wrestling / Columns

Kevin’s Top 100 Matches of 2018: #80-71

January 23, 2019 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
Pete Dunne NXT UK Takeover: Blackpool

80. WWE Championship Six Pack Challenge: AJ Styles [c] vs. Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. John Cena vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn – WWE Fastlane 3/11/18

There was worry coming into this. The WWE seemed to just throw a bunch of guys into one match for the sake of it and that often doesn’t work. Luckily, all six men in this one were game to give us the best possible main event. As soon as the bell rang, John Cena began spamming Attitude Adjustments like he gave himself unlimited finishers in a video game. Cena was an interesting part of this match. After failing to win the Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber, he was desperate to win and earn a spot at WrestleMania. It played into most of his spots. Owens and Zayn got a great story moment where Zayn laid down for Owens, only to roll him up. It led to one of their classic hockey style fights. There was definitely a sense of urgency. The pace never slowed for the entire 21:52 duration and everyone got ample opportunity to strut their stuff. We did get the trope of two guys wrestling while everyone else rested until someone came in to break up the pin and it happened a lot. Thanks to Shane McMahon’s feud with Owens and Zayn, he got involved late and ended up costing both of them the match at different points. The wild closing minutes saw AJ finish it off with the Phenomenal Forearm on Owens to retain. A great main event to the final single brand PPV. [****]

79. NXT Women’s Championship: Shayna Baszler [c] vs. Toni Storm – NXT United Kingdom Tournament 6/26/18

Toni Storm earned this shot on the first night of this set of shows. Shayna Baszler had proved to be a dominant champion since winning the title, but well-traveled Toni wasn’t backing down at all. In fact, Shayna even seemed impressed at how confident Toni was. Toni more than held her own on the mat. That forced Shayna to go to her vicious striking game and that’s where Toni began to struggle. She hits hard, but Shayna is on a different level. She destroyed Toni’s leg, which was sold brilliantly. The only point where she used her leg for power was on a German suplex and even then it was more out of adrenaline than anything else. Climbing the turnbuckles and running the ropes, simple things, were almost impossible for Toni. The fans were way behind her and her European Clutch near fall was incredible. It seemed like the end when she was trapped in the Kirifuda Clutch, only for Toni to reach the ropes to a pop. Shayna knew Toni was trouble and rolled outside to put the submission on out there. She let go and returned inside to retain via countout in 12:07. This was masterful. It told a great story, protected both women, the crowd was great, and both ladies played their roles perfectly. Toni’s selling was among the best you’ll see anywhere. It also left the door open for a rematch. [****]

78. IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship: Jay White [c] vs. Juice Robinson – NJPW G1 Special in San Francisco 7/7/18

A little less than a month before this match, Jay White broke Juice Robinson’s left hand. That’s Juice’s dominant hand. On the shows leading up to this, Jay attacked that hand every chance he got. That meant Juice entered at a disadvantage, couldn’t use his cast as a weapon, and was in a match that he “couldn’t” win. See, Juice had already lost two NEVER Title matches, an Intercontinental Title match, and a match for this title. He couldn’t win the big one. Though Juice came out aggressive, the champion quickly found himself in control. Jay continued to nail the character stuff, mocking Juice and being aggressive throughout. There was the infamous moment where Jay knocked Jim Ross over by throwing Juice into him. That caused Josh Barnett to get up from commentary and threaten Jay. Whether it was real or staged, it added something to the match and the crowd was hot for the rest of it. With the intensity revved up, Jay hit a low blow, so Juice responded by using the illegal left hand to a huge pop. Though Pulp Friction didn’t end it, he countered Blade Runner into a rollup to finally win the big one in 23:22. A great match filled with emotion and intensity, capped by a feel good moment. [****¼]

77. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi [c] vs. El Desperado – NJPW Kizuna Road 6/18/18

