Monday, January 11, 2016

Kevin's Top 100 Matches of 2015: #20-11

20. Hair vs. Hair: Ethan Carter III vs. Rockstar Spud – TNA Impact 3/13/15

The lone TNA match to make the list is this Hair vs. Hair match from back in March. Ethan Carter III is pretty much the lone thing TNA has done right in the past year or two. Along with Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens, he’s been the best heel in wrestling in recent memory. His former little buddy Rockstar Spud met him in this main event match. The atmosphere in England was electric, as the crowd was firmly behind the home country underdog in Spud. This was well laid out, with them building to bigger things that the crowd ate up. They got Tyrus and Mr. Anderson involved, which made sense given the feud coming into this match.  Jeremy Borash also got in, hitting a low blow, which again played into the rivalry. Carter would use his arm brace to bust Spud open, giving the rest of this contest a great visual. Seeing Spud take a beating, only to rally with a crimson mask, completely added to this. It was the kind of star making performance for both men that the company could use more often. After 17:03, Carter won but had a concerned look on his face. He seemed to cut a positive promo about Spud, only to stay in full heel mode and turn it right back around on him, attacking him. He’s such a dick and it’s wonderful. ****½

19. Hirooki Goto vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW G1 Climax 8/9/15

Since I began watching New Japan Pro Wrestling, two guys that are almost always a guarantee for a good to great match are Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii. So when I looked at the G1 Climax schedule and saw they were going to main event a show in the Korakuen Hall, I was stoked. They went out and, for 17:11, showed that they belonged in a top spot with one intense battle. I really enjoyed their chemistry together as things just clicked between them. Ishii is one of my favorite sellers in all of wrestling, which he got to showcase here. Goto, the reigning IWGP Intercontinental Champion and with a win over IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada, looked to have a ton of confidence. While both men are versatile enough to work different styles, they went strong style here, which is their strong suit. The action was stiff, the crowd was hot, the exchanges were great and the near falls were believable. There were multiple times where I noticed my jaw was hanging because they just went so hard. Goto won in yet another performance that proves he deserves a higher spot in New Japan. I believe I underrated this the first time around. ****½

18. NXT Women’s Championship: Sasha Banks (c) vs. Becky Lynch – NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable 5/20/15

I love this match. There have been better and there are some I love more, but dammit, there’s something about this one that I truly enjoy. I wrote an article about this being a masterpiece and months later, it remains the case. Everything about this was so well done. Becky Lynch, who was in her first singles TakeOver match, came out amped and was very jumpy. Sasha Banks, the champion, was as cool as the other side of the pillow because she knew she belonged. The match didn’t begin as something too physical because they respect each other and the prestigious NXT Women’s Title. As the match progressed, it got more intense and both girls worked the arm. They didn’t do so and randomly forget about it, instead making sure every offensive attack involved it. Masterful selling from both women throughout and after the match. Sasha made Becky submit to the Bank Statement at 15:33, but in no way did Becky look like a loser. In fact, this showed you how far Sasha had come. Just three months into her reign, she helped make Becky with the NXT crowd, who sung Becky’s theme in honor of her after the bell. ****½

17. Michael Elgin vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW G1 Climax 8/15/15

Sometimes, all you need in wrestling is for two big dudes to collide and just go to war. That’s what this was. Michael Elgin silenced tons of doubters with a phenomenal G1 Climax run and was arguably the MVP considering his consistency. Tomohiro Ishii is almost always someone to count on for good to great matches. Pair them together, given their size and styles, and you’re treated to the best hoss match of the year. Thank the G1 style for giving this the perfect amount of time at 14:33. I was in awe at some points, watching these two guys hammer away on each other. This wasn’t the typical “no selling” that some point to, rather it was two guys that can take punishment. Elgin got to shine, hitting an apron Death Valley driver, deadlift falcon arrow and a running powerbomb into the guardrail. Ishii sold the damage well even if he did have to power up a few times to get some shots back. Ishii couldn’t put Elgin down with some lariats, so he did so with a Brainbuster. Elgin should just move to Japan because he’s so good there and this was his best match of the whole year. ****½

16. KUSHIDA vs. Kyle O’Reilly – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors Finals 6/7/15

The first time I watched this, I thought it was great, but not on the level that a lot of people saw it. The second time around, I loved it more and bumped up the rating. These are two of my favorite juniors, while also being two of my favorite wrestlers period. With no animosity in this tournament final, they shook hands at the start before going to the mat. The things they did were so seamless while working the ground game. They both targeted the arm since Kyle O’Reilly is known for the armbar and KUSHIDA has the hoverboard lock. There was a sequence where they just traded attempts to get these on. When they graduated from the mat work, it led to some fantastic spots. KUSHIDA hit a Brainbuster on the apron, Kyle busted out a bunch of suplexes and, in a massive highlight, KUSHIDA went for a moonsault, but Kyle caught his arm in an armbar. It was perfectly done. I even marked a bit seeing KUSHIDA use his partner’s Sliced Bread finisher. Finally, after so many phenomenal back and forth moments, KUSHIDA won with the hoverboard lock at 30:45. Maybe shave a few minutes off and put this in front of a hotter crowd and we could be talking five stars. As it stands, it’s still a tremendous outing from both men. I’d like to see Kyle win next year and KUSHIDA be junior champion, to set up the rematch. ****½

