Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Top Ten Thursday: Major Events in 2015

Judging by my ability to make a Top 100 Matches of 2015 list, it was a pretty great year in terms of match quality. However, there weren't that many standout events. There were some good ones, but only a handful that I'd consider great. That's what we're looking at here. My picks for the ten best major shows in wrestling last year. This can include any Pay-Per-View or special event (Beast in the Eat, G1 Finals, Ultima Lucha, etc.).

10. NXT TakeOver: Respect

Starting off this list is a show that was really good from top to bottom. It might actually be the most consistent NXT TakeOver this year. This happened to be a historic show for two reasons. First, it featured the Semi-Finals and Finals of the first ever Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic in honor of the fallen legend. The other reason it’s historic is that Sasha Banks and Bayley became the first females to not only compete in an Ironman match but also to main event a major WWE event. The three Tag Team Classic matches were all good, with the one pitting Chad Gable and Jason Jordan against Baron Corbin and Rhyno being the best. It was this match that really seemed to put Gable and Jordan on the map, setting them on the fast track to NXT superstardom. Finn Balor and Samoa Joe won the whole thing in a nice moment. This show also gave Apollo Crews his first big TakeOver win as he bested NXT’s resident upper card whipping boy, Tyler Breeze. Adding to the historical value of the show, we saw the in ring debut of Asuka, who seems to have a very bright future ahead of her and is already one of the most talented women in WWE history. Of course, the main event between Banks and Bayley lived up to the hype. It was honestly, the third best women’s match I’ve ever seen in WWE history, while also being the most brutal. They not only delivered in their main event slot, but gave a more than fitting end to a great show.

9. NJPW G1 Climax Finals

The G1 Climax this year had a lot to live up to. The 2014 incarnation of the tournament is widely considered to not only be the best in history, but the best tournament in wrestling ever. This year’s wasn’t quite on that level but I’d say I was pretty close. After eighteen nights, some better than others, it all came to a head in the finals on August 16th. With only one tournament match remaining, they had to fill the rest of the card in other ways. They found a good way to do that. Outside of the typical NJPW multi-man tags early on in the show, which were all mostly fun, there was the second best IWGP Jr. Tag Team Title match of the year between reDRagon and the Young Bucks. KUSHIDA also evened the score against Ricochet when he retained the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title against him in another really good match. Michal Elgin, who had a fantastic run in the G1, beat YOSHI-HASHI in a surprisingly good match. AJ Styles pinned Kazuchika Okada in another fun six man tag match before the main event came. Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura have wrestled loads of times and some were great, while some disappointed. This was their best work together. It all came together in one epic finale that Tanahashi prevailed in. It’s possible that was their last match in history and they could not have ended on a better note. I’d like to note that the G1 show before this was very close to making the list.

8. NJPW Power Struggle

Power Struggle is kind of a “B level” event for New Japan Pro Wrestling. Not that it’s usually a bad show, but it’s one of the ones that isn’t headlined by a World Title match since they started not doing World Title matches on every major show. That’s usually reserved for Wrestle Kingdom, Dominion, Invasion Attack and King of Pro Wrestling for example. However, that didn’t stop this from being a great show. The show began in solid fashion with a few multi-man matches surrounding the in-ring re-debut of EVIL. The show really started to pick up with the finals of the Super Jr. Tag Team Tournament. That tournament was lackluster in general but the finals were much better than expected as Ricochet and Matt Sydal bested Roppongi Vice. After a fun tag involving AJ Styles, Bad Lucky Fale, Toru Yano and YOSHI-HASHI, things got really great. Tomoaki Honma and Tomohiro Ishii completed their 2015 trilogy with another great, hard hitting match. Then, one of the best tag team matches all year happened when Katsuyori Shibata teamed with Hiroshi Tanahashi against Kazushi Sakuraba and Kazuchika Okada. I enjoyed Okada’s interactions with Tanahashi here more than I did during their WK10 match. Rounding out the evening, Shinsuke Nakamura successfully retained the IWGP Intercontinental Title against Karl Anderson, before coming face to face with AJ Styles, setting up a dream match for Wrestle Kingdom. This show was pretty much the definition of a card over delivering.

