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Kevin’s Top 100 Matches of 2018: #60-51

January 25, 2019 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
NXT Takeover Brooklyn Tommaso Ciampa Johnny Gargano

60. Johnny Gargano vs. The Velveteen Dream – NXT 9/5/18

In January, Johnny Gargano beat Velveteen Dream in a match that nearly made this list. Months later, Gargano was going through a lot after another loss in an NXT Title match, while Dream was riding high as arguably the hottest star in NXT. Gargano wanted to be Johnny Wrestling again, while Dream called him Johnny Failure. One thing Dream has excelled at in his big matches is the character stuff. He was spectacular there again. His mind games just bothered Johnny and threw him off. Still, Gargano showed the heart we’ve come to expect from him and found ways to turn the tide. As the match neared the end of the 16:54 runtime, Gargano began throwing caution to the wind in an effort to find something to get his career back on track. It cost him, as his knee became a problem and it gave out on him. A deranged Johnny put the Gargano Escape on outside and yelled, “IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT?” He snapped out of it but the conflict was clear. The same went for his idea to hit a DDT onto the outside. This was no longer the good boy Johnny Gargano we always knew. Dream kept poking at him by calling him a failure. It proved to be a stroke of genius as he goaded Johnny into the Dream Valley Driver for the finish. Two master storytellers having a match that told a great story. Go figure. [****¼]

59. Tetsuya Naito vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW G1 Climax 8/11/18

On the final night of B Block action, Tetsuya Naito was alive and well. A win and a Kenny Omega loss would earn him a spot in the finals. In his way stood Zack Sabre Jr., who admitted he hates Naito and wanted nothing more than to ruin his tournament. Naito beat Sabre in the G1 27, while Sabre made him tap during the New Japan Cup. Naito played mind games early, frustrating Sabre until the submission specialist grabbed his “tranquilo” arm and wrapped it up with ease. Sabre took full control and it wasn’t until he mocked the tranquilo pose that Naito seemed to turn things on. Since Sabre had an answer for everything Naito did, it forced Naito to dig deep and find something new. That right there is why Sabre matches usually deliver. He forces his opponents out of their comfort zone and it’s great. Naito survived all the submissions, refusing to quit because the tournament meant too much to him. After hitting Destino, he made a mistake by going for another. Sabre countered and won with the Zack Driver in 18:17. Both men played their characters perfectly and gave us a match built around that, with the added story of Sabre stopping Naito’s G1 Climax dreams. [****¼]

58. NXT Championship Last Man Standing Match: Tommaso Ciampa [c] vs. Johnny Gargano – NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn 8/18/18

The story told between Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa ranks near the top in all of wrestling over the past few years. Hell, in the entire history of wrestling. After wars in New Orleans and Chicago, they had their rubber match with higher stakes. This time, the NXT Championship was on the line after Ciampa captured it a few weeks earlier. Also, this wouldn’t involve pinfalls or submission, instead having the Last Man Standing stipulation. They brought the intensity we’ve come to expect from the rivalry, throwing everything at each other. It wasn’t just violence, though. You could tell the story behind each and every shot. Are their spots a bit overdramatic? Sure, but I’ll take overdramatic storytelling over a battle of who can do more fancy moves any day of the week. The idea that Ciampa is a sadistic bastard and Gargano was willing to do whatever it took to get revenge and the title played into pretty much everything they did. I appreciated how they found ways to give us some creative spots while playing off their past. Near the end, they got to the point where Johnny handcuffed Ciampa by the stage. The acting and drama did go overboard here, but I liked the finish. Johnny was obsessed with hurting Ciampa and it cost him. He messed up and flew off the stage, hurting his knee. All while the man he cuffed was able to roll off the stage and barely onto his feet, retaining in 33:38. It had some diminishing returns from their previous similar matches, but still had a lot working for it. The storytelling was top notch and it was brutal. Honestly, watching the character arc of Gargano since the #DIY split has been fascinating. [****¼]

57. WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Cedric Alexander [c] vs. Buddy Murphy – WWE 205 Live 5/29/18

Long before they stole the show in Australia, Cedric Alexander and Buddy Murphy had a Cruiserweight Title match on 205 Live. In contrast to the Super Show Down outing in Buddy’s hometown, this was in Cedric’s home of Charlotte, North Carolina. In the early stages of this 20:08 affair, Murphy was interested in showing that he could match Alexander in terms of ring skill and athleticism. When Cedric began taking control, he got pissed. The “Juggernaut” came out. Buddy dropped him on the announce table and threw him into the guardrail. Of course, after Murphy beat on the champion for a while, he used his aerial ability and the heart he’s known for to rally. This guy was unbeaten for most of the year for a reason. Things escalated and the action only got better as they neared the conclusion. From trading big shots to desperation offense by the champion, this ruled. Alexander’s title reign was in more jeopardy than ever before. Maybe due to the energy from his hometown fans, Alexander withstood a lot and retained with the Lumbar Check. I love the story of Buddy being a killer against Alexander’s fiery babyface who just won’t quit. [****¼]

56. Number One Contender’s Match: WALTER vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – PROGRESS Chapter 67: Bourbon Is Also A Biscuit 4/7/18

I love WrestleMania weekend. It’s basically wrestling Christmas. There’s so much great stuff happening over the course of a handful of days. This match may have been the best of the entire weekend. We all appreciate a well told long term story, but there are times when you can just throw two great wrestlers in the ring and let them do their thing. With a shot at the PROGRESS World Title on the line, they had that added intrigue as well. It opened with traditional grappling until Sabre chose to slap WALTER. That’s something you just don’t want to do. WALTER responded by destroying him with a barrage of brutal chops. Sabre kept coming for them, causing WALTER to question his sanity. Sabre caught one and kicked the arm into the guardrail. It became his target and you could see him smile a bit as the chops began to have less sting behind them. However, WALTER could still chop with his other hand and Sabre was in trouble again. He remained a defiant jerk until he grew desperate. He attempted several pinning combinations but then had one countered into a rear naked choke. Sabre tapped immediately, losing in 12:51. I think a more dramatic ending would’ve helped this, but it was still some top notch wrestling from two of the best in the world. [****¼]

55. NXT Tag Team Championship: The Undisputed Era [c] vs. Moustache Mountain – NXT Takeover: Brooklyn 8/18/18

The final leg in a trilogy of stellar tag team matches between these duos. Moustache Mountain took the first in their home country, while Undisputed regained the title in a classic at Full Sail. They saved the tiebreaker for NXT’s biggest show of the year. Their chemistry ranks among the best in terms of tag team wrestling in recent memory. Nearly every sequence put together is one that grabs you and the characters keep you enthralled. The champions cut off the ring, isolating Trent Seven. You’d expect the smaller team member to get isolated, but Seven had his knee worked on extensively in the previous match. Plus, STRONG BOI Tyler Bate is a great hot tag and he got to showcase his power on multiple occasions. He’s a freak of nature, especially for his age. That combination of strength and athleticism shouldn’t be possible. When Bate’s leg became a problem, Seven nearly threw in the towel, which was a beautiful callback to their last encounter. Down the stretch, we got a lot of false finishes to keep us totally engaged. The fans bit into so many of them. Undisputed retained with Total Elimination in 18:07. The second best match in their series.[****¼]

