Saturday, January 2, 2016

Kevin's Top 100 Matches of 2015: #50-41

50. NEVER Openweight Championship: Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. Tomoaki Honma – NJPW Power Struggle 11/7/15

There is only one trilogy of matches to make the list this year and it’s the three pitting Tomoaki Honma against Tomohiro Ishii. Here we have the third match in the 2015 series, though it was my least favorite of them. Still, when my least favorite match of theirs ranks this high, you know they have something special. Even back to their earliest matches, the chemistry between these two just works. Each and every match they have is an absolute war and this was no different. The always molten hot Osaka crowd bought into Honma again, thinking he’d win. He’s kind of a perennial loser, but the fans always believe in him. Again, their back and forth is just so good and brutal, but by this point, we’d seen it a ton and there’s only so many different things they can do. A highlight was the Kokeshi to the floor, but that move is also usually Honma’s downfall. He missed it inside and fell to the Brainbuster at 17:26, giving Ishii the 2-1 edge in their matches this year. ****¼

49. Open the Twin Gate Championship: Verserk (c) vs. Monster Express – Dragon Gate The Gate of Destiny 11/1/15

I was only able to catch one Dragon Gate show this year, but it was a doozy. The final two matches stole the show and this was the first. While I wasn’t familiar with the duos, I did know two of the men involved. The champions, Verserk, consist of YAMATO and Naruki Doi, while the challengers were Masato Yoshino and T-Hawk. Doi and Yoshino are familiar to me due to their time in ROH, where Doi is actually a former Tag Team Champion. This was so fast paced and their chemistry was just spot on. It never missed a beat. The champions looked incredible and they just fed off of each other so well. The crowd was red hot for this, showing that the match and the titles were both a big deal. There is a powder throwing spot that came off rather lame because once the referee turned around, he should have seen Yoshino’s face just completely covered in it but that was probably the only blemish on this. That led to the finish, as Yoshino fell to two Gallarias at the 21:48 mark and Verserk retained. Honestly, this was my favorite tag team match this year. ****¼

48. Kazuchika Okada vs. Yuji Nagata – NJPW G1 Climax 8/12/15

At this point in the G1 Climax, Kazuchika Okada had just one loss and Yuji Nagata was pretty much all but dead in the standings. Okada was also the reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion, meaning the result of this was pretty expected going in. Nobody told the fans at Korakuen Hall. They badly wanted the Nagata win. For those unaware, Nagata is pretty much an ageless wonder. The same guy that I saw in WCW during the 90’s is still competing to this day and does so at a pretty high level. This told the story one would expect, with the fans behind the wily veteran and against the brash youngster. Nagata wanted to prove that at 47, he could still deliver, while Okada would have liked nothing more than to further add to his long resume. They had a great back and forth battle until Nagata locked in his signature armbar. Okada reached the ropes and, with the crowd firmly behind Nagata, started to get frustrated. This caused Okada to show some heel tactics, which is when I think he’s at his best. It took 18:16, as well as a tombstone, before the Rainmaker put down Nagata for good. Okada silenced the crowd, earning himself sole possession of first place in the Climax, with one match remaining. A tremendous effort from both men. ****¼

47. IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Hirooki Goto (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – NJPW Destruction in Kobe 9/27/15

Nobody had more high profile matches against each other this year than Hirooki Goto and Shinsuke Nakamura. Goto won the first two, at Wrestling Dontaku and Dominion, winning and retaining the IWGP Intercontinental Title. During the G1 Climax, Nakamura got one back, making Goto tap and setting up one more rematch. While none of their matches were bad, they did suffer from some issues. While they usually finished very strongly, the first two-thirds of the match could be considered dry. It was on this night that it clicked completely, resulting in their best effort for a complete match. Still, their strength has been the finishing stretch, with this possibly being the best they put together. They called back to previous matches and countered each other seamlessly. It took multiple Boma Ye knee strikes but Nakamura was able to regain his title at the 22:58 mark and even the score for the year with Goto. They saved their best for last, but even so, I’d be okay with not seeing them go at it in 2016. However, if you’re going to watch any of their matches from this year, I’d recommend this one. ****¼

46. Chris Hero vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – Evolve 48 8/16/15

Whenever I watch Zack Sabre Jr. he always seems to be in control. Despite not being the biggest man, Sabre is so good on the mat that he never seems out of it or even an underdog. For the first time, I saw Sabre really play up the face in peril against Chris Hero. For 24:28, Hero was pretty much in the driver’s seat and Sabre looked overmatched throughout. Hero stopped every Sabre attempt to make this a mat game and just flat out hit a piledriver early on. From then on, Hero just beat the hell out of him. One thing I like about the Evolve setting, is that you can hear a lot of what the wrestler’s say. That came into play when Hero shouted at Sabre to stay down or when Sabre actually did get to do some mat work, you could hear Hero screaming to be let out. It’s something small, but it certainly added to this match. By the end, Sabre was way out of it from the beating and Hero laid him out with an elbow. Both men played their parts here spectacularly. ****¼

