wrestling / Columns

Pantoja’s Top 100 Matches of 2023 (#30 – 21)

February 7, 2024 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
WWE Money in the Bank Image Credit: WWE

30. Kenny Omega vs. Konosuke Takeshita – AEW All Out

Image Credit: AEW

The hype for this match was real. Takeshita held serve after a sick back suplex and he made sure to stop and mock Omega before hitting things like a Blue Thunder Bomb, while also getting help from Don Callis from time to time. When Takeshita missed a jumping knee and fell outside, Omega was able to turn the tide with the Terminator tope. I do wish the camera angle was different as we could clearly see Takeshita up with more than enough time to avoid the move. Then it was time to start trading the big shots from snap dragon suplexes to ridiculous knee strikes to Takeshita turning Kenny inside out with a huge lariat. I loved how when Kenny had Takeshita reeling, he picked up the pace. It’s a small thing but it makes sense and matters in a match like this. I really liked the finish here as two attempts to use the screwdriver as a weapon failed and led to some close calls before Takeshita got the huge win on a knee strike after removing his knee pad. This went 22:29 and was just straightforward fantastic pro wrestling. I was immediately ready for a rematch. Takeshita is a star. [****½]

29. Chihiro Hashimoto vs. Syuri – STARDOM All-Star Grand Queendom

Image Credit: STARDOM

This could only be won by knockout, submission, or ref stoppage. At no point did this feel like a traditional wrestling contest. It was a fight with the ladies only trying to knock each other out or win via submission, which seems obvious given the stipulation but is the kind of thing too many matches overlook. The only time I was slightly taken out of the fight was when they battled outside and Syuri did a tornado DDT. It was out of place with the rest of the match. After that, they really kicked it up with Hashimoto eating some shots so she could bait Syuri in for a big one of her own, some firing up on big offensive moves, and a near double knockout spot. When they got up, they just kept waging war. The spot where Syuri had Hashimoto up on her shoulders before dropping her down was pretty damn impressive. She added a buzzsaw kick, adopted from her trainer Tajiri, and that was enough to barely keep Hashimoto down, ending this in 16:07. A hard hitting fight between two top stars that lived up to everything I wanted from it. Absolutely brutal. [****½]

28. Roman Reigns and Solo Sikoa vs. The Usos – WWE Money in the Bank

Image Credit: WWE

The match that solidified Jey Uso as a top star. I love that when Jey got the upper hand on Roman, the champ took a powder and Heyman hyped him up by saying that Roman’s kids will be eating at Jey’s table if he let this continue. The little things like that were highlights here from Roman trash talking the country to the red hot crowd. Jimmy got going on Roman late but his splash saw him get caught in the guillotine, calling back to HIAC 2020. Jey took a Samoan Spike/Spear combo and Roman made Solo lay Jimmy on top of Jey to pin both but they both kicked out. At a loss for what to do, Solo crashed through the announce table, leaving Roman alone for a bit. Jey kicked out of a Spear and did a low blow with the kick out, which is something Roman has done before. Roman ate a barrage of superkicks and then Jey hit him with the splash to get the three and become the first person to pin Roman since December 2019. This went 32:04 and didn’t feel that long. An absolute spectacle and something truly special. There are better tag matches out there but the combo of the story, the crowd, and the finish makes it something special. [****½]

