Friday, June 23, 2017

Top 15 Matches of May 2017

Another month has gone by and we have another top 15 matches. Though April featured WrestleMania weekend, May was a higher quality month. From the excellent (current show of the year for me) NXT TakeOver: Chicago to NJPW’s Best of the Super Juniors Tournament to PROGRESS’ Super Strong Style 16, there was a lot to like. Like last month’s list, to qualify the match just had to take place in the month of May. During the month I watched wrestling from WWE, PROGRESS, NJPW, Dragon Gate, Lucha Underground, Evolve, FIP, Style Battle, Lucha Forever and Shine. Again, I’m just including my original writeups for each match unless I didn’t already do a review for it.

Honorable Mentions: Flamita vs. Travis Banks – PROGRESS Super Strong Style 16 5/28; Pete Dunne vs. Trent Seven – WWE UK Championship Special 5/19; Travis Banks vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – PROGRESS Super Strong Style 16 5/29

15. BUSHI vs. KUSHIDA – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors; 5/22/17

There were four matches between these two last year and they ranged from good to great (**** at New Beginning, ***½ at BOTSJ and Destruction, and *** at Power Struggle). Both men were desperate for their first points. Instantly, this had a sense of urgency from both men. Neither wanted to fall to 0-3. BUSHI was ready for KUSHIDA’s handspring elbow and knew not to dive off the apron at KUSHIDA, since KUSHIDA catches people in arm bars that way. KUSHIDA had the MX scouted, blocking it and trying for the Hoverboard Lock. They traded blows in the middle of the ring when nothing seemed to keep the other down. BUSHI used a Destroyer and MX, but KUSHIDA refused to stay down. KUSHIDA countered the next MX attempt into his own Codebreaker, before applying the Hoverboard Lock. BUSHI just wouldn’t tap, so KUSHIDA rolled over into God’s Last Gift! That got him the win at 15:51. This might’ve been my favorite match between them. They played off their past and brought a real sense of desperation to this. I love God’s Last Gift for KUSHIDA and how he had to try something new because his old stuff kept failing. I don’t want him to come back and win the whole thing because Dominion already has too many WK rematches, but this ruled. Also, I hate that BUSHI is 0-3 again this year. [****]

14. Donovan Dijak vs. Keith Lee – Evolve 84; 5/20/17

These two tore the house down during WrestleMania weekend. They impressed the fans early with high impact offense. Dijak tried his Fosbury Flop but Lee caught him and hit snake eyes on the apron to a standing ovation. They continued throwing bombs including Lee using Feast Your Eyes, a Destroyer and a Spirit Bomb, but not getting the three. I get scared every time Lee goes up top and I was freaked out when he did it here, only to be launched backward by Dijak. To up the ante from Orlando, Dijak did a somersault from the ring into the crowd. Not done yet, Dijak pulled out a super rana, before Lee responded with a reverse rana. After all that, it took a top rope Spirit Bomb for Lee to win at 18:42. This was great but didn’t reach the level of their previous encounter. Something was missing. Still, I could watch these two go to war anytime. [****]

13. Evolve Championship: Zack Sabre Jr. (c) vs. Ethan Page – Evolve 84; 5/20/17

These two have had quite the rivalry in recent months. Sabre only wore the Evolve Title to the ring for this one. They played this like two guys who don’t like each other, bringing strikes and brawling from the get go. Sabre incorporated his style with an octopus hold on the guardrail for extra leverage. Page nearly won in under five minutes following an apron bomb and RK-Ego. They continued with a hard hitting match that saw both guys come close a few times. Sabre countered the RK-Ego into a triangle choke, only for Page to buckle bomb out. I completely bit on a package piledriver near fall. Sabre escaped a second and delivered a series of strikes and submissions. He fired off two PKs, but Page flipped him off instead of staying down. Two more PKs kept Page down at 13:52. I found this to be a very strong grudge match. They made me believe the title could change hands, while also making sure this was the physical match it had to be. Both men played to their strengths and delivered the goods here. I also loved Page being defiant until the end. This was much better than Page’s title match with Thatcher last year. [****]

