Some wrestling fans are less patient than others. They don’t have the time to really invest into a story and want the wrestlers they’re watching to get straight to the point.
Those same fans might get disappointed these days because there’s a dominant trend in place nowadays for big matches to go long just for the sake of it. And yet, from time to time there are examples of great matches that manage to tell the full story in less time.
Once again, I’ve found five such matches from around the world and want to share them with you. Hopefully you’ll enjoy these “quicker” matches as much as I did.
5. Muhammed Yone vs. Jun Akiyama – NOAH, March 4th, 2007
Background: Yone was an undercard guy that was looking to finally get his big break. He wanted to prove he could be a star so he decided to face someone credible and established. But his opponent here was Akiyama, a Japanese wrestling legend and multi-time former world champion. Yone knew that taking his time would be a death sentence against aging, grumpy, take-no-BS Akiyama, so he decided to rush into things. Let’s see how that works out for him.
The match: Yone rushes Akiyama during his entrance and lands a high kick to Akiyama’s head. The refs and doctors check on Akiyama and after about a minute he finally gets up. And he…is…PISSED! Both guys rush each other the moment Akiyama enters the ring. The bell rings and Yone out-strikes Akiyama with kicks. Yone tries a German suplex on the apron. Akiyama blocks it, kicks Yone’s leg, and lands an Exploder suplex off the apron to the floor.
Yone returns at the ref’s count of twelve and Akiyama kicks his face. Each time Akiyama turns around to charge for a knee strike, Yone gets up and taunts him. Akiyama responds with more stiff kicks but Yone just keeps getting up. Akiyama charges to the ropes but runs into a boot from Yone followed by a Backdrop suplex. Akiyama gets up and lands another kick but again Yone kicks harder. Both guys get up in opposite corners and Yone hits first with a yakuza kick. Then Yone plants Akiyam with a Muscle Buster. One, two, and – Akiyama kicks out. A roundhouse kick to the side of Akiyama’s head gets Yone another two-count. Akiyama has a bloody gash on his cheek from where Yone kicked him.
Yone goes for a top-rope guillotine leg drop. Akiyama dodges and lifts Yone up. Yone hits first with slaps and goes for another kick. Akiyama catches his leg and pummels him with a stiff strike barrage. Then Akiyama lands an Exploder but Yone kicks out at one. Stiff elbow and slap exchange. Akiyama wins that exchange and lands a jumping knee strike followed by another Exploder. One, two, Yone survives. Wrist-clutch Fisherman Brainbuster. Akiyama gets the pin and the win in less than five minutes!
Winner after 4:45: Jun Akiyama
Review: Easily one of the best under-five-minute matches of all time. It was as if these two decided to avoid the entire King’s Road wrestling structure and only do the closing sprint. They threw bombs at each other and hit each other incredibly hard. Yone busted Akiyama open but Akiyama soldiered on. It was a bit silly but it also came across as hardnosed and intense. The match told a great story of Yone needing underhanded tricks and violence to try and beat someone far above him. Watching Yone try with everything he had was fun; watching Akiyama punish him for trying was more fun.
Final Rating: ***
4. Zack Sabre, Jr. vs. Katsuyori Shibata – Special UWF Rules 5-Minute Exhibition Match – NJPW G1 Climax 2021, October 21st, 2021
Background: Four years earlier at Sakura Genesis 2017, Shibata suffered such a devastating injury that it ended his career and almost cost him his life. For years the general understanding on Shibata was that he would NEVER be cleared to wrestle again. But that changed in 2021. After years of working from the sidelines in a non-wrestling capacity, Shibata was cleared for a short return to the ring. Thus a special surprise was given to the fans during the G1. Shibata would wrestle ZSJ in a UWF rules match. What this meant in the past is that there were no pin-falls, submissions or count-outs and a match would be determined by a point system. I think that’s the case here, but everyone’s so shocked that this match is even happening that the rules aren’t 100% confirmed.
The match: The first two minutes or so feature nothing but pure and outstanding technical mat wrestling with both guys having brief moments of control. Soon after, Shibata teases a Figure-4 leglock but ZSJ blocks it from being applied fully.
