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Kevin’s Top 500 Matches Of The 2010s: #340-331

August 30, 2021 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja

340. Dragon Lee vs. Hiromu Takahashi – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 5/25/18

During NJPW’s annual tournaments, they throw a few shows on in “single-camera” format. These are like house shows, with basically only a hard camera and no commentary. It’s often hard to get into matches like this, but not when they involve Dragon Lee and Hiromu Takahashi. There’s a reason this is the best rivalry in wrestling. In an awesome moment, Lee came out wearing Hiromu’s mask from his Kamaitachi days. If you’ve seen them wrestle before, you know what this was about. Two guys throwing everything at one another at a crazy pace. Their knowledge of one another led to a wild number of counters and their history meant they came prepared with brutal strikes. Hiromu kicked out of Desnucadora, becoming the only guy in NJPW to do so. Still, Lee hit a diving double stomp and the Dragon Driver to obtain the win in 20:48. They’ve wrestled a ton of times, yet it never feels like they’re just playing the hits. They always manage to keep things fresh and this was no different. Two of the best in the world having an excellent match as part of their phenomenal series.

339. WWE United Kingdom Championship: Pete Dunne [c] vs. Zack Gibson – NXT United Kingdom Tournament 6/26/18

A night prior, Zack Gibson won the United Kingdom Tournament to earn this title shot. Pete Dunne entered as the dominant champion, having reigned with the title for over a year. These guys had such a fantastic dynamic. Dunne is wildly popular, while Gibson is the most hated wrestler in the United Kingdom. Hell, he might be most hated in the entire world. The fans were so into this, there was an “IF YOU HATE GIBSON, SHOES OFF” chant that led to many fans taking off their shoes. Gibson won the tournament by being aggressive, so he kept that up here. Dunne brought that same energy and it led to some great, intense exchanges from both. They survived the big shots from the other (Bitter End and Helter Skelter), but when Dunne got put in the Shankly Gates, the fans believed that was it. That’s how well the move was put over during the tournament. While Dunne survived, Gibson made a crucial mistake of not taking immediate advantage. Dunne snapped his fingers and hit the Bitter End to retain in 17:45. Two men who played their roles perfectly and did so in front of a hot crowd. It’s simple, yet effective.

338. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW G1 Climax 27 8/6/17

With the G1 Climax winding down, a win for Tomohiro Ishii here would’ve kept him alive, while one for Hiroshi Tanahashi set the stage for it to come down to himself and Tetsuya Naito. In the G1 23, Ishii beat Tanahashi in a classic, while Tanahashi bested him in their next two G1 meetings. Ishii was the aggressor early. He was winning the battle of strikes, so Tanahashi took it to his knee and looked for the Texas Cloverleaf. In a great twist, Ishii hit a dragon screw and busted out a Sharpshooter. I love that move. Unfortunately, I never bought it as a potential finish. I only believe Tanahashi would tap to a more established move, or something to his injured arm. Anyway, things picked up late as the guys racked up the near falls. They survived the signature offense of the other before Tanahashi won with two High Fly Flows in 23:30. These guys are always awesome together. They brought intensity and drama, especially down the stretch. Ishii was the G1 MVP in 2017.

337. Adam Cole vs. AJ Styles – ROH War of the Worlds 5/12/15

On the shelf for five months, Adam Cole made his return here and did so in a huge match. Cole faced the reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion and instantly showed that ring rust wasn’t going to be a problem. Outside of a Bloody Sunday on the apron, which was sick, there weren’t many points of this match that made you jump out of seat and say “wow.” However, it was smartly worked. Cole picked up a few near falls that made you actually believe he would beat the IWGP Champion, even though you knew in your heart that it wouldn’t happen. Cole’s shoulder injury came into play, sold more by commentary pointing out that he returned about four months earlier than expected. Cole was unable to lift Styles at a few points, including on a Styles Clash attempt. He was able to hit it with help from the ropes, but outside of a few superkicks, he couldn’t hit any of his own finishers. Styles went into a bit of a piledriver barrage, nailing two or three painful looking ones before using the Styles Clash to pick up the win at 17:34. Cole had a solid 2015 but I expect him to be on this list a lot more next year, hopefully including a rematch between these two.

336. IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuya Naito [c] vs. Kota Ibushi – NJPW G1 Supercard

I spent most of the G1 Supercard waiting for the show to get great. The dumpster fire that is Ring of Honor kept dragging the show down while New Japan was dealing out solid stuff. It picked up with Sabre/Tanahashi but peaked with this encounter. Tetsuya Naito and Kota Ibushi can make magic together in the ring. Their match in the G1 Climax 27 is one of my all-time favorites. They can also scare the hell out of anyone watching them. Within minutes, they were dumping each other on their heads for the Madison Square Garden faithful. Everything looked fantastic, terrifying, and enthralling. It’s a strange mix that only these two seem to manage to pull off. The pace down the stretch was absolutely ridiculous. Their chemistry always wows me. Destino wasn’t enough to win because that’s just who Naito is at this point. Ibushi went nuts in the final moments, hitting all sorts of knee strikes and offense. He ultimately used Kamigoye at the 20:53 mark to finally win the Intercontinental Title. Not their best work but that just shows how great these two are when they’re together.

