wrestling / Columns

Pantoja’s Top 100 Matches Of 2023 (#100 – 91)

January 29, 2024 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
AEW All In Adam Cole MJF Image Credit: AEW

For the first time ever, there’s a major change to this list. Not a single match that landed at **** will make the cut. Even some ****¼ matches will only be honorable mentions, which is telling of how much great wrestling we got this year. I will still list everything that received **** and consider the ****¼ matches past 100 as honorable mentions so the main list remains at 100. Included here are the usual WWE, AEW, and NJPW suspects but a big reason why the list grew is that I started watching STARDOM this year and they were my favorite promotion despite each company having plenty of highs in 2023. So as always, let’s have a good time and reminisce about great wrestling from this year and I hope people find new matches worth checking out!

Alright, so we’re starting with matches that received a **** rating, arranged by promotion. I also wanted to bring up a note before this gets started. I hadn’t seen World’s End at the time of this writing so that show isn’t included here.

NXT North American Championship: Wes Lee [c] vs. Dijak – Vengeance Day
Logan Paul vs. Seth Rollins – WrestleMania 39
WWE Raw Women’s Championship: Bianca Belair [c] vs. Asuka – WrestleMania 39
Undisputed WWE Universal Championship: Roman Reigns [c] vs. Cody Rhodes – WrestleMania 39
World Heavyweight Championship Tournament Finals: AJ Styles vs. Seth Rollins – Night of Champions
Money in the Bank: Bayley vs. Becky Lynch vs. IYO SKY vs. Trish Stratus vs. Zelina Vega vs. Zoey Stark – Money in the Bank
WWE Women’s Championship: IYO SKY [c] vs. Asuka – Smackdown 9/22/23
WWE Intercontinental Championship: Gunther [c] vs. Tommaso Ciampa – Raw 10/2/23
WWE Undisputed Tag Team Championship: Cody Rhodes and Jey Uso [c] vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn – Raw 10/9/23
Tables, Ladders & Scares Match: Angel Garza and Humberto Carrillo vs. The Creed Brothers – Halloween Havoc
NXT Championship: Ilja Dragunov [c] vs. Carmelo Hayes – Halloween Havoc
World Heavyweight Championship: Seth Rollins [c] vs. Sami Zayn – Raw 11/6/23
War Games: Cody Rhodes, Jey Uso, Randy Orton, Sami Zayn & Seth Rollins vs. Drew McIntyre & The Judgment Day – Survivor Series
Drew McIntyre vs. Sami Zayn – Raw 12/4/23

Bryan Danielson and Jon Moxley vs. Top Flight – Rampage 1/6/23
Hangman Page vs. Jon Moxley – Dynamite 1/11/23
AEW Trios Championship: The Elite [c] vs. AR Fox and Top Flight – Dynamite 2/8/23
AEW All-Atlantic Championship: Orange Cassidy [c] vs. Wheeler Yuta – Dynamite 2/22/23
Aussie Open vs. The Young Bucks – Rampage 2/24/23
Double Jeopardy Match: Claudio Castagnoli vs. Rey Fénix – Dynamite 5/10/23
Falls Count Anywhere Match: Chris Jericho vs. Roderick Strong – Dynamite 5/17/23
AEW International Championship: Orange Cassidy [c] vs. Swerve Strickland – Dynamite 6/7/23
Jon Moxley vs. Tomohiro Ishii – Dynamite 6/28/23
Blood & Guts: The Blackpool Combat Club, Konosuke Takeshita & PAC vs. The Golden Elite – Dynamite 7/19/23
ROH World & NJPW Strong Openweight Championships: Claudio Castagnoli [c] vs. Eddie Kingston [c] – Grand Slam
Andrade El Idolo vs. Jay White – Collision 9/23/23
Chris Jericho, Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi vs. Konosuke Takeshita, Sammy Guevara and Will Ospreay – WrestleDream
AEW TNT Championship 2 Out Of 3 Falls Match: Christian Cage [c] vs. Darby Allin – WrestleDream
#1 Contender’s Match: Bryan Danielson vs. Swerve Strickland – Title Tuesday
AEW TNT Championship: Christian Cage [c] vs. Bryan Danielson – Collision 10/14/23
Andrade El Idolo vs. Bryan Danielson – Collision 10/21/23
AEW World Tag Team Championship Ladder Match: Big Bill & Ricky Starks [c] vs. FTR vs. The Kings of the Black Throne vs. La Facción Ingobernable – Full Gear
Jay White vs. Swerve Strickland – Dynamite 11/29/23
Jon Moxley vs. Rush – Dynamite 12/6/23
Mark Briscoe vs. Swerve Strickland – Dynamite 12/6/23
Bryan Danielson vs. Daniel Garcia – Rampage 12/8/23
Jon Moxley vs. Swerve Strickland – Winter is Coming
Jay White vs. Jon Moxley – Holiday Bash
Bryan Danielson vs. Claudio Castagnoli – Collision 12/23/23