12. Lucha Forever Championship: Travis Banks (c) vs. Matt Riddle – Lucha Forever Catch Me Outside; 5/25/17

When Lucha Forever was first announced, I was excited. They instantly announced some big matches, like Pete Dunne vs. Matt Riddle. However, the WWE contracts of guys like Dunne meant their appearances couldn’t be streamed on FloSlam. I still watched their first show in full. It was mostly disappointing, but Travis Banks beating Shane Strickland to crown their first champion was easily the highlight. That was bested at this event, when Matt Riddle took on Travis Banks. Riddle’s been on quite the tear since arriving on the scene, while Banks has been one of the best performers of 2017. Together, they put on one hell of a performance, full of hard hitting exchanges and great grappling. Riddle had the advantage, but Banks was too resilient to stay down. It’s a story he pulled out during the Super Strong Style 16 tournament too. After surviving some of Riddle’s best offense, Banks got his own in. He hit the Kiwi Krusher and Slice of Heaven before making Riddle tap to the Lion Clutch at 14:36. Great work from both guys that played to their strengths. The best match I’ve seen from Lucha Forever so far. [****]

11. Hiromu Takahashi vs. Jushin Thunder Liger – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors; 5/18/17

Once I heard this was Liger’s last BOTSJ, I instantly wanted him to win. A final win and matchup with Hiromu at Dominion sounds incredible. This was my most anticipated match of the night and possibly the tournament. Liger tried for the quick win with a lariat, which set the tone for the rest of the contest. He brought out the brainbuster on the outside, trying for a countout win, but Hiromu barely beat the count. I liked how Takahashi adjusted to Liger’s game plan. Liger blocked the sunset flip bomb, so Takahashi changed up and turned it into an apron power bomb. Hiromu countered the Liger Bomb for a near fall but ran into the palm strike. The Liger Bomb connected for two and he ate a German, but no sold and fired up. He nailed another brainbuster for an awesome near fall. After some counters, Hiromu hit the Time Bomb to beat the legend at 8:05. Liger kicked his feet in attempts to kick out, desperate not to lose. This was marvelous. A fantastic sprint with Liger throwing everything at the champ but come up just short. The crowd ate it all up thanks to Liger’s popularity. Hiromu adds another notch to his Wrestler of the Year belt. What an incredible 2017 he’s having. [****]

10. NXT Championship: Bobby Roode (c) vs. Hideo Itami – NXT TakeOver: Chicago; 5/20/17

I guess the Tag Titles go on last. Hideo’s attack in the parking lot was two years ago to the day. Roode gives an early break and goes for the GLORIOUS taunt. Hideo hoists him for the GTS to a huge pop, but Roode escapes to the outside. Shoulder block by Roode but he runs into an elbow. Hideo hits some hard chops, sending Roode reeling. Hideo hits some knee drops and jumps over Roode before whiffing on a back kick. He hits it the second go around and does the GLORIOUS taunt. Roode charges but runs into a knee. Roode fights back and nails a blockbuster. He drives the middle rope into Hideo’s throat. He follows with a chinlock and talks some trash. Hideo answers with a brutal slap. Some kicks and the shotgun dropkick connect. Clothesline by Hideo before he fires off kicks and a suplex. Itami hits his tornado DDT onto the top rope and picks up a near fall. Roode delivers elbows to avoid the GTS but gets sent shoulder first into the ring post. Itami kicks the shit out of Roode but misses one. Roode tries a rollup but Itami catches the arm and tries a Fujiwara armbar. He can’t lock it in, so Roode escapes. Itami blocks the implant DDT and sends him to the corner. More kicks. Roode fights off and misses the blockbuster a second time. Hideo DOES THE DEAL for two. More kicks in the corner. Itami runs into a spinebuster for a near fall. Roode can’t hit his finsh and escapes the GTS again. He hits a jawbreaker on the apron to buy time. He throws Itami into the guardrail but gets thrown into the steel steps. On the shoulder that’s been worked on. Itami misses a dropkick into the steps. Both men are hurt and struggle to beat the count. They do and Roode hits a right hand. Itami fights back with strikes and hits the hesitation dropkick. He holds his ankle to sell the steps spot. He’s too hurt to hit the GTS, so Roode hits the Glorious DDT but Itami kicks out! Roode goes in and eats the GTS, but falls outside to avoid the pin. Hideo slides Roode back in and covers for two. Itami wants the GTS again, but Roode slips free. He tries a pin but HIdeo counters into his own for two. Itami counters the DDT and slaps the shit out of Roode about seven times. Bobby escapes the GTS again and hits the DDT. he holds onto it, picks him up and hits a second, much more impactful DDT to retain at 17:43. [****]

