wrestling / Columns

Kevin’s Top 100 Matches Of 2019: #20-11

February 12, 2020 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
Dustin Rhodes Cody AEW Double or Nothing

20. Matt Riddle vs. Roderick Strong – NXT TakeOver XXV

I remember when these two met in EVOLVE a few years back. I thought it was a very good match but it didn’t quite reach that greatness level that I wanted. They gave me that here. Matt Riddle is almost always a safe bet for a very good match, while Roderick Strong is incredible. Seriously, is there a more underrated wrestler than Roddy? He has been one of the best in the world for a long time and people always overlook him. Anyway, they opened TakeOver XXV and stole the show. This match was simple and I mean that as a compliment. Strong delivered an array of backbreakers, which is his specialty. Riddle sold the hell out of it and made sure the audience never forgot about it. Then, he’d get in his bursts of offense at just the right time. It was masterfully laid out to play to both of their strengths. They made it so that something as basic as Strong getting his knees up on a Riddle aerial move meant so much. The work on the midsection played into the finish, as Riddle couldn’t apply the Bromission properly. He had to pivot and use the Bro Derek to win after 14:42. A stellar match that hasn’t been getting as much love as it should. [****½]

19. Cody vs. Dustin Rhodes – AEW Double or Nothing

I don’t want the lack of AEW on this list to be looked at as a major slight. I have enjoyed their product for the most part. They just haven’t put on a ton of high end matches yet. This was certainly their best effort to me. Cody and Dustin Rhodes had been begging to have a big match for a long time. The Stardust/Goldust match at Fastlane 2015 was definitely a swing and a miss. Given the opportunity in a company they run, they put on something special. After the hokey and dumb throne gimmick, this was all fantastic. It was as if these two were out to put on the kind of match that would make Dusty Rhodes proud. It was like something out the late 80s but with just enough of the modern style to make it different. This was brutal, had a slow burn, and delivered a bloody war that we all wanted. Cody was an outstanding villain here. Considering how good he has been as a babyface for AEW, that’s impressive. He had to do everything in his power to keep his resilient brother down. When he finally did, after 22:37, it felt earned. Sure, they just became friendly brothers again afterward, but that didn’t take away from the greatness I had just watched. [****½]

18. WWE United Kingdom Championship: Pete Dunne [c] vs. WALTER – NXT TakeOver: New York

Pete Dunne reigned as WWE United Kingdom Champion for nearly 700 days. It began way back in the match that topped this list in 2017 against Tyler Bate. Nobody could dethrone him. Adam Cole, Johnny Gargano, Jordan Devlin, Roderick Strong, and many others tried but came up short against the “Bruiserweight.” Enter WALTER. The big man arrived at TakeOver: Blackpool and immediately became Dunne’s biggest threat. They met here and lived up to the lofty expectations. Dunne struggled to face someone so different. WALTER could drop him with a chop, leap over him impressively, and dominate him like no other. Dunne took a while to adjust before busting out things like a ridiculous sitout powerbomb and diving stomp to the outside. The best moment came when he snapped at WALTER’s fingers to negate his chops. Even when WALTER had to resort to something different, you never felt like he was in true trouble. And that’s okay. The story being told was that Dunne had met someone who could finally beat him. A powerbomb off the top and a splash was finally enough to keep Dunne down, giving us a new champion in 25:31. An incredible match worthy of ending Dunne’s outstanding title reign. The WALTER era began and we were all here to enjoy it. [****½]

