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Kevin’s Top 100 Matches Of 2019: #50-41

February 8, 2020 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
Brock Lesnar Finn Balor Royal Rumble

50. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kota Ibushi – NJPW G1 Climax 8/3/19

When Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kota Ibushi face each other, you’re almost guaranteed to get something special. They came into this with a strong G1 Climax history, meeting in 2015, 2017, and then in last year’s finals. By this point in the tournament, a lot was on the line. A loss for Tanahashi would effectively eliminate him and that would mark his earliest exit from G1 contention ever. That added a sense of drama to this match that some others from this part of the tournament were lacking. As always, these two put on a match filled with crisp encounters and great action. The story here was that Tanahashi was a better and smarter wrestler but that didn’t matter because Ibushi is kind of a freak of nature. Even after having his bad leg worked over he would find a way to get something going. His body could overcome any issues. In trouble, Tanahashi resorted to slaps but was outdueled that way as well. Ibushi hit Kamigoye to eliminate him after 15:53. They went out and told a story you don’t often see but it worked. As good as Tanahashi is, his time has passed and Ibushi is next in line. [****¼]

49. NEVER Openweight Championship: KENTA [c] vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW Power Struggle

As soon as I heard that KENTA was coming to New Japan, a bunch of match possibilities ran through my head. One that stood out was him against Tomohiro Ishii. We got it when KENTA turned on him during a tag and they began feuding. Their first meeting at Royal Quest was hampered by KENTA getting concussed in the early stages. While it was still good, it didn’t live up to the high expectations I had for it. Thankfully, their rematch at Power Struggle fixed pretty much all of the past issues. Both men were healthy for this one. It also didn’t get dragged down by a bunch of Bullet Club shenanigans. Instead, it was a straight up fight between two badass wrestlers. Ishii hits as hard as anyone in the business and KENTA was ready to give it right back to him. Except he did it while being a complete asshole. That’s when KETNA is at his best. KENTA was ruthless without needing any help. That’s the kind of champion he needs to be. KENTA eventually hit the Go to Sleep to retain in a hard hitting 20:12. This is the NEVER Openweight Title that I know and love. [****¼]

48. Will Ospreay vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW G1 Climax 7/30/19

I’ve seen these two make serious magic with each other. Their 2016 match at EVOLVE during WrestleMania weekend was one of the best things I saw that year. They’ve followed it up with strong outings in places like RevPro and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. The G1 Climax this year gave them their first shot to meet in New Japan and they delivered what was possibly their second best match together. With their knowledge of one another, it made the slow start sensible. And it wasn’t just slow and boring. They stuff they did made sense and was about gaining the upper hand. Sabre grew frustrated at his inability to outwrestle Ospreay. That’s supposed to be his wheelhouse but his rival was right there with him. Sabre also got more vicious as he targeted Will’s bad neck. Making that the focus of Will’s G1 was a good move because he didn’t have to try and sell the leg while still getting in his offense. It’s a better option for him. Ospreay stayed alive with hope spots and the occasional big move. He went for Storm Breaker but had it countered into an Octopus Hold. The neck work was too much and Ospreay had to submit in 20:02. One of the stronger G1 matches of the year. [****¼]

47. WWE Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar [c] vs. Finn Balor – WWE Royal Rumble

It’s no secret that Brock Lesnar works better with smaller opponents. Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, CM Punk etc. Or maybe he just has no respect for Braun Strowman and chooses to squash him each time out. Anyway, given his track record, it should come as no surprise that Lesnar put on a stellar match with Finn Balor. I saw some people complain that Balor didn’t bring out the “Demon.” While I get that it would help him, he has mostly used it for bitter rivalries since leaving NXT and this wasn’t that. Balor came out with a dropkick to try and overwhelm Lesnar. Brock turned the tide but then Finn got an opening when one of Brock’s weaknesses got hit. He hit the announce table and saw his diverticulitis flare up. There’s that, kicks to the dick, banging his head into the ring post, and steel steps. His only weaknesses. Having that cause problems meant Brock couldn’t dominate the way he usually does. It allowed Balor to score some near falls and give fans hope that he might pull this shocker off. Balor also brought a little something extra for every bit of offense he got. Alas, he got caught in the Kimura and tapped out in 8:36. One of the best sprints of all time. They told a hell of a story in under ten minutes, gave us great action, and I bought into some of the drama. [****¼]

46. EVIL vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW Wrestling Dontaku

If there’s one recipe for a great match that I love, it’s when two brutal guys just beat the hell out of each other. Before this encounter, EVIL and Tomohiro Ishii had split two very good matches in their past. One even made this list back in 2016. But this one had the most intense build. Each time they saw each other, it was a war. This started by picking up where those brawls left off. They just wailed on one another as soon as the bell rang. In a tag match the night before, EVIL beat Ishii with a Scorpion Death Lock, so it made sense that he targeted the knee in this one. He saw a weakness and wanted to exploit it. Ishii remains one of the best in the world at selling. Even the moments where he was desperately trying to get to the ropes was tremendous. You believe in everything he does. Everyone popped when he turned the tables and applied his own Scorpion Death Lock. The final stretch saw a series of stiff shots and counter wrestling. It’s the kind of thing that Ishii is made for. It was all done in a way that felt believable, which you don’t often get. Ishii pulled out the win with the Brainbuster after a fantastic 23:08. [****¼]

