wrestling / Columns

Kevin’s Top 100 Matches Of 2020 (#20 – 11)

January 26, 2021 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
NXT Takeover: WarGames Rhea Ripley Raquel Gonzalez

20. NEVER Openweight Championship: Shingo Takagi [c] vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW New Japan Road 2/20/20

During the G1 Climax in 2019, Shingo Takagi and Tomohiro Ishii had the best match. In fact, it ranked higher than any other NJPW match of 2019 for me on this list. A rematch was highly anticipated and it surprisingly didn’t come at a major show. Instead, it was allowed to headline a New Japan Road event. At 27:04, it did last a bit too long but they managed to make it work. While it wasn’t quite on the level of the G1 outing, this was right behind it. Vicious strikes, insane exchanges, great late drama, and some ridiculous close calls. Ishii continues to be the best in the world at kicking out at the very last second. He can also somehow give out a great beating and take one better than almost anyone. That made for a wild dynamic when paired with Shingo, who is awesome at everything. They beat the hell out of each other and when it was all said and done, Shingo hit Last of the Dragon to complete his first title defense. It was another step in making him into a star. [****½]

19. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi [c] vs. Ryu Lee –NJPW The New Beginning in Osaka

Their history is incredible. From what I’ve seen, their matches go like this. FantasticaMania 2016 (****½), New Beginning in Osaka 2017 (****¾), BOSJ 2017 (****¼), BOSJ 2018 (****¼), and G1 Special in San Francisco (****). That last one was where Hiromu got hurt and missed over a year. Lee leads their all-time series 10-8, though they’re 2-2 since Hiromu returned to NJPW. They came out trading Germans, setting their usual tone of doing insane stuff. The difference here was that it was more intense than usual. Not that their stuff usually isn’t, but you could tell that the injury in 2018 was playing a part. It’s not a stretch to say that they spent the first three to five minutes just chopping each other. Once they got into the bigger offense, it became scary at times. Think Ibushi/Naito levels. What made this extra special were the Dragon Driver teases. People were legitimately frightened that it would be the end of Hiromu if that move connected. Some of the dives hit outside were them playing the hits but it worked well because we haven’t seen them in a while. After throwing big offense at each other late, including an absurd Canadian Destroyer counter, Hiromu won by hitting two Time Bombs in 23:54. Hiromu returned after over 500 days and in two months has put on two stellar singles matches. Dude hasn’t missed a beat. This was another spectacular installment into what is arguably the best rivalry in all of wrestling. They gave us moments from their past but added new twists to keep things fresh. [****½]

18. New Japan Cup First Round: Shingo Takagi vs. SHO – NJPW New Japan Cup 6/22/20

Oh, baby. I gave their BOSJ match last year ****½ and it was the most excited I was for any match the company ran in 2019. Like their previous match, this absolutely ruled. SHO learned from that encounter and threw everything he had at Shingo again. However, you could buy that he had been training because he had just a little bit more this go around. He’d explode with dropkicks or pop up after taking offense and start throwing suplexes of his own. You got the sense that Shingo wasn’t quite ready for this onslaught. Of course, the NEVER Champion adjusted and threw his own bombs. That included Noshigami and Pumping Bombers but SHO kept getting up. He delivered his own vicious lariats as if he was the heavyweight and not the other way around. Throughout the match, he also kept going to an armbar that would stop Shingo at every turn. He applied it at the end and as Shingo neared the ropes, he found a way to transition it into Shock Arrow. That gave SHO the surprising 1-2-3 in 17:06. The best match since the pandemic began. Incredible action, hard-hitting strikes, and a story centered around SHO doing everything to score his biggest win ever. Outstanding. [****½]

17. Kota Ibushi vs. Minoru Suzuki – NJPW G1 Climax 30 Night 13

Their only prior meeting was in the G1 23 (***¾) but Ibushi is a much different wrestler now. This was right up my alley. It was hard hitting right from the start, proving that Ibushi could hang with a guy like Suzuki. At one point, Suzuki walked up to the entrance and dared Ibushi to fight him there, which he did. Suzuki wailed on him with vicious elbows but Kota kept coming back for more, which only seemed to anger Suzuki even more. Near the end, they traded elbows and even some headbutts while laughing at each other. This was sickening in the best possible way. The finishing stretch saw Kamigoye get countered into a Boston Crab but Ibushi came back with a successful one and added a second to win in 16:58. That was a goddamn war and I loved it. Suzuki was still smiling outside as he stumbled to the back. Ibushi was arguably the tourney MVP. [****½]

16. War Games: Team Candice vs. Team Shotzi – NXT TakeOver: War Games

In 2019, the women were placed into their first War Games match. I’d rank it as the second best War Games ever behind the classic one from 1992. The women did it again in 2020 and nearly managed to top it. Almost everything worked in this 35:22 encounter. Dakota Kai shined as the iron woman, starting things off and taking major offense from everyone like a true MVP. Toni Storm had a great run when she entered. Shotzi Blackheart brought the fire you want from a team captain. Candice LeRae was the cunning leader. Raquel Gonzalez and Rhea Ripley dominated the proceedings. Io Shirai proved again why she’s so great. Ember Moon hit a goddamn Eclipse onto an open chair. The whole thing was nuts and absolutely brutal. Raquel pinning Io made for a surprise ending, topping off something great. The women of NXT are untouched as a division. AEW’s tag teams, NJPW’s heavyweights, and every other division in wrestling can’t touch them. [****½]

