wrestling / Columns

Kevin’s Top 100 Matches Of 2019: #100-91

January 29, 2020 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
Sasha Banks Becky Lynch Clash of Champions 2019

We have now reached the fifth year of my annual year-end list of the best matches. 2019 was an interesting year. I didn’t have as many **** matches as last year. I will be doing a Top 100 only again and the rest of the **** matches will be included in the Honorable Mentions section.

I was busier than ever this year and had to drop PROGRESS for most of the year. Understand that this list will be 98% WWE and NJPW, with a little bit of AEW thrown in there. So as always, I hope you guys can be reminded of greatness that you forgot about or you can discover stuff you didn’t know existed. This is about celebrating the good in wrestling, so let’s enjoy.

Honorable Mentions (Matches that got **** but didn’t make the list)

NEVER Openweight Championship: Kota Ibushi [c] vs. Will Ospreay – Wrestle Kingdom
Number One Contender’s Match: Becky Lynch vs. Carmella vs. Charlotte Flair – Smackdown 1/8
WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Buddy Murphy [c] vs. Akira Tozawa vs. Hideo Itami vs. Kalisto – Royal Rumble
IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi [c] vs. Jay White – New Beginning in Osaka
New Japan Cup Quarterfinals: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJC 3/21
RevPro British Heavyweight Championship: Zack Sabre Jr. [c] vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – G1 Supercard
No Holds Barred Match: Batista vs. Triple H – WrestleMania
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Roppongi 3K [c] vs. BUSHI and Shingo Takagi – Road to Wrestling Dontaku
IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Kota Ibushi [c] vs. Tetsuya Naito – Dominion
Juice Robinson vs. Shingo Takagi – G1 Climax 7/13
Chad Gable vs. Jack Gallagher – 205 Live 7/16
Kota Ibushi vs. Lance Archer – G1 Climax 7/27
Jeff Cobb vs. Shingo Takagi – G1 Climax 8/1
Kazuchika Okada vs. Kota Ibushi – G1 Climax 8/10
Drew Gulak vs. Oney Lorcan – 205 Live 8/13
Super J-Cup First Round: SHO vs. Taiji Ishimori – Super J-Cup
Super J-Cup Quarterfinals: SHO vs. Will Ospreay – Super J-Cup
RevPro British Heavyweight Championship: Zack Sabre Jr. [c] vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – Royal Quest
Cracker Barrel Challenge: Darby Allin vs. Jimmy Havoc vs. Joey Janela – All Out
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: El Phantasmo and Taiji Ishimori [c] vs. The Birds of Prey – Destruction in Kagoshima
NXT North American Championship: Velveteen Dream [c] vs. Roderick Strong – NXT 9/18
Private Party vs. Young Bucks – Dynamite 10/10
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Will Ospreay [c] vs. BUSHI – Power Struggle
Lights Out Match: Kenny Omega vs. Jon Moxley – Full Gear
NXT Championship: Adam Cole [c] vs. Finn Balor – NXT 12/18

100. Andrade vs. Rey Mysterio – WWE Raw 8/5/19

In terms of pure in-ring quality, there weren’t many rivalries that topped Andrade vs. Rey Mysterio in 2019. In fact, I don’t know if any combination did. They create magic in the ring together. We saw that almost instantly here, with Mysterio busting out an insane sunset flip into the guardrail. That set the tone for a match that was filled with sick offense and everything done at a break neck pace. It’s ridiculous that Mysterio is still this good at this stage of his career. They managed to pack a lot of drama into a short time. Each near fall had the fans on the edge of their seats. Whether it was a Code Red, the 619, Meteora, or a simple inside cradle, the crowd bit on everything. The involvement of Zelina Vega was kept to a minimum, allowing for the competition to do all the talking. She only helped in the end, setting up Andrade’s Hammerlock DDT to finish this in an awesome 12:29. I could watch these two wrestle each other until the end of time. Huge win for Andrade as well, Not the last time you’ll see these two against each other on this list, because they’re just so incredible as opponents. [****]

99. Kazuchika Okada vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW G1 Climax 7/14/19

When I aim my criticisms at Kazuchika Okada, the most consistent one is his formula. He’s found a simple setup that works for him. A dull opening that means nothing before ramping up to a hot finish with a tired sequence of moves coming at just the right times. When he goes away from that formula, Okada shows how good he truly is. Zack Sabre Jr. forces him out of his comfort zone. Sabre did the same thing to Kenny Omega last year in their underrated G1 gem. Sabre Jr. came into this having lost to Okada in an IWGP Heavyweight Title match in 2018, but beat him after he dropped the title. That gave him confidence. He toyed with Okada at points because he felt like he was in control. They were wrestling his kind of match. The kind that Sabre has mastered. When Okada started hitting bigger moves, Sabre relied on flash pins and desperate submissions attempts. It was great to watch him switch from overconfident to kind of fighting from behind. Sabre focused on the arm but Okada still hit the Rainmaker to win in 12:01. My biggest problem was still hitting the Rainmaker like nothing despite the arm work. But a 12 minute Okada match where he has to do something different is my kind of wrestling. [****]

