Thursday, April 14, 2016

Top Ten Thursday: WrestleMania Weekend Matches

WrestleMania weekend is always among the biggest and best time to be a wrestling fan. This year, there was certainly a lot to take in. Unfortunately, I couldn't see it all. I didn't get to see the ROH shows, Evolve 59, the CZW even or Evolve 59. Still, I took in a lot of wrestling and enough of it was really good. So much so, that I can compile a top ten list from what I witnessed. Mind you, the matches listed will only be from Evolve 58, TakeOver: Dallas, WWN's Mercury Rising super show, WrestleMania and Raw the night after Mania.

10. NXT Championship: Finn Balor (c) vs. Samoa Joe – NXT TakeOver: Dallas

 There were a few matches I was thinking about putting here. I gave out three ***¾ ratings during WrestleMania weekend. One was for Bayley vs. Asuka and one was for Matt Riddle vs. Tracy Williams at Mercury Rising. I chose Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe from TakeOver: Dallas over them for a few reasons. Balor and Joe’s first match at TakeOver: London in December came off as a disappointment to me. I needed them to best it here and they did. This felt like a fight between two guys that flat out didn’t like each other, which is exactly what I wanted. Joe got busted open the hard way early on and it was bad. The referees had to continually stop the match to patch him up. That was the one thing that kept this match from four star territory. I understand why it happened but that doesn’t mean that it was good for the quality of the match. Outside of that, both men just went to war in one hard hitting battle. Finn fired up near the end, showing something different in his demon persona, before retaining the title with a counter to the Coquina Clutch. I think it was Joe’s time to win it but this was still a really good match between two really good performers. ***¾

9. WWE Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match – WrestleMania 32 

It looks like we’re going to get a yearly clusterfuck multi-man ladder match. Despite the buildups this year and last year, the matches have turned out to be pretty damn good. I felt that this year’s, even with less big names, managed to be slightly better. Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler, the Miz, Zack Ryder, Stardust and Sin Cara opened up the main card of WrestleMania with a bang. This was exactly what it needed to be. A fun filled spotfest. However, it was a very smooth spotfest. They set up their spots in clever ways and made sure that the action never stopped in the ring. Some of things done (Zayn’s dive through the ladder and Sin Cara splashing Stardust through one specifically) were jaw dropping. I liked the fact that, while everyone was given a chance to shine, emphasis was put on the Owens/Zayn rivalry since it was the only real angle entering the match. While I disagreed with Ryder winning, it was a true feel good moment in a Mania lacking them. It also was a fun surprise that almost nobody say coming. ****

8. Ricochet vs. TJ Perkins – Evolve 58

WrestleMania weekend got kicked off by Evolve 58, which aired rather early on Friday, April 1st. I didn’t catch it live but saw it over the weekend on demand. Two matches stood out, but the first I’m going to discuss featured Ricochet and TJ Perkins. Ricochet wrestles as Prince Puma in Lucha Underground, while Perkins used to wrestle as Puma, which they played into early on in a cool little comedy moment. Ricochet was out to have fun and did so early on, but that bugged Perkins. Knowing that Ricochet is one of the most athletic high flyers in the world, Perkins targeted his legs. It’s such a great strategy that I love to see in matches involving a high flyer. It was well done stuff that played into Perkins being a damn good mat worker. Ricochet did well in selling it for the most part, as even when he hit a big move using the leg, he’d clutch it in pain. Most importantly, it played a role in the finish. Ricochet’s leg buckled on him, allowing Perkins to apply a heel hook and force Ricochet to submit. It continued Perkins’ momentum and set the stage for him to sign with Stokely Hathaway before announcing his intention to compete in WWE’s Global Cruiserweight Series. ****

7. WWE Women’s Championship: Charlotte (c) vs. Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks – WrestleMania 32

 Yea, this is the highest rated match from WrestleMania itself. Going into WrestleMania, I felt that the three women involved in this match were more than capable of stealing the show and they proved me right. Becky Lynch, Charlotte and Sasha Banks are immensely talented ladies with some really good chemistry from their time in NXT. For the first time since Mickie James wrestled Trish Stratus ten years earlier, we got a women’s match that actually felt like it belonged on WrestleMania. This wasn’t women being given a Mania spot to promote Playboy or some thrown together match to get everyone on the card. This was three talented women with a history and a desire to be the best. Sasha Banks and Charlotte got the big time entrances (especially Sasha) and Becky got her eye messed up within minutes. That didn’t stop her as she was damn good throughout this. There were one or two flubs, but they managed to cover them up well and my only major issue with the match was the finish. Charlotte retained after interference from Ric Flair, which has been done to death. If ever there was a time for someone to win the belt and usher in the new era of women’s wrestling, this was it and they fumbled that. ****

6. NXT Tag Team Championship: The Revival (c) vs. American Alpha – TakeOver: Dallas 

When NXT first started producing live specials, one thing stuck out as a glaring weakness. The tag team division. Matches involved a way past their prime Too Cool, the pairing of Kalisto and El Local and even some early Blake and Murphy stuff were all rough. Over time, NXT has really built up a really good tag team division and the two teams that stand out above the rest right now are the Revival and American Alpha. The Revival entered this night as champions and their “no flips, just fists” mantra rang true. They work so well as an old school team in the vein of the Andersons. American Alpha is like the World’s Greatest Tag Team, only better and with more charisma. NXT slipped up in never giving Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady the belts, but on this night, they made the right call with the most team on the brand. These four men wrestled a classic, old school style tag team match with a hint of some new age flair. It was the best tag team match in NXT history and was capped with a great moment as we saw Chad Gable and Jason Jordan celebrate in tears. ****

