wrestling / Columns

Csonka’s Top 25 Matches of 2017: NJPW, WWE, ROH & More

January 8, 2018 | Posted by Larry Csonka
G1 finals 2017 NJPW

WELCOME back, back to the column that makes lists and hopes that you enjoy them. This week’s column will look back at THE BEST OVERALL MATCHES OF 2017. I always hear a lot of people saying that they can’t decide what to watch because they do not have enough time to follow everything, so maybe this will help those of you short on time find some stuff to check out. If a match doesn’t make the list, I either didn’t rate it ****¾ or I didn’t see it; I reviewed over 700 shows in 2017, and while I didn’t get to as much wrestling as I hoped for, I think I did quite well. Anyway, I hope that you enjoy today’s preview, and feel free to share your thoughts. It’s wrestling, we love it and will disagree. The only rules are “have a take, be respectful of other’s opinions and don’t be a dick.”

* 25. From The WWE Royal Rumble – WWE Championship Match: John Cena vs. Champion AJ Styles [****¾]
* 24. From AAW Take No Prisoners 5.06.17 – Michael Elgin defeated Zack Sabre Jr @ 19:10 via pin [****¾]
* 23. From G1 Climax 27 (Night 1) 7.17.17 – Tetsuya Naito defeated Kota Ibushi @ 24:53 via pin [****¾]
* 22. From G1 Climax (Night 8) 7.27.17 – Michael Elgin defeated Kenny Omega @ 26:00 via pin [****¾]
* 21. From WWE Hell in a Cell – The Usos defeated Champions The New Day (Woods & Big E) @ 23:03 via pin [****¾]
* 20. From Pro Wrestling NOAH 7.27.17 – Katsuhiko Nakajima defeated Brian Cage @ 22:14 via pin [****¾]
* 19. From The NJPW New Japan Cup 3.12.17 – NJ Cup 1st Round Match: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kenny Omega [****¾]
* 18. From NJPW Dominion – IWGP IC Title Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Champion Tetsuya Naito @ 26:10 via pin [****¾]
* 17. From NJPW BOTSJ (Night 2) 5.18.17 – Will Ospreay defeated Ricochet @ 27:34 via pin [****¾]
* 16. From ROH Supercard of Honor: ROH Tag Team Ladder Match -The Young Bucks defeated Champions Matt and Jeff Hardy @ 25:25 [****¾]
* 15. From NJPW New Beginning in Osaka – Champion Hiromu Takahashi defeated Dragon Lee @ 18:40 via pin [****¾]
* 14. From NJPW Wrestling Dontaku 2017 5.03.17 – Kenny Omega defeated Tomohiro Ishii @ 24:00 via pin [****¾]
* 13. From WK 11 – IWGP Intercontinental Title Match – Champion Tetsuya Naito defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi @ 25:55 via pin [****¾]
* 12. From NJ Cup Semifinal Match (3.19.17) – Katsuyori Shibata defeated Tomohiro Ishii @ 22:34 via referee stoppage [****¾]
* 11. From NJPW Power Struggle 2017 – IWGP Intercontinental Title Match: Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kota Ibushi @ 29:20 via pin [****¾]
* 10. From G1 Climax 27 (Night 16) 8.08.17 – Kazuchika Okada vs. Minoru Suzuki ended in a time limit draw @ 30:00 [****¾]
* 9. From NJPW G1 Special in The USA (Night 2) – IWGP US Heavyweight Championship Tournament Finals: Kenny Omega defeated Tomohiro Ishii @ 31:20 via pin to become the first ever IWGP US Heavyweight Champion [****¾]

8. From NJPW New Beginning in Osaka – IWGP Intercontinental Champion Tetsuya Naito vs. Michael Elgin [*****]: Fucking amazing. This was a spectacular effort from both guys, especially after the amazing match that took place before it; they had to deliver something special and did. The pacing, the overall work, the tremendous near falls and drama down the stretch were just so, so good that they had me biting on the near falls. The crowd was awesome, as they tried to will Elgin to victory. Speaking of Elgin this may have been the best I have ever seen him. It was a special performance; he lost nothing in defeat, and will likely be more over after this match.

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7. From NJPW Dominion – IWGP Heavyweight Title Match: Champion Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega fought to a draw @ 60:00 [*****]: There are parts of this that I loved more than the WK match, which was of course excellent. The pacing was excellent, and I didn’t even realize we were so deep time wise until they gave us the five-minute warning. The selling was largely great from both guys, but they invested early on the knee work on Okada, and then both dropped it; Callis on commentary even questioned, repeatedly why Omega wasn’t going back to it, it didn’t make sense, but in the overall scheme of things is a small gripe. But I do feel that they made up for it as they went deeper and deeper, creating some great drama and near falls. I honestly forgot about it until I was looking back over the review, they had me so locked in on the drama that it didn’t hurt a thing for me. The throw in the towel tease was very well done, Cody’s a dick and wants a title shot so it’s believable, but it also allowed for a small break, a tremendous near fall and the ability for both to reset for the insane closing stretch. The closing stretch was scintillating, Omega’s selling of exhaustion was absolutely tremendous. I do wish that the closing scene had been Omega hitting his finish and crawling for the win, as it would have been a more dramatic finish in my eyes. I have to think that Omega didn’t win because he didn’t commit long term with the company, which has been rumored. One hour draws are so hard to pull off, but I feel that they delivered a more than worthy sequel to WK. And due to that, I expect the same divided set of thoughts, because while we all love wrestling, we all see it in a completely different way.