During the Best of the Super Juniors Tournament, these two had one of the best matches all year long. You’ll see it later on this list. El Desperado won that one, while Hiromu Takahashi won the tournament and the Jr. Heavyweight Title. It set up this rematch, which just so happened to go down in the same building, Korakuen Hall. After Dominion (when Hiromu won the title), these two had a strange interaction. It played into the opening moments here, as Hiromu brought out a guitar case with flowers for Desperado. The mind games between them were reaching new levels. This was a brawl in the same vein as their BOTSJ outing. I appreciated that because it’s not typical for this division. Variety is good. Both men are known for being sneaky and wild, making this style ideal. They played off their last match for some cool moments, callbacks, and counters. Sometimes, matches get hurt by run-ins, but when Yoshinobu Kanemaru tried to do so and got thwarted by BUSHI, it worked. It furthered the feud between factions and made sense for their characters. Another thing I loved was Desperado getting his mask removed and not trying to hide his face, because the title meant that much to him. In the end, Hiromu retained with the Time Bomb in 28:16. Though it went a bit long, they delivered a worthy sequel. [****¼]

76. WWE United Kingdom Championship: Pete Dunne [c] vs. Zack Gibson – NXT United Kingdom Tournament 6/26/18

A night prior, Zack Gibson won the United Kingdom Tournament to earn this title shot. Pete Dunne entered as the dominant champion, having reigned with the title for over a year. These guys had such a fantastic dynamic. Dunne is wildly popular, while Gibson is the most hated wrestler in the United Kingdom. Hell, he might be most hated in the entire world. The fans were so into this, there was a “IF YOU HATE GIBSON, SHOES OFF” chant that led to many fans taking off their shoes. Gibson won the tournament by being aggressive, so he kept that up here. Dunne brought that same energy and it led to some great, intense exchanges from both. They survived the big shots from the other (Bitter End and Helter Skelter), but when Dunne got put in the Shankly Gates, the fans believed that was it. That’s how well the move was put over during the tournament. While Dunne survived, Gibson made a crucial mistake of not taking immediate advantage. Dunne snapped his fingers and hit the Bitter End to retain in 17:45. Two men who played their roles perfectly and did so in front of a hot crowd. It’s simple, yet effective. [****¼]

75. Three and In Finale: Mark Haskins vs. Tyler Bate – PROGRESS Chapter 75: These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends 8/27/18

With NJPW pulling Zack Sabre Jr. from the Wembley show, a new World Title contender had to be set up for that show. PROGRESS put on a “Three and In” series, where someone had to win three straight matches to get in. These were the only two left with a chance, so the winner would go on to face WALTER in Wembley. Bate came in with a bad leg and that was the story of the match. He’s been on a tear since 2017, but the injury held him back, giving Haskins an opening. Being the technical master he is, Haskins wisely went after the leg. Bate sold it beautifully. His one-legged kip up was wonderful. It’s the little things and Tyler gets them. Usually, leg work in a match gets forgotten about but these guys went all in on it. Even with Bate as the clear favorite, the injury was handled in a way that made you believe he might not get it done. The big spots came later, including a Haskins Destroyer and Bate doing all he could to get an Airplane Spin going. The Sharpshooter counter from that move made for a great moment. Bate survived the hold and delivered the Tyler Driver ’97 to win in 19:14. Fantastic match. Top notch wrestling, from the psychology to the selling to the late drama. All of it worked. [****¼]

