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Kevin’s Top 100 Matches Of 2019: #30-21

February 10, 2020 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
AJ Styles Seth Rollins WWE Money in the Bank

30. Adam Cole vs. Aleister Black vs. Matt Riddle vs. Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream – NXT 3/20/19

Just when we thought we were getting another Johnny Gargano/Tommaso Ciampa match for the NXT Title, Ciampa had to vacate the gold due to injury. Gargano still kept his shot at TakeOver: New York, but he needed an opponent. Enter this match booked by Triple H. it featured the five top male stars in NXT not named Gargano or Ciampa. The hot new commodity in Matt Riddle, North American Champion Velveteen Dream, top heel Adam Cole, and a tag team killing it on the main roster in Aleister Black and Ricochet. For 14:43, these five men put on a show with non-stop action. People moved in and out of things seamlessly despite there being so many moving parts. I loved the little moments like Black and Ricochet working together only to have to fight each other immediately afterward or past rivalries (Dream/Ricochet, Black/Cole, Dream/Black, etc.) being reborn. The final few minutes were breathtaking to the point where you might find yourself out cold the way all five men were. I saw countless moments where you thought it was over. When Ricochet had it won, Cole laid him out with Last Shot and pinned him to earn the title shot and start his rivalry with Gargano. An outstanding battle of five crazy talented guys. [****¼]

29. IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship: Juice Robinson [c] vs. Jon Moxley – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors Finals

It was easily one of the most highly anticipated matches of 2019. After leaving WWE, Jon Moxley stunned many by being revealed as the man targeting Juice Robinson in New Japan. This was a surprise because many were unsure about how Moxley would adapt to the NJPW style, which isn’t exactly up his alley. If you wanted an idea for how this match went, look no further than right before the bell. Juice Robinson revealed that he had cut his signature locks, which the crowd gasped at. Moxley immediately flipped him the double bird as a response. As soon as the bell rang, they just went right at each other and the action never slowed. What made this work was that they didn’t try to force a square peg into a round hold. Moxley wasn’t forced to work an NJPW style match. Instead, they let him do his thing and Juice was a great partner for the ride. They brawled through the crowd, this had big bumps, and brought things like tables into play. I liked the little notes like Juice trying to win with the Boston Crab, which he learned in the Dojo and not while in WWE. It added layers to this encounter. Moxley won with the Death Rider after a tremendous 24:14. [****¼]

28. NXT North American Championship: Velveteen Dream [c] vs. Matt Riddle – NXT TakeOver: New York

Velveteen Dream truly is a special wrestler. It doesn’t matter who he wrestles because he’s probably going to put on a show. Whether it’s a technician, showman, brawler, high flyer, or in this case, someone with an MMA background, Dream makes it work. He did it again here. This is not a slight on Matt Riddle and I don’t want people to think I’m saying he had no part in this. He’s very good. I just wanted to praise Dream. Anyway, this match had the disadvantage of following the best tag match of 2019 and still managed to nearly surpass it. Riddle dominated this at points. His style of combining submissions and strikes was too much for the champion. Dream did his best to hang tough but he was straight up outmatched. However, he played the role of the resilient champion. He refused to stay down and took everything Riddle threw at him while sprinkling in his own greatness. When Dream got going near the end, he had the Purple Rainmaker caught into the Bromission and it was spectacular. He fought it but got put in it again, only to roll over into a pin and luckily retain after 17:21. Riddle did his thing but made one mistake and Dream capitalized. [****¼]

27. WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship Elimination Chamber: The Boss-n-Hug Connection vs. Fabulous Glow vs. Fire & Desire vs. The Iiconics vs. The Riott Squad vs. Samoan Slaughterhouse – WWE Elimination Chamber

History was made at Elimination Chamber as six teamed entered the infamous structure to crown the first WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions. In 2018, the women put on a great match inside the Chamber for the Raw Women’s Title. Usually, adding an additional six competitors would cause problems. Instead, it made everything better in this case. Things started with Sasha Banks and Bayley against Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. That was perfect since all four women were part of the previous women’s Chamber. Also, they were the best two teams. I loved so much about this. Carmella and Naomi had a short run that was fun. Nia and Tamina were surprisingly solid powerhouses who played their roles well. The always impressive Liv Morgan took huge bumps. Sonya and Mandy were great. The IIconics were awesome during the middle portion of this, completely owning it and showing outstanding character work. I appreciated the callback to last year with Sasha helping Bayley up onto the pod instead of kicking her down. Great character growth. It came down to the two teams who started it. Sasha fought through a bad shoulder to trap Sonya in the Bank Statement and win the titles after 32:55. One of the best Elimination Chambers in history [****¼]

26. Kota Ibushi vs. Will Ospreay – NJPW G1 Climax 7/18/19

I first saw these two square off during a six man tag at WWN Mercury Rising in 2016. I had only just been introduced to Will Ospreay but had enjoyed Kota Ibushi for a while. Watching them interact made me think they were ideal opponents for each other. Two guys who were freaks of nature athletically and had similar styles. Their match at Wrestle Kingdom was pretty damn good and nearly made this list. However, they bested it in the G1 Climax. I wouldn’t call them perfect opponents but they worked incredibly well together. I wasn’t a fan of the early clichés like the fast-paced standoff and stuff. It has been done to death and doesn’t add much to a match for me at this point. I will admit that I appreciated how it showed their similarities. Both men came in damaged, as Will’s neck is usually hanging on by a thread and Ibushi had a bad ankle. Ibushi was uncharacteristically sadistic, taking pleasure in dumping Ospreay on his neck. When Ospreay responded with the Hidden Blade, it had added drama because that knocked Ibushi out at WK. The near fall was great because Ibushi’s lifeless arm barely made it to the ropes to break the pin. After 27:16, Ibushi won a match where both guys were recklessly attacking each other’s injury. It was scary but great. [****½]

