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Kevin’s Top 100 Matches of 2018: #30-21

February 2, 2019 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
NXT Takeover Brooklyn Tommaso Ciampa Johnny Gargano

30. Men’s Royal Rumble Match – WWE Royal Rumble 1/28/18

Theoretically, the Royal Rumble sounds easy enough to book but it’s not. In an hour long match, there are often lulls and those can be tough to iron out. For the most part, the 2018 edition avoided that. Rusev and Finn Balor opened things, marking one of my favorite combos to start a Rumble in history. From there, we had a lot of strong moments. Heath Slater getting beat up by everyone who came out before he could even enter the match, only to throw out Sheamus in mere seconds. Andrade Almas and Adam Cole making surprise appearances. The Hurricane and Rey Mysterio returning. Another fun Kofi Kingston elimination avoidance. The final six gave us a new vs. old battle as Mysterio, Randy Orton, and John Cena faced off against Balor, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Roman Reigns. This was a lengthy, dramatic exchange. It was even more drama filled when it came down to Reigns and Nakamura. The crowd was completely enthralled, desperate for a Nakamura win and a Roman loss. That’s just what they got after 66:02 of one of the greatest Royal Rumble matches ever. From the atmosphere to the strong pacing to the comedic moments to the final two, this Rumble had a little bit of everything. [****½]

29. El Desperado vs. Hiromu Takahashi – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 5/22/18

Talk about a match that came from out of nowhere. Hiromu Takahashi is among the best in the world, so he was no surprise. El Desperado is easily the best Suzuki-Gun member not named Minoru or Zack, but I just wasn’t expecting this. They had the match of the Best of the Super Juniors (not counting the finals) tournament. Their previous singles meeting came over six years ago when they were both Young Lions. What we got in this one was a war. Hiromu attacked before the bell, turning the tables on his Suzuki-Gun opponent. They brawled into the crowd, where Hiromu busted out a memorable and aggressive dropkick. When chairs were brought into play, Hiromu took one to the back, setting up Desperado’s focus. As part of his attack, I loved Desperado bringing out the Young Lion crab, looking to beat him with the same move that worked all those years ago. Down the stretch, they began to throw their best shots at one another, while managing to never hit the overboard level that too many matches reach. There were some top notch near falls, like when Desperado used El Guitarra de Angel and Hiromu hit the corner DVD. Desperado pulled it out by nailing Pinche Loco after 22:48. This was different from anything else in the tournament. Two guys going to war over two points in an important tournament. [****½]

28. NXT North American Championship: Adam Cole [c] vs. Ricochet – NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn 8/18/18

It’s amazing what the WWE machine can do for you. I am way more invested in the NXT versions of Adam Cole and Ricochet than I ever was of them beforehand. This match showed exactly why. This wasn’t a collection of moves, it was an expertly crafted story. Cole was champion but was insecure. Though he won the title in New Orleans, many were talking about Ricochet stealing the show that night. That’s why Cole did his best to ground Ricochet and continually told him that he wasn’t special. Cole needed to believe it. Ricochet would find bursts to hit his impressive aerial offense, but Cole would either survive or have an answer. He did his homework. The fans were completely into everything. When a superkick exchange saw Cole get lucky and land on top of Ricochet, they totally bit on that being the finish. The spot where Cole stopped a moonsault with a midair superkick was legendary. I loved that even with all the great spots, it was about two guys outsmarting each other. Ricochet goaded Cole into thinking he wasn’t ready for the Shining Wizard and countered it. Cole rolled away to avoid the 630 splash. Tit for tat. Ricochet had to take one final risk, with a massive rana to the outside, before successfully hitting the 630 and winning the title in 15:21. An outstanding combination of action and storytelling. [****½]