6. From G1 Climax (Night 18) 8.12.17 – Kenny Omega defeated Kazuchika Okada @ 24:45 via pin [*****]: They did it again, delivering an absolutely amazing match that was completely different than the previous two, with great drams and an excellent sense of urgency. Omega’s gameplan was perfect in attacking the neck of Okada, focusing on that weakness and it was in that where Okada fell as the toll of his great 2017 performances really caught up with him here. You could see him breaking down as we got deeper into the tournament, the loss to EVIL (where he “injured the neck”) and then the brutal draw with Suzuki. He was ripe for the pickings, and Omega’s tremendous focus and the fact that the pacing was so amped up was just too much for Okada to overcome this time around. It was a great story, laid out since January, and paid off in what I feel was the best match of the tournament so far with one last match to go. This also gets us to a rematch from last year, where Omega beat Naito, so we’re coming full circle, as Naito looks to complete his redemption story. I love the wrestling.

5. From NXT Takeover: Chicago – WWE UK Title Match: Pete Dunne defeated Champion Tyler Bate @ 15:40 via pin [*****]: I loved every second of this. They took everything that they did in their UK tournament final match (which was excellent), streamlined it and made it even better in front of an absolutely insane crowd, great action and pacing with both men doing everything in their power to win; that felt really special. This was easily one of the best matches in NXT’s history and a perfect example of what a sprint can be. These men are special talents. Easily WWE match of the year, and a must see match.

4. From NJPW BOTSJ Finals – BOTSJ Final: KUSHIDA defeated Will Ospreay @ 28:47 via pin [*****]: This was a simply amazing effort, you couldn’t have asked for a better finals match. They worked with a tremendous sense of urgency, playing off of their past meetings, and most importantly you could feel that they were doing everything in their power to win the match. Ospreay was fighting for redemption, because he’s failed previously at beating KUSHIDA, but despite going completely murder death kill on him, KUSHIDA survived. KUSHIDA was the fallen ace, fighting for redemption and not only looking to win his title back & to become the ace again, and not only looking to overcome the embarrassment of losing to Takahashi in two-minutes, but to prove to himself that he was still worthy. This was amazing, told a great story and was everything I wanted from the match. After some re-watches, I loved this more than the Okada/Omega draw, which I thought was excellent and one of the best draws I’ve ever seen.

3. From NJPW WK 11 – IWGP Heavyweight Title Match: Champion Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega [*****]: On Omega’s performance – It’s not that you lose, it’s how you lose: Omega put in a hell of a performance, one he needed since he was losing. I feel that was a mistake after the last year of booking, but the match was so great, even if a bit too long; the thing is that most guys would have been DOA after the build and loss like this. Despite the fact that he lost, Kenny Omega is more over now than he was before the match. He put in an all time elite one-man performance, that does not mean carry job, that means that his individual work was on another level, it’s his performance you leave talking about. And the booking: Even more importantly than the performance of Omega, was the booking of the match. Omega never got to hit “his big move, the one winged angel.” That means that Okada never got to survive Omega’s best, kick out of them and show that he was truly better. Omega took Okada’s best, he survived his best and became one of the few men to kick out of the rainmaker; Omega took the best of the champion but we can’t say the same for Okada. When they meet again in a one on one setting, people will lose their shit when Omega hits the one winged angel. Greatest of All Time?: I’ve seen the label “Greatest of All Time” thrown around for this match, and once again if you loved this match that much I think that’s awesome, because it should make you happy when you see great wrestling. In my opinion I think it is a bit too soon to call it that. “Best you’ve ever seen” I can easily buy, but to anoint it the GOAT feels like jumping the gun a bit, just like the people that want to shit on everything, claiming it the worst ever. I may look back on this in December, next year, five-years from now and it may resonate with me in an entirely different way; it’s excellent for sure, and obviously delivered. Don’t forget about that Okada fella: At the age of 29, Kazuchika Okada has been slowly but surely building what will be a hall of fame career, and depending on how much longer he can go (hopefully another 10 years or so), he may go down as the best big match performer ever. He does a ton of little things (in particular his tremendous facial expressions) as well as things that call back to the builds of matches, and while a knock on him is slow and largely pointless opening portions of his matches, Okada puts together some of the best closing stretches I have ever seen. Do you know what I love about this match?: What I loved about this match has nothing to do with the outcome, the layout, the moves or necessarily the competitors. What I loved about this match is that it brought out some of the best and most passionate conversation I have seen in a long time, fans defending what they loved about it or hated, sharing genuine feelings of joy at times. As I always say, when the wrestling is great, there’s almost nothing better. I love that so many new fans found NJPW and tried to expand their wrestling palette. I love that so many fans exited their comfort zone and enjoyed an amazing show. I love that this match is making people consider what the greatest match they ever saw was. It’s shows and matches like this, that at the end of the day, make me love what I do for a living.

