wrestling / Columns

Kevin’s Top 100 Matches of 2018: #100-91

January 21, 2019 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
Seth Rollins Greatest Royal Rumble

For the fourth year in a row, my annual year end list of the best matches is complete. Things are a bit different this time around. For one, I had to scale back on what I watched. With my personal life, school, and work ramping up, there was no time for a lot of wrestling. I cut the number of promotions I watched from 15 down to about four, with three of them being represented on this list (sorry Lucha Underground). I’ve also gone back to 100 matches. It was fun doing 130+ but now, anything past 100 that got at least **** will be an honorable mention.

So settle in for a look back at a really fun year for wrestling. Disagree, agree, do whatever you must, but hopefully, you enjoy.

Honorable Mentions:

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Marty Scurll [c] vs. Hiromu Takahashi vs. KUSHIDA vs. Will Ospreay – Wrestle Kingdom – ****
Women’s Royal Rumble Match – Royal Rumble – ****
David Starr and Matt Riddle vs. Pete Dunne and Trent Seven – PROGRESS Chapter 63 – ****
New Japan Cup First Round: Tetsuya Naito vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – New Japan Cup – ****
Finn Balor vs. Seth Rollins – Raw 4/2 – ****
Super Strong Style 16 Finals: Kassius Ohno vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – PROGRESS Chapter 68 – ****
Dragon Lee vs. SHO – Best of the Super Juniors 5/19/18 – ****
Hiromu Takahashi vs. KUSHIDA – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 5/19/18 – ****
Number One Contender’s Gauntlet Match: Big E vs. Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz vs. Rusev vs. Samoa Joe – Smackdown Live 6/19/18 – ****
WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament Finals: Travis Banks vs. Zack Gibson – UK Championship Tournament – ****
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi [c] vs. Dragon Lee – G1 Special in San Francisco – ****
WWE Championship: AJ Styles [c] vs. Rusev – Extreme Rules – ****
Juice Robinson vs. Kota Ibushi – G1 Climax 7/19/18 – ****
Tetsuya Naito vs. Tomohiro Ishii – G1 Climax 7/19/18 – ****
Hirooki Goto vs. Tomohiro Ishii – G1 Climax 7/21/18 – ****
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – G1 Climax 7/26/18 – ****
WWE Intercontinental Championship: Seth Rollins [c] vs. Kevin Owens – Raw 8/27 – ****
Killer Kelly vs. Meiko Satomura – Mae Young Classic – ****
IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kenny Omega [c] vs. Tomohiro Ishii – Destruction in Hiroshima – ****
WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Cedric Alexander [c] vs. Drew Gulak – 205 Live 9/18 – ****
The Golden Lovers vs. Kazuchika Okada and Tomohiro Ishii – Fighting Spirit Unleashed – ****
Mercedes Martinez vs. Meiko Satomura – Mae Young Classic – ****
Cedric Alexander vs. Gran Metalik vs. Lio Rush vs. TJP vs. Tony Nese – 205 Live 10/17 – ****
PROGRESS World Championship: WALTER [c] vs. Mark Haskins – PROGRESS Chapter 78 – ****
War Games: Pete Dunne, Ricochet and The War Raiders vs. The Undisputed Era – TakeOver: War Games II – ****
WWE United Kingdom Championship: Pete Dunne [c] vs. Jordan Devlin – NXT UK 11/23 – ****
Buddy Murphy vs. Gran Metalik – 205 Live 12/12 – ****
WWE Smackdown Tag Team Championship: The Bar [c] vs. New Day vs. The Usos – TLC – ****


100. WWE Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match: Seth Rollins [c] vs. Finn Balor vs. The Miz vs. Samoa Joe – WWE Greatest Royal Rumble 4/27/18

At WrestleMania, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and The Miz delivered a fantastic match. A few weeks later, they got the chance to do it again. The difference? Throw in Samoa Joe and a bunch of ladders to up the ante. With four talents of this caliber, you just know you’ll be treated to some great moments. Everyone was given an opportunity to shine. Joe was the bruising brute. Balor showcased his athleticism. Miz used his cunningness. Seth was willing to go the extra mile to prove himself as Intercontinental champion. Everyone played their roles to perfection. There were some great, creative ladder spots. For example, usually someone would just hit their finisher off a ladder. Here, Miz hit Joe with a sick looking Skull Crushing Finale onto the edge of a ladder. It was a small change, but it made all the difference. Everyone was game to take bumps, making for a match where they all came across as being on a level playing field. And it never went over the top with the spots like some ladder matches suffer from. Balor came extremely close to winning, only for Seth to springboard onto the ladder and unhook the title right in his face at 14:34. A great finish to a great match. [****]

