wrestling / Columns

Kevin’s Top 500 Matches Of The 2010s (#160 – 151)

December 27, 2021 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
Money in the Bank AJ Styles Seth Rollins Image Credit: WWE

160. Hirooki Goto vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW G1 Climax 25 8/9/15

Since I began watching New Japan Pro Wrestling, two guys that are almost always a guarantee for a good to great match are Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii. So when I looked at the G1 Climax schedule and saw they were going to main event a show in the Korakuen Hall, I was stoked. They went out and, for 17:11, showed that they belonged in a top spot with one intense battle. I really enjoyed their chemistry together as things just clicked between them. Ishii is one of my favorite sellers in all of wrestling, which he got to showcase here. Goto, the reigning IWGP Intercontinental Champion and with a win over IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada, looked to have a ton of confidence. While both men are versatile enough to work different styles, they went strong style here, which is their strong suit. The action was stiff, the crowd was hot, the exchanges were great and the near falls were believable. There were multiple times where I noticed my jaw was hanging because they just went so hard. Goto won in yet another performance that proves he deserves a higher spot in New Japan. I believe I underrated this the first time around.

159. NXT Championship: Tommaso Ciampa [c] vs. The Velveteen Dream – NXT TakeOver: War Games 2018

This was something special. Dream came out dressed like Hollywood Hogan setting the tone for his actions throughout the contest. Dream sees himself as a legend already. He busted out offense from legends like Bret Hart, Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, and even Hogan himself. It was fitting for who he is as a character. Meanwhile, Ciampa is a paranoid champion who will do anything in his power to remain on top. They had a great back and forth in terms of mind games. Ciampa stole Dream’s “Hollywood” headband, so Dream took the title, messing with what Ciampa loves most. Dream’s use of moves popularized by others could end up being the thing that cost him and he may need to regroup following this. Some of the near falls late went a bit overboard for me, but the fans ate them all up. They were engaged throughout. Dream missed a huge Purple Rainmaker on the apron, ultimately leading to Ciampa hitting the draping DDT onto the steel platform holding the two rings together at 22:25. I love how they keep finding innovative ways to do that DDT. Great match.

158. IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi [c] vs. Minoru Suzuki – NJPW The New Beginning In Sapporo 1/27/18

My list of perfect ***** matches is exclusive. In the entire history of wrestling, I’ve only given out the score about 30 times. Hiroshi Tanahashi and Minoru Suzuki have one of those back in 2012. While they didn’t recapture that magic in 2018, this was still phenomenal. There was no Suzuki-Gun attack or shenanigans. Minoru was aggressive from the start, which Tanahashi used against him. However, the challenger weathered the storm and got downright violent. Slaps, kicks, chair shots, submissions. You name it, Suzuki did it. He also got in Tanahashi’s head, laughing it off when the champion gave him his best shot. Tanahashi came in with an injured arm, but also messed up his leg during the battle. The sadistic Suzuki now had two targets. He applied a LONG Figure Four, but unlike last year’s New Beginning event (when he faced Okada), the babyface didn’t make some cheesy and generic comeback after it. Tanahashi survived, but was basically useless. The effort was there, but he was too damaged. Suzuki hit the Gotch Piledriver and could’ve won. But, that’s not Suzuki. Instead, he went back to the knee bar, wanting to destroy Tanahashi. The Ace lasted a few more minutes but once rolled to the center of the ring, the referee had no choice but to call it. Suzuki won the title at 33:28. Like most NJPW main events, this went longer than it needed to, as the same story could’ve been told in about 25-27 minutes. Still, that story was fantastically done by two of the best to ever lace up the boots.

157. IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship Tournament Semi-Finals: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW G1 Special in USA Night One

Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a sucker for a great sprint. For 11:42, these two did just that and had the best match of the entire weekend in NJPW’s first US appearance. Zack Sabre Jr. made the mistake of trying to match Tomohiro Ishii for strikes. He quickly learned his lesson and went to his specialty, submissions. Ishii’s one of the best babyfaces in the world and he expertly drew in the crowd. They believed in him completely, which helped him rally free of Sabre’s grasp on several occasions. Some of Sabre’s submissions were brutal. There were two specific ones that saw Ishii’s limbs held, so he had to roll into the ropes to break it. The tease and suspense as he inched closer to the ropes was done better than any other match in recent memory. Since the ultimate babyface Ishii refused to submit, Sabre got frustrated. He went back to strikes and it cost him. Ishii floored him with a huge lariat and nailed the Brainbuster to advance to the finals. Ishii didn’t beat Sabre, he survived him. That helped solidify Sabre as a threat, while adding another chapter to Ishii’s incredible 2017. It’s one of the best sub-15 minute matches I can recall.

156. NXT Tag Team Championship Ladder Match: The Authors of Pain [c] vs. #DIY – NXT TakeOver: Chicago

NXT’s tag team division was a highlight of 2016. They consistently put on stellar matches that almost always stole the show. That trend continued into 2017 and none were better than this classic Ladder Match. The stipulation is kind of overdone, but these four found innovative ways to make the match work. They blended in great spots to wow the crowd with excellent moments of storytelling. #DIY used their speed and the ladders to even the playing field against their larger opponents. Their stereo dives off the ladder onto AOP and other ladders was absolutely insane and I can’t believe they didn’t get hurt. Gargano got close to winning, only to be thwarted by Paul Ellering. Kudos to Paul for being willing to take the superkick he got hit with. There were also the great moments of Ciampa hitting a super German on Rezar onto a ladder and Gargano sacrificing himself to take a ladder shot so his partner didn’t. AOP cut off DIY being so close to the titles and used the Super Collider to take them out before retaining at 20:08. An incredible match that once again showed how good this division was. The Authors were arguably the best team in wrestling, at the time while #DIY had a stellar final showing. Ciampa would turn on Gargano in one of the biggest emotional gut punches in years.

155. Fenix and Pentagon Jr. vs. Heroes Eventually Die – PWG Battle of Los Angeles 9/3/16

Lucha Underground stars Fenix and Pentagon Jr. are brothers in real life though it isn’t mentioned on the show. It was front and center in this non-tournament tag match during PWG’s annual Battle of Los Angeles weekend. They sported matching masked that fused their normal masks together for a dope visual. Heroes Eventually Die consists of Chris Hero and Tommy End. Almost everything about this match ruled. Pentagon yelling obscenities in Spanish at everyone, Fenix and End going at each other viciously and the insane spots from the brothers. At one point, Pentagon launched Fenix up onto his shoulders and Fenix then moonsaulted off onto Hero and End on the outside. Heroes Eventually Die took over as the brute tag team, while Fenix and Penty got to play the resilient babyface duo. Fenix took a beating like a champ before doing some cool double team moves. In the end, it came down to Fenix and End, who just destroyed each other. Fenix scored on a super rana and then a springboard 450 splash to pick up the win at 18:22. This was the second-best tag team match of the year and the best match of PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles weekend. Pentagon Jr. and Fenix should team up more often around the indies because they are fantastic together.

154. New Japan Cup Finals: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW New Japan Cup 3/21/18

Coming into this, these guys were 1-1 against each other. Hiroshi Tanahashi was banged up, but made it through to the finals. Zack Sabre Jr. dominated and made all three previous opponents (Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi, and SANADA) tap out. Here is the perfect example of a match that goes long and makes the most of it. The reason it lasts 34:02 is because it is the definition of a human chess match. Sabre had him perfectly scouted. He obviously went after Tanahashi’s damaged arm, but also threw in some work to the leg, playing off another prior injury and doing so to cut off stuff like the High Fly Flow. He didn’t let Tanahashi get into his rhythm, cutting off stuff like the skin the cat spot. Tanahashi’s comeback was great, as he continued to sell the work done. Sabre grew angrier that his game plan couldn’t seem to keep this old, injured man down. Tanahashi dishing back the European Clutch pin made for a tremendous near fall. Despite his best efforts, though, Tanahashi got trapped in a submission he couldn’t escape and tapped out. A layered match with strong storytelling elements, and a great pace. Everything they did mattered and they nailed the little nuances to make this special.

