wrestling / Columns

Kevin’s Top 500 Matches Of The 2010s (#300 – 291)

September 24, 2021 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
Randy Orton Jeff Hardy Hell in a Cell 2018

300. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada – NJPW G1 Climax 26 8/12/16

Tons of people were quick to give out the ***** rating for the Wrestle Kingdom 10 match between these two but I found it to EASILY be their worst match ever. It felt like Kazuchika Okada led that match which led to a lot of nothing early on and a hot finish. This rematch on the final A Block show of the G1 Climax saw a return to form with a match that felt like Hiroshi Tanahashi (the superior worker) was back to leading the way. They’ve met a ton since 2012 with every match (except WK10) getting at least **** from me to this point. A win by either guy in this match would put them in the finals of the tournament. They did a great job of playing into the fact that even though Okada finally beat Tanahashi at WK, he is frustrated to keep playing second fiddle to the bigger star at times. Both guys came close to winning early by using their vast knowledge of one another. After the hot start, they moved into standard Okada/Tana stuff with Tana working the leg, Okada getting bursts of hope and the classic Tana High Fly Flow to the outside. Tana nearly won by countout but didn’t want it that way. He went to bring Okada in but Okada met him with a tombstone and Tana nearly got counted out. Both men came extremely close to winning down the stretch and again played into how well they know each other with counter after country. The finishing stretch was top notch and called back to the standout moment from WK10 of Okada keeping hold of Tana’s wrist while battling. Tanahashi would hit High Fly Flow but time expired at 30:00 while pinning Okada. Neither man would win A Block, as the draw gave Hirooki Goto the win. My major gripes with this were the time limit draw felt obvious after a while and Tanahashi, knowing time was expiring, went for his finisher twice in the end, wasting time. Everything else was a return to form for these two.

299. Hell in a Cell: Jeff Hardy vs. Randy Orton – WWE Hell in a Cell 2018

Who the hell decided this was going to be so good? Randy Orton has been lifeless for years and Jeff Hardy was basically just a fun nostalgia act since his return. So, when they were put in a Hell in a Cell (a strangely bright red one at that), my hopes weren’t high. But these two went out and had one hell of a match. Orton was sadistic and violent in ways that we haven’t seen from him before. Watching him put a screwdriver through Hardy’s gauges and twist it was one of the more horrifying things I’ve ever seen in a WWE ring. It was as if vicious Orton was the perfect person to put against a Jeff Hardy who is willing to take a beating. Tables, ladders, and chairs (OH MY) were used throughout this. Orton also took punishment as he left the match with some painful looking gashes on his back and leg. Jeff made a mistake he’s made throughout his career that resulted in the finish. He tried to do too much. As he swung from the top of the cell to splash Orton through a table, he missed and Jeff crashed and burned. The referee wanted to stop the match, but Orton forced him to count the three after 24:52. To anyone who says you can’t have a violent match in a PG world, simply watch this barbaric match.

298. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. SANADA – NJPW Power Struggle 2016

On a good, but mostly uninteresting Power Struggle card, Hiroshi Tanahashi and SANADA managed to best their great G1 Climax performance. In their first outing, SANADA went after Tanahashi’s injured shoulder. He had no target like that this time. Tanahashi was one step ahead of his younger foe, frustrating him. SANADA chose to combat Tanahashi’s veteran skill with his athleticism, diving outside and snapping off a rana on the ramp. SANADA would apply his patented dragon sleeper but Tanahashi survived. Both men would go on to miss top rope moves, with SANADA missing two moonsaults. On the second, he landed on his feet and tweaked it thanks to some dragon screws by Tanahashi earlier. The former IWGP Heavyweight Champion wore him down more with a cloverleaf to help cut off the athleticism edge. Still, SANADA knew that he beat Tanahashi with a dragon sleeper a few months prior and kept going to it. Tanahashi managed to counter it a whopping five times in a row before a flurry of offense led to him winning with two High Fly Flows at 21:33.