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2. G1 27 Finals: Tetsuya Naito defeated Kenny Omega @ 34:33 via pin [*****]: They had a lot to live up to after the match that they put on last year and they more than lived up to that match and delivered an al time classic and one of the very best G1 finals matches ever. (I’ll redo my list later). I thought that they worked an absolutely excellent match, with the focus of both men being on the neck and or back, which fits into both men’s finishers. They went long, but kept an amazingly brisk pace and also worked with the sense of urgency you want to see in a match situation like this. This isn’t just any other match, this is the G1 finals. This had great action, a molten crowd, amazing near falls and a great and dramatic build to the finish. They did an excellent job of making you believe that either man could win, which not only made for amazing crowd reactions, but also kept the energy at an extremely high level. I loved the focus on the neck, not only because it played into both men’s finishers, but also because over the years, big time NJPW matches have focused on legwork, so this made this one feel different and fresh, which isn’t always easy to do. This was top-notch work from both men and the perfect way match wise to close things out, and the right man won. I am thrilled that Naito won, although to be honest with you, I always imagined him main eventing the dome after challenging the briefcase winner and being the first guy to win it that way, but this was amazing. Finally, when you consider the grind of the tournament, this performance from both men is even more impressive. Omega is certainly really banged up and Naito has been working through a major shoulder injury. This was special not only due to the in ring, but due to the reaction Naito got for winning. I also now consider it the best G1 finals match of all time, and that was with a rewatch of previous great finals matches.

1. From NJPW SAKURA GENESIS 2017: IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match: Champion Kazuchika Okada defeated Katsuyori Shibata @ 38:05 via pin [*****]: The one thing that really stood out to me here is the obsession of the Okada character, not only wanting to be the very best, but almost willing to do that instead of beating his opponent. This is a character trait will eventually be his downfall; there are cracks in the armor, the defense is weakening and it will only be a matter of time before someone figures out the puzzle. Okada’s defenses keep getting longer and longer, and the new Ace is having to dig deeper than ever before, has to go longer and has to resort to some nefarious tactics to get the job done. This was an absolutely beautiful match, one where the fans were not only behind Shibata, but at times turning on Okada; Amazing work from both men, leading to a very dramatic home stretch, when the wrestling is great, the wrestling is great. This was a top-tier MOTY contender, my match of the year and a must-see match in an effort that made Shibata a made man to the paying customers; unfortunately, it came in an effort that by all accounts, cost him his career. AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is of course the match that Shibata threw the shoot headbutt, which left him hospitalized and his career in jeopardy (and now by all reports, ended his career). I’ve had people ask if I am going to change my rating of the match due to that, and the answer is no. It’s extremely unfortunate, but I will not change my mind about loving the match due to that. Shibata made the decision to throw a real headbutt, something he’s done repeatedly, and something that pops the crowd and I will not lie, a spot I popped for as well. I still feel that the match told an amazing story and was one of the best things I watched all year; but it looks to be the final match Shibata ever has. The rating for the match is left unchanged, because I’m not going to become a crusader like some against the head butt spot, because that would feel disingenuous. Did I mark out for it? Yes. Is it needed? Obviously not when you can do it way safer. We can only hope that Shibata can recover and live a normal live, and that others will learn from his mistake, but my original rating stands because no match connected with me on an emotional level like this one did. And still does on repeat viewings.

Extra note on the “five star rating thing” & how I see it, since a lot have questions about it: For me the five star thing boils down to this; the right time, the right place, the right crowd, the right performers, the right style of match leading to a virtually perfect effect. I can’t say for certain that I’ve seen “an absolutely perfect match,” but I have seen a lot that fit the criteria I believe in. I can find some small flaws in the 1989 Flair/Steamboat trilogy, which I value all at 5 stars. Liger vs. Sasuke from the Super J-Cup 1994 is 5 stars to me, but some will dock it while I think they played it off well and didn’t hurt the match in my eyes. It’s just what I am feeling at the time, and if I get that feeling that this is an all-time great match, on the level of other matches I have given the rating to, I’ll bust out the 5 stars; there’s no super secret, scientific mathematical formula to it. However you see it, it’s cool, and don’t let anyone tell you different. I just thought I’d offer some thoughts on it since some have asked.

– End scene.

– Thanks for reading.

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