27. AEW International Championship: Orange Cassidy [c] vs. Jon Moxley – AEW All Out

Image Credit: AEW

In a shocker, Moxley wasn’t the first guy to bleed in a match. He sent OC into the ring post outside after a few minutes and OC was busted open, which Moxley then used as a target as he even bit at the wound. Moxley beat the hell out of him from there with crossface punches, Gotch piledrivers, and his Bulldog Choke. OC couldn’t get anything going as even his Orange Punch was less effective due to the injured hand he’s been dealing with for months. Moxley pulled up the mats outside to expose the concrete and that’s such an old school spot that I’ve always liked. It backfired and he took Beach Break there, swinging the momentum a bit in favor of OC. From there, Cassidy threw whatever he could at Moxley but it seemed like it would never be enough. That’s not a story you get often. Just a fighting champion giving his all but finally meeting his match after months of taking abuse in successful defenses. Moxley hit Death Rider and OC got a shoulder up almost out of instinct. Moxley seemed at a loss for what to do but OC flipped him off defiantly once more and Moxley ended his reign with a high angle Death Rider in 19:43. I loved the story of OC going out on his shield and taking it to the top guy in the company only to just not quite have it all. I do wish OC got a successful defense or two against a main eventer instead of losing to the first he faced but still. [****½]

26. Suzu Suzuki vs. Syuri – STARDOM 5STAR Grand Prix 7/23/23

Image Credit: STARDOM

Suzu offered a handshake and instantly pulled Syuri into the Tequila Shot at the bell. She added a suplex on the apron but Syuri swung the momentum quicker than I expected, setting the stage for a high octane back and forth affair. The way I AUDIBLY gasped when It thought Suzu was going for an apron German suplex only to instead drop Syuri on the floor. Things were so even that they were trading suplexes and loud kicks to the point where they knocked each other out with stereo kicks and honestly, I needed the breather almost as badly as they did. I do wish the Tequila Shot was a match ender. It’s a sick move and even as a top star, I didn’t like Syuri kicking out of it twice or surviving so many Germans given how Suzu has established it as a big move. The closing stretch with the close calls on pin attempts was great and then Syuri won with Syu-Sekai (a One Winged Angel/Emerald Flowsion hybrid) in 11:20. That’s one of the best sub-12 minute matches you’ll ever see. I had my issues with some of the kickouts and Syuri’s win kind of felt too easy after everything she went through but those are literally the only issues with this phenomenal match. Suzu Suzuki is a goddamn star. [****½]

25. Hangman Page vs. Swerve Strickland – AEW WrestleDream

Image Credit: AEW

When this feud started, it was one of those “I didn’t know I needed this until it was shown to me” kind of things. I had a good feeling they’d deliver a great match but having it take place in Swerve’s hometown of Seattle took it up a notch. The crowd was very pro-Swerve despite him being the heel and it added so much to this. The atmosphere was fantastic and I always appreciate when a face plays into it, which Hangman did here with a feel heelish tactics. There was also the added benefit of Prince Nana at ringside. I know he didn’t really do anything to help the match quality but the moment of him dancing by the camera after the apron Swerve Stomp is 10/10. As this neared its 20:06 conclusion, the drama picked up and whenever Hangman survived something or kicked out, you could sense the desperation from the crowd. I do wish the finish was cleaner though. Hangman took a while to cover after the Buckshot Lariat so you didn’t need Nana to put his foot on the ropes and send in his crown to use as a weapon. Even so, Swerve used it and got his biggest win in AEW. [****½]

24. High Speed Championship: AZM [c] vs. Starlight Kid – STARDOM Triangle Derby Finals

Image Credit: STARDOM

They’re still absurdly young but these two already have a rivalry where it feels like they’re going to be connected for their entire careers. From ridiculously quick exchanges to attempts at dives to suplexes on the outside, this was filled with action. I liked that some of AZM’s early stuff targeted the arm while Starlight Kid put the focus on the leg after AZM missing a double stomp outside. AZM was undeterred though, hitting a double stomp anyway soon after and adding another on the arm of the challenger. The spot where Starlight Kid caught an AZM dive, hit a dragon screw and went right into a Stretch Muffler was a thing of beauty. The close calls down the stretch was fantastically done and really made you buy into the fact that the title might change hands. The finish was spectacular with AZM coming off the top with a huge move that led to a sick armbar and a Starlight Kid tap out in 17:05. This was brilliantly worked and a smart match, adding another entry to their already incredible history. [****½]