Three minutes left.
ZSJ catches Shibata’s ankle and starts working it over but Shibata quickly counters into a headlock, only for ZSJ to counter that into a headscissor. Shibata escapes that and grabs ZSJ’s ankle but ZSJ escapes and another stalemate ensues.
Two minutes left.
A double knuckle lock ensues and then both wrestlers trade cross-arm stretches with ZSJ doing a sick Romero version of the hold. Shibata escapes while still controlling the wrists but ZSJ counters into a headlock.
One minute left.
ZSJ tries maintaining the side headlock but Shibata counters into a sleeper
Thirty seconds left.
Shibata switches to an abdominal stretch.
Twenty seconds left.
ZSJ counters into an abdominal stretch of his own.
Ten seconds left.
ZSJ keeps Shibata tied up as he tries stretching one of Shibata’s arms. Shibata counters back into his abdominal stretch. Then the bell rings to signal that time has run out.
Match result: 5-minute DRAW
Review: Surprise factor aside, that was very exciting given its limitations. It was two highly-skilled grapplers competing in the closest thing to pure traditional grappling possible. There were no strikes here, just technical holds and limbwork. Both of them excelled in those areas so a possible tap-out could’ve happened at any moment. The match was built on that ‘out of nowhere’ element and both guys used lightning-quick counters to try and win with any hold possible. It was so simple yet so successful: two grapplers doing what they did best without theatrics or gimmickry. For a guy who nearly died after his last match, Shibata looked as good as ever here and didn’t show any ring rust. He was on his home field wrestling the perfect opponent and showing off what he did best. This was great.
Final Rating: ***
3. Yoshihiro Takayama vs KENTA – KENTA’s Trial Series, NOAH, June 27th, 2004.
Background: NOAH had this ingenious concept called a Trial Series in which a newer wrestler had to take on seven wrestlers in singles competition. Those seven wrestlers were either established veterans or someone the wrestler “on trial” was close with. This wrestler needed to face all of them in order to see how he fared on his own. It was the most basic concept of getting a rookie over while also giving the veterans something meaningful to do. And in KENTA’s fourth trial match…well…he was totally screwed!
This was one of the biggest mismatches in NOAH history. Takayama outweighed KENTA by literally 100 pounds and stood almost a foot taller (Japanese promotions usually have strict weight divisions so mismatches like this rarely happen). Takayama was also world famous for his ability to absorb punishment, as seen with his legendary MMA fight with Don Frye, his similarly-stiff 2002 match with Misawa, and his amazing match with Kobashi two months prior to this one. But KENTA liked to hit people very hard, to the point that he was blurring the line between ‘working’ and ‘fighting’ more often than not. But worked that work in his favor here?
The match: Takayama offers a handshake but KENTA kicks at his hand instead. The match starts off more like a kickboxing exchange with KENTA hitting some quick strikes but Takayama no-sells them. Each time they get close Takayama grabs him by the neck as if you say ‘try that now you little shit’, and KENTA has to fight to free himself. KENTA keeps swinging with anything he can until Takayama has enough and hits kicks of his own followed by a big knee to KENTA’s head. KENTA gets up soon after but Takayama drops him with another stiff kick to the stomach. He starts moving again so Takayama lands a running knee to the head. Then Takayama lifts KENTA over his head and press slams him to the floor.
Takayama’s not done punishing KENTA as he slams him into the barricade and kicks KENTA’s chest in. he does the same in the ring and each time Takayama lands a kick the ref has to check on KENTA to make sure he’s conscious. And each time KENTA moves even an inch, Takayama kicks him harder. Takayama lands a big back body drop followed by yet another kick to the chest and pins with his foot on KENTA’s chest for a two-count. Suddenly KENTA fires up and slaps Takayama as hard as he can several times. Takayama cuts him off with a nasty elbow smash. KENTA gets up at the referee’s count of seven so Takayama slaps him back hard in the corner. Takayama charges for a corner kick but KENTA kicks first. Then KENTA hits a tornado hotshot and goes for a springboard dropkick. Takayama goes for a big boot but KENTA sidesteps and kicks Takayama’s head. springboard shotgun dropkick by KENTA. Takayama kicks out at two. KENTA hits a running penalty kick and covers with his foot on Takayama’s chest but only gets a one-count. KENTA follows with a barrage of kicks to Takayama’s chest and head. Takayama sinks down but still kicks out at two.
