wrestling / Columns

Kevin’s Top 100 Matches Of 2019: #80-71

February 2, 2020 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
New Day Extreme Rules

80. Drew Gulak vs. Matt Riddle – EVOLVE 131

Though I no longer watch EVOLVE, I made sure to catch their 10th Anniversary Special. If they were on the WWE Network more often, I’d get back into it because this show was very good. Along with the Brandi Lauren/Shotzi Blackheart match, this was the highlight of the evening. Former Catch Point teammates in EVOLVE, Drew Gulak and Matt Riddle collided here. There was a built-in story beyond that though. While Gulak brought Riddle into Catch Point, he was never happy with Riddle’s laid back attitude. It caused them to clash often. Riddle seemed to come out here on a mission to prove to his old stablemate that he was more than worthy of being in the group. We were treated to a match that defined the Catch Point style. Lots of great mat wrestling and some stiff strikes thrown in for good measure. I loved how smooth and effective everything was. It was cool to see Gulak as the rare guy who didn’t instantly tap to the Bromission. The reaction when Drew applied the Gulock was unbelievable. Riddle countered and hit Bro Derek to score the win in 13:38. Just what I wanted from these two. It reminded me of when I did my best to see every EVOLVE event. [****]

79. Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Quarterfinals: Aleister Black and Ricochet vs. Fabian Aichner and Marcel Barthel – NXT 3/6/19

When people say that wrestling is better when it goes 25+ minutes, this is one of the matches to point to that defies that saying. Here, two great tag teams went at it for only 8:18, yet they captivated. Before becoming Imperium, Fabian Aichner and Marcel Barthel were just a team that killed it in short stints on NXT. This was their shining moment. They showed off great chemistry and proved to be formidable foes for two of the best wrestlers on the NXT roster. Speaking of Aleister Black and Ricochet, they were a makeshift team that excelled. I saw some people whine that they shouldn’t have been a team, but it’s hard to complain when they were so damn good together. As soon as Ricochet got the tag, this went from a good match to something great. Aichner and Barthel stole the show and put on one of the best performances you’ll see anywhere in 2019. And just when it looked like the match might hit the next level, a Black Mass ended things in an instant. And that was a great way to close things out. An outstanding sprint with great action from bell to bell. Exactly what I want from pro wrestling. [****]

78. Money in the Bank: Ali vs. Andrade vs. Baron Corbin vs. Brock Lesnar vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Finn Balor vs. Randy Orton vs. Ricochet – WWE Money in the Bank

You can usually expect at least one Money in the Bank match to crack this list each year. This go around, it was the men’s side of things. It makes sense considering this was one of the most talented groups in the history of the match. It had a little bit of everything from power guys to high flyers to major stars to jack of all trade style dudes. And that’s with Sami Zayn being taken out beforehand. It was the usual train wreck you expect from these matches and I mean that in the best possible way. A whole bunch of dudes beating the hell out of each other with ladders and risking their bodies. I dug a lot of the character stuff like Randy Orton chilling outside while everyone got involved in the action. The biggest spot was Andrade’s sunset flip bomb on Balor, which is one of the craziest moments of the year. From that point forward, this was non-stop insanity for the rest of the 19:01. There is just a ton of highlights and great moments the rest of the way. And then, the shocker came. Brock Lesnar made a random appearance, officially replacing Zayn, and took home the briefcase. Not a finish I liked but the rest of the match was enough to keep this on the list. [****]

77. El Phantasmo vs. Rocky Romero – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 5/24/19

I wasn’t supposed to like this match. It kind of had everything going against it. I like Rocky Romero but he hasn’t had a standout singles match in years. El Phantasmo is someone New Japan has pushed very hard but I don’t get it. He’s never managed to wow me. And then there was the length. I usually have an issue with a match going 28:38 when it doesn’t involve people who can make that time work. I didn’t think these two could. But dammit if they didn’t hook me. The action was good but this was all about the story. ELP came in unbeaten and having just defeated Jr. Heavyweight Champion Will Ospreay. He was riding high. Rocky was the past his prime veteran with barely any points. He hung tough and by the time 20 minutes had passed, you were completely in. Could he do it? Then we got the ref bump and you figured ELP would win that way. But he didn’t. There were teases of countout and DQ victories. As the time limit drew nearer, you thought it might go the distance. But with a minute and a half left, Rocky caught him in the Cross Armbreaker and pulled off the unthinkable upset. At 36 years old. In the main event. In Korakuen Hall. It was awesome. [****]

76. NXT North American Championship: Velveteen Dream [c] vs. Buddy Murphy – NXT 4/17/19

If you asked me to point out the two biggest breakout stars of 2018, I’d probably direct you to Velveteen Dream and Buddy Murphy. Other than becoming stars, they proved to be two of the best wrestlers anywhere in the world. The opportunity to see them compete against each other for the first time was something special. This rare return to NXT for Murphy stemmed from some backstage smack talk and we all benefitted from that simple setup. Both guys are basically the total package as performers. Dream adapted right to the style that Murphy perfected on 205 Live. Murphy played the aggressor who used his strength to overwhelm his taller opponent. Dream knew just went to take to the skies or bust out a superkick from out of nowhere to stop his momentum. The battle waged on to the point where both men took spills to the outside out of exhaustion. Buddy kept doing things like the “Cheeky Nandos Kick” and “V-Trigger” much better than the guys who popularized those names. I loved how he frantically tried getting Dream back inside to win the title and not just via countout, so he jumped in the ring and back out to break the count. But it all just led to Dream hitting a flurry of moves and retaining after a tremendous 14:55. Just let two of the best go at it and enjoy the results. [****]

