wrestling / Columns

Kevin’s Top 500 Matches Of The 2010s (#240 – 231)

November 17, 2021 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
Finn Balor Brock Lesnar Royal Rumble

240. AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon – WWE WrestleMania 33

The debate over who the best wrestler in the world was in early 2017 started and ended with AJ Styles. This match might be Exhibit A. It’s one thing to have great matches when working with your most talented peers. It’s one thing to have a great gimmick match with Shane McMahon. Yet here, on the biggest stage possible, AJ and Shane had a straight up wrestling match. And for 20:28, it was awesome. They didn’t rely on smoke and mirrors or tons of shenanigans. AJ was overconfident because the ring is his domain. Shane showed off some grappling skills of his own, but never to where it made AJ look bad, just like AJ took him too lightly and it cost him. That’s an important distinction. I must admit, I popped when Shane did some submission transitions and even caught a springboard 450 splash into a triangle choke. We did get a ref bump, so it wasn’t completely devoid of stunts. However, it only set up a coast to coast spot, so it wasn’t overdone. Shane eventually missed an impressive Shooting Star Press, which set up the Phenomenal Forearm to give AJ his first Mania victory. AJ had a fantastic match with a non-wrestler and didn’t rely on the expected tropes.

239. Cero Miedo: Pentagon Jr. vs. Vampiro – Lucha Underground Ultima Lucha

Lucha Underground was easily one of the best things about 2015 in general. Pentagon Jr. was then one of the best things about Lucha Underground. When it came time to build his match for the big Ultima Lucha event, I was disappointed to see it set up to be against Vampiro. While I initially thought Vampiro was cool as a kid, looking back, he never seemed very good in the ring. Add in his age and his weight, and I felt like this was a waste of Pentagon. Boy did the two of them prove me wrong. In no way did I ever expect to see Vampiro on any top list of the year 2015. He was better than I ever expected in what is the most violent match on this list. Light tubes, flaming tables and blood were all involved. Normally, that isn’t my style but it fit what they wanted to accomplish here. Pentagon won after 14:20 when he put Vampiro through a flaming table, but that wasn’t the end. Vampiro demanded Pentagon break his arm before revealing that he was the mysterious “master” whose orders Pentagon had been following all season. Chilling stuff. If we were just talking pure angle, this would rank way higher as it was one of my favorite storylines.

238. NEVER Openweight Championship: Katsuyori Shibata [c] vs. Kyle O’Reilly – NJPW King of Pro Wrestling 2016

After the Best of the Super Juniors, Kyle O’Reilly bulked up to become a heavyweight. At ROH’s Field of Honor event, O’Reilly defeated Katsuyori Shibata and got this shot about a month after Shibata beat his partner, Bobby Fish. There weren’t many matches in NJPW this year that excited me more than this one. Shibata and O’Reilly are two of my favorite wrestlers in the world. They started this by exchanging holds and trying to gain a grappling advantage on the other guy. All of it felt gritty and earned, like there was a true struggle going on. As the match progressed, they moved into strikes and bigger offense. Surprisingly, it was O’Reilly who connected on big strikes first. Shibata did his thing where he fired up and just wanted more kicks from Kyle. O’Reilly responded by no selling a boot shortly after and they just went to war for the rest of the 18:06. The final few minutes were classic NEVER Title match stuff. Brutal strikes, kickouts at one and dudes using FIGHTING SPIRIT to power up from suplexes. Kyle was on the verge of winning with the penalty kick but Shibata survived. From out of nowhere, Shibata leveled him with a sick slap. He used the sleeper and won when Kyle passed out. This was exactly what I wanted it to be. A war and the star making performance for Kyle in the heavyweight ranks. Kudos to Fish as Kyle’s corner man shouting “BITE THE HAND” whenever Shibata applied the sleeper.

