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Kevin’s Top 100 Matches Of 2019: #60-51

February 7, 2020 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
NXT DIY 3-6-19

60. Jeff Cobb vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW G1 Climax 7/13/19

You can usually bet on two or three bangers to start the G1 Climax. This year, the best of the bunch from the first two nights came from Jeff Cobb and Tomohiro Ishii. It was a highly anticipated bout because of their styles. Both guys can hit hard and Ishii is usually incredible in hoss fights (though he’s outstanding in everything). Consider this one of the Tomohiro Ishii G1 Specials. That’s when he and another tough guy just batter each other for about 15 minutes and we lose our minds watching it. That’s just what they did here. Cobb may not have handled the strike exchange as well but he started throwing Ishii around with ease and the fans ate it up. They love a powerful gaijin and that’s where Cobb excels. The closing minutes were the expected wild ride you get in a G1 Climax match. Lots of hard strikes and big counters. After 18:33, Ishii was able to keep Cobb down for good with the Vertical Drop Brainbuster. It was the first in a series of strong G1 outings this year for Ishii and the high point for Cobb’s New Japan run. [****¼]

59. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW G1 Climax 7/18/19

New Japan has run this match into the ground by this point but I’m usually up for G1 meetings. This is where guys typically don’t go for the epic and instead give us a killer compact outing. Both men came into this with 0-2 records in the G1, so they desperately needed to win to stay alive. With no TAKA Michinoku in his corner, Sabre Jr. spent a lot of this G1 getting frustrated and losing his cool. This was the first time it really showed during a match. He dominated at times but couldn’t put Tanahashi away. His desperation to not fall to 0-3 was clear. Tanahashi used that to keep things close. This whole thing was filled with crisp wrestling, smooth counters, and some flash pin near falls that the fans were enthralled by. Tanahashi is always great when fighting from behind. He put himself in position for High Fly Flow but Sabre Jr. caught it into a triangle. However, Tanahashi was prepared due to all of their previous meetings. He rolled it over into a cradle to steal this after 13:56. They told a smart, wonderful story based on their past and desire to get that first win. And they did it with some exceptional exchanges. [****¼]

58. Drew Gulak vs. Isaiah Scott – WWE 205 Live 7/23/19

There’s a very good chance that Isaiah “Swerve” Scott is one of the breakout stars of 2020. He could be what Ricochet was to 2019. An athletic dude who wows the crowd and puts on great matches. His first true opportunity to showcase his skills came on this episode of 205 Live against Drew Gulak. Though Gulak was Cruiserweight Champion at the time, the title wasn’t on the line. I loved the story they told about Gulak being someone who trained Scott. However, they threw in a twist by saying Gulak was vicious and a bully as a trainer. That was a nice wrinkle to add to the intensity here and keep Gulak’s heel persona strong. Despite Scott being new to 205 Live, he hung tough with the champion. They knew what to expect from each other and had to dig deep to gain the upper hand. Scott weathered the storm of having his hand targeted for most of the match. As they neared the conclusion, they managed to make me believe that Scott could pull off the upset. Alas, Gulak proved to be too much for him to overcome, winning in 14:08. This came from out of nowhere and was probably the most overlooked great match of 2019. [****¼]

57. Shingo Takagi vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW G1 Climax 8/4/19

I have loved when members of Los Ingobernables de Japon meet in the G1 Climax. It usually makes for a good story and gives us a great match (EVIL/SANADA, Naito/SANADA are good examples). Shingo Takagi had an opportunity to beat the leader of his stable on this night. Neither guy was lighting the tournament on fire. Shingo had just 4 points while Tetsuya Naito scored only 6 despite being the Intercontinental Champion. In fact, Naito needed to win here to stay alive in the standings. Shingo wasn’t going to let him get two points easily. He had his leader scouted expertly and countered most of his stuff. Naito had come into the match saying he wanted to see a more aggressive Shingo and he got his wish. Shingo was all over him and you could sense his desperation to get two points. Naito had less energy behind him but that’s just who Naito is. Whenever Naito got momentum going, Shingo would just wallop him. Naito brought it harder in this than he did for the rest of the tournament. He threw himself into every bump and had extra snap on his own offense. He hit a Destroyer and Destino to score the win in 27:15. [****¼]

56. New Japan Cup Semifinals: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. SANADA – NJPW New Japan Cup 3/23/19

SANADA is such an interesting case because he’s always teetering on greatness but never quite reaching it. If there’s one man who has brought out the best in him throughout his career, it is Hiroshi Tanahashi. And why not? He’s the Ace for a reason. Nobody makes SANADA look like a star the way Tanahashi has. Their two matches in 2016 both got ****¼ from me. SANADA had the crowd behind him as this was near his hometown but Tanahashi is wise enough to understand how to combat that disadvantage. The story of both men learning under Keiji Mutoh came into play once again. It always adds a nice bit of depth whenever they square off. They had each other well scouted which set up great exchanges. I loved Tanahashi getting a near fall when he got his knees up on a moonsault. It was simple yet worked because he knew SANADA plays that card often and because Tanahashi won an earlier tourney match with a flash pin. In fact, SANADA countered the pin that won that previous outing into the Skull End for the best moment of the match. That turned out to be the finish, as Tanahashi gave up after 24:11. Once again, this combination delivered a great match.[****¼]

