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Kevin’s Top 100 Matches of 2018: #40-31

January 30, 2019 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
Brock Lesnar Daniel Bryan Survivor Series

40. Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey vs. Stephanie McMahon and Triple H – WWE WrestleMania 34 4/6/18

The definition of a spectacle. As soon as Triple H and Stephanie McMahon came out on motorcycles and did dual water spit spots, I was hooked. Everyone has praised Ronda Rousey for her debut performance here and it’s certainly granted. She was fantastic. But more love needs to go to Stephanie. She was perfect in this. Right at the start, she slapped Ronda and got in several cheap shots before bailing. She was an expert heel, causing fans to salivate at the chance to see Ronda destroy her. They made everyone wait, but once we got it, Ronda delivered. Not only did she get her hands on Stephanie, but the fans erupted when she squared up to Triple H. It was nuts. Angle and HHH were more in there to play ring generals and kind of lead this thing, but it was all about the women. They did go a bit overboard in having Stephanie be able to counter and avoid the armbar, as that felt super unrealistic. Other than that, this was brilliant storytelling. Ronda was tough, but got outsmarted by her wrestling savvy opponents. She shined against excellent heels. Seeing her beat up HHH and then hoist him onto her shoulder was wild. She finally got Stephanie in the armbar to win after 20:37. Probably the smartest worked match of 2018. [****¼]

39. Brock Lesnar vs. Daniel Bryan – WWE Survivor Series 11/18/18

Daniel Bryan came out with a smug look like he was in complete control. His new character is amazing. When the match started, he hit and moved like he did against Takeshi Morishima back in 2007. Then, Brock went into Brock mode. He dominated for the next eight or so minutes. He hit an F5 and could have won, but pulled Bryan up. It felt like it was just going to be another lazy Brock squash. The crowd hated it. I hated it. Then, the ref bump came. It was a case of a good ref bump, too. It opened the door for Bryan to hit a low blow and the Busaiku Knee. Though Brock survived, Bryan spent the rest of the match using his wits and speed to find brilliant ways to get the upper hand. They swept everyone up in the drama. Brock’s three weaknesses came into play, including the low blow, steel steps, and ring posts. When Bryan put on the Yes Lock, the fans bought Brock possibly doing the unthinkable and tapping. Alas, he got free, powerbombed out of a triangle choke, and won with the F5 in 18:40. The first segment of Brock dominating went on way too long. I get what they were going for, but if you cut that back a bit, the whole match would be tighter. Either way, this was a banger and some of the best stuff Brock’s been a part of. [****¼]

38. WWE Intercontinental Championship: The Miz [c] vs. Finn Balor vs. Seth Rollins – WWE WrestleMania 4/8/18

People didn’t talk about it enough, but these three had one of the best matches in Raw history during 2017. They got to do it again on the biggest stage possible with higher stakes. At WrestleMania with the Intercontinental Title on the line. Each guy had a cool entrance, with Miz getting impressive graphics, Finn Balor having a bunch of fans dressed in pride colors, and Seth Rollins as the Night King from Game of Thrones. They went out and had the third best Mania opener ever. It was filled with bell to bell action and it didn’t fall into the usual tropes of Triple Threat matches. Instead, they made sure all three guys were usually involved and gave us inventive spots while managing to provide callbacks to their history. The spot where Seth teased powerbombing Finn into the guardrail was perfectly done, as was Finn continuing to have a counter for Seth’s superplex/Falcon Arrow combo. Seth wowed us with the RVD like height he got on a frog splash he used to break up a Figure Four. Miz was fantastic at every single thing he does. He’s an all time great. In the end, just as Finn seemed to have the match won, Seth cut him off and won the title with the Curb Stomp on both men at 15:27. A fantastic match between three of the best in the world. [****¼]