9. Finn Balor vs. The Miz vs. Seth Rollins – WWE Raw; 5/1/17

Wisely, Miz heads outside to allow Finn and Seth to go at it. He wants no part of this. Once Miz gets pulled in, he wants to work together with one guy but gets declined. Seth tries to dive onto him but he pulls Maryse in the way. That cunning bastard! After a break, Miz has control but Finn takes over with two massive running dropkicks around the ring. He hits 1916 but Miz breaks up the count at the last second. Everyone picks up several near falls, with Seth coming extremely close after a double blockbuster and frog splash. Seth also delivers the superplex/falcon arrow combo but Samoa Joe arrives and takes him out. Finn goes to finish off Miz with the Coup de Grace but Bray Wyatt appears, knocks him off the top and hits Sister Abigail. Miz crawls over and steals this at 22:23. That was a blast and was the best match on Raw in 2017. I’d say this was the best Seth looked since turning babyface, Finn came across great throughout and Miz sold well for both, while getting plenty of heat. I liked how they furthered three feuds in one match, though only Bray/Finn is fresh and isn’t very interesting. Still, the match ruled and would’ve been better without the overbooked ending. [****]

8. Dragon Lee vs. Hiromu Takahashi – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors; 5/17/17

These men have one of the best in-ring rivalries in all of wrestling. I have their last two matches (Fantastica Mania ’16 and New Beginning in Osaka ’17) at ****½ each. Hiromu is my current pick for Wrestler of the Year. This had a big fight feel to it and they opened by just chopping the shit out of one another. Lee snapped off a rana off the apron before proceeding to hit Hiromu with a bunch of high impact offense. Hiromu turned it around and went after Lee’s mask. If you remember, he completely removed it in their last match, which helped him win. In an awesome moment, Lee nailed Hiromu with his own sunset flip bomb off the apron. Just showing how much they know each other. Hiromu knew just when to avoid Lee’s corner double stomp too. They went into trading German suplexes and the bigger offensive blows. Hiromu went for the mask again and it nearly cost him when he was rolled up. He got two on the Destroyer before Lee got in some surprisingly sloppy counters. He avoided another Destroyer and hit his own corner DVD. The Phoenix Plex handed Hiromu his first singles loss in NJPW after 18:56. Like Scurll/Ospreay, we got a lot of their signature stuff but it never felt like a compilation. It felt like the next step or chapter in their rivalry. It was on par with their previous matches until a few sloppy moments down the stretch. I did love how they played off their past matches and how Lee stole some of Hiromu’s signature moves. [****¼]