KENTA lands his martial arts rush and charges for the Busaiku Knee. Takayama hits first with a boot. Takayama goes for a back suplex but KENTA lands behind him. KENTA jumps onto his shoulders and lands a victory roll for another two-count. KENTA lands a ton more kicks and slaps, all of which are 100% full contact. But Takayama absorbs them all, grabs KENTA’s head with both hands, and hits another kneelift. Then Takayama hits more kicks of his own to keep KENTA grounded. Also, an important point: neither wrestler here does that cheesy thigh slap gimmick; the sound being made is that of very real martial arts strikes. Anyways, Takayama goes for another kick but KENTA catches his leg and lands an overhead suplex. Then KENTA lands a kneelift of his own followed by a Bridging German suplex. On a man 100 pounds heavier than him. One, two, Takayama kicks out.
KENTA lands another martial arts rush and this time he ducks Takayama’s kick. Busaiku knee connects. One, two, Takayama gets a ropebreak. KENTA continues hitting Takayama as hard as he can until Takayama eventually crumples to the mat. KENTA covers for a two-count and then switches to a cross armbreaker. Takayama lifts him up and KENTA tries witching to a triangle choke. Takayama overpowers him, drops him on his feet, blocks a kick, and lands another massive kneelift. Takayama follows with more kicks and a tree slam, followed by a big running kneelift to KENTA’s face. One, two, KENTA kicks out. Takayama goes for his Everest German suplex finisher but switches mid-move into a facebuster. Then he charges to the ropes and hits another bit kneelift to KENTA’s face. One, two, and three! Takayama destroys KENTA!
Winner after 10:21: Yoshihiro Takayama
Review: Sometimes you just want to see someone get beat up, which is what happened here. This was one of the stiffest, most hard-hitting matches I’ve ever seen. It was basically ten minutes of unchained violence with a nice little David vs. Goliath story mixed in as well. Takayama just obliterated KENTA without mercy. But KENTA made the most out of what was basically an unwinnable situation. He behaved like an angry Chihuahua being overly aggressive to try and sell the idea that he was truly ferocious. But Takayama put him in his place over and over. And even though KENTA started the match as this semi-unlikable aggressor, fans got behind him in the end for his tenacity and grit. He refused to stay down despite Takayama caving his head in with hicks and knees. KENTA tried everything but it just wasn’t enough. His never-say-die attitude in the face if clearly impossible odds made his fight compelling and exciting, especially as he dropped Takayama despite most people thinking he couldn’t manage such a thing. Takayama sold well enough for KENTA without looking weak or phony and really hit KENTA hard to make him look tough as well. Everyone won here. This is easily one of the most fun ten-minute matches you’ll ever see…if you have the stomach for it.
Final Rating: ***3/4
2. IWGP Intercontinental Championship match: Shinsuke Nakamura [c] vs. Kazushi Sakuraba – NJPW Wrestle Kingdom VII (2013)
Background: Back during his rookie years, Nakamura dabbled in MMA at Antonio Inoki’s behest. He finished that venture with a passable 3-1 record and kept his MMA knowledge as part of his wrestling arsenal. Even as Nakamura transformed into his “Swagsuke” personality, he was still treated as a major threat because he knew how to go to the mat and bust out his MMA skill on a moment’s notice. But that wasn’t the case here. Nakamura wasn’t the guy to be feared because he had some experience in MMA. His opponent in this match was Kazushi Sakuraba, whose nickname was far more terrifying than any of Nakamura’s.
Sakuraba was known as…THE GRACIE HUNTER .
