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Kevin’s Top 100 Matches Of 2019: #90-81

January 31, 2020 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
Johnny Gargano Velveteen Dream NXT

90. KENTA vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW G1 Climax 8/10/19

After starting the G1 Climax 4-0, KENTA lost his next four matches. Zack Sabre Jr. also didn’t have the best tournament in terms of his win/loss record. With this match taking place on the final A Block night, there wasn’t much in the way of drama or stakes. However, both men were looking to avoiding an embarrassing result. Sabre finishing with only 6 points would suck, while five straight losses for KENTA was a tough pill to swallow. They worked the match around their strengths. Sabre’s submission skills against KENTA’s strikes. Sabre targeted KENTA’s surgically repaired shoulder. KENTA would break a submission with a brutal knee and Sabre would find random openings to trap him again. It was simple and great. Sabre kept up the streak of making crucial mistakes in the G1 like getting goaded into a strike exchange he had no chance of winning. He’d just get floored by a forearm. Sabre looked out of it when KENTA hoisted him up for the GTS. But then he countered it into a guillotine that he turned into the Jim Breaks Armbar. Some boots to the head added viciousness and KENTA was forced to give up at the 16:26 mark. About as good a styles clash as you’ll find. [****]

89. Cesaro vs. Ilja Dragunov – NXT UK TakeOver: Cardiff

Remember that time Cesaro randomly appeared in NXT UK? It was awesome. He surprisingly took part in the action at TakeOver: Cardiff and reminded people of why he’s held in such high esteem. I have always been someone who felt like Cesaro was the best tag team wrestler in the world and someone who is kind of just there as a singles guy. Even so, he can turn in performances like this and be fantastic. Ilja Dragunov was kind of the perfect opponent for him. He can hit just as hard and take a beating. A few of the spots early came across rather awkwardly. You could tell they weren’t all that used to each other. But as soon we got treated to the 40 spin Cesaro Swing, this kicked up in quality and never slowed down. The exchanges the rest of the way were insane. Cesaro’s Go to Sleep style stomach breaker and charging European Uppercut led to two of the best near falls of the year. Dragunov came close but got caught with a popup uppercut and the Neutralizer, losing after an intense 12:26. This didn’t need a backstory. Cesaro should have stayed in NXT UK. He can just wrestle there and it’ll work in a way it doesn’t on the main roster. [****]

88. Women’s Royal Rumble – WWE Royal Rumble

The inaugural women’s Royal Rumble in 2018 proved to be one of the most fun matches of the year. It was filled with fun surprise entrants and blasts from the past. This year’s iteration chose to focus on the present and future of the women’s division. It got off to a rocky start with several awkward exchanges between Natalya and Lacey Evans. But once other entrants started coming out, things picked up. The Naomi/Mandy Rose rivalry played a factor. The IIconics worked as a team. NXT guests like Candice LeRae, Xia Li, Kairi Sane, Io Shirai, and Rhea Ripley all added some flair to the match. Kacy Catanzaro had one of the best moments in Royal Rumble history with the incredible way that she staved off elimination. It was better than anything previously done by Kofi Kingston. There was a really bad sequence involving Maria Kanellis and Alicia Fox that was easily the low point. The Hornswoggle appearance was random and cleverly done. Beyond all of the fun was the main story of Becky Lynch taking the spot of the injured Lana at the tail end of the match. It fittingly came down to her and Charlotte Flair, with Becky winning out after a grand total of 71:24. And it was so much fun. [****]

87. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. KENTA – NJPW G1 Climax 7/14/19

If you’ve ever watched KENTA, you have probably figured out that he’s at his best when he’s being a total asshole. That was the case when I watched him in NOAH, ROH, and 205 Live. After besting Kota Ibushi to start the G1 Climax, his next meeting was against the defending G1 champion, Hiroshi Tanahashi. Katsuyori Shibata was on commentary, opting not to pick a side here. I thought the dynamic of this match was excellent. Tanahashi looked at KENTA with disgust as if his style of wrestling was beneath him. KENTA didn’t shy away, firing off hard strikes and stiff kicks. To combat it, Tanahashi started in with dragon screws and leg work. It’s so simple, yet so effective. KENTA busted out Shibata’s sleeper hold/Penalty Kick combo but Tanahashi had it scouted. He’s faced Shibata a ton before so that makes sense. Tanahashi sold the GTS like death and it is what did him in after a great 18:35. This was one of the best outings from Tanahashi during the G1 Climax and arguably the best stuff we saw from KENTA all year long. He was only two matches into the NJPW run and was out to make a statement. He succeeded. [****]

86. Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Semifinals: Aleister Black and Ricochet vs. #DIY – WWE NXT 3/13/19

NXT played host to some absolutely ridiculous matches in 2019. This was one of them. During the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa found themselves teaming up once again. They beat the Undisputed Era in a hell of a quarterfinal match, setting up this meeting with two of the hottest stars in NXT, Aleister Black and Ricochet. Considering Ciampa/Black and Gargano/Ricochet were singles matches on the previous TakeOver, there was an added bonus of history here. To show they were truly back, #DIY busted out their old t-shirts and everything. The match was an exhilarating 13:26. Black and Ricochet once again showed why they were one of the best tag teams in the world, while #DIY looked like they hadn’t missed a beat. This whole thing was nonstop action but they added a story element. Gargano’s knee gave out, leaving Ciampa to fend for himself. He ate the Black Mass and a 630 to take the loss. It led to Ciampa trying to attack Gargano after the match, only for Johnny to reveal that he had been faking and turn the tables. It was supposed to setup their TakeOver match but Ciampa’s injury changed that. Regardless, we got this banger out of their reunion. [****]

