wrestling / Columns

Kevin’s Top 100 Matches of 2018: #50-41

January 29, 2019 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
Ricochet vs. Velveteen NXT Takeover: Chicago

50. British Strong Style vs. The Undisputed Era – WWE United Kingdom Tournament 6/25/18

To be honest, WWE could’ve just put these two stables in a match with no build and it would’ve been great. Instead, they chose to give it some actual hype. That was especially true for Pete Dunne and Roderick Strong, since Strong turned on Dunne earlier in the month. That rivalry played a role early, with Strong doing everything in his power to avoid Dunne. It was to no avail as Dunne kicked his ass several times. Trent Seven took the heat segment, but even that featured a lot of action. The best moment was probably Tyler Bate hitting an airplane spin and giant swing on two UE members at the same time. He’s an incredibly STRONG BOI. This only went 12:21, but had enough action to fill half an hour. It just never slowed down. Bate capped a tremendous match by pinning Kyle O’Reilly following a springboard clothesline/dragon suplex combo. This had a ton of nonstop action, furthered some existing storylines, and gave us some awesome exchanges between six of the best guys going today. Arguably the two best stables in wrestling coming together for one of the better six man tags you’ll find anywhere. [****¼]

49. IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada [c] vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW Sakura Genesis 4/1/18

One thing that has remained true in NJPW is that Kazuchika Okada (and Kenny Omega for that matter) is at his best when taken out of his comfort zone. Think the G1 match with Omega or the Shibata title defense last year. Zack Sabre Jr. was here to do just that. Sabre dominated the New Japan Cup and won by submission in every match. He was out to bring submission wrestling back to the forefront. A staple of Okada defenses is that he was obsessed with beating guys at their own game. He tried hard, but was no match for Zack on the mat. When he realized that was going nowhere, he tried going to his reliable arsenal. Didn’t matter. I loved how Zack simply caught his signature dropkick into a submission. He had stuff ready for Okada’s elbow and even for the Rainmaker pose. A guy like Okada does the same thing in every match, so a smart wrestler would logically have him scouted. Okada had to dig deep and be the resilient babyface. He was more aggressive than usual in his comeback and it worked. Still, Sabre had some close calls on his pinning combinations and even on the Shinsuke Nakamura armbar, which called back to the only time Okada tapped in his career. Okada went into Rainmaker mode late and retained with three of them after 34:58. One of Okada’s best defenses thanks to going away from the usual formula. They told a stellar story and made me believe Sabre might steal it. [****¼]

48. NXT Tag Team Championship: The Undisputed Era [c] vs. Danny Burch and Oney Lorcan – NXT TakeOver: Chicago 6/16/18

During the entrances, I had concerns about this match. The Undisputed Era were insanely popular, but when the challengers walked out, you could almost hear a pin drop. That could have made for an awkward atmosphere. Early on, it kind of did. The champs controlled the majority of the match and the comeback sequence by the challengers led to some boos. Luckily, Danny Burch and Oney Lorcan brought their best stuff to win over the Chicago crowd. They succeeded. It all began with a huge Oney dive onto the champs. From there, the crowd was split and was just rooting for the fantastic stuff happening. Oney was a wild man, taking an insane back bump on the apron and hitting a huge double Blockbuster to the outside. This was a man willing to put his body on the line to win the titles. They had the match won until Adam Cole pulled Kyle O’Reilly to safety and got himself ejected. It set up a wild closing stretch with all sorts of twists and turns. Total Elimination, a favorite move of mine, ended a strike exchange and the match as Undisputed Era retained in 16:02. There’s a reason the Undisputed Era is the best tag team in wrestling. It’s matches like this. [****¼]

