From time to time, I come across a wrestling statistic that simply baffles me. I’ll read something about how this wrestler did this or that match had such and such rating and my first reaction will be, “HOW?!”
This is one of those cases, since it involves one of the most polarizing wrestlers active today, Will Ospreay.
As I write this in November 2021, Ospreay has had sixteen (16) matches rated 5-stars or higher by the Wrestling Observer. I know, I know, these ratings are largely subjective and we should all take them with a grain of salt. And yet, there are many fans out there that, like Meltzer, think that Ospreay really is the next big thing in pro-wrestling (which is hilariously ironic).
To see if he really is that great, I decided to watch many of his top matches. Thus, here we are with one of his supposed best matches. But is it still deserving of such high praise? Read on to find out.
Today we look back at Ospreay’s big singles match with fellow Brit Marty Scurll from NJPW’s Sakura Genesis 2018 event.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
Going into this match, Ospreay was IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and Scurll was the challenger. But even though Ospreay held the gold, he was the underdog here due to his history with Scurll. These two wrestlers had faced off many times before both in New Japan and elsewhere. Of their many prior matches, Ospreay only managed to win a handful of inconsequential matches. Any time they had a singles match that meant something, like a title match or a #1 contender’s match, it was won by Scurll. Thus, Ospreay hoped to prove that he could beat Scurll one-on-one and from there become the new ace of New Japan’s junior heavyweight division. Pretty simple stuff, but sometimes the best stories are the ones without convoluted background details.
This match originally took place on April 1st, 2018.
This is for Ospreay’s IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. The match begins with some excellent scientific wrestling that soon transitions into some flips and quick exchanges. Scurll tries to take control with an armlock but Ospreay escapes and the chain grappling continues. Ospreay bridges out and does a great flippy into a sunset flip pin that doesn’t even get one. Another chain grappling sequence ends in a stalemate with lots of loud applause.
Scurll flips off the crowd as they cheer for him and gets sent into the ropes. He sees Ospreay go to the mat and catches him in a crossface chickenwing attempt. Ospreay escapes and follows with a long cruiserweight exchange that’s too quick to call move-by-move. Lots of ducking and countering here. Scurll calls for a time-out but doesn’t get one, so he hits Ospreay hard and chops his neck. Ospreay gets sent to the ropes but he counterattacks with a hurricanrana and a dropkick that sends Scurll to the floor. Ospreay teases a big handspring move. Scurll catches his hands, flips him off, and goes to break his fingers. Ospreay fights back but gets enzuigiri’d to the floor. Ospreay soars through the air with a Space Flying Tiger Drop.
Scurll tries to escape Ospreay but gets his calf kicked for his efforts. He tosses Scurll into the ring but Scurll rakes his eyes and lands a rope-hung neckbreaker. Ospreay goes to the floor as Scurll lands on the apron. Scurll lands a big superkick to Ospreay’s head. He follows with a single chop to the neck but Ospreay screams out in pain way louder than expected. He’s had some neck issues and Scurll knows about them, which is why he’s going for a weak spot to win. Scurll shows more wrestling smarts as he smashes Ospreay into the steel barricade and then drops an elbow across Ospreay’s neck as Ospreay’s draped against the apron.
Back in the ring, Scurll cranks Ospreay’s neck and drives it into his knee. he goes for a scoop slam, but he intentionally slams Ospreay close to the ropes so that Ospreay would land at a bad angle that would hurt his neck. Scurll follows with a Randy Orton-style draping DDT that gets two and then lands a hard slap to the spot that Ospreay has been clasping for the past several minutes. He’s not done as he puts Ospreay in the torture rack to apply more pressure to the neck, then he drops Ospreay head-first on the top turnbuckle and follows that with another DDT for two. Scurll follows with a type of neckbreaker and then lifts Ospreay into the Gory special submission hold. Ospreay escapes and lands a few elbows. He goes for some rope-flip move, but Scurll catches him and guillotines him on the bottom rope. Scurll maintains control with various strikes and holds, all of which target Ospreay’s increasingly-weakened neck. Ospreay reverses a cross-arm stretch onto Scurll and Scurll backs him into a corner. Suddenly, Ospreay lands some flips and connects with an enzuigiri out of nowhere. Both men go down, even though Scurll has barely suffered as much damage as Ospreay.
Ospreay lands some corner strikes and a 619, but is moving more sluggishly and clasps his neck while landing all these moves. A shooting star splash gets Ospreay a two-count so he goes to the top rope. Scurll cuts him off by raking his eyes but Ospreay escapes that and goes for his Cheeky Nandos through-the-legs superkick. Scurll gets his feet up first. Ospreay lifts Scurll’s legs into the air, lands a superkick, and follows with a German suplex. Ospreay tries to follow through with another through-the-legs kick. Scurll blocks and lands a tornado DDT. He keeps Ospreay’s head hooked and goes for a suplex. But Ospreay counters in midair with a Stunner. Awesome move. But Ospreay hurts his own neck doing that move.
