Friday, January 13, 2017

Top 135 Matches of 2016: #45-36

45. Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW G1 Climax 7/18/16

Hiroyoshi Tenzan was disappointed when he wasn’t announced as part of the G1 Climax blocks. He is a former three-time winner and had competed in a record 19 straight G1’s. His friend and partner Satoshi Kojima ended up giving up his spot in the tournament to Tenzan, who was looking for one final magical run. This was the first match of the entire G1 Climax this year and it got things going on the right foot. Tomohiro Ishii matched up well with Tenzan and they had some great interactions in multi-man tags during the Best of the Super Juniors tournament. Ishii didn’t seem to take the legend seriously at first, toying with him. That fired up Tenzan and things got heated to the point where the referee was tossed aside. They just dished out punishment on each other throughout the match, which lasted 14:08. There were several close calls as the match came to a close and while the things in the ring were indeed great, this got bumped to the next level by the stuff outside. The crowd was mental, badly wanting the Tenzan win, and Kojima nailed every facial expression as he supported his buddy. Tenzan won after using Koji’s lariat as a tribute to his friend and a moonsault. This felt way more important than a G1 opener. They badly mishandled the Tenzan’s last stand story as he would only win two matches the entire tournament. This was special though. ****¼

44. WWE World Heavyweight Championship Extreme Rules Match: Roman Reigns (c) vs. AJ Styles – WWE Extreme Rules 5/22/16

Similar to John Cena, a lot of Roman Reigns matches feature a hot, vocal crowd. Especially when he’s going against someone that is as popular as AJ Styles. After their first title match got overbooked and ended like a wet fart, they were given another PPV main event, with an Extreme Rules stipulation. Since Payback, their rivalry had escalated and they worked this match to fit that story. They fought through the crowd, by the kickoff panel and AJ took a ridiculous back body drop through an announce table. AJ bumped like a madman, taking that spot, a sick powerbomb in the ring and being thrown into the barricade, apron and another table. Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson and the Usos all got involved to help their respective buddies. Styles scored on the Styles Clash for a near fall that most fans really bought into. He hit a second on the chair and one of the Usos broke up the pin, making him the most hated guy in the building. My main gripe with this was that Reigns kind of superman shrugged a lot of the work done to him throughout the match to pick up the win at 22:12. This was better than I remembered. A great match and easily the best singles Reigns performance of the year. ****¼

43. Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW G1 Climax 7/30/16

Not only was this a match with my two favorite NJPW wrestlers, they are also two of my ten favorite anywhere. They had a great match in last year’s G1 Climax, which is where I became a fan of both guys. Katsuyori Shibata was having none of Tetsuya Naito’s bullshit. He charged and kicked him in the face instantly before viciously throwing him into the guardrails outside. Once Naito turned things around, he targeted the bad shoulder and knee of Shibata. Disrespectful Naito made the mistake of spitting at Shibata and got his ass kicked for it. There was a rather lengthy submission spot in the middle that slowed things down a bit too much. It made sense but went for too long. I did love how it played into Naito’s newfound knee bar. Once that was over though, this got great. Stiff shot after stiff shot led to Naito coughing up blood after the final bell. Naito got the knee bar on and Shibata’s injury made his struggle more dramatic. Shibata fought free and slapped on the sleeper hold. He hit the penalty kick but knew how tough Naito was so he went back to the sleeper instead of trying for the pin. Naito passed out at 19:24 to end one of the best G1 Climax matches this year. Two of the very best just doing what they do best. ****¼

