wrestling / Columns

Hawke’s Top 10 Matches from 2019

January 20, 2020 | Posted by TJ Hawke
Jon Moxley Darby Allin AEW Dynamite 11-21-19

For the record, Virus vs. Metalico *should* be on this list. I just have not had a time to properly write anything about it.

16. Keith Lee vs. Donovan Dijak – 1/4

15. Brock Lesnar vs. Finn Balor – 1/27

14. Matt Riddle vs. Roderick Strong – 6/1

13. Cesaro vs. Ilja Dragunov – 8/31

12. Chad Gable vs. Shelton Benjamin – 8/27

11. Shingo Takagi vs. Will Ospreay – 6/5

10. Toru Yano vs. Tetsuya Naito – 7/13

This was a 2019 G1 Climax match.



9. Jushin Liger vs. TAKA Michinoku – 11/14

This was the final singles match in Liger’s career. These two last tangoed in 2017, and it was quite good! In that match, Liger largely dominated Taka. Taka was only able to eventually win due to a very simple but effective strategy: apply a side headlock with every ounce of will in his body. Naturally, TAKA started off this match just relentlessly going for the side headlock. And any time Liger built momentum, TAKA went for the side headlock. It was beautiful.

TAKA finally did enough damage with the side headlock that he could start attacking Liger more holistically. This seemed like a good idea. TAKA really should have more definitively gone for the kill though. A wounded Liger managed to endure and then proceeded to bust out everything he had to finish off TAKA. Liger was weakened though and was not able to execute all of his trademarked offense perfectly. Far from detracting from the contest though, it really just made everything a bit more gnarly and dangerous-looking. Nothing makes powerbombs and brainbusters come off better than thinking someone actually might perish.

Perhaps sensing his impending death after getting dropped on his neck so many times, TAKA went back to the tried-and-true strategy: SIDE HEADLOCK. TAKA came *this* close to making Liger JUST…TAP…OUT, but Liger managed to get to the ropes. Liger fired back with some big strikes and a brainbuster only for TAKA to shockingly tap out time and time again. It really seemed like they were building to a Liger loss at this point, but Liger wound up, got a running start, and took TAKA’s head off with a palm strike to pick up one final victory. Motherfucking excellent pro wrestling. What a way to go out for one of the very best of all time. (****1/4)


8. Jon Moxley vs. Darby Allin – 11/20

Excellent pro wrestling. Moxley came into this match with some obvious physical advantages, AND he has been extra motivated to come out on top so far in AEW. Darby knew he was going to have to go for broke as often as possible to give himself even a slither of a chance.

Naturally, he kicked off the match by wiping out Moxley with a tope suicide before the latter even got to the ring. And the match was on.

Moxley had to scratch and claw to firmly cut Darby off. He out-muscled Darby for a while, but he mistakenly never went for the kill. As such, Darby took every shot he could to go for something big. Sometimes it paid off. Sometimes he literally ended up in his own body bag.

The in-ring story that really put this over the top was that Darby developed a strategy to increase his odds of winning. He kept attacking one of Moxley’s hands. That both simultaneously gave him a better shot of winning because it limited Mox, but it also proved to be his own undoing. He made a desperate play for Mox’s hand late in the match, and that opened him up big time and Mox pounded with an avalanche double arm DDT.

Just a fucking KILLER match that came off like the biggest match in the world. Run it back. (****1/4)


7. Masashi Takeda vs. Jonathan Gresham – 4/4

This absolutely ruled. The story was simple yet expertly executed. Both guys were looking for openings to pick up the win right from the start. As the match progressed, Gresham and Takeda were getting steadily more competitive and intense. Once Takeda got busted open though, there was an explosion of violence and everything picked up a notch. They kept going harder and harder until Takeda managed to catch Gresham with a knee strike for the TKO. One of the best matches of 2019. (****1/4)


6. Meiko Satomura vs. Sareee – 4/16

This was great! Meiko was being Meiko. While lesser mortals like myself would have crumbled immediately and just tried to stay in the fetal position the entire time, Sareee would not back down and instead tried to take it right to Meiko!

Sareee’s gumption is to be absolutely admired despite said attitude leading to her total annihilation. Meiko just murdered Sareee, and it was as glorious of a beatdown as one could ever desire. If you did not leave this match craving for Meiko to run you over with a truck, then you just don’t have a horny bone in your body.

To Sareee’s credit (for her physical toughness, not her survival instincts), she really never gave up and kept managing to find the smallest of openings to give Meiko some receipts. This seemed like a total fruitless endeavor, but as always, I am an idiot.

Meiko’s unwillingness to just relentlessly go for the kill as opposed to her more measured approach proved to be her undoing. Sareee would not die, and she eventually managed to catch Meiko with an exploder to win out of nowhere. (****1/4)


5. Ultimo Guerrero vs. Caifan – 2/16

Fuckkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk yessssssssssssssssssssss. They cut each other open. They beat the fucking shit out of each other. The building looked amazing. It was all just so beautiful and horrific. The awkward disqualification (that’s what happened, right?) finish seemed weird, but honestly when everything was so gruesome beforehand it was hard to care. This match ruled. (****1/4)


4. Jon Moxley vs. Toru Yano – 8/1

This was a 2019 G1 Climax match.

Match of the tournament. Match of the year? (****1/2)


3. Dr. Wagner Jr. vs. Blue Demon Jr. – 8/3

This was a mask vs. hair match.

Once you accept into your soul that the most consistently great professional wrestling in the world are bloody lucha brawls, it really opens up whole new avenues for satisfaction.