54. Kota Ibushi vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW G1 Climax 8/4/18

These two had an incredible match in last year’s G1 that ranked in my top ten. What makes them work is that, not only are they two of the very best wrestlers in the world, but they’re willing to do serious damage to one another. I swear they both nearly broke their necks last year. Here, Tetsuya Naito was sure to bring back his heel tactics. We hadn’t seen them in a while, but he used them against Juice Robinson and here against Kota Ibushi. There was some early knee work in this that failed because they kind of just went away from it. However, when Naito targeted the neck, this picked up and didn’t die out until the bell rang after 25:09. Focusing on the neck is perfect against a guy with a history of problems there, while also setting up Destino. They eventually just threw bomb after bomb at one another. Of course, Ibushi survived Destino since nearly everyone does now. Talk about a finisher meaning nothing. There was an insane number of unsafe looking spots throughout. Ibushi busted out Boma Ye for a near fall before finishing things off with the Kamigoye. Not quite as good as last year, but still one hell of a match. [****¼]

53. NXT Championship: Aleister Black [c] vs. Tommaso Ciampa – NXT 7/25/18

NXT television might be better than it ever has been. We had several high profile bangers on Wednesday nights in 2018. None had higher stakes than this one. Since Aleister Black’s debut in 2017, he was on a collision course with the NXT Title. He got there a year later, but was never truly on top. That’s because his title win and defenses played second fiddle to the Tommaso Ciampa/Johnny Gargano rivalry. When Ciampa got a shot at Black and attacked him in the weeks leading up to the match, it set up an emotional title fight. There was an intensity that was clear right from the opening bell. Ciampa brings that kind of fire out of babyfaces. It was worked at a deliberate pace, with the best stuff being saved for the final stretch of this 22:18 encounter. We got treated to some seriously tense near falls, including one after Ciampa used his crutch as a weapon. We did get a ref bump, a usually tired trope, but it worked in this case. That meant the Black Mass couldn’t end this and it opened the door for the arrival of Gargano. He tried to stop Ciampa from using the title as a weapon, only to accidentally hit Black. That set up the title change after Project Ciampa, sparking a wild bunch of reactions from fans. A great, intense match that hit all the storytelling beats it needed to. [****¼]

52. NXT North American and WWE United Kingdom Championships: Ricochet [c] vs. Pete Dunne [c] – NXT 9/19/18

Two of the top wrestlers in NXT this year have been Pete Dunne and Ricochet. Ricochet has been a highlight since his debut WrestleMania weekend, while Dunne makes the most of every sporadic appearance. Both men held titles and wanted more, leading to this clash. I love the idea that these champions just wanted more gold. It should be about titles. Simple, yet effective. The match proved to be one of the best for either man this year. Ricochet was happy to play Dunne’s game early, wanting to show that he was more than high spots. It worked to an extent, until Dunne took things to the next level and picked him apart. Dunne’s time in control and Ricochet’s fiery comeback were both awesome, as they’re two wrestlers who give you little to no slow down in what they do. The closing stretch was out of this world. You felt the importance of this match in how hard these guys went, which is exactly what you want from something of this caliber. The late counters and exchanges were out of this world. I know a lot of people were upset at the finish, since the Undisputed Era ran in for a double DQ or no contest at 21:41, but I was okay with it. It served a purpose to build something coming up and isn’t something NXT relies on too often. Incredible pro wrestling. [****¼]

51. Charlotte vs. Ronda Rousey – WWE Survivor Series 11/18/18

I originally expected this to be the Mania main event. It was surprising that it didn’t even main event this show. Anyone who knows me knows that Charlotte ranks among my least favorite wrestlers in the world. But make no mistake, I know she’s good. Her week to week stuff lacks, but for big matches, she delivers. This was one of them. There was a level of intensity to this that was unmatched on the show. You’d think these two had a long rivalry. It felt like a fight and not just two people throwing out a collection of moves at one another. I saw some people complain about a few spots being sloppy late but I actually liked that. The match felt like a true struggle and when athletes get worn down, things aren’t going to be super crisp. It gave the match a more realistic feeling. At 14:10, from out of nowhere, Charlotte pulled out a kendo stick and hit Ronda for the DQ. A furious battle that was the best singles match of Ronda’s career to this point. Charlotte brought out her best for a big match. The post-match angle only helped add to make this special. [****¼]