Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Top 135 Matches of 2016: #55-46

55. Daisuke Sekimoto and Yuji Okabayashi vs. Kohei Sato and Shuji Ishikawa – BJW Saikyo Tag League 10/31/16

I’ll admit, I don’t follow Big Japan all that much. In fact, this was the first show of theirs that I watched. One guy who I have seen and heard (a ton) about is Daisuke Sekimoto. He and Yuji Okabayashi combine to form the duo known as Strong BJ. This match opened the final show of the Saikyo Tag League tournament and was one of the best openers all year long. Sometimes, as a fan, I just want to see guys beat the shit out of each other. That’s what I got from these four. It started with Ishikawa and Okabayashi going full tilt at one another and once they tag, Sato and Sekimoto did the exact same thing. Sato nearly knocked Sekimoto out with a sick forearm. Sekimoto took most of the offense going forward and his hot tag to Okabayashi was awesome. There were powerslams, piledrivers, headbutts and everything I could want in a match like this. Yuji and Shuji traded popping up after offense and just wailing on each other. Great strong style stuff here. Strong BJ pulled out the win after a German suplex by Sekimoto at 13:46. This was exactly what it needed to be. Hard hitting and it didn’t go too long, leading to one of the best tag matches all year. You won’t find many matches manlier than this. ****¼

54. PWG Championship: Zack Sabre Jr. (c) vs. Kyle O’Reilly – PWG Thirteen 7/29/16

ery often, Zack Sabre Jr.’s selling comes into question. That’s quite understandable. On this night though, he put up a strong effort in that aspect. Unfortunately for him, it was completely overshadowed by Kyle O’Reilly’s selling. Sabre attacked the taped-up shoulder of O’Reilly and he sold it like his arm was going to fall off. He writhed around in agony. He left it limp while striking. He was unable to lift Sabre for certain moves because of it. It was masterful. Sabre got more and more heelish throughout the match, something he’s shown in several companies this year, and it added to the atmosphere. Near the end of this 22:00 match, the crowd rose with deafening dueling “O’Reilly/Sabre” chants. They had so many great counters and reversals, including Kyle catching a European uppercut into a backslide. The strikes and kicks from both men were brutal. Kyle has bulked up over time, adding to his and Sabre’s intensity and viciousness made his look fantastic. Sabre eventually caught O’Reilly in a submission and at first, I was worried because it didn’t target Kyle’s bad shoulder. Kudos to Sabre for making sure to reach back and involve that shoulder in the hold to make O’Reilly submit. ****¼

53. Matt Riddle vs. Will Ospreay – PROGRESS The Graps of Wrath 11/27/16

Two guys that stood out in 2016 were Matt Riddle and Will Ospreay. So when it was announced that they’d face off for the first time at PROGRESS Chapter 39, most people were rightfully excited. With no existing issues or rivalries, you might expect a standard match here. Riddle made sure it wasn’t by attacking Ospreay with a brutal knee during introductions. What followed was wall to wall action for 8:15. There’s something about Riddle that made me feel like he might win at any point, especially after watching him make Zack Sabre Jr. tap out in under ten minutes earlier in the year. Ospreay got his highlights in as well, flying all over the place when getting an opening. He didn’t shy away from a strike battle with Riddle either, holding his own but still being slightly overmatched there. Though this match is short (the second shortest on this list), there was so much going on that it would be hard to mention it all. A great series of counters made it seem like Ospreay might win, only to have his Oscutter caught into the Bromission. Ospreay tapped out, giving Riddle a victory in his debut in the UK. A spectacular sprint between two guys who are only going to become bigger stars in the next few years. That Matt Riddle guy is truly something special. There’s an aura about him that just screams megastar. ****¼

52. Six to Survive: Fenix vs. Ivelisse vs. Johnny Mundo vs. King Cuerno vs. Pentagon Jr. vs. Taya – Lucha Underground 6/15/16

