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Kevin’s Top 100 Matches of 2018: #20-11

February 3, 2019 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
Daniel Bryan The Miz WWE SummerSlam

20. PROGRESS Tag Team Championship: Calamari Catch Kings [c] vs. LAX – PROGRESS: New York City 8/7/18

PROGRESS’ Coast to Coast Tour provided us with a string of good shows featuring mostly good matches. Only one stood as truly being great. #CCK has been ravaged by injuries to Kid Lykos and it again took him out of the Thunderbastard Tag Team Series. Chris Brookes chose Jonathan Gresham as his replacement partner and they won the Tag Titles during the series. The Calamari Catch Kings put those titles on the line in New York against LAX and it proved to be a doozy. LAX was massively over in New York and it added a lot to the match. This was filled with creative spots by four hungry guys looking to steal the show. Santana had his leg worked on and did a masterful job of selling it. He could barely get his offense in and fell several times because he couldn’t put weight on it. The closing stretch of this 21:19 was out of this world. Tons of close calls, pins getting broken up, and fast paced exchanges that will leave you breathless. The final shot of Santana trapped in an inverted cloverleaf, with his bad leg, grasping at the hand of his partner Ortiz, who was being held at bay, is unbelievable. Santana had no choice but to tap out, ending one of the best tag team matches I have ever seen. It’s that good. [****½]

19. WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship Last Woman Standing Match: Becky Lynch [c] vs. Charlotte – WWE Evolution 10/28/18

I’ve seen some call this an overdone mess and others call it the Match of the Year. I’m not fully in either camp. I saw a match that had moments of being absolutely brutal and hated filled. I also saw a match that kind of fell into some of the tropes that hurt this stipulation in the past, like a lot of time spent counting women down in the early stages when the match clearly wouldn’t end and overkill at some late spots. Charlotte’s ability to get up from so much came across as the overkill. This isn’t a knock on her, as WWE has done it in almost every match like this, including with AJ Styles earlier this year. That out of the way, this was great. The violence level was high and we got some truly stellar spots like the announce table leg drop, stuff with the ladder, and some loud kendo stick shots. I loved how Becky didn’t become a coward late. When she couldn’t keep Charlotte down, she just moved on to try a bigger spot and it eventually worked with a powerbomb off the top and through a table outside, ending this at 28:38. One other issue was the officiating.  Charlotte wasn’t truly up after getting buried in chairs, but was credited with beating the count. She got up further in the end, but lost. Strange. Still, a fitting end to a great rivalry. [****½]

18. IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada [c] vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – NJPW Wrestling Dontaku 5/4/18

It has been called the greatest rivalry in pro wrestling history. While I disagree, there’s no denying that it ranks near the top. Most of their battles are classics. Their 2013 match at King of Pro Wrestling is legitimately in my top three all time. But, this was about 2018. Kazuchika Okada bested Hiroshi Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom in 2016 (in their worst match) and was officially the new “ace.” Tanahashi was not one to go away quietly, though. He is still called the “ace” by many, including himself. Okada had broken almost every IWGP Title record imaginable. Tanahashi stood in the way of the one left, for most defenses in a single reign. Of course, it was also Tanahashi who held that record. Ever the master, Tanahashi avoided the tired Okada formula in this. Okada, again at his best when forced to do something different, was aggressive and a cocky prick. Douchebag Okada is the best Okada and Tana was as resilient as ever. When Okada did his trademark Rainmaker pose, Tanahashi stood up in his face, defiant as ever. He wasn’t going down without a fight. They called back to their previous match, a 30 minute draw in the G1 26, with the same exact moves at the same exact time. That takes something special to get right. The closing stretch was incredible, and we even got Tanahashi hitting Rainmakers of his own. Okada eventually retained after 34:36 in what was one of their best matches in history. A classic. [****½]