74. Tornado Tag Team Match: Buddy Murphy and Tony Nese vs. The Lucha House Party – WWE 205 Live 8/21/18

Until this year, I just couldn’t get into Tony Nese. He felt like Diet Neville for a while and had nothing that interested me. That changed thanks to his partnership with Buddy Murphy. And the reasons why were never more clear than during this banger of a tornado tag. They worked so well together and the Lucha House Party were great opponents. They were willing to take all the bumps for their larger opponents, making Buddy and Tony look like beasts. I also want to point out how much I appreciate that Gran Metalik and Lince Dorado got to represent the Lucha House Party here. Kalisto usually gets the most shine of the group, but these two can flat out go. For 17:19, these four showed why they rank among the best cruiserweights/junior heavyweights in the world. It was packed from start to finish with great moments. The combo of spots from a Nese top rope German to Metalik walking the ropes into a dropkick to Murphy hitting Meteora was special. You won’t see that often. The same goes for Metalik’s rope walk rana sending Nese into Murphy. The whole match was wild. More importantly, each guy got to play their roles perfectly. The finish saw Metalik hit Code Red for a surprising result. Sure, this was a spot fest of sorts, but those can work when done right. Like this. [****¼]

73. RevPro British Heavyweight Championship: Tomohiro Ishii [c] vs. Minoru Suzuki – NJPW Power Struggle 11/3/18

I never got to watch their Strong Style Evolved UK match because the stream on NJPW World messed up on all three attempts. I hear it was good enough to make this list. Anyway, you just know what you’re going to get from these two. A fight. And they always manage to make it work. They beat the hell out of each other for most of the match with some of the stiffest shots you’ll see anywhere. I loved the story of Ishii refusing to show signs of weakness. Suzuki would hit him and he’d struggle to remain on his feet, but wouldn’t go down. There were points where you had no clue how he was still standing. When he finally did fall, it meant a lot. The last third of this match was more of your traditional wrestling style than a straight up fight, but it made sense. It was time to try and secure the win, rather than show your toughness. They avoided the overly long Suzuki submission special and that was a good idea. Ishii won via Brainbuster after 19:22 of the most badass wrestling you’ll see this year. Sometimes, you just need to do something basic. Put two legit tough guys in there and let them do their thing without any nonsense. [****¼]

72. Super Strong Style 16 Quarterfinals: Kassius Ohno vs. Tyler Bate – PROGRESS Chapter 68 5/6/18

Kassius Ohno is not asked to do a lot in NXT. Due to that, it seems like many people forgot that he can still have great matches. Watching him in this tournament, you get the feeling he was in PROGRESS to prove a point. He came out like a man on a mission. Tyler Bate, being the BIG STRONG BOI, was able to somewhat match up with his larger opponent. He got too cocky and Ohno made him pay. As always, Ohno was at his best when he got to portray the bully. Any Bate momentum was stopped by Ohno’s power advantage. He was ruthless and it made for great drama. Bate refused to stay down, though. He fired up by swinging wildly and hitting an impressive deadlift German suplex. With help from the turnbuckle, Bate managed to hoist Ohno onto his shoulders for a jaw dropping airplane spin. You honestly have to see it. It’s breathtaking. Bate added the Tyler Driver ’97 to win in 15:00. Unfortunately, Bate got hurt during the match and couldn’t finish the tournament. Still, they gave us one of the better David vs. Goliath matches you’ll find anywhere. Ohno reminded everyone that he can go and Bate showed us why he’s among the best in the world. [****¼]

71. WWE United Kingdom Championship: Pete Dunne [c] vs. Kyle O’Reilly – NXT 6/13/18

Not just two of my favorite wrestlers in the world, but two guys who were having outstanding 2018s. Think about how great Pete Dunne is and how Kyle O’Reilly delivers each time out. Kyle’s kind of a goof now, so people sometimes forget how skilled this man is. He hung tough and matched Dunne on the mat in the early stages of this one. As engaging as the mat work was, it was nothing compared to the hard hitting exchanges we got down the stretch. Since this went just 10:45, they were able to go all out and give us wall to wall action. There was seriously not a moment of down time in this. More than once, we saw Dunne fire up after getting hit and come back with a shot of his own that was just as vicious. Kyle came close but wasted time talking smack. Dunne saw an opening and snapped Kyle’s fingers before hitting the Bitter End to retain. I feel like people overlooked this match but they shouldn’t because it was stellar. I love these guys. This was straight up fantastic wrestling with no fluff. Two great wrestlers putting on a show. [****¼]