15. NEVER Openweight Championship: Shingo Takagi [c] vs. SHO – NJPW Dominion

Like in their previous matches, they went right after each other. It’s just what these two do. This was an absolute war just as I’ve come to love from these two. Both men threw bombs at one another from huge lariats to big suplexes. There’s an intensity and sense of urgency here that you don’t get in many other NJPW matchups. I liked SHO hitting the Power Breaker only for it to hurt his knees. Shingo is a big boy and that move is different against him than it would be against someone like BUSHI. Still, SHO found ways to push Shingo like nobody else does. The ending was more definitive than I expected. Not that I expected a fluke or anything but Shingo kind of went off on a barrage to put SHO away, capping it with Last of the Dragon in 20:07. He even did a Hirooki Goto style GTR. These two never fail to deliver. Another hard-hitting affair as they tried to one up each other and putting on a show. Possibly their best match together, which is saying something given their work. I want them to fight forever and Shingo holds a 2-1 advantage so far. [****½]

14. New Japan Cup Quarterfinals: Hiromu Takahashi vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW New Japan Cup 7/2/20

Honestly, other than the two SHO/Shingo matches over the past year, this is EASILY the most excited I’ve been for an NJPW match. I love that Hiromu was wild enough to try and battle Ishii in chops only for it to backfire. Although he wouldn’t back down, Hiromu had to change tactics a bit. He wasn’t going to beat Ishii in a strike exchange. He moved into ideas like his triangle choke submission to wear down his bigger opponent. The lack of crowd was surprisingly helpful here as you could really hear what these guys were going through. Every shot Hiromu took led to him yelling in pain or breathing hard. It felt like a true fight. At one point, Hiromu landed on his neck on a lariat and I was terrified. He survived and rallied, even hitting a corner DVD. Ishii kicked out of a Time Bomb and it looked like that would be all Hiromu could throw at him. However, he countered Ishii’s next bit of offense and hit another Time Bomb to score the upset in 19:12. Guess what? You put two of the best wrestlers in NJPW together and they put on a hell of a match. I love it. It’s always the same dudes killing it for this company. [****½]

13. Kota Ibushi vs. Shingo Takagi – NJPW G1 Climax 30 Night 11

My biggest dream match of the tournament. Shingo is arguably the best in the world and Ibushi is a safe bet for something special. You got the sense that this would get time as they worked a nuanced start. It wasn’t bad or too slow, it just felt like they were feeling each other and not trying to make the first mistake. Not a bad strategy against a first time opponent. Shingo was the first one to really grab an upper hand but then Ibushi fired off strikes, a moonsault, and a plancha. That blend of athleticism and vicious strikes are what makes Ibushi so great. I like the ways that Ibushi has started to setup Kamigoye. It almost comes out of nowhere but Shingo had it scouted. Of course, the closing stretch was marvelous. Watching Shingo hold Kota up for a delayed Made in Japan was incredible. In the end, Shingo blocked Kamigoye and scored with Last of the Dragon for the huge win after 21:56. Outstanding. It seemed like Ibushi would turn things around in that finish stretch but Shingo just put him down. [****½]

12. Ironman Match: Kenny Omega vs. PAC – AEW Dynamite 2/26/20

This is the rubber match between these two. PAC won at All Out (***¾) while Kenny won on the 11/27 Dynamite (***½). They didn’t post Kenny’s record during his entrance. He came out with the Young Bucks, his opponents for Revolution, and not his tag partner. Within the first three minutes, both men had gone for finishers. In a match like this, that totally makes sense. Kenny’s tope con hilo was the first big highlight. PAC had his first big moment with an avalanche brainbuster. Ten minutes went by without a fall. The second portion of this saw things get intense. Strike exchanges and bigger offensive blows. PAC survived the Tiger Driver ’98, as well as a sick German suplex. It was one of the best I’ve seen Kenny hit. PAC continued to get hit with huge offense but then he got a chair from under the ring and hit Kenny, taking a DQ fall loss at 16:03. He added a second shot to keep Kenny down during the 30-second interval. PAC blasted him with a boot and the Black Arrow in 17:39 to even things up. After a PIP break, PAC hit a Falcon Arrow off the apron, setting the bar for the final 10 minutes. PAC added a Shooting Star Press outside through a table. That should’ve led to a countout fall for PAC but the Young Bucks help Kenny back in before 10. That’s unfair and gives PAC an opening for a grievance if need be. With the score tied at 1, the final few minutes were filled with drama and close calls. PAC was relentless with the Brutalizer. Kenny refused to quit as time expired at 30:00. PAC attacked the referee but sudden death was announced with a new ref. Kenny struck with V-Triggers, a Kamigoye, and the One Winged Angel to win in 31:03. Outstanding pro wrestling. Nailing this stipulation can be tough but they did it well. Probably only behind Bayley/Sasha and Brock/Angle for my favorite Ironman matches. They kept up a wild pace, told a great, logical story, had a hot crowd, and the drama was high late. Best Dynamite match yet. [****½]

11. Jay White vs. Minoru Suzuki – NJPW G1 Climax 30 Night 15

Suzuki came out on top of their only prior match, coming in the G1 28 (***). Right off the bat, you knew this would be different. Jay’s attempt to stall outside saw a pissed off Suzuki follow him for a fight. The man was in a foul mood. He snapped at Jay’s fingers, chopped him up, and even scared off Gedo by simply looking at him. Intimidation. Normally, White’s game plan is solid. However, everything he did just seemed to anger Suzuki more and lead to him getting his ass kicked harder. Even when he brought in a chair, Suzuki just battered him with it. Nothing he did could give him the clear upper hand he had mostly enjoyed in the tournament. He finally got something going when he went after Suzuki’s knee. Still, Jay ended up tapping out, only for Gedo to distract the referee. Another distraction allowed him to use a low blow and Blade Runner to sneak out with a win after a brilliant 20:30. Suzuki and White are both on spectacular runs right now. This was masterful character work. Suzuki beat the hell out of him, giving Jay what was coming to him. He tried it all and was finally able to barely eke out a win. [****½]