Will Ospreay is one of the most controversial wrestlers active today. For many years his style was criticized by both wrestlers and wrestling fans for being acrobatic, phony, and in some cases, downright silly. Meanwhile, others have hailed him as a visionary and a trend-setter who’s taking wrestling in a new direction going forward.
I’ve covered Ospreay matches before in this series, and so far, only one has truly deserved top-tier praise. That match had a healthy balance between spectacle and story, which is rare for someone like Ospreay who loves to fly and show off his daredevilry. Then this match was recommended to me, along with the notion that Ospreay has ‘matured’ as a wrestler and is no longer in the same camp as his sillier counterparts in AEW.
But was that really the case here, or did Ospreay give the fans more of the same? Read on to find out.
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.
Ospreay beat Naito a few months earlier during the G1 Climax, robbing Naito of his chance to return to the Tokyo Dome main event. He wanted revenge and challenged Ospreay to a rematch, this time for Ospreay’s IWGP US title. Ospreay accepted and Naito attacked him afterwards, thus setting up this match.
This match originally took place on November 5th, 2022.
There’s no slow start here as Ospreay rushes with a dropkick but Naito dodges it. A blistering and frenetic chain grappling and dodging sequences ensues, ending with Naito rolling into his tranquilo pose and Ospreay’s right across from him doing the same. Ospreay trash-talks a bit and then Naito does a bit of light comedy by only pretending to lock-up. Ospreay loses his patience and goes after Naito, which leads to a struggle for control against the ropes. A tense standoff ensues and Naito ducks a chop. Suddenly enraged, Naito club’s Ospreay in the neck and hits a hiptoss into a single-knee backbreaker. Naito follows with a second backbreaker (which also targets the neck), and locks in a punishing neck scissor, only for Ospreay to reach the ropes almost instantly.
Ospreay rolls to ringside to recover and regain feeling in his arm as Naito taunts him from inside the ring. He’s forced to re-enter the ring to avoid being counted out but runs into a waiting Naito who snapmares him and locks in a punishing cravate hold. Ospreay manages to get to a corner but Naito takes his time before letting go and then hits more back elbows, again to Ospreay’s neck. Naito sends Ospreay into the opposite corner and starts his sweep/dropkick combo, but Ospreay breaks it up mid-combo by placing Naito on the top turnbuckle like Okada does and chops Naito so hard he falls to the floor.
At ringside, Naito sends Naito into the barricade so forcefully he actually flies over it. Some brief ringside brawling ensues and then Ospreay tosses Naito into the ring while still struggling with his left arm. Ospreay hits some chops and elbows for a two-count but then he starts acting cocky long enough for Naito to hit back. Naito hits another forearm to Ospreay’s neck but Ospreay retaliates. Then as Naito reverses an irish whip and tries another hiptoss backbreaker like before, Ospreay counters it with an abdominal stretch. Great counter. Naito tries escaping by clubbing Ospreay’s neck with his trapped arm but Ospreay fights through this and hits a spinning backbreaker.
Ospreay applies a rear chinlock to target Naito’s neck until Naito gets a ropebreak at the ten-minute mark. Naito holds onto the ropes on an Irish whip and drops Ospreay with a running high kick to give Ospreay a whiplash effect upon hitting the mat. Naito follows with a snapmare and a running dropkick to Ospreay’s neck. He sends Ospreay into another corner and tries his sweep/dropkick combo again. Ospreay escapes but Naito drops him causing him to hit the turnbuckle face-first and allowing Naito to dropkick Ospreay’s back. Naito follows with a swinging neckbreaker and covers for a two-count.
Naito mocks Ospreay some more and hits more elbows to the neck in a corner. He follows with a Devon Dudley-style corner hangman’s neckbreaker for another close two-count and then reapplies the neck scissor from before. He pulls away so that Ospreay can’t get a ropebreak and smacks the top of his head to taunt him as Ospreay screams in agony. Then, with all his might, Ospreay pushes himself close enough to the ropes to barely touch them with the tips of his boots, forcing a break.
Naito takes his time letting go and when Ospreay eventually gets to his feet he hits a weak elbow that barely registers. As Ospreay keeps hitting, Naito lands a barrage of forearms to the back of his neck, followed by stomps to that same spot. Naito lands an Irish whip when suddenly Ospreay does his handspring enzuigiri counter out of nowhere. Naito bails to ringside and Ospreay follows with a pescado to the floor.
