Wrestling

The 10 WrestleMania Week Matches We're Most Excited For

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The 10 WrestleMania Week Matches We're Most Excited For

WrestleMania brawls its way through New Orleans this Sunday, returning to the home of Mardi Gras for the second time in only four years with a massive show at the Merdedes-Benz Superdome. WWE’s biggest event of the year looks more promising than usual (Daniel Bryan’s return alone makes it a must-watch), but many of the most exciting wrestling matches this week won’t be at the Superdome. WrestleMania might be WWE’s party, but the days leading up to WrestleMania have become pro wrestling’s own version of Mardi Gras, with dozens of promotions from around the world hosting shows at venues throughout WrestleMania’s host city. Over the next six days some of the biggest stars in the business today will square up in matches throughout the Big Easy, often wrestling multiple matches a day for different promotions for four days in a row. (When I went to Orlando for last year’s WrestleMania festivities, I felt like I was on a first-name basis with Michael Elgin and Sami Callihan after seeing them wrestle about five times each in two days.)

It can be overwhelming keeping track of all these shows, so much so that many other sites that cover wrestling have stepped in to keep a central storehouse of show info for the week. Instead of duplicating that effort and listing every show, or even just highlighting the shows that seem most worth watching, I’m going to focus specifically on matches today, and tell you what I’d be most excited to see if I were headed to New Orleans this week. Many of these shows will be streaming on the internet in some capacity, from the WWE Network to services like WWN Live and Ring of Honor’s Honor Club.

All times listed are New Orleans local time. So if you aren’t living in Central Time add or subtract as necessary to get your local start time.

Golden Lovers (Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi) vs. Chuck Taylor & ?
WrestleCon Supershow
Thursday April 5
9:30 PM CT
The Sugar Mill

At one point this was scheduled to be a true dream match. Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi, who have the most poignant relationship in wrestling today, were supposed to face the tag team known as the Best Friends, Chuck Taylor and his longtime partner Beretta. Beretta tore a muscle during a match with Taylor in February, though, and can’t perform at this show. Taylor’s new partner is a mystery, but in a sense it doesn’t even matter. People would go to this show no matter who the Golden Lovers were wrestling, because they’re one of the biggest acts in the world and there aren’t a lot of opportunities to catch them live in America. Omega and Ibushi are two of the very best wrestlers in the world today, and Taylor, a great athlete and one of the most creative minds in the business, isn’t too far behind. Whoever the fourth man is, this should still be a highlight of the whole week.


Jeff Cobb vs. Minoru Suzuki
Rev Pro Wrestling
Friday April 6
4 PM CT
The Sugar Mill

Minoru Suzuki might be pushing 50, but he’s still one of the most intimidating men in wrestling. Despite being a true heel in New Japan, his catch wrestling expertise and no-nonsense demeanor have endeared him to legions of fans around the world. He’s starting wrestling for the British promotion Revolution Pro, where he’s a current tag team champion with his New Japan stablemate (and fellow catch wrestling genius) Zack Sabre Jr. At Rev Pro’s show this weekend Suzuki will be facing Jeff Cobb, the powerful suplex machine and former Olympic wrestler who worked as Matanza Cueto in Lucha Underground and has become one of the biggest stars on the independent circuit today. If you enjoy crisp grappling peppered with brutal power moves and submissions—or, in other words, if you enjoy pro wrestling—there’s a great chance you’ll dig this match.


Matt Riddle vs. Daisuke Sekimoto
Evolve 103
Friday April 6
4 PM CT
Pontchartrain Convention Center

Big Japan and All Japan star Daisuke Sekimoto is one of the best wrestlers in the world, and he’ll get to prove it to today’s American audience in his first US appearances in seven years. He’ll be going up against two of the best on Friday, starting with Matt Riddle at Evolve’s second show of the week. If you somehow aren’t familiar with Riddle yet, imagine a Greek statue of a man with the innate charisma of Kerry Von Erich, the stoner bro vibes of Rob Van Dam, and a legitimate background as an amateur wrestler and UFC fighter. The term “strong style” gets tossed around so much that it’s kind of lost its meaning, but Sekimoto is a true practitioner of the art, and Riddle should have no problem hanging with him.


Keith Lee vs. Daisuke Sekimoto
WWN Supershow: Mercury Rising
Friday April 6
8 PM CT
Pontchartrain Convention Center

Sekimoto’s second match on Friday will be against the current WWN Champion, Keith Lee, who won the title from Riddle back in October. Lee was perhaps the biggest breakout star of 2017, and between his unparalleled combination of size and acrobatic ability (and a healthy dose of charisma), the sky’s the limit for where he can go in this business. (In fact he’ll be wrestling against Kassius Ohno at WWE’s WrestleMania Axxess fan event, which only stokes persistent rumors that he’s in negotiations with WWE.) Lee and Sekimoto should be a brutal war between two legitimate hosses, one of whom can fly like a cruiserweight.


