Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Top 130 Matches of 2017: #100-91

100. IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship: Kenny Omega [c] vs. Baretta – NJPW Power Struggle 11/5/17

After coming up short in regaining the IWGP Jr. Tag Titles at the G1 Special in USA, Roppongi Vice split on friendly terms so Baretta could move up to the heavyweight division. I wasn’t fond of the idea, as the heavyweight division is crowded and as good as Baretta is, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. He’s a great underdog babyface, which is a role Juice Robinson currently fills. Anyway, after one singles win, Baretta challenged Kenny Omega for the US Heavyweight Title and faced his biggest test. Early on, Omega treated him like he didn’t belong this high in the card. The champ slapped at his head and talked trash. Omega was more aggressive than usual, suplexing Baretta onto the back on a table and delivering a double stomp onto it. His “HERE’S KENNY” face through the hole in the table was great. Baretta rallied, only to miss a dive and go through the rest of that table, bringing it back into play. He survived more damage, before hitting the Dudebuster. He couldn’t cover in time, allowing Kenny to kick out. Omega’s attitude nearly got him beat, when Baretta turned his lazy pin into a cradle. That pissed Kenny off, who hit a V-Trigger and One Winged Angel to retain in 21:23. The story of the overconfident champ underestimating his challenger is always great with talented guys. Baretta showed a ton of fire and a “never say die” attitude that worked so well. He looked like a star here. [****]

99. PROGRESS Atlas Championship: Matt Riddle [c] vs. Trent Seven – PROGRESS: Orlando 3/31/17

I can’t help but love the PROGRESS Atlas Championship. Big lads wrestling is among my favorite things in all of wrestling. Trent Seven is one of the best heels on the UK scene, while Matt Riddle is wildly popular wherever he goes. After realizing he was outmatched on the mat, Seven took to chopping the shit out of Riddle. That just angered Riddle, who lit him up with brutal shots around the ring. Riddle was always a step ahead. If Seven chopped, Riddle chopped harder. If Seven hit a suplex, Riddle popped up and retaliated with his own. When Riddle survived Seventh Heaven (a spinning piledriver), Seven wanted to hit one off the middle rope. Riddle slipped out and came back with a jumping Tombstone for a great near fall. Seven kicked out at one after a crazy looking jumping piledriver, but Riddle pounced. He locked in the Bromission and Seven tapped out at 10:47. Before the match, Jim Smallman promised they would beat the shit out of each other and they delivered. This was intense from start to finish and stayed in Riddle’s 10-15 minute wheelhouse. Great stuff. [****]

98. WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Neville [c] vs. Austin Aries – WWE WrestleMania 33 4/2/17

Moving this match to the Kickoff Show was probably for the best. Instead of getting rushed on a ridiculously loaded and long main card, it was given time to breathe on the pre-show. Austin Aries was the rare cruiserweight to get a great reaction on most nights, while Neville was in the midst of a spectacular run as the “King of the Cruiserweights.” With 15:37 to work with, they didn’t go for the traditionally spotty cruiserweight match. Instead, they started slow and built to something more. Aries was confident early. He felt like the one guy in the division who could hang with Neville. They constantly had an answer for one another, but there was the sense that Aries had Neville’s number. Neville started dropping Aries on his head with German suplexes, but couldn’t put him away. Neville survived his fair share, including kicking out of the 450 splash. Aries applied Last Chancery and Neville knew he was done. He resorted to raking at Aries’ recently reconstructed orbital socket. That got him free and he won via Red Arrow. Their subsequent matches never reached this level. Hell, the cruiserweights have never reached this level again. It was the peak of the division. [****]