27. Kota Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW G1 Climax 7/15/18

The greatest single block in G1 Climax history got off to a hot start with this as the semi-main event of their first night. Kota Ibushi beat Zack Sabre Jr. in last year’s G1 (****½) and Sabre evened the score during this year’s New Japan Cup (****½). Sabre came in as the favorite thanks to tournament success, having won the New Japan Cup, Battle of Los Angeles, and Super Strong Style 16. Surprisingly, Ibushi attempted to match Sabre on the mat in the early stages. He tried his best but once he saw that wasn’t working, he changed to strikes. One roundhouse kick and Sabre was instantly in trouble. However, Sabre came prepared. He had Kota scouted like a master. He’d bend and twist his leg in vicious ways, looking to take out the kicks of his opponent. Whenever Ibushi would get something going, Sabre had an answer and it was usually targeted at the leg. Some of the submissions Zack did were just ungodly. I loved the moment where Kota powers out of a PK at one, and when hit with another he tried again but couldn’t muster the strength and had to wait until two. The same goes for Sabre checking the Kamigoye to avoid it. It’s the little things that count. Of course, after a wild final few minutes, Kota successfully hit Kamigoye to win in 22:58. These guys can do no wrong together. Counter wrestling, hard strikes, good mat work, and drama. [****½]

26. New Japan Cup Quarterfinals: Kota Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW New Japan Cup 3/15/18

Last year, these two had a phenomenal match in the G1 Climax (****½), won by Kota Ibushi. Zack Sabre Jr. was out for revenge. Fresh off a win over Tetsuya Naito in the opening round, momentum was on his side. According to commentary, Ibushi said he’d rather face Naito because Sabre’s style is troublesome for him. I like little tidbits like that. Indeed, Sabre slowed the pace and took Kota to the mat. It took away the explosiveness that makes Ibushi so deadly. One thing I love about Sabre is that he will attack any body part he can get his hands on. Sometimes, it can impact the overall story, but it makes sense against Ibushi since he has so many weapons. Their exchanges, especially with strikes, were fantastic. Sabre had the Kamigoye scouted at every turn even though Ibushi hadn’t debuted it when they last met. The man does his homework. They used the finish from their last encounter for a great near fall down the stretch. Ibushi refused to give in, while Sabre grew frustrated that his best submissions couldn’t get the job done. That played into the finish, as Sabre locked in a sadistic octopus hold variation and when Ibushi didn’t quit, the referee was forced to call for a stoppage at 21:02. Stellar prof wrestling by two of the best on the planet. All without going too long. [****½]

25. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Will Ospreay [c] vs. Hiromu Takahashi – NJPW Dominion 6/19/18

I’ve made my feelings on Will Ospreay very clear. He has the talent to be one of the best in the world, but doesn’t even crack my top 50. He gets in his own way more often than not and holds himself back with horrible tropes. However, thanks to his talent, he can deliver in big matches against superior opponents. Hiromu Takahashi, the best junior heavyweight in the world, is kind of the perfect opponent for him. These are two reckless warriors and the match played right into that. Within a minute or so of this 20:20 match, Ospreay nearly killed himself with a dive off the ramp. Surprisingly, Will slowed the pace from there. I liked it because the quicker the match, the better it is for Hiromu. He thrives there. Hiromu rallied and brought out strikes that would’ve been at home in a heavyweight bout. They built to the bigger spots and made it so each shift in momentum mattered. It wasn’t hollow like the Ospreay/Scurll match from earlier in the year. Their closing stretch was as wild as you’d expect. It saw Hiromu counter Storm Breaker into a triangle choke that was successful for him en route to winning the Best of the Super Juniors. Will didn’t quit, but was hurt enough to fall to a corner DVD and Time Bomb. I love the idea that Hiromu lost in February, saw Will had a bad neck, came back with a submission that impacted that, and used it to regain Mr. Belt. It’s a shame Hiromu got injured, because he was on one hell of a roll in 2018. [****½]

24. NXT North American Championship: Ricochet [c] vs. Adam Cole vs. Pete Dunne – NXT 10/10/18

During the big Title vs. Title match between Ricochet and Pete Dunne, Adam Cole and his Undisputed Era buddies got involved. It led to a no contest ending to a great match. With Cole still waiting for his rematch at the North American Title, he was granted it with the condition that Dunne also get his shot at the same time. That set the stage for an unreal match. These three managed to deliver one of the best triple threat matches of all time. Yes, I said all time. Almost every move came off smoothly, they were innovative with the spots, kept a great pace, and brought some great drama. Even with the results known beforehand, I still bit on several of the near falls. That’s special. Dunne hitting Cole with the Bitter End and immediately catching a Ricochet Shooting Star Press into a triangle choke was one of the better spots of the year. They also did well to avoid many typical tropes expected from this match type and gave us something completely different. Dunne had Cole trapped in the end, only to get hit with a springboard 450 splash that allowed Ricochet to retain at 18:29. A stellar, all time great match from these three. [****½]