99. David Starr vs. WALTER – PROGRESS Chapter 69: Be Here Now 5/20/18

Across three countries, WALTER entered this match with a spotless 9-0 record over David Starr. That became the story of this 13:43 contest. And even with that level of success, WALTER still had something to lose. He had just relinquished the Atlas Title in effort to get another World Title shot. If he did that and just lost right out of the gates, it was all kind of for nothing. Starr learned from the past and came in with the plan to attack WALTER’s legs. He looked to cut the big man down to size. For the most part, it worked. Starr dominated by suckering WALTER in, then wearing down the leg. Even when WALTER would get something going, his leg would give out and he couldn’t capitalize. The only thing WALTER could combat Starr with was a barrage of stiff shots. He hits hard enough that even without working legs, he had a legitimate chance to win. It was so interesting to see WALTER in this position. I loved how he would just use a brutal chop or something to escape a submission. When Starr went for a Sharpshooter, WALTER pulled him into a small package to win, basically stealing a match where he wasn’t the better man. The struggles continued for Starr, who couldn’t best WALTER even when he had a brilliant strategy. [****]

98. SANADA vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW G1 Climax 8/8/18

Whenever the G1 Climax blocks are announced, several matches catch the eye each year. Even in a G1 with an all-time great B Block, this match probably stood out as the most intriguing. Yes, more than Omega/Ibushi, anything involving Sabre, etc. Tetsuya Naito is the man of Los Ingobernables de Japon, but SANADA has always felt like the future. The guy who is “next.” EVIL beat SANADA last year and faced Naito two years ago, but he’s always been the enforcer of sorts, while SANADA is like a project to Naito. On the tags during the G1, SANADA kept avoiding the fist bump from Naito. He accepted here, only for Naito to pull him in and get the action started. From there, we were treated to 19:52 of great storytelling. They showcased their knowledge of one another with smart counters. SANADA wasn’t intimidated and returned the favor when Naito spat at him. There were mirror image moments that made it seem like Naito was wrestling his younger self. At one point, SANADA even hit his own Destino. He also had Naito’s Destino scouted, countering and avoiding it at every turn. Naito finally hit it to win. I loved the mentor/mentee dynamic and the action was top notch. The post-match promo with all the LIJ members and injured Hiromu Takahashi’s jacket was emotional and worth checking out. [****]

97. Drew McIntyre vs. Finn Balor vs. Roman Reigns – WWE Raw 7/16/18

With the question of Brock Lesnar’s SummerSlam opponent hanging in the air, the July 16th episode of Raw gave us something interesting. Six men would compete in two triple threat matches, with the winners of each meeting the following week to determine Brock’s challenger. Three of those men met in this Raw opener and it was a certified banger. Though Drew McIntyre was still relatively new to Raw, he got to dominate the early stages. He threw Finn Balor around with ease and even launched Roman Reigns more than once like he weighed nothing. It felt like the kind of breakout performance you want from a guy like Drew. Even when Finn and Roman got going, Drew still came across like the biggest star. He busted out an incredible dive that stole the show. I appreciated Drew bringing a chair into play. These matches don’t have disqualifications, so more people should do that. The same goes for Finn returning the favor a few minutes later. Finn had Roman beat with the Coup de Grace, only for Drew to interrupt the pin. Roman came back to win via Spear on Finn in a wild 22:02. Great battle between three of the best. I wish it parlayed into a Finn/Drew feud for the summer, but we got one at the end of the year. [****]

96. Mark Davis vs. WALTER – PROGRESS Chapter 63: Take Me Underground 2/11/18

WALTER is the best BIG BOY in all of wrestling. That’s undisputed by this point. However, Mark Davis of Aussie Open feels like one of the more unheralded big lads in the business. PROGRESS’s Atlas Championship is for these kinds of wrestlers, but WALTER’s title wasn’t on the line here. Instead, it was just a chance for Davis to show that he could hang with the best. Early on, it seemed like he couldn’t. WALTER destroyed his chest. We’re talking about four chops and Davis’ chest was legitimately bleeding. Each chop and strike to the chest after felt more brutal than the last, knowing how damaged the skin already was. It became such a dominating performance that the simple act of Davis knocking WALTER down was met with a huge ovation. Each time Davis got a rally going, WALTER had a chop prepared and it felt like Davis was right back on the verge of death. He survived a ton and dished out a solid amount back. However, once he got put in the rear naked choke, he had no choice but to tap out. 11:54 of Mark Davis getting tortured, yet still delivering a star making performance. [****]

95. NXT Women’s Championship: Ember Moon [c] vs. Shayna Baszler – NXT TakeOver: New Orleans 4/7/18

At TakeOver: Philadelphia, Ember Moon retained her title against Shayna Baszler in what felt like a stroke of luck. That match was good, but never got into great territory. They made sure to fix that in this high profile rematch. At 12:55, it only went about two minutes longer than their prior match, but did a ton more with it. They immediately played off the past. Ember tried to start with a dropkick like she has before, but Shayna sidestepped it. She had done her homework. In fact, the way they played into the storyline of the feud made this click better than most (it’s a staple of TakeOver matches and why they work so well). Ember got beat up, but turned the tide on Shayna by stomping on her arm. It was a dose of her own medicine and something that could potentially humble the challenger. In one of the coolest things you’ll see anywhere, Shayna banged her shoulder into the ring post to pop it back into place. That’s what winning meant to her. They’ve sold the Eclipse as a match ender, so it worked that the only time Ember hit it was outside. She couldn’t win that way. Her next attempt at one inside got countered as Shayna powered her into the Kirifuda Clutch. Ember fought as hard as she could and lasted a while, before passing out. Shayna was champion and Ember was off to Raw. They killed it and Baszler officially entered that top tier of women in NXT history. [****]