85. IWGP Intercontinental Championship No DQ Match: Chris Jericho [c] vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 13

At Dominion 2018, Chris Jericho won the IWGP Intercontinental Title from Tetsuya Naito in a very good match (***¾). On that night, Jericho attacked Naito before the bell. Naito returned the favor this time around and ended up hitting a piledriver on the aisle. That set the tone for a match that did a great job with the No Disqualifications stipulation. At this stage in his career, Jericho has no business working a 20+ minute wrestling match (check the AEW Title match with Hangman Page for further proof). But a wild brawl? Jericho can do that for the 22:35 that this lasted. This got taken to the next level of violent when Jericho looked like he broke Naito’s neck with a DDT on a table. It was an insane bump. I loved how Naito would get as violent as Jericho and gave him welts with kendo stick shots, yet remained tranquilo as he swung it like a baseball bat. It was classic Naito. And it almost cost him when he got caught with a Codebreaker. Great exchange. There were weird moments too, like Jericho shoving the ref so he can do a low blow even though those are legal in this kind of match. After selling the hell out of a Codebreaker, Naito hit a pair of Destinos to regain his title. An absolute war and the best match Jericho had since leaving WWE up to this point. [****]

84. Satoshi Kojima vs. Shingo Takagi – NJPW Dominion

Shingo Takagi swept through the Best of the Super Juniors Tournament before losing in the finals to Will Ospreay. He opted to move to the heavyweight division where he belonged and his first true test was here against Satoshi Kojima. It made sense given how Shingo blamed a lack of experience on his loss and Kojima is brimming with experience. As soon as the bell rang, I got the sense that this was my kind of match. Two tough dudes wailing on each other. Kojima is like Yuji Nagata in that both men are done with G1 runs but I’d prefer them over some guys who are in these days because they can still go. These two had such a good time beating on one another that they almost both got counted out while trading forearms on the outside. You got the sense that this was important for both men. Shingo wanted to prove he belonged with the heavyweights and Kojima could prove he still had it and maybe earn another G1 entry. Shingo used the same bully tactics that he brought against the junior heavyweights but they didn’t work as well. It was a smart way to show that he was strong enough against bigger guys but that things wouldn’t come easy. Shingo fired up to win with Last of the Dragon in an action-packed 11:14. My kind of wrestling. [****]

83. NXT Championship: Adam Cole [c] vs. Daniel Bryan – WWE Smackdown 11/1/19

WWE has always been at their best when their backs are against the wall. The whole ordeal with most of the roster getting stranded in Saudi Arabia opened up opportunities as the company was forced to pivot. That resulted in the November 1st episode of Smackdown, which was easily the best since the move to Fox. NXT invaded and we were treated to entertaining matches and fun surprises. The best was the main event, which pit Daniel Bryan against Adam Cole for the NXT Championship. Just having that title defended on Smackdown was crazy enough but then consider the two men involved and it was a dream match for many. With Triple H and Shawn Michaels at ringside and all of the chaos throughout the night, you might have expected shenanigans in this one and no clean finish. Thankfully, they avoided that. Cole and Bryan were given 20:49 and they just put on a great showing. Quality back and forth action with Bryan giving Cole so much. He made sure that the NXT Champion looked like he was on his level. Bryan has been unbelievably unselfish since returning in early 2018. When Cole hit the Panama Sunrise and Last Shot to retain, it was arguably the biggest win of his career. A TV classic from two great performers. [****]

82. NXT North American Championship: Johnny Gargano [c] vs. Velveteen Dream – NXT 2/20/19

After winning the Worlds Collide Tournament, Velveteen Dream earned a shot at any NXT Title he desired. When he made the call to go after the North American Title held by Johnny Gargano, it set the stage for something great. Gargano had only just won the title a few weeks earlier and this was his first defense. He was now “Johnny Champion,” but for how long? In the early stages, Dream showed that the could match Johnny in terms fo technical ability. Once he did that, he slapped Johnny and tried to frustrate the champion. Johnny kept his cool and took control, wearing down the challenger. However, he got a bit too cocky. Stopping to pose for the crowd was a bad idea. That set up Dream’s second wind and the final ten or so minutes of this 20:41 was tremendous. It moved at a crazy pace after that. Drama, close calls, and a crowd that hung on every little thing that they did. Just as they were reaching a level of possibly overdoing it with the near falls and big spots, Dream hit the Purple Rainmaker to win the title, ending Johnny’s reign in short order. These are two of the best in the world and they delivered together, even if it wasn’t the best effort from either guy in 2019. [****]

81. NXT Tag Team Championship: The Undisputed Era [c] vs. War Raiders – NXT TakeOver: Phoenix

Before they moved to Raw and started mostly competing in squash matches, the War Raiders had a strong case for Tag Team of the Year. Matches like this showed why. The Undisputed Era entered in the midst of a stellar run as NXT Tag Team Champions. War Raiders marked their biggest challenge because of their sheer size. The champions started off by getting their asses kicked, but they turned the tide thanks to brilliant work. You could see why they were so dominant for so long. The heat segment worked and I was pleasantly surprised at how well War Raiders sold while still looking legitimate. Hanson’s hot tag was great. He’s so fun in that role. There’s a reason Undisputed Era have opened so many TakeOvers. They’ve mastered tag team wrestling and always have the crowd in a frenzy. As they neared the 16:57 conclusion, the closing stretch was straight up insane, though it hit a bit of overkill at points. Finally, War Raiders hit Fallout and were crowned new NXT Tag Team Champions. This was a hell of a way to start a show and some tremendous tag team wrestling. The best part is that both teams would go on to have better matches later in the year, as they were just getting warmed up. [****]