Thursday, January 18, 2018

Top 130 Matches of 2017: #110-101

110. Big R Shimizu vs. Takehiro Yamamura – Dragon Gate Truth Gate 2/2/17

Two men stood out above the rest in Dragon Gate in 2017. Big R Shimizu and Takehiro Yamamura. Admittedly, I don’t know about the backstory here, but they drew me in rather quickly. Shimizu sticks out in Dragon Gate because of his unique style and the fact that he’s bigger than most in the company. The much smaller Yamamura didn’t back down, firing off strikes and kicks at Shimizu. The story of him chopping down the big tree was engaging, and the fans gobbled it all up. He was the ultimate underdog, never giving up. He became one of the only people I’ve ever seen kick out of Shimizu’s Shot Put Slam. Granted, it wasn’t an instant cover, but still. The action almost never slowed down and, by the end, the crowd was in a frenzy. Shimizu hit a second Shot Put Slam as the 20:00 time limit expired. This match seemed to truly make Yamamura and set the tone for a year that saw the Korakuen faithful totally get behind him. [****]

109. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi [c] vs. Ryusuke Taguchi – NJPW 45th Anniversary Show 3/6/17

Ryusuke Taguchi typically plays an undercard comedy guy, but his strong showing in the BOTSJ 2016 finals marked somewhat of a turnaround for him. He had this high profile match, formed Taguchi Japan and won the Jr. Tag Titles with Ricochet. Here, his wackiness proved to be a good foil for the pure insanity of Hiromu Takahashi. Hiromu’s first two singles matches of the year (vs. KUSHIDA and Dragon Lee) were frantic battles that were right up his alley. In the tag matches to build this, Taguchi established the ankle lock and Hiromu had to avoid it at all costs. Hiromu got in control and stole some of Taguchi’s signature spots to get in his head. Taguchi’s had hope spots, but the champ kept preventing the ankle lock. When Taguchi finally applied it, Hiromu was prepared, countering into his own. They finished up with great counters and transitions, leading to the crowd getting way behind a fired up Taguchi. Despite that, Hiromu did his own firing up and retained after hitting the Time Bomb after 17:42. The story told around the ankle lock was great. Hiromu was taken out of his comfort zone and had to show he could hang in a different style of match. He could. [****]

108. WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament Semi-Finals: Mark Andrews vs. Pete Dunne – WWE UK Championship Tournament 1/15/17

One of my favorite things in 2017 was the WWE UK Title Tournament. On night one, Pete Dunne was portrayed as THE superstar. He beat Roy Johnson and Sam Gradwell to make it to the Semi-Finals, while also being part of the main angle, attacking Gradwell at the end of night one. Mark Andrews got past Dan Maloney and Joseph Conners. Dunne and Andrews were no strangers to one another, which was clear from the start. Dunne wanted to do more than win, looking to hurt people. Andrews combated that with his aerial offense, which is among the best in the world. Some of the stuff he did here was breathtaking. Dunne was magnificently vicious, recklessly throwing Andrews around. The final run of this 10:39 encounter saw tons of great counters. It never felt like Andrews was shrugging stuff off just to hit his offense, which is a pet peeve of mine. He did stuff out of pure desperation, as a last resort. It really helped sell him as the underdog. He was worn out and it caused him to take a breather before an SSP attempt. That allowed Dunne to avoid it and win with the Bitter End. Another great performance from Dunne, but it was this match that sold me on Andrews. [****]

107. PROGRESS Tag Team Championship Ladder Match: British Strong Style [c] vs. #CCK – PROGRESS Chapter 55: Chase the Sun 9/10/17

To start PROGRESS’ biggest show ever, they went with a huge Ladder Match for the Tag Team Titles. Trent Seven and Tyler Bate reigned as champions for most of 2017, with #CCK dethroning them at Chapter 50. British Strong Style regained the titles at the next chapter, setting up this encounter. The crowd was molten hot for this, desperately wanting to see Bate and Seven get their comeuppance. The teams brawled early, with #CCK using their aerial skills to take control. Once the ladder came into play, Kid Lykos took a sick dragon suplex onto the side of the ladder that legitimately made my jaw drop. Bate busted out an Undertaker like dive, as well as an incredible feat of strength when he used a big swing and airplane spin on his opponents simultaneously. He continued to star, even paying tribute to Terry Funk by using his infamous ladder airplane spin. There were too many spots to name, before a Tyler Driver ’97 was countered with a back drop onto a ladder, and Brookes pulled down the titles to win in 17:27. One of the best ladder matches all year. It had wild spots, while including the sense of disdain the teams had for one another. A few spots felt contrived, but they did well to incorporate their signature stuff in a way that made sense. [****]

106. Hirooki Goto vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW G1 Climax 7/17/17

The first night of the G1 Climax was in contention for the show of the year. The first great match that night pitted stablemates Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii against one another. In 2015, they made this list, but their 2016 outing was disappointing. When I see these two, I like to see them go to war and that’s just what they did here. From the opening bell to this finished after 13:43, there was no slow down. We got treated to exchanges of strikes and lariats, with Goto surprisingly coming out on top. Not that he doesn’t hit hard, but that is more Ishii’s game. Ishii sold everything Goto did like death, really making him look exceptional. Ishii’s the best seller on the planet. Down the stretch, they hammered each other with forearms and Ishii refused to die, kicking out at one. He dared Goto to bring more punishment, which he did with two GTRs that got him the win. Oddly enough, the GTR is a finish I think is rather lame, considering the level of violence leading up to it. Still, one of their better matches. [****]