7. Travis Banks vs. Trent Seven – PROGRESS Bang the Drum; 5/14/17

“Keep it 100” just isn’t the same without Dahlia Black and TK Cooper. Banks is awesome though. Considering Seven and his buddies jumped SPPT during Dahlia and TK’s farewell, it made sense when Banks dove out onto him during his entrance. He proceeded to beat Seven up around the arena before the bell even rang. That allowed the match to go at a crazy pace once it got started. They threw everything at one another, from stiff strikes to big offensive blows. Banks avoided a super piledriver with a Liger Bomb, and had the crowd in the palm of his hand. He survived a ripcord lariat and got to his feet instantly after a dragon suplex. Just when it looked like Travis had it, Seven rolled him up with a handful of tights for the win in 8:09. An insanely awesome sprint. They beat the hell out of each other in a match fitting what went down on Chapter 47. Seven is an excellent dick heel, while Banks has wowed as the fiery babyface, and it all came together masterfully here. [****¼]

6. WWN Championship: Matt Riddle (c) vs. Kyle O’Reilly – Evolve 84; 5/20/17

I thought their match in PWG last year was strong but a bit of a disappointment considering they seem made for each other. They both applied early submissions and reached the ropes to break them. They progressed into forearm strikes. Kyle got in trouble there, so he kicked Riddle’s leg to knock him down. O’Reilly continued to have a game plan for whatever Riddle threw at him. He’d stop his momentum whenever he could and try to get in his own attempts at winning. Kyle won a strike battle while holding a knee bar, so Riddle responded with heel strikes. Riddle no sold some kicks and hit the Bro to Sleep. A German followed but it wasn’t enough. They did a great guillotine choke struggle spot that was a highlight. The final stretch started off oddly, with a few moments that looked staged. It picked up and became great though. Riddle nailed a Liger Bomb and Kyle trapped him in a triangle choke. He delivered a bunch of elbows but Riddle powered out and nailed the jumping tombstone. The Bromission finished, allowing Riddle to retain at 16:11. This was far better than their PWG match. For the most part, it felt like a real fight, which I loved. It stayed in Riddle’s wheelhouse of 15 minutes, too. It was hard hitting, played to their strengths and was the best Evolve match I’ve seen this year. [****¼]

5. Super Strong Style 16 Quarterfinals: Jeff Cobb vs. Matt Riddle – PROGRESS Super Strong Style 16; 5/28/17

This is the kind of match you’d expect to be for the Atlas Title. Their WWN Title match in Evolve was a blast, but short (***½ and 6:21). They also compete as a team, known as the Chosen Bros. I loved that Riddle went for the knockout knee again, only for Cobb to have it scouted. The partners were playful, with Riddle slapping Cobb on the ass after getting the advantage. Riddle also impressed with rolling gutwrench suplexes, so Cobb showed him how it’s really done. From there, they traded big blows in an awesome display. Cobb survived a Bro to Sleep and German, while Riddle barely kicked out of a Tombstone. Riddle hit a flurry of strikes and a Tombstone of his own for a goddamn one count. There was Riddle hitting a series of fisherman busters and it not being enough. Cobb busted out a fucking Destroyer and then an absurd popup German and that still didn’t get it done. Riddle escaped the Tour of the Islands and advanced with the brutal knee strike at 13:39. That fucking ruled. Two dudes who knew a lot about the other just throwing bombs to overcome each other. Riddle was resilient and used his established deadly knee to combat his larger opponent. Match of the tournament so far. [****¼]

4. Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW Wrestling Dontaku; 5/3/17

I admittedly overrated their first match (had it at ****¾ but it was closer to ****¼), but it was still awesome. Ishii own that one. Omega had his big match black tights on. Ishii charged instantly, overwhelming Omega with a huge burst of offense. As they fought outside, Ishii attempted a One Winged Angel as he was in the mindsight of ending this early. There was a tremendous countout tease where Omega apron bombed Ishii at the count of 16. Ishii barely made it back in and wisely rolled back outside for a breather. I loved that because he used a burst of energy to beat the count but didn’t have enough to get right back into the mix. Back inside, Omega got in the driver’s seat until Ishii fired up and no sold his chops. He hit a stalling superplex for two and then the match kicked into next gear. Madman Omega nearly overshot Ishii with a springboard cross body over the guardrail. They ran a fast exchange, capped by Omega hitting one of his best V-Triggers ever. Just when it seemed like Omega had it won, Ishii turned the tide and hit his own version of the One Winged Angel, followed by the sliding lariat for two. They traded shots and near falls until Omega hit a 2K1 Bomb. As he went for the One Winged Angel again, Ishii countered with A GODDAMN REVERSE RANA! They went back to trading blows. Omega hit another knee and a brainbuster for a close near fall. Omega finally connected on the One Winged Angel to win at 23:55. That ruled. It was better than their New Japan Cup outing. I loved how they played off their previous interactions and showed how they’ve come to know one another. I dug both guys stealing each other’s moves too. Omega fought Ishii’s style and survived it before hitting the finisher that has been protected so well to win. Omega’s best match since the Naito one. [****½]