237. PROGRESS World Championship: WALTER [c] vs. Tyler Bate – PROGRESS Chapter 76: Hello Wembley!

It was PROGRESS’ biggest show ever. There were issues getting here and this was basically their backup main event, but it still felt like a big deal. WALTER got a special entrance where violinists played his theme live. It was cool. You’d consider Tyler the underdog based on size but he managed to match WALTER in power in a lot of spots early on. It looks cool because of the huge size difference, but Tyler is a STRONG BOI. It took a huge chop for WALTER to finally put him in his place. British Strong Style was at ringside to cheer on their buddy but they didn’t get involved. That made it a straight up main event with no frills. Bate found openings and noticed that whatever worked needed to be done more than once because WALTER is a tough man. It did cost him a few times as he went to the well too often. His airplane spin was a clear highlight. The closing set of counters, strikes, and near falls were incredible. It’s especially true for Bate’s wild German suplex, his second airplane spin spot, and the unbelievable Tyler Driver ’97 he busted out. I didn’t think that was even possible. I also lost it for the Bret Hart WM8/SS96 finish tease. Tyler fired up while in the choke, only to get hit with a Fire Thunder Driver that ended this after 30:08. A rocking match. Great exchanges and a fantastic story.

236. WWE Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar [c] vs. Finn Balor – WWE Royal Rumble 2019

It’s no secret that Brock Lesnar works better with smaller opponents. Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, CM Punk etc. Or maybe he just has no respect for Braun Strowman and chooses to squash him each time out. Anyway, given his track record, it should come as no surprise that Lesnar put on a stellar match with Finn Balor. I saw some people complain that Balor didn’t bring out the “Demon.” While I get that it would help him, he has mostly used it for bitter rivalries since leaving NXT and this wasn’t that. Balor came out with a dropkick to try and overwhelm Lesnar. Brock turned the tide but then Finn got an opening when one of Brock’s weaknesses got hit. He hit the announce table and saw his diverticulitis flare up. There’s that, kicks to the dick, banging his head into the ring post, and steel steps. His only weaknesses. Having that cause problems meant Brock couldn’t dominate the way he usually does. It allowed Balor to score some near falls and give fans hope that he might pull this shocker off. Balor also brought a little something extra for every bit of offense he got. Alas, he got caught in the Kimura and tapped out in 8:36. One of the best sprints of all time. They told a hell of a story in under ten minutes, gave us great action, and I bought into some of the drama.

235. NXT North American and WWE United Kingdom Championships: Pete Dunne [c] vs. Ricochet [c] – WWE NXT 9/19/18

Two of the top wrestlers in NXT in 2018 were been Pete Dunne and Ricochet. Ricochet has been a highlight since his debut WrestleMania weekend, while Dunne makes the most of every sporadic appearance. Both men held titles and wanted more, leading to this clash. I love the idea that these champions just wanted more gold. It should be about titles. Simple, yet effective. The match proved to be one of the best for either man this year. Ricochet was happy to play Dunne’s game early, wanting to show that he was more than high spots. It worked to an extent until Dunne took things to the next level and picked him apart. Dunne’s time in control and Ricochet’s fiery comeback were both awesome, as they’re two wrestlers who give you little to no slow down in what they do. The closing stretch was out of this world. You felt the importance of this match in how hard these guys went, which is exactly what you want from something of this caliber. The late counters and exchanges were out of this world. I know a lot of people were upset at the finish, since the Undisputed Era ran in for a double DQ or no contest at 21:41, but I was okay with it. It served a purpose to build something coming up and isn’t something NXT relies on too often. Incredible pro wrestling.

234. Money in the Bank: Dean Ambrose vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Jack Swagger vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Rob Van Dam vs. Seth Rollins – WWE Money in the Bank 2014

Since its inception, the Money in the Bank ladder match has consistently been among the better bouts of any given year. 2014 boasted one of the best ever, even if it has flown under the radar. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins were the obvious favorites given the recent split of The Shield and they were indeed the central focus. However, everyone else also did their part to make this stand out. From huge spots to the some great drama, there was a lot to like. Kofi Kingston had a particular moment where he actually came close to winning despite being nowhere near a push at the time. The biggest highlight was a superplex spot off a ladder involving Rollins and Ambrose. In the end, Kane got involved to help Rollins retrieve the briefcase after an outstanding 23:13.