98. WWE Raw Women’s Championship: Becky Lynch [c] vs. Sasha Banks – WWE Clash of Champions

Sasha Banks made her return the night after SummerSlam following four months away from action. She set her sights on Becky Lynch and the Raw Women’s Championship, which led us to this match. Becky was aggressive out of the gates. It made sense for the rivalry and worked well against Sasha’s cocky heel work. She thrives in that role. The little things like her mannerisms just feel way more natural when she’s playing the villain. Sometimes her gloating would cost her and that helped Becky to not fully fall into trouble here. The submission close calls as things progressed were great. Fans believed either woman could walk out with the win so they bit on all of them. It made for quite the atmosphere. I really liked Sasha trying to pull the Eddie Guerrero steel chair trick because it worked when she was a babyface, yet had a totally different feel now that she’s a heel. That was brilliant. Becky accidentally hit the referee with the chair. With him out, the women were free to brawl all throughout the arena. It was intense and felt different from other women’s matches this year. Ultimately, the official got up and called for the DQ at 17:58. It reminded me of how Austin/Angle at SummerSlam 2001 ended via DQ and was still fantastic. [****]

97. KENTA vs. Kota Ibushi – NJPW G1 Climax 7/6/19

Talk about high expectations. I called this the match I was most excited for in the A Block of the G1 Climax. I stand by that statement because I was excited to see KENTA back in action and Kota Ibushi felt like a perfect opponent for him. They didn’t deliver an all-time classic but this still ruled. I loved the touch of Katsuyori Shibata watching from the stands. KENTA was his boy. Anyway, KENTA came out with hard strikes but got floored when Ibushi responded. It was as if he hadn’t been hit that hard in a long time. He rebounded quickly and brought the air of smugness that I love about him. KENTA is at his best when he’s being a prick. He slowed the pace because Ibushi was quicker and more mobile. Some of KENTA’s stuff lacked the snap it needed. You could tell this was a man who hadn’t wrestled in a few months. He got a lot of things right but was not fully back. Ibushi got going and picked up the pace as this neared its 20:51 conclusion. KENTA scored with a Go to Sleep that Ibushi sold like death to win in his return to the ring. Like I said, not a classic but still really damn good. [****]

96. WWE United States Championship: Samoa Joe [c] vs. Ricochet – WWE Stomping Grounds

Anyone who knows my wrestling tastes knows that I love a good sprint. I also happen to really enjoy when a bully big man kicks the ass of a smaller guy who can bump his ass off. This match had all of those ingredients. Think about how well Samoa Joe performed against the members of the X Division back in TNA. He brought that energy here. Joe would goad in Ricochet and then just knock him back with a strike. When Ricochet seemed to get something going, Joe would just find a way to slam him down in vicious fashion. Ricochet sold every Joe shot like it was on the verge of killing him. He took a beating and Joe was the enforcer that I always want him to be. That’s what I want from these two because it fits their styles so well. And yet, with everything thrown at him, Ricochet found a way to dig deep. He fought from behind and got Joe in position for the 630 splash. It connected and three seconds later, Ricochet won his first main roster championship after 12:19. It doesn’t take much to please me in wrestling. Just give me something that makes sense, has drama, and keeps me thoroughly entertained. [****]

95. NXT Cruiserweight Championship: Lio Rush [c] vs. Angel Garza – WWE NXT 12/11/19

I never expected this to work the way that it did. Lio Rush shined as the annoying mouthpiece for Bobby Lashley. He was an agitator and it was great. Moving him to a babyface role in the cruiserweight division worked out well enough though. Meanwhile, Angel Garza felt like a guy who would work as a face but he rubbed Lio the wrong way in their first encounter by ripping off his pants in front of Lio’s family. That added fuel to the fire for this rematch. They kicked off the show and put on one of the best Cruiserweight Title matches since it was brought back in 2016. It was an intense battle that felt like a lot was on the line. The action was fast paced as you’d expect from two of the quickest wrestlers on the planet. One of the coolest moments was the way the pants being torn off was used, as it played into Garza escaping Rush after getting hit with the Final Hour. That was the opening that he needed as Garza got the best of a wild finishing stretch and used a submission variation of the Wing Clipper to capture the title in 15:16. And then he got engaged in the middle of the ring. Angel Garza is winning at life. [****]

