Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Kevin's Top 100 Matches of 2017: #80-71

80. Kota Ibushi vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW G1 Climax 7/23/17

The second Kota Ibushi was announced for the G1 Climax, this was one of the first matches that came to my head in excitement. I’d seen them wrestle just once before and it was incredible (****¾ back in 2014). Not putting this match in Sumo Hall, Osaka or Korakuen was a travesty, as it deserved one of those great crowds. Ibushi’s style is a fantastic blend of aerial skills and stiff strikes. That striking ability is right up Ishii’s alley, and within the opening minutes, they were already killing each other. Though Ibushi hits hard, Ishii brushed off his kicks like nothing. It wasn’t that they didn’t hurt, it just seemed like Ishii refused to show him that they did. If that makes sense. Eventually, it was Ibushi’s turn to no sell, which just led to a higher level of violence. They traded slaps, headbutts and suplexes, with neither holding anything back. A string of absolutely brutal slaps led to an Ibushi lariat and his stiff knee strike. The Last Ride was all that was left to hit, which got him the victory in 17:14. When I see these two, I just want them to go to war for about 15 minutes, which is just what I got here. Not quite on the level of their 2014 outing, though still in the upper echelon of G1 matches. [****¼]
79. CIMA, Dragon Kid, Eita, Naruki Doi & Takehiro Yamamura vs. Brother YASSHI, El Lindaman, Punch Tominga, Shingo Takagi & T-Hawk – Dragon Gate Glorious Gate 3/8/17

When Dragon Gate decides to put on a great multi-man tag, they do it up big time. To close out this Korakuen Hall show, these teams competed in a ridiculously paced main event. It didn’t slow for the entire 27:44. Since Dragon Gate does these tags so often, something usually must stick out for one to rise above the rest. In this match, it was Takehiro Yamamura. He was the company’s breakout star in 2017 and this match was a big reason why. He killed it with every interaction against the VerserK guys. The interactions with T-Hawk set the stage for a great match the following month. The fans completely bought into Yamamura and got behind him 100%. The finish came when Shingo accidentally hit Tominga with a Pumping Buster, which allowed Yamamura to score the huge win with the Skytwister Press. Just a fantastic run of exchanges between everyone and it gets a bit of an extra bump for the big Yamamura moment. [****¼]

78. WWE Smackdown Tag Team Championships: The Usos [c] vs. The New Day – WWE Battleground 7/23/17

Even in a year without the best tag team in the world (The Revival), the WWE still managed to produce several tremendous tag matches in 2017. The rivalry between the New Day and the Usos was the high point. Though their first match was at Money in the Bank, this was where it really got going. Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston represented New Day, allowing for more speed, which they showcased right from the start. After getting a hot tag, Kofi performed a dive onto the Usos, only to get caught and planted with a brutal powerbomb on the outside. Left alone, Woods fought valiantly. He survived everything the Usos threw at him. It led to one of the best spots in any company this year, as Woods did tried his rope walk elbow, only to get drilled with a sick midair superkick. It was the best superkick since Shawn Michaels and Shelton Benjamin, bar none. Somehow, that wasn’t the finish and neither was an Uso splash. That made it clear that new champions would be crowned, which happened after Trouble in Paradise and a Woods elbow at 13:46. The pace was wild and it made for one of the best tag matches all year. It turns out they were just warming up. [****¼]

77. GHC Heavyweight Championship: Katsuhiko Nakajima [c] vs. Go Shiozaki – Pro Wrestling NOAH Great Voyage in Yokohama 3/12/17

Pro Wrestling NOAH had its fair share of struggles in recent years. From Jado’s booking to the overrun of Suzuki-Gun shenanigans, it was rough. Putting the title on Katsuhiko Nakajima didn’t do wonders for business, but it led to plenty of quality matches. Go Shiozaki was supposed to be the guy for NOAH a while back, but that didn’t pan out. This was hard hitting from the start. They went outside, where Go destroyed the champion with a barrage of chops. Each time Nakajima fought back, Go had an answer. It eventually became a battle of Go’s chops against Nakajima’s kicks. They just traded tons of big blows as the match progressed. Go seemingly knocked Nakajima out with a lariat that left him out on his feet. When it looked like all hope was lost, Nakajima fired up and delivered one of the stiffest kicks you’ll ever see. He added the Vertical Spike to retain in 27:01. I loved that this was basically the anti-Jado main event. It was clean and decisive, rather than full of nonsense overbooking. [****¼]
76. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW G1 Climax 8/6/17

With the G1 Climax winding down, a win for Tomohiro Ishii here would’ve kept him alive, while a Hiroshi Tanahashi set the stage for it to come down to himself and Tetsuya Naito. In the G1 23, Ishii beat Tanahashi in a classic, while Tanahashi bested him in their next two G1 meetings. Ishii was the aggressor early. He was winning the battle of strikes, so Tanahashi took it to his knee and looked for the Texas Cloverleaf. In a great twist, Ishii hit a dragon screw and busted out a Sharpshooter. I love that move. Unfortunately, I never bought it as a potential finish. I only believe Tanahashi would tap to a more established move, or something to his injured arm. Anyway, things picked up late as the guys racked up the near falls. They survived the signature offense of the other, before Tanahashi won with two High Fly Flows in 23:30. These guys are always awesome together. They brought intensity and drama, especially down the stretch. Ishii was the G1 MVP. [****¼]
75. RPW British Heavyweight Championship: Zack Sabre Jr. [c] vs. Will Ospreay – RevPro Global Wars UK 11/10/17