Goddesses of Stardom Championship: Nanae Takahashi and Yuu [c] vs. Himeka and Maika – Supreme Fight
Giulia, Mai Sakurai and Thekla vs. Hiragi Kurumi, Risa Sera and Suzu Suzuki – Triangle Derby 2/17/23
Artist of Stardom Championship & Triangle Derby Finals: Ami Sourei, MIRAI and Syuri vs. Hiragi Kurumi, Risa Sera and Suzu Suzuki – Triangle Derby 3/4/23
Himeka vs. Maika – All-Star Dream Queendom
Artist of Stardom Championship: Hiragi Kurumi, Risa Sera & Suzu Suzuki [c] vs. KAIRI, Natsupoi & Saori Anou – All-Star Dream Queendom
Artist of Stardom Championship Steel Cage Match: Giulia, Mai Sakurai & Thekla [c] vs. Hazuki, Koguma & Mayu Iwatani – Sunshine
Generational Struggle Elimination Match: Giulia, Mayu Iwatani, Syuri & Tam Nakano vs. Maika, Saya Kamitani, Suzu Suzuki & Utami Hayashishita – Korakuen Hall 7/9/23
Mina Shirakawa vs. Utami Hayashishita – 5STAR Grand Prix 7/23/23
Mayu Iwatani vs. Suzu Suzuki – 5STAR Grand Prix 8/8/23
Mayu Iwatani vs. Natsupoi – 5STAR Grand Prix 8/10/23
Goddesses of Stardom Championship: Mariah May & Mina Shirakawa [c] vs. Natsupoi and Saori Anou – STARDOM x STARDOM
Mariah May vs. Mina Shirakawa – 5STAR Grand Prix 8/15/23
Hazuki vs. Syuri – 5STAR Grand Prix 8/15/23
AZM vs. Mina Shirakawa – 5STAR Grand Prix 9/2/23
Mayu Iwatani vs. Syuri – 5STAR Special
Syuri vs. Tam Nakano – 5STAR Grand Prix 9/20/23
Maika vs. Mina Shirakawa – 5STAR Grand Prix 9/23/23
Maika vs. MIRAI – 5STAR Grand Prix 9/30/23
Natsupoi vs. Tam Nakano – 5STAR Grand Prix 9/30/23
Wonder of Stardom Championship: MIRAI [c] vs. Momo Watanabe – Nagoya Golden Fight
AZM, Saya Kamitani and Utami Hayashishita vs. Megan Bayne, Mei Seira and Suzu Suzuki – Korakuen Tournament 11/28/23
World of Stardom Tournament Finals: Maika vs. Momo Watanabe – Korakuen Tournament 11/28/23
NJPW Strong Women’s Championship: Giulia [c] vs. AZM – Nagoya Big Winter
World Of Stardom Contender Certificate: Suzu Suzuki [c] vs. Hazuki – Nagoya Big Winter
Hanan and Hazuki vs. Mei Seira and Mina Shirakawa – Year End Tour 12/10/23
Elimination Match: AZM, Hina, Lady C, Miyu Amasaki, Saya Kamitani & Utami Hayashishita vs. Fukigen Death, Momo Watanabe, Natsuko Tora, Rina, Ruaka & Starlight Kid – Year End Climax
Goddesses of Stardom Championship: Saya Kamitani & Utami Hayashishita [c] vs. Momo Watanabe and Natsuko Tora – Dream Queendom
World of Stardom Championship: Maika vs. Suzu Suzuki – Dream Queendom