17. WWE Raw Women’s Championship Hell in a Cell: Becky Lynch [c] vs. Sasha Banks – WWE Hell in a Cell

With their Clash of Champions match ending in disqualification, you knew this was coming. Sasha Banks would step inside Hell in a Cell for the second time in her career against Becky Lynch for the Raw Women’s Title. It felt like the most important women’s match since WrestleMania. By now, we have seen over 40 Hell in a Cell matches. That makes it difficult to give us something new. Sasha and Becky did a good job of bringing in some innovative spots to go with their already impressive chemistry. You got the sense they were willing to do whatever it took to walk out as champion. Some of the spots during this 21:23 runtime were flat out brutal and way more weapons were used than I expected. Some of the moments involving chairs and kendo sticks were really cool. Sasha brought in a bunch of chairs but it backfired on her in the end. Becky delivered a huge avalanche Bexploder onto the pile of chairs before locking in the Dis-Arm-Her to retain her title. It was the highlight of Becky’s title reign and Sasha’s best singles match since the Ronda Rousey war at Royal Rumble. [****½]

16. Shingo Takagi vs. SHO – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 5/13/19

Every year, there are a handful of matches in the Best of the Super Juniors that stand out above the rest. In 2019, it was clearly this opening night contest. In fact, I was more pumped for this than anything else in NJPW last year by a wide margin. It was built so well. Shingo Takagi was the undefeated unstoppable junior monster. SHO was an underrated powerhouse himself. Their exchanges in tags leading up to this had everyone salivating. SHO was out to prove he could match Shingo in strength. When he couldn’t, Shingo reminded us why he was unlike the rest of the division. He didn’t go high risk. He worked it at his pace and played to his strengths. SHO couldn’t hit a spear because his power waned from a beating but it worked later after he wore down Shingo. The little things matter in wrestling. SHO continually had to resort to try new offense and he did some impressive things. He also survived the best Shingo could throw at him. What really made this match was how it affected Shingo. After months of dominating, he got trapped in an armbar and panicked. His desperation to reach the ropes really sold how much trouble he was in. SHO finally stayed down at the 25:07 mark after getting hit with Last of the Dragon. An absolute war from the two of the best. It never felt long and told exactly the story it needed to for their feud. [****½]

15. WWE Championship: Daniel Bryan [c] vs. Kevin Owens vs. Mustafa Ali – WWE Fastlane

You know those times when something is announced for a match and it seems like a disaster? That was nearly the case here. Scheduled to be Kevin Owens vs. Daniel Bryan, this was announced to be a Triple Threat match at the last minute. Following the events of Elimination Chamber, the fans wanted Kofi Kingston to be the third man. Mustafa Ali getting the spot was a great idea, especially since he never got his chance at the chamber. However, the fans greeted him with “we want Kofi” chants. It had all the makings of a debacle where the crowd turns on a match and gives them nothing. They booed loudly as soon as the bell rang. I appreciated how commentary didn’t try to act like things were good. They pointed out how Ali usually got energy from the crowd but that wasn’t the case here. At least, not early on. After a few minutes, that negative reaction was gone. Ali, Owens, and Bryan put on a match that was too engaging to ignore. For 18:39, we were captivated by these three having one of the greatest Triple Threat matches in history. In the end, Ali had a moonsault countered into the Busaiku Knee. An incredible match. Ali showed how great he was with a stellar performance that brought the crowd back from the dead. Owens showed babyface fire that helped propel his later face run and Bryan was perfect in his role. [****½]

14. WWE Championship Elimination Chamber: Daniel Bryan [c] vs. AJ Styles vs. Jeff Hardy vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Randy Orton vs. Samoa Joe – WWE Elimination Chamber

The formula to create a great Elimination Chamber match is simple enough. Just make sure to do one important thing. Utilize everyone to the best of their abilities. That’s what this match did. Samoa Joe was eliminated first but he got to shine. He brutalized everyone and is always at his best in short bursts. Jeff Hardy had one of the biggest spots of the match with a ridiculous Swanton Bomb, doing what he does best before getting eliminated. AJ Styles sold well for everyone and bumped like crazy. The RKO he took to get eliminated was fantastic and helped build towards their WrestleMania encounter. Also, who didn’t love seeing Kofi Kingston eliminate Randy Orton, getting some revenge for 2009? That left the match down to Kingston and Daniel Bryan. It was such a great role reversal for Bryan, who was the fan favorite underdog in a great Chamber back in 2014. This whole segment was wonderfully done. From Bryan’s shock at Kofi not staying down to the near falls picked up by Kofi to the crowd’s reaction to every bit of it. It was special. You seriously won’t find much better than the Trouble in Paradise pop and shock at Bryan’s inside cradle counter of the pin. Kofi fought valiantly but tapped to the LeBelle Lock after missing a splash off of a pod in 36:51. Probably the third best Chamber in history. [****½]