153. WWE Universal Championship: Seth Rollins [c] vs. AJ Styles – WWE Money in the Bank 2019

Here was a dream match that I wanted since the day AJ Styles stepped out at the 2016 Royal Rumble. Two of my all-time favorites competing in a one on one encounter for a major title. What’s not to love? To make it better, this wasn’t hampered by overbooking or shenanigans. WWE opted to just let them do their thing. Still, I was worried. Seth Rollins put on a few stinkers in 2019 and AJ Styles hasn’t been consistently great since early 2017. Yet this came together wonderfully to deliver exactly what I was hoping for. They started off slowly, almost like they were going for impressing the NJPW crowd. They picked up the pace as things progressed before getting wild late. However, the early portions here felt important. It showed how evenly matched they were and let us know how level the playing field was. As soon as AJ went for a Styles Clash off the apron, this became something special. The Curb Stomp countered into a Styles Clash was one of the best spots all year. After Seth survived that, he used the Ripcord Knee, superkick, and Curb Stomp to retain in a stellar in 19:51. Easily the best singles match either man had in 2019.

152. WWE United Kingdom Championship: Pete Dunne [c] vs. WALTER – NXT TakeOver: New York

Pete Dunne reigned as WWE United Kingdom Champion for nearly 700 days. It began way back in the match that topped this list in 2017 against Tyler Bate. Nobody could dethrone him. Adam Cole, Johnny Gargano, Jordan Devlin, Roderick Strong, and many others tried but came up short against the “Bruiserweight.” Enter WALTER. The big man arrived at TakeOver: Blackpool and immediately became Dunne’s biggest threat. They met here and lived up to the lofty expectations. Dunne struggled to face someone so different. WALTER could drop him with a chop, leap over him impressively, and dominate him like no other. Dunne took a while to adjust before busting out things like a ridiculous sitout powerbomb and diving stomp to the outside. The best moment came when he snapped at WALTER’s fingers to negate his chops. Even when WALTER had to resort to something different, you never felt like he was in true trouble. And that’s okay. The story being told was that Dunne had met someone who could finally beat him. A powerbomb off the top and a splash was finally enough to keep Dunne down, giving us a new champion in 25:31. An incredible match worthy of ending Dunne’s outstanding title reign. The WALTER era began and we were all here to enjoy it.

151. El Desperado vs. Hiromu Takahashi – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 5/22/18

Talk about a match that came from out of nowhere. Hiromu Takahashi is among the best in the world, so he was no surprise. El Desperado is easily the best Suzuki-Gun member not named Minoru or Zack, but I just wasn’t expecting this. They had the match of the Best of the Super Juniors (not counting the finals) tournament. Their previous singles meeting came over six years ago when they were both Young Lions. What we got in this one was a war. Hiromu attacked before the bell, turning the tables on his Suzuki-Gun opponent. They brawled into the crowd, where Hiromu busted out a memorable and aggressive dropkick. When chairs were brought into play, Hiromu took one to the back, setting up Desperado’s focus. As part of his attack, I loved Desperado bringing out the Young Lion crab, looking to beat him with the same move that worked all those years ago. Down the stretch, they began to throw their best shots at one another, while managing to never hit the overboard level that too many matches reach. There were some top notch near falls, like when Desperado used El Guitarra de Angel and Hiromu hit the corner DVD. Desperado pulled it out by nailing Pinche Loco after 22:48. This was different from anything else in the tournament. Two guys going to war over two points in an important tournament.