It’s been one hell of a week in terms of great wrestling matches. New Japan’s annual Best of the Super Juniors* tournament has begun and has already thrown up some fantastic performances from the likes of Will Ospreay, Hiromu Takahashi, El Desperado, Sho Tanaka, and Marty Scurll.
(*If they’re all super, does that mean none of them are?)
Over in the States, at the EVOLVE double-header, reigning champion Matt Riddle was triumphant on both successive nights – defeating Shane Strickland and Keith Lee in a pair of excellent matches.
This would already make for a very strong week of action under normal circumstances, but that’s before we’ve even mentioned the goings-on in Germany, England, and Scotland. Even China are getting in on the act, as new promotion OWE are hoping to make a splash with their class of Shaolin temple kung-fu students-turned-wrestlers. Yes, that is actually happening; no, it isn’t the plot of a heartwarming ’80s movie.
But we shan’t dwell on these things, because I’ve already mentioned the two men who were in this week’s best match – and also because I have a word limit to adhere to and mustn’t waste any more time. Let’s take a trip to Ireland.
Matt Riddle vs. Will Ospreay
OTT ScrapperMania IV
National Stadium, Dublin, Ireland
Background: Prior to this bout, Ospreay and Riddle had taken part in just two singles matches – both of which Riddle had won, but both also telling very different stories from one another. In their first meeting at PROGRESS in November 2016, the former UFC star shocked everyone by defeating company golden boy Ospreay in under nine minutes.
Their second one-on-one showdown came just over a month ago, and was named by many as the best (non-NXT) match of WrestleMania weekend. Again, Riddle triumphed – in no short part to the injured state of Ospreay’s neck, a heavy toll for defending his IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship back in New Japan.
On to ScrapperMania, where Ospreay was generously given another chance to defeat his imposing foe – and Riddle was given a chance to squash his personal irritant once and for all.
For those unfamiliar with Over The Top Wrestling, it’s a promotion sometimes characterised by ‘crazy s*** going down’, for lack of a better term. Sometimes that’s in the form of brutal no DQ brawls or raucously-received comedy skits – but sometimes, crucially, it’s in the form of a truly excellent match.
When all was said and done, Riddle vs. Ospreay wasn’t just being talked about as match of the night, or even OTT’s match of the year – but perhaps as the best match in company history, period.
The Match: This is one of those matches you could show to a non-wrestling fan, and it’d instantly grab their attention. It’s fast-paced and hard-hitting, building up to a series of little flashy crescendos. However, I think maximum enjoyment of this bout depends on being familiar with the Will Ospreay formula.
A common criticism of Ospreay – and wrestlers like him – is that his big signature spots lose their lustre when he performs them in every match. This bout is a nice counter-argument to that, as it shows how Ospreay keeps the crowd guessing – not by changing too many of the spots themselves, but by changing the context in which they come about. I’ll explain what I mean.
Weirdly, Ospreay begins this match wrestling like Matt Riddle. After surviving an initial takedown and submission exchange, he charges across the ring and blasts the American with a big strike. He then lifts him straight into a German Suplex, and the story of the match becomes clear. He couldn’t beat Riddle on two previous occasions wrestling his usual style; time to change things up.
Of course, the flashy aerial moves don’t go out of the window – they’re just used as exclamation points to a barrage of strikes. As if to demonstrate this shift from showiness to brutal simplicity, Ospreay drags Riddle to the outside, plonks him in the front row, and crushes him with a running dropkick. It’s a move more out of the playbook of his CHAOS faction leader Kazuchika Okada than a fellow member of NJPW’s junior heavyweight division.
Of course, Matt Riddle is no ordinary opponent, which means that Ospreay’s domination doesn’t last too long. Riddle plucks him out of the sky into a delayed German Suplex, and sets about decimating his opponent with chops, knees, and slams.
It’s not enough to put Ospreay away, however, and a frustrated Riddle accepts his invitation of a strike battle. (Why wouldn’t he? He’s Matt Riddle, after all.) Predictably, the former MMA fighter gets the better of the exchange, but this causes him to lose focus, giving Will a route back into the match. In one of the bout’s biggest moments, he plants a foot into the charging Riddle’s chest, backflips off his opponent like a cartoon character, and takes his head off with a big Enziguri.
Just when it looks as though Ospreay’s going to take control, Riddle – AKA that video game boss with an extra health bar – hits back twice as hard. He ducks a Rainmaker, rearranges Will’s jaw with a suspiciously Kenny Omega-like knee, spikes him into the canvas with a powerbomb, and raises the roof with another crunching knee to the face. Ospreay’s sell here is magnificent; it looks as though he’s doing Shinsuke Nakamura’s knee-sinking pose, but not because he’s trying to be cool. He’s just unconscious.
Still, Ospreay survives, firing up after being kicked in the head a bunch of times. (Wrestling’s weird, isn’t it?) He now takes things to another level, bringing out all the high spots and bamboozling Riddle with his speed. However, just like at WrestleMania weekend, it doesn’t work. An OsCutter is countered into a seamless rear naked choke, and although Ospreay makes the ropes, he’s now Riddle’s for the taking. Somehow he kicks out of the tombstone, but the end is nigh.
Then, in the nick of time, Ospreay decides to go back to the strikes. His aerial ability may not match up well with Riddle’s style, but fighting fire with fire seemed to take the Pennsylvania native by surprise at the beginning of the bout. He nails a picture-perfect Rainmaker, one easily worthy of any Okada/Tanahashi classic, and even maintains wrist control! Ospreay hoists Riddle to his feet, and is met with a barrage of desperation kicks – but he brushes them off and muscles Matt into a huge Stormbreaker for the breathless victory.
Aftermath: There’s not really much of an aftermath to report, in all honesty. Ospreay went off to New Japan to take part in the ongoing Best of the Super Juniors, while Riddle bounced back to the States to defend his EVOLVE Championship.
Hopefully this won’t be the last time both men meet, but in terms of immediate consequences, OTT could benefit immeasurably.
The four-year-old company have gradually stepped out from the shadow of the larger, more established promotions across the Irish Sea, and are making their own noise. They already have a fiercely loyal fanbase, a distinct social media presence, and attract some of the top names in independent wrestling.
However, to the outsider, OTT can still perhaps seem a little hard to get into. It’s bouts like this that will help bridge that gap, and perhaps even push the promotion to the next level. Just book a rematch, already!