75. Jay White vs. Kazuchika Okada – NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 13

In 2018, Jay White took down Kazuchika Okada early in the G1 Climax. A few months later, he took Gedo from Okada’s corner. This was the one match on the Wrestle Kingdom 13 card that wasn’t about a title. It was personal. But the real reason to get excited for this was Okada busting out his old theme and having money fall from the rafters. THE RAINMAKER WAS BACK! Even though he never really left. I wasn’t sold until he revealed that he was wearing shorts instead of the stupid long pants he sported for most of 2018. I’ve never seen a pair of thighs get a bigger ovation. The early stages of the match were typical Okada formula. I guess the Rainmaker was back after all. They sprinkled in bits where Gedo got involved so Okada could get physical revenge on him. I’m always down to see Gedo get beat up. Okada formula was a fine choice because the fans popped for every bit of it. They were happy their guy was back. That Rainmaker pose pop was something else. When he hit the first Rainmaker and held on for a second, the outcome seemed obvious. But then White countered that into Blade Runner to win from out of nowhere after 14:15. A brilliant finish. The whole match was built around Okada doing his signature stuff and making his valiant comeback, only for White to snuff him out. Far better than their title match later in the year. [****]

74. Team Drew Gulak vs. Team Oney Lorcan – WWE 205 Live 8/20/19

Anyone who knows my taste in wrestling knows that I love a good Survivor Series style match. 205 Live gave us one back in August. Cruiserweight Champion Drew Gulak selected Tony Nese, Ariya Daivari, Mike Kanellis, and NXT’s Angel Garza to be on his team. Oney Lorcan chose Humberto Carrillo, Jack Gallagher, Akira Tozawa, and NXT’s Isaiah “Swerve” Scott. There were so many fun moments in this. I dug the interactions between Garza and Carrillo over being the next big Mexican star. Gulak and Lorcan continued their intense feud. Scott had a history with Gulak after taking him to the limit a few weeks prior. Kanellis got an elimination to impress his wife and immediately got eliminated right after. Nese refused to get involved in the underhanded tactics of his teammates. Those were all great bits of storytelling. It came down to Carrillo and Lorcan for their team against Garza, Daivari, and Gulak. The champion got disqualified for using a chair on Lorcan, but Team Oney still rallied to pull out the win in 37:07. They dedicated an entire episode of 205 Live to this match and it was worth it. This succeeded in continuing angles, setting up new ones, and simply putting on highly entertaining pro wrestling. [****]

73. WWE Smackdown Tag Team Championship: Daniel Bryan and Rowan [c] vs. Heavy Machinery vs. The New Day – WWE Extreme Rules

At Stomping Grounds, we saw that heavy Machinery was more than just a comedy act. They put on a good match with Daniel Bryan and Rowan, coming close to winning the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. The follow up saw the addition of the New Day and that is never a bad thing. Otis was the entertaining star we know and love. Tucker showed off surprising athleticism. New Day were a ton of fun. Daniel Bryan shined as the star that he is and even Rowan got in a few highlights. They kept things moving at a brisk pace during this match. The action never slowed and they made perfect use of all of the moving parts. If one guy got taken out, another stepped in seamlessly. Bryan blind tagging in when everyone else did a Tower of Doom spot was perfect for his character. I also loved seeing Big E face off with Bryan just before the finish. He stood right up to him and New Day hit Midnight Hour to win the titles in 13:41. I love the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. It has given us so many strong matches. This really helped to showcase how good the WWE tag team division was at times this year. Everyone did their part, the Big E/Bryan stuff ruled, and Woods pinned Bryan. What a show. [****]

72. Falls Count Anywhere Match: The Miz vs. Shane McMahon – WWE WrestleMania

This will probably be the most disliked or controversial pick of the entire list. There are still people who don’t want to give Miz the respect he deserves and Shane McMahon was one of the most hated performers of the past year. And while I didn’t love Shane’s 2018-2019 run, he delivered on this night. In fact, it marked his third straight Mania with a good to great match. Whenever I see a Falls Count Anywhere Match, all I ask is that things barely go down in the ring. It’s why I loved Cage vs. The Mack at Ultima Lucha a few years ago so much. Thankfully, this followed that trend. Most of this took place away from the ring. Well, other than Miz’s dad squaring up to fight Shane, giving us one of the best memes of the year. A bloody Miz regrouped and the fight went all over the stadium. It all built wonderfully to a huge spot on a scaffolding. Miz delivered a massive superplex off of it through something on the floor. It was a wild spot. Shane landed on top of Miz and the referee counted three to give us the result after 15:27. One hell of a match that used its stipulation well. [****]

71. Number One Contender’s Match: AJ Styles vs. Mustafa Ali vs. Randy Orton vs. Rey Mysterio vs. Samoa Joe – WWE Smackdown 1/1/19

2019 got off to a hot start because of Smackdown Live. The winner of this match, featuring five of the best wrestlers you’ll find anywhere, would earn a shot at Daniel Bryan at the Royal Rumble. There were a few different story threads here. AJ Styles had been tasked with being more aggressive by Mr. McMahon and that shined here. Mustafa Ali was all about showing heart as he attacked Samoa Joe right at the bell. Rey Mysterio was still searching for a signature win since returning. I loved almost every interaction in this. You had guys shifting in and out seamlessly and almost everything they did clicked beautifully. Styles got destroyed when Joe put him through the announce table and all hope seemed lost for him. The back and forth between Ali and Mysterio was some of the best we were treated to all year. Orton and Joe got involved again, leading to a wild flurry of offense hit by everyone in the match. Just when it looked like Joe was left alone, Styles returned with a springboard 450 splash to earn another WWE Title shot at the 13:06 mark. A fantastic way to start the new year. [****]