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Kevin’s Top 100 Matches Of 2019: #40-31

February 9, 2020 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
Rhea Ripley NXT 12-18-19

40. Best of the Super Juniors Finals: Shingo Takagi vs. Will Ospreay – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 6/5/19

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this year, you’ve heard about this match. As soon as it ended, folks were taking to their keyboards and running to their rooftops to shout about how this was the match of the year. I disagreed, people got upset, and it became a whole thing. Kind of like when I gave Omega/Naito in the G1 26 less than five stars and people called for my head. Anyway, Shingo Takagi entered as something special. An undefeated, unstoppable monster. In his way was Will Ospreay, Gedo’s golden gaijin (this was his third finals in four years). Early, they played up how Ospreay was nearly Shingo’s equal in power. He could hold his own there when almost no other junior could. That forced Shingo to pivot and try uncharacteristic things like a dive to the outside. He was shaken. It gradually moved from that into the big NJPW finish with all of the slick counters and big offensive bombs. The match reached its peak…but then it kept going. It fell into the NJPW trap of going long for the sake of it. Will won in 33:36. This was great but for it to have been a MOTY contender, I think it needed to be trimmed closer to 25 minutes. Either way, this is certainly worthy of making the list. [****¼]

39. New Japan Cup Semifinals: Kazuchika Okada vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW New Japan Cup 3/23/19

There aren’t many rare matches left in New Japan. Everyone has seemingly faced each other tons of times in various tournaments and title matches. That’s especially true when it comes to Kazuchika Okada. That’s what happens when you’re at the top of a company for so long. Interestingly enough, Tomohiro Ishii hasn’t faced him a lot. Their previous meeting, during the 2016 G1 Climax, was excellent and saw Ishii score an upset. Kazuchika “defend my title against everyone” Okada never gave his CHAOS buddy a proper title shot after that loss. Some friend he is. Their next meeting was here, with a spot in the finals of the New Japan Cup on the line. We got asshole Okada here and that’s easily the best version of the Rainmaker. He didn’t give a clean break and he disrespectfully kicked at Ishii’s head. It pissed off Ishii and led to him showing Okada up by no selling his strikes. I loved the way they played off of the G1 match. For example, Ishii popped up during the Rainmaker pose in that one, so Okada was ready for it here and leveled him. Ishii using the armbar was great. It was a nod to Shinsuke Nakamura and is the only move Okada has ever tapped out to. This suffered from getting a little too formulaic late but they strayed from it enough for most of the 21:20. Ishii brought out the best in Okada, who ultimately won, and we all benefitted. [****¼]

38. NXT Women’s Championship: Shayna Baszler [c] vs. Rhea Ripley – NXT 12/18/19

This match was gloriously built up. Shayna Baszler had been champion since the previous October. And outside of a short two or so month reign by Kairi Sane, you could go back to the previous April to see Shayna’s time as champion begin. She beat Dakota Kai, Candice LeRae, Io Shirai, Mia Yim, and everyone thrown in front of her. She even beat Bayley and Becky Lynch in the main event of Survivor Series. Meanwhile, Rhea Ripley quickly became the hottest thing in wrestling. She was scorching hot following wins at TakeOver: War Games and Survivor Series. Their singles meeting main evented a huge episode of NXT and more than lived up to the hype. Shayna’s usual tactics failed because Rhea wasn’t intimidated. She resorted to help from Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke but that wasn’t enough. Nearly taking Rhea out by injuring her arm still wasn’t enough. It seemed like the unstoppable champion would still prevail when she trapped Rhea in the Kirifuda Clutch. However, Rhea fought through and survived to the crowd’s approval. The avalanche Riptide that ended it in 20:50 was spectacular and led to one of the best moments of the year. Rhea Ripley is the future of wrestling. And yes, I purposely didn’t just say “women’s” wrestling. She’s that good. [****¼]

