wrestling / Columns

Pantoja’s Top 100 Matches Of 2022 (#10-1)

February 3, 2023 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
FTR The Briscoes ROH Final Battle Image Credit: AEW

10. Bryan Danielson vs. Jon Moxley – AEW Revolution

Image Credit: AEW

It’s kind of wild to think where these two were at this point. Later in the year, they ended up forming the Blackpool Combat Club, which became one of my favorite stables of the year. The fans immediately chanted for violence and they got that. This wasn’t violent in the same way that MJF/Punk was earlier in the show. That had things like the chain but this was just two tough guys trying to prove their toughness to one another. The strikes were vicious, the grappling was intense, and the submission work was top-notch, which laid the groundwork for what came next for the pair. This was a war for the entire 21:02 and was exactly the kind of match I’ve come to love from two of the best wrestlers on the planet. Moxley countered the Triangle Choke into a pin to win and then we got the William Regal appearance afterward, capping an epic outing. [****½]

9. Undisputed WWE Universal Championship: Roman Reigns [c] vs. Logan Paul – WWE Crown Jewel

Image Credit: WWE

Roman didn’t take this seriously from the start, talking trash, laughing things off, and toying with Paul for the most part. Paul would get in some body shots here or there but Roman mostly dominated. Paul’s leap frog looked great and he shocked Roman by sending him packing. Still, Roman remained in control and mocked his opponent. When Logan hit Roman with his own Superman Punch and did a kip-up, you knew something special was happening. He was firing up and commentary wasn’t wrong in saying that Paul looks like the best three-match wrestler in history. The reaction for him avoiding a Superman Punch with a kidney shot and the “lucky” right hand was great. I also popped for him hitting a clean Buckshot Lariat when CM Punk couldn’t. The cellphone frog splash through the table was sick though I didn’t love the Jake Paul appearance. Logan made the mistake of celebrating with his brother too much, leaving him to eat a Superman Punch and Spear and Roman retained after 24:45. Logan Paul delivered the greatest performance I’ve ever seen given his experience level and he tore his ACL and MCL about halfway through. Outstanding. [****½]

8. AEW World Tag Team Championship: Swerve In Our Glory [c] vs. The Acclaimed – AEW All Out

Image Credit: AEW

Nobody could deny the charisma of The Acclaimed but they hadn’t had that standout great match coming into this. That changed on this night and they were so popular that the champs had to work heel. Max took the heat and Bowens came in with a fun little run. I’m not used to them as faces so this felt fresh for The Acclaimed. Alas, Bowens ended up also getting his ass kicked after his previously injured knee gave him trouble. Lee as a vicious heel throwing dudes around is a good look for him. Max’s hot tag saw him step up again and Lee accidentally hit Swerve with the Pounce, opening the door for an Acclaimed near fall. The Acclaimed hit a double superplex on Lee but Swerve blind tagged in and hit the double stomp for a great near fall. He went after Bowens’s knee before Max came in for the save. The Acclaimed had several close calls that the fans ATE up. The one where Swerve kicked Lee and Bowens rolled him up was masterful. In the end though, a double stomp/powerbomb Doomsday Device ended Bowens in 22:26. That started slow but picked up in a HUGE way and was boosted by a RABID crowd. I kind of would’ve called the audible but we’ll see where they go. This was fantastic. Feels like the night to call an audible though it gave me DIY/Revival in Brooklyn vibes. [****½]

7. Dog Collar Match: CM Punk vs. MJF – AEW Revolution

Image Credit: AEW

Man, this feels like it was forever ago given where CM Punk and MJF have ended up since. This was the culmination of their feud (at least until All Out) and you basically knew Punk had to get his win back after MJF beat him in Chicago. Despite the obvious outcome, this was captivating. From Punk walking out to his old ROH AFI theme to the bloody war waged once the bell rang, this was the epic AEW had hoped for. It was one of those cases where blood added to a match as this felt like the intense, bitter bout that it needed to be. We got to see Punk beat MJF’s ass which he had wanted to do for months. Punk pulled out the Pepsi Plunge and MJF tried every trick he could think of to win. The finish came after 26:22 and saw Wardlow finally give up on MJF, leading to Punk’s victory. The ending meant that not only did this match have a great conclusion but it also advanced the important MJF/Wardlow angle. 10/10 storytelling here. [****½]