IWGP Tag Team Championship: FTR [c] vs. Bishamon – Wrestle Kingdom 17
NJPW Television Championship Tournament Finals: Ren Narita vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – Wrestle Kingdom 17
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Francesco Akira and TJP [c] vs. DOUKI and Yoshinobu Kanemaru – The New Beginning in Sapporo 2/4/23
Taichi vs. Will Ospreay – The New Beginning in Sapporo 2/4/23
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi [c] vs. YOH – The New Beginning in Sapporo 2/5/23
New Japan Cup Second Round: Mark Davis vs. Will Ospreay – New Japan Cup 3/13/23
NJPW Strong Openweight Tag Team Championship: The Motor City Machine Guns [c] vs. Aussie Open vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kazuchika Okada – Capital Collision
NJPW Strong Openweight Tag Team Championship: Aussie Open [c] vs. Lio Rush and Tomohiro Ishii – Collision in Philadelphia
IWGP Tag Team Championship: Aussie Open [c] vs. TMDK – Wrestling Satsuma No Kuni
NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championship: El Desperado, Minoru Suzuki & Ren Narita [c] vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii – Wrestling Dontaku
DOUKI vs. KUSHIDA – Best of the Super Juniors 5/12/23
Hiromu Takahashi vs. Lio Rush – Best of the Super Juniors 5/14/23
Mike Bailey vs. Titán – Best of the Super Juniors 5/17/23
El Desperado vs. YOH – Best of the Super Juniors 5/17/23
Mike Bailey vs. Ryusuke Taguchi – Best of the Super Juniors 5/21/23
Dan Moloney vs. Robbie Eagles – Best of the Super Juniors 5/21/23
El Desperado vs. Robbie Eagles – Best of the Super Juniors 5/26/23
Best of the Super Juniors Semifinals: El Desperado vs. Titán – Best of the Super Juniors 5/27/23
#1 Contender’s Tournament Finals: Lance Archer vs. Will Ospreay – Dominion
Ren Narita vs. Shota Umino – G1 Climax 7/15/23
HENARE vs. Shingo Takagi – G1 Climax 7/19/23
Gabe Kidd vs. Kaito Kiyomiya – G1 Climax 7/27/23
HENARE vs. Tomohiro Ishii – G1 Climax 8/2/23
El Phantasmo vs. Will Ospreay – G1 Clmax 8/6/23
IWGP United Kingdom Championship: Will Ospreay [c] vs. Shota Umino – Power Struggle

Honorable Mentions
*These are matches to receive ****¼ but still not quite make the cut for the top 100.

NJPW Television Championship: Zack Sabre Jr. [c] vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW The New Beginning in Sapporo
IWGP Tag Team Championship: Bishamon [c] vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada – NJPW Anniversary Event
El Hijo Del Vikingo vs. Kenny Omega – AEW Dynamite 3/22/23
IWGP Tag Team Championship: Bishamon [c] vs. Aussie Open – NJPW Sakura Genesis
Lio Rush vs. TJP – NJPW BOSJ 5/21/23
Best of the Super Juniors Semifinals: Master Wato vs. Mike Bailey – NJPW BOSJ 5/26/23
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi [c] vs. Master Wato – NJPW Dominion
Gunther vs. Kevin Owens – WWE Raw 6/5/23
AEW World Tag Team Championship: FTR [c] vs. Better Than You Bay Bay – AEW Collision 7/29/23
NXT Championship: Carmelo Hayes [c] vs. Ilja Dragunov – NXT Great American Bash
WWE Intercontinental Championship: Gunther [c] vs. Drew McIntyre – WWE SummerSlam
AZM vs. Utami Hayashishita – STARDOM 5STAR Grand Prix 8/15/23
AEW World Tag Team Championship: FTR [c] vs. The Young Bucks – AEW All In
Giulia vs. Maika – STARDOM 5STAR Grand Prix 9/9/23
#1 Contender’s Match: Bronson Reed vs. Cameron Grimes vs. Johnny Gargano vs. Wes Lee – NXT 11/28/23
Action Andretti and Top Flight vs. El Hijo del Vikingo, Komander and Penta El Zero Miedo – AEW Rampage 12/15/23