23. Texas Deathmatch: Bryan Danielson vs. Ricky Starks – AEW Collision 9/23/23

Image Credit: AEW

When CM Punk was fired, we went from an alright feud between himself and Ricky Starks to a fantastic one between Starks and Bryan Danielson. After a brutal all-timer at All Out, the two went at it once more in a barbaric TV main event. They had a lot to live up to but for 20:06, they managed to do just that. Ricky was on the offensive as soon as Bryan hit the ring, not wanting to give him any moment to get going. Of course, Bryan did but Ricky never let up. It was Bryan who was busted open, Bryan who took chair shots, and Bryan who nearly got choked out with a chain. I loved that Bryan was able to use his technical wrestling ability to turn things around. He found a creative counter for a chain attack and caught Ricky in his signature submission. In the end, Ricky remained defiant, spitting in Bryan’s face as he got his head stomped onto a chair. Realizing Starks wasn’t going to stay down unless something next level happens, Bryan wrapped his knee in the chain and hit the Busaiku Knee to win. These guys just don’t miss together. [****½]

22. IWGP Women’s Championship: Mayu Iwatani [c] vs. Utami Hayashishita – STARDOM x STARDOM

Image Credit: STARDOM

This felt like a clash of the titans. We got the feeling out process to start before Utami took control by being the aggressor. Mayu was in clear trouble but this is a resilient woman who can take a beating and here, that included a prolonged Boston Crab spot. Mayu turned it around with a missile dropkick (though she took a bit and Utami had to awkwardly stand there and wait for the spot) but she missed a dive outside and was again in trouble only to hit a Dragon Suplex on the apron. That’s just a small example of the fantastic back and forth that this match featured. You got the sense they were evenly matched. There was a top rope spot where they took a tumble and it nearly ended badly but thankfully both seemed fine. Mayu did find success in the skies and kept to it, going up for several big spots and getting near falls with them. It was a smart way to combat Utami’s aggressive nature. Once they started trading Germans, this got taken to the next level. Like, they were WRECKING each other with those suplexes. Then, we got to the finish which was spectacular. Mayu hit a PERFECT springboard Poison Rana to retain at the 21:32 mark. A fantastically laid out match that peaked at the right moment and gave us a breathtaking ending. Two of the best doing what they do best. [****½]

21. NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii [c] vs. Claudio Castagnoli, Jon Moxley & Shota Umino – NJPW Dominion

Image Credit: NJPW

There were so many intertwining stories here from Okada and Shooter having recent issues to Ishii’s epic G1 match with Moxley in 2019 to Claudio’s first New Japan match to Shooter’s dad as the referee to Tanahashi and Moxley having faced off for the AEW Title last year. Right off the bat, this was special. Just seeing Tanahashi vs. Claudio was great. Shooter came in and immediately called out Okada, who got annoyed again. I’m loving angry Okada and we better get him against Kiyomiya again in the G1. I dug Umino not backing down and even doing the Moxley walk after beating up Okada. I also liked Okada taking the heat but still kicking ass as soon as an opening came. Tanahashi came in and fucking LAID OUT Shooter harder than Okada ever has. I was just floored watching Claudio battle Ishii for a bit and then we got Ishii/Moxley, which remains one of my favorite G1 matches ever. The last big tag moment came when Okada entered and got his hands on Shooter once more. He was in no mood, beating him like someone he hated and Shooter had to do his best to give it right back. Claudio doing the swing to Okada like he was some random WWE midcarder was fantastic and the same goes for Okada taking a Shield powerbomb. It came down to Okada and Umino and Okada put the brash youngster down with the Rainmaker after 20:37. Putting Okada in this team was the best decision ever. He had fun bangers for a year and was away from the top title. He’s an asshole here and it’s great. Everyone brought it here with Shooter even stepping up to be nearly as good as five of the best on the planet. [****½]