WrestleMania is the biggest event in the wrestling calendar. When you add in Axxess, the Hall of Fame and NXT: Takeover, it’s also WWE’s busiest weekend. The thing is, it’s not just WWE who will be in New Orleans that weekend. Going back over a decade you would be lucky to get more than 2 or 3 non-WWE shows at Mania weekend. This year there will be 21 non WWE wrestling shows, many of which will be available to watch live or on demand. With all this choice it’s hard to decide what to watch, so we decided to highlight 10 of the most intriguing non-WWE matches taking place at WrestleMania weekend.
Matt Riddle vs. Low-Ki: Matt Riddle’s Bloodsport @ Pontchartrain Convention Center – Thursday April 5th, 3pm
Bloodsport is the first show of the weekend and it has a theme based on hard hitting fights and unique matchups. In the last 3 years former UFC fighter Matt Riddle has become one of the most sought after wrestlers on the independent scene, proving that he is a natural fit for the wrestling ring. His skills, physique and good looks would make him a perfect fit for WWE. His opponent, Low-Ki, was one of the biggest independent stars in the 2000s thanks to his vicious kicks and all-action style. This honest to goodness indie dream match promises to be one of the hardest hitting matches of the weekend.
Timothy Thatcher vs. Toni Storm: Beyond Wrestling @ Pontchartrain Convention Center – Thursday April 5th, 11:55pm
Many shows this weekend have a theme. Beyond’s theme is a show made up exclusively of inter-gender matches. The one that caught my eye was this one. Toni Storm stood out at last year’s Mae Young Classic as one of the most impressive competitors, an exciting performer who is still very young. This match pits her against the more experienced Timothy Thatcher, who has the edge in height, weight, and mat wrestling technique. How will Toni try to defeat the intense veteran? Or will Thatcher be too much for his Australian opponent?
WALTER vs. Darby Allin: EVOLVE 103 @ Pontchartrain Convention Center – Friday April 6th, 4pm
WALTER is the best heavyweight wrestler in Europe, a 300lb monster with huge chops and bigger suplexes. He cares deeply about the perception of pro wrestling. His opponent, Darby Allin, is a former semi-pro skateboarder and his wrestling style channels a reckless, devil-may-care attitude. WALTER sees him as nothing but a joke and an embarrassment. Allin is dead-set on proving himself against WALTER, standing up to what he sees as yet another doubter. This might be the biggest clash of styles and physique all weekend, with both men wanting to prove a point.
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tomohiro Ishii: Revolution Pro Wrestling @ The Sugar Mill – Friday April 6th, 4pm
Zack Sabre Jr. has had an incredible 2018, defeating Naito, Ibushi, SANADA and Tanahashi in New Japan Pro Wrestling, establishing himself as a heavyweight threat thanks to his world class submission skills. This match gives him a chance to take another New Japan Heavyweight’s scalp. Tomohiro Ishii is one of my favorite wrestlers today thanks to his mix of technique, power, guts and determination. Will Ishii’s guts let him win the British Heavyweight Title, or will Sabre’s mat wrestling prowess be enough to let the windy man beat yet another New Japan Heavyweight?
Minoru Suzuki vs. Jeff Cobb: Revolution Pro Wrestling @ The Sugar Mill – Friday April 6th, 4pm
Minoru Suzuki may be almost 50 but that doesn’t stop the former MMA fighter from being one of the scariest, and surliest, wrestlers on the planet. I don’t expect former Olympian Jeff Cobb to be intimidated, however. Also known as Lucha Underground’s Matanza, this compact heavyweight is ridiculously strong and well known for his effortless suplexes and slams. His aim will be to try to throw Suzuki around like a rag-doll. That is, if Suzuki doesn’t stop him first.
Keith Lee vs. Daisuke Sekimoto: WWN Super-show Mercury Rising @ Pontchartrain Convention Center – Friday April 5th, 8pm
This is the rematch of an encounter held in London in 2017. Daisuke Sekimoto is one of the best wrestlers that you’ve never heard of. The best Japanese Heavyweight outside of New Japan, Sekimoto may not have the widest move-set but he is ridiculously strong and has an indomitable spirit. Keith Lee is a massive heavyweight whose arsenal of power moves is only rivaled by his arsenal of high flying moves. Lee may be the world’s best agile heavyweight and his matches are often spectacular. While Sekimoto isn’t afraid to climb the top rope himself, he’ll more likely decide to German suplex his 300lb+ opponent. This will be a battle of big men hitting each other with whatever they have until their opponent stays down.
Zack Sabre Jr vs. Munenori Sawa: WWN Super show Mercury Rising @ Pontchartrain Convention Center – Friday April 5th, 8pm
Zack Sabre Jr. has been a fan of Japanese wrestling for a long time, including the submission and striking focused “Shoot Style.” Munenori Sawa loved Shoot Style so much that he retired when his home promotion, Shoot Style specialists Battlarts, closed. Recently back from retirement, Sawa will fight one of the few wrestlers who loves Shoot Style almost as much as he does. Don’t expect any high flying or Irish Whips. Do expect these two to fight and grapple and beat the tar out of each other to show the Mania weekend fans the glory of Shoot Style.
Joey Janela vs. The Great Sasuke: Joey Janela’s Spring Break 2 @ Pontchartrain Convention Center – Friday April 6th, 11:55pm
This could be the craziest match all weekend. Joey Janela is known for his daredevil attitude and his love for unique matches which has made JJSB2 one of the hottest tickets for Mania weekend, despite starting around midnight. His hand picked opponent may be one of the few wrestlers who is more crazy and reckless. The Great Sasuke has done almost everything, including being elected as a politician. WWE star Neville was once known as “The man who gravity forgot”. To me, Sasuke is “The man who forgot about physics” thanks to his high flying offense and lack of common sense. I mean, the guy dives off the top rope wearing a barrel and thinks that light tubes can support his weight! Expect a match that is equal parts spectacular, chaotic and baffling.
Penta El Zero Em & Rey Fenix vs. Teddy Hart & Jack Evans: Pro Wrestling Revolver @ The Sugar Mill – Saturday April 7th, 11am
The Lucha Brothers, Penta El Zero Em & Rey Fenix, were two of the breakout stars from Lucha Underground and one of the most exciting tag teams in the world. Their style is a mix of Lucha Libre and modern US indie wrestling. Teddy Hart and Jack Evans are two of the most innovative wrestlers around. One of Bret Hart‘s nephews, Teddy was one of the youngest wrestlers to be signed to a WWE contract, although it didn’t work out. Now he’s more well known for crazy moves, being hard to control and breeding cats. Jack is an incredible high flier who has mostly focused on wrestling in Mexico. This match is going to be a spectacle, featuring every move that Teddy Hart can think of. I fully expect this to be the wrestling definition of style over substance.
Kenny Omega vs. Cody: Ring of Honor Supercard of Honor @ UNO Lakefront Arena – Saturday April 7th, 7:30pm
This is easily the non-WWE Mania weekend match with the longest build up. The tensions and issues between Kenny Omega and Cody have been building since last year. You could argue that this has been inevitable ever since Cody joined Bullet Club. The Club is slowly falling apart due to egos and ambition, and it has all been building to this. Omega is going in as the firm fan favorite, which makes this the non-WWE match with the most obvious good guy and bad guy. While I don’t expect this to be an all-time classic, the largest-ever ROH crowd will be lapping up the latest chapter of this compelling story. Hopefully it answers the question on people’s lips: what happens next for Bullet Club?