42. ROH World Championship: Jay Lethal (c) vs. Lio Rush – ROH Supercard of Honor 4/1/16

It’s okay if you don’t know who Lio Rush is. A lot of people didn’t coming into this match. He won ROH’s Top Prospect Tournament and in ROH history, that is enough to earn a new star a shot at the ROH Television Championship. But, with Tomohiro Ishii holding that title in Japan, Rush was granted a shot at the ROH World Title in his first officially contracted match for the company. And a lot of the story of this match was Lio Rush but it is the single most impressive performance I saw from Jay Lethal during his title reign. He nailed every facial expression, reaction and bump to make sure Rush looked like a million bucks. Lethal didn’t take Rush seriously at all. He toyed with the youngster but Rush was confident. He stole Lethal’s signature taunt at one point and even slapped him at another. Rush showed no intimidation of Lethal, even though Jay had been champion for ten months to this point (not counting the 500+ day reign of the Television Title). The more confident the challenger got, the more vicious the champion was. Rush’s final few attempts at winning the title were perfectly done. He came close a ton and got to shine in the biggest match of his life. Of course, he fell just short after an awesome 19:36, but it was his performance that mattered. It reminded me of Tyler Black’s early attempts to win the ROH Title from Nigel McGuinness and we all know how great Black’s career turned out. I’m not saying Rush will ever reach Seth Rollins levels, but he has a bright future and this is proof. ****¼

41. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn – WWE Payback 5/1/16

The rivalry between Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn is among my favorite in wrestling. When they were a tag team on the indies, I was a massive fan. I still love both guys as singles competitors and they just fit as rivals. Sami is the perfect underdog babyface and Owens is a great brutal bully of a villain. Their fights have an animosity to them that a lot of big feuds lack these days. We totally buy into them hating each other. This only goes for 14:39 but it never stops. They fight in and around the ring, with both guys playing to their strengths. Sami is just so good at taking a beating, so everything Owens did just came off as even more vicious than normal. For example, a simple front suplex onto the top rope looked awesome because of how Sami sold it. Sami’s rally was full of fire and the fans completely wanted him to win despite Owens being very popular. They built to some great near falls on a Sami blue thunder bomb and a frog splash from Owens. Sami had two great counters for the Popup Powerbomb but Owens had a counter of his own for Sami’s tornado DDT. They just continued to build to bigger and better things. Owens stopped the Helluva Kick with a superkick and won with the Popup Powerbomb. These two are so good together that they would compete in an even better match together a few months later. ****¼
40. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW G1 Climax 8/3/16

In the past few G1 Climax tournaments, two of the most consistently great performers have been Hiroshi Tanahashi and Tomohiro Ishii. They met in a classic in 2013 and a really good match in 2014. This year’s G1 meeting finishes in between those two in my mind. Tanahashi began this year’s G1 Climax 0-3 before reeling off two straight to turn things around. Though he was on a streak, Ishii just kicked his ass from the opening bell. Tanahashi tried to battle headbutts with Ishii which was a clear mistake. Ishii pulled a page from Tanahashi’s book with dragon screws and leg work, so Tanahashi did it back. They traded blows for most of this 16:15 battle. Tanahashi was at a disadvantage there but found ways to counter the brainbuster and survive Ishii’s other big offensive attacks. Ishii came close several times until Tanahashi nailed two High Fly Flows to even his record at 3-3. This was one of the best matches of the entire G1 Climax. Tanahashi played the babyface fighting from behind and sometimes that just be the same old, same old, but here it felt top notch. When Tanahashi is on his game, there are very few better. ****¼

39. Trios Championship: Ivelisse and Son of Havoc (c) vs. The Crew and Joey Ryan vs. Dragon Azteca Jr., Rey Mysterio Jr. and Prince Puma vs. Fenix, Jack Evans and PJ Black – Lucha Underground 4/27/16

Shortly after Dario Cueto returned to the Temple, he set up a new Trios Tournament. The three teams that advanced to the finals would meet the champions on this night. One of the champions, Angelico, got injured which caused his partners to compete shorthanded. There were so many interesting dynamics in this one. From Angelico and Ivelisse as the underdog champions, to the Crew teaming with sleazy undercover cop Joey Ryan, to Fenix’s team not getting along and finally to the dream team of Azteca, Puma and Rey. So many moving parts and it all came together perfectly. One member of each team was legal at a time, giving it a different feel from a lot of big tag matches like this. It would be impossible to write up play-by-play on this. We did get to see Ivelisse hit a German suplex on sleazy Joey, which was cool. A miscommunication between the Crew and Joey allowed Ivelisse to eliminate them first. Evans, who called himself the “baddest bitch in the building” to mock Ivelisse, eliminated her and guaranteed there would be new champions. The final two teams going at it ruled. Azteca showed off how good he is and went toe to toe with Fenix. Evans got too cocky and it led to the downfall for them. Mysterio got the tag and ran wild, hitting the 619 to kick off a barrage of moves that won his team the titles at 23:15. Not only was this a fantastic match, but it actually started a bigger angle that set up a match between Mysterio and Puma at Ultima Lucha Dos. ****¼

