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Kevin’s Top 100 Matches of 2015: #10-1

January 4, 2016 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja

10. AJ Styles vs. Kota Ibushi – NJPW G1 Climax 7/26/15

Of the many, many matches that come with the G1 Climax each year, a few always stand out when you see them on paper. This was absolutely one of them. As seen earlier, they had an IWGP Heavyweight Title match earlier in the year at Invasion Attack, which was great. However, they bested it with the rematch. Playing off of that, both men were able to counter a lot of the things the other would do even more than in their first match. Kota Ibushi used his quickness and athleticism to overwhelm AJ Styles, who is not the same man he was ten years ago. Now, AJ is a much smarter worker and it showed in the way he turned things around. At one point, Ibushi hits a backflip kick only for AJ to respond with a Pele, showing he’s still got it. Everything done in this match made sense and they built to a fantastic finish. Ibushi continually avoided the Styles Clash, but AJ had an answer for a lot of the big spots Ibushi tried, like a top rope rana and deadlift German. Ibushi would survive Bloody Sunday and win with the Phoenix Splash that was countered in their first match at 19:11. This made Ibushi only the fourth man in New Japan to pin Styles, joining Okada, Tanahashi and Naito. ****½

9. Kevin Owens vs. John Cena – WWE Elimination Chamber 5/31/15

Sami Zayn answered John Cena’s US Title Open Challenge, only to get injured before losing. Kevin Owens, Sami’s former best friend and ultimate rival, didn’t take too kindly to this, wanting the credit for injuring Sami. Owens would come out for an Open Challenge and attack Cena, leading to this match. There was pretty much no bigger match for Owens’ main roster debut. Even a WWE Title match wouldn’t have meant what this did. Some of the best Cena feuds in recent memory have seen him take on an “indy darling” like CM Punk or Daniel Bryan. That was the case here. Both guys brought their “A” games and had almost instant chemistry. Everybody knew that John Cena could deliver on the big stage, but Kevin Owens showed that he was a Superstar. My only major issue with this 20:47 match was that the Corpus Christ crowd wasn’t great. There were a few finisher kick outs, which I usually don’t like, but I’m okay with it in a situation like this. This was a big match that deserved something like that and it only took Owens to popup powerbombs to win. The biggest thing about this was that Owens beat Cena cleanly. In his debut. That’s insane. Their next two matches were good, but couldn’t capture the magic of this first night. Unfortunately, the rest of this feud went the typical way of Cena feuds, as he beat Owens the rest of the way, but for one night, this was glorious. ****½

8. ROH World Championship: Jay Lethal (c) vs. AJ Styles – ROH Final Battle 12/18/15

I saw these two wrestle during their TNA run but this was something different. Both men have not only evolved as performers, but they’ve matured and are better than ever. In the opening video package to the show, they discussed the fact that AJ Styles is a pioneer for ROH, yet has never worn the top prize. Jay Lethal considers himself to be the best in the world, but his title run up to this point had been largely disappointing. They worked the kind of start I expected, feeling each other out. Lethal had to go out and talk strategy with Truth Martini, so when he went back in, the focus turned to AJ’s injured back. Not only was the attack smart, but the things done here worked so well. Lethal was so well prepared that he had a counter for nearly everything AJ did and still focused on the back. Hell, even when AJ nearly got the Styles Clash and looked to be rallying, Lethal launched him outside through a table. The Clash was very well protected too, as Lethal never got to kick out of it. Lethal needed two Lethal Injections and a Cradle Piledriver, complete with smack talk to Jerry Lynn on commentary, to finally keep Styles down after 22:12. Not only was the match itself fantastic, but Styles did what no other challenger in the Lethal World Title reign has done and that was lose cleanly. This marked a massive win for Lethal as he beat the top star on the indies, fair and square, sending him off into 2016 as absolutely the man to beat. When wrestling is kept simple and done right, it can be beautiful. ****½