15. Open the Dream Gate Championship: Masaaki Mochizuki vs. Shingo Takagi – Dragon Gate The Gate of Destiny 11/1/15

Dragon Gate is another promotion that I need to find a way to see more of in 2016. I’ve been interested in what they do ever since I went to ROH Final Battle 2006 and saw Shingo and CIMA do some incredible things. While I haven’t been able to follow them, when I heard the buzz about this match, I made sure to find a way to watch it. When I did and finally finished the entire 24:54, I was pretty much in awe. Masaaki Mochizuki is 45 years old but didn’t look like it here. He took everything that the hard hitting Shingo dished out, and he survived. It was as if Mochizuki was determined to show everyone that his age was just a number and he wasn’t going to go down easily. Due to that, I was totally okay with him taking a second rope Death Valley Driver and getting to his feet. It didn’t come off as him not selling, it came off as him powering up because he just would not die. His final push is phenomenal. While I’m going on and on about Masaaki’s performance, Shingo was fantastic here too. He would win with Last Falconry finally keeping Masaaki down. Seriously, go watch this match. ****½

14. IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Kazuchika Okada – NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 9 1/4/15

This is one of the greatest rivalries in pro wrestling history. Each time these two meet, it’s pretty much a guarantee you’ll get something that is four stars or better. Their match at King of Pro Wrestling 2013 is a top three match that I have EVER seen. This wasn’t quite on that level, but it was still a fantastic main event. With this being the main event of the biggest show of the year and featuring the top two guys in the company, it was given 30:57. They made sure to use as much of it as possible, going through a long feeling out process. It wasn’t the most exciting thing but it made sense given how well they know each other. Getting an advantage was a struggle. Tanahashi hit a massive High Fly Flow to the outside in the biggest highlight of the match. The second half of this was spectacular. Okada was a dick at times, so Tanahashi was one right back to him. Tanahashi had Okada and the Rainmaker in particular, very well scouted. When he finally got hit with one, he kicked out. This wasn’t your ordinary finisher kickout. This was how it should be because the Rainmaker is such a protected move that when someone does get up, it’s a big deal. A flurry of High Fly Flows made Tanahashi 2-0 against Okada at Wrestle Kingdom after an all-around awesome match. ****½

13. Roderick Strong vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – Evolve 45 7/10/15

Talking pure technician, Zack Sabre Jr. is probably the best I’ve seen since the ROH days of Bryan Danielson. He’s that good. After their highly touted PWG Championship match in April, this was their first rematch. They managed to take what was already a great match and do enough to slightly improve on it. Like any great technical match, the holds they exchanged early on weren’t just done for the sake of doing things. It all had a purpose. However, this isn’t just a technical battle. It evolves, pun intended, into more of a physical fight. As the match draws to its 28:22 conclusion, both guys are exhausted. It is a grueling encounter. Roderick Strong falls behind because of Sabre’s ability on the mat, so he starts to deliver strikes, knowing he has the upper hand there. Sabre does his best to hang there but goes back to what he’s best at. He survives a flurry from Strong, ending with a sick kick, before applying a sick armbar variation to make Strong submit. They stand at 1-1 and, with Sabre winning the BOLA and Strong as the PWG Champion, the rubber match should go down in 2016 and is must-see. ****½

12. Kazuchika Okada vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – NJPW G1 Climax 8/15/15

The G1 Climax 24 last year was the greatest wrestling tournament I had ever seen. The finals that year was between these two men. Kazuchika Okada and Shinsuke Nakamura are the top two members of the CHAOS faction, so there isn’t really animosity there. Last year, Okada won. This year, he entered this match with just one loss, while Nakamura had two (including a forfeit one). The winner of this would win their block. As noted, this wasn’t the kind of match you’d see any personal war in, but there were some interesting moments. After early exchanges, both men got a bit cocky and taunted each other. Later on, Okada stole a signature move of Nakamura’s but things still didn’t get too heated. Okada nailed a tombstone on the outside but, out of respect for his friend, chose not to get the countout win, instead rolling Nakamura back inside. Near the end of this 23:31 battle, Nakamura went for the Boma Ye but ate a gorgeous dropkick from Okada. That began a tremendous finishing stretch that was among the best all year long. With the Boma Ye failing, Nakamura countered the Rainmaker into a sick armbar. Okada tried to get free, but rolled over into a worse situation, with the camera perfectly capturing his look of desperation before tapping out. Nakamura advanced to the finals in a match that was better than their G1 final last year. I think there’s a phenomenal tiebreaker coming up somewhere down the line. ****½

11. IWGP Heavyweight Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs. Kazuchika Okada – NJPW Dominion 7/5/15

Headlining a stacked Dominion show, the main event between IWGP Champion AJ Styles and Kazuchika Okada had to deliver. It did exactly that as, in my opinion, it was the best part of the card. A lot of Bullet Club matches feature an overabundance of interference. Early on, this seemed to be headed down that path, but Red Shoes ejected them and even hit them with a classic “SUCK IT!” Once they were booted, the match really started to click. Styles went from extremely cocky to seemingly vulnerable and worried. He knew that one on one with Okada, he was in trouble. The chemistry between them has become so great over time that their exchanges are effortless. There are some near falls in this that are incredibly close. Okada nails the Rainmaker, a very protected finish, and immediately goes for a second. AJ counters this one and it looks like Okada may have blown his chance. They continued to counter each other, making for a tremendous closing stretch that came to an end after another Rainmaker at 26:16, giving Okada his third IWGP Heavyweight Title. Styles and Okada are two of the greatest wrestlers alive and this was their best encounter together. ****½