6. AEW World Championship: Hangman Page [c] vs. Bryan Danielson – AEW Dynamite 1/5/22

Image Credit: AEW

Their first meeting resulted in a one-hour draw so this would go to judges, who happened to be three former ECW Champions. I liked Hangman running at Bryan at the bell, looking to score some early points. Danielson backed away and did jumping jacks to taunt Hangman, showing that he felt he was in total control. After all, if you dominated 70% of the match last time, you can afford to give something up a bit. I really liked how you could tell that this wasn’t going 60 again. They worked it at too great of a pace to keep that up, which is just what I wanted. If you went the distance last time, your goal in this one should be to change it up and wrap this up quicker. Hangman hit the steel steps and got busted open. Between that and the shoulder he crashed on a dive, Hangman had targets that Bryan was relentless in going after. Page eventually busted Bryan open, giving us a bloody war to start the TBS era. Hangman’s avalanche moonsault fallaway slam was honestly wild to see. There were great Buckshot Lariat teases like Bryan avoiding it and hitting the Busaiku Knee or Bryan just falling out of exhaustion to luckily avoid it. They went into some big blows late with Hangman finally retaining after the Buckshot Lariat in 29:05. A hell of a match that was different but on par with the first. This felt like two guys who were truly desperate to walk out with the title rather than two guys just doing stuff to get a higher star rating. I can’t express enough how important that distinction is. [****½]

5. IWGP Tag Team Championship: FTR [c] vs. Aussie Open – NJPW Royal Quest II

Image Credit: NJPW

There was a lot of hype coming into this. Aussie Open is one of the fastest rising teas in the world while FTR is the best tag team on the planet. Putting them together when both are having the best year of their respective careers was a recipe for success. These duos put on a 31:59 epic. Almost immediately, Mark Davis chopped Dax Harwood so hard that he cut his chest open and Dax responded by beating Davis’ chest red. That set the tone for something magical. After a feeling out process where each team strutted their stuff, this picked up with big offense like a dive outside and even an homage to the World’s Greatest Tag Team. There were so many brilliant spots throughout this and they did one of my favorite things in wrestling, which is to give us great near falls late without overdoing finisher kickouts and things like that. I appreciated them lifting an old Revival spot as Fletcher blocked Davis from tapping out and slapped him to the point where he fired up. It showed how important the match was. It finally ended with the Big Rig, capping one of the best FTR matches in history. [****¾]

4. ROH World Tag Team Championship Double Dog Collar Match: FTR [c] vs. The Briscoes – ROH Final Battle

Image Credit: AEW

Capping a great trilogy is no easy task as many movie series have found out. The same goes for wrestling trilogies though we get fantastic cappers more often than not whether it’s Seth Rollins vs. Edge from 2021, Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega from 2017, or Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne also from 2017. FTR and the Briscoes fittingly wrapped up their rivalry at Final Battle, upping the ante from two traditional tag bouts to a Double Dog Collar match. This was pure violence and the teams bled buckets, giving this an old school feel that was right up FTR’s alley. For 22:20, this was explosive and featured some wild moments. Things like a dog collar Gory Special choke, a referee getting busted open, and a spike piledriver onto a pile of chairs all made for something that any wrestling fan should see. Dax tapped when trapped in a submission with the chain as the Briscoes finally bested FTR in a classic, which also triggered a losing streak for the former champions. [****¾]