Ospreay tosses Naito into the ring and goes for a springboard move but Naito counters into a tornado DDT. Or wait, no he doesn’t. Ospreay gets a sudden burst of strength and deadlifts Naito into a suplex. Naito lands on his feet and the two trade waistlocks. Both run into each other and Ospreay lands a walk-up kick/enzuigiri combo. Ospreay’s neck’s still bothering him but he perseveres and hits a springboard clothesline for a two-count. Ospreay teases an Os-Cutter but Naito grabs his leg so he lands Kawada-style stepkicks. Ospreay goes to the ropes again but this time Naito cuts him off and lands a rope-hung back and neckbreaker. But Naito’s not done. He follows with a neckbreaker off the apron and to the floor.
Naito sends Ospreay face-first into a ringpost and then applies another cravate hold using the steel barricade. Then Naito teases a neckbreaker onto the top of the barricade. But Ospreay fights out and hits an Os-Cutter onto the ringside mats. Another great counter. Both men spend a long time recovering. The referee makes his count and somehow, both men make it into the ring at exactly the same time at 19.99 at the twenty-minute mark.
Both men make it to their knees and to the trademark NJPW strong style strike exchange. Ospreay snarls like a demon as he tries firing up in the face of Naito’s constant attacks to his head and neck. The brutal strike exchange continues as Ospreay loses the ability to hit with one arm while Naito rains forearms and slaps on him without any trouble. Ospreay sinks down and the ref checks to see if he’s unconscious. When the ref confirms he can still fight, Naito lifts him up and hits more forearms to the neck. Ospreay fires back with Kawada kicks and when Naito hits more forearms, Ospreay catches on and counters with an Exploder suplex. But Naito holds onto Ospreay’s arm and continues with the hammering forearms. Ospreay keeps sinking down and appears to go limp but refuses to give up. With each elbow barrage Ospreay veers closer and closer to ragdolling like he’s unconscious. Naito goes for his Destino somersault inverted DDT but Ospreay blocks it. Naito boots his way out of a corner and goes for a headscissor. Ospreay counters and goes for a powerbomb. Naito escapes and counters into a successful tornado DDT. Then Naito lifts Ospreay up onto the top turnbuckle. Avalanche Poisoned Franken – no, Ospreay lands on his feet. Os-Cutter connects. One, two, Naito kicks out.
The twenty-five-minute mark passes as both wrestlers recover on the mat. Ospreay musters enough strength to lift Naito into the top turnbuckle and hit his Cheeky Nandos superkick to the face through the legs. Then, apparently having recovered completely, lifts Naito into the electric chair position, which is putting a ton of pressure on his neck. Ospreay gets onto the first ropes…the second ropes…and then – Naito spins over into a super Frankensteiner. Naito charges for Destino. Ospreay counters into a gorgeous Ligerbomb for a two-count. Ospreay teases his Hidden Blade finisher. Naito counters into a roll-up for a two-count and then ducks a kick to land an enzuigiri. Ospreay staggers but then he charges. Naito pops him up and sends him face-first into a turnbuckle. Naito follows with a flipping stunner from the top rope and goes for another Destino. Ospreay blocks it and lands a superkick. Naito avoids a Hidden Blade and lands Destino! One, two, Ospreay kicks out. Naito tries Destino again. Ospreay blocks and tries lifting Naito into his Stormbreaker finisher. Naito blocks that and spins it into another Destino. One, two, and – Ospreay kicks out again. Naito tries once more. Ospreay blocks over and over and hits a pop-up elbow smash. That’s followed by a Hidden Blade. But both men collapse. Ospreay hits another Hidden Blade to the back of Naito’s head. One, two, and – no, Naito survives this time. Stormbreaker connects. Ospreay gets the three-count to retain his title!
Winner and STILL IWGP United States Heavyweight Champion after 30:07: Will Ospreay
I had my reservations about this match at first because, well, it’s Will Ospreay and his wrestling style was very much an acquired taste. I say “was” here because this wasn’t like most other Ospreay matches. This was much better than almost every big Ospreay match I’ve seen to date. He and Naito had a fantastic match here. It had far more depth, story, and tension than I expected. I went into this expecting Ospreay to do his usual flippy nonsense and other unrealistic performance. But this wasn’t that sort of match. This was a brutal back-and-forth war that both men should be very proud of. Naito proved that he wasn’t as broken down as many people thought and Ospreay showed a more mature and believable style that made him look like a much more polished wrestler than ever before.