13. NXT Championship Two Out Of Three Falls Match: Adam Cole vs. Johnny Gargano – NXT TakeOver: New York

This was supposed to the final chapter for Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa. An injury to Ciampa halted that and this was what we got instead. The top heel against the top babyface, Two out of Three Falls, with the NXT Championship on the line. The first fall featured some stellar wrestling. Hold for hold, crisp exchanges, counters, etc. That sort of thing. There was a lot of well-crafted drama as they went for flash pins and came close to stealing a 1-0 lead. It was cool because a lot of these matches opt for the quick first fall and work from there. After Cole won that fall, he came out swinging in the next. He could smell the victory and it showed. Gargano had to play on the defensive. It looked like he made the ultimate mistake of pride by breaking out the chance to tie it up via countout. However, he managed to pull Cole into the Gargano Escape to even the score. That final fall was just two desperate men throwing bombs at each other. Cole was willing to win by countout but Johnny survived that and interference from the Undisputed Era. He eventually used Gargano Escape to finally capture the title after a grueling 38:10. When this happened live, I was moved by Gargano’s win but felt it went overboard on the late kickouts. I do still feel that way but I’ve grown to like the match more. It felt like an epic title fight culminating in a wonderful moment. Their follow up matches couldn’t touch it. [****½]

12. Andrade vs. Rey Mysterio – WWE Smackdown 1/15/19

This kind of came from out of nowhere. There wasn’t much in the way of an existing rivalry or anything. It was just a case of two great wrestlers being pitted against each other on a weekly TV show. In fact, these two had a very good match back in November under similar circumstances. But this was different. This was special. They did things that still baffle me. The sitout powerbomb on the outside, Rey Mysterio’s snap rana off the apron, and the countless exchanges they crafted during this 20:36 encounter were all great. They worked through several commercial breaks and I’m just sad we don’t get to see it all when rewatching on the WWE Network. In the end, it ultimately took a little bit of help from Zelina Vega, but Andrade hit a draping variation of the hammerlock DDT to score the victory. It was easily the high point of their awesome rivalry. Their 2 Out of 3 Falls rematch was great, as was their match on Raw later in the year, and it was Rey who Andrade won the United States Title from. However, none of those matches could top what they did here. The best TV match since Punk/Cena in 2013. [****½]

11. Adam Cole, Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa vs. Aleister Black, Ricochet & Velveteen Dream – WWE Halftime Heat

This is such an absurd match on paper. Basically, NXT took their top six guys at the time and let them do their thing in the Performance Center during halftime of the Super Bowl. It was an unexpected announcement but I’m so glad they did it. This was arguably the most fun match of the entire year. Simply put, it was six stellar wrestlers doing what they do best and putting on a show. You had interactions that called back to old feuds like Aleister Black/Johnny Gargano, Adam Cole/Ricochet, and Velveteen Dream/Tommaso Ciampa. There were new interactions that had us salivating at the possibility of singles matches in the future. Everything moved along at a brisk pace, meaning there was never any slow down during the 16:15 runtime. Ricochet had one of the best hot tags you’ll ever see and it started an insane run of excitement going forward. The moment where Black, Ricochet, and Dream all posed together was awesome and it was just one of many. The finishing stretch is one of the wildest I can recall. Adam Cole got hit with pretty much everything his opponents could dish out, resulting in him eating the pin to cap something incredible. [****½]