105. NXT Women’s Championship: Asuka [c] vs. Ember Moon – NXT TakeOver: Orlando 4/1/17

During WrestleMania weekend in 2016, Asuka dethroned Bayley to become NXT Women’s Champion. 364 days later, her stranglehold on the title was as firm as ever. In stepped undefeated Ember Moon, to pose the greatest threat to her reign. Ember wasn’t intimidated, not backing down once during this 12:09 encounter. She was just as confident as the dominant champion. Ember’s been the only woman able to hang with Asuka in the striking department and we got a fair amount of that here. For a lot of this match, you got the sense that Asuka may have finally met her match. It was the first time I got that sense as even Nikki Cross didn’t feel like her equal, just someone crazy enough to combat her. The finish was perfect. Just when Ember might hit her devastating Eclipse finisher, Asuka shoved the referee into the ropes to knock her down. A roundhouse later and Asuka retained, not in superior fashion, but more out of desperation. Thanks to a lack of character development, I came into this not truly caring about Ember. Her performance and finish won me over and made me want to see Ember get revenge. Mission accomplished. [****]

104. Travis Banks vs. Trent Seven – PROGRESS Chapter 48: Bang the Drum 5/14/17

The South Pacific Power Trip were a highlight of early 2017. When Dahlia Black and TK Cooper had to leave due to Visa issues, British Strong Style attacked them. Due to that, Travis Banks started this match hot, jumping Trent Seven before the bell. That led to a brawl around the arena before it officially began. Once it finally got going, the pace never slowed for the 8:09 duration. They just threw their biggest offensive bombs from start to finish. They stiffed, kicked and spiked one another. Banks had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Their reaction to him popping up from a ripcord lariat and hitting a dragon suplex was awesome. Seven wanted a super piledriver, but Banks slipped out and hit a Liger Bomb. Admittedly, the finish was a bit flat, as Banks missed a cross body and Seven rolled him up with a handful of tights. However, this was two guys playing to their strengths. Seven is a tremendous dick heel, while Banks is one of the best fiery faces in the world and it all came together so well here. [****]

103. Keith Lee vs. Ricochet – Evolve 80 3/30/17

Since joining the WWN family, Keith Lee’s been great. He was the breakout start during WrestleMania weekend and this was where that began. Ricochet isn’t an Evolve mainstay anymore, but anytime he shows up, you can expect quality matches and it usually feels like a big deal. His early attempts to take down Lee were hilariously futile. The crowd erupted when Lee showed off his athleticism with a leap frog and dropkick. Not only did Lee have the size and strength upper hand, he could also hold his own in Ricochet’s world. After being tossed around like he weighed nothing, Ricochet finally found ways to take the big man down. He impressed with his own show of power, managing to lift Lee onto his shoulders for a modified Benadryller. Lee nailed what might’ve been his best Spirit Bomb ever, but Ricochet somehow kicked out. Lee made a crucial mistake, as he missed a moonsault. Ricochet hit a springboard 450 and two Shooting Star Presses, but Lee still fought him off. A few more kicks and a 630 put him down for good at 17:13. I disagreed with the result, as Lee was booked a monster and is always around, while Ricochet isn’t. Plus, it could’ve been a former WWN building block passing the torch of sorts. Either way, the match ruled. Ricochet threw everything he had at Lee and it was barely enough. He bumped like crazy and Lee looked great despite the loss. [****]

102. Hirooki Goto vs. Yuji Nagata – NJPW G1 Climax 7/21/17

After a night one win over Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto went right back into the fire for another war. Coming into the tournament, we knew this would be the final G1 Climax for Yuji Nagata, which gave each match an extra emotional punch. Goto escaped an early armbar attempt, and took to wearing down the legend. Similar to what happened to Nagata on night one, it was a slap from Goto that awoke him. BLUE JUSTICE! There was a great moment where Nagata looked to be out cold, only to play possum and apply the armbar again. Gotta love that veteran knowhow. Again, Goto survived. He also wouldn’t stay down from a Backdrop Driver. Nagata was throwing everything he had at Goto, yet kept coming up short. That led to a fantastic exchange of strikes that the fans ate up. When Nagata countered a sleeper by going after the arm, the fans popped. They wanted him to win so badly. Alas, Goto won after hitting GTR in 15:02. It’s a match that got lost in the shuffle of such a great, lengthy tournament, but this was the perfect battle for the Korakuen Hall crowd. Nagata went out on his shield with performances like this. [****]

101. WWE Raw Tag Team Championship: Cesaro and Sheamus [c] vs. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins – WWE SummerSlam 8/20/17

The saga of the mini-Shield reunion was an interesting one. The fans ate everything they did up in the build and they were totally invested in this match. A lot of SummerSlam featured a lackluster Brooklyn crowd, but this was different. When the Shield was around, it was usually Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns as a team, but Seth and Dean Ambrose were great here. Their chemistry as opponents carried over to their teamwork. Something about tag matches seem to bring out another level of energy in both men. Their opponents, Cesaro and Sheamus, were just as game and have been one of the best tag teams in the world in 2017. Cesaro hopping the guardrail and popping a beach ball that some fans were using was an excellent improvised moment that whipped the crowd into a next level frenzy. It was there that the match kicked into high gear. The rest of the 18:34 featured great spots, close calls, lots of energy and an awesome finish. Seth hit Cesaro with a super rana, sending him crashing into Sheamus and Dean. The Ripcord Knee followed and Dirty Deeds gave us new champions. I loved this and the moment of Seth and Dean doing the Shield fist bump with the titles was tremendous. [****]