Ospreay lands some forearms and teases a big move, but Scurll catches his hands and goes to break his fingers. Ospreay fights out and goes for a springboard. He sees Scurll going for a counter dropkick so he holds onto the ropes to block that counter. Finally, some common sense in an Ospreay match. Ospreay lands a slash for two. Scurll rolls into a backslide attempt and then tries for another crossface chickenwing. Ospreay answers with elbows. Scurll catches Ospreay and lands a wrist-clutch neckbreaker that somehow only gets two. Scurll gets angry and slaps Ospreay hard. Ospreay fires back with a hook kick and charges. Scurll cuts him off with a Misawa rolling elbow and a running lariat for another close two count. he goes back to the neck with stiff forearm clubs and then tries another neckbreaker. Ospreay counters into a backslide and then sends Scurll to the apron. But Scurll holds on and skins the cat. Ospreay sees this and tries to get him in the Tombstone position. Wait, no, Scurll flips Ospreay over the ropes. Scurll Tombstones Ospreay onto the ringside mats.
The referee begins the ring count as Ospreay sounds like he’s dying. I’m not exaggerating; it sounds like he’s struggling to breathe. Scurll tosses him into the ring and pins for two, so Scurll follows with another sick falling neckbreaker that gets another two-count. Scurll starts hitting Ospreay’s neck hard when Ospreay starts hulking up. He gets to his feet and lands stiff forearms. Back-and-forth they go, hitting each other incredibly hard. Ospreay lands a boot and charges to the ropes. Scurll fakes him out and dropkicks his knee. Then Scurll charges. But Ospreay lands a flip kick and an enzuigiri. Both men rush to the ropes. Ospreay counters a lariat by flipping over it and into a Ligerbomb. Damn what an awesome counter. But he can’t capitalize. Both men collapse once again.
Ospreay fights through the pain as he lands a corkscrew kick to Scurll’s head. He goes for the springboard Os-cutter…no, Scurll pushes him off the ropes and to the floor. Ospreay’s neck looks to catch the apron as he falls. Scurll runs onto the apron. Ospreay cuts him off with a kick and attempts a suplex to the floor. Scurll cuts him off with an enzuigiri and then scoops Ospreay onto his shoulders. Ospreay escapes…and hits a Spanish Fly to the floor. Wait, something goes wrong. Ospreay hits his own neck against the apron. Holy Shit! Ospreay almost kills himself…literally. His head hits the apron in a very disturbing way.
Ospreay has a huge bloody gash on his head as the referee starts to count. A doctor checks on Ospreay but he crawls away from him, refusing to end the match that way. Then somehow, somehow Ospreay gets into the ring before Scurll, who enters at the count of 19.5. Suddenly Ospreay gets a burst of energy and goes to the top rope. Corkscrew shooting star press. Scurll kicks out. Ospreay suplexes Scrurll onto the top rope and climbs the turnbuckle. Rope-hung shooting star…misses. Scurll superkicks the back of Ospreay’s head. But Ospreay still kicks out of a pin. Scurll does the Bullet Club taunt and goes for a superkick. Ospreay catches his leg and lands a roundhouse of his own. He goes for the same suplex stunner as earlier. Scurll counters into a crossface chickenwing. Wait, no, Ospreay counters into a pin. Shades of Bret/Piper. Scurll blocks that with a roll-up that gets two. Os-Cutter connects. Both men collapse yet again.
Scurll gets up first and lands a kneeling piledriver and pins but Ospreay still kicks out. Scurll ‘breaks fingers’ on each hand and kicks Ospreay’s face in. then he stomps the ever-loving hell out of Ospreay’s neck. Crossface chickenwing hold. Ospreay reaches out with his free hand. Scurll traps it and goes to break the fingers again. Ospreay retaliates by reaching the ropes with his foot. Scurll continues the punishment with a forward neckbreaker driver and then signals the end. Tombstone Pile – no, it’s countered into a stunner by Ospreay. Ospreay charges but Scurll launches him into the corner. Ospreay bounces out…and lands another Os-Cutter. One, two, three! There’s the match! Ospreay survives and retains his title!
Winner and STILL IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion after 30:44: Will Ospreay
If there’s one thing that this match showcased it’s that Will Ospreay is the Kenny Omega of junior heavyweights in New Japan. By that I mean that Ospreay was all over the place during this match and couldn’t decide on what kind of match he wanted to have. In the end, he and Scurll created some kind of mishmash that was both exciting and frustrating at the same time.
