WrestleMania weekend is so much more than just The Show of Shows itself. Going back to the mid-2000s or so, WrestleMania weekend has been a hotbed for independent wrestling as promotions flock to the host city to showcase their product to the largest concentration of professional wrestling fans anywhere on the planet.
This list isn’t meant to be a catch all for all the very best stuff from Mania weekend. In fact, everyone can expect a whole slew of Mania weekend pieces to come from FanFyte in the days and weeks to come. What I’ll be covering here are some of the matches that won’t be receiving individual focus here on FanByte but are worth seeing nonetheless.
It’s mostly Mike Bailey matches.
Timothy Thatcher vs. JR Kratos (GCW 3/31/22)
Timothy Thatcher returned to the indies in a distinctly Timothy Thatcher way. There’s something rather unassuming about the booking that Thatcher takes here for Bloodsport. Although JR Kratos is a familiar opponent to him, dating all the way back to their early days on the West Coast indies, it’s far from the most glamorous possible pairing for Thatcher. It’s a match that doesn’t leap off the page when you first see it.
But as with Thatcher himself, the match reveals its greatness to you. It’s a simple story of power against technique as the larger Kratos tries to overwhelm Thatcher with strength while Thatcher looks to break down the bigger man with impeccable technique. Mechanically, there’s not much more one could want from both men as they explore this dynamic.
But then the match starts entering even higher realms of greatness. A large part of that is Timothy Thatcher’s charisma. He’s one of the most expressive wrestlers in the world without ever having to say a word. His facial expressions skillfully straddle the thin line between vivid and hokey, never going beyond what feels right in the moment. And what a wide range Thatcher demonstrates in this. From the sadistic glee of grabbing a hold to the gritty resolve of trying to take down the larger man. It’s all capped off with a beautiful sell from Thatcher at the finish. His rigid body combined with a glassy thousand-yard stare do everything to put over the sudden knockout blow from Kratos.
Welcome back to pro wrestling, Tim.
Mike Bailey vs. Yuya Uemura (GCW 3/31/22)
The first of multiple Mike Bailey matches we’ll be covering here today, and the second Bloodsport match on the list. Bloodsport as a whole was easily one of the best professional wrestling shows of the year, and I’d recommend giving the whole thing a watch. That being said, it’s no shock that Speedball had a great match on it, as he was having great matches all weekend long.
In this, he squared off against New Japan upstart Yuya Uemura. It’s a nice dynamic as although Uemura has the size advantage here, Bailey easily has the experience edge. Bailey’s kicks keep this feeling explosive through its entire runtime. They make for a fun problem that Uemura has to solve.
It’s fun seeing Uemura trying to find his openings amidst Speedball’s barrage. It’s a big spill to the floor that finally allows Uemura to build some momentum. Even then, he still has to weather a torrent of kicks and knee strikes to slip in with some explosive power. By the time Uemura gets the submission victory, one’s left impressed with the onslaught he had to survive to get it.
Alex Colon vs. John Wayne Murdoch (GCW 3/31/22)
Pretty easily the best of the Spring Break matches, in my eyes. This was a rematch of their first encounter for the GCW Ultraviolent Championship back in January. That match ended in controversy when the referee called for a stoppage due to Murdoch losing too much blood from a massive gash in his arm. After that first bout, Colon even tossed Murdoch’s things into the ring and unceremoniously kicked him out of the locker room. Overall, there’s been a very personal vibe to this whole rivalry, one that clearly is meant to evoke it being potentially a shoot (whether it actually is or not is not the point).
I thought this match was able to translate that heat and animosity into its action. It doesn’t have quite the same atmosphere and detail as the first did, but there’s not much I’d quibble about when it comes to the ringwork. There’s the usual deathmatch fare with light tubes and gusset plates, but it’s the stuff between like wildly throwing headbutts that really make this for me.
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The finish plays off their first encounter, only this time Colon is the one with a near match-stopping arm wound. Although the champion does his best to fight through the pain, Murdoch zeroes in on the injury and gets the victory with a cross armbreaker.
Even with how much I enjoy this as a follow up to their first match, the story told still leaves me with questions. GCW have consistently presented Murdoch as a heel outsider figure, yet his victory here comes across as a vindication of someone wronged. After all, in January, he never gave up and it was a questionable referee call that cost him the title. Here, he gets a decisive win over Colon suffering the same fate as Murdoch months ago. Except we see Colon tap out, as he couldn’t hold it together the way Murdoch did before.
It just feels odd having Murdoch seemingly proven right here, but perhaps a third match would clarify things.
Questions for another time. On its own, this is one to check out.
Jay White vs. Mike Bailey (NJPW 4/1/22)
We return to Mike Bailey here, as many consider him the clear MVP of Mania weekend. It’s hard to disagree given the volume of matches he was able to work and the generally high bar of quality he was able to clear.
For me, this is his best match of the weekend. There’s something special about it happening against Jay White, as both men seem to be experiencing a renewed focus with their time in America right now. Jay’s work with New Japan Strong feels like the reset he needed after feeling like a square peg in a round hole in Gedo’s modern New Japan, while Bailey’s return to the States after resolving his visa issues has felt like a shot in the arm for the American independent scene.
This match also feels the most representative of what a viewer can expect from Bailey from this weekend. It has a lot of his more common tropes in this—working from beneath, missing his Ultima Weapon on the apron being a major transition—and it’s here that I feel they’re used to their best effect. Jay’s ruthlessness adds a lot to this, especially when he takes advantage of Bailey crashing and burning on the apron. Jay working over Bailey’s leg perfectly sets up the knee as the key plot point of the match. When Bailey again misses the Ultima Weapon in the ring, with an already softened up knee, Jay’s soon able to get the victory. Lovely set up and payoff, with one big mistake costing Speedball the win.
A real tightly structured and well-worked match here, made even better by Jay White being able to work against a smaller opponent—something he so rarely got to do in Japan. The best of a very strong (an offering to the pun gods) weekend for Speedball.
Cole Radrick vs. Mike Bailey (UP 4/2/22)
Fittingly, we close on yet another Mike Bailey match. This is a great one to close on because it demonstrates Bailey in a different role than the other matches on this list. For this match, we get Mike Bailey the bully.
We don’t usually see Bailey as the larger man in a match, but he slides into that role with ease here. While it’s not a blow away great heel performance or anything, it still highlights how versatile Bailey is. In this, his strikes take on a more sinister edge as he chips away at Unsanctioned Pro Champion Cole Radrick.
Although Bailey had been working all weekend, it’s Radrick who came in looking beaten up as he wrestled in deathmatches in the days prior. Speedball took advantage by opening up a wound with a killer kick straight to the face early on. The blood from Radrick added a lot to what was, at its core, a match focused primarily on quick, escalating action. It gave a little more juice to the premise of Radrick working to defend his title. Radrick also backed that up with a lot of babyface fire that heated this up nicely in the closing stretch.
It’s nothing complicated, just an all-action bout that never lets up. Two of the best on the indies flooring the pedal and having a straight up banger.