335. New Japan Cup Semifinals: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. SANADA – NJPW New Japan Cup 2019

SANADA is such an interesting case because he’s always teetering on greatness but never quite reaching it. If there’s one man who has brought out the best in him throughout his career, it is Hiroshi Tanahashi. And why not? He’s the Ace for a reason. Nobody makes SANADA look like a star the way Tanahashi has. Their two matches in 2016 both got ****¼ from me. SANADA had the crowd behind him as this was near his hometown but Tanahashi is wise enough to understand how to combat that disadvantage. The story of both men learning under Keiji Mutoh came into play once again. It always adds a nice bit of depth whenever they square off. They had each other well scouted which set up great exchanges. I loved Tanahashi getting a near fall when he got his knees up on a moonsault. It was simple yet worked because he knew SANADA plays that card often and because Tanahashi won an earlier tourney match with a flash pin. In fact, SANADA countered the pin that won that previous outing into the Skull End for the best moment of the match. That turned out to be the finish, as Tanahashi gave up after 24:11. Once again, this combination delivered a great match.

334. IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada [c] vs. Zack Sabre Jr.- NJPW Sakura Genesis 2018

One thing that has remained true in NJPW is that Kazuchika Okada (and Kenny Omega for that matter) is at his best when taken out of his comfort zone. Think the G1 match with Omega or the Shibata title defense. Zack Sabre Jr. was here to do just that. Sabre dominated the New Japan Cup and won by submission in every match. He was out to bring submission wrestling back to the forefront. A staple of Okada defenses is that he was obsessed with beating guys at their own game. He tried hard, but was no match for Zack on the mat. When he realized that was going nowhere, he tried going to his reliable arsenal. Didn’t matter. I loved how Zack simply caught his signature dropkick into a submission. He had stuff ready for Okada’s elbow and even for the Rainmaker pose. A guy like Okada does the same thing in every match, so a smart wrestler would logically have him scouted. Okada had to dig deep and be the resilient babyface. He was more aggressive than usual in his comeback and it worked. Still, Sabre had some close calls on his pinning combinations and even on the Shinsuke Nakamura armbar, which called back to the only time Okada tapped in his career. Okada went into Rainmaker mode late and retained with three of them after 34:58. One of Okada’s best defenses thanks to going away from the usual formula. They told a stellar story and made me believe Sabre might steal it.

333. IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Shinsuke Nakamura [c] vs. Naomichi Marufuji – NJPW King of Pro Wrestling 2013

On almost any NJPW show that I put on, Shinsuke Nakamura will be the reigning Intercontinental Champion. Now, Naomichi Marufuji is someone who I saw live multiple times in Ring of Honor back in 2007, 2008, and 2009. These two go back and forth early on, with neither gaining the upper hand and just trying to test each other out. Marufuji gets the first big spot with a sick piledriver on the apron. I don’t think I’ve seen that before. Marufuji goes after the neck following this and works it consistently, with Nakamura doing a good job of selling it. It also sets up for Marufuji’s finish, Shiranui. Nakamura wisely has done his homework and has this very well scouted, blocking it numerous times. They go into a fantastic finishing stretch, where Nakamura nails two Boma Ye’s to retain after a tremendous 16:18. An often overlooked gem.

332. Aleister Black vs. Buddy Murphy – WWE TLC 2019

I talk often about how matches don’t need to be long to be great. This is a shining example. Aleister Black and Buddy Murphy at TLC was a simple setup. These are two of the best wrestlers on the planet who were underutilized in 2019. But they were given the opportunity to shine on the final pay-per-view of the year and they made the best of it. They were given 13:40 and put on an incredible show. Murphy showed no intimidation and sat across from Black at the bell. That set the tone for a fantastic back and forth contest. Black was busted open within minutes. I loved how they managed to work around their usual spots when the other guy countered them. Like when Black blocked a sunset flip bomb so Murphy just unleashed a fury of superkicks instead. The near falls late were tremendous, particularly the one after Murphy’s Brainbuster. The finish was also one of my favorites of 2019. They went into an incredible exchange of kicks and strikes, with Black hitting Black Mass from out of nowhere. An outstanding gem that should catapult both guys into the next level of superstardom.

331. WWE World Championship: Roman Reigns [c] vs. Seth Rollins – WWE Money in the Bank 2016

Like Styles/Cena on the same night, this had a big fight feel to it. It started a bit slow. I originally didn’t love that but liked it more on a second watch. Once they got past that and started playing to their strengths, this picked up. Rollins showed no ring rust and having him back was very welcome. At the time, Reigns was at his best when being led by a superior, more experienced performer, which he had here. For some reason though, I found his 2015 matches (Bryan, Lesnar, etc.) better than his 2016. This didn’t suffer from the issues that plagued some of Reigns’ early 2016 bouts. It kicked into high gear late in a way that I didn’t appreciate the first time around. The best part was Rollins countering the Spear with a mid-air Pedigree. Though Reigns kicked out of that, he fell to another Pedigree, taking his first clean loss ever in 25:59. Fantastic.