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Kevin’s Top 100 Matches of 2018: #70-61

January 24, 2019 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
WWE Randy Orton Jeff Hardy Hell in a Cell

70. PROGRESS World Championship: Travis Banks [c] vs. Matt Riddle – PROGRESS Chapter 64: Thunderbastards Are Go 2/25/18

In PROGRESS, these two had met twice before. Matt Riddle won the first (****½) and Travis Banks took the second (****¼). Now, the stakes were at their highest thanks to the World Title being on the line. Banks was about five months into a title reign that many felt was disappointing. Combine that with Riddle’s popularity and it made for an atmosphere where Banks was the heel. It kind of set the tone for the rest of his reign. There was an intense nature to this right from the start as they laid into each other with stiff strikes. When Banks hit an Exploder into a bunch of chairs, there was a hush over the crowd who were genuinely concerned for the challenger. The level of aggression remained high, with each man bringing the stiff shots. They had plenty of counters to showcase their knowledge of one another. That’s important to have at the end of a series of matches. They stole each other’s moves (Banks hitting a Bro to Sleep and Riddle using a BROAST TO BROAST dropkick) and both survived an onslaught from the other. Riddle’s laid back attitude is what cost him. He hit a middle rope Tombstone, but stopped to play to the crowd for a moment. That opened the door for Banks to kick out. A frustrated Riddle added senton bombs and went to his trusty Bromission, but Banks rolled it over into a fluke pin to retain at 16:06. No matter how much punishment Riddle dished out, Banks was resilient and wily enough to sneak out with his title. [****¼]

69. Dragon Lee vs. Hiromu Takahashi – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 5/25/18

During NJPW’s annual tournaments, they throw a few shows on in “single camera” format. These are like house shows, with basically only a hard camera and no commentary. It’s often hard to get into matches like this, but not when they involve Dragon Lee and Hiromu Takahashi. There’s a reason this is the best rivalry in wrestling. In an awesome moment, Lee came out wearing Hiromu’s mask from his Kamaitachi days. If you’ve seen them wrestle before, you know what this was about. Two guys throwing everything at one another at a crazy pace. Their knowledge of one another led to a wild number of counters and their history meant they came prepared with brutal strikes. Hiromu kicked out of Desnucadora, becoming the only guy in NJPW to do so. Still, Lee hit a diving double stomp and the Dragon Driver to obtain the win in 20:48. They’ve wrestled a ton of times, yet it never feels like they’re just playing the hits. They always manage to keep things fresh and this was no different. Two of the best in the world having an excellent match as part of their phenomenal series. [****¼]

68. PROGRESS World Championship: WALTER [c] vs. Tyler Bate – PROGRESS Chapter 76: Hello, Wembley! 9/30/18

It was PROGRESS’ biggest show ever. There were issues getting here and this was basically their backup main event, but it still felt like a big deal. WALTER got a special entrance where violinists played his theme live. It was cool. You’d consider Tyler the underdog based on size but he managed to match WALTER in power in a lot of spots early on. It looks cool because of the huge size difference, but Tyler is a STRONG BOI. It took a huge chop for WALTER to finally put him in his place. British Strong Style was at ringside to cheer on their buddy but they didn’t get involved. That made it a straight up main event with no frills. Bate found openings and noticed that whatever worked needed to be done more than once because WALTER is a tough man. It did cost him a few times as he went to the well too often. His airplane spin was a clear highlight. The closing set of counters, strikes, and near falls were incredible. It’s especially true for Bate’s wild German suplex, his second airplane spin spot, and the unbelievable Tyler Driver ’97 he busted out. I didn’t think that was even possible. I also lost it for the Bret Hart WM8/SS96 finish tease. Tyler fired up while in the choke, only to get hit with a Fire Thunder Driver that ended this after 30:08. A rocking match. Great exchanges and a fantastic story. [****¼]

