wrestling / Columns

Pantoja’s Top 100 Matches Of 2022 (#60-51)

January 27, 2023 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
The Acclaimed FTR AEW Dynamite Image Credit: AEW

60. Bryan Danielson vs. Lee Moriarty – AEW Dynamite 2/16/22

Image Credit: AEW

I love that a lot of Bryan Danielson’s AEW run has been him working young guys he wants to wrestle. This stemmed from Danielson mentioning Lee as a guy he and Moxley could mentor and Lee is out to prove something to him. These guys went back and forth to start with Dragon showing his superior mat skills, only for Lee to display that he could hang. I chuckled at JR having NO CLUE what a Border City Stretch was. Following a commercial break, they got tangled in the legs and fired off strikes at each other in a cool moment. Danielson looked impressed by Lee’s ability to bring the violence as promised. Lee came close to winning a few times and managed to throw bombs with Danielson. Of course, Danielson hit the Busaiku Knee and then KICKED HIS FUCKING HEAD IN. A Triangle Sleeper later and Lee was out at the 12:12 mark. I might be ranking this a bit high but I loved it. This is one of my favorite stories in all of wrestling and this was a masterful execution of it, with hard-hitting action blended with technical stuff. [****¼]

59. El Desperado vs. Robbie Eagles – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 5/29/22

Image Credit: NJPW

I wasn’t able to review this show at the time that it aired because life got the best of me so I’m glad I get to cover it here. The Best of the Super Juniors was really good this year and much better than the G1 Climax to me. Matches like this were why. Late in the tourney, Robbie Eagles and El Desperado, two of my favorite juniors, collided in a main event. I love that they got the opportunity and they made the most of it. The entire 19:21 encounter was engaging and felt like a big deal. Eagles needed to win to remain alive and even pull ahead of Desperado in the standings with the tiebreaker. You felt that from start to finish. I liked how both guys worked the leg to set up their submissions, the Ron Miller Special and the Stretch Muffler. In the end, it was Eagles who secured the victory with that Ron Miller Special and gave himself a chance to win the block. [****¼]

58. NXT North American Championship: Carmelo Hayes [c] vs. Ricochet – NXT Worlds Collide

Image Credit: WWE

This was about as good a match as you could book for this kind of show. Hayes’s entrance was cool as it had graphics of jerseys hanging up for everyone he’s beaten including one for Ricochet. This started with the expected quick exchange to a stalemate. They did a second one but Ricochet snapped off a dropkick to put down Hayes. Their exchanges only got better as the match progressed with them feeling like perfect opponents. It built to a spot where they both did springboard cross body blocks into each other. I’ve never seen that before and it ruled. Hayes sold the SHIT out of the Recoil and was saved by Trick pulling him out of the cover. They continued at a ridiculous pace filled with tons of spots. However, it was the kind of spotfest that I like. It made sense within the story. This wasn’t just spots for the sake of it. Like the controversial Ospreay/Ricochet match from years ago (that I gave ****¼), this was two guys trading athletic stuff and trying to one-up the other. It made sense and was crisp as hell. The finish ruled too as Hayes avoided a Ricochet top rope move and rolled him into an inside cradle to retain after 15:57. What an absolute spectacle that I’d put slightly above what Ricochet did in a similar situation in 2016. [****¼]

57. AEW Tag Team Championship: The Acclaimed [c] vs. FTR – AEW Dynamite 12/7/22

Image Credit: AEW

For several months, FTR carried around three sets of Tag Team Titles and were the top contenders of the AEW belts, yet they never got a shot. It was one of those things where I get that they didn’t need a fourth pair but for a company hyping win/loss records and things like that, it felt odd. During that time, The Acclaimed leap frogged them and became champs, setting up this main event showdown on an episode of Dynamite. FTR knows how to make any situation work and here, they acted as subtle heels to make way for the popularity of The Acclaimed. It’s a role they’ve done incredibly well in the past and set the stage for a great match. Bowens got the hot tag yet still found himself in trouble because of FTR’s tag team skill. He also saved Caster from the Big Rig, extending this 16:48 affair. The finish saw Caster roll through a jackknife for a cradle to retain the titles, cementing The Acclaimed as AEW’s top tandem. [****¼]

56. Claudio Castagnoli vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – AEW x NJPW Forbidden Door

Image Credit: AEW

As expected, Claudio Castagnoli was Bryan’s replacement and the new BCC member. He got a MONSTER pop. He came out with a bang, running over Sabre Jr. with an uppercut and hitting the Neutralizer for a near fall mere seconds in. I bit even though I knew ZSJ wouldn’t get squashed. They never really let up here and had some great action combining Claudio’s high impact stuff with Sabre’s mat work. From small joint manipulation to Sabre turning a Sharpshooter into a heel hook, it was so great. I love that when Claudio attempted to counter ZSJ’s heel hook, ZSJ just simply changed things up with a different grip or by grabbing the leg in a new way. It’s simple, yet effective. The swing didn’t work as well as it usually does since Claudio’s arm was worked over, negating some of his power advantage. I still love ZSJ’s thing of eating a big hit or two to goad stronger opponents in for his submissions. The European Clutch led to a great near fall before Claudio hit the uppercut and Ricola Bomb to win in 18:23. A hell of a match from two of the best in the world. Claudio will fit right into the BCC. [****¼]

