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Kevin’s Top 100 Matches of 2018: #90-81

January 22, 2019 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja

90. WWE Universal Championship: Roman Reigns [c] vs. Finn Balor – WWE Raw 8/20/18

Brock Lesnar wasted a ton of time with the Universal Title. Thankfully, they finally put it on Roman Reigns at SummerSlam. The following night, we got what they should be doing with the title. Defending it in a high profile match. It was two years later, but Finn finally got his rematch for the title he never lost. These two have had good matches in the past, but this was the best. As the smaller man, Finn took a fair amount of punishment, yet he still got in a lot of offense. Reigns made the mistake of toying with Finn a bit as if he didn’t take him seriously. That led to Finn firing up and bringing the crowd to their feet. The match needed that because the Brooklyn audience had their attention on something going on in the stands. From there, it was non-stop greatness. Finn’s dropkick being cut off by a Superman Punch and then him cutting off a Spear was a great sequence. Braun Strowman arrived when Roman seemed to have it won, ready to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase. That distraction set up the Slingblade and we nearly got the Coup de Grace. Alas, Roman avoided it and retained after a Spear at 19:51. Their styles work incredibly well together and I’d love a PPV match between them when our “Big Dog” returns. [****]

89. WWE United Kingdom Championship: Pete Dunne [c] vs. Roderick Strong – NXT 2/14/18

Before they were a short-lived team and before their rivalry involving Roderick Strong’s turn to join the Undisputed Era, we had this battle. There wasn’t a major story behind this one. Instead, it was just two of the best wrestlers of 2018 having a banger of a match for a championship. Pete Dunne went after the arm and wrist of his challenger, while Strong attacked the back to set up for his array of backbreakers. They were given a lot of time, making it through two commercial breaks and lasting 14:10. Every second was used expertly. The pacing of the match was top notch, as it never felt slow and plodding, while also never going too fast or feeling rushed. Dunne continually attacking the hand is something we’re used to from him, but he always finds ways to make it unique and interesting. He’s great that way. Roddy’s near falls down the stretch made us believe he might pull out the win, even if it seemed far fetched coming into the bout. Dunne retained with the Bitter End to cap a great match that was probably overlooked by most. [****]

88. NXT Tag Team Championship: Undisputed Era [c] vs. Mustache Mountain – NXT United Kingdom Tournament 6/26/18

I love the Royal Albert Hall. It’s one of the coolest looking venues anywhere for wrestling. To start this show there, we got an NXT Tag Team Title match that began the best trilogy of tag matches in 2018. Mustache Mountain got off to a strong start, but Trent Seven quickly got isolated and the focus of the offense from the champions was on his arm. Kyle O’Reilly deserves a ton of praise for his year. Whether it was teaming with Adam Cole, Bobby Fish, or Roderick Strong, he was stellar and had chemistry with all three. When Tyler Bate finally got his hot tag, we were treated to a display of what makes this man so special. He’s way better than anyone his age has any right to be. The spot where he had Kyle on his back and dead lift German suplexed Strong at the same time was out of this world. STRONG BOI THINGS. The teams met in a six man tag (also involving Cole and Pete Dunne) a day prior, so teasing the finish from that show was a great idea. Just when it looked like Undisputed would retain, they had a miscue. It opened the door for a Mustache Mountain barrage that led to them winning the titles in 11:36. The pop for the title change was one of the loudest anywhere all year. A true feel good moment. And these teams were just getting started. [****]

87. Hiromu Takahashi vs. SHO – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 6/2/18

Like the G1 Climax, the Best of the Super Juniors tournament featured a vastly superior B Block. While the A Block’s only highlight was Taiji Ishimori, B Block had Hiromu Takahashi, KUSHIDA, El Desperado, and Dragon Lee to name a few. The breakout star was SHO. As a member of Roppongi 3K, SHO is a consistently entertaining part of the tag division. Getting to work alone, he had several standout matches in this tournament. With the B Block wrapping up, these two threw everything at each other. There was a level of intensity in this match that you wouldn’t expect considering their lack of history. Most guys in a blood rivalry wish they could match this. Hiromu was desperate to win the block after a rough year, while SHO was out to prove he could hang with the top guys. SHO hit German suplexes and powerbombs, but learned it takes a lot to keep Hiromu down. He also survived a fair amount of offense. The finish also played into the rest of the match. SHO was trapped in a triangle choke, but refused to quit and attempted to powerbomb his way out. He hit two, but collapsed on the third and lost in 16:19. An intense clash that told a wonderful story. [****]

86. Asuka vs. Sasha Banks – WWE Raw 1/29/18

Sasha Banks was all over this list in 2015. She had a few appearances in 2016, but then really fell off the map in 2017. She returns this year thanks to this post-Royal Rumble banger. At the Royal Rumble, Sasha entered first and lasted 54 minutes, but it was Asuka who won it all. A confrontation to start this episode of Raw set them on the path to this match later in the evening. This bout kind of came out of nowhere and they gave us one of the best women’s matches all year. Despite being their first time against each other, their transitions and exchanges were smooth. Sasha found creative ways to pull Asuka into the Bank Statement. Asuka delivered brutal strikes. Both women took nasty spills to the outside that turned the tides at different points. While the outcome was never really in doubt, they gave us a lot to enjoy during this 14:32 encounter. It also had one of my favorite finishes of the year. Asuka, trapped in the Bank Statement, reached for the ropes. Sasha kicked the rope and rolled away, as she’s done in the past. Asuka did her homework and was ready, countering that into the Asuka Lock to remain undefeated for the time being. [****]