3. NXT Tag Team Championship Ladder Match: The Authors of Pain (c) w/ Paul Ellering vs. #DIY – NXT TakeOver: Chicago; 5/20/17

DIY attacks instantly but get overwhelmed. AOP runs into shots and Gargano hits an enziguri. He sends Akam to the apron and Ciampa knocks him out with a knee. They send Rezar packing and go for ladders. AOP attack and both DIY guys get thrown into the guardrail. Gargano comes back with a somersault off the apron. DIY choose to go for the big ladder by the entrance. Ciampa holds the ladder open and pulls down the middle rope so Gargano can hit a suicide dive through the openings. THAT’S BAD LUCK! Akam stops them from climbing but has the ladder thrown into his face. They beat up Rezar in the corner, with Ciampa hitting a high knee. Gargano tries an attack but gets slammed onto Ciampa’s back. DIY cuts off AOP climbing and drop a ladder onto their backs. Akam holds a ladder up and Ciampa runs up it, nearly reaching the belts. Akam shoves him off. AOP both climb but DIY pull them down. AOP go for stereo powerbombs, but DIY end up on the ladder. They climb but get knocked over. Ciampa clutches his knee after the spot. AOP trap him in the corner behind a ladder that they drive into his midsection. Akam holds the ladder so Rezar can climb. They seem to be stalling. They stop because DIY is stirring, and beat them down. They wipe them out with a ladder and go out for a bigger ladder. They set two up across the ring apron and guardrail. They want powerbombs onto them. Ciampa gets free and saves Gargano. DIY each hit AOP with a knee/superkick and they end up laid on the ladders. DIY climb the standing ladder in the middle and hit stereo splashes! Ciampa puts his guy through the ladder, but Gargano nad his dude kind of bounce off. Replays show both DIY members almost landed on their heads. Akam and Ciampa climb, while Gargano sets up another ladder near them. Rezar joins Gargano on his ladder and all four men go at it. Ciampa’s knocked off but bumps into the other ladder. Rezar falls but Gargano lands on the ladder in the middle. Akam falls off. Gargano’s alone but Ellering pulls him down and knocks over the ladder. Gargano kicks Ellering but eats a boot from Akam. Ciampa’s left alone and bashed into a ladder set up in the corner. They use the ladder to prop up his head and go to hit him with the ladder. Gargano shoves Ciampa aside and takes the shot for his buddy. AOP climb again but Ciampa’s up. He gets behind Rezar and wants to German him off the ladder through the one in the corner. HE DOES IT! OH MY FUCKING GOD! Gargano somehow fights enough to grab Akam and stop him from climbing. Akam kicks at him but both DIY members kick him while he has a ladder over his head. It falls onto his shoulders and they hit MEETING IN THE MIDDLE INTO THE LADDER ON AKAM’S FACE! Ciamps tries helping Gargano up but he’s out of it. They set a ladder up in the middle and both climb up. They grab the titles but AOP kick the ladder out. DIY hang onto the titles and AOP powerbomb them from those spots. They do the Super Collider and another powerbomb! AOP grab the titles at 20:08. [****½]