67. Falls Count Anywhere Match: Hideo Itami vs. Mustafa Ali – WWE 205 Live 10/24/18

There weren’t many wrestlers more consistently good in 2018 than Mustafa Ali. I’m talking across all promotions. You might not have expected it, but his finest moments came in specialty matches. Meanwhile, since turning heel, Hideo Itami has also been better thanks to a more aggressive style. I loved that this match made good use of the stipulation. Far too often, we get Falls Count Anywhere matches that are just your typical Hardcore match. This one saw most of the action take place outside of the squared circle. The fight went into the crowd, onto the ramp, and they barely spent time in the ring. That’s a good thing. Both wrestlers found ways to incorporate creative spots, like Ali running up the steel steps for a tornado DDT. Special shoutout to Itami for being the only guy to sell moving the steel steps like they really weigh hundreds of pounds. They saved their best for last in this 15:22 war. Ali delivered one of the best 450 splashes you’ll ever see, putting Itami through a table outside. It got him the win and added another feather to his cap for having one of the best 2018s of anyone in wrestling. [****¼]

66. Super Strong Style 16 Quarterfinals: David Starr vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – PROGRESS Chapter 68: Super Strong Style 16 5/6/18

Last year, Zack Sabre Jr. sent David Starr packing in the first round of this tournament in a very good match. They’re not exactly strangers to one another. Starr did what he could to stay competitive on the mat with Sabre. Though Zack is the master there, Starr more than held his own. As the match progressed, the level of violence and intensity picked up. At one point, they literally just beat the hell out of each other while in a submission. Starr’s leg became the focus for Sabre. It was worked over to the point where Starr couldn’t even stand. Still, Starr fired up with the best lariats he could throw. Sabre wouldn’t stay down. He showed the kind of resilience you’d expect from his straight babyface days. The closing minutes were spectacular. Sabre only survived a Blackheart Buster because Starr’s leg was too busted up to cover instantly. Unfortunately for Starr, he relied too much on trying to hit Product Placement. Sabre had it scouted at every turn and countered one attempt into Orienteering with Napalm Death. The deadly move was enough to secure a win for Sabre in 15:57. A fantastic match with great selling, hard strikes, and dramatic exchanges. [****¼]

65. WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Cedric Alexander [c] vs. Buddy Murphy – WWE Super Showdown 10/6/18

When I think about the two best and most consistent junior heavyweights/cruiserweights in the world my mind doesn’t go to KUSHIDA, Will Ospreay, Marty Scurll, or even Cedric Alexander. The top two in 2018 were Hiromu Takahashi and Buddy Murphy. Yes, that same Buddy Murphy who was most known for a short NXT Tag Title run and being in a relationship Alexa Bliss. When he got his chance to shine on 205 Live, he made the most of it, having fantastic matches on a weekly basis. He lost in a great title match against Alexander in Cedric’s hometown earlier in the year. He earned another shot with the tables turned, now in his hometown of Melbourne. That instantly took the previously unbeaten in 2018 Alexander off his game. He wasn’t used to not being the favorite. For 10:33, these two just threw everything at one another. They emptied their arsenals to give us a phenomenal sprint. Alexander’s avalanche Michinoku Driver was one of the best spots of the year. When Murphy kicked out of the Lumbar Check, the fans erupted and Alexander was at a loss. Murphy cut off his springboard attempt and hit Murphy’s Law. The Juggernaut won the title in a tremendous match in front of his hometown. What a moment. [****¼]