100. Hiromu Takahashi vs. Mike Bailey – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 30 5/12/23

Image Credit: NJPW

You can almost always count on the first night of a New Japan tournament to have a major match and for this year’s BOSJ, it was this one. Hiromu Takahashi is the ace of the division and its top star while Speedball Mike Bailey was the highly touted foreigner coming over for a big run. If you know these two wrestlers, you know you’re going to get a high octane match and they delivered. All 16:40 of this was filled with fast paced action and the Korakuen Hall faithful were red hot for all of it. Although this was evenly played for a lot of it, Hiromu was sure to give Bailey more than enough changes to showcase his stuff and make the Korakuen crowd fall in love with his unique offense. When Hiromu finally hit his sunset flip bomb, it was just another in a long line of big spots in a match still managed to not overdo moments like that. The 15 minute call came and you could feel everyone tense up as they knew the finish was coming in just a few minutes. It was actually a little sooner than they might’ve expected as Bailey hit a PERFECT superkick before finishing with the Ultimate Weapon. A night one upset of sorts to start a very strong tournament. [****¼]

99. World Heavyweight Championship: Seth Rollins [c] vs. Jey Uso – WWE Raw 12/4/23

Image Credit: WWE

There’s no denying that Seth Rollins’ World Heavyweight Title run has been mediocre at best. He’s had some good matches in there but a lot of it has missed the mark. That wasn’t the case on this early December night as he battled Jey Uso in one of the better Raw main events I can remember. The two went back and forth throughout, with a story focused on Seth’s damaged back, and Jey throwing everything he had for 22:55 to win the big one. The closing stretch had some great exchanges from Jey picking up near falls with a splash and Spear to Seth getting one with the Pedigree. I appreciated that they never really kicked of major finishers and didn’t overdo that aspect of far too many big matches. However, the two issues I had with this were that Seth’s selling of the back wasn’t great and that I never bought Jey could pick up the win. Still, this was fantastic right up until the end when Seth retained with the Curb Stomp. [****¼]

98. Kaito Kiyomiya vs. SANADA – NJPW G1 Climax 33 7/25/23

Image Credit: NJPW

This got off to a nuanced start but it didn’t feel like time filling. It made sense as they felt each other out and didn’t want to make the first mistake given their history as Muto prospects. They had counters ready for a lot of stuff and I really liked that Kaito was able to escape Skull End. That’s logical. The first 15 minutes kind of flew by and the last five were the traditional spectacular stretch we get from big New Japan matches. Unlike other draws in the G1, this had a sense of urgency late from Shining Wizards to flash pin attempts and more. It all came after SANADA tweaked his knee on a moonsault attempt. In the final minute, Kaito countered Deadfall into a rollup and then countered another pin attempt into one of his own. The crowd bit on all of it. SANADA kicked out of a bridging rana and then hit Shining Wizard from out of nowhere. He struggled to get the cover but managed to get the three count at the 19:58 mark. The best SANADA match I’ve seen in years and Kaito was a welcome change in the tournament. They told a great story and did a fantastic job of teasing the time limit. [****¼]

