wrestling / Columns

Kevin’s Top 500 Matches Of The 2010s (#170 – 161)

December 26, 2021 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
Image Credit: WWE

170. Juice Robinson vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW G1 Climax 29 7/28/19

One of the more interesting storylines during the G1 Climax in 2019 was the redemption of Juice Robinson. Last year, he entered as the United States Heavyweight Champion but proceeded to struggle, finishing with a mere six points. Coming into this match, which was only his fifth, Juice already had six points. He went toe to toe with the NEVER Openweight Champion in a match that exceeded expectations. Juice didn’t back down at any point during this 17:42 contest. He threw everything he could into a chop duel even if he was severely outmatched. That’s pretty much Juice Robinson in a nutshell. The ultimate babyface fire. It was interesting that the chops took something out of Tomohiro Ishii, as if it gave him nerve damage. I will say that I feel they might have gone a bit overboard with the firing up and no selling spots but that’s kind of something I’ve come to expect from Ishii matches. Still, this was a banger. They added a lot by throwing in big bumps and smooth counters, so it wasn’t just a hard hitting affair. Ishii won this war with the Vertical Drop Brainbuster. Consider this another shining example of how improved Juice has become over the past few years.

169. WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Brock Lesnar [c] vs. Roman Reigns – WWE WrestleMania 31

Like the rest of WrestleMania in 2015, this was poorly built. Like most of the rest of WrestleMania this year, this exceeded expectations. The fans were firmly behind Brock Lesnar as Roman Reigns was not getting many favorable responses at the time to say the least. The WWE did a pretty great job in booking this match. Brock had been a dominating presence for over a year by this point and fans weren’t into the idea of Reigns kicking his ass. So he didn’t. Brock abused him for the better part of this match. Reigns hit Brock hard more than a few times, busting him open, but Brock came back and coined the Suplex City Bitch phrase. I think the bit of Reigns laughing at Brock’s offense wasn’t great. I got the idea, but it didn’t come off as well as they probably hoped. Still, Reigns as the resilient fighter was good and then he found an opening when Brock hit the post outside. It was an instance where blood really added something. This was when things picked up as Reigns hit big move after big move and came so close to winning. Then Brock hit a fourth F5 and both men were down. Enter Seth Rollins. Mr. Money in the Bank ran out and cashed in, pinning Roman at 16:43. It kept Brock from getting pinned, didn’t overdo the Reigns push at that point and sent the fans home happy with the shocking title win for the MVP of the prior year. Excellently done.

168. Kota Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW G1 Climax 28 7/15/18

The greatest single block in G1 Climax history got off to a hot start with this as the semi-main event of their first night. Kota Ibushi beat Zack Sabre Jr. in last year’s G1 (****½) and Sabre evened the score during this year’s New Japan Cup (****½). Sabre came in as the favorite thanks to tournament success, having won the New Japan Cup, Battle of Los Angeles, and Super Strong Style 16. Surprisingly, Ibushi attempted to match Sabre on the mat in the early stages. He tried his best but once he saw that wasn’t working, he changed to strikes. One roundhouse kick and Sabre was instantly in trouble. However, Sabre came prepared. He had Kota scouted like a master. He’d bend and twist his leg in vicious ways, looking to take out the kicks of his opponent. Whenever Ibushi would get something going, Sabre had an answer and it was usually targeted at the leg. Some of the submissions Zack did were just ungodly. I loved the moment where Kota powers out of a PK at one, and when hit with another he tried again but couldn’t muster the strength and had to wait until two. The same goes for Sabre checking the Kamigoye to avoid it. It’s the little things that count. Of course, after a wild final few minutes, Kota successfully hit Kamigoye to win in 22:58. These guys can do no wrong together. Counter wrestling, hard strikes, good mat work, and drama.

167. Kota Ibushi vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW G1 Climax 28 7/28/18

I love these guys. They’re two of the best in the world and they were basically the MVPs of the G1 Climax. Pitting them against each other always works. Their past matches have gotten ****¾ and ****¼ from me. They split those contests. As you expect and want from them, they went to war as soon as the bell rang. No motion was wasted in this strong style battle. Kota Ibushi even found a way to bust out one of his trademark balcony moonsaults and yet it never felt out of place. That’s because this match had a bit of everything. Ibushi took it right to Ishii, who responded by throwing bombs back. Ishii seemingly was letting him know that this is his area of expertise. The physicality got kicked up to the next level in the closing third of the match, though they may have gone a bit overboard. Looking back, it never felt as natural as it did in their 2014 classic. Still, this was a banger with some great moments throughout. I loved how they just began throwing disrespectful slaps at each other. The crowd hung on every strike, move, and near fall in this 16:13 encounter. It didn’t need to go long, because they packed it with action. Ibushi won with Kamigoye, adding another feather to the cap of his wild G1 run.

