Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Top 15 Matches of April 2017

15. Jack Gallagher vs. TJ Perkins – 205 Live 4/11/17
205 Live tends to be filled with good, but not great matches. This was one of the best since the show’s inception. They were given 15:45 to develop a great, hard hitting match. TJ Perkins’ recent heel turns seems to have revitalized him as he’s closer to his Cruiserweight Classic level of performances now. He targeted Gallagher’s leg to set up the knee bar and Jack did a great job of selling it. He worked from behind and the crowd rallied him. They threw surprisingly big bombs at one another, from forearms to chops to headbutts. It felt different from a lot of what we get from the cruiserweight division. They built to some drama with the knee bar but Gallagher refused to quit, so Perkins had to resort to the Detonation Kick to win. He nailed the heel tendencies and mannerisms in one of his best performances to date. [***¾]

14. Dragon Lee and Jay White vs. Volador Jr. and Will Ospreay – Supercard of Honor XI 4/1/17
This is not a match for everyone. Though I enjoy Jay White’s all-around game, the other three guys in this are known for their aerial skills. IT’S A FLIPPY SPOTFEST YA’LL! When this card was announced, it was this match that stood out to me. And yes, these guys gave us what was advertised. It was billed as an international showcase and all four guys got to strut their stuff. They all brought athleticism and wild offense to pop the crowd. For the entire 13:44, this moved at a breakneck pace with each guy bringing bigger offense than the last. There were too many spots to name here, but just know what you’re getting if you check this match out. The interactions between Lee and Ospreay were the highlight. Three of these men, not Jay White, are part of NJPW’s Best of the Super Juniors Tournament this year and, judging by this outing, Lee vs. Ospreay will be great. [***¾]

13. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, Ricochet and Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL, SANADA and Tetsuya Naito) – Sakura Genesis 4/9/17
We’ve seen combinations of these tag matches all throughout 2017. Los Ingobernables against Taguchi Japan (or Tanahashi and lads). Some are fantastic, most are really good and some are repetitive. This was one of the better ones and it was largely due to the addition of Ricochet. He was a breath of fresh air to these matches and was given time to shine before setting up an IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title match. This did a great job blending the comedy of some Taguchi spots with the freakish athleticism of guys like SANADA and Ricochet, as well as the rivalry between Naito and Juice. In fact, that feud came to the forefront as the match come to a close. Juice delivered a huge lariat and Pulp Friction to pin the Intercontinental Champion at 11:30. It was the biggest win of his career, the fans treated it like a huge deal and it earned him a main event match later in the month. [***¾]

12. IWGP Tag Team Championship: TenKoji [c] vs. War Machine – Sakura Genesis 4/9/17
New Japan’s tag team divisions are rather awful. However, my two favorite teams were involved in this match. I love a good hoss battle and that’s what we got here. This felt like two tag teams trying to prove who the manlier duo was. Satoshi Kojima took a heat segment, and when the tag came to Hiroyoshi Tenzan, the place erupted. He called Sumo Hall his home away from home and the fans treated him like it was. The champions used their veteran knowhow to combat War Machine’s power. War Machine did come close with a popup powerbomb combo but Kojima somehow kicked out. TenKoji brought their best, including some tributes to the fallen Tomoaki Honma, but it wasn’t enough. War Machine hit Fallout to capture the titles at 14:06 in the best IWGP Tag Team Title match in quite some time. The division needs more of this. [***¾]

11. Kassius Ohno, Roderick Strong, Ruby Riot and Tye Dillinger vs. SAnitY (Alexander Wolfe, Eric Young, Killian Dane and Nikki Cross) – TakeOver: Orlando 4/1/17
One of the best things about NXT recently has been SAnitY. Their feud with Tye Dillinger was fun and the addition of Ruby Riot to combat Nikki Cross has been a blast. Here, they were scheduled to have No Way Jose as a partner but SAnitY jumped him earlier in the day, so Kassius Ohno was the replacement. What followed was 12:18 of pure insanity, pun intended. All eight participants just went full throttle at each other, making for one of the most fun opening matches all year. A highlight of this was how Ohno seemed to have some kind of issue with Wolfe, leveling him with vicious elbows and kicks at every opportunity. The match furthered the Cross/Riot rivalry so well and gave us more of Young/Dillinger, while everyone else played their part. In the end, Dane pinned Dillinger to keep his group’s momentum going in an exciting opener. [***¾]

