Monday, December 28, 2015

Kevin's Top 100 Matches of 2015: #85-76

85. IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Hirooki Goto (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – NJPW Dominion 7/5/15

At New Japan’s Wrestling Dontaku event, Hirooki Goto defeated Shinsuke Nakamura to win the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. Nakamura has lost the title four times, usually gaining it back before the new champion makes any successful defenses. This was Goto’s first defense of the title. Nakamura came out dressed like a fucking ninja. That’s right, ninja vs. samurai. I was pretty sold once I saw that. The match itself started slowly as they chose to build to something bigger with 22:40 to play with. Honestly, if this was kept to a shorter length, I think it would have been a bit better, but their G1 match was shorter and I preferred this so maybe that isn’t always the case. Still, the final third of this match delivered big time, like it was a Kazuchika Okada match or something. Once this started going, it was pretty awesome. Goto had the Boma Ye very well scouted, and was able to counter it multiple times before retaining his belt. Granted, Goto would never make another successful defense as he lost the title to none other than Nakamura in September. ****

84. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW G1 Climax 7/26/15

Early on in the G1 Climax, the “A” Block was my preferred block (though that would change as the tournament went on). This was the fifth night of the tournament and proved to be one of the better ones. In the main event, Hiroshi Tanahashi faced Tetsuya Naito in a rematch of the finals of the G1 two years earlier. I’ve never seen that match, but I heard it was a pretty big disappointment. This was a very different Naito though, fully immersed in his new heel persona. For me, it was in this match that Naito really started nailing it. From his mannerisms early on to his actions during and after the match, he was a total dick. On the Tanahashi side of things, the guy once again proved that he is nowhere the end of his road. They worked a smart 24:14 match that did a great job in establishing this Naito heel gimmick. A win over the top guy in the company was absolutely a big way to show everyone that a new and improved Tetsuya Naito had indeed arrived. ****

83. Global League Finals: Naomichi Marufuji vs. Shelton X Benjamin – NOAH Global League Finals 11/8/15

The stakes were high at the end of Pro Wrestling NOAH’s Global League Tournament. Shelton X Benjamin represented the Suzuki-Gun faction, led by current GHC Heavyweight Champion Minoru Suzuki. Naomichi Marufuji was the NOAH guy. The winner would earn a shot at the GHC Heavyweight Title. Marufuji is the guy that has to save NOAH from Suzuki-Gun and their hostile takeover. I mean, throughout the year, Suzuki-Gun had a firm grasp on every single belt in NOAH. He’s the last hope for the company and the crowd reacted to this match as so. They were completely invested in the entire 24:06 of the match. Marufuji got out of the gate quickly, with some early near falls and a series of superkicks. Shelton came back as the monster heel that he’s become pretty good at playing. It’s a role I never envisioned for him, but he nails it from what I’ve seen of him in NOAH. The interference from Suzuki-Gun during this made sense and wasn’t overdone, so it worked. Benjamin survived Shiranui Kai, but fell to Tiger Flowsion. It set Marufuji up as the top contender for Suzuki’s belt in a showdown for not only the title, but NOAH as a whole. ****

82. Ricochet vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – PWG Battle of Los Angeles 8/29/15

Of the three Battle of Los Angeles matches to make the list, this was the longest at 23:04. Ricochet won the tournament the year before but he faced a favorite for this year, Zack Sabre Jr., in the first round. Ricochet is known for his freakish athleticism while Sabre is known for being arguably the best technical wrestler on the planet. That clash of styles is usually hit or miss and on this night, it hit. First things first, Ricochet dedicated the match to Lil’ Sebastian of Parks and Recreation fame, instantly getting a pop from me. Anyway, despite not being a highly touted technician, Ricochet did a fine job in holding his own on the mat with Sabre. When he got on offense, things were exciting though to be honest, Sabre is exciting even when he’s just working the mat. The finishing stretch is pretty great, as Ricochet pulls out a trio of suplexes and the 630 but can’t win. Sabre is able to score the three on a bridging prawn hold, letting everyone know that there would be a new BOLA champion this year, which would turn out to be Sabre himself. ****

81. NXT Women’s Championship: Sasha Banks (c) vs. Charlotte – NXT 7/15/15

The Monday prior to this episode of NXT, Becky Lynch, Charlotte and Sasha Banks made the jump to the main roster to Kickstart the “Divas Revolution”, so the spotlight was really on them here. Sasha ran into issues with Dana Brooke and Emma, needing a partner. Charlotte came to her side, but with the condition that she receive a shot at the NXT Women’s Title. Now, these two had some good to great matches in the past, with this being about on par with their best efforts. I saw NXT live in June and they basically had a carbon copy of this match. Even though I saw it before, I was still really enjoying this contest. Their chemistry is nearly always perfect and that’s part of the reason I think the WWE is waiting to give these two ladies a big match on a relatively big stage. The final few minutes of this are among the best stuff they’ve ever done together, including a great spot where Charlotte has the figure four locked in and Sasha reaches the ropes. Instead of breaking the hold, Charlotte holds on, falling outside while the referee counted to five. It was pretty much the old Bret Hart ring post figure four spot, but on the apron. Sasha would make it through that though, getting Charlotte to tap out at 13:28. Sasha’s fantastic run in NXT would produce two more top notch matches you’ll see later on the list. ****

80. Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata vs. Shinsuke Nakamura and Tomohiro Ishii – World Tag League 11/21/15

This was my first year watching New Japan’s World Tag League. I was told that it usually doesn’t feature many great, standout matches, but mostly solid stuff. So when I tuned into the first night of the tournament and saw the two main events, consider me wowed. Both were among the best tag team matches I saw all year. The first saw a duo that I really enjoy, Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata take on Shinsuke Nakamura and Tomohiro Ishii. I’ve seen everyone in this match face each other, so I knew the chemistry was there. The effort matched as, for the next 12:48, this was just great stuff. Everything done in this match was hard hitting, exactly how I expected. It didn’t matter if Ishii was in there with Shibata or if Nakamura was battling Goto or any other combination, you were getting something enjoyable. A Penalty Kick from Shibata put the NEVER Champion Ishii down for the count, helping to set the stage for Shibata/Ishii at Wrestle Kingdom 10. ****

79. Hiroshi Tanahashi and Michael Elgin vs. Kazuchika Okada and YOSHI-HASHI – World Tag League 11/21/15

The only time on this list that two matches from the same show will be paired together. After Goto, Shibata, Nakamura and Ishii put on a great show, they were followed up by this main event. YOSHI-HASHI is a guy that I never expected to make this list. He’s not outwardly bad, but he’s just not very good. Michael Elgin got super over in Japan during his G1 run. Nothing really even needs to be said about Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada at this point. Elgin and YOSHI started but when Tanahashi got the tag, things got really good. He demanded Okada come in so they could renew their rivalry a bit before their match at Wrestle Kingdom 10. Their brawl was intense and physical, doing a great job of setting up WK10. It seems like their upcoming WK10 match could be more physical than past encounters. Elgin continued to impress when he was given the opportunity, looking like a completely different man in Japan than in the States. Okada is the show stealer here though, playing the smug dick so well. Elgin won it for his guys after two powerbombs on YOSHI-HASHI at 17:10. ****

78. Hell in a Cell: Bray Wyatt vs. Roman Reigns – WWE Hell in a Cell 10/25/15

Polarizing is a word I’d use to describe the opinions on this match. I’ve seen some call it amazing and some say it was one of the worst Hell in a Cell matches in history. Personally, and obviously by it being on this list, I’m closer to the former than the latter. The feud leading into this was personal and despite it running for a while, culminating in the Cell was fitting. They went out and made sure to have a pretty badass match within the confines of the PG rating. I’ve heard a lot of people say that the Hell in a Cell can’t work in that situation but I think they, and Brock and Taker later on in the show, made it work. The weapons were brought into play, like kendo sticks, tables and steel chairs. There were some great spots throughout, like Roman Reigns using two kendo sticks at once to attack Bray Wyatt, Bray hitting a uranage through a table and Reigns nailing one of his best Spears off the apron and through a table. In the end, after 23:10, Reigns hit another Spear and came out on top of this long rivalry. It was another feather in the cap of a great 2015 for Roman Reigns. ****

77. IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Karl Anderson – NJPW Power Struggle 11/7/15

For the fifth time in his career, Shinsuke Nakamura captured the IWGP Intercontinental Title at Destruction. The belt has become synonymous with Nakamura since he not only put it on the map, but made it a very sought after title. It’s even main evented Wrestle Kingdom in the past, and it headlined this Power Struggle event. Karl Anderson defeated Nakamura early on in the G1 Climax, so he quickly asked for a title shot and got it here. I liked their G1 match but it was certainly bested here. As usual with most Bullet Club matches, when the interference isn’t overdone, like here, it produces a relatively great match. Anderson held serve for most of the match until Nakamura made the babyface rally. Props to Anderson because, while he performed very well in this contest, he didn’t outshine Nakamura, who obviously has to come off as the bigger star. Anderson is really good at doing that. It was a tough task to work here since everyone knew Shinsuke was retaining because of the open challenge set for Wrestle Kingdom but they made me and many others buy into a few false finishes. Nakamura did retain after a Boma Ye at 21:37 before being challenged by AJ Styles to a match at Wrestle Kingdom 10. ****

76. NEVER Openweight Championship: Togi Makabe (c) vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW King of Pro Wrestling 10/12/15

After I was disappointed when Togi Makabe retained the NEVER Openweight Championship at Destruction in Okayama, Tomohiro Ishii came out and issued a challenge for the belt. Add in more disappointment from me. Not because these two aren’t capable of a good match, but because it had been done to death already in 2015. Their prior matches were either really good or really disappointing. They apparently saved their best for last because this was superior to those previous encounters. It was 17:54 of two dudes just beating the fuck out of each other. For the most part, they didn’t reinvent the wheel or do anything new, but it just all clicked better than usual. One new thing was seeing Ishii bust out Makabe’s King Kong Knee Drop. Ishii was able to win back the title, ending their series. For now at least. This set up the third match in the Honma/Ishii 2015 series, which is much better than the Ishii/Makabe series. If you only watch one Ishii/Makabe match from this year, I’d say this is your safest bet for a great one. ****

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