wrestling / Columns

Kevin’s Top 500 Matches Of The 2010s (#290 – 281)

September 29, 2021 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
NXT Takeover: XXV Tag Ladder Match

290. New Japan Cup Semifinals: Kazuchika Okada vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW New Japan Cup 3/23/19

There aren’t many rare matches left in New Japan. Everyone has seemingly faced each other tons of times in various tournaments and title matches. That’s especially true when it comes to Kazuchika Okada. That’s what happens when you’re at the top of a company for so long. Interestingly enough, Tomohiro Ishii hasn’t faced him a lot. Their previous meeting, during the 2016 G1 Climax, was excellent and saw Ishii score an upset. Kazuchika “defend my title against everyone” Okada never gave his CHAOS buddy a proper title shot after that loss. Some friend he is. Their next meeting was here, with a spot in the finals of the New Japan Cup on the line. We got asshole Okada here and that’s easily the best version of the Rainmaker. He didn’t give a clean break and he disrespectfully kicked at Ishii’s head. It pissed off Ishii and led to him showing Okada up by no selling his strikes. I loved the way they played off of the G1 match. For example, Ishii popped up during the Rainmaker pose in that one, so Okada was ready for it here and leveled him. Ishii using the armbar was great. It was a nod to Shinsuke Nakamura and is the only move Okada has ever tapped out to. This suffered from getting a little too formulaic late but they strayed from it enough for most of the 21:20. Ishii brought out the best in Okada, who ultimately won, and we all benefitted.

289. NXT Championship: Aleister Black [c] vs. Tommaso Ciampa – NXT 7/25/18

NXT television had several high profile bangers on Wednesday nights in 2018. None had higher stakes than this one. Since Aleister Black’s debut in 2017, he was on a collision course with the NXT Title. He got there a year later but was never truly on top. That’s because his title win and defenses played second fiddle to the Tommaso Ciampa/Johnny Gargano rivalry. When Ciampa got a shot at Black and attacked him in the weeks leading up to the match, it set up an emotional title fight. There was an intensity that was clear right from the opening bell. Ciampa brings that kind of fire out of babyfaces. It was worked at a deliberate pace, with the best stuff being saved for the final stretch of this 22:18 encounter. We got treated to some seriously tense near falls, including one after Ciampa used his crutch as a weapon. We did get a ref bump, a usually tired trope, but it worked in this case. That meant the Black Mass couldn’t end this and it opened the door for the arrival of Gargano. He tried to stop Ciampa from using the title as a weapon, only to accidentally hit Black. That set up the title change after Project Ciampa, sparking a wild bunch of reactions from fans. A great, intense match that hit all the storytelling beats it needed to.

288. Best of the Super Juniors Finals: KUSHIDA vs. Will Ospreay – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 6/3/17

To get the obvious issue out of the way first, I thought this went too long at 27:59. NJPW seemed to be on a “length = greatness” kick with a lot of main events. You could shave off 6-8 minutes and have a better match in my mind. With that out of the way, we can talk about the positives. Their chemistry is great and it made for some stellar sequences and exchanges. I loved Ospreay not going the typical good guy route, as he was willing to take a countout victory. It helped hammer home his desperation to finally beat KUSHIDA, who he was 0-2 against in NJPW. The highlight was the closing stretch, as things got especially physical. KUSHIDA had to dig deep and find something to keep his perfect record against Ospreay going. Meanwhile, nothing Will did could keep his rival down. KUSHIDA finally hit Back to the Future, held on like Okada, and nailed a second to win the tournament. Their second best match together and much better than their match later in the year.

287. IWGP Tag Team Championship: EVIL and SANADA [c] vs. The Young Bucks – NJPW Dominion 2018

The Bucks recently moved to the heavyweight division to prove they’re the best. Not sure what exactly they did to earn a shot except lose to the Golden Lovers. Still, this looked like one of the more interesting bouts. The Bucks worked better as a unit, having been a team forever, but the sheer size and strength of the champions was too much at points. Matt is STILL selling a back injury from Wrestle Kingdom, while Nick had his foot worked on and commentary sold it like it was broken. I wasn’t a fan of this match having a tower of doom spot, when we literally just got one in the previous match. Anyway, Nick’s foot came into play a lot. It stopped them from hitting an Indytaker and led to the champions hitting one of their own. The Bucks weathered the storm and survived a lot, before finally hitting More Bang For Your Buck and capturing the titles in 15:03. This was great. The Bucks finally began to look like a great tag team to me in 2018. They stepped away from their one-dimensional comfort zone and delivered some bangers. I do think Nick did a bit too much with the bad foot, but that’s not a major gripe. Other than the Golden Lovers match, I believe this was my favorite Bucks outing ever.

286. NXT Tag Team Championship Ladder Match: Danny Burch and Oney Lorcan vs. The Forgotten Sons vs. The Street Profits vs. The Undisputed Era – NXT TakeOver XXV

When the Viking Raiders were moved to Raw, they were still the NXT Tag Team Champions. So, the decision was made for them to give up the titles. In need of new champions, four of the top tandems in NXT were put into this ladder match. They proceeded to come incredibly close to stealing the show on this particular evening. I love the Undisputed Era, really like Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch, and think the Street Profits are so much fun. The Forgotten Sons were there, as well. For 21:30, these guys put their bodies on the line and gave us a hell of an entertaining affair. There were so many great moments in this and the pace never slowed. Even though I dissed the Forgotten Sons, they were welcome because the crowd hated them. Whenever they got close to winning, the fans were engaged as they desperately wanted them to fail. Plus, it allowed Jaxson Ryker to get involved and he added another wrinkle to this when everyone teamed up to take him out. In the end, the Profits came out as the champions. It wasn’t just a great moment because the popular duo deserved it. There was the added bonus that this was Angelo Dawkins’ first TakeOver appearance despite being signed to NXT for several years. The win and celebration were special.

285. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Minoru Suzuki – NJPW G1 Climax 7/14/18

I’ve watched every G1 Climax since 2013. 2018 marked the first time that an entire block nearly got shut out of my year end list. That’s right, the A Block had only one match crack the four star barrier and it should come as no surprise that it was these two to do it. In February, Minoru Suzuki took the Intercontinental Title from Hiroshi Tanahashi and destroyed his knee in the process. Playing off that, Suzuki came in looking to hurt Tanahashi again. He ripped, wrenched, and twisted his leg in ways it was never meant to bend. Suzuki is the master and that hasn’t changed now that he’s 50 years old. It reached a point where commentary believed the referee would stop the match. Tanahashi was getting dominated. Anything Tanahashi did was out of sheer desperation. When he missed a move, it felt like a big deal because we believed there was no way he could come back. Finally, he busted out an inverted dragon screw. It looked brutal and Minoru screamed in agony like we have never heard before. Tanahashi used that to set up High Fly Flow and pull out the miracle win in 13:59. They packed a ton of story into this one as Tanahashi got obliterated by the vicious Suzuki, yet found a way to pull it out.

284. The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family – Raw 3/3/14

At Elimination Chamber, these two trios put on one of the best matches of that year. On this loaded Raw in Chicago, they had their rematch and it was just a bit over a week after the original. The story here was that Dean Ambrose was being a hot head and making mistakes, causing friction within the team. Ambrose ended up getting isolated and playing the babyface in peril. The moment where Seth Rollins backed away from the hot tag on Ambrose is a forgotten thing. Roman Reigns had to save Ambrose instead. In fact, Rollins actually walked out for good. Reigns and Ambrose did their best but Bray Wyatt put down the Lunatic Fringe with Sister Abigail at the 13:53 mark. Great storytelling for the factions and a ton of action in a short timeframe. I honestly can’t ask for much more when it comes to this kind of thing.

283. Katsuyori Shibata vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – NJPW G1 Climax 7/21/14

These are two of my favorite people to watch in NJPW. They sized each other up and each dodged big kicks. Things picked up when Shibata didn’t give a clean break, slapping Nakamura who came back with a big running knee. Shibata applied the sleeper on the apron, bringing Nakamura over the top and to the outside. That honestly looked like it hurts a lot. Shibata worked his figure four for a bit, wearing down Nakamura. It’s wise considering Nakamura’s Boma Ye finisher. Once that was over, they just traded forearm blasts in the center of the ring. Nakamura applied a sleeper of his own but Shibata got out and hit a big knee to the gut. Shibata then just went into a series of stiff ass kicks. That FIGHTING SPIRIT kicked in as Nakamura pops up after a German and nails a lung blower. He suplexed Shibata over, calling for the Boma Ye. Shibata stopped that with a kick of his own and both men were down. Time for the Shibata sleeper but Nakamura ducked the Penalty Kick that usually follows. He came off the second rope with a knee and then nails a variation of the Boma Ye for two! He tried but again, Shibata stops it with a dropkick. Shibata then busted out the fucking Go to Sleep and picked up the victory with the Penalty Kick in 15:27, giving the best tournament ever a great first main event.

282. NXT Tag Team Championship: The Undisputed Era [c] vs. Moustache Mountain – NXT Takeover: Brooklyn IV

The final leg in a trilogy of stellar tag team matches between these duos. Moustache Mountain took the first in their home country, while Undisputed regained the title in a classic at Full Sail. They saved the tiebreaker for NXT’s biggest show of the year. Their chemistry ranks among the best in terms of tag team wrestling in recent memory. Nearly every sequence put together is one that grabs you and the characters keep you enthralled. The champions cut off the ring, isolating Trent Seven. You’d expect the smaller team member to get isolated, but Seven had his knee worked on extensively in the previous match. Plus, STRONG BOI Tyler Bate is a great hot tag and he got to showcase his power on multiple occasions. He’s a freak of nature, especially for his age. That combination of strength and athleticism shouldn’t be possible. When Bate’s leg became a problem, Seven nearly threw in the towel, which was a beautiful callback to their last encounter. Down the stretch, we got a lot of false finishes to keep us totally engaged. The fans bit into so many of them. Undisputed retained with Total Elimination in 18:07. The second best match in their series.

281. NXT Championship vs. Career Match: Andrade Almas [c] vs. Johnny Gargano – NXT 2/21/18

Following an incredible, all-time great match at TakeOver: Philadelphia, Andrade Almas and Johnny Gargano raised the stakes for their rematch. Gargano put his career on the line, providing us with another highly emotional battle. They were actually coming in three for three in great matches. This made four. Early on, Candice LeRae took Zelina Vega to the back, ensuring this was one on one for the time. Of course, their exchanges were crisp as they’ve built some phenomenal chemistry over the course of their rivalry. Everything felt so natural in this match. Often, when you do a career match, the result seems obvious. Here, it wasn’t. It seemed like Johnny could win or lose at any point. That’s hard to do. The drama just built and built until the referee got knocked out. Johnny slapped on the Gargano Escape and had the match won. Tommaso Ciampa showed up and broke his crutch over Johnny’s head. Almas hit the Hammerlock DDT and retained after 15:14. Nowhere near the insane level of their TakeOver match, but a fitting final chapter for them. A dramatic match featuring great action and plenty of emotion. The silent crowd as Almas celebrated told the story it needed to.