5-Star Match Reviews: GUNTHER vs. Sheamus vs. Drew McIntyre – WWE WrestleMania 39 Night Two
Many people are calling this the greatest triple threat match of all time and the best match of WrestleMania weekend.
Both of those are certainly bold statements, especially given the breadth of great matches in both categories. I was lucky and saw this match live and I was glued to my seat. When we here at TJRWrestling did our WrestleMania preview, I noted that I wanted to see this match more than any other. Of course, there’s a good reason for all of this praise and hype: GUNTHER. The guy is such a great wrestler that he blows most of his contemporaries out of the water. And he does this by doing so very little compared to the average “modern wrestler”.
A few days ago, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer rated this match 5-Stars. That is obviously high praise yet many people have similar thoughts. But now that initial hype over the match has died down, we can look back at it neutrally and see if it really deserves such a rating.
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.
WWE needed a challenger for GUNTHER’s Intercontinental title for WrestleMania. In a match to determine the #1 contender, both Sheamus and McIntyre were declared co-winners. After this, those two faced each other one-on-one but that match was interrupted by GUNTHER. In response to that interference, WWE official Adam Pearce declared that GUNTHER would defend his title against both Sheamus and McIntyre in a Triple Threat match.
This was a huge deal. With each passing day, GUNTHER’s reign grew greater in length and importance. He was bringing prestige back to the title with each successful defense. But both McIntyre and Sheamus were formidable challengers. Both were former world champions and had many other accolades under their respective belts. In addition Sheamus wanted to avenge his loss to GUNTHER from Clash at the Castle.
The match had this weird dichotomy. Sheamus and McIntyre were two best friends that loved to fight (and fight each other), and GUNTHER was the common enemy. But they couldn’t win by teaming up; only one man could be declared the winner. So could Sheamus and McIntyre put aside their friendship to achieve personal glory? Or would both of them fall before GUNTHER like everyone else that challenged him beforehand?
This match originally took place on April 2, 2023.
This is for GUNTHER’s Intercontinental Championship. The bell rings and the crowd is already making plenty of noise. GUNTHER talks smack to both of his challengers until McIntyre dropkicks him. Then he and Sheamus go at it with stiff clobbering blows. McIntyre answers a back body drop attempt with a high kick but Sheamus hits back with a clothesline. Sheamus hits McIntyre with uppercuts in one corner and then McIntyre lands chops in a different corner. Sheamus reverses a corner whip but McIntyre bounces right back out with a clothesline of his own. Sheamus hits a big chop and Sheamus counters into an Irish Curse backbreaker. Sheamus sets up his Ten Beats of the Bodhran but GUNTHER interferes and shows Sheamus how cops are done. ONE chop and Sheamus’ chest is already turning red.
GUNTHER ducks a few more strikes and locks in a sleeper hold. He escapes a fireman’s carry and lands a Kobashi-style Burning Sword downward chop. McIntyre attacks Gunther from the apron but GUNTHER drives him shoulder-first into a ringpost. GUNTHER hits Sheamus with a barrage of brutally stiff chops and kicks which gets him more loud applause from the audience. Sheamus fights back but GUNTHER stops him with a backs suplex into a backbreaker.
GUNTHER locks in a Boston crab but McIntyre kicks GUNTHER’s head. Except GUNTHER doesn’t let go and instead tightens his hold because he’s a badass. McIntyre responds with a stiff slap which both forces GUNTHER to release Sheamus and also angers him. GUNTHER chops McIntyre and a forearm exchange ensues. Soon that turns into a chop battle that goes back and forth, which leads to a standing ovation from the crowd. Somewhere far away Kobashi and Sasaki are smiling.
GUNTHER wins the exchange and kicks McIntyre away and then Sheamus goes after both of them with forearms and uppercuts. The match becomes a true three-way as all three wrestlers start hitting each other randomly until GUNTHER takes control with cross chops to both challengers’ throats. More loud applause. Sheamus drapes GUNTHER across the top rope and prepares his Ten Beats again. But this time McIntyre wants in as well. Sheamus and McIntyre take turns clubbing/chopping GUNTHER as the crowd chants along. Twelve strikes drop GUNTHER and then McIntyre goes after Sheamus. Sheamus regains control and starts hitting Beats on McIntytre. McIntyre collapses after 28 forearm shots to his chest as Sheamus gets yet another standing ovation.
Sheamus goes for a crucifix powerbomb but GUNTHER boots him first. GUNTHER follows with a German suplex and a running lariat but only gets a two-count. Then GUNTHER drills Sheamus with a second, stronger lariat. One, two, Sheamus kicks out. GUNTRHER turns around and walks into a diving elbow from McIntyre. McIntyre charges into a corner but GUNTHER boots out. McIntyre ducks a clothesline and lands a neckbreaker on GUNTHER followed by ao overhead belly-to-belly suplex on Sheamus onto GUNTHER in the corner. McIntyre hits his Future Shock DDT and then goes for a Claymore kick. GUNTHER ducks down to dodge it and lands a shotgun dropkick into a corner. Powerbomb by GUNTHER. One, two, McIntyre kicks out.