97. PROGRESS World Championship: Travis Banks [c] vs. Keith Lee – PROGRESS Chapter 56: La Danse Macabre 10/29/17

At PROGRESS Chapter 53, Keith Lee beat Travis Banks ahead of Banks’ shot at the PROGRESS Championship. At Chapter 55, Banks successfully captured the title. Therefore, it was fitting for Lee to be his first title defense. Lee was as confident as ever, knowing he came off a win against the smaller champion. They played off their previous match at several points, but the best was when Banks went for a tope suicida. In the first meeting, Lee caught him and dominated. Here, Lee taunted him about it, so Banks used a bit of a cheap shot to open the door for him to deliver three in a row. Banks managed to seriously hurt Lee with a series of double chops. Lee remained dominant though, hitting two Spirit Bombs. The “never say die attitude” of the new champion was evident, as he survived both. Banks escaped a third and hit the Slice of Heaven. He avoided more big offense from Lee, before raining elbows down on his head. He added some stomps to really daze Lee, before wowing everyone by hitting the Kiwi Krusher to retain in 19:38. This was a great start for a new era of PROGRESS. A top notch main event that built off their first encounter, was hard hitting and told a great story. Banks was tentative early, only to throw everything he had at Lee and was resilient enough to win out. [****]

96. IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuya Naito [c] vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – NJPW Dominion 6/11/17

On January 4th, Tetsuya Naito finally got a big Wrestle Kingdom victory by defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi and retaining the Intercontinental Title. Naito held the title since September and treated it like garbage. He kicked it around, slammed it on the steps and by the time this show came around, it was broken. Naito wanted to destroy and retire the title, while Tanahashi was out to restore its honor. Knowing Naito’s style, Tanahashi turned the tables on him and attacked before the bell. Naito’s disrespect for the title was too much for him. Tanahashi was aggressive, spitting at Naito and laying into him with punches. Naito went after Tanahashi’s partially torn biceps, while Tana responded by attacking the leg. I appreciated that Naito working the arm was smart and different from a lot of his matches, since he typically worked the leg. Tanahashi couldn’t bump on some spots as well as he would if he were 100% healthy, but he made up for it with his desperation. He knew a loss would mark the end of the IC Title and possibly his time as a top star. When High Fly Flow wasn’t enough, Tanahashi used a cloverleaf to win the title via submission in 25:56. An unexpected finish that played into their next match, though it felt anti-climactic. This was the worst of their trilogy this year, yet it still ruled and was what it needed to be given their characters and story up to this point. Plus, it freed up Naito to win the G1. [****]

95. The Chosen Bros vs. The Monstars – PWG Battle of Los Angeles 9/1/17

On the first night of the annual Battle of Los Angeles, it wasn’t any of the tournament matches that stole the show. It was this absurd tag team bout. The Chosen Bros, Jeff Cobb and Matt Riddle, were becoming a consistent team in PWG, while the Monstars of Keith Lee and Donovan Dijak had formed a bond after some great matches in 2017. Anyone who knows me knows I love BIG LADS WRESTLING. This was not just big dudes beating the piss out of each other, but big dudes doing wacky shit. It’s a trip seeing men like Lee and Cobb doing incredibly athletic things with ease. The match started friendly enough, but soon broke down into some breathtaking action. Spots that stuck out to me saw the Chosen Bros bust out a Doomsday Knee, and the Monstars showing off a chokeslam/powerbomb onto the knee combination. The finish saw Cobb launch Lee (a feat in itself) into a Riddle knee after 18:25. An absolutely bonkers match in front of the right crowd. They could’ve taken it easy with bigger tourney matches the next day, but they went all out. [****]