55. Steel Cage Match: Jungle Boy vs. Luchasaurus – AEW Full Gear

Image Credit: AEW

JB did his best to use his speed to his advantage but Luchasaurus caught him and beat him to a pulp. He got lawn darted into the cage and was busted open within the first two or so minutes. The visuals of a beaten JB with blood all over his face was great because he’s such a great sympathetic babyface. You want to see him overcome the odds and Luchasaurus is a great foil for him because of that. Christian stole the key from a referee and unlocked the door before being taken away by security. That was enough of a distraction for JB to get going as they battled outside. That portion of the match really didn’t go anywhere though and JB was back in trouble until he started kicking Luchasaurus’ head into the cage inside. I would’ve ended this at the Killswitch on the chair because it was a perfect middle finger to Christian by JB. However, I absolutely loved when JB sat up right after Luchasaurus to stare him down. JB finally hit an elbow through a table off the top of the cage and added the Snare Trap to win in 18:42. A hell of a match though it could’ve been something truly epic without as many false finishes as those went a bit overboard. Still, a banger though. [****¼]

54. Alexa Bliss, Asuka and Bianca Belair vs. Bayley, Dakota Kai and IYO SKY – WWE Clash at the Castle

Image Credit: WWE

I was excited for this given my love for basically everyone involved but especially Dakota, IYO, and Bayley. The action was good but this shined because of the character work like Bayley talking smack to Michael Cole and trying to get the crowd to not be so positive for her. The crowd still wanted her above everyone else though. Alexa took the heat for a while and they found a way to keep cutting Bianca off. Bayley started limping at one point but was apparently faking it. There was a fantastic late Asuka/IYO exchange. Bianca’s hot tag didn’t get the pop I hoped for but they built to it extremely well. The closing stretch with Bianca against Dakota was fantastic, giving Dakota a lot of time to shine. She survived Bianca and tagged Bayley. A barrage of offense led to Bayley pinning Bianca to win in 18:45. That was Bianca’s first pinfall loss in 2022. A tremendous opener boosted by the crowd. They paced it perfectly, had a lot of action, and was just fantastic all around. I was totally invested. I know I’m probably the high man on this but whatever, I loved it. [****¼]

53. CM Punk and Jon Moxley vs. FTR – AEW Dynamite 2/9/22

Image Credit: AEW

It’s kind of weird to think this actually happened given how Punk ended up feuding with Moxley and becoming friendly with FTR. The faces had the advantage early as they are better in singles situations. FTR took control when they busted out their great tandem efforts. Attacking Punk’s leg, isolating him in the corner, etc. Surprisingly though, the Punk in peril section was relatively short. Moxley came in throwing suplexes like his name was Kurt Angle. During the break, Moxley got put through a table and nearly got counted out. That set up Moxley as our official face in peril. They did it in a smart way so he didn’t look weak and Punk got the hot tag as the guy involved in the feud. When it happened, the match went to the next level for the rest of the 19:26. The guys brought together so many close calls and near falls without ever making it feel forced. There weren’t finisher kick-outs either, instead doing pin breakups and things like that. The biggest kick out was Punk after a shot with the ring bell. Moxley and Punk even did a Doomsday Device like this was LOD against the Brainbusters. The GTS getting countered into the Big Rig was spectacular and the pin save added to the drama. Tully even got involved and Punk hit him with a goddamn GTS. Punk added one on Cash at the same time as Moxley hit a Paradigm Shift to win. [****¼]

52. Donnybrook Match: The Brawling Brutes vs. Imperium – WWE Extreme Rules

Image Credit: WWE

These guys immediately started brawling which is just what I wanted from them. Although they used weapons like the shillelagh and the various bar-themed items at ringside, this was always at its most vicious when they just beat the shit out of each other. Imperium held serve for a while, taking out the big men and putting the focus on the smaller Butch. Sheamus led the rally and got his one-on-one encounter with Gunter after coming so close to winning the IC Title the previous night. I loved how the 10 Beats gimmick was finished and then Holland and Butch just added onto it with more strikes and kicks. It fit the theme of this just being dudes wailing on each other. Near the end of this 17:50 match, we finally got the moment of revenge for Sheamus, who leveled Gunther with the weapon as he was held up by Butch and Holland. That was followed by the Celtic Cross through the table and the crowd ATE THIS UP. The Brutes are wildly over. That led to a Brogue Kick on Vinci to wrap this up. The Sheamus/Gunther stuff continued to be awesome while everyone else delivered in a big way as well in front of a hot crowd. [****¼]

51. AEW Trios Championship Tournament Semifinals: Aussie Open and Will Ospreay vs. The Elite – AEW Dynamite 8/31/22

Image Credit: AEW

Kenny Omega got the overdone entrance again, complete with Justin Roberts roasting Ospreay. Willy was animated from the start, desperate to get his hands on Kenny. We got Kenny vs. Willy to start and I must say, I’m not the biggest Omega fan out there but I feel like he’s LEAGUES ahead of Ospreay. Kenny casually avoiding the Space Flying Tiger and hitting a snap dragon suplex was sweet. That pissed off Will who removed Kenny’s shirt to expose his many bandages and bruises. That set up Kenny as the face in peril throughout a second commercial break. Upon returning, we got the hot tag for another wild section of this match. There were more big moves and close calls down the stretch here than possibly even the previous week. Speaking of then, I mentioned that seeing guys hang around the ring waiting for sports hurt it for me but here, the production team messed things up as they missed a few big moves. Will also poorly timed a version of the Meltzer Driver where he clearly connected at the wrong time and of course, the camera caught that. In the end, Kenny was left alone with Kyle Fletcher and beat him with the V-Trigger and One Winged Angel in 18:53. An action-packed match with the thrown-in Will vs. Kenny story. Not a MOTYC but something great. [****¼]