38. Chris Hero vs. Tomohiro Ishii – RPW Global Wars UK 11/10/16

The joint NJPW/Rev Pro cards featured some interesting matches. None caught my eye more than this one between Chris Hero and Tomohiro Ishii. Not only are both men among the best in the entire world, but their styles just screamed a combination that would produce greatness. Chris Hero had a clear size advantage and mocked Tomohiro Ishii for it early. An angry Ishii hit him with a bunch of forearms but just one from Hero knocked Ishii on his ass. That was the story for most of the 13:37. Hero abused Ishii at times, but the “Stone Pitbull” never gave up. He got his second wind and some of Hero’s strikes had no effect on his hard head. They traded some brutal strikes, kicks and headbutts for a while. Ishii fired up after a piledriver and did so again when Hero nailed a second in the closing stretch. That final few minutes saw these two beat the holy hell out of each other by the way. After Ishii got up from the second piledriver, Hero hit a big elbow and then a Gotch style piledriver to score the victory. This had a lot of hype going into it but I think they lived up to it. It was just what I wanted. They had a war in front of a hot crowd and didn’t go too long. Hero took time to put over Ishii on the microphone after the match, which was a nice touch. ****¼

37. Team Raw vs. Team Smackdown – WWE Survivor Series 11/20/16

When a match goes 52:49, it can either feel like it took an hour or feel like it kind of flew by. The latter was the case for this match. AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton and Shane McMahon took on Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens, Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins in a huge traditional Survivor Series match. I’m a sucker for those kinds of matches and this one certainly delivered. It was handled so well, especially when you consider the sheer amount of stuff going on. Several angles and moments were weaved into one gigantic match. For the first fifteen or so minutes, there were no eliminations and everyone got some shine. The Styles/Ambrose rivalry was touched upon when they got into it and Dean was eliminated first. I disagreed with him going out first, but it worked out well. They made good use of Smackdown’s mascot, James Ellsworth, when he held Braun’s leg to get him counted out. Guys like Braun and Owens were protected by countout and DQ eliminations, while a guy like Styles got protected by going out only after a brief (and awesome) Shield reunion. We got the big spots we love from Shane including his elbow through the table and he took a spear that nearly killed him. Best of all, the Wyatts got to look strong. When everyone thought Seth and Roman would overcome the odds for Team Raw, Orton caught Seth in a top five RKO ever before sacrificing himself for Bray, allowing Bray to beat Reigns with Sister Abigail. ****¼

36. Lucha Underground Championship: Mil Muertes (c) vs. Pentagon Jr. vs. Prince Puma – Lucha Underground 3/9/16

To start Lucha Underground’s incredible second season, Mil Muertes held the Lucha Underground Title. He seemed unstoppable and sent back all challenges. The two biggest threats to the title were Pentagon Jr. and Prince Puma, who were in the midst of a rivalry of their own as well as having their issues with Mil. It led to this awesome three-way match. Puma and Pentagon worked together early on but Muertes was too much of a beast for them. The champion even did a plancha, which we never see from him. Pentagon and Puma were not far behind with dives of their own. This match had so much going on, from the aforementioned aerial attacks to creative use of the environment to great brawling. Each guy played to their strength for the entire 11:56. Puma stole the show with a sick shooting star press off the guardrail. Near the end, they built to several near falls that the fans totally bit on. Pentagon went to break Puma’s arm but Mil speared him. He also speared Puma before using a double Flatliner to retain the title. Not only was this one of my favorite matches all year, it was the best triple threat match of 2016. A non-stop blast. ****¼