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The Wrestling Bard 01.10.09: Favorite Matches of the Year

January 10, 2009 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard

Have you ever had one of those weeks where you have to do something, but you have no idea how you are going to do it? That’s how I feel today. I have a column that I need to write, and I have no idea what I want to talk about. Honestly, I’ve been too engrossed in 411’s Year End Awards to think about much else. Luckily, there is a long standing tradition in wrestling journalism, and it goes like this: When you have nothing to talk about, make a list. Because everybody loves lists. We like to make them, and discuss them. And since everybody else is doing awards for 411, I think I’ll focus on what I really care about in wrestling: the matches.

So here we go, it’s the Top 30 Matches (I’ve Seen) This Year. For the record, I have not watched any WWE PPVs after Summer Slam, so I missed out on Triple H –Jeff Hardy and the Street Fight and Ladder Match from Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho. I’ve watched limited amounts of TNA and even less Ring of Honor.

This is also MY OPINION. You can’t tell me my opinion is wrong. Honestly, I want to hear your opinion as well. I’ll count them up and see what your votes dictate to be the match of the year. So, without further ado:

30: Randy Orton © vs. Triple H vs. John Cena, Wrestlemania XXIV
Who thought Orton would win this one? Not many, and that’s what made it such a great moment. I wasn’t expecting this match to be so short, but it was still very good. Orton was really the star of the match, as he controlled both men at times, and was the focus of a string of submissions. The fact that he won was the icing on the cake.

29: Bryan Danielson vs. Takeshi Morishima, Rising Above
Rising Above was my favorite PPV of the year, and this is one of the reasons why. Shima and Dragon have an amazing chemistry, best seen in the ****3/4 bout at Manhatten Mayhem II. This match was quick, it was violent, and it was intense. Danielson didn’t do much, but what he did do, he made it count. Shima was just an awesome destructive force, and this is a match that had me salivating for a conclusion.

28: Cage Match: Jeff Hardy vs. Umaga, RAW
Jeff Hardy had a year full of ups and downs. From suspensions to World Titles, this year was a tumultuous ride for the Charismatic Enigma. This was one of the high points. Jeff was already the hottest act in WWE at the time, but this match pushed him even further. The Whisper in the Wind from the cage is one for the highlight reel of the year.

27: Lethal Lockdown: Team Cage vs. Team Tomko, Lockdown
I had mixed feelings going into this match. It didn’t have the talent of 2007’s effort, but everybody stepped up their game and turned in a great performance. Nash was the only true weak link, and Cage, Tomko, and AJ came out smelling like roses. Definitely a forgotten gem from TNA.

26: AJ Styles vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, NJPW
I was lucky I found this match on Youtube. While I’m not super high on Tanahashi, AJ is awesome, and he was in full heel mode on this night. He managed to get the crowd into the match big time, and with Japanese fans, that’s an accomplishment. My favorite spot has to be the biggest low blow of all time. You can check this out by going to last week’s edition.

25: Batista vs. John Cena, Summer Slam
Cena has not had the greatest year. He’s lost to everyone not named Chris Jericho, and his matches haven’t been up to par. This was another loss for the Doctor of Thuganomics, but at least it was a good match. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this, but these guys delivered. Watching this match was like drinking a 20 ouncer of your favorite soda. It was quick, it was fast, and it was smooth, and it left you begging for more.

24: Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels, Judgment Day
Before these guys were having the best feud in years, they had a great match on PPV. These guys have a great chemistry, and even though their ladder match and street fight are more praised, these guys also had a great WRESTLING match. Both guys were tweeners at the time, and this was kind of a stop between Shawn’s feud with Batista. The highlight was Jericho playing possum before countering Sweet Chin Music with a Codebreaker. You might have forgotten this match, so look it up.

23: The Hangm3n vs. Age of the Fall vs. Vulture Squad vs. Steen & Generico, Rising Above
You’ll see quite a few spotfests on this list, because the year has been full of them. This match is under ten minutes, but it’s nonstop, hard-hitting offense and it never gets boring. Not a technical classic and not a storytelling masterpiece, but it’s entertaining, and that is the most important thing about wrestling.

22: Cage Match: Triple H © vs. Randy Orton, Judgment Day
This is where personal taste comes in. I like this match mostly because of Randy Orton’s stellar performance. The sadistic and calculating Orton is one of favorite characters in wrestling, and a lot of it has to do with Orton’s dedication to performing. That was on full display here. All Triple H had to do was turn in a solid performance and this would be good. Some might not like the old school approach, but this match told a story and I loved it. Not for everyone, but it’s definitely worth a second look.

