Friday, January 1, 2016

Kevin's Top 100 Matches of 2015: #60-51

60. IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. AJ Styles – NJPW King of Pro Wrestling 10/12/15

Look at the two men involved in this match. It’s almost a guarantee that you are going to get a great contest. Most of the time they meet it is indeed great, which is what I would consider this encounter, though it wasn’t their best. Earlier in the year, Kazuchika Okada ended the IWGP Heavyweight Title run of AJ Styles. Styles pinned Okada in a six man tag in August, setting up this rematch. They were given a lot of time, 30:15 to be exact, and it was similar to a lot of Okada matches. They tend to start a bit slow. I’m not saying they’re bad by any means, but he starts slow before building to the second half, where things just get nuts. The Bullet Club got involved, and I get that they’re heels, but it was a bit much here. That’s part of why I love the match at Dominion so much more. There, the Bullet Club interference was cut down. Of course, the finishing sequence was a thing of beauty here, with Okada reeling off three Rainmakers to retain the gold. The chemistry between these two is among the best in New Japan, almost always delivering in spades. ****

59. NEVER Openweight Championship: Togi Makabe (c) vs. Kota Ibushi – NJPW Destruction in Okayama 9/23/15

Truth be told, 2015 should have been the year of Kota Ibushi. His performances certainly say that it was, but New Japan was too shy to pull the trigger on him. He failed to win the Intercontinental Title at Wrestle Kingdom and the Heavyweight Title at Invasion Attack. While the NEVER Title isn’t on that level, I think it’s perfect for him. Ibushi is not only a freak of an athlete, but he loves the hard hitting style. Hard hitting matches have kind of defined the NEVER Title for the past year or so. Togi Makabe is someone that I like but don’t love, however this was my favorite match of his all year. They were given the main event slot and did well with it, They brought a table into play, which isn’t seen often in NJPW, as Ibushi double stomped him on it outside. Ibushi countered the spider German by landing on his feet because he’s such a damn good athlete. Makabe adjusted, changing up to a spider dragon suplex instead, before hitting the King Kong knee drop to retain at 18:41. Not Ibushi’s best match of the year, but another shining example of why this dude should be near the top of New Japan. ****

58. John Cena vs. Kevin Owens – WWE Money in the Bank 6/14/15

The one thing missing from the incredible first match between John Cena and Kevin Owens was a hot crowd. In this, their second of three encounters, the Columbus crowd delivered where the Corpus Christi fans didn’t. Cena was in unfamiliar territory here, losing the first match of a feud completely cleanly. Owens seemed to have his number, even doing Cena’s own “five moves of doom” to him after countering the original attempt. Cena was his usual resilient self, refusing to stay down. However, Owens was doing the same thing. John Cena grew frustrated with the official before realizing he had to dig deep and try some new things to defeat Owens. He would counter the popup powerbomb with a hurricanrana and even bust out Yoshi Tonic, though it didn’t look too great. The fact that some of what they did wasn’t as crisp as it should have been and an overreliance on finisher kicks outs and near falls kept this from being better than their first match to me. Cena won with an Attitude Adjustment at 19:23 and showed respect after the bell. Owens wanted none of that and attacked, hitting an apron powerbomb and leaving with both the NXT and US Titles. ****

57. Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW G1 Climax 7/24/15

Two guys that I became huge fans of during the G1 Climax this year were Katsuyori Shibata and Tetsuya Naito. Despite not finishing with tons of points, both guys were standouts for different reasons. Shibata’s hard hitting style and penchant for great outings made me a fan, while Naito’s tremendous heel persona, combined with really good matches, was just so highly entertaining. On the third night of the tournament, they faced off and proved to be a great combination. Naito is known for coming out in a full suit and stalling but Shibata was having none of that, attacking quickly. It forced Naito to work the first few minutes with his suit still on. When he turned things around, he looked to neutralize Shibata’s vicious kicks by targeting the leg. Their back and forth was pretty great, but Naito made a crucial mistake late. He decided to slap Shibata, which fueled a Shibata barrage of strikes. He locked in the sleeper hold and used a Penalty Kick to get his first two points of the G1 after 12:11. In other words, don’t piss off Shibata by slapping him or he’ll kick your ass. They would have a rematch in September that didn’t quite reach this level. ****

56. Trios Championship: Angelico, Ivelisse and Son of Havoc vs. The Crew – Lucha Underground 4/22/15

One of the very best things about Lucha Underground (and there were a lot) was the dynamic between Angelico, Ivelisse and Son of Havoc. After weeks of tension and even some matches, they were forced into a Trios team by Dario Cueto. During the tournament to crown the first champions, they had issues but made it to the finals and won. Or so they thought. Dario announced they would have one more match, right after the finals, against the Crew and it would be “Anything Goes.” Now, this isn’t the greatest brawl ever, it isn’t the spottiest of spotfests and, at just 6:41, it is the shortest match on this list. However, it makes this list because of the story and emotion involved. Ivelisse and her bum leg was perfect prey for the Crew, who took out Havoc and Angelico. It wasn’t until Havoc hit a moonsault outside that things started to turn around. Still, with Ivelisse alone inside against two opponents and Angelico near the top of the Temple, hope looked lost. That was until Angelico leapt from the top of the Temple, in one of the coolest spots ever, to save Ivelisse. Ivelisse then got a weapon, took it to the Crew and her boys hit stereo high flying moves to become the first ever Trios Champions. ****

55. Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens vs. Rusev – WWE Raw 7/13/15