55. Bandido vs. Will Ospreay – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 5/23/19

Bandido and Will Ospreay are two guys with skill sets that should let you know exactly what you’re going to get when you watch them face off. It would be fast paced and feature action that will blow you away. And they did that in this much-hyped BOSJ meeting. It was fine as the athletic contest we expected. What really turned this into something special was when they started bringing out the power offense. We all know that Ospreay moved up to heavyweight status and had the strength to showcase. But Bandido outshined him in that department with an impressive one handed press slam. That’s just sick. Around 15 minutes in, both men were worn down from big offense and stiff strikes. They managed to expertly blend hard hitting action with the aerial stuff they’re probably most known for. Will did his best “land on my feet” spot when Bandido tried the 21 Plex. He hit Storm Breaker soon after and won in 18:03. Anyone who follows my reviews knows my feelings on this. Will Ospreay is at his best when he’s kept under 20 minutes and this was no different. Bandido looked great and should be brought back for the 2020 BOSJ. [****¼]

54. Jon Moxley vs. Shingo Takagi – NJPW G1 Climax 7/24/19

Hands down, the two most interesting names in this year’s G1 Climax were Jon Moxley and Shingo Takagi. The former was new to the company and brought something different from everyone else on the roster, while the latter is a phenomenal wrestler who moved up to the heavyweight division for the tournament. Though this was a first time match, they had history as members of the same faction in Dragon Gate USA. This got off to an intense start. There was an awkward moment when Moxley went for a tope suicida but the rest of this match came off pretty smoothly. I liked the continuing story of how Shingo’s offense that dominated the juniors wasn’t quite as effective against bigger guys. Like his sliding lariat just got caught and blocked. Moxley targeted the leg, being vicious with every attack. But when Shingo got going, he walloped Moxley and the Pumping Bomber near fall was great. They went all out with a ring post Figure Four, the use of tables and chairs, and some awesome drama late. Shingo rallied and you believed he might be the first one to beat Moxley. But the leg was too damaged and he submitted to a Texas Cloverleaf after 14:45. [****¼]

53. IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Kota Ibushi [c] vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW Sengoku Lord

Man, New Japan likes to throw me curveballs with the names of their major events. Following the Madison Square Garden show, they needed a big show in Japan for April which led to Sengoku Lord. The night was headlined by Kota Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. and that’s a pairing that I adore. They just work so seamlessly together. This was another of those encounters. Everything they did was just so smooth. It’s almost effortless. Sabre was vicious, applying submissions while Ibushi was on the guardrail and attacking his previously damaged neck. But Sabre got too cocky. He’d offer up a disrespectful slap or kick and that would open the door for Ibushi to rally because that’s his strong suit. The closing stretch of this awesome 28:58 battle was just what you’d expect from a big time New Japan match. It was filled with big counters, close calls, and drama that made me believe Ibushi might lose the title in his first defense. He ultimately retained with Kamigoye. It is saying something about their chemistry that this was probably only their third or fourth best match together. [****¼]

52. Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Quarterfinals: #DIY vs. The Undisputed Era – NXT 3/6/19

It’s one of the ultimate NXT dream matches. Two of the best tag teams in NXT history getting the one chance to square off. Tommaso Ciampa entered as NXT Champion and had Johnny Gargano back at his side after he lost the North American Title. The idea was that Ciampa was the key to Johnny’s success. The reaction from the crowd when they stopped on their way to the ring and the old #DIY theme hit was special. With two teams of this caliber, the expectations could not have been higher. Yet they lived up to them and then some. This was a classic filled with incredible tag team wrestling. They blended in the smooth wrestling with the high spots and the dramatic close calls. It was beautiful. And it all went down in just 14:04. They put together something outstanding without ever overdoing it. This peaked at the right moment and ended with  #DIY hitting their old Meeting in the Middle finisher. Despite not having teamed in over a year, Gargano and Ciampa didn’t miss a beat. And we all benefitted from it. [****¼]

51. IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada [c] vs. Minoru Suzuki – NJPW Royal Quest

Kazuchika Okada as IWGP Heavyweight Champion is such a tired concept at this point. We’ve seen him wrestle against pretty much everyone in the company and his most recent title run failed to produce many great matches. But this one delivered. Minoru Suzuki is someone who usually works well as an Okada opponent outside of their 2017 title match. Here, they competed at a show in the United Kingdom and gave us one of the best IWGP Title matches of the year. It was a case where Suzuki dominated but not to the point of that 2017 debacle. That meant Okada’s ultimate comeback came across as more realistic and not cartoonish. Suzuki kept cutting off that comeback with vicious shots, including one to the back of the neck that will hurt you even as just a viewer. Still, Okada remained the cocky prick of a champion that he is. He knows he runs the company. Even the stiffest of shots couldn’t humble him. You believed Suzuki’s anger at being left out of the G1 Climax. He took it out on Okada. Alas, the champion went into Rainmaker mode and retained after 33:25. It didn’t need to surpass 30 minutes but the time kind of flew by and this was great. [****¼]