GUNTHER goes for a top-rope splash but Sheamus cuts him off. Sheamus hits more stiff chops, a diving White Noise Air Raid Crash, and a successful crucifix powerbomb. The referee counts one…two…thr – no, GUNTHER survives. Cloverleaf by Sheamus. There’s no ropebreaks in a triple-threat match, but having to pull him away allows Sheamus to tighten the hold. But then, as Sheamus has his cloverleaf locked in, McIntyre locks him in a sleeper hold. Sheamus head-butts out, blocks a Future Shock, ducks a clothesline, and hits a bicycle knee strike to both McIntyre and GUNTHER. Sheamus with a Brogue Kick. McIntyre pulls Shgeamus to ringside before the three-count.
The two best friends stare daggers at each other and continue brawling as the crowd chants “this is awesome”. For once that chant doesn’t feel forced or out of place. McIntyre head-butts Sheamus off the apron and follows with a no-hands diving suicide flip dive. Damn! But he’s still not done. McIntyre goes for the claymore. Sheamus hits first with a Brogue Kick. One, two, th – NO, McIntyre kicks out.
More strike exchanges. McIntyre hits a Claymore but only gets another two-count. another strike battle ensues, first at the knees and then with both men standing. Then they switch to hitting standing clotheslines until Sheamus lands another Brogue Kick. Sheamus covers McIntyre. But then suddenly GUNTHER dives out of nowhere with a top-rope splash onto Sheamus. GUNTHER powerbombs Sheamus onto McIntyre’s head! Then GUNTHER powerbombs McIntyre!
One, two, and three! GUNTHER retains at WrestleMania!
Winner and STILL WWE Intercontinental Champion after 16:36: GUNTHER
HELL YES! What an outstanding match. This does live up to the hype as one of the best triple-threat matches ever and arguably the best match of the entire WrestleMania weekend. It was so simple: three men beating the crap out of each other. It was straightforward, badass, entertaining, concise, believable, and exciting. Even with the phony leg slaps to create fake noise, this was still, as Sheamus would call it, a “banger”. There needs to be more matches like this one.
There was no need for complex moves, daredevilry, or useless motion here. This was a straight-up brawl mostly confined to the ring through which all three wrestlers showed how tough they were. Very little of the action looked fake here; these guys really did hit each other full force many times. There was no need to add anything more complex to what they already had: simple brawling between three hardnosed badasses was all the story this match needed. These three just kept hitting each other over and over and over until one man couldn’t kick out. There was no need to go too much longer or bust out anything complex: this was a textbook example of the less-is-more philosophy in action. But if you don’t want to take my word for it, just listen to the crowd reactions throughout the match. They gave all three of these guys standing ovations several times. This was off things like strike exchanges and chops. This proved that, if the audience believes in a wrestler’s credibility and story presentation, then there’s no need to add unnecessary elements to a match or to pull teeth to get the same reaction.
Despite not being the focal point of the match, GUNTHER was still the star here. He showed just how badass, dangerous and credible he was. He had to be knocked away at the beginning because he posed the biggest threat. When he had a Boston crab locked in, he tightened his hold after taking an unprotected kick to the head. He pulled out a stiff chop battle without so much as flinching. He came off as such an absolute boss, despite the fact that he was physically smaller than both of his challengers. GUNTHER lived up to his aura as this hard-hitting monster that hits mercilessly hard despite not being the biggest guy in the ring.
There was only one major flaw with this match: the match’s structure saw one wrestler disappear for long periods of time, and in this case, it was GUNTHER. For whatever reason, GUNTHER spent several minutes throughout the match invisible. Maybe he was selling the damage he took, or maybe he was simply told to stay out of camera shot so that the action could focus on Sheamus and McIntyre. Either way, it was a minor structural flaw for the most important man in this match – the champion – to be relegated to third wheel for minutes on end, only to come back out of nowhere and steal the victory.
Don’t get me wrong, this match’s finish was great. But it could’ve been much better. There should’ve been a more sustained two-on-one effort from Sheamus and McIntyre to try and eliminate GUNTHER from the match, only for him to then make his comeback. GUNTHER isn’t the kind of wrestler to “bide his time and wait for the opportune moment” to steal a win. He’s the kind of wrestler that takes countless shots and still keeps pushing forward, like that giant from Game of Thrones that had dozens of arrows sticking out of his back yet wouldn’t go down. the match would’ve been slightly better than it already was if GUNTHER had a more dominant presence and a more emphatic victory. It’s not like that what they did here wasn’t good; it was, but there was clear room for improvement which, if done, would’ve really brought this match to that elite level.
Final Rating: ****3/4
Despite some tiny flaws, this match still kicked so much ass. This is a must-see wrestling contest because of its simplicity. It’s three badasses hitting each other as hard as possible until only one is left standing. No complexity, no science, no meticulous layout, and no convoluted pre-planned spots. Just hardnosed violence and toughness on display in front of a crowd that loved every minute. This was tremendous.
This match made pro-wrestling look difficult and painful. It made the viewer wince and think “I don’t want to do that”. It emphasized the amount of skill, patience, experience, and tenacity needed to compete in pro-wrestling properly while still maintaining one’s sense of legitimacy. There need to be more matches like this one to remind viewers that pro-wrestling isn’t for everyone and that only a select handful can do it properly.
Even though we’re only in April, this is very much an early contender for Match of the Year. It was so much fun while it lasted and it was worth every penny to watch live and rewatch again later.
Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.