Even though he wasn’t directly involved in this, the John Cena US Title Open Challenge was responsible for another great match here. A week after a fantastic battle with Cesaro, Cena awaited a new challenger. Rusev answered, looking to reignite their shitty feud. Kevin Owens interrupted even though he had a shot in six nights. Cesaro came out next, looking for a rematch, leading to a brawl between the three. It turned into a number one contender’s match, where the winner would face Cena right after. What followed was 24:02 of some awesome action. They made good use of the Triple Threat style, bringing out some really cool spots (specifically Cesaro hitting a double German on both opponents). Owens would walk out near the end because he had an upcoming shot and decided he didn’t need this. The final few minutes between Cesaro and Rusev were tremendous, including a great moment where Rusev reached the ropes in the sharpshooter, only to have to pull Cesaro to the floor because rope breaks don’t work in No DQ matches. Rusev ended up hitting a superkick to win, in an anti-climactic finish. Cena was supposed to be the face but considering the effort Rusev put forth while Cena gladly sat on commentary (doing an uncharacteristically bad job), Rusev was the sympathetic one. That match would last only five minutes and end via DQ. Still, the one preceding it was great. ****

54. NXT Championship Ladder Match: Finn Balor (c) vs. Kevin Owens – NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn 8/22/15

Having the unenviable task of following a spectacular NXT Women’s Championship match, I think this main event more than delivered. Finn Balor and Kevin Owens had two prior matches, the first not being too great and the second being my favorite encounter of theirs. This lies in the middle, but closer to the second one. In front of the largest crowd ever for an NXT show, this could be considered the biggest match in their history. I appreciated that it was similar to the really good Ambrose/Rollins ladder match from a few months earlier in that it didn’t need to rely on tons of big spots. For most of the 21:37, Owens beat the hell out of Balor, doing whatever it took to best the unbeaten “Demon” and win back his prize. Balor, under the “Demon” paint, was able to dig down deep and persevere, surviving a lot, including the apron powerbomb that nearly killed Sami Zayn and even took out John Cena for a bit. When they did bring out the bigger spots, it was near the end, and felt very earned. The image of Finn hitting the Coup de Grace off the ladder before going back and retrieving the gold is something to behold. This would be Owens’ last NXT match and he went out with a bang. ****

53. IWGP Heavyweight Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs. Kota Ibushi – NJPW Invasion Attack 4/5/15

AJ Styles’ nickname as the “Phenomenal One” is something that he lives up to more now than ever. Ever since his run in the G1 Climax 24, he’s just been delivering in pretty much every outing. Here, against a great performer like Kota Ibushi, Styles knew he had to avoid the high flying attack and looked for his calf killer submission. The threat of the Styles Clash, which is considered such a dangerous finish in New Japan, was always looming, but Ibushi avoided it. The Clash is up there with Okada’s Rainmaker and Fale’s Bad Luck Fall among the most protected finishes in NJPW. There were multiple moments during the 27:01 runtime where you could see just how well each guy had the other scouted. Ibushi countered the calf cutter into an inside cradle at one point. He also tried a top rope rana, only for Styles to block it and try the second rope Styles Clash that won him his Wrestle Kingdom debut earlier in the year. Ibushi blocked it and set up for his gorgeous Phoenix Splash finisher. Now, the Bullet Club interference was mostly kept to a minimum, which is always for the best, but Kenny Omega got on the apron to distract Ibushi in the end. That gave Styles the time to get up and catch the Phoenix Splash, in midair, into a Styles Clash. That was easily the best finish to any match all year long. It was another moment to solidify Styles as a top heel and remind everyone that Ibushi should be a major player in the company. ****

52. WWE Tag Team Championship Ladder Match: New Day (c) vs. Lucha Dragons vs. The Usos – WWE TLC 12/13/15

Another mediocre WWE Pay-Per-View that had one standout match. The opening match featured the New Day defending their WWE Tag Team Titles against both the Lucha Dragons and the Usos. Similar to TLC the year before, we were treated to a great ladder match that kicked things off. It was a bit messy at first, but they settled into bringing the big spots quickly. Not only did they do the typical ladder spots we’re used to, but they managed to do some new ones. Big E had a great moment when he basically bench pressed the ladder with both Lucha Dragons on it. Kalisto stole the show by hitting Salida Del Sol off the ladder and through another bridged ladder. That was honestly, the best spot I’ve seen all year, regardless of promotion. It was absolutely insane. Major props to both Kalisto and Jey Uso for taking the spot, especially considering Jey just coming off the injured list. Xavier Woods was golden on commentary, before getting involved himself because it’s NO DQ! As Kalisto neared the belts, Woods threw his trombone at him. This opened the door for New Day to retrieve the belt and retain at 17:56. Another great ladder match in a year for really good ones. ****¼

51. Kazuchika Okada vs. Roderick Strong – ROH Field of Honor 8/22/15

The IWGP Heavyweight Champion visited Ring of Honor to face Mr. ROH. The kind of match that you expect when two companies work together. There were no titles on the line or any pre-existing feuds, it was just two of the best competitors on the planet facing off to see who is better. Things started out slowly, with both guys getting a feel for each other. Roderick Strong channeled his PWG heel persona, getting vicious with a back suplex on the guardrail. Strong did his homework and had the Rainmaker scouted excellently, countering it multiple times. That forced Kazuchika Okada to dig deep and bring out not one, but two Tombstones. Everything that these two men did, as usual, was just so crisp and well executed. When Okada finally hit the Rainmaker, after four or five tries, it felt extremely earned, like he was just in a grueling match. The match went 17:23 and really got going once they passed the feeling out process, but even with that, everything was just done so well. ****¼