In an effort to see who would earn a shot at the Lucha Underground Title at Ultima Lucha Dos, two teams of six competed a week earlier. The winning team would then meet here, in a six-person elimination match that took up the entire episode. There were some intriguing storylines from the star, like Taya and Johnny Mundo’s relationship, Taya and Ivelisse’s feud and the past between Fenix and King Cuerno. All six participants went at it, but the first elimination came within five minutes. Mil Muertes returned to the Temple and took out his rival, Cuerno, allowing Mundo to eliminate him. The interactions between Ivelisse and Taya were the low point of this match unfortunately. Taya got rid of her just shy of eight minutes in. She would go next following a Package Piledriver, leaving it up to three of LU’s top guys in Fenix, Pentagon and Mundo. These three were good together, but it wasn’t until after Mundo got eliminated that the match got taken to the next level. Real life brothers Pentagon Jr. and Fenix put on a spectacle of a show to close out the match. Their chemistry as opponents (and teammates) is top notch and it showed here. I won’t go into too much detail about their work here but it was very fast paced and pretty incredible. I would honestly put that final stretch between them up against any other ten or so minute stretch in wrestling this year. Pentagon got the win to earn the title shot following a Mexican Destroyer into a Package Piledriver, capping a 35:27 war. ****¼

51. CWF Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship: Trevor Lee (c) vs. Cedric Alexander – CWF Worldwide 5/18/16

Trevor Lee won the CWF Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Title in an unbelievable 105-minute match. Since then, Lee demanded that his title defenses have no time limit. Cedric Alexander was still a few months shy of wowing audiences against Kota Ibushi in the Cruiserweight Classic. On this particular night, Alexander wrestled to open the show and won the Ultra J Championship. He had a chance to win two titles in one evening. Both guys just came in with great game plans. Cedric stalled to try and get under Lee’s skin, so Lee did it back to him, which worked in his favor. They both went after the arm early and some of the stuff done just looked sick. The commentary team added a lot here, explaining that for the first time since winning the title, Lee didn’t have firm control. Alexander comes across as a guy that could potentially dethrone the champion. They do a ref bump but it isn’t for interference. It’s so Cedric can bust out the illegal piledriver that nearly gets him the win. However, the match goes on for a lot longer and they tell a great story along the way. Lee isn’t used to having to desperately fight for any opening. He hadn’t since the night he won the title. Alexander was ready for everything until he got put in the STF for a second time and had to submit at 55:05. It’s a remarkable performance from both men, especially Cedric for wrestling earlier in the night. Trevor Lee had the quite the year down in CWF Mid-Atlantic. ****¼

50. PROGRESS Championship: Pete Dunne (c) vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – PROGRESS Intercepted Angel 12/11/16

At PROGRESS Chapter 39, Pete Dunne shocked many be winning the vacant PROGRESS Championship, adding to his Tag Team Title reign. Adding to the surprise, Dunne didn’t have a great won-loss record in singles matches. Here, at Chapter 40, he made his first defense. Zack Sabre Jr. has never held the PROGRESS Title but has been around since day one and is among the biggest names in British wrestling. They produced a lengthy (31:16) main event battle that got better as it progressed. Dunne’s second, Tyler Bate, got involved early and was ejected within minutes. That left Pete and his one singles win in PROGRESS history alone against Sabre. Knowing Sabre had the upper hand on the mat, Dunne took to heel tactics and aggression. The man known as the “Bruiserweight” brought it only for Sabre to be equally aggressive at times. Sabre would try going to the mat, but Dunne would bring it back to a fight. It was a struggle of two guys playing to their strengths. Sabre twisted him in uncomfortable ways, while Dunne responded with hard blows and busted out a double tombstone spot. He finally won with Drop Dead in a great match that was given a lot of time to develop a great story. ****¼

49. WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins – WWE Battleground 7/24/16

The highly anticipated first ever triple threat match between the members of the Shield. A lot of people were disappointed that this was placed on a B Pay-Per-View like Battleground, but with the draft going down, it might have been the last chance for it. All the commissioners and general managers sat at ringside, while each show’s rosters watched from the back. Seth and Roman represented Raw, while it was up to Dean to bring the title to Smackdown. Right from the start of this 18:02 match, Seth was the target for turning on them two years earlier. The match itself is awesome, but the true greatness lied in the storytelling. Seeing Dean and Seth team up to powerbomb Reigns through the announce table was really cool. Seth calling back to the infamous heel turn by striking Reigns in the back with a chair was one of my favorite moments all year long. Towards the finish, they built to great drama and I fully bought into Seth pulling out the win and then Roman doing the same. Dean snuck in and drilled Reigns with Dirty Deeds to keep the title and surprise many, including myself, who didn’t think the WWE would have him win the battle of the Shield members. There were high expectations and I feel these three lived up to them. ****¼