21: Shawn Michaels vs. Batista, Backlash
I think it’s a testament to Shawn Michaels’ ability that Batista is anywhere on this list. But I’ll give him credit, the Mighty DAVE was motivated on this night and brought his A-Game. Still, I think he could only have this kind of match with a select few. With Jericho and Shawn’s feud getting so much press, it’s almost unfair that this feud is completely forgotten. But this was also good stuff, and this match is a testament to that.

20: AJ Styles vs. Kurt Angle, Slammiversary
Kurt Angle has been quietly having good matches all year. This is an example. Underrated by some and overrated by many more, the match is still fantastic. The screwy ending was annoying, but these two guys always deliver. When rating a TNA match, one has to remember the quality that goes before the ending. Fortunately, Angle and AJ is always quality.

19: KENTA vs. Naomichi Marufuji, Title vs. Title
These two always seem to be mentioned together, and why not? They are arguably the two top performers in Japan, and have crossed paths in the ring as opponents and partners. This time, we had KENTA as GHC Jr. Heavyweight Champion and Marufuji as AJPW Jr. Heavyweight Champion, and they had a unification match. Like Harley Race vs. Billy Graham over thirty years ago, this match would go an hour, and both men would walk away with their titles, after giving an amazing performance.

18: Kurt Angle vs. Jeff Jarrett, Bound For Glory
Time for a confession: I’m a closet Jeff Jarrett fan. The guy just entertains me. I was very happy when he made his return, when by all right, he deserves to be happily retired. But JJ is a wrestler, and he had to come back. This storyline pulled at my heartstrings, and these guys had to have a good match to live up to the promos. I feel they did just that. While Mick Foley’s involvement was kind of unnecessary, I still enjoyed it.

17: Money in the Bank: Punk vs. Jericho vs. Kennedy vs. Carlito vs. Benjamin vs. MVP vs. Morrison, Wrestlemania XXIV
Since the inaugural one, Money in the Bank has been one of the highlights of Wrestlemania. While I don’t think this was as good as the original, I do think it was the second best. Creative spots, especially from Morrison, and good booking made this a very fun match. We also got Shelton almost dying, Matt Hardy’s return, and CM Punk’s sweet victory, which would lead to a (lackluster) run with the World Championship.

16: Nigel McGuiness © vs. Roderick Strong, Driven
Both of these guys have had good years. I was kind of pulling for Strong to win this, as I think his run with the ROH Title is long overdue, but whatever. These guys had a stellar match, and that’s what I care about. Nigel is the perfect heel, Strong is the perfect babyface, so there’s a good dynamic. Nigel pulled out the victory, and added another good match to his impressive run.

15: Kurt Angle © vs. Yuji Nagata, Global Impact
My favorite thing about Angle leaving the WWE is that it allows matches like this to happen. This is something of a dream match, and they delivered in spades. Both guys have a similar style and those of us who know Nagata knew this would be great. One of the year’s best free TV matches, the match is even better in it’s entirety.

14: Takashi Sugiura & Naomichi Marufuji vs. The Briscoes, NOAH
This match is mostly remembered for its ending, where Marufuji countered the Springboard Doomsday Device with his Shiranui Kai (Kazarian’s Flux Capacitor). While that is certainly deserving of “Spot of the Year”, the match itself is also extremely good. The Briscoes have kind of fallen from grace after their great 2007, but this match shows how excellent they are when they are on. Marufuji is one of the best workers in the world, and Sugiura is no slouch. Check this out in your spare time.

13: Elimination Chamber: Jericho vs. Michaels vs. Umaga vs. JBL vs. Triple H vs. Hardy, No Way Out
I’m a huge fan of the Elimination Chamber. And in my opinion, this is the best one. It starts with some good wrestling from Michaels and Jericho, and then gradually builds to Jeff Hardy’s entrance, at which point everything kicks up a notch. Everyone got to look good here. JBL got to lay out everyone with a chair, Michaels and Jericho lasted forever, Umaga was treated like a monster, Jeff got to kick out of a Pedigree, and Triple H won. The best part was when Umaga ate a Codebreaker, Super Kick, Pedigree, and Swanton Bomb before being eliminated. That’s how you make a guy look like a serious threat. This has kind of been forgotten, but it’s still tremendously fun.