25. Juice Robinson vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW G1 Climax 7/28/19

One of the more interesting storylines during the G1 Climax this year was the redemption of Juice Robinson. Last year, he entered as the United States Heavyweight Champion but proceeded to struggle, finishing with a mere six points. Coming into this match, which was only his fifth, Juice already had six points. He went toe to toe with the NEVER Openweight Champion in a match that exceeded expectations. Juice didn’t back down at any point during this 17:42 contest. He threw everything he could into a chop duel even if he was severely outmatched. That’s pretty much Juice Robinson in a nutshell. The ultimate babyface fire. It was interesting that the chops took something out of Tomohiro Ishii, as if it gave him nerve damage. I will say that I feel they might have gone a bit overboard with the firing up and no selling spots but that’s kind of something I’ve come to expect from Ishii matches. Still, this was a banger. They added a lot by throwing in big bumps and smooth counters, so it wasn’t just a hard hitting affair. Ishii won this war with the Vertical Drop Brainbuster. Consider this another shining example of how improved Juice has become over the past few years. [****½]

24. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Dragon Lee [c] vs. Will Ospreay – NJPW Dominion

I wasn’t too happy when Will Ospreay won the Best of the Super Juniors. I appreciated Shingo Takagi moving to the heavyweight division and I understand that Will is a notable name. However, all was forgotten when we were treated to this match. These guys have wrestled before but this was different. They were seemingly determined to put on their best outing together. Right off the bat, my issue with the match was the opening quick paced exchange. It’s a trope matches fall victim to often. With that out of the way, I can praise the rest of this. It was kind of like the insane Hiromu Takahashi/Dragon Lee matches. A ridiculous pace and some of the wildest spots you’ll ever see. Lee’s tope suicida as Ospreay was seated on the guardrail was one of my favorite spots of the entire year. Another highlight was Lee blocking the Oscutter with a knee strike. These guys can blend freakish athletic moves with stiffer strikes than you’d expect. It’s kind of just what I want from this division. Ospreay hit the Oscutter and added Storm Breaker to become champion after 20:07. Once again, Willy stays in that 15-20 minute range and shines brightest. Lee is always awesome. [****½]

23. WWE Universal Championship: Seth Rollins [c] vs. AJ Styles – WWE Money in the Bank

Here was a dream match that I wanted since the day AJ Styles stepped out at the 2016 Royal Rumble. Two of my all-time favorites competing in a one on one encounter for a major title. What’s not to love? To make it better, this wasn’t hampered by overbooking or shenanigans. WWE opted to just let them do their thing. Still, I was worried. Seth Rollins put on a few stinkers in 2019 and AJ Styles hasn’t been consistently great since early 2017. Yet this came together wonderfully to deliver exactly what I was hoping for. They started off slowly, almost like they were going for impressing the NJPW crowd. They picked up the pace as things progressed before getting wild late. However, the early portions here felt important. It showed how evenly matched they were and let us know how level the playing field was. As soon as AJ went for a Styles Clash off the apron, this became something special. The Curb Stomp countered into a Styles Clash was one of the best spots all year. After Seth survived that, he used the Ripcord Knee, superkick, and Curb Stomp to retain in a stellar in 19:51. Easily the best singles match either man had in 2019. [****½]

22. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Will Ospreay – NJPW G1 Climax 8/10/19

I have seen some people call Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay a match of the year contender. That’s strange to me since it wasn’t even close to the best thing either guy did during the G1 Climax. For example, Ospreay easily had his shining moment here. The match with Kota Ibushi was great but that’s a style we know Ospreay can excel at. This was different. It was a case where Willy had his hand held and he was led through the match by Tanahashi. Before the Ospreay lovers jump at me, that’s not a knock on him. Think back to every Okada/Tanahashi match pre-2016. They all were clearly led by Tanahashi. He’s an all-time great for a reason. He understands how to incorporate something that will work for someone into his style of match. That’s what happened here. Though Tanahashi was eliminated, his pride was on the line. He did things like bridge on a submission because he wanted to show that he could still hang with a guy like Ospreay. They told a wonderful story based around that. This did had some clear issues (Ospreay inconsistently sold the leg and his Hidden Blade was laughably bad) but it was okay because everything else rocked. In the end, Tanahashi did the job to the Jr. Heavyweight Champion, falling to Storm Breaker in 17:12. Yet again, Ospreay can impress when kept to the right match length and working with someone superior to lead the way. Tanahashi is the God. [****½]

21. New Japan Cup First Round: Kota Ibushi vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW New Japan Cup 3/10/19

When you put Kota Ibushi and Tetsuya Naito together, you’re almost guaranteed to get something special. I’ve never given any of their encounters less than four stars. They wrestled multiple times in 2019 but this first meeting was easily the best one to me. Putting them together in the first round of the New Japan Cup meant that a potential favorite would be gone immediately. High stakes indeed. Naito was aggressive from the start here. These two seem to be way into the idea of hurting each other. I saw them drop each other on their necks in vicious ways from bell to bell. Naito busted out a ridiculous sitout piledriver on the apron at one point. He followed it with a sly smirk that let you know how much he was enjoying taking this whole thing to the next level. They had plenty of callbacks to their brutal history and brought out the kind of closing stretch that New Japan is famous for. Ibushi had Destino scouted, countering it at every turn. However, Naito countered Kamigoye into one for a fantastic near fall. That seemed to ignite Ibushi, who went on a flurry to win and advance at the 20:38 mark. [****½]