7. ROH Final Battle

The lone Ring of Honor show to make this list. I’m not saying anything negative about ROH as a whole because most of their Pay-Per-Views were good, but most didn’t reach great territory. They happened to save their best for last, capping the year in style. Outside of a really short Tag Team Title match, everything on this show was good to great. They started with a fun three way tag team opener before managing to end the Silas Young/Dalton Castle feud with both guys coming off looking good. There was a solid hoss battle between Moose and Michael Elgin, a decent six man tag and a pretty good match for the Television Title involving two really good wrestlers. There were two matches that really stood out and helped take this card to the level that other ROH PPVs never reached. Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly, in the midst of a red hot rivalry, faced off in a great match that left just enough out to guarantee some rematches. Then, the main event stole the show and was the best match Ring of Honor produced throughout all of 2015. AJ Styles and Jay Lethal put on a classic World Title match that more than lived up to the hype. If you can only see one ROH event from 2015, make sure it’s this one.

6. NOAH Great Voyage in Osaka

Thanks to their old partnership with Ring of Honor, I’ve seen a fair amount of Pro Wrestling NOAH matches but never a full show. That was until I saw this event. Man, I chose the right show to check out. Even though I wasn’t fully aware of everyone on the card or the angles involved, it was still a truly enjoyable show. There was a pretty bad opener, but everything after that ranged from pretty damn good to great. One of the things I liked most was that there were so many different things involved. There were fast paced, enjoyable Junior tag matches, a pretty convincing brawl, good tag team wrestling and a true heavyweight fight in the main event. Guys like Shelton Benjamin, Naomichi Marufuji, War Machine, the Killer Elite Squad and Katsuhiko Nakajima all delivered and put on quite the show. The crowds in Osaka are always great (which you’ll hear more about later). It was the main event on this show that really solidified its position here. Minoru Suzuki, the GHC Heavyweight Champion and leader of the Suzuki-Gun stable, put his title on the line against Takashi Sugiura. There were so many little things about this match done so perfectly that it all really clicked. In most years, it would have probably been my match of the year, but there were a TON of amazing matches in 2015. Because of this show, I will be certain to watch more NOAH this year.

5. NXT TakeOver: Rival

Unlike the TakeOver: Respect show that I listed earlier, not every match on this show delivered. There were two matches that didn’t exactly shine. Baron Corbin and Bull Dempsey had a pretty awful match, while the Lucha Dragons faced Blake and Murphy in a disappointment of a Tag Team Title match. Why is this show ranked so high then? Everything else on this show was great. Hideo Itami opened things against Tyler Breeze in a really solid match before things slowed down with those two aforementioned matches. Then things kicked into a ridiculously high gear with a string of three straight matches on a level that NXT has never reached again. That’s right, I’ve never seen NXT produce three straight matches of this quality. Finn Balor and Adrian Neville had a fantastic match that not only made Balor the number one contender for the NXT Title, but also doubled as a passing of the torch. The women of NXT delivered another standout performance when Becky Lynch, Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Bayley competed in an awesome fatal four way where Sasha won the title and began the best reign as NXT Women’s Champion so far. To close things out, the rivalry between Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn reached a boiling point in the best NXT Title match that I saw all year long. Watching Owens decimate Sami and leave fans in tears to close the show and win the belt was one of the best moments on any show.

4. NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn

The pinnacle of the NXT TakeOver specials. It was the first TakeOver to happen outside of the friendly confines of Full Sail University. They went out and sold out the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, one night before SummerSlam did the same thing. The main difference was that NXT didn’t have the names like John Cena, Brock Lesnar and the Undertaker behind it but managed to vastly outperform that show. There were so many things to love about this show. First of all, the atmosphere in that building was absolutely tremendous. There were special moments all over the place. Jushin Thunder Liger made his first appearance with the WWE in a fun match against Tyler Breeze. We saw the debut of Apollo Crews, who impressed, as well as the first TakeOver match for Samoa Joe, who beat Baron Corbin in probably the best match of Corbin’s career. Even the tag team division, which was usually a weaker part of TakeOver specials, delivered the best tag match on a TakeOver ever. The final two matches were fantastic though. Sasha Banks and Bayley not only had the best women’s match I have ever seen, but it was also my match of the year for 2015. It was a tough act to follow, but Finn Balor and Kevin Owens did pretty well with that, having one of the better NXT Title matches in history. It was a special show that even brought Seth Rollins to tears in the front row.