45. Aleister Black vs. Buddy Murphy – WWE TLC

I talk often about how matches don’t need to be long to be great. This is a shining example. Aleister Black and Buddy Murphy at TLC was a simple setup. These are two of the best wrestlers on the planet who were underutilized in 2019. But they were given the opportunity to shine on the final pay-per-view of the year and they made the best of it. They were given 13:40 and put on an incredible show. Murphy showed no intimidation and sat across from Black at the bell. That set the tone for a fantastic back and forth contest. Black was busted open within minutes. I loved how they managed to work around their usual spots when the other guy countered them. Like when Black blocked a sunset flip bomb so Murphy just unleashed a fury of superkicks instead. The near falls late were tremendous, particularly the one after Murphy’s Brainbuster. The finish was also one of my favorites of the year. They went into an incredible exchange of kicks and strikes, with Black hitting Black Mass from out of nowhere. An outstanding gem that should catapult both guys into the next level of superstardom. [****¼]

44. Taichi vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW G1 Climax 8/11/19

Believe me. I never expected to find a Taichi match on my year-end list. But here we are. His history with Tomohiro Ishii wasn’t one that I was fond of. They usually had pretty good matches but nothing great. That all changed on the final night of the G1 Climax. Though neither man could win the tournament, Taichi came in with a lot on the line. A win over the NEVER Openweight Champion could earn him a shot and it would keep him out of the bottom of the standings. That’s probably why he came out with his biggest offense. This wasn’t your typical Taichi. There were no shenanigans or BS. He stepped in that ring and went to war with Ishii. Throw in the back story relating to their past training and you could understand why this became such a fight. Pride was on the line and it was clear. They packed so much intensity into 11:56 and I appreciated that. The near falls in the final two or three minutes were fantastic. Taichi picked up the win with Black Mephisto in what was, hands down, the best performance I have ever seen him put on. G1 sprints are the best. [****¼]

43. IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuya Naito [c] vs. Kota Ibushi – NJPW G1 Supercard

I spent most of the G1 Supercard waiting for the show to get great. The dumpster fire that is Ring of Honor kept dragging the show down while New Japan was dealing out solid stuff. It picked up with Sabre/Tanahashi but peaked with this encounter. Tetsuya Naito and Kota Ibushi can make magic together in the ring. Their match in the G1 Climax 27 is one of my all-time favorites. They can also scare the hell out of anyone watching them. Within minutes, they were dumping each other on their heads for the Madison Square Garden faithful. Everything looked fantastic, terrifying, and enthralling. It’s a strange mix that only these two seem to manage to pull off. The pace down the stretch was absolutely ridiculous. Their chemistry always wows me. Destino wasn’t enough to win because that’s just who Naito is at this point. Ibushi went nuts in the final moments, hitting all sorts of knee strikes and offense. He ultimately used Kamigoye at the 20:53 mark to finally win the Intercontinental Title. Not their best work but that just shows how great these two are when they’re together. [****¼]

42. The Revival vs. The Undisputed Era – NXT 11/20/19

Survivor Series didn’t turn out to be a stellar show on its own. However, it did provide us with some great moments (like Shayna Baszler’s staredown with Becky Lynch) and dope matches. This was easily the best of them all. The Revival and the Undisputed Era have strong cases to be made as the best tag teams in all of wrestling. It was the kind of dream match that we didn’t expect to get, especially when New Day won the Smackdown Tag Team Titles from the Revival and replaced them in the Survivor Series match. Thankfully, this episode of NXT saw the Revival return to where they started. The match was just 24:49 of pure tag team excellence. It was like watching a masterclass as two teams showed us how you do tandem wrestling. It was beautiful. The Revival played the de facto babyfaces and didn’t miss a beat. Everything was seamless and smooth, making for one of the best straight up tag matches all year long. The final few minutes features incredible drama, a hot crowd, and some fantastic close calls. Scott Dawson fell to the high/low combo from the Undisputed Era to end something special. Just give us a rematch in 2020, please. [****¼]

41. RevPro British Heavyweight Championship: Tomohiro Ishii [c] vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 13

I love when these two wrestle. Their styles are so different but they manage to complement each other incredibly well. I loved how Zack Sabre Jr. came out aggressively. It was a way to match Tomohiro Ishii, yet it also showed how Ishii’s wins over him in the past took him off of his game. Sabre did come in with the goal of destroying Ishii’s arm. It was his sole focus. That’s a good move because it negates a lot of Ishii’s power strikes. He would bait Ishii to try strikes so he could catch the arm and work it. Still, Ishii had all sorts of counters ready. It made for a gripping match filled with twists and turns, regardless of the straightforward setup of it all. In the end, Sabre Jr. caught Ishii in his ridiculously named double armbar stretch, called “Hurrah! Another Year, Surely This One Will Be Better Than the Last; The Inexorable March of Progress Will Lead Us All to Happiness.” Yes, that’s the name. Ishii tapped out, making Sabre the champion after 11:30. Just good old fashioned wrestling. Technically proficient and filled with late drama. [****¼]