94. Money in the Bank: AJ Styles vs. Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – WWE Money in the Bank 6/18/17

If there’s one WWE match you can usually count out for greatness each year, it’s Money in the Bank. The 2015 incarnation is the only one to not crack four stars from me in the last five years. This was another loaded field, with only Ziggler as an uninteresting performer. One of the biggest questions coming in was how Nakamura would fare in a Ladder Match, but Corbin jumped him during his entrance, taking him out of the equation. For now. As usual, there were plenty of bumps and spots throughout this. Sami hit a particularly great sunset flip bomb, and AJ Styles took a scary fall while hanging from the briefcase. We also got a renewal of the fantastic Zayn/Owens rivalry for a bit. Owens was the MVP, being involving in so much and taking wild bumps like an USHIGOROSHI onto a ladder bridge. Around the 20:00 mark of this 29:50 match, Nakamura returned and was at the best we’ve seen since the Zayn match in Dallas last year. He ran through everyone, leading to the showdown with Styles we’ve all waited for. Their exchange stole the show. In the end, Corbin took them both out and got the briefcase to win. It ran a bit long, which keeps it from reaching the levels of some prior MITB matches, but was still good enough to make this list. [****]
93. PROGRESS World Championship: Pete Dunne [c] vs. Travis Banks – PROGRESS Chapter 55: Chase the Sun 9/10/17

I was more excited for this match than anything on the WrestleMania or Wrestle Kingdom cards. No lie. Perennial jerk champion Pete Dunne against Travis Banks, winner of Super Strong Style 16. This was one of those matches where they didn’t do the flashiest moves and had a fair amount of run-ins, yet it all worked. It was a master class on working the crowd. Dunne did every little thing possible to draw their ire. When Trent Seven and Tyler Bate were taken backstage by #CCK, the fans erupted, realizing Dunne and Banks were alone. Banks survived a ton, even drawing the commentary line of, “Travis Banks just took all of the moves.” It even garnered, “You can’t beat him,” chants towards Dunne. Banks finally hit the Kiwi Krusher for a wild near fall, before applying the Lion’s Clutch to win the title in 24:07. It wasn’t the blow away MOTYC I wanted. Still, they had a big time main event match, with the right amount of shenanigans considering the story they told over several months. The feel good moment of Banks winning the title and ending the reign of terror of British Strong Style was a perfect way to cap the company’s biggest show ever. [****]

92. Keith Lee vs. WALTER – PWG Battle of Los Angeles 9/2/17

Throughout the entire Battle of Los Angeles, no match sounded better to me than this one. Keith Lee and WALTER had awesome encounters during a WWN Title match the prior month, but this was their first singles outing. WALTER grounded Lee at the start, causing him to take a powder. Lee hadn’t been manhandled like that in some time, possibly ever. It was wild to see someone with the ability to take Lee down on just one lariat. Yet Lee was back at it, and showed off his own mat work. It was clear they were evenly matched. The offense grew as the match progressed. WALTER hit an avalanche butterfly suplex, while Lee nailed one of the biggest Spirit Bombs you’ll ever see. None of it was enough. They moved into a huge chop exchange, until WALTER just kicked Lee’s leg out. A smart, but devious move. Lee fought back and got the win with a Samoan drop/powerslam combo in 19:44. The finish was rather anticlimactic and the match went a bit long, but it was high quality big lads wrestling and you can’t go wrong with that. [****]

91. PROGRESS World and Tag Team Championships: British Strong Style [c] vs. Ringkampf – PROGRESS Chapter 47: Complicated Simplicity 4/23/17

It’s rare that a match features several men in your Wrestler of the Year ballot (Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate and WALTER), but that’s what we had here. The other three man in the match (Trent Seven, Timothy Thatcher and Axel Dieter Jr.) are no slouches, either. With all the titles on the line and PROGRESS being the British Strong Style show in 2017, the outcome to this wasn’t really in doubt. And yet, they made it work wonderfully. BBS were tremendous douches, which perfectly played against Ringkampf being aggressive. WALTER was especially brutal, because he’s awesome. He single-handedly tore apart the opposition with chop after chop. We got a great trio of submission from Ringkampf, but it wasn’t enough. The finishing stretch was wild and featured the absurd spot where Bate deadlift German suplexed WALTER. Sadly, the finish was kind of lackluster, as Dunne used the PROGRESS Title to whack WALTER and allow Seven to score the pin at 28:01. One hell of a match, specifically for the interactions between WALTER and Dunne/Bate. [****]

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