments prior to “The Golden Star” taking the ring, everyone watching caught their second wind.
The action began methodically; clean, deliberate mat work, big gestures to the crowd, a lot of eye contact. As they got to know each other through exchanging shoots, kicks, and headlock takeovers, the violence inside both men began to make itself manifest. The chops stiffened, the ropes attacked, the dropkicks thrown with purpose. Joey made an attempt to control the pace by leaving the ring, and was met with a picturesque moonsault from Ibushi from the top rope to the floor. The next time the action left the squared circle came when Ibushi bounced Janela’s head off a ring post from the apron, causing Joey to rise from the floor wearing wrestling’s most familiar disguise: The Crimson Mask.
This Kota Ibushi run is gonna be legendary.⭐ #JJSB7 pic.twitter.com/cCGTxPTrSm
— 𝐃𝐫𝐚𝐕𝐞𝐧 (@WrestlingCovers) April 1, 2023
Bleeding all over the place, Joey channeled the GCW-Style Violence that put him and his brand on the map over the last 5 years and brought out the Big Flimsy Doors. As is so often the case for the ambitious table-setting wrestler, it was Joey who received the brunt of the doors’ impact as Kota dropped both of them from the top rope to the floor in a way only Kota Ibushi can (looked really painful and dangerous and scary and not good for the neck).
The Third Act of the match is what really made it my Match of the Weekend. It would have been really easy to tell the story of escalating violence and extremism in service to victory, but it was Joey and Kota’s restraint that allowed them to return to the ring, damage done, and get back to Proving It to one another. That’s your story: PROVING IT. Kota proving that he still has it, Joey proving he can go with the best wrestlers that this planet has to offer. Each and every emotion Joey felt broke through the blood caked on his face like the light from hot lava breaking through igneous rock, every shot he threw intending to end this match.
It wasn’t enough. After 25 minutes, Ibushi hit Janela with a vicious V-Trigger and earned a count of three. Joey ended the night with a blood-covered promo to the GCW faithful about his career to date, thanked Kota for choosing to come to GCW, and that was it. The night was over, but every feeling Ibushi and Janela created over the course of that match still lives within everyone who witnessed it. They created something that stays, something memorable, and in an era of wrestling where a “good match” is about as easy to come by as a dropped penny, memorable is what matters. [Paul Sebastian]
Thrussy vs. Mason’s Mercenaries [GCW]
One of the best stories on the indies culminated in the main event of Big Gay Brunch. It was a hard-hitting affair, with spinning tombstones, ladders, low-blows and some fresh MDK-induced woundsreopened on the face of Effy. Charles Mason’s financial manipulation of Billy Dixon didn’t pay off, as Dixon couldn’t stand to see his friends get tortured at the hands of Mason and Parrow. In the end, Effy, Allie Katch, Dark Sheik—and Dixon—stood tall.
— EFFY (@EFFYlives) April 1, 2023
The Brunch came to a close with a crimson Effy standing on a ladder, declaring the importance of trans rights. This is wrestling. [Andrew McNally]
Cody Rhodes vs. Roman Reigns for the WWE Undisputed Championship [WWE]
We’re all marks, and we all got worked. They did the thing, again!
I am having a very normal one over the latest nutpunch WRESTLEMANIA finish from the masters of carny hucksterism, The Fed. I am laughing, even. After all, I was the biggest Cody mark leading up the Rumble, and even I now acknowledge my Tribal Chief. This is the funniest, most interesting, and bleakest finish they could have done. Despite lathering up the WWE Universe and indeed the entire wrestling landscape into believing Cody Rhodes could parlay his AEW moonshot to the top of the Mania card. We all thought Cody could Finish the Story and indeed become The Top Guy and de facto Protagonist of Pro Wrestling.
Being a fan of WWE in 2023 is somewhat akin to being a dedicated Weezer fan in 2023—you can remember the highlights from decades ago, but every album cycle the abusive daddy at the creative helm is going to veer wildly between giving you the Good Shit or the Bad Shit and the cycle never ends.
The opening half of this match felt like all of the times I’ve faced the Cody Rhodes CPU in WWE 2K23 the last couple weeks—Roman attacked Cody headlong and “established his dominance” “like a lion” according to Michael Cole. Roman contended with an erstwhile and persistent onslaught of offense from Cody, but always retaliated with devastating, pace-setting grind to wear Cody down.
I’m starting to feel bored typing this out, and that’s because this really was just another boring Roman match when you break it down – in spite of our boy scout Cody’s best efforts. The entire build to this Mania felt off and needlessly stilted – probably because Vince was clandestinely amassing power again behind the scenes in spite of the running “Triple H is in charge, for realz” running narrative. With the Endeavor deal finalized and Vince snugly back atop of his throne, a looming cloud of horrendous backstage vibes and death by a thousand roster cuts surely awaits.
And honestly? Cody’s selling in this match was overwrought, and added a disgustingly purple melodrama as s ugly as his hematoma from last summer, barely filling of the musculature of the too typical Roman style Big Fed Match playbook that they run every single time. Roman is big and strong and the head of the table. Roman’s Bloodline crew ran interference. Roman cheats to win ultimately in a mostly one-sided encounter despite a few big high risk spots. Frankly, I think they made Cody look like a geek on purpose, which was only underscored by Brock F5ing him into oblivion on the Raw after Mania. If the “Let It Play Out” character direction is an eventual Undisputed Championship win down the line – perhaps at Summerslam in Detroit—I guess that’s one thing, but in the moment I can’t help but feel like the Fed (yet again, for the umpteenth time) just blew a major chance to gain some honest to goodness goodwill in spite of everything. There was a big, devastating, needless swerve at Mania, inscrutable to anyone besides Vincent K. McMahon—the personification of Mr. Burns, the ultimate shyster conman. Vince is back. He never really left. It’s gonna get worse before it gets any better. Who owns the soul of Cody Rhodes? I don’t really know, and I don’t really care.
I’m going to do the thing I always do, time and time again, when WWE sets up impossible expectations only to, like Lucy, completely pull the proverbial football out from under you. I’ll half pay attention to WWE segments on social media and YouTube and maybe catch a TV match or promo if I hear it’s good. I will continue to be ambivalent about their awful, interminable programming, and maybe watch a major PPV if the card is right, on a friend’s borrowed Peacock subscription. Besides the $70 I used to buy WWE 2k23—a simulator of an alternate universe WWE where they embrace pro wrestling and have fun matches and compelling stories—I will give or exchange no money to WWE unless they can pull a good Summerslam build that doesn’t bury Cody out of their ass and convince me to consider a flight to the Motor City. Will I lose my mind in Detroit Roc City this August, with a Main Event Codester finally overtaking the Tribal Chief? Not bloody likely. Rather, I Won’t Get Fooled Again. [Luke Phillips]