17. NXT Championship: Andrade Almas [c] vs. Aleister Black – NXT TakeOver: New Orleans 4/7/185/4/18

Aleister Black made his debut at TakeOver: Orlando and beat Andrade Almas. The crowd wasn’t very interested in it. Fast forward a year and Almas now reigned as a phenomenal NXT Champion, with Black hot on his heels. This match was masterfully done. Aleister had been unstoppable, so Almas and Zelina Vega came in with a plan. Whenever Black would get some momentum, she’d find a creative way to get involved. It’s a million times more entertaining than your traditional underhanded stuff. When she wasn’t doing her thing, Almas was showing that he could hang with Black in every facet. Aleister nearly won with Black Mass, only for Zelina to put Almas’ foot on the bottom rope. That set up an Almas double stomp to the outside, which was part of a wild series of back and forth offense from two of the best in the world. The Hammerlock DDT near fall was a thing of beauty. And when the finish actually arrived, it did so in PERFECT fashion. Almas’ title reign had seen Zelina play a major role and the same went for this match. Her attempted cross body was avoided by Black and Almas caught her. With Zelina in his arms, Almas had no defense for a Black Mass and we had a new champion after an outstanding 18:18. A legendary combination of storytelling and action. Almas deserves a standing ovation for his spectacular run as NXT Champion. [****½]

16. Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW G1 Climax 8/4/18

Forget Kazuchika Okada. It was Tomohiro Ishii who had the best trilogy with Kenny Omega in 2017. Entering this match, Kenny Omega was a perfect 6-0 in the G1 Climax. A year earlier, he suffered the largest points differential upset in Osaka when he lost to Juice Robinson. Back in Osaka, Omega hoped to avoid the sequel. I’ve criticized Kenny for often working a match like he’s in a WWE 2K game. He throws big move after big move in hopes of pumping up his star ratings, rather than doing some that makes sense, is great, and concise. However, like he did in the previous match against Zack Sabre Jr., this was a much different and better Kenny. Coming in on a hot streak, he was arrogant. He slapped Ishii around like a dick to start. After Sabre kicked his ass and he still won, Omega most likely felt bulletproof. But, he wasn’t ready for this different kind of Ishii tonight. The man was possessed. He literally sat and smiled when Omega kicked him in the back. Finding himself in trouble, Kenny threw a whopping 13 V-Triggers, but it felt like he was doing it out of desperation. Ishii wasn’t staying down and he exhausted a lot of his arsenal. When Ishii no sold some of them, Omega was at a loss. He threw more big offense, but once he got hit with a Brainbuster, Ishii had done just enough to win after 22:42. Kenny going from cocky to shocked, Ishii’s fire, the molten hot crowd, Kenny’s busted lip. It all added up to something great. [****½]

15. WWE Intercontinental Championship: Seth Rollins [c] vs. The Miz – WWE Backlash 5/6/18

Seth Rollins made a strong case for being WWE’s top wrestler of 2018. So did The Miz. Actually, The Miz has been doing that for years now. Put them together and you got magic. The Miz had just moved to Smackdown, which had the United States Title. Add in how Seth only just won the Intercontinental Title about a month earlier and the outcome to this encounter was obvious. That often takes away from a match because it lacks drama. Nobody told these two. They completely made me believe Miz was walking out as champion on more than one occasion. Both times he nearly won with the Skull Crushing Finale were fantastic. He found creative ways to hit the move each time. I loved the spot where Seth missed the Kingslayer knee and hit the post. It looked and sounded brutal. Miz took instant advantage with a Figure Four and it came late enough in the match that Seth had already done some of his offense that required the leg so there was no selling issue. The finish was tremendous, with Seth finding a way out of a series of rollups to hit the Curb Stomp, complete with him stopping to sell, and retain in 20:30. An underrated gem. One of the best Intercontinental Title matches to ever happen. It was that goddamn good. Both men are incredible wrestlers. [****½]

14. NXT Tag Team Championship: Mustache Mountain [c] vs. The Undisputed Era – NXT 7/11/18

During the Royal Albert Hall shows, Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong lost the NXT Tag Team Titles to Trent Seven and Tyler Bate. Citing luck and homefield advantage, Undisputed Era got their rematch in the friendly confines of Full Sail University, even though the fans there were pro-Mustache Mountain. Undisputed attacked before the bell, looking to get a cheap upper hand. The champions fought them off and took control until one big moment changed everything. Strong dropped Seven’s previously damaged left knee onto the steel steps. From there, this was an absolute master class of tag team wrestling. Undisputed worked the leg like sharks smelling blood. It was incredible. They deprived the fans of the hot tag to Tyler Bate at every single turn. Bate was a huge factor in the title change, so they couldn’t allow him to get in there. When it finally came, the place erupted and Bate did his thing. There’s a reason he’s one of the best in the world. However, Seven was still hurt and getting checked on by the medical staff. Bate found himself in trouble because of the two on one disadvantage and Seven got back on the apron to help his buddy. He tried his best but as the legal man, found himself back in submission predicaments. Despite his efforts and refusal to quit, Seven was in no man’s land. Bate waited and waited, but was forced to throw in the towel to save his partner’s career, yet lost the titles in 17:29. This is tag team wrestling, people. Utterly brilliant. [****½]