12: Last Man Standing Match: Kurt Angle vs. AJ Styles, Hard Justice
As good as the Slammiversary match was, this was even better. Angle has been on a role this year, having great match after great match, and AJ Styles is AJ Styles. They worked a good pace throughout the whole thing, there was no interference, and there shouldn’t have been. This rivalry was extremely personal, and these two men needed to settle it. Angle took a few big risks, especially with the finish, but he had a great match. This put over AJ big time as got a clean win over one of the very best in the business.

11: Team TNA vs. Team Japan vs. Team International vs. Team Mexico, World X Cup Semifinal, Victory Road
SPOT FEST! With Christopher Daniels, the MCMG, Yoshino, Puma, Milano, Averno, Bucanero, Guerrero, Williams, Dux, and Kozlov, the match would be entertaining at the very least. This opening match killed the rest of the event, since nothing could surpass it. This was exactly what TNA stands for, Total Nonstop Action, and it was awesome. It could have been a total mess, but everything just seemed to click. Barring Dux, everyone got to look good, especially Yoshino, who was treated like a star. This was good stuff, and if it weren’t for Angle-Joe, this would be the TNA Match of the year.

10: Speed Muscle © vs. New Hazard, GHC Jr. Tag Team Title Match
Some idiot is going to say “But they don’t matter because nobody has seen it.” Here’s my argument.


So here you go. Watch it, and THEN decide if it belongs:

9: The Age of the Fall © vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico, Driven
The main event of Driven received a lot of hype, mostly because it was the culmination of Kevin Steen’s quest for gold. These four have so much talent and personality that they can have a great match in their sleep. The match was excellent formula tag teaming, and it told a great story. ROH has made great strides in the last year to have more storytelling and less “spotfest mentality” in their matches, and this is a great example. I think it gets more hype than it would because of the title change, but it was a sweet moment.

8: Masato Tanaka © vs. Yuji Nagata, ZERO-1 Title Match
The Navigation Log called this the Dream Match of 2008, and that sums it up. Both of these guys have some notoriety from the time in ECW and WCW respectively, and when somebody told me it was a top 5 MOTYC, I had to look it up. While I don’t think it’s THAT good, the match is excellent. These guys had a good chemistry and the battle was well done. Some people complained that they didn’t get into their big moves, but hey, sometimes wrestling doesn’t need big moves. Look this up if you haven’t seen it.

7: Austin Aries vs. Bryan Danielson, Take No Prisoners
These guys are, in my opinion, the two best workers in America. Danielson knows every move in the book, and is a master psychologist. Aries has possibly the best execution in the world. How many times has he botched a move? Anyway, these guys have had several matches, and they are all different. I was kind of hoping for more of a highlight reel of their repertoires, but instead, we got a great psychological battle. I wasn’t disappointed, just surprised. This was very 1980’s Flair-Windham, where they just trade holds and work a body part until somebody gets caught. I loved it.

6: Hell in a Cell: The Undertaker vs. Edge, Summer Slam
I’m a huge fan of both of these guys. Their personas and their in-ring styles mesh perfectly, and they were just made for each other. These two had FIVE matches on PPV that were good at worst and awesome at best. Whether this or Wrestlemania is better is up to personal taste. I personally was kind of disappointed, as I expected them to have their Wrestlemania-Judgment Day matches plus the Cell stuff. Instead, they had their TLC match plus the Cell stuff. Still, the spots were awesome (especially the spear through the cage and the spear through the table), and some of the storytelling (the Foley spot and the ending sequence) was top notch. The match REALLY needed some blood though. That keeps it out of the top five.

5: Edge © vs. The Undertaker, Wrestlemania XXIV
While I have problems with this match (the slowish pace, Edge’s poor choice of holds, and the AWFUL commentary), it still stands out as one of the best of the year. I loved the story of how Edge had scouted Taker and had a counter for everything but the Gogoplata, and Taker had to resort to his latest trick to beat Edge. These guys have the perfect Juggernaught-Cowardly Heel chemistry to have good matches. I don’t think it deserves the ****1/2 that several people gave it, but my rating is ****1/4, so it’s a case of grasping at straws. Definitely a worthy main event to the biggest show of the year.