37. Extreme Rules Match: Adam Cole vs. Aleister Black – NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia 1/27/18

When Adam Cole was first brought into NXT, I was very negative about it. I thought his work in ROH, PWG, NJPW, and everywhere else was mediocre at best. However, he’s been great in NXT and though he had a strong showing near the end of 2017, it was this match that truly solidified him for me. You wouldn’t expect it, but Cole is fantastic in hardcore matches and this may have been his best. The weapons were brought into play early and often, yet they still managed to gradually use them. It wasn’t just wailing on each other for the sake of it. The spots got bigger as the match progressed, with each man attempting to find a new way to overcome the other. Cole took huge bumps onto a ladder and the tops of two steel chairs, while Aleister Black got superkicked and fell through two tables. Neither man was holding back. The Undisputed Era and SAnitY got involved in a sensible way that added to the match, rather than take away from it. With the odds evened up, Black was able to find the opening he needed to win. All it took was a Black Mass and it was over in 22:03. One of the best Extreme Rules matches in history. [****¼]

36. Juice Robinson vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW G1 Climax 7/21/18

In 2017, Juice Robinson pinned Tetsuya Naito in a tag match, but ultimately lost an Intercontinental Title shot at him. That match ruled (****¼) and was one that helped solidify Juice as a star in NJPW. The tables had turned here, though. Juice was now the man holding championship gold and on something of a hot streak even though he dropped his first two G1 matches. He also came in with a heavily bandaged hand that was broken a few weeks prior. Naito honed in on it. He was vicious in attacking it. Naito’s assault went so far, he got booed in Korakuen Hall. This isn’t 2013. Getting the crowd to boo Naito, the most popular star in Japan, is no easy task. The combination of his brutal offense and Juice’s babyface fire made for one hell of an atmosphere. Naito would modify his signature offense to specifically target the hand. It was genius. When Juice fired up and got going, Naito spat at him, hoping to entice him to use the cast as a weapon and get disqualified. Super good guy Juice refused to give in. He came close to pulling out the huge win on several occasions and even survived Destino. However, he couldn’t get up from a second, losing after 16:38 of incredible action. [****½]

35. IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi [c] vs. Minoru Suzuki – NJPW The New Beginning In Sapporo 1/27/18

My list of perfect ***** matches is exclusive. In the entire history of wrestling, I’ve only given out the score 26 times. Hiroshi Tanahashi and Minoru Suzuki have one of those back in 2012. While they didn’t recapture that magic in 2018, this was still phenomenal. There was no Suzuki-Gun attack or shenanigans. Minoru was aggressive from the start, which Tanahashi used against him. However, the challenger weathered the storm and got downright violent. Slaps, kicks, chair shots, submissions. You name it, Suzuki did it. He also got in Tanahashi’s head, laughing it off when the champion gave him his best shot. Tanahashi came in with an injured arm, but also messed up his leg during the battle. The sadistic Suzuki now had two targets. He applied a LONG Figure Four, but unlike last year’s New Beginning event (when he faced Okada), the babyface didn’t make some cheesy and generic comeback after it. Tanahashi survived, but was basically useless. The effort was there, but he was too damaged. Suzuki hit the Gotch Piledriver and could’ve won. But, that’s not Suzuki. Instead, he went back to the knee bar, wanting to destroy Tanahashi. The Ace lasted a few more minutes but once rolled to the center of the ring, the referee had no choice but to call it. Suzuki won the title at 33:28. Like most NJPW main events, this went longer than it needed to, as the same story could’ve been told in about 25-27 minutes. Still, that story was fantastically done by two of the best to ever lace up the boots. [****½]

34.WWE Championship: Daniel Bryan [c] vs. AJ Styles – WWE TLC 12/16/18

They had some really good matches on Smackdown but they bested them all in this rematch. AJ Styles was dying to get his hands on Daniel Bryan, but the champion stalled and played mind games early. There was a lot to love about this. They played well off their previous match with callbacks, yet also threw in some stuff to remind you of matches they had with others. AJ is at his best as the fiery babyface and even though he’s the bigger guy here, Bryan’s persona was a perfect foil. Bryan was ruthless, precise, and the right amount of aggressive. It’s like I’m watching bits of his ROH heel run. Often, AJ’s slow build matches this year have missed the mark, but this worked expertly from start to finish. Everything they did mattered and felt like it had a purpose. That needs to happen more often in matches. Not just doing stuff for the sake of it. Styles would hit big blows, like the springboard 450 splash, but had so much damage done that he couldn’t capitalize and Bryan remained alive. The Calf Crusher close call was outstanding. Then, the most perfect moment of all came in the finish. AJ missed the Phenomenal Forearm but went for the small package. However, Mr. Small Package countered into one of his own to retain in an outstanding 23:54. It’s a finish from a favorite match of mine (Bret/Perfect at KOTR 93) and also made sense given how Bryan won the title. The best WWE Championship match since 2016. [****½]