233. Cruiserweight Classic First Round: Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa – WWE Cruiserweight Classic 8/3/16

Looking at the Cruiserweight Classic brackets, the most intriguing match of the first round was easily this one. Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa had been having a really good year as a tag team in NXT and were on the road to a shot at the NXT Tag Team Titles. However, they were pitted against one another to close out the first round. They began with some wrestling exchanges until Ciampa hit a loud elbow and things got more physical. Gargano did his best but couldn’t match Ciampa in terms of hard strikes. To combat it, he went to quickness, reeling off move after move in succession. Ciampa came so very close to winning several times, including when he got a knee up on an incoming Gargano slingshot and on a brutal Project Ciampa. Despite being vicious at times, after removing his knee pad for a knee strike, Ciampa decided against it. He held back because Johnny is his friend. Ciampa couldn’t believe Johnny’s resilience. Gargano started demanding shots from Ciampa and caught one into a backslide. Ciampa countered into his armbar, only for Gargano to counter back into another pin to win it at 10:46. Just a tremendous blend of hard hitting action with great storytelling. Gargano is an awesome underdog babyface and played the role to perfection here. They embraced after the match, with their partnership strengthened, in the first of many emotional moments from the CWC.

232. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi [c] vs. Ricochet – NJPW Wrestling Toyonokuni 2017

Ricochet’s list of NJPW accolades includes the Jr. Tag Titles and BOTSJ trophy, but the Jr. Heavyweight Title has eluded him. He took down Hiromu Takahashi with a flurry of offense, capped by a springboard 450 splash to nearly win in the opening minute. It was a great showcase of how badly he wanted it and a turnaround from how Hiromu squashed KUSHIDA twenty days earlier. That set the tone for a match filled with big spots and worked at a breakneck pace. Ricochet had the champ well scouted, having counters and answers for everything. At one point, he turned a Hiromu dive into a Northern lights suplex, before transitioning right into a brainbuster on the outside. The wildness continued inside with Germans, DVDs, and more counters. Ricochet hit the Benadryller, but didn’t get all of it, so Hiromu managed to kick out. There was tremendous camerawork as it panned from a bewildered Ricochet to the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title. Desperate, his high risk 630 splash didn’t pay off, as he crashed and burned. Hiromu hit a Destroyer, corner DVD and Time Bomb to retain in 16:29. This was frantic and had a sense of urgency that too many matches lack. It was batshit insane, which is what I want and expect from Hiromu. Ricochet was great too, with possibly his best performance all year, but it’s Hiromu’s world and we’re just living in it.

231. Daniel Bryan vs. Roman Reigns – WWE Fastlane 2015

Roman Reigns won the 2015 Royal Rumble to one of the worst fan receptions I’ve ever heard for a face. The fans just didn’t believe he was a guy that was ready to main event WrestleMania. Up to that point, his only singles match on PPV was against Randy Orton and I found it to be pretty mediocre. Reigns needed to have a big performance in a big match. That’s where Daniel Bryan came in. He never got his rematch for the WWE Title that he never lost, setting up a match with Reigns with the shot at WrestleMania on the line. Bryan was the perfect opponent for Reigns because he is great enough to lead the way. I’m not saying Bryan carried him, because that’s not the case, but he is the more experienced wrestler. The booking of the match was spot on. The fans would never buy Reigns dominating Bryan or vice versa, so they didn’t. They played power vs. technical ability but neither guy truly gained an upper hand throughout the entire 20:10. They didn’t overdo the false finishes and even brought Reigns’ hernia injury into play. Reigns would win and, more importantly, deliver in a big match, setting the stage for a year full of good to great matches on PPV.