64. Hell in a Cell: Jeff Hardy vs. Randy Orton – WWE Hell in a Cell 9/16/18

Who the hell decided this was going to be so good? Randy Orton has been lifeless for years and Jeff Hardy was basically just a fun nostalgia act for me since his return. So, when they were put in a Hell in a Cell (a strangely bright red one at that), my hopes weren’t high. But these two went out and had one hell of a match. Orton was sadistic and violent in ways that we haven’t seen from him before. Watching him put a screwdriver through Hardy’s gauges and twist it was one of the more horrifying things I’ve ever seen in a WWE ring. It was as if vicious Orton was the perfect person to put against a Jeff Hardy who is willing to take a beating. Tables, ladders, and chairs (OH MY) were used throughout this. Orton also took punishment as he left the match with some painful looking gashes on his back and leg. Jeff made a mistake he’s made throughout his career that resulted in the finish. He tried to do too much. As he swung from the top of the cell to splash Orton through a table, he missed and Jeff crashed and burned. The referee wanted to stop the match, but Orton forced him to count the three after 24:52. To anyone who says you can’t have a violent match in a PG world, simply watch this barbaric match. [****¼]

63. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Will Ospreay [c] vs. Hiromu Takahashi – NJPW The New Beginning in Osaka 2/10/18

If you want to understand the wackiness level of this rivalry, just know that the video package featured a ton of cats and a clip where these guys hand fed one another. Yea, it got weird. More often than not, Will Ospreay puts together nice looking moves, but lacks in a lot of the other things that make a match work. The way he screamed when Hiromu hit a belly to belly into the guardrail was comically bad. Thankfully, other than a handful of small issues like that, this was fantastic. These are two wrestlers who like to throw everything at each other and don’t seem to care about their well beings. The pace was quick and they went to war. It was a case of both men knowing how much punishment the other could take and being willing to take it to that level. Even if there wasn’t a ton of animosity in the feud, they grasped what needed to be done. We were treated to huge spots and creative counters, keeping the viewers on our toes. Like a lot of Ospreay matches, he survived a TON thrown at him. It bordered on overkill at points. Will used a big forearm and, after having it countered more than once, finally hit the Oscutter to retain in 20:05. [****¼]

62. Chris Ridgeway vs. Jordan Devlin – PROGRESS Chapter 78: 24 Hour PROGRESS People 11/11/18

There was a lot of hype coming into this one. Chris Ridgeway had been on a solid role, while Jordan Devlin had one hell of a 2018. Check out the latter’s matches with guys like Pete Dunne and Will Ospreay. The atmosphere for this was insane. Clearly, though neither guy is at the top of the card, the crowd loves them. They opened this by just kicking the hell out of each other. Devlin realized that was a mistake because he doesn’t have the advantage there. Once they moved away from that, it became a battle of two guys throwing their best at one another. You felt like you were watching two men trying to steal the show and leave their mark. Ridgeway’s Brainbuster roll through into a submission was outstanding. The match ended with a fantastic closing stretch of counters. Devlin won with the Package Piledriver at 10:15. A tremendous sprint between two guys who feel like they’re a major part of the future. You don’t always get breakthrough performances from both parties in a match, but that’s exactly what this felt like.. [****¼]

61. The Golden Lovers vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi and Will Ospreay – NJPW Road to Tokyo Dome 12/15/18

For the most part, I sit out the final month of the year for NJPW. Most of their post-G1 Climax stuff is kind of just there and December means the World Tag League, which is uninteresting. However, the Road to Tokyo Dome show on 12/15 sounded interesting. Mainly due to this main event. Working as a preview for Wrestle Kingdom 13, it pitted Hiroshi Tanahashi and Will Ospreay against IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kenny Omega and NEVER Openweight Champion Will Ospreay. As expected, this was filled with great exchanges from four quality wrestlers. It felt like it was meant as a showcase for Ospreay, as he was given many of the hope spots and big moments. Fans were treated to plenty of awesome tandem offense, great near falls, and some of the best pacing in a tag match in recent years. Ospreay landed on his feet on a super rana was indeed a memorable moment. Not for the athletic move itself, which has been done over and over, but because of the camerawork. People overlook how much that can add to a match. Ospreay fell to the Golden Trigger after 28:46, wrapping up one hell of a tag team match to set up one of the biggest nights of the year. [****¼]