Sunday, 13 December 2015
30 Best Matches of 2014
30. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Yujiro Takahashi - NJPW King of Pro Wrestling
Why is Tomohiro Ishii the wrestler of the year? Probably because he seems to be able to put on a great match against just about anybody. Yujiro Takahashi is far from a bad wrestler, but on NJPW's stacked and super talented roster, he's probably one of the companies weakest links. This didn't stop Ishii from putting on another great performance though, as he showed just how versatile he is as a wrestler.
At the King of Pro Wrestling event, both guys put on a great back an forth contest that had Tomohiro's fingerprints all over it - Stiff action, nice psychology, and nearfalls galore. And to Takahashi's credit, for more than 20 minutes the Bullet Club member was able to keep up with him.
There was something infinitely entertaining about Cena vs. Lesnar, a match that wasn't really supposed to be entertaining. It was a match that didn't serve to really get fans out of their seats, or get them that emotionally involved in it - and it's because of that aspect of the match that makes it quite a surreal spectacle.
Going in to the match everyone wanted Brock Lesnar, who was pretty much off the heels of beating The Undertaker at WrestleMania, to go in and destroy John Cena completely, and surprisingly, that's exactly what we got. John Cena got practically nothing in on this match. Instead, it was Brock Lesnar giving Cena suplex after suplex after suplex, all more vicious looking than the next, before capping it off with an F5. And that was it - pure domination.
Cena vs. Lesnar at Extreme Rules 2012 was original in the sense that we were seeing MMA vs. pro wrestling. Two years later both guys put on a match just as original, as two guys at the top of the WWE ladder battled it out in the most one-sided main event you'll see in a WWE ring. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't exciting, it wasn't entertaining. But at the same time, it was all of those things.
28. AJ Styles vs. Kyle O'Reilly - ROH Death Before Dishonor XII: Night 1
When SBG took over Ring of Honor the company started going into new areas of the US to showcase their product. Some of the markets they've delved into have been good (Texas, Ohio), and some not so good (North Carolina, Baltimore). The best new place they've landed in though has been the city of Milwaukee, and since debuting there it has proven to be a real gem of a place for the company to perform.
At Death Before Dishonor weekend, the Milwaukee fans inside the dingy Turner Hall Ballroom showed why their such a good crowd to wrestle in front of, as they were in full approval of one of ROH's best matches of the year, Styles vs. O'Reilly.
Both guys put on an excellent exhibition, with submission moves, reversals, and exciting sequences being the stand out aspects of the match. Styles' return to the company has been a bit hit-and-miss, but here O'Reilly was the perfect opponent to showcase his skills, and vice versa.
27. Kazuchika Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito - NJPW King of Pro Wrestling
While it can be considered