94. G1 Climax Finals: Jay White vs. Kota Ibushi – NJPW G1 Climax 8/12/19

These are the ratings I’ve given to the G1 Climax Finals I’ve watched. Naito/Tanahashi in 2013 (**¾), Okada/Nakamura in 2014 (****), Tanahashi/Nakamura in 2015 (****¾), Naito/Omega in 2017 (*****), and Ibushi/Tanahashi in 2018 (****½). Needless to say, it often delivers. I liked that this year’s match was a first time ever meeting. That hasn’t happened since Omega/Goto in 2016. These two made for an interesting pair. Ibushi loves high octane stuff while White is comfortable with a slower pace. White was in trouble early because the entire Bullet Club, including Gedo, was ejected from ringside in the opening few minutes. In need of a plan, White went after the leg. Ibushi had issues with it during the tournament, it would take away his vicious kicks, and set up White’s TTO submission. A good plan, indeed. It eventually got to the point of a ref bump and run-in by Gedo. I don’t think it added much to the story. They were doing a great job telling it without that. I did love how Ibushi fired up after nearly losing. White chopped him and Ibushi just beat the hell out of him. White was out of his element. Two Kamigoye knee strikes later and Ibushi won the tournament after 31:01. It went a bit too long and didn’t need the shenanigans but this was a great close to the G1. [****]

93. New Japan Cup First Round: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Yuji Nagata – NJPW New Japan Cup 3/8/19

This year’s New Japan Cup suffered from putting too many competitors in the field. The first round dragged on with almost nothing notable happening. Except for this. Tomohiro Ishii and Yuji Nagata started going at it during New Year Dash. From then on, they’d go to war whenever they saw each other. It was glorious. Things came to a head with an advancement in the New Japan Cup on the line. The crowd was molten as they were excited to see another big match for Nagata at Korakuen Hall. They probably didn’t expect it after he bowed out there in his final G1 a few years ago. He and Ishii waged the kind of battle that they’re known for. At times during this match, they just stood in the ring and wailed on each other with slaps and strikes. I loved it. We got the dope visual of a bloody Nagata rolling his eyes to the back of his head as he applied the armbar. You can’t beat that. They resorted to the bigger spots as this progressed into the closing stretch we like from our New Japan bouts. Ishii picked up the win after 21:34 with the Brainbuster. If this is the last great Nagata performance, I’m honored to have witnessed it. [****]

92. Charlotte Flair vs. Trish Stratus – WWE SummerSlam

When Trish Stratus retired at Unforgiven 2006, she went out with one of her best matches ever. It turns out that she was truly saving her best for another match in Toronto 13 years later. Charlotte Flair has proven herself to be the top big match female wrestler in the world. Hell, she has a strong case for best big match wrestler regardless of gender. She came into this overconfident. Charlotte didn’t take Trish seriously and fell victim to some surprising offense that overwhelmed her. She never expected Trish to be as good as she was. Being in her hometown meant the crowd could help Trish when she was in trouble. They were loud for almost everything. Seeing Trish bust out a super rana was awesome because it showed that she was doing things she never tried in her prime. She wasn’t just in this match for a paycheck. There was effort and thought put into all of this. She used the Figure Eight in a great moment and the Stratusfaction near fall was perfect. The outcome here was obvious but they made us believe in a close call. That’s hard to do. Once Charlotte trapped her in the Figure Eight, Trish had to tap, ending this after an excellent 16:38. A tremendous way for Trish to go out. [****]

91. Dragon Lee vs. SHO – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 5/15/19

During the 2018 Best of the Super Juniors, I was pleasantly surprised by the banger these two put on. They went out trying to best it this time around. Their growth was clear. Now, Dragon Lee came in as the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion, while SHO was challenging the likes of Shingo Takagi in the division. A win over Lee would be huge for SHO’s career, while Lee didn’t want to be a champion who started the tournament 0-2. With that in mind, both men entered this with a level of intensity that you didn’t see from many BOSJ contests. There was a little extra snap behind each offensive maneuver. Within the first ten minutes of this 27:10 encounter, they had both been battered beyond belief. That wasn’t a normal 10 minutes. It was taxing. Though they both had their arms targeted, they found ways to remain in this. SHO would still bust out impressive feats of strength and Lee would take him to the mat. That’s an underrated aspect of Dragon Lee’s game by the way. When they heard that time was winding down, they started throwing their best offense at each other. You could feel the desperation from two men who didn’t want to start 0-2. Lee avoided it by hitting Desnucadora to win. [****]