97. War Games: Becky Lynch, Bianca Belair, Charlotte Flair & Shotzi vs. Damage CTRL – WWE Survivor Series

Image Credit: WWE

Damage CTRL all came out with Asuka style masks, which was a sick visual. Bayley and Becky kicked this off and had the good back and forth you’d expect from them and we got some quality exchanges throughout. The spot where IYO launched Kairi into her big elbow was pretty sweet. They also relieved the iconic spot where IYO put the trash can on her head and did a crossbody off the cage. They got inventive with spots like chaining Bianca and Becky together as the four opponents dropkicked them together. Charlotte got her big spot with a moonsault off the cage. There were things I didn’t like, like Kairi and Bayley taking forever to set up spots while their teammates were in submissions. Just save them. I liked the creativity of Asuka missing the mist and getting sprayed with a fire extinguisher. We got the barrage of moves from everyone in the closing minutes, capped by Bayley saving Kairi from a Spear. That set up Bayley to take a KOD and then a Manhandle Slam through a table to lose in 33:36. That was some great, absurd plunder and just what I want from this kind of match. The women don’t miss. [****¼]

96. World Heavyweight Championship: Seth Rollins [c] vs. Finn Bálor – WWE SummerSlam

Image Credit: WWE

The crowd was firmly behind Seth at the start but Finn had a smart gameplan and basically took them out of it. He held serve, working Seth over at every turn and keeping on the offensive, slowing the champion’s game to a halt. He scored a measure of revenge by doing the running powerbomb into the guardrail on Seth, which you knew had to be coming considering the seven years thing they’ve been hyping. Seth did the babyface rally afterward, hitting things like the Frog Splash. Damian Priest showed up for a closer look as he did at Money in the Bank. He also called for Dom and Rhea to add more help. However, Judgment had some communication issues as Priest made a signal either to cash in or for Finn to use the briefcase as a weapon, which allowed Seth to get two on the Curb Stomp. Seth spent some time taking out the members of Judgment Day to give way to a Finn Coup de Grace but it only got two. More communication problems led to Finn eating a Curb Stomp on the briefcase for the finish at the 18:10 mark. Another great match and my favorite between them. [****¼]

95. AEW World Championship: MJF [c] vs. Adam Cole – AEW All In

Image Credit: AEW

I really liked a lot of the storytelling aspects here. MJF was torn on pulling the trigger on certain moves, like a Tombstone on a table, but Cole wasn’t shy and immediately attempted it. That was kind of the story throughout. The dastardly MJF is who you’d expect to do these things but he has come to trust Cole and couldn’t. Meanwhile, Cole was seemingly willing to do anything to win the title. They did that so well. They also teased a draw like last time (on a double clothesline which is PERFECT) only for MJF to not accept the five minutes but to say to keep going until we have a winner. Just layers upon layers. This next section was where things got a bit melodramatic. Roderick Strong showed up to hit MJF low and Cole again was ready to capitalize but MJF kept kicking out. MJF couldn’t bring himself to use the ring as a weapon and when Cole had a chance to use the title as one, he also decided against it, much to the chagrin of Roddy. MJF pulled Cole into an inside cradle to retain in 27:31, capping one hell of a story. [****¼]

94. 5STAR Grand Prix Finals: Maika vs. Suzu Suzuki – STARDOM 5STAR Grand Prix 9/30/23

Image Credit: STARDOM

Two women who are on the cusp of being major stars getting a chance to deliver on a big stage. Suzu looked for the traditional feeling out process to start but Maika simply dumped her over the top in a show of strength. I loved how each got tossed into chairs at ringside only to pop right up and get in their opponent’s face again. Neither was going to show any sign of weakness if they could avoid it. That was kind of the trend of this match. A lariat by Maika mean Suzu popped up and nailed a German, which mean Maika popped up and then they leveled each other with forearms. It was that kind of match. There were some truly memorable exchanges between them here and the crowd was on the edge of their seats for the near falls. Some may scoff at the back to back kickouts at one but it fit the theme of the match. They were trying to one up and outduel the other. When Maika survived the Tequila Shot and Germans, Suzu busted out the Sky Twister Press to win the tournament in 14:03, capping a fantastic match and ending the best tournament I’ve ever been lucky enough to watch. [****¼]