37. Dragon Lee vs. Shingo Takagi – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 5/23/19

It’s not often that a champion in New Japan is the underdog during one of their round robin tournaments. But IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion Dragon Lee found himself in that position when he collided with Shingo Takagi. That’s because Shingo had been unstoppable since arriving in New Japan. Coming into the tournament, Shingo hadn’t been pinned during his tenure with the company and he had a distinct power advantage over the rest of the division. It was the ultimate power vs. speed battle. However, Lee wasn’t backing down. He possesses sneaky strength and wanted to go toe to toe with Shingo. Lee got off to a slow start but rallied with his signature high octane offense. It was marvelous. Shingo kept bringing the big bombs and Lee continued to survive each shot. The fans started to believe and bit on every Lee near fall late. But after 17:20, Shingo proved to be too much. He kicked out of a dramatic knee strike, escaped Desnucadora, and won with Last of the Dragon. It was a case where one guy unloaded his best shot and the other was just too good. Shingo is special. [****¼]

36. NXT Tag Team Championship Ladder Match: Danny Burch and Oney Lorcan vs. The Forgotten Sons vs. The Street Profits vs. The Undisputed Era – NXT TakeOver XXV

When the Viking Raiders were moved to Raw, they were still the NXT Tag Team Champions. So, the decision was made for them to give up the titles. In need of new champions, four of the top tandems in NXT were put into this ladder match. They proceeded to come incredibly close to stealing the show on this particular evening. I love the Undisputed Era, really like Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch, and think the Street Profits are so much fun. The Forgotten Sons were there, as well. For 21:30, these guys put their bodies on the line and gave us a hell of an entertaining affair. There were so many great moments in this and the pace never slowed. Even though I dissed the Forgotten Sons, they were welcome because the crowd hated them. Whenever they got close to winning, the fans were engaged as they desperately wanted them to fail. Plus, it allowed Jaxson Ryker to get involved and he added another wrinkle to this when everyone teamed up to take him out. In the end, the Profits came out as the champions. It wasn’t just a great moment because the popular duo deserved it. There was the added bonus that this was Angelo Dawkins’ first TakeOver appearance despite being signed to NXT for several years. The win and celebration were special. [****¼]

35. Worlds Collide Tournament Finals: Tyler Bate vs. Velveteen Dream – WWE Worlds Collide 2/2/19

The concept of WWE’s Worlds Collide Tournament is a great one. Take wrestlers from their loaded rosters and put them in matches they wouldn’t usually compete in. The finals came down to Tyler Bate and Velveteen Dream. It’s something we had seen once before but Dream had grown exponentially as a competitor since then. He entered this match with his ribs taped like DDP. It was an interesting change of pace since Tyler Bate was the guy who had the injury going into the UK Championship Finals in 2017. Dream sold the hell out of those ribs throughout this 16:09 encounter. Even when he’d hit offense, he’d have to stop and regroup. Having him as the guy fighting from behind against the smaller Bate was an interesting and unexpected take that I loved. This felt important and you got the sense that both guys were feeling the effects of the tournament. That’s always key in the finals of any setting like this. Dream nearly passed out from a vicious Boston Crab but survived and weathered the storm of Bate offense. He won soon after with the Purple Rainmaker and used the title shot he earned to become North American Champion. Two ridiculously talented wrestlers who should be on top of this business for years to come. [****¼]

34 .Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Jay White – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors Finals – 6/5/19

Jay White and Hiroshi Tanahashi have been intertwined since White returned from excursion at the end of 2017. He challenged Tanahashi for the Intercontinental Title at Wrestle Kingdom and came up short. Soon after, White became more ruthless and has since gone on to have one of the most successful funs in NJPW. That includes dethroning Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Title in February 2019 in a match that nearly made this list. By the time Tanahashi returned, White had dropped the title but the feud was still there. There was an intensity to this one that I loved. One thing that makes White matches good is his character work. He talked so much trash and was such an asshole for the entire 19:16 runtime. White jumped him before the bell and held control because of it. He removed Tanahashi’s protective brace on his injured elbow and I live for that kind of stuff. It’s awesome and Tanahashi sold the hell out of the injury. He couldn’t complete moves, which added to the drama when he was trapped in a Fujiwara Armbar. I thought White won it after interference from Gedo and a low blow but Tanahashi wouldn’t be denied. He hit a low blow of his own and went for the Texas Cloverleaf, only for White to counter into an inside cradle and steal it. I loved how this was different from your standard NJPW fare. Brilliantly worked. [****¼]