13. Kenny Omega vs. Kota Ibushi – NJPW G1 Climax 8/11/18

Probably the most highly anticipated match in the G1 this year. Best friends, tag team partners, and golden lovers. With this being the final match on the tour, in typical Gedo fashion, the winner would win the entire block. Kenny Omega began 6-0, yet dropped two straight before this. His overconfidence was becoming a problem. His recent struggles forced him to be more aggressive than he originally planned against his buddy. Kota Ibushi came in for a friendly bout and had to adjust. Omega didn’t even hold back in terms of going after his friend’s surgically repaired neck. It sounds weird, but I love that this didn’t feel like they tried to have an epic. Too often does a match feel like wrestlers tried too hard. Instead, this had a natural flow that made for one of the better outings from either guy in 2018. Omega’s V-Trigger to the back meant extra because of Kota’s bad neck. The Kamigoye kick out was special because Omega was the first man to do it and Kota is the only men to ever kick out of the One Winged Angel. Kota was dropped on his head several times, but weathered it all to hit a super Tiger Driver. He followed up with Kamigoye and advanced to the G1 Finals in 23:13. I love the G1 because it forces NJPW to cut the shit and give us sub-30 minute main events. This was brilliant, telling an excellent story and giving us non-stop action. Their chemistry ensured this clicked, they threw bombs at each other, and I loved the story of Ibushi having to match the surprising aggression of his partner. [****½]

12. Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz – WWE SummerSlam 8/19/18

The most excited I’ve been about a match in years. Daniel Bryan and The Miz are two of my favorite wrestlers of all time. Everything they’ve done together has been golden. From the first season of NXT to Bryan winning the United States Title from Miz to their Talking Smack beef to the build for this match. Here, with eight years of background, they made it all work. The little things were perfectly handled. Miz busted out the Nigel clothesline which he used in their Night of Champions 2010 match. Miz used his cunning personality to take control and when Bryan rallied, it was by using the style he’s famous for. The style he chastises Miz for not using. When Miz did the “YES” kicks, Bryan leaned into them as if to tell Miz that his kicks are nothing more than cheap knockoffs. The tease of Bryan, wrestling master, tapping out to Miz, reality TV star, was so well done because it came right after Bryan kicked the ring post hard and was put in the figure four. I loved Bryan’s hatred for Miz coming out as he punched him in the head while using the Yes Lock. I loved Miz desperately biting Bryan’s hand to break the hold. And then the finish. Masterful. Miz was handed a foreign object by Maryse at ringside. Bryan went for a tope suicida and got hit with it, giving Miz the win in 23:22. How beautiful is it that Bryan took a risk and the smart, safe wrestler used it against him? Miz, the guy willing to do whatever it takes to win, like he told Bryan in the build, did just that and won. I may still be underrating this, that’s how good it was. [****½]

11. NXT Championship: Tommaso Ciampa [c] vs. The Velveteen Dream – NXT TakeOver: War Games 11/17/18

The Velveteen Dream has been a star on the rise since last year’s TakeOver: War Games. He and Aleister Black put on a classic. Fast forward one year and Dream found himself in the NXT Title match against the most hated champion in recent memory, Tommaso Ciampa. We were lucky enough to be treated to something special. Dream came out dressed like Hollywood Hogan setting the tone for his actions throughout the contest. Dream sees himself as a legend already. He busted out offense from legends like Bret Hart, Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, and even Hogan himself. It was fitting for who he is as a character. Meanwhile, Ciampa is a paranoid champion who will do anything in his power to remain on top. They had a great back and forth in terms of mind games. Ciampa stole Dream’s “Hollywood” headband, so Dream took the title, messing with what Ciampa loves most. Dream’s use of moves popularized by others could end up being the thing that cost him and he may need to regroup following this. Some of the near falls late went a bit overboard for me, but the fans ate them all up. They were engaged throughout. Dream missed a huge Purple Rainmaker on the apron, ultimately leading to Ciampa hitting the draping DDT onto the steel platform holding the two rings together at 22:25. I love how they keep finding innovative ways to do that DDT. Great match and another performance that showed why Dream is one of the best in the world. [****½]