45. WWE Championship: Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns – WWE WrestleMania 3/29/15

Like the rest of WrestleMania this year, this was poorly built. Like most of the rest of WrestleMania this year, this exceeded expectations. The fans were firmly behind Brock Lesnar as Roman Reigns was not getting many favorable responses at the time to say the least. The WWE did a pretty great job in booking this match. Brock had been a dominating presence for over a year by this point and fans weren’t into the idea of Reigns kicking his ass. So he didn’t. Brock abused him for the better part of this match. Reigns hit Brock hard more than a few times, busting him open, but Brock came back and coined the Suplex City Bitch phrase. I think the bit of Reigns laughing at Brock’s offense wasn’t great. I got the idea, but it didn’t come off as well as they probably hoped. Still, Reigns as the resilient fighter was good and then he found an opening when Brock hit the post outside. It was an instance where blood really added something. This was when things picked up as Reigns hit big move after big move and came so close to winning. Then Brock hit a fourth F5 and both men were down. Enter Seth Rollins. Mr. Money in the Bank ran out and cashed in, pinning Roman at 16:43. It kept Brock from getting pinned, didn’t overdo the Reigns push at that point and sent the fans home happy with the shocking title win for the MVP of the prior year. Excellently done. ****¼

44. AJ Styles vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 9 1/4/15

Since my knowledge of New Japan Pro Wrestling wasn’t very high coming into Wrestle Kingdom, I wanted to see this match more than any because it involved AJ Styles. Seeing it for the first time, I thought it was great. Later in the year, I went back and saw their G1 Climax 24 match, which was better, before going back and re-watching this. The second time around, I appreciated and enjoyed this more. While their first match was centered on Naito’s eye injury and a vicious AJ, this was focused on the Styles Clash. AJ had broken Yoshi Tatsu’s neck with the move and there was an aura around it as something dangerous. Naito had it well scouted, countering or blocking it at every single turn. When I saw this with Jim Ross and Matt Striker on commentary, it helped as they really built the Styles Clash as something to fear. In the end, the one Styles Clash that Naito couldn’t counter was one from the second rope, finishing him at 14:25. Once the match ended, officials ran in to check on Naito, further selling the Clash. ****¼

43. ROH World and Television Championships: Jay Briscoe (c) vs. Jay Lethal (c) – ROH Best in the World 6/19/15

Ring of Honor billed this match as the “biggest in ROH history.” Considering the double title ruling, the argument could be made. However, when you add in the facts that Jay Lethal had held the Television Title for over 400 days and Jay Briscoe hadn’t been pinned in over 800 days, and you’ve got something great brewing. They knew they had a lot of time, going 27:27, so they built towards their finish. The first half or even two-thirds of this saw them exchanging offense and never gaining a true upper hand on each other. Piece by piece, Lethal’s advantages were taken away, as the House of Truth were ejected. First, almost instantly, Donovan Dijak and Jay Diesel are tossed and later, it is Truth Martini himself sent away. That left Lethal alone and he stepped up, putting on a great performance. The back third of the match was pretty nuts, with some great false finishes, though they didn’t overdo the finisher kickouts, with each guy only surviving one. Lethal finally nailed the Lethal Injection, to become the second double champion in ROH history. It proved that the company completely believed in Lethal, signaling a new era for the company. ****¼

42. Katsuyori Shibata vs. Kazushi Sakuraba – NJPW Dominion 7/5/15

These are two of the baddest dudes I’ve ever seen in a wrestling ring. As expected when it comes to these two, they didn’t do much wrestling. This was absolutely a fight. It was hard hitting and stiff for the entire 11:48 runtime. Throughout this match, there were multiple little things that helped it stand out. In order to break a submission where his arms weren’t free, Katsuyori Shibata resorted to biting the second rope for a rope break. Kazushi Sakuraba threw off his ankle brace before kicking Shibata at another point. The men had a history together, as a tag team and as mentor and mentee from what I’ve looked up. From what I gather, Shibata was never able to beat Sakuraba in their MMA fights, so this was a chance to kind of surpass his mentor in the pro wrestling world. This was exactly the kind of match that it needed to be and Shibata got the victory, gaining momentum before a great showing in the G1 Climax. Just a great fight, especially if that style speaks to you. ****¼

41. Daniel Bryan vs. Roman Reigns – WWE Fastlane 2/22/15

Roman Reigns won the 2015 Royal Rumble to one of the worst fan receptions I’ve ever heard for a face. The fans just didn’t believe he was a guy that was ready to main event WrestleMania. Up to that point, his only singles match on PPV was against Randy Orton and I found it to be pretty mediocre. Reigns needed to have a big performance in a big match. That’s where Daniel Bryan came in. He never got his rematch for the WWE Title that he never lost, setting up a match with Reigns with the shot at WrestleMania on the line. Bryan was the perfect opponent for Reigns because he is great enough to lead the way. I’m not saying Bryan carried him, because that’s not the case, but he is the more experienced wrestler. The booking of the match was spot on. The fans would never buy Reigns dominating Bryan or vice versa, so they didn’t. They played power vs. technical ability but neither guy truly gained an upper hand throughout the entire 20:10. They didn’t overdo the false finishes and even brought Reigns’ hernia injury into play. Reigns would win and, more importantly, deliver in a big match, setting the stage for a year full of good to great matches on PPV. ****¼