47. WWE Cruiserweight Championship Tournament Semi-Finals: Cedric Alexander vs. Roderick Strong – WWE 205 Live 3/13/18

If you weren’t watching 205 Live this year, you missed out on a TON of great wrestling. This tournament was a huge step in the right direction for the brand. Cedric Alexander came into the tourney as a favorite, while Roderick Strong was the Cinderella story as he was an NXT guy who wasn’t a regular part of the roster. Both men worked as babyfaces, meaning this was built as a match between two guys who had respect for one another, but progressed into one between two desperate men. Strong is the more polished technician, while Alexander has the athletic upper hand. It made sense for Roddy to ground Cedric and wear down his back with a barrage of backbreakers. The biggest saw Cedric viciously dropped onto the top turnbuckle. That helped add to the sense of urgency this match had. Strong was willing to do something brutal and take a countout win because all that mattered was the Cruiserweight Title and a spot on WrestleMania. Both men only survived the finisher of the other because they got a foot on the ropes. As they went into more aggressive strikes, Cedric managed to cradle him into a surprise pin to advance to Mania after a fantastic 14:54. One of the most underrated matches of the year. Two great wrestlers having an urgent match where you could feel how much it mattered. [****¼]

46. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Minoru Suzuki – NJPW G1 Climax 7/14/18

I’ve watched every G1 Climax since 2013. This year marked the first time that an entire block nearly got shut out of my year end list. That’s right, the A Block had only one match crack the four star barrier and it should come as no surprise that it was these two to do it. In February, Minoru Suzuki took the Intercontinental Title from Hiroshi Tanahashi and destroyed his knee in the process. Playing off that, Suzuki came in looking to hurt Tanahashi again. He ripped, wrenched, and twisted his leg in ways it was never meant to bend. Suzuki is the master and that hasn’t changed now that he’s 50 years old. It reached a point where commentary believed the referee would stop the match. Tanahashi was getting dominated. Anything Tanahashi did was out of sheer desperation. When he missed a move, it felt like a big deal because we believed there was no way he could come back. Finally, he busted out an inverted dragon screw. It looked brutal and Minoru screamed in agony like we have never heard before. Tanahashi used that to set up High Fly Flow and pull out the miracle win in 13:59. They packed a ton of story into this one as Tanahashi got obliterated by the vicious Suzuki, yet found a way to pull it out. [****¼]

45. NXT Championship vs. Career Match: Andrade Almas [c] vs. Johnny Gargano – NXT 2/21/18

Following an incredible, all-time great match at TakeOver: Philadelphia, Andrade Almas and Johnny Gargano raised the stakes for their rematch. Gargano put his career on the line, providing us with another highly emotional battle. They were actually coming in three for three in great matches. This made four. Early on, Candice LeRae took Zelina Vega to the back, ensuring this was one on one for the time. Of course, their exchanges were crisp as they’ve built some phenomenal chemistry over the course of their rivalry. Everything felt so natural in this match. Often, when you do a career match, the result seems obvious. Here, it wasn’t. It seemed like Johnny could win or lose at any point. That’s hard to do. The drama just built and built until the referee got knocked out. Johnny slapped on the Gargano Escape and had the match won. Tommaso Ciampa showed up and broke his crutch over Johnny’s head. Almas hit the Hammerlock DDT and retained after 15:14. Nowhere near the insane level of their TakeOver match, but a fitting final chapter for them. A dramatic match featuring great action and plenty of emotion. The silent crowd as Almas celebrated told the story it needed to. [****¼]

44. Moustache Mountain and Ricochet vs. The Undisputed Era – NXT 6/27/18

Moustache Mountain, fresh off winning the NXT Tag Team Titles, were scheduled for a match against some local jobbers. It was going to be nothing special. The Undisputed Era jumped those scrubs and looked to put a hurting on the champions. Ricochet, gunning for a shot at Adam Cole’s North American Title, hit the ring and a six man tag spawned. We had recently been treated to basically the same match, but with Pete Dunne instead of Ricochet. Somehow, Ricochet came in and improved things. He played perfectly off his teammates by joining them in their signature spots and adding a flair to them. Tyler Bate was isolated for a good chunk of the match. Once he made the hot tag, this kicked into next gear. The match just throws a ton of great stuff at you for the remainder of the 13:31 runtime. Ricochet does some stuff here that is honestly jaw dropping. The spot where he avoided Total Elimination with a backflip will never not be impressive. He nearly won it with a 630 splash, but Kyle O’Reilly pulled Cole to break up the pin. Ricochet went after him, but got taken out by Roderick Strong and Cole pinned him to win one of the best TV matches in years. [****¼]