For most of the match, Scurll was a relentless killer here. He took advantage of Ospreay’s history of neck issues and targeted that body part over and over. And when he did, Ospreay sold like he was in genuine pain. There was a sense of realism in Ospreay’s selling that made Scurll’s offense look convincing and believable. It even caused the audience – which was largely 50/50 between both wrestlers – to stop cheering for Scurll almost completely by the 15-minute mark.
Sadly, that same mark is when things went off a cliff and into the realm of excess.
For the first 10-15 minutes was all Scurll and Ospreay sold like he was on the verge of being knocked out. But instead of hitting a slow and sustained comeback, Ospreay hit some explosive flips out of nowhere. And from there all the way to the end, Ospreay would go back to the same concept: he’d take an inhuman beating and sell like he was on the verge of unconsciousness, and then begin his comeback with flips and acrobatics. It was like going from dipping your hand in boiling hot water to grabbing dry ice; there was no middle ground with how he acted and moved here.
That’s one of the biggest problems I have with Ospreay’s style: he goes from zero to a hundred so fast, flipping back and forth between two extremes. His matches lack the gradual comeback needed to create genuine and sustained tension. He just absorbs crazy punishment and sells realistically, then immediately shifts to the opposite to hit some flips out of nowhere. And while there are some people that appreciate such an approach to wrestling, I’m not one of them.
It was like Ospreay was fighting with himself here. On one hand, he sold for Scurll like a boss and went out of his way to convince everyone watching that he was in genuine pain. At the same time, it was as if some hidden force compelled him to, for the lack of a better term, get his shit in. It was as if Ospreay had to have an Ospreay match and do things his way, even if the story of the match required him not to. And by stubbornly pushing forward, he weakened his own match. Ospreay came across as robotic here with his actions here, to the point that it was hard to take him seriously. Even Scurll fell victim to this penchant for excess and silliness. The whole ‘breaking fingers’ spot came across as exaggerated and forced, and for some reason, Scurll’s ringside Tombstone and subsequent pin barely elicited a reaction.
Then there’s the elephant in the room: Ospreay nearly killing himself with that Spanish Fly.
Now, I’m all for wrestlers doing absolutely crazy things (this is pro-wrestling we’re talking about, after all), but only so long as the situation absolutely calls for it. I know that NJPW’s junior heavyweights have evolved a newer style, one heavily influenced by the American independent scenes and explosive sprinters like Ricochet, Marufuji, and Ibushi. And as a result, these matches come with a certain expectation for crazy bumps and insanely-high risks. But what Ospreay did here was incredibly stupid. Like, Shibata-head-butting-himself-to-near-death-stupid. He didn’t need to land a backflip slam to the floor as a counter to an incoming Scurll. Any move could’ve been done in its place and served the same narrative purpose to switch the momentum back in Ospreay’s favor. Instead, in a moment of showing off, Ospreay landed a move that could’ve cost him his own life.
But the worst part was that it meant nothing in the larger story of the match. Ospreay overcame both a brutal and sustained onslaught by Scurll and an unforeseen botch. Both of those things tenderized his neck to the point that the match should’ve gone to Scurll. And considering how much damage Ospreay had taken compared to Scurll, and that Scurll was still in control, it made sense for Scurll to win here. That was the logical ending based on the story and flow of the match. Instead, Ospreay landed a sudden counter out of nowhere and landed basically the NJPW version of an RKO out of nowhere. And unlike in Orton’s case where doing that move out of nowhere mostly makes sense in the context of a match’s narrative, it wasn’t the case here. Ospreay’s victory here came across as completely unearned. He was basically at death’s door and managed to land some last-minute big moves that, somehow, were enough to keep Scurll down. It was a strange ending. Instead of coming across as the beater of worlds defending his title, Ospreay came across as undeserving of his win and Scurll came across as a bit pathetic for being felled so easily.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Even though the match featured some truly terrific action and some amazing counter sequences, it was hampered by some obvious problems. Ospreay couldn’t decide if he wanted to sell as realistically as possible or if he wanted to be the same acrobat he had always been and thus decided to be both. But by being both, he and Scurll turned this match into a patchwork of different storytelling ideas that just didn’t mesh well. Because of that, the in-ring action and daredevil acrobatics – while exciting – came across as empty and lacking in believability.
If you like daredevil-style wrestling, you’ll find something to like here. It’s definitely one of these modern matches that overcompensates its lack of cohesive story with nonstop action that some fans really like. But being all style and no substance doesn’t help a match stand out, especially in today’s environment. We’ve reached a point in wrestling history when the majority of top-level wrestlers feature the same elements in their matches because all of them try to be different and showcase as much as possible in each match they have. But by doing that, it strips each match of any uniqueness and lessens the impact of those high risks. As such, this match ends up being a bit forgettable, save for Ospreay’s near-death experience.