33. NXT UK Tag Titles: Grizzled Young Veterans vs. Moustache Mountain – NXT UK TakeOver: Blackpool

While I enjoyed the first TakeOver: Blackpool, I’d say the show only featured one match that I would consider great. And that’s the one it began with. Moustache Mountain was the most popular duo on the brand while Grizzled Young Vets were easily the most hated. It’s an easy recipe yet it works so well when done right. It made for such a great atmosphere. One thing I love about Moustache Mountain is how the bigger guy takes the heat. Trent Seven was the one who got isolated during this match, setting up the hot tag for Tyler Bate. Seven took a nasty elbow from James Drake that busted him open, adding to the drama and desperation. When we finally got Tyler’s hot tag, it was one of the best all year. His BIG STRONG BOI spot where he lifted both opponents was insane. How is Tyler Bate even a real human? The final 5-10 minutes are some of the best stuff you’ll see anywhere. I lost it on the Helter Skelter/450 splash combo that led to a near fall. I didn’t even know Drake could do a 450 splash. Eventually, after 23:46, the Grizzled Young Vets used Ticket to Mayhem to become the first NXT UK Tag Team Champions. I love tag team wrestling. [****¼]

32. NXT Championship: Adam Cole [c] vs. Matt Riddle – WWE NXT 10/2/19

With the debut of AEW Dynamite on October 2nd, WWE had to combat it with a huge episode of NXT. And they delivered. The episode turned out to be an all-timer and it started with a hell of a bang. Adam Cole defended his NXT Championship against Matt Riddle. This isn’t a matchup we had seen before unless you randomly watched a PWG show from 2017. But with how smoothly this all went, you’d think they had wrestled tons of times before. Nearly every exchange was crisp and came off great. They wowed the audience for 13:49, packing more action into that timeframe than a lot of people could in triple that amount. It felt like something we’d get on a TakeOver. This was two guys unloading their entire arsenals on one another in an attempt to be champion. And sometimes that’s all you want in a match. That made the title feel important. The closing five minutes were about as good as you’ll see anywhere. With a molten hot crowd and this level of action, you couldn’t have asked for a better way to start the show. Cole retained with the Last Shot, adding another feather in the cap of his great run as NXT Champion. [****¼]

31. WWE United States Championship: Samoa Joe [c] vs. Andrade vs. R-Truth vs. Rey Mysterio – WWE Fastlane

Considering he had about 25 reigns as the 24/7 Champion, you might have forgotten that R-Truth also held the United States Title this year. He lost it to Samoa Joe shortly before Fastlane. WWE decided to combine their issues with the ones involving Andrade and Rey Mysterio to give us a surprising US Title match. I love when those kind of matches end up being great and that’s just what this did. This only went 10:51 but was filled with about 25 minutes’ worth of action. So much happened, yet it all felt smart, crisp, and exciting. You would think they had weeks to come up with some of the spots they pulled off. Andrade and Rey were given shine for their feud, Joe was the bruiser we know him to be, and R-Truth hit us with the comedy he’s known for. They even made sure to include Carmella and Zelina Vega in the action. Joe would force Mysterio to pass out in the Coquina Clutch to retain, bringing one of the most fun matches of the year to a close. It fantastic minutes featuring four guys who are highly enjoyable to watch and two great female characters doing their thing at ringside. It all came together for something special. [****¼]

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Kevin Pantoja