5. Chris Hero vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – Mercury Rising 

The WWN super show of WrestleMania weekend was called Mercury Rising. It featured competitors from Evolve, FIP and Shine. The show started with a bang as Zack Sabre Jr. showed up to instantly call out his opponent for the evening, Chris Hero. Sabre was completing his “Best in the World” series, which he entered 3-1 in. Hero had knocked out Sabre on several occasions, so a win over Hero would be huge for the Brit. He came in with a game plan and fought harder than ever. He battled Hero with strikes, despite being at a big size disadvantage. Sabre did his best and fired up a few times after taking big shots. He took Hero to the mat, but Hero was ready with his own mat work. It was a more even match than their past battles, but Hero still seemed to have a slight upper hand. Try as he may and try as he might, Sabre just couldn’t quite crack the code that is Chris Hero. Hero was able to knock him out again with a barrage of elbows, walking out and calling himself the “greatest of all time”. The match went a bit long to be a true classic, but it was still pretty great. ****¼

4. Johnny Gargano, Kota Ibushi and TJP vs. Marty Scurll, Tommy End and Will Ospreay – Mercury Rising 

Sticking with the Mercury Rising super show, it was headlined by a huge six man tag main event. Johnny Gargano, considered the icon of WWN, TJP, who came in on a hot streak and Kota Ibushi is the hottest Japanese free agent in the world. Marty Scurll, Tommy End and Will Ospreay have been making waves for a long time now. Ospreay has especially been incredible. This match was pretty much just pure joy. They went for twenty plus minutes at a frantic pace and everyone got to shine. The interactions between Ospreay and Ibushi were easily the best part and the crowd reacted as so. Both men even did simultaneous dives off of a stage in the arena at one point. This was the definition of a nonstop thrill ride. If you’re a fan of anyone in here, you’ll love it because they all did their thing. Ibushi won with a sweet powerbomb to cap off a chaotic main event. It was a fitting end to a super show and after the bell, Gargano put everyone over, including the wrestling business itself in a promo. Absolutely fun. ****¼

3. Number One Contender’s Match: AJ Styles vs. Cesaro vs. Chris Jericho vs. Kevin Owens – Raw 4/4/16

One night after making the awful decision of having AJ Styles lose to Chris Jericho at WrestleMania, the WWE looked to right the ship. Roman Reigns, who got booed heavily as he won the WWE Title, came out and actually acted like a condescending prick (which he seemed way more comfortable playing). His confident open challenge led to Chris Jericho answering. AJ Styles, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn followed, leading to a brawl. Shane McMahon made a main event between the four but Owens took out Zayn. His replacement was the returning Cesaro and man, it was great to have him back. Dude is almost a guarantee to give you a good to great match on a weekly basis. These were four of the best in the world just going out and having a great match for a title shot. Cesaro showed no ring rust, Owens was magnificent at selling the prior night’s ladder match, Jericho was continuing to excel in his new heel turn and Styles was the all-around great that he is. I expected Jericho to win considering he had momentum after Mania, but when Styles got the 1-2-3, I marked out. Like a child that just watched wrestling for pure entertainment and didn’t think about who was getting pushed or not. I just saw my favorite wrestler earn a WWE Title shot in less than four months. It was glorious. So was the match itself actually. ****¼

2. Will Ospreay vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – Evolve 58 

When I first saw Will Ospreay, he didn’t wow me. He came off as just another guy who could flips. However, I’m so glad I give people more than one chance. Ever since then, this dude has impressed me more and more each time out. He’s not just one of those guys that can do flips. Almost every aspect of his game is already finely tuned and he’s only 22. Zack Sabre Jr. is another prodigy, who is incredible at a young age. This was also part of Sabre’s “Best in the World” challenge, as he was facing off against the “flyer”. Everything these two men did was damn near perfect. When Sabre had control on the mat, it was great. When Ospreay took to the air, my jaw dropped. There were just so many moments throughout this that delivered. Sabre was so confident in his ability, sometimes to a fault, which allowed Ospreay to turn it around. The finishing stretch was my favorite all weekend long as Ospreay kicked out of a Liger bomb at one, only for Sabre to keep hold and apply a ridiculous looking submission to get the win. Not only was this a classic match, but it could be huge in getting people to want to check out British wrestling (PROGRESs and RPW have been really good from what I’ve been able to see). Definitely a MOTYC. ****½

1. Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – TakeOver: Dallas 

The third match from TakeOver: Dallas to make the list. The hype for this match, Shinsuke Nakamura’s debut, was off the charts. There was no way they could live up to it. And they didn’t. They exceeded it. Kudos to CFO$ and the WWE for finding a way to keep Nakamura’s aura intact without his infamous “Subconscious” theme song from Japan. As they’ve mostly done with AJ Styles and Samoa Joe, the WWE allowed Nakamura to be Nakamura. This was very much a Nakamura match, as it followed a similar formula to his biggest NJPW bouts. I’m not saying that as a bad thing at all. It works and it was great for a WWE audience that may not be used to it. Sami Zayn was excellent here, adapting to Nakamura’s style. He did a lot of his key stuff and made sure to sell for Nakamura in the best way. The match itself may only be even or slightly above Sabre/Ospreay from a pure in-ring perspective, but the atmosphere changed things here. The crowd was molten for everything done by both men, but especially Nakamura. From their reaction to his entrance to Nakamura’s mannerisms to the false finishes and finally to the closing stretch, everything felt special. Nakamura won with his patented, but renamed Boma Ye, capping off the best in-ring debut I can recall. *****