93. Loser Leaves NJPW: Eddie Kingston vs. Jay White – NJPW Battle in the Valley

Image Credit: NJPW

If Jay lost, he’d be out of New Japan. If Eddie lost, he could never compete in the company or against a NJPW wrestler without Jay’s permission, so basically never because he doesn’t beg. Jay’s stalling tactics to start made sense here since Kingston is a hothead who wanted to get his hands on him. However, once Jay thought he had the upper hand, Kingston laid him out with a chop. When Kingston was on offense, we got some hard hitting stuff but when Jay took over, he worked a more methodical style. That meant the big moments weren’t coming as often as they sometimes do in the best of matches but they kind of meant more when we did get them. This got kicked into next gear when they started throwing chops and Jay’s chest was RED from the assault. Jay used a low blow to set up Blade Runner but Eddie rolled outside, meaning this had to continue. The backfist near fall was really well done. Eddie offered up a fist bump afterward but Jay spat at the hand, meaning he took two more backfists and a flurry of moves only to still kick out. That should’ve been the finish. A second Northern Lights Driver beat Jay after 19:09. I hate the trope of matches going that extra spot or two instead of ending when they should. Still, this ruled. [****¼]

92. NXT Women’s Championship Extreme Rules Match: Becky Lynch [c] vs. Tiffany Stratton – NXT No Mercy

Image Credit: WWE

I really liked the ending to their first match as Tiffany wisely rolled through a miss but Becky pounced. Tiffany made a mistake here, starting with brass knuckles which weren’t enough to combat Becky’s entire shopping cart of weapons. They fought through the crowd for a while, which included Becky using a chain handed to her by her stylist. They kept up the intensity even when they got back to the ring, with Tiffany turning the tide a bit. I liked the spot where she used a trash can lid to block things Becky threw at her and then hit her hard with it. They leveled things up afterward, going for bigger spots and some memorable moments. The highlight was Tiffany’s gorgeous Swanton Bomb through a table outside. It’s not the most effective move to put someone through a table but it looks really pretty. She added another Swanton inside for two and then they did the finish from the previous match but outside. Tiffany rolled through her moonsault only to eat a Manhandle Slam. Soon after, Tiffany actually missed the Prettiest Moonsault Ever, landing on chairs. Becky hit a Manhandle Slam onto the chair too, retaining in 20:20. That’s a star making performance in a loss for Tiffany and one of the best NXT Women’s Title matches in recent memory [****¼]

91. Bryan Danielson vs. Kazuchika Okada – AEW x NJPW Forbidden Door

Image Credit: AEW

DANIELSON HAD THE FINAL COUNTDOWN. The fans didn’t sing every word like we did in the old ROH days but it was still cool. Danielson won the first exchange and did some jumping jacks so Okada won the second by kind of kicking his ass and shutting him up. The feeling out process was interesting but you could tell it was being worked at a New Japan pace. Things changed when Okada no sold chops and demanded Danielson kick him harder. A neckbreaker by Okada really put Danielson in trouble as even when he hit a move, he was clearly favoring it and even flexing his fingers as if he was trying to get feeling back. Okada just started throwing dropkicks, hitting a John Woo one and then two of his pretty high jump ones. They really are among the best in wrestling history. Danielson avoided a Rainmaker outside and started in with the It Kicks before taking a Tombstone on the ramp. He twitched in the ring and had a medic come look at him but Okada pounced only for Bryan to avoid the Rainmaker and hit the Busaiku Knee. Danielson survived a Rainmaker and countered another one into the Yes Lock which he modified and then added some crossface punches. He then wrenched back again and got the surprising submission victory after 27:37. The crowd was stunned at the finish and that made it seem kind of flat. This obviously didn’t live up to the absurd expectations people put on it, partially because they worked an Okada formula match but it was still pretty great to me. [****¼]