48. World of Stardom Championship: Io Shirai (c) vs. Mayu Iwatani – Stardom Gold 5/15/16

Io Shirai and Mayu Iwatani are friends. Not just that, but they are partners and have teamed together for years. However, that didn’t stop these two from going nuts in this battle for the World of Stardom Title. From what I’ve seen, Iwatani is usually the happier smiley one, but she was all business here. They both struggled to gain an advantage in the first few minutes. Once it gets going though, everything moves at an incredibly quick pace. It isn’t just fast either, it gets violent. These two traded stiffer, harder kicks than most matches involving men who hate each other. I don’t think there’s a dull moment in the entire 21:54. There is a fair amount of reversing and dodging each other thanks to their history together but when they connect, it clearly hurts. Despite destroying each other, they show their respect for one another by allowing the other to get up and avoiding cheap shots. Shirai came close to losing several times, including on a few dragon suplexes, before winning with a moonsault. A great championship match that felt important and was the best Stardom outing I saw all year. ****¼

47. NEVER Openweight Championship: Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Kyle O’Reilly – NJPW King of Pro Wrestling 10/10/16

After the Best of the Super Juniors, Kyle O’Reilly bulked up to become a heavyweight. At ROH’s Field of Honor event, O’Reilly defeated Katsuyori Shibata and got this shot about a month after Shibata beat his partner, Bobby Fish. There weren’t many matches in NJPW this year that excited me more than this one. Shibata and O’Reilly are two of my favorite wrestlers in the world. They started this by exchanging holds and trying to gain a grappling advantage on the other guy. All of it felt gritty and earned, like there was a true struggle going on. As the match progressed, they moved into strikes and bigger offense. Surprisingly, it was O’Reilly who connected on big strikes first. Shibata did his thing where he fired up and just wanted more kicks from Kyle. O’Reilly responded by no selling a boot shortly after and they just went to war for the rest of the 18:06. The final few minutes were classic NEVER Title match stuff. Brutal strikes, kickouts at one and dudes using FIGHTING SPIRIT to power up from suplexes. Kyle was on the verge of winning with the penalty kick but Shibata survived. From out of nowhere, Shibata leveled him with a sick slap. He used the sleeper and won when Kyle passed out. This was exactly what I wanted it to be. A war and the star making performance for Kyle in the heavyweight ranks. Kudos to Fish as Kyle’s corner man shouting “BITE THE HAND” whenever Shibata applied the sleeper. ****¼

46. Marty Scurll and Zack Sabre Jr. vs. SANADA and Tetsuya Naito – RPW Global Wars UK 11/11/16

Los Ingobernables de Japon were my favorite thing about NJPW in 2016. Hell, they were the coolest thing in wrestling period. Seeing them team up is always fun but against Marty Scurll and Zack Sabre Jr.? Yes, please. Sabre and Scurll are two of the biggest names on the British wrestling scene. Tetsuya Naito played mind games early, looking like he would compete but then tagging out. Not to be outdone, the “Villain” Marty Scurll did the same back to him. Sabre and Scurll, known as LRDS (of the new school), worked over SANADA with quick tags until Naito tripped up Sabre. Despite being known as the “Villain”, Scurll got the hot tag and showed babyface fire. It was a great change of pace. Everyone brought something to this match. The charisma of Naito, athleticism of SANADA, technical skills of Sabre and personality of Scurll. A great moment came when Naito taunted Scurll, so Scurll took his hand. Naito laughed this off until Scurll did his trademark finger snap, which hurt like hell. There were awesome false finishes like a brainbuster/PK combo from LDRS and a stereo submissions spot from them. It came down to Naito and Sabre. The latter didn’t want to lose for the second straight night (he dropped the top title a night earlier) but his best efforts weren’t enough to survive Destino at 18:43. A wild mix of styles and personalities, but it all came together harmoniously, giving us one of the best tag matches all year long. I probably have this higher than most but I loved it. ****¼