166. PROGRESS Tag Team Championship: Calamari Catch Kings [c] vs. LAX – PROGRESS: New York City 8/7/18

PROGRESS’ Coast to Coast Tour provided us with a string of good shows featuring mostly good matches. Only one stood as truly being great. #CCK has been ravaged by injuries to Kid Lykos and it again took him out of the Thunderbastard Tag Team Series. Chris Brookes chose Jonathan Gresham as his replacement partner and they won the Tag Titles during the series. The Calamari Catch Kings put those titles on the line in New York against LAX and it proved to be a doozy. LAX was massively over in New York and it added a lot to the match. This was filled with creative spots by four hungry guys looking to steal the show. Santana had his leg worked on and did a masterful job of selling it. He could barely get his offense in and fell several times because he couldn’t put weight on it. The closing stretch of this 21:19 was out of this world. Tons of close calls, pins getting broken up, and fast paced exchanges that will leave you breathless. The final shot of Santana trapped in an inverted cloverleaf, with his bad leg, grasping at the hand of his partner Ortiz, who was being held at bay, is unbelievable. Santana had no choice but to tap out, ending one of the best tag team matches I have ever seen. It’s that good.

165. WWE Championship: Daniel Bryan [c] vs. AJ Styles – WWE TLC 2018

They had some really good matches on Smackdown but they bested them all in this rematch. AJ Styles was dying to get his hands on Daniel Bryan, but the champion stalled and played mind games early. There was a lot to love about this. They played well off their previous match with callbacks, yet also threw in some stuff to remind you of matches they had with others. AJ is at his best as the fiery babyface and even though he’s the bigger guy here, Bryan’s persona was a perfect foil. Bryan was ruthless, precise, and the right amount of aggressive. It’s like I’m watching bits of his ROH heel run. Often, AJ’s slow build matches this year have missed the mark, but this worked expertly from start to finish. Everything they did mattered and felt like it had a purpose. That needs to happen more often in matches. Not just doing stuff for the sake of it. Styles would hit big blows, like the springboard 450 splash, but had so much damage done that he couldn’t capitalize and Bryan remained alive. The Calf Crusher close call was outstanding. Then, the most perfect moment of all came in the finish. AJ missed the Phenomenal Forearm but went for the small package. However, Mr. Small Package countered into one of his own to retain in an outstanding 23:54. It’s a finish from a favorite match of mine (Bret/Perfect at KOTR 93) and also made sense given how Bryan won the title. The best WWE Championship match since 2016 at that point.

164. New Japan Cup Quarterfinals: Kota Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW New Japan Cup 3/15/18

Last year, these two had a phenomenal match in the G1 Climax (****½), won by Kota Ibushi. Zack Sabre Jr. was out for revenge. Fresh off a win over Tetsuya Naito in the opening round, momentum was on his side. According to commentary, Ibushi said he’d rather face Naito because Sabre’s style is troublesome for him. I like little tidbits like that. Indeed, Sabre slowed the pace and took Kota to the mat. It took away the explosiveness that makes Ibushi so deadly. One thing I love about Sabre is that he will attack any body part he can get his hands on. Sometimes, it can impact the overall story, but it makes sense against Ibushi since he has so many weapons. Their exchanges, especially with strikes, were fantastic. Sabre had the Kamigoye scouted at every turn even though Ibushi hadn’t debuted it when they last met. The man does his homework. They used the finish from their last encounter for a great near fall down the stretch. Ibushi refused to give in, while Sabre grew frustrated that his best submissions couldn’t get the job done. That played into the finish, as Sabre locked in a sadistic octopus hold variation and when Ibushi didn’t quit, the referee was forced to call for a stoppage at 21:02. Stellar prof wrestling by two of the best on the planet. All without going too long.