10. WWE Raw Tag Team Championship Ladder Match: Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows [c] vs. Cesaro and Sheamus vs. Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady vs. The Hardy Boyz – WrestleMania 33 4/2/17
This was scheduled to be a triple threat match, but WrestleMania hosts New Day introduced a fourth team at the last moment. The pop for the return of the Hardy Boyz is arguably the most memorable moment of a WrestleMania that was quite good. Outside of the Hardys though, the best thing about this match was how it wasn’t overly long like a lot of the rest of Mania. Clocking in at just 11:03, the four teams crammed a ton of action into the timeframe, while managing to never make it feel rushed. Cesaro and Sheamus stood out as the MVPs, beating the shit out of everyone involved. Cass had a few highlights, the Club played good heels and Enzo took some wild bumps. The main story was the Hardys though. Jeff busted out his trusty ladder Swanton and Matt pulled down the titles, making their comeback a successful one. [***¾]

9. Takehiro Yamamura vs. T-Hawk – The Gate of Passion 4/7/17
I’ve watched a fair amount of Dragon Gate this year and for anyone else who has, the breakout star has been Takehiro Yamamura. A Korakuen Hall show in March was headlined by a tag involving him and the crowd went nuts for him. He also had a great match in February. This was another in a string of strong performances for him. T-Hawk tried to keep Yamamura and the fans at bay by slowing things down and really taking it to his opponent. He used his power but Yamamura wasn’t about to give in. He fired back with shots nearly as hard as he took. When he kicked out of T-Hawk’s BT Bomb, the place erupted. They believe in everything he does. He had some chances but eventually fell to the Night Ride at 17:21. It was another example of why Yamamura has been the MVP of Dragon Gate in 2017. [****]

8. Fred Yehi vs. Kyle O’Reilly – Evolve 83 4/23/17
When the announcement came that Kyle O’Reilly would be returning to Evolve, this was at the very top of my list of desired matches. As expected from these two, we were treated to a great grappling exchange right off the bat. Interestingly, they kept that up for the entire match. Like the spot fest tag listed earlier, this match isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If you like seeing mat wrestling with a purpose though, this is for you. Kyle attacked the arm to set up his armbar, while Yehi brought his unique offense to target the leg. The selling was on point by both men, especially Kyle though as the leg prevented him from even running the ropes. It’s the little things, people. Both guys paid attention to details throughout the match and it made everything better. Kyle hit a brainbuster for two and turned the kickout into the armbar to win at 20:36 and produce the Evolve match of that particular weekend. [****]

7. WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Neville [c] vs. Austin Aries – WrestleMania 33 4/2/17
Starting the incredibly long WrestleMania, Neville and Austin Aries had the best Kickoff show match since The Usos and The Shield in 2013. Some were upset it got put on the pre-show, but that allowed it time to breathe as it got 13:57. Knowing they had time to work with, nothing was rushed and it wasn’t a spotty match. Instead, they told a good story that built to something more down the stretch. Aries nearly won with the 450 splash and I didn’t mind Neville kicking out since it hasn’t fully been established as his finish. Speaking of finishes, that was probably my favorite part of this match. In trouble, Neville resorted to attacking Aries’ recently injured eye. That gave him the opening to retain with the Red Arrow in what was, in my opinion, the best Cruiserweight Title match since the belt returned. [****]

6. NXT Women’s Championship: Asuka [c] vs. Ember Moon – TakeOver: Orlando 4/1/17
Though both women entered this match undefeated, it didn’t have the big fight feel it should’ve. The reason for that was because Ember Moon hadn’t been treated like a big deal and fans didn’t have a reason to get behind her. That changed on this night. These two produced the match in the WWE careers of either woman. Asuka’s overconfidence cost her when Ember showed she could hang. Asuka would hit Ember hard, and the challenger responded with shots of her own. Though it wasn’t built that way, they made fans feel like they were evenly matched. Asuka’s title reign was in serious jeopardy for the first time. Desperately, she shoved the referee into the ropes, causing Ember to fall from the top before hitting her devastating finisher. A huge kick from Asuka followed and she retained at 12:09. It was the perfect ending. Asuka retained with the right amount of heel work used in fear of losing her title, while Ember came out looking great and with more people behind her in her next shot. [****]

5. IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuya Naito [c] vs. Juice Robinson – Wrestling Toyonokuni 4/29/17
When he left the WWE and headed to NJPW, many felt the former CJ Parker wouldn’t make it. Credit where it’s due though, as Juice Robinson went through what the young lions go through and showed quick improvement. In just over a year, he rose to things like teaming with Hiroshi Tanahashi, competing in the Tokyo Dome and being part of the New Japan Cup. However, it was when he pinned Tetsuya Naito in a tag match that he got his biggest opportunity. Juice got to main event an NJPW show against one of the best in the world. And you know what? They delivered. Naito targeted the leg and Juice sold it fantastically for the most part. He’s one of the more likable gaijins and the fans were behind him the entire time. They bought into his near falls. They wanted him to win. He and Naito did everything in their power to make Juice look like a star. It took more than one Destino, but Naito prevailed in 26:42. The more important thing was that it was a coming out party for Juice and another feather in the cap of Naito’s incredible Intercontinental Title reign. [****¼]

4. AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon – WrestleMania 33 4/2/17
If you doubt AJ Styles being the best wrestler in the world, look no further than this match. Shane McMahon has long been known for being a specialist at gimmick matches and for the big bumps he takes. That wasn’t this match. I saw several people worried about Shane being in a straight up wrestling match, yet they went out and stole the show at the biggest event of the year. They built the story around the fact that AJ was far superior to him in this environment. When Shane showed that he indeed trained for this, AJ’s overconfidence cost him. When they advanced to strikes, Shane held the upper hand there. Shane’s wild side came back to haunt him though, as a missed shooting star press (!!) allowed Styles to win with the Phenomenal Forearm at 20:28. It was one of the smartest worked matches all year, playing to their strengths and giving us the best Shane performance outside of the Kurt Angle match in 2001. [****¼]

3. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi [c] vs. Ricochet – Wrestling Toyonokuni 4/29/17
As of right now, Hiromu Takahashi is my pick for wrestler of the year. He’s had nothing but great matches and moments, in a variety of styles and has made the Jr. Heavyweight Title feel important. Earlier in the month, he beat KUSHIDA in under two minutes using a flurry of offense. Ricochet turned the tables on him here, starting incredibly hot and nearly winning in short order. That set the tone for an absolutely insane match. There were far too many crazy spots and moves for me too name here, but at one point I literally stopped to ask “WHAT THE FUCK AM I WATCHING?” while reviewing it. Hiromu is mental and I love every second of it. This was another ridiculously paced outing, with Ricochet more than ready to match his speed. Ricochet’s Benadryller wasn’t enough, so he tried the 630 only to miss. Hiromu nailed Time Bomb and retained the gold at 16:29. There’s something special about Hiromu Takahashi and we should all be grateful we’re witnessing this. Also, these two will rematch it during the BOTSJ. [****¼]

2. NXT Tag Team Championship: The Authors of Pain [c] vs. #DIY vs. The Revival – TakeOver: Orlando 4/1/17
I strongly believe that the two best tag teams in the world are the Revival and #DIY. It’s not even close. They had three great tag matches alone, including the best tag match I’ve ever seen. The Authors of Pain are still somewhat green, but have shown they’re up to the task of holding their own against the best. This match hit all the right points. The Revival and #DIY renewed their rivalry with some fantastic callbacks to their past. I particularly loved watching Gargano and Dawson hit #DIY’s superkick/knee combo before Dash and Ciampa hit the Shatter Machine. The two teams had to put their differences aside to chop down the huge champions. The match followed elimination rules, and #DIY was gone first. Though Revival/AOP was the fresher matchup, I think things would’ve worked better with #DIY, the babyface team, left to fight in the end. Still, that’s a minor gripe. AOP kept their titles after 23:39 of amazing action in what remains my WWE match of the year. It was my overall MOTY until about a week later. [****¾]

1. IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada [c] vs. Katsuyori Shibata – Sakura Genesis 4/9/17
Anyone who knows me or reads my stuff knows that I am no fan of Kazuchika Okada. I don’t believe he’s a top five wrestler in the world, let alone the best. That being said, I can admit his 2017 (other than the shitty Minoru match) has been quite spectacular. This match was probably the best Okada match besides his King of Pro Wrestling and Invasion Attack matches with Hiroshi Tanahashi in 2013. I heard the match went 38:09 before watching it, and I had my doubts. That’s not Shibata’s strength and overly long Okada matches don’t always work. This worked perfectly. I loved that Shibata was flat out better for most of the match, but Okada’s sheer determination to not just retain his title, but find a way to be better than his opponent made for great drama. Okada nailed all the character nuances, heeling it up just enough, while trying to beat Shibata at his own game, even if it meant getting murdered with strikes. The crowd was 100% in the corner of Shibata near the end, though the outcome was never really in doubt since it’s Okada. Shibata no selling the Rainmaker and headbutting Okada was one of my favorite moments in wrestling in longer than I can remember. Unfortunately, that headbutt, and years of others, led to Shibata being hospitalized after the match. It may very well be the final match of Shibata’s career and, though he lost, there aren’t many higher notes to go out on. I just wish we’d gotten this sooner, so Shibata could have longer near the top of the company. [****¾]