23. New Japan Cup Finals: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW New Japan Cup 3/21/18

Coming into this, these guys were 1-1 against each other. Hiroshi Tanahashi was banged up, but made it through to the finals. Zack Sabre Jr. dominated and made all three previous opponents (Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi, and SANADA) tap out. Here is the perfect example of a match that goes long and makes the most of it. The reason it lasts 34:02 is because it is the definition of a human chess match. Sabre had him perfectly scouted. He obviously went after Tanahashi’s damaged arm, but also threw in some work to the leg, playing off another prior injury and doing so to cut off stuff like the High Fly Flow. He didn’t let Tanahashi get into his rhythm, cutting off stuff like the skin the cat spot. Tanahashi’s comeback was great, as he continued to sell the work done. Sabre grew angrier that his game plan couldn’t seem to keep this old, injured man down. Tanahashi dishing back the European Clutch pin made for a tremendous near fall. Despite his best efforts, though, Tanahashi got trapped in a submission he couldn’t escape and tapped out. A layered match with strong storytelling elements, and a great pace. Everything they did mattered and they nailed the little nuances to make this special. [****½]

22. The Golden Lovers vs. The Young Bucks – NJPW Strong Style Evolved 3/25/18

For some fans, here may not have been a hotter match in all of 2018. To get it out of the way, this was in no way the two best tag teams in wrestling facing off. They billed it that way, but it just isn’t true. With that behind us, it’s time to appreciate all that this match did well. The Young Bucks were once my least favorite act in all of wrestling, but over the past two or so years, they’ve improved vastly. A perfect example was here. Gone are the overly grating personality traits. Instead, we get stuff like Matt Jackson selling a back injury for MONTHS. It played a major role in this. While both teams brought out their biggest guns, it never felt like moves were being done with no purpose. Kenny Omega was conflicted about taking it to his friends, but Kota Ibushi was happy to hit them as hard as he could. Going back to Matt, I loved how much of an antagonist he was here. He yelled at both opponents and basically dared them to bring it on several occasions. When Kenny got Matt up for the One Winged Angel, he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. Matt demanded he do it and when Kenny did, that should’ve been the finish. Instead, the pin got broken up and the match went on for a bit longer. The Lovers won with the Golden Trigger on Matt after 39:23. It was a long match with great spots and story elements, but it would’ve been better and tighter had it ended on the note it needed to. Still, one of the best tag matches all year. [****½]

21. No Disqualifications Match: Buddy Murphy vs. Mustafa Ali – WWE 205 Live 7/3/18

If you made the mistake of ignoring 205 Live in 2018, then you missed out on one of the best rivalries in all of wrestling. Buddy Murphy and Mustafa Ali tore down the house every single time they shared a ring. This No Disqualifications match was their magnum opus. Ali had been built up as the “heart” of 205 Live, while Murphy called himself the “Juggernaut.” You couldn’t ask for a more perfect pairing. Ali took a beating in this match, yet never gave up. Whether it was a bump off the guardrail or a suplex onto the ramp, Ali was destroyed. Here wasn’t a No DQ match filled with weapons. Instead, they managed to give us something violent without needing to use too many of those. Buddy didn’t need it because he was vicious on his own. However, when Ali wouldn’t stay down, he brought them into play. It backfired a bit when Ali hit a superplex off steel steps and a Spanish Fly on a table. Murphy hitting better running knees than Kenny Omega while Ali was tied in the ropes made for beautiful, barbaric imagery. A pissed Murphy let him free for more damage, but Ali fought back and won with a tornado DDT off the steps in 22:43. The best work from two of the guys who stole 2018. [****½]