WALTER vs. Zack Sabre Jr
Progress
Saturday April 7
Noon CT
Pontchartrain Convention Center

Austrian big man WALTER has been a pro since 2005, but over the last year he’s suddenly become one of the most buzzed about names on the independent and international scene. A regular for Westwide Xtreme Wrestling (wXw) in Germany and Progress in the UK, WALTER started wrestling for Evolve and Pro Wrestling Guerilla in the States last year, and immediately had a series of amazing matches with Keith Lee. Zack Sabre Jr, meanwhile, might be the best chain wrestler of his generation, and is coming off an unbelievable run in the New Japan Cup where he submitted Tetsuya Naito, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi and Sanada in four straight matches. If you’re the kind who cares about star ratings and puts your faith in the Wrestling Observer, you probably already know that these two had a five star match in PWG last fall; it’s entirely possible they’ll pull it off again in New Orleans.


Will Ospreay vs. Dezmond Xavier
Combat Zone Wrestling
Saturday April 7
3 PM CT
The Sugar Mill

Despite almost breaking his neck on a terrible fall in a New Japan match with Marty Scurll this weekend, Will Ospreay will still be making all of his many WrestleMania week bookings. That includes this match against Dezmond Xavier, an incredibly talented high-flyer who’s probably best known for his appearances with Impact and who hasn’t yet gotten the attention he deserves. If Ospreay is fully healthy, this match could steal the weekend.


Cody Rhodes vs. Kenny Omega
Ring of Honor: Supercard of Honor XII
Saturday April 7
7:30 PM CT
UNO Lakefront Arena

Kenny Omega is one of the two or three best wrestlers on the planet today. Cody Rhodes has reinvented himself as an old-fashioned, thoroughly hated heel, and has become a true superstar in the process. Their feud has split the Bullet Club in half and spread across two promotions on opposite ends of the planet and the hit YouTube show Being the Elite. This is all to say that this main event at Ring of Honor’s huge show might be the most heated match of the entire week. Again, Omega’s an almost unrivalled talent, and Rhodes plays his character better than almost anybody else in wrestling today and can more than hold his own in the ring. For some fans this might be the biggest match of WrestleMania weekend.


Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa
NXT Takeover New Orleans
Saturday April 7
7 PM CT
The Smoothie King Center

The blood feud between former partners and best friends is a modern classic wrestling angle, like a born-in-NXT version of the Kevin Owens / Sami Zayn feud that WWE imported from the indies. These two burned the house down in the first round of the Cruiserweight Classic when they were still friends; now that they’re facing each other in an unsanctioned match, with Gargano fully established as the best pure face in the company and coming off the momentum of his perfect match with Andrade “Cien” Almas last January, these two are the odds-on favorite to have the best match at any WWE show this weekend.


Charlotte vs. Asuka
WWE WrestleMania 34
Sunday April 8
4 PM CT
Mercedes-Benz Superdome

Look, we can’t just ignore the whole reason this entire week is going down. Like I said in the intro, this year’s WrestleMania has a strong card from top to bottom; the Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali match could’ve easily made this list, as could the Intercontinental Championship threeway or Daniel Bryan’s tag match. There are two matches on the show that feel the most like legitimate dream matches, though, and the first one is Charlotte and Asuka’s battle for the Smackdown Women’s Championship. Asuka’s a fantastic wrestler, and despite a few recent poor booking decisions, she’s still coming into the big show with the power of a multi-year unbeaten streak behind her. Charlotte, meanwhile, has been positioned as the best all-around performer in the women’s division since she was called up to the main roster, and for good reason: she is one of the best all-around performers not just in the women’s division but the entire company. If WWE gives these two enough time, they could have the best women’s match in company history.


AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
WWE: WrestleMania 34
Sunday April 8
4 PM CT
Mercedes-Benz Superdome

Speaking of dream matches, these two already had a classic for the ages at Wrestle Kingdom 10 in 2016. The entire build for their first WWE match has been based around the promise of duplicating that match’s quality. Again, if WWE gives them enough time, and positions it in a way that makes it genuinely seem like one of the most important things on the show, these two could certainly hit the bar they set two years ago. Styles is already a made man in WWE, but if Nakamura wants his American career to be held in high regard, he almost needs this match to be the best on the show. He’s shown himself capable of still capturing that New Japan magic from time to time, and this is certainly the time to do everything possible to rediscover that Nakamura of old. If these two do what we know they’re capable of doing, and if WWE treats the match and these performers with the proper amount of respect, it’s hard to see any match on any other show this week topping this one.



Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.

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