94. Money in the Bank: Alexa Bliss vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte vs. Ember Moon vs. Lana vs. Naomi vs. Natalya vs. Sasha Banks – WWE Money in the Bank 6/17/18

Last year’s women’s Money in the Bank matches were a mixed bag. I liked the one at the PPV, but the Smackdown rematch didn’t work as well. Thankfully, this year’s installment left no doubts. There was a little bit of everything in this one. It was cool to see Raw and Smackdown women interact with one another, especially in the case of Ember Moon, who had never faced the girls from Tuesday nights. They did well to relive past rivalries, like Sasha/Charlotte, and preview ones coming up, like the big Becky Lynch/Charlotte moment. There was an exchange between Ember and Naomi that was a highlight. A few spots were incredibly dangerous (Charlotte violently pulling Lana off a ladder and a Natalya powerbomb come to mind) and one or two awkward moments. However, everyone played their role and was given at least one chance to shine. We’ve seen tons of ladder matches throughout history, so the fact that these women found creative ways to use them is a testament to how well thought out this whole thing was. In the end, after 18:26, Alexa Bliss pulled down the briefcase and then successfully cashed in later that night. For further storytelling aspects, go back and pay attention to how close Becky came to winning on multiple occasions, including being cut off by Charlotte. It plays into her heel turn. Anyway, the women outdid the men in both the Elimination Chamber and Money in the Bank. [****]

93. WWE Championship: AJ Styles [c] vs. Daniel Bryan – WWE Smackdown 10/30/18

Crown Jewel turned out to be quite the mess for the WWE. I’m not getting into the politics of it all, because that’s been discussed a lot. The key for this list was that Daniel Bryan (and John Cena) refused to work the show. To get out of it, WWE decided to have Bryan get his scheduled WWE Title shot on the Smackdown beforehand. Thankfully, fans were still allowed the AJ Styles/Daniel Bryan match we deserved. When AJ is in overly long feuds, his matches haven’t delivered. See: Nakamura, Owens, and Joe. The shorter programs are where he works best. Bryan’s knee was the focal point throughout and he sold the hell out of it. It was a great way to set up AJ’s Calf Crusher, which he’s established well during his title reign. They didn’t have to resort to a ton of near falls to get the drama going, they did it with how well these two were able to wear each other down. Submissions were traded late in a fashion that was smooth and gripping. It was hard not to be fully enthralled in what they were doing. AJ won by making Bryan tap to the Calf Crusher in 22:03, capping what may have been the best match on Smackdown since the brand split back in 2016. [****]

92. Kota Ibushi vs. SANADA – NJPW G1 Climax 7/26/18

The handsome battle! This was a first time ever meeting that excited and intrigued me for a few reasons. One, they’re both among the best and most interesting wrestlers in NJPW. More importantly though, they’re similar. SANADA is kind of a young Kota Ibushi in that he’s athletic, wrestles a hybrid style, had an unusual route into NJPW, and is pegged as a future star having big performances on a consistent basis. We saw how evenly matched they were during an opening standoff exchange that would make Rob Van Dam and Jerry Lynn jealous. Most of what they did in this match was fluid. There was a now infamous spot on the ramp that was truly awkward, but I don’t think it was the huge deal people made it out to be. They had one another scouted, from Ibushi finding clever ways to stay out of the Skull End to SANADA avoiding Kamigoye at every turn. With neither wrestler being dominant the way an Okada or Omega are, it added to the drama as nobody knew who would pull out the win. They threw bombs at one another late, yet couldn’t put the finishing touches. SANADA avoided another Kamigoye and trapped Ibushi in the Skull End. Ibushi faded and SANADA capped a huge win at 22:23 with a moonsault. To add to the greatness of the moment, this was in SANADA’s hometown. A fantastic clash between two guys who are very similar. [****]

91. WWE Cruiserweight Championship Tournament First Round: Hideo Itami vs. Roderick Strong – WWE 205 Live 2/6/18

The best thing to happen to 205 Live was the firing of Enzo Amore. Drake Maverick took over as General Manager and set up this tournament, which was just filled with great matches. This was the one I anticipated the most. Hideo Itami has been a favorite of mine since I first saw him in ROH over a decade ago and the same goes for Roderick Strong. This was Strong’s first match for the company outside of NXT. Despite not being known to everyone and despite this being a crowd kind of tired by this point, they worked their asses off to get them invested. They hit each other hard, brought out some stellar sequences, and gave us some dramatic near falls. Strong showed why he’s the “Messiah of the Backbreaker,” busting out some vicious ones. The near falls down the stretch had the crowd on the edge of their seats. Strong went into a flurry capped with End of Heartache for the upset in 17:01. Not being a regular roster member, Strong winning came as a surprise. Him having a great match was less than a shock, as he was one of the best wrestlers anywhere in 2018. [****]