Not only did Sakuraba beat four different Gracies – Royler, Renzo, Ryan, and Royce – but he also beat 13 different MMA champions from different MMA companies. With an MMA record of 26-17, Sakuraba is a more dangerous MMA fighter than Brock Lesnar ever was. Needless to say Nakamura was walking into the lion’s den without a weapon.
The match: They shake hands and the match is on. There’s some missed kicks and some amateur grappling early on. Sakuraba blocks a single-leg takedown and then lands one of his own. Some great MMA-style mat wrestling ensues with Nakamura doing his best to maintain a guard. After a ropebreak and a breather, the two move carefully to avoid getting kicked. Nakamura gets Sakuraba in a corner and slaps him, causing a switch to flip. Both wrestlers rush each other and swing with everything they’ve got. Full-contact slaps and knees galore. Sakuraba catches Nakamura’s leg on a kick and takes him down and lands a running double stomp to Nakamura’s face. Sakuraba goes for a rear naked choke but Nakamura gets to a corner for safety.
Nakamura retaliates with kneelifts and his “vibrations” corner stomp. Then Nakamura goes for a running corner kneelift but Sakuraba escapes and locks in a sleeper from the apron. Sakuraba returns to the ring and smacks the hell out of Nakamura before hitting a German suplex. Nakamura channels his fighting spirit and charges right away…and runs into a knee to the face. the referee confirms Nakamura is conscious so Sakuraba starts hitting mounted punches and palm strikes. Sakuraba locks in a triangle choke but Nakamura powers out and hits a sick Boma Ye to the back of Sakuraba’s head. Nakamura charges again. Sakuraba dodges and tries another German. Nakamura resists so Sakuraba rolls into a cross armbreaker. Nakamura escapes but Sakuraba maintains control and goes for a kimura. Nakamura tries countering into his own cross armbreaker but Sakuraba still maintains control and goes back to palm strikes to Nakamura’s head.
Nakamura gets a ropebreak to avoid another submission hold but Sakuraba tries maintaining wrist control for a kimura. But Nakamura counters that with a Landslide . Sakuraba avoids another German and rolls into another kimura. Nakamura tries kneeing his way out but Sakuraba uses his free arm to block. Sakuraba rolls into a cross armbreaker but Nakamura keeps his hands clasped together. Sakuraba fights hard and breaks Nakamura’s grip, but the second he does so Nakamura frees himself and hits another Boma Ye. A third Boma Ye connects! Nakamura gets the pin and the win to retain his title!
Winner and STILL IWGP Intercontinental Champion after 11:12: Shinsuke Nakamura
Review: For those thinking that this was the ghost of Inokism coming back to haunt New Japan…it wasn’t the case. This was easily one of the best “wrestler vs. MMA fighter” contests ever. It was a short, tense, explosive, Inoki-strong-style match that blurred the line between ‘worked’ pro wrestling and ‘real’ MMA. There wasn’t anything in here that screamed ‘wrestling move’ aside from Nakamura’s Landslide. Everything else was basically amateur grappling and stuff from various martial arts disciplines. It felt like a real athletic contest that was full of tension and surprises. Some fans were legitimately concerned for Nakamura’s well-being since Sakuraba could’ve snapped him like a twig at any moment. there was this sense of caution and danger for both guys since Sakuraba was seen as a more ‘legit’ fighter. He almost knocked Nakamura out with a knee and almost tapped him out several times. But then that closing sequence came with Nakamura fihting for survival and somehow countering someone as adept on the mat as Sakuraba. The final nail in the coffin was a shotgun-like Boma Ye to put Sakuraba out. Fantastic match overall.
Final Rating: ****1/4
1. Edge vs. Mick Foley – WrestleMania 22
Background: Mick Foley was brought in to referee a WWE title match between Edge and Cena and when Edge lost he blamed Foley. Determined to get revenge on Foley (and to give Foley the WrestleMania moment he never got), Edge decided to challenge Foley to Foley’s specialty: a hardcore match.