2. Super Strong Style 16 Finals: Travis Banks vs. Tyler Bate – PROGRESS Super Strong Style 16; 5/29/17

There was such a big fight feel to this. Two of the top performers of 2017 thus far. Normally, I write up my match reviews while watching the match, but for this, I watched the entire thing and then went back to do this review. I love that the PROGRESS fans loathe British Strong Style. Too often are great heel wrestlers (like BSS) cheered for their talent. It added so much here, because the crowd was so pro-Banks and so anti-Bate. It made for an incredible atmosphere. They went at it and when a ref bump came, I worried. Instead of something cheap, we got something awesome. Dunne and Seven arrived and you just felt like Banks would get screwed. Banks’ buddies and recent PROGRESS additions, #CCK, made the save to a MONSTER pop. They hit some great offense and took BSS to the back, leaving it one on one. The back half of this match was nuts. Bate did things like a Gotch style Tombstone on the floor, only for Banks to fire up and forearm some chair shots away. Both guys brought their best, from Banks’ coast to coast dropkick to Bate bringing out the spiral tap. When Banks kicked out of the Tyler Driver ’97, the fans reacted perfectly. Bate looked for a super Tyler Driver, but Banks countered to an avalanche Kiwi Krusher! Bate somehow kicked out, only to get locked in the Lion Clutch and submit at 22:51. Incredible. They took fans on emotional roller coaster where everything worked, including the interference segment. I’m so glad it didn’t play into the finish either. The fans ate it all up. Travis Banks has arrived and he feels like the guy who should dethrone Pete Dunne. It’s insane how good Bate is, especially for his age, while Banks could be the top guy in the back half of 2017. I might be rating this higher than some, but I loved everything about it, except for an over reliance on kickout spots at times. [****¾]

1. WWE United Kingdom Championship: Tyler Bate (c) vs. Pete Dunne – NXT TakeOver: Chicago; 5/20/17

I have their match from January at ****1/2 and would consider it the second or third best match under the WWE banner this year. Big “Bruiserweight” chants. They grapple to start and get dueling chants, but Pete has more. Pete works a head scissors, while grabbing the arm. Bate nearly escapes with a headstand before succeeding with a modified one. Dunne takes him back down and wrenches the arm. Bate gets free, nips up and twirls his mustache while Dunne takes a breather outside. Bate follows and eats a big forearm. Dunne manipulates the finger joints and tries kicking the steel steps into them, but Bate avoids it and slaps him. He hops off the steps with a back elbow. Dunne goads him into another huge forearm and then the explex on the apron. Dunne goes back to the arm and kicks away at Bate’s head. Bate fires up, no selling the effects. He pulls Dunne into a delayed exploder. He follows with some running European uppercuts in the corner but Dunne explodes out with a running kick. Bate escapes the explex and hits a standing SSP. He delivers an excellent deadlift gutwrench suplex for a close near fall. Bate tries another running SSP, but gets caught in a triangle choke! Bate powers up and powerbombs his way free. Bate does the airplane spin at a crazy fast pace. It gets him two. Both men struggle to their feet. Dunne lands on his feet on a German and then catches a springboarding Bate with a huge forearm. He delivers a sick explex into a powerbomb for a close near fall. The crowd is losing their minds. Both men fight from their seated positions. They hammer away like a hockey fight as they get to their feet. Bate hits the big left (bop and bang) and wants the Tyler Driver. Dunne avoids it and hits an enziguri. They’re forehead to forehead and start throwing huge chops. Dunne with a slap, Bate with the rolling kick. Bate does his sick rebound off the top rope spot into a lariat for two. Again, both men are down and we get “fight forever” chants. Dunne slips free of the Tyler Driver and wants the Bitter End. Bate counters into an incredible DDT! Dunne goes outside and Bate follows with a middle rope moonsault. He quickly rolls Dunne inside and comes off the top with a spiral tap/stardust press for two! Bate tries an Undertaker dive, but eats a forearm. Dunne rolls him inside. BITTER END! New Champion at 15:27. [****¾]