3. AEW Trios Championship Tournament Finals: The Dark Order & Hangman Page vs. The Elite – AEW All Out

Image Credit: AEW

Almost immediately the intertwining storylines came into play as Matt Jackson got beat up on his damaged lower back and Page stopped Dark Order from furthering their assault. Matt tagged out rather than fight Hangman, giving us Page/Omega though that was short-lived as Silver blind tagged in. That set up a portion of the match where the teams started trading stuff. The Elite work seamlessly together while Dark Order and Hangman had good stuff going. Silver had a great little moment where he took out his opponents, Nakazawa, and Landon. Dark Order came close with a big series of moves on Omega though nobody believed they’d pin him. If Kenny ate the fall, it would be to Hangman. It was all really good stuff here and we finally got the actual Hangman/Kenny interaction. Their back and forth was nuts and just what you’d want from these two. As Hangman set for the Buckshot Lariat, Matt stopped him outside in the same position he was in when he let him do it at Full Gear. Hangman went for it anyway, Kenny ducked, and Nick hit him with his own Buckshot Lariat in a fantastic spot. Silver countering the One Winged Angel into a rollup was one of the best near falls in recent memory. Hangman tried the Buckshot but Kenny ducked and it hit Silver. Kenny quickly covered and the Elite won in 19:49. An incredible match where the action was as good as you’d expect but what put it over the top was the layered storytelling. The callbacks and emotion were everything. Hangman nis now back at square one emotionally and he’s going to be crushed by this. [****¾]

2. ROH World Tag Team Championship: The Briscoes [c] vs. FTR – ROH Supercard of Honor

Image Credit: AEW

The ROH/AEW stuff has been hit or miss but there was still excitement when Supercard of Honor came around. The majority of that excitement came from The Briscoes going up against FTR. One of the best and most consistent tag teams from the past two decades against the guys who have been the best team in the world since about 2016. The crowd was rabid before the bell, proving how highly anticipated this match was. These are hard hitting teams so even though there weren’t any hardcore stipulations here, blood was shed. They built up to the big near falls extremely well while never feeling like they were overdoing them. In a lot of ways, this felt like the ideal FTR match as it was kind of the definition of “no flips, just fists.” It was two teams kicking ass for 27:30 and felt different from a lot of major tags in other companies, even AEW. The finish came with Big Rig, capping my pick for the second best match in each team’s career (FTR vs. DIY in Toronto is my top tag match ever, while I gave five stars to Briscoes/MCMG in 2007. [****¾]

1. WWE Intercontinental Championship: Gunther [c] vs. Sheamus – WWE Clash at the Castle

Image Credit: WWE

Giovanni Vinci was back with his old buddies and they were dubbed Imperium. GUNTHER HAD THE TRENCHCOAT TOO. I LOST MY SHIT. They did the thing again where the goons brawled as Gunther and Sheamus just stood there face to face. We were like 20 seconds into this and Sheamus’s chest was already red. This felt like a struggle from the start with them jockeying for position and battling for control, including Gunther avoiding the 10 Beats multiple times. Gunther took the upper hand first, lighting up Sheamus with chops and forearms. It was brutal. Sheamus got his ass kicked until he finally caught a chop and started returning the favor. He finally got the 10 Beats to work over the announce table, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. He added more on the apron and over the guardrail because we all love a good marathon. They did exactly what we all wanted, which was beat the shit out of each other. It wasn’t until White Noise nearly 15 minutes in that we got a near fall, which is something I really like. They got a standing ovation midway through. The close call on the Celtic Cross was pretty tremendous. Sheamus went for the Brogue Kick but his damaged back gave out and Gunther capitalized with a powerbomb. Both men got up hype and Gunther laid Sheamus out with a lariat to retain in 19:35. Incredible. That was everything I wanted and more, with Sheamus delivering another great match and Gunther continuing to prove that he’s the best on the planet right now. Gunther/WALTER has topped this list three times in the past four years. [****¾]