The match had one story: Ospreay’s bad neck. Naito went after it over and over and over, to the point that Ospreay started selling like he was crossing the threshold from ‘selling as a performance’ to ‘selling because he was legitimately hurt’. His work here was much better than in his earlier matches. Even though he was a heel, Ospreay fought from underneath and took an incredible beatdown and refused to give up. The title meant that much to him, as did getting back at Naito for his mockery by keeping him out of the Tokyo Dome. It was a bit hard to believe that Ospreay had so much neck strength left towards the end and that he was making this almost supernatural, Undertaker-like comeback. But it seems like that’s part of the charm. Ospreay came back from seemingly insurmountable odds by gritting his teeth and enduring Naito’s brutal and punishing offense.
But Ospreay wasn’t alone here. Naito did a phenomenal job as the arrogant bully that thought he’d have an easy night because his opponent wasn’t at 100%. But once he realized that Ospreay wasn’t backing down, Naito turned up the brutality. He pummeled Ospreay and Ospreay sold like he was approaching unconsciousness. Naito did everything he could to make his finishers more likely to end the match, but Ospreay just kept surviving. And in between all of Naito’s hard-hitting attacks, Ospreay snuck a few key hits in of his own. one the finishing stretch began and the kick-outs started happening, these two wrestlers started going in different directions. Ospreay started gaining confidence and hope while Naito started losing his. Naito became desperate and spammed whatever he could, desperate to counter Ospreay and hit enough head spikes to keep him down for the three-count. But it just wasn’t enough. Somehow, Ospreay endured head spike after head spike and hit enough critical moves to break through Naito’s guard and beat him.
It was also nice seeing Ospreay in particular learn and adapt to Naito’s offense. He took two hiptoss backbreakers early but then countered the third. He took many back elbows to the side of the neck, but then caught on and landed an Exploder. It’s always refreshing when a move that’s used a lot in a single match loses its effectiveness later on because the person taking that move catches on.
For some reason, that sort of in-match adaptation isn’t found stateside as often. It seems like wrestlers in both WWE and AEW don’t catch on to such things as often, which is one reason I think these Japanese matches, by and large, tend to stand the test of time better. If two sides can keep the viewer guessing by turning the same sequence on its head in different ways more than once in a single match, you’re going to keep the audience more engaged and focused. If you don’t, then you’re more likely to create patterns that never break. And even if said patter is psychologically-deep and logical, if it happens all the time and nothing’s ever done about that then the audience won’t care as much when it happens.
But despite all of those positives, and despite some truly awesome and well-executed counters and closing sequences, I think this match narrowly misses the mark in a few places.
While I have to commend Ospreay for selling better than ever before, he still does things that, logically-speaking, shouldn’t be in his matches. Specifically, his handspring enzuigiri counter was completely out of place in the moment it was used. Naito spent the prior ten minutes eviscerating Ospreay’s neck, to the point that he had to keep shaking his arm to make sure he still had feeling in it. That was early on and Naito only piled on the neck attacks from then on.
So for Ospreay to suddenly and magically have enough power to land such a complicated, acrobatic, and taxing move despite struggling to hit a single forearm moments earlier makes him still come across as an ‘incomplete’ wrestler.
This was a case of Ospreay still being unable to shake off his bad habits; his selling and match layout was superb up to that point. There was a difference to this match that made it more captivating than most Ospreay matches. Then he brought out his usual shtick, even if for a moment, and served to remind the audience that Ospreay still did stuff that broke the cohesion of the match’s overall narrative. Maybe this is nitpicking, but there’s a difference between airtight logic that stays consistent from bell to bell and a logic that has a few tiny holes in it. Those minor details can and do impact the match, especially when you’re trying to really immerse yourself into it and enjoy the action and the storytelling as much as possible.
Final Rating: ****3/4
Despite some minor flaws, this is still a worthwhile match. Ospreay’s on some sort of redemption arc as he continues to transform into a more believable wrestler. He still has some bad habits, some of which came through here.
But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is easily one of the best Ospreay matches in a long time and another great performance from Naito.