Up until about halfway through 2016, I was all in on Will Ospreay. One of the reasons was a WrestleMania weekend stealing match with Zack Sabre Jr. at Evolve 58. I’ve soured on him greatly since then, but another match against Sabre was just what the doctor ordered. The exchanges through this 24:59 match were insanely fast paced. The story consistently saw Sabre one step ahead of Ospreay. Will would do a high flying spot and Sabre would trap him in some kind of submission. Being a Suzuki-Gun member, Sabre was all about trying to take the easy way out, nearly winning via countout. When that didn’t happen, Ospreay went back to the skies. He continually found counters that Sabre found counters for. They knew each other so well and it led to a ridiculously fluid match. Ospreay turned Sabre’s European Clutch into his own pin that the fans totally bit on as the finish. The Oscutter couldn’t do it either and neither did the imploding 450 splash. A series of counters led Sabre to put Ospreay in a sick looking submission to retain. This was their second best match together and a great way to cap the RevPro/NJPW joint shows. [****¼]
74. Anthony Henry vs. Fred Yehi – Style Battle S1:E5 6/16/17

While WWN was partnered with FloSlam for most of the year, I followed Style Battle. For those unfamiliar, each episode features a one night tournament and the winners of each eventually meet in a final tournament to determine the season winner. On episode one, Fred Yehi was the favorite to win, but ran into a brick wall named Anthony Henry. They wrestled to a thirty minute draw (***¾) and since then, neither man had claimed a Style Battle win. On episode four, Henry vowed to never compete in Style Battle again if he lost on episode five. It came down to these two in the finals and it felt like a big deal. They both came out throwing bombs, which was the opposite of their draw. They wrestled a smart match and focused on the body parts that were weakened earlier in the tournament. There was a sense that Yehi was superior, but Henry had too much heart and determination to stay down. He survived everything Yehi threw at him, including the Koji Clutch, before nailing the Kudoh Driver to win in 19:06. Not many will bring this match up as something to remember, but it’s worth checking out. [****¼]
73. AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon – WWE WrestleMania 33 4/2/17

The debate over who the best wrestler in the world is starts and ends with AJ Styles. This match might be Exhibit A. It’s one thing to have great matches when working with your most talented peers. It’s one thing to have a great gimmick match with Shane McMahon. Yet here, on the biggest stage possible, AJ and Shane had a straight up wrestling match. And for 20:28, it was awesome. They didn’t rely on smoke and mirrors or tons of shenanigans. AJ was overconfident because the ring is his domain. Shane showed off some grappling skills of his own, but never to where it made AJ look bad, just like AJ took him too lightly and it cost him. That’s an important distinction. I must admit, I popped when Shane did some submission transitions and even caught a springboard 450 splash into a triangle choke. We did get a ref bump, so it wasn’t completely devoid of stunts. However, it only set up a coast to coast spot, so it wasn’t overdone. Shane eventually missed an impressive Shooting Star Press, which set up the Phenomenal Forearm to give AJ his first Mania victory. AJ had a fantastic match with a non-wrestler and didn’t rely on the expected tropes. There’s a reason he’s the GOAT. [****¼]
72. Lucha Underground Championship Career vs. Career Match: Prince Puma [c] vs. Pentagon Dark – Lucha Underground Ultima Lucha Tres 10/18/17

Ultima Lucha Tres was scheduled to end with Prince Puma vs. Johnny Mundo, which was also the main event of the first ever Lucha Underground show. Puma’s career was on the line and he overcame the odds to win his second Lucha Underground Championship. His celebration was cut short by Dario Cueto. He announced that Pentagon Dark was cashing in his Gift of the Gods Title for a shot at Puma. Dario threw in the added twist of both their careers were on the line. Like their Cueto Cup Finals meeting, this was kept short. It went just 8:26, but was packed with non-stop action. Pentagon broke Puma’s arm early on, but a desperate Puma popped it back into place and taped it up to keep going. They had some incredible exchanges before Puma hit the Benadryller. He went for the 630, but Vampiro pulled Pentagon out of the way. Pentagon then won with the Package Piledriver, finally capturing the title that eluded him for so long. The match was a blast but the story was even better. Vampiro and Pentagon had a long history and Vampiro spent this season manipulating Puma, all to turn on him and side with Pentagon in the end. [****¼]
71. IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship Tournament Quarterfinals: Kenny Omega vs. Michael Elgin – NJPW G1 Special in USA 7/1/17

Their three matches last year got progressively lower scores each time (from **** down to ***¼), with this being their first meeting in 2017. Michael Elgin had never lost to Kenny Omega in a straight singles match. That gave him the mental edge, which he only added to by overwhelming Kenny with his power advantage. After a close countout tease, one that came too early for me to truly buy, they just threw bombs at one another for the rest of the 22:31. Omega threw everything he could at Elgin, while still managing to bump like a madman for him. Elgin delivered an apron German and wild middle rope crucifix bomb to lead to one of the better near falls of the tournament. I loved Omega countering the Elgin Bomb to an inside cradle. It hammered home his desperation to finally beat Elgin. Omega came back with a series of V-Triggers, before winning with the One Winged Angel. This was just what I wanted from these guys. It was wild and, despite the usual NJPW slow start, didn’t have the nonsense limb work segment that leads nowhere. Limb work wasn’t coming into play at the end, so they never went to it. Wise. Tons of action, with Omega making Elgin’s offense look even better than usual. [****¼]