43. Kenny Omega vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW G1 Climax 8/1/18

Far too often, Kenny Omega does things in his matches that take me out of them. The machine part of the “Best Bout Machine” nickname works because he can feel mechanical at times and more like a guy who does moves rather than an actual person. However, like the previous IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kazuchika Okada, Omega is at his best when he’s taken out of his comfort zone. Instead of being his usual self, he had to play Zack Sabre Jr.’s game and it was glorious. Sabre was the perfect guy to force him to reel it in. Sabre cut off everything Kenny had, especially in terms of speed and power. He had him scouted and outclassed him as a wrestler. When Omega had to make his comeback, it didn’t feel like he was throwing big moves for the sake of earning extra stars. It was sympathetic and realistic. We need more of that from him. Sabre countering the One Winged Angel into the European Clutch was incredible, while the way he caught the V-Trigger into a submission ruled. The desperate champion used a rollup to steal the match in 15:16. Omega got dominated and yet, it was arguably his finest performance all year. He’s a real boy, ladies and gentlemen. Sabre was his fantastic self. Together, they made magic. [****¼]

42. WWE Raw Tag Team Championship: Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre [c] vs. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins – WWE Hell in a Cell 9/16/18

Last fall, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins put on bangers for the Raw Tag Team Titles against The Bar. With Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre as their new opponents, the hits just kept on coming. Dolph and Seth had a string of solid but unspectacular matches over the summer for the Intercontinental Title. Injecting Drew and Dean into their battles is just what they needed. Both teams played their roles perfectly and gave us an exciting match from bell to bell. The fans were completely engaged for the entire 22:57. The champions did all the classic tag tactics so well. They cut the ring off at every turn, isolating Seth. Dean’s hot tag was filled with fire and it was great to see him back in a high profile match after almost a year. The final third of this match is downright ridiculous. So many great exchanges and close calls by both sides. There were several moments where I legitimately believed the finish had come. When it arrived, it was awesome. Seth was in the middle of his superplex/falcon arrow combo, when Drew snuck in and hit him with the Claymore. Dolph draped his arm over Seth to retain the titles. This ruled. [****¼]

41. Ricochet vs. The Velveteen Dream – NXT TakeOver: Chicago 6/16/18

For this match, Velveteen Dream came out dressed like Hulk Hogan but with Prince Puma style pants. Yes, Prince Puma. Ricochet’s Lucha Underground character. Because The Velveteen Dream is amazing. I will admit that redoing the Rock/Hogan WrestleMania X8 faceoff was a bit heavy handed. The match also felt like it may have gone a bit long, clocking in at 22:10. With that out of the way, we can focus on the good, because there was a ton of that. NXT offers the best storytelling in wrestling and it’s honestly not even close. This match was built around the idea of “Anything you can do, the Dream can do better.” Dream isn’t known for his aerial ability, but with a point to prove, he added several to his arsenal here. He busted out some of Ricochet’s signature offense to show he could do it. It caught Ricochet off guard and he had to go the extra mile in his high flying stuff to truly remind everyone that he’s the king in that area. Trying to one up each other is what ultimately cost Dream the match. They each tried to hit a top rope move from a further distance. With Ricochet across the ring, Dream tried the Purple Rainmaker and missed. That put him in perfect position for Ricochet to nail the 630 splash and win. [****¼]