7. Grave Consequences: Fenix vs. Mil Muertes – Lucha Underground 3/18/15

A Grave Consequences match is basically just a casket match. I love Lucha Underground and their first season was spectacular. The best match of that season was this encounter between Fenix and Mil Muertes. Considering the rivalry these two had and the booking of Mil Muertes up to that point, this was expertly done. Muertes, who has come a long way since his days as Judias Mesias, brutalized Fenix. Fenix sold like a champ throughout the entire match. The animosity between the men shines through the violent nature of the match. Muertes rips Fenix’s mask, giving us a great view of the amount of blood that he spilled. Neither guy even really tried to put their opponent in the casket during the 15:01. Their rivalry was so heated that they just wanted to hurt each other, The casket does come into play as a weapon more than a few times and it’s almost always used in a creative fashion. Not until the finish does someone go in, that being Muertes, as Fenix was able to defeat the monster. This is easily the greatest casket match in history. ****½

6. GHC Heavyweight Championship: Minoru Suzuki (c) vs. Takashi Sugiura – NOAH Great Voyage in Osaka 9/19/15

More than any other match on this list, this felt like a true heavyweight fight. After watching him in the G1 Climax 24, I learned that Minoru Suzuki is a master of all things pro wrestling. Going into this, I didn’t know much about Takashi Sugiura, but he won me over. Setting the stage and giving this an even bigger feel was a live performance of Suzuki’s incredible theme music. They started the match with some chain wrestling before escalating to strikes. Suzuki tried to use a chair outside and had to have multiple officials stop him because he’s set a high bar for how much of a badass he is. It’s a small touch, but it did a lot for me. After trading armbars and ankle locks, this became a fight. They just trade some heavy blows. Members of Suzuki-Gun and the NOAH roster were at ringside, with Suzuki-Gun needing to be held back. I liked that because it kept them involved without actually having them interrupt this incredible match. The final ten or so minutes of the 29:19 are just an absolute war. Suzuki won a battle of slaps before a kick and sleeper. Sugiura doesn’t stay down, so Suzuki used a Gotch style piledriver to retain. I didn’t expect this to blow me away like it did, but its must-see. ****¾

5. Katsuyori Shibata vs. Kota Ibushi – NJPW G1 Climax 7/29/15

There is just so much to love about this match. It is absolutely must-see and one of my all-time favorite matches already. Katsuyori Shibata and Kota Ibushi are two of my favorite New Japan performers and putting them together just made magic. Shibata is known for his hard hitting style, while Ibushi is not one to shy away from that kind of fight. That’s exactly what this was. Two guys having a fantastic war of strong strikes. The things they do in the match are all smartly executed. Ibushi does a Penalty Kick, which pisses off Shibata, who responds with a loud kick of his own. Ibushi again amazes with his effortless ability to blend strong style with his high flying athletic skill. One minute he’s laying into Shibata and the next he’s hitting a standing corkscrew moonsault. This was similar to the phenomenal Ishii/Shibata wars in the past, but had its own identity to differentiate it. Shibata would deliver a ridiculous slap before applying the sleeper hold and winning with the Penalty Kick. At 13:25, it is the second best under 15 minute match that I’ve ever seen (Ishii/Shibata from the G1 23 is the best) and is one of the matches you should instantly watch when signing up for New Japan World. If this would have happened in Korakuen or in front of the Osaka crowd, it could have elevated it to the full five stars. ****¾

4. WWE Championship: Brock Lesnar (c) vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins – WWE Royal Rumble 1/25/15

At Hell in a Cell in 2014, John Cena beat Randy Orton to become the number one contender and then retained that right against Seth Rollins at TLC. This set the stage for yet another Brock Lesnar/Cena match that I and many others didn’t care to see. It seems like the WWE realized that too, deciding to add Rollins to the mix. That added dimension took the good Lesnar/Cena matches into classic status. Brock was the beast you’d expect, suplexing everything in sight, including J&J Security at the same time. Cena and Seth, rivals for the past few months, had to team up to try and take out the unstoppable beast. They accomplished it when Seth pulled a Shawn Michaels and elbowed Brock through the announce table. Cena and Seth then went at it, having their best exchange ever, including their feud later in the year.  When medics come down to check on Brock, the fans completely begin to buy into everything Cena and Seth do to each other in the ring. Brock would get up, kick ass and win with an F5 on Seth at 22:42. It was matches like this that showed Seth absolutely belonged at the top of the card. This was the best main roster WWE match all year long. ****¾

3. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – NJPW G1 Climax 8/16/15

Epic is a word that gets tossed around way too often. When it comes to this match though, I’m okay with using it. Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura are two of the five best wrestlers in the world. They’ve faced off numerous times in the past, including a match in the G1 Climax the year before. Thanks to an injury, Nakamura didn’t have the best of tournaments until his final two matches, while Tanahashi, after taking it easy the first half of the year, had an excellent tournament. Their past matches have been great (Invasion Attack 2014) and slightly disappointing (Wrestle Kingdom 8), but this was quite possibly the best. A staple of their series, Tanahashi worked the leg in creative and vicious ways. It’s a Tanahashi specialty, which works extra well here because it takes away the Boma Ye. Nakamura was excellent at selling the leg work, at one point only using the good one for a backstabber, and his exhaustion. The mannerisms from both men are on point. They called back to past matches, including a false finish that directly matches the finish to their G1 match in 2014. By the time the 32:15 match is over, you realize that you’ve just witnessed something special. A tournament as good as this deserved a final like this, which was an instant classic. ****¾

2. IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Kota Ibushi – NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 9

I don’t give out the perfect five star rating often. I only did so twice this year and less than twenty times in history. On my first night of watching New Japan Pro Wrestling, I knew I had seen a five star match. Shinsuke Nakamura, one of the top guys in New Japan and the reigning IWGP Intercontinental Champion, went up against the young upstart, Kota Ibushi in the co-main event. I mean, Ibushi is 33 so he’s not that young but he’s still a guy that hadn’t been given many major opportunities like this. This entire match is absolutely phenomenal. It goes for 20:12, but you wouldn’t think that. It flies by because you’re enjoying what you’re watching so well. There were other matches that I knew the build for and that added to things. In this match, I knew nothing about it coming in except that I had seen some Ibushi stuff from back in 2008. They captivated me and fully drew me in, even though I was watching with Japanese commentary. That is a testament to the ability of both men. Ibushi is brash, even stealing Nakamura’s moves at one point. Nakamura puts him in his place more than a few times, but is taken to his very limit. This has everything you could want. A great story, hard hitting action, close calls, incredibly athleticism at points, a big stage and more. It’s because of this match that I got into New Japan Pro Wrestling as much as I did. This is how you get someone over in a loss. Ibushi came out looking like a huge star on the biggest possible stage. It is one of the greatest matches I have ever seen. *****

1. NXT Women’s Championship: Sasha Banks (c) vs. Bayley – NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn 8/22/15

The women of NXT have continued to top themselves with almost every opportunity. Now, while I’m a massive fan of both girls, especially Sasha Banks, I originally didn’t want this match. I wanted to see Sasha/Becky II after their great match at Unstoppable. Bayley and Sasha absolutely blew my expectations out of the water. In front of the largest crowd in NXT history at the Barclays Center, Bayley and Banks were the co-main event and bested every performer on a loaded weekend. Right from the entrances, you could tell this would be special. The atmosphere in Brooklyn was insane as the crowd was red hot. Bayley’s entrance was a tribute to the late Dusty Rhodes, while Sasha channeled her inner Eddie Guerrero by arriving in an Escalade. The first part of this match sees Sasha talk trash and Bayley has to bring out the more aggressive side that we don’t usually see. When it progressed, Sasha vicious went after Bayley’s injured hand. It was some of the more brutal psychology I saw all year, including stomping on the hand and kicking it into the steel steps. Their exchanges and false finishes during this 18:15 encounter. Bayley survived the Bank Statement and Sasha kicked out of the Bayley to Belly. A top rope rana failed earlier in the match, but Bayley busted out a super reserve rana before scoring with a second Bayley to belly to win the title, capping an emotional roller coaster. Honestly, the number two match on this list that is technically better, but this was about on par, with the added bonus of the other things that makes pro wrestling great. The emotional impact of the match was so strong that Seth Rollins was crying at ringside. Hell, I was even nearly moved to tears. Not only was this the greatest women’s match in WWE history, but it was also the most important, cementing it atop the list. *****

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