The match: Edge swings the baseball bat he brought down with him but Foley dodges and hits come corner punches followed by a running bulldog. Foley ties Edge in the tree of woe and lands a running elbow drop to Edge’s face. Foley turns around and eats a big boot and a clothesline as Lita gives Edge some metal objects from under the ring. Edge cracks Foley in the head with two cooking sheets and then dropkicks a road sign into Foley’s face. Edge follows with a spear. But wait, he hurts himself way more than he hurts Foley. Then Foley gets up and reveals his genius: underneath his black flannel coat is barbed wire wrapped around him. Edge’s shoulder connected with barbed wire while Foley remained protected.
There is a deep gash on Edge’s shoulder as Foley un-wraps the barbed wire and whips Edge with it. He grinds that wire into Edge’s wound and chokes him with it and then Edge does the André spot by getting tied between the ropes. Foley uses that opportunity…to being out Barbie. The crowd starts cheering wildly when Lita jumps onto Foley’s back. But that has little effect as Foley lands a Cactus Clothesline, sending all three of them tumbling to the floor. Foley covers Edge but only gets a two-count.
Foley lands a swinging neckbreaker on the ringside mats for another two-count. He lands rapid-fire forearms and goes for a facecrusher against the ringsteps but Edge counters with a hiptoss. Some more ringside brawling ensues and then Edge sends Foley careering into the steel steps. Edge grabs a chair and then basement dropkicks Foley as Foley tries escaping the ring. Edge sets up a table on the floor and places Foley on it. he climbs a turnbuckle but Foley rolls away. Edge chases Foley up the entrance ramp and smashes Foley’s head in to the steel ramp piece for a two-count. Then Edge tosses Foley into the ring and Lita hands him something. It’s a bottle of lighter fluid. Edge douses Foley with the lighter fluid but Foley hits back with a forearm. Foley follows with a classic piledriver but only gets a two-count. Foley tries a con-chair-to using a chair and one of those baking sheets but Lita interferes. That distraction allows Edge to hit a DDT for a close two-count. Edge hits Foley with Barbie in the gut, the back, and the head, and then lands a running facecrusher onto it. Edge covers but only gets a two-count. Then Edge pulls out and empties a back of thumbtacks. Edge goes to throw Foley into them…but Foley counters with a back suplex. Edge’s back looks like a twisted pun cushion.
A bloody Foley gets up ignoring the few tacks in his back and pulls our Mr. Socko. Then he wraps Socko in barbed wire and applies the Mandible Claw! Foley stops suddenly when he sees Lita coming and applies the Claw on her! Then Foley gets more revenge by hitting Edge with Barbie.
Now both wrestlers are bloodied as Foley grinds Barbie into Edge’s face. Foley’s attention turns to the table setup below and the bottle of lighter fluid. He pours most of that fluid onto the table but gets stopped by Lita who hits his crotch with Barbie. Then she sets the table on fire as Foley hangs on the ring apron. Suddenly Edge charges! Spear! Suicide Spear through the ropes onto a burning table! Holy Shit! A twitching, bleeding, and burned Edge crawls over to cover Foley. One, two, and three! Edge beats Foley and creates a WrestleMania moment for the ages!
Winner after 14:36: Edge
Review: Easily one of the most memorable matches of the decade. It was the match of the night for sure and one of the best matches of both wrestlers’ careers. It was as violent as it was creative. Both guys had some genius ideas here that they worked to perfection. Foley found a brilliant way to keep Edge from hitting the Spear (at least at first) which forced Edge to rely on cheap tricks (including interference from Lita) to try and win. They built the match up perfectly. Things escalated in intensity and brutality. I didn’t think they could find a way to top a thumbtack spot but they did. That spear through a burning table has become one of Edge’s career-defining moments. It was insane and both guys were lucky they only singed a bit of their hair and nothing more. While this makes for a nice and compact little bloodbath, I still think that Foley’s brutal war with Randy Orton outdoes this match in every way except for the surprise factor. Still, this is a great example of both wrestlers’ (and Lita’s) dedication to their craft. Only true consummate pros could pull off something as dangerous and high-risk as this without looking like they’re stalling or over-preparing to make sure the spots are done “safely”.
Final Rating: ****1/4