4: Steel Cage: Kurt Angle © vs. Samoa Joe, Lockdown
Another match that is either in the “love it or hate it” category. Obviously, I’m in the former. I’m not an avid MMA fan, although I do enjoy it on occasion. So I don’t know how “realistic” or “hokey” the beginning of this match was. What I do know is that I enjoyed it tremendously. I was engrossed in this match for its entirety, and even upon repeated viewings, I loved it. Angle and Joe are two of the best in the world, and they just went out there and had a match that was better, and more importantly, DIFFERENT from anything TNA had done in years. Some of the other MMA stuff from TNA as a result of this (Trigg vs. AJ anyone?) was terrible, but this was awesome.

Oh, and it’s a TNA Main Event 99.99% free of shenanigans. Can’t beat that.

3: Nigel McGuiness © vs. Tyler Black, Take No Prisoners
Call me a huge skeptic, but I wasn’t looking forward to this. A ton of ROH matches (see: Low Ki vs. KENTA) suffer from being overhyped. I felt that this would be one of those matches. Black had impressed me in the few times I’d seen him, but I couldn’t understand why a guy who was pinned in a midcard tag scramble at a PPV was suddenly thrown into the main event of the next PPV. So I went into this match with a chip on my shoulder.

And in the course of the match, all of my skepticism left. This match had the right workers, the right characters, the right booking on the right night in front of the right crowd. I knew from spoilers (and experience) that Tyler would kick out of several of Nigel’s big moves, and would also show off his big moves. What I DIDN’T know was how much Nigel would let Tyler have. Nigel used EVERY big move, and nothing put Tyler away. Every time I said “he’s done”, Tyler kicked out or escaped. When he kicked out of the Jawbreaker Lariat, I loudly let out an expletive. When you know the result of a match and you STILL believe the other guy has a shot, the wrestlers did something right. This match MADE Tyler Black in a way that Flair made Steamboat in the 1970’s.

2: Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels, Wrestlemania XXIV
I’m sure this placement will either make people cheer or piss them off to no end. Let me say that this match is the most important match of 2007. Ric Flair was a one of a kind performer, and this was very special. I loved it, and my eyes watered a bit at the end.

The match has its detractors. Most of these are people who hate Ric Flair, hate HBK, or are so elitist about what makes a wrestling match great that they can’t give into their inner mark. This match wasn’t for them. It was for Ric Flair, and for every fan of his. The ring work is not perfectly executed and it doesn’t have balls to the wall action. What it does have is a perfectly executed STORY, and a ton of emotion. This was “sports entertainment” at its finest. A lot of matches are made to make you appreciate the athleticism and skill, but this one was done as a tribute to one of the finest wrestlers to ever lace a pair of boots. I’ll compare this to Foley-Taker. They say if you take out the big spots, the match is nothing special. But the important thing is the spots ARE there, and the emotion of this match IS real. You can’t take matches out of context.

1: Nigel McGuiness © vs. Austin Aries, Rising Above
I know that this match technically took place in December of 2007. However, since the PPV debuted in March, and since half of the people use a December-November calendar for lists like this, I have no guilt. More than any other match, this is the one I will remember watching this year.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of both guys. And there were a lot of things I liked in this match. The fact that both men worked the arms (Nigel out of habit, Aries because of Nigel’s injury) and still managed to keep it interesting is a testament to the match. I liked how Nigel pandered to the crowd, who were on his case because of an injury, until Aries drove him headfirst into the guardrail with his Heat Seeking Missile suicide dive. From there, there was no crowd interaction. This actually reminded me of the fight between Maximus and Commodus from Gladiator. What you had was two men fighting for the top prize with every ounce of being in their bodies. The fans might as well have not even been there.

The match was intensely competitive. Even though these two men respected each other, they held nothing back. Nigel had to play a little defensively after the HSM dive, which gave him both a concussion and a nasty gash, but other than that, the match was all offense. Nigel got a few huge spots in, like the Tower of London on the floor and the Lariat that sent Aries off the top rope and to the floor. Aries was a little more subtle, hitting strikes whenever the opportunity presented itself, just to get a little extra damage. In the end, Nigel retained his title, but it left me standing in applause after the effort.

Simply put, THIS was wrestling. It was simple, it was basic. There was no insane storyline and no attempt to glitz it up. This was too warriors having an intense, bloody, competitive battle for what they consider to be the ultimate prize in their chosen profession. This is what wrestling, in its purest form, is about.


Thanks for the ride. A special shout-out to my big brother, who turned 23 yesterday. Without him, I never would have been introduced to wrestling. Whether or not that’s a good thing is a matter of opinion, but I’m thankful.

Make sure to leave your top 10.


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Aaron Hubbard

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