85. NEVER Openweight Championship: Hirooki Goto [c] vs. Juice Robinson – NJPW Road to Wrestling Dontaku 4/27/18

Once a source for classic hard hitting matches, the NEVER Openweight Championship has fallen from grace. Hard. The matches are often one of the worst parts of NJPW cards. Not on this night, though. Juice Robinson has spent his time in NJPW slowly building himself up. In 2017, he earned shots at the NEVER, Intercontinental, and United States Titles, yet came up short in each opportunity. This was his second opportunity at this title and his second attempt to defeat Hirooki Goto. The fans were firmly behind Juice and badly wanted to see him win his first title. Fitting of the title they fought for, both men threw hard shots at the other. You could feel Juice’s desperation to make his mark, but also Goto wanting to stay on top and not be someone’s stepping stone. Goto was forced to bust out Shouten Kai, which we haven’t seen in ages. Juice managed to survive that and came close to victory on more than one occasion. The crowd believed this was his night. Alas, it wasn’t. Goto used his GTR finisher to put away Juice after 26:36. It did go a bit too long, but the match was intense and they had the crowd in the palm of their hands. [****]

84. Raw Women’s Championship Elimination Chamber: Alexa Bliss [c] vs. Bayley vs. Mandy Rose vs. Mickie James vs. Sasha Banks vs. Sonya Deville – WWE Elimination Chamber 2/25/18

I came into this match highly skeptical. Bayley and Sasha Banks hadn’t been on their game for a while, Mickie James hadn’t had a great match in a long time, Alexa Bliss wasn’t putting on classics, and the Absolution girls were inexperienced. But dammit if these six women didn’t do everything in their power to have a great match. What I appreciated here was how the WWE took a risk. Instead of going the obvious route like having Banks start and go the distance, they gave Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville a shot. Sonya and Bayley opened with a fine battle, before Mandy joined in to team up on Bayley. I remember not liking this segment the first time around, but on the second watch I felt the new girls did well. They got to work as a team and Mickie performed a dive off one of the pods, showing that they all belonged in this. I liked how it came down to Alexa being against Bayley and Banks. The ways she avoided them were creative and fun. Of course, that all went away when Sasha did her best Lion King and kicked Bayley off a pod. Great moment. In the end, Alexa used their issues against them to eliminate both and retain at 29:38. This was better the second time around. The action moved smoothly, they told several stories, and it was a fun half hour. The women bested the men in the chamber and again at MITB. [****]

83. NXT Women’s Championship: Shayna Baszler [c] vs. Kairi Sane – NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn

In the finals of the first Mae Young Classic, Kairi Sane bested Shayna Baszler. However, Shayna made it to the top of the women’s division before Kairi and dominated as champion for most of 2018. They came into this tied in their series 1-1. Shayna was the vicious champion we’ve come to know. She wrecked Kairi’s leg at every turn. Shayna twisted, kicked, and stomped on the leg. It all looked brutal. The fight from Kairi as she rallied was great. She showcased the killer instinct Shayna said she lacked by busting out multiple Insane Elbows and it still wasn’t enough. When they went into battling Sane’s Anchor submission against Shayna’s Kirifuda Clutch, it was awesome. I loved the finish, too. Kairi went for a third Insane Elbow, but Shayna got her foot up and kicked her in midair. The way Shayna gets up after this is just gangster. She felt like she had Kairi where she wanted her. But, when she applied the Kirifuda Clutch, Kairi slipped free and countered into a pin to capture the title at 13:34. Not Shayna’s best match of the year, but another in a string of great ones. Meanwhile, it was the best we’d seen from Kairi. They told a terrific story in front of a molten crowd. [****]

82. SANADA vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW G1 Climax 7/21/18

How good was the B Block in this year’s G1 Climax? We’re talking all-time levels of stellar. This match, between two absolute studs, went on second of five matches, telling you how loaded the block was. Zack Sabre Jr. forced SANADA to submit en route to winning the New Japan Cup earlier in the year. SANADA hadn’t forgotten. He came in prepared and outwrestled Sabre in the technical game to start. This is a place where Sabre traditionally dominates, so getting bested there threw him way off his game. Not only was each exchange crisp, but nearly every single one featured some kind of cool moment. The fans reacted perfectly to each spot or near fall throughout the 10:52 runtime. One sequence saw them go from Sabre Driver into Skull End into the European Clutch. It was outstanding. The finish was also tremendous, with SANADA countering one of Sabre’s signature pinning combinations into one of his own to seal the deal. A fantastic display of wrestling with a simple, coherent story being told. [****]

81. Mae Young Classic Semi-Finals: Meiko Satomura vs. Toni Storm – WWE Mae Young Classic 10/24/18

In 2017, Toni Storm was my pick for the Female Wrestler of the Year. Her 2018 didn’t have as many highs, but was still great. One performance that caught everyone’s eye was in the semi-finals of the Mae Young Classic. Last year, Toni lost in this round to eventual winner Kairi Sane in a match that made my year end list. This go around, the obstacle in her way was the legendary Meiko Satomura. This started at a slow pace, with Toni not wanting to make a mistake and lose out again just before the finals. Meiko picked it up with a slap and that quickened the pace and added some intensity. Following some submission work, they just began throwing bombs at one another. Meiko survived a Storm Zero, while Toni kicked out of a Death Valley Driver and Scorpion Kick. The fans were jumping around and out of their seats for the final few exchanges. Toni managed to advance by hitting a second Storm Zero at 13:06, capping a fantastic match filled with emotion. [****]