163. NXT North American Championship: Adam Cole [c] vs. Ricochet – NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV

It’s amazing what the WWE machine can do for you. I am way more invested in the NXT versions of Adam Cole and Ricochet than I ever was of them beforehand. This match showed exactly why. This wasn’t a collection of moves, it was an expertly crafted story. Cole was champion but was insecure. Though he won the title in New Orleans, many were talking about Ricochet stealing the show that night. That’s why Cole did his best to ground Ricochet and continually told him that he wasn’t special. Cole needed to believe it. Ricochet would find bursts to hit his impressive aerial offense, but Cole would either survive or have an answer. He did his homework. The fans were completely into everything. When a superkick exchange saw Cole get lucky and land on top of Ricochet, they totally bit on that being the finish. The spot where Cole stopped a moonsault with a midair superkick was legendary. I loved that even with all the great spots, it was about two guys outsmarting each other. Ricochet goaded Cole into thinking he wasn’t ready for the Shining Wizard and countered it. Cole rolled away to avoid the 630 splash. Tit for tat. Ricochet had to take one final risk, with a massive rana to the outside, before successfully hitting the 630 and winning the title in 15:21. An outstanding combination of action and storytelling.

162. PWG Championship: Roderick Strong (c) vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – PWG Don’t Sweat the Technique

My first look at PWG in 2015 was this match. I had heard some rave reviews and made sure to find a way to give it a look. Despite the hype, it managed to deliver. Both Roderick Strong and Zack Sabre Jr. had tremendous 2015s and they saved their best work for each other. The PWG audience is almost always boisterous but they were on another level for this. The atmosphere really added to this, giving it a big fight feel. The setup was simple as Sabre, with his Kimura finisher, attacked the arm and Roderick, with his backbreakers and Stronghold, went after the back. The work done on both body parts combined with the selling was enough to take that basic concept and really make it work. It’s kind of a master class in pro wrestling for the most part that kicks into high gear near the end. For the final ten or so minutes of the 24:25, the fans are completely on their feet and buying into every close call. Heel Roderick proved to be too vicious, stomping on Sabre and going into a badass flurry before making him tap out to the Stronghold to retain.

161. WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Randy Orton [c] vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan – WWE WrestleMania XXX

Rev Theory performs “Voices” as Randy Orton makes his entrance. Bryan attempts to start hot but his injury quickly comes into play. While Bryan recovers outside, Batista beats Orton up around the ring. Orton ends up back dropping Batista onto the steel steps. They continue to go at it until Bryan gets involved, waking the crowd up. It’s a testament to Bryan’s popularity that he was able to get the crowd going after Undertaker. Bryan starts a rally but gets thwarted by the heels, freeing up Orton to hit a superplex on Batista. Bryan is back up and hits the diving headbutt on Orton. He gets the Yes Lock on but here come Stephanie and Triple H through the crowd for some reason to pull the referee out. They bring crooked referee Scott Armstrong with them and Bryan eats the Batista Bomb for two. Bryan ends up taking out Armstrong, HHH and even Stephanie with a suicide dive. The crowd comes unglued for it. HHH tries bringing a sledgehammer in but it backfires when Bryan levels him with it. Orton is now back up and sends Bryan outside. Batista and Orton channel their Evolution roots and work together to take out Bryan. The crowd chants for CM Punk as Batista and Orton murder Bryan with a Batista Bomb/RKO combination through the announce table. It was more of a neckbreaker from Orton, but it still looked rad. Orton took a sick bump on one of the monitors. Batista and Orton go at it while the crowd chants for Bryan. They do the stretcher job for Bryan but he pulls a Mick Foley and hops off, trying to fight for his life. Orton looks to take advantage but Bryan puts him in the Yes Lock. Cole shouts that it’s Bryan’s last chance and Batista interrupts. Bryan gets taken out and Orton hits the RKO for a near fall that the fans bite on. Orton looks for the punt on Batista but Bryan lays him out with the knee. Batista tosses him out and tries to steal the pin, which the fans again bite on. Batista Bomb connects but Bryan charges in with the knee. He slaps the Yes Lock on Batista, who submits after 23:19. Remember how Stone Cold used to have these great main event matches with the deck stacked against him and overbooking done right? That’s what we got here. They threw everything at Bryan in this match from the Authority interference to the stretcher job to the close near falls for Batista and Orton when they looked like they would steal it from him. The more I watch this match, the more I love it. Plus, that emotional finish was outstanding.