33. G1 Climax Finals: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kota Ibushi – NJPW G1 Climax 8/12/18

I don’t care how much I love Kota Ibushi. The second it was clear that Hiroshi Tanahashi had Katsuyori Shibata in his corner, there was no way I couldn’t root for him. That’s Shibata. Much better than Ibushi having Kenny Omega at ringside. Their three previous meetings got ****¼, ****¼, and ****½ from me. And while they had an IC Title match last year, the stakes were highest here. Tanahashi wanted another shot at the top, while Ibushi wanted to get there for the first time. Also, a win for Kota would make him the first person to win the G1, New Japan Cup, and Best of the Super Juniors. Onto the match, there was a lot to like. They had each other completely scouted, making for sequences that featured counters upon counters. There were little touches like Tanahashi hitting a Shibata style dropkick after avoiding the Lawn Dart that did so much harm in his prior loss to Ibushi. Tanahashi’s tried and true game plan against Ibushi’s unexpected high impact stuff. I loved how Ibushi was winning their strike exchange down the stretch, only for Tanahashi to channel Shibata and find a way to win out. Then, their fight continued while they were on the mat. It was a war. As usual with big NJPW matches, they went a bit too long and too overboard with some of the late stuff. Tanahashi endured a ton before winning with three High Fly Flows in 35:01. Shave about ten minutes off to avoid the ridiculousness and you’d have a classic. As it stands, it’s still fantastic. [****½]

32. Tyler Bate vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – PROGRESS Chapter 63: Take Me Underground 2/11/18

Not just two of the best European wrestlers in the world. These are two of the best wrestlers anywhere, period. So yes, there was reason for me and many others to be pumped for it. I don’t know if there was a match in PROGRESS all year I was more excited for. And they delivered. The grappling section to start was a masterclass. It was fluid, everything had a purpose, and watching them counter each other was delightful. The level of aggression ultimately picked up. They’d add more torque to submissions or start dishing out harder strikes during exchanges. The transitions and counter wrestling we saw in this was pretty much unmatched all year, anywhere. I also want to commend the camerawork. They put effort into zooming in at the right times and getting important details that added a lot to the feel. A highlight of the match was Sabre countering a Tyler Driver ’97 into a hanging triangle choke. Sabre also took one of his wild piledriver bumps. He’s easily the best in the business at that. Eventually, he won with Hyper Normalization in 15:27. That move honestly seems impossible to counter. An incredible match and a clinic in the art of pro wrestling. It was simply two outstanding wrestlers doing their thing and the fans reaped the benefits. [****½]

31. Kota Ibushi vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW G1 Climax 7/28/18

I love these guys. They’re two of the best in the world and they were basically the MVPs of the G1 Climax. Pitting them against each other always works. Their past matches have gotten ****¾ and ****¼ from me. They split those contests. As you expect and want from them, they went to war as soon as the bell rang. No motion was wasted in this strong style battle. Kota Ibushi even found a way to bust out one of his trademark balcony moonsaults and yet it never felt out of place. That’s because this match had a bit of everything. Ibushi took it right to Ishii, who responded by throwing bombs back. Ishii seemingly was letting him know that this is his area of expertise. The physicality got kicked up to the next level in the closing third of the match, though they may have gone a bit overboard. Looking back, it never felt as natural as it did in their 2014 classic. Still, this was a banger with some great moments throughout. I loved how they just began throwing disrespectful slaps at each other. The crowd hung on every strike, move, and near fall in this 16:13 encounter. It didn’t need to go long, because they packed it with action. Ibushi won with Kamigoye, adding another feather to the cap of his wild G1 run. [****½]