3. NJPW Dominion

I originally signed up for New Japan World at the start of 2015 to watch Wrestle Kingdom. Unfortunately, I was unable to keep it past that and didn’t sign up again until it was time for Dominion. So basically, the first two NJPW shows I got to see were both all-time greats. There were four matches from this event that ended up on my Top 100 Matches of 2015 list. That’s impressive. Running down the matches that didn’t make the list, we’d still have a pretty good show. The Junior Tag Title match was one of the better incarnations of that same shit they do each time out. Togi Makabe and Tomohiro Ishii had their worst match but it was still pretty good. We got to see a key part of Tetsuya Naito’s incredible heel turn as well as a fun little match between Hiroshi Tanahashi and Toru Yano. I mean, the only stinker on the card was the IWGP Tag Team Title match. The rest of the show is phenomenal. Kenny Omega and KUSHIDA had what was easily the best match of their series of three, while Shinsuke Nakamura and Hirooki Goto had their second best match of the four from 2015. Katsuyori Shibata and Kazushi Sakuraba showed how two real men fight in one of the hardest hitting matches all year long. To cap it all off, AJ Styles and Kazuchika Okada competed in their best match ever and one that nearly made my top 10 this year. It was the crowning moment for Okada, who still holds the title to this day. In most years, this would be an easy pick for the best show of the year.

2. NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 9

My first foray into New Japan Pro Wrestling was certainly impressive. It was this show that made me stand up and realize that I had to do everything in my power to see more from New Japan. This was everything great about Dominion, but throw in the atmosphere of the Tokyo Dome and the pageantry of a WrestleMania like show. There was something for everyone on this show. If you like fast paced spot fests, you could enjoy the opening IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Title match. If you like your matches to be fights, check out Minoru Suzuki and Kazushi Sakuraba in a match that could only end via knockout, submission of ref stoppage. If you want to see good old fashioned tag team wrestling, the IWGP Tag Title match more than delivered. That’s all not including a great fight between Makabe and Ishii, as well as the three top matches. I mentioned earlier that NXT TakeOver: Rival had three straight excellent matches, but there was no better streak of three straight matches than the final three at Wrestle Kingdom. AJ Styles, Tetsuya Naito, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kota Ibushi, Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi all performed at the top of their games and delivered some incredible bouts. The one between Nakamura and Ibushi was my clear match of the year for over seven months. Tanahashi and Okada had their last great match in my eyes and Naito/AJ was really great. Just an all-time great show that is a must-see for any wrestling fan.

1. Ultima Lucha

Wrestle Kingdom 9 was very close to being number one but I couldn’t go against Ultima Lucha. Lucha Underground as a whole was easily my favorite promotion to watch in 2015 and their season finale was incredibly satisfying. This is the only show on the list to span two nights. The first was solid, with the best Falls Count Anywhere I can remember, a fun Trios Tag Title match and a pretty good match between Drago and Hernandez. Night two is when things really picked up. Alberto El Patron and Johnny Mundo had a great match together and we saw the surprise return of Melina, even though I was never a big fan. Then, Pentagon Jr. and Vampiro far exceeded my expectations with the most violent match I've ever seen on regular television. The twist of Vampiro as Pentagon's master was just excellent television. We also got a really fun seven way match and a main event that was among my favorite matches of the year, which was excellently built, booked and executed. The show had great wrestling, told masterful stories, had some twists and turns and even ended on a great cliffhanger. This felt like a show that really completed something, ending months of story build up. Despite not taking place in a special arena or on a different network than normal, this felt like a big deal and delivered as such. Wrestling is supposed to be fun. Nothing last year was more fun than Ultima Lucha.

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