This was just fucking nuts. I don’t even really know how to put into words. The blood and violence in this though was so captivating and felt like something you don’t get to see enough of anymore. The way they really milked the build-up to the finish of Demon demolishing Wagner with a rock to the head was just masterful.

Maybe one day I will be able to write more eloquently about this one. It was great though, and everyone should watch it. (****1/2)


Before you ask in the comments, here are some matches that did not make the cut:

David Starr vs. Jordan Devlin

Kenny Omega vs. Fenix

Kazuchika Okada vs. Minoru Suzuki

WALTER vs. Tyler Bate

Chris Jericho vs. Tetsuya Naito


2. Low Ki vs. Timothy Thatcher – 11/9

I Believe in Low Ki. No matter how much he will frustrate and disappoint me, I know that he is still The One. He still represents what United States independent wrestling can and should be.

In a great bit of foreshadowing (LITERARY TERM!!), Ki seemed a little overwhelmed by the size and strength disparities he was facing in this match and had to do something about it. When he was literally pushed into a corner (another little literary term called IMAGERY!!), Ki applied a deadly submission that erased Thatcher’s advantage.  This would all be important to remember later on.

Thatcher learned from his mistake though and did not expose himself too much to a submission. He had the size advantage. He had the strength advantage. He used it. Ki was forced to struggle to find openings, and Thatcher blocked him time and time again.

The way they executed that story was just so good. There was a total meanness to everything they did. They really just brutalized each other, and everything they did was in the service of trying to win.

There was a sequence late in the contest that perfectly captured the work in the match. Things were looking DIRE for Ki. He was playing a patient game. He was not allowing himself to do anything risky. The problem though was that Thatcher was just too much for him. If Ki kept doing that, he was almost guaranteed to lose. Ki now HAD to take a chance. He had the opening for the Tidal Crash. He left his feet for something big…and Thatcher caught him with a brutal uppercut.

Ki then instinctively rolled out of the ring, and Thatcher crawled after him in desperation knowing that could have been his best shot to end Ki. Thatcher then realized though that Ki was so beat up by that point he had a shot at a countout victory. He did not let pride or ego get in the way, and he instead waited to see if Ki could make it back in time. It genuinely looked like Ki would not but he just got in.

And that recovery time proved to be the difference maker.

Thatcher abandoned his gameplan and went for something bigger than usual. That opened him up, and Ki immediately exploited it by connecting on a devastating double stomp. Thatcher then panicked and was no longer content to just let his natural advantages play out. He hit a massive belly-to-belly, and it seemed like he may have erased Ki’s comeback.

Ki now metaphorically backed into the corner remembered his ace in the hole. He went for the Dragon Sleeper, and despite Thatcher’s best efforts to block it, struggled and struggled until he applied the submission…and end Thatcher.

Brilliant storytelling. Physically nasty work. Compelling from bell to bell. No wasted movements. What more* could anyone want from professional wrestling. (*****)

*MLW aired a promo for some stable in the middle of the match. I really wanted to punish them by not giving this the five, but I’m too nice of a person.


1. Memo Romero, Shere Khan & Terremoto vs. Advertencia, Lunatik Extreme & Ovett – 1/20

It is rare that a professional wrestling match touches my soul so deeply these days. Then this match came into my life.

It did not change anything for me. Instead, it felt incredibly validating. It was as if the world had been listening to me for years and decided it was finally time to reward me personally.

I had never heard of any of the six men in this match before I watched it. I did not know why they were fighting. In fact, the only video of the match actually was a JIP deal. I normally don’t even watch let alone write about matches JIP. The match is too perfect though to ignore. In fact, if anything, the JIP component probably only adds to the match.

The first images we see in the match set the tone so well that it doesn’t matter what came before it. Everything we could possibly want to know about the previous moments are told to us in what we first see.

There’s an incredibly stout dude in jorts, a cutoff, and with a mullet. He’s standing over a far smaller dude in a cold-gear Under Armor long sleeve. The latter is already wearing the crimson mask. Everything we need to known about who is fighting each other we learn right from that image.

You also see that the match is taking place outside. The sun is clearly blaring down on everyone. Fans are piled on top of each other and trucks to watch what unfolds in the ring. Nothing about this match is comfortable. You have to choose to allow yourself to be uncomfortable watching it.

There’s a rawness to everything to you see, and then everything that happens after those preliminary moments not only conforms to that established tone but goes deeper. It leans fully into what it is and makes no apologies for it.

All the action you see for the eleven minutes is brutally violent. Bodies are flying everywhere. There is no wasted movement. Every action is taken to cause pain on whatever unfortunate soul is at the receiving end.

There’s a chaotic feeling to everything. As a viewer, you rarely feel like you understand what is happening. You’re not meant to understand though. Instead, you are just supposed to feel it. You are fully immersed in the violence in a way that is usually actively avoided in pro wrestling. There’s always such a barrier between wrestlers and fans that keeps fans permanently on the outside. You have no choice but to experience the pain here though.

Similarly, you are never really told why this match is happening. Again though, that just allows you to understand why it is happening through action. Everyone is constantly and desperately running around trying to cause as much painful violence to their opponents as possible. Nothing is held back. No dive looks safe. Everything is just happening in the most reckless manner possible. Every headbutt is done without holding back. When people do big stunts, it truly feelts like it just organically came about. The blood and guts spilled don’t feel gratuitous because they do not feel performed. They feel like the natural consequences of violence.

It was just beautiful to watch all the way through. It also exposed the rest of the professional wrestling business as helplessly and hopelessly boring, sterile, and stilted.

This match is everything. (*****)


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My list of 5-Star Matches