297. Best of the Super Juniors Finals: Shingo Takagi vs. Will Ospreay – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 2019

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about this match. As soon as it ended, folks were taking to their keyboards and running to their rooftops to shout about how this was the match of the year. I disagreed, people got upset, and it became a whole thing. Kind of like when I gave Omega/Naito in the G1 26 less than five stars and people called for my head. Anyway, Shingo Takagi entered as something special. An undefeated, unstoppable monster. In his way was Will Ospreay, Gedo’s golden gaijin (this was his third finals in four years). Early, they played up how Ospreay was nearly Shingo’s equal in power. He could hold his own there when almost no other junior could. That forced Shingo to pivot and try uncharacteristic things like a dive to the outside. He was shaken. It gradually moved from that into the big NJPW finish with all of the slick counters and big offensive bombs. The match reached its peak…but then it kept going. It fell into the NJPW trap of going long for the sake of it. Will won in 33:36. This was great but for it to have been a MOTY contender, I think it needed to be trimmed closer to 25 minutes. Either way, this is certainly worthy of making the list.

296. Super Strong Style 16 Quarterfinals: Kassius Ohno vs. Tyler Bate – PROGRESS Chapter 68 5/6/18

Kassius Ohno was not asked to do a lot in NXT. Due to that, it seems like many people forgot that he can still have great matches. Watching him in this tournament, you got the feeling he was in PROGRESS to prove a point. He came out like a man on a mission. Tyler Bate, being the BIG STRONG BOI, was able to somewhat match up with his larger opponent. He got too cocky and Ohno made him pay. As always, Ohno was at his best when he got to portray the bully. Any Bate momentum was stopped by Ohno’s power advantage. He was ruthless and it made for great drama. Bate refused to stay down, though. He fired up by swinging wildly and hitting an impressive deadlift German suplex. With help from the turnbuckle, Bate managed to hoist Ohno onto his shoulders for a jaw-dropping airplane spin. You honestly have to see it. It’s breathtaking. Bate added the Tyler Driver ’97 to win in 15:00. Unfortunately, Bate got hurt during the match and couldn’t finish the tournament. Still, they gave us one of the better David vs. Goliath matches you’ll find anywhere. Ohno reminded everyone that he can go and Bate showed us why he’s among the best in the world.

295. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi [c] vs. El Desperado – NJPW Kizuna Road 6/18/18

During the Best of the Super Juniors Tournament, these two had one of the best matches all year long. You’ll see it later on this list. El Desperado won that one, while Hiromu Takahashi won the tournament and the Jr. Heavyweight Title. It set up this rematch, which just so happened to go down in the same building, Korakuen Hall. After Dominion (when Hiromu won the title), these two had a strange interaction. It played into the opening moments here, as Hiromu brought out a guitar case with flowers for Desperado. The mind games between them were reaching new levels. This was a brawl in the same vein as their BOTSJ outing. I appreciated that because it’s not typical for this division. Variety is good. Both men are known for being sneaky and wild, making this style ideal. They played off their last match for some cool moments, callbacks, and counters. Sometimes, matches get hurt by run-ins, but when Yoshinobu Kanemaru tried to do so and got thwarted by BUSHI, it worked. It furthered the feud between factions and made sense for their characters. Another thing I loved was Desperado getting his mask removed and not trying to hide his face, because the title meant that much to him. In the end, Hiromu retained with the Time Bomb in 28:16. Though it went a bit long, they delivered a worthy sequel.

294. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kota Ibushi – NJPW G1 Climax 25 7/20/15

A buddy of mine made an interesting comparison heading into this match. As part of a preview to this G1 show, he was asked to compare these guys to two WWE Superstars. He used John Cena and Cesaro. I’ve heard the Hiroshi Tanahashi/Cena comparisons a million times but the Kota Ibushi/Cesaro one surprisingly made a bunch of sense. They’re both freak athletes that are deceptively strong. Before the G1 Climax, Tanahashi was in a feud with Toru Yano, leading many to think he was near the end of his run. It turns out that he was just resting up for a great G1 Climax run and it all started here on night one. Tanahashi went after the leg with dragon screws and submissions, trying to ground the incredible aerial ability of Ibushi. Unfortunately, Ibushi’s selling of the leg left a little to be desired, which was my only major gripe. He did do some of his incredible offense, including the deadlift German. This main evented the first night of the tournament and it felt like a big fight. The crowd was red hot and these two went at it, full throttle, for the entire 20:53. Tanahashi won with the High Fly Flow, earning his first two points en route to winning the whole tournament.

293. Kenny Omega vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW G1 Climax 28 8/1/18

Far too often, Kenny Omega does things in his matches that take me out of them. The machine part of the “Best Bout Machine” nickname works because he can feel mechanical at times and more like a guy who does moves rather than an actual person. However, like the previous IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kazuchika Okada, Omega is at his best when he’s taken out of his comfort zone. Instead of being his usual self, he had to play Zack Sabre Jr.’s game and it was glorious. Sabre was the perfect guy to force him to reel it in. Sabre cut off everything Kenny had, especially in terms of speed and power. He had him scouted and outclassed him as a wrestler. When Omega had to make his comeback, it didn’t feel like he was throwing big moves for the sake of earning extra stars. It was sympathetic and realistic. We need more of that from him. Sabre countering the One Winged Angel into the European Clutch was incredible, while the way he caught the V-Trigger into a submission ruled. The desperate champion used a rollup to steal the match in 15:16. Omega got dominated and yet, it was arguably his finest performance of 2019. He’s a real boy, ladies and gentlemen. Sabre was his fantastic self. Together, they made magic.

292. RevPro British Heavyweight Championship: Tomohiro Ishii [c] vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 13

I love when these two wrestle. Their styles are so different but they manage to complement each other incredibly well. I loved how Zack Sabre Jr. came out aggressively. It was a way to match Tomohiro Ishii, yet it also showed how Ishii’s wins over him in the past took him off of his game. Sabre did come in with the goal of destroying Ishii’s arm. It was his sole focus. That’s a good move because it negates a lot of Ishii’s power strikes. He would bait Ishii to try strikes so he could catch the arm and work it. Still, Ishii had all sorts of counters ready. It made for a gripping match filled with twists and turns, regardless of the straightforward setup of it all. In the end, Sabre Jr. caught Ishii in his ridiculously named double armbar stretch, called “Hurrah! Another Year, Surely This One Will Be Better Than the Last; The Inexorable March of Progress Will Lead Us All to Happiness.” Yes, that’s the name. Ishii tapped out, making Sabre the champion after 11:30. Just good old fashioned wrestling. Technically proficient and filled with late drama.

291. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Jay White – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors Finals 2019

Jay White and Hiroshi Tanahashi have been intertwined since White returned from excursion at the end of 2017. He challenged Tanahashi for the Intercontinental Title at Wrestle Kingdom and came up short. Soon after, White became more ruthless and has since gone on to have one of the most successful funs in NJPW. That includes dethroning Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Title in February 2019 in a match that nearly made this list. By the time Tanahashi returned, White had dropped the title but the feud was still there. There was an intensity to this one that I loved. One thing that makes White matches good is his character work. He talked so much trash and was such an asshole for the entire 19:16 runtime. White jumped him before the bell and held control because of it. He removed Tanahashi’s protective brace on his injured elbow and I live for that kind of stuff. It’s awesome and Tanahashi sold the hell out of the injury. He couldn’t complete moves, which added to the drama when he was trapped in a Fujiwara Armbar. I thought White won it after interference from Gedo and a low blow but Tanahashi wouldn’t be denied. He hit a low blow of his own and went for the Texas Cloverleaf, only for White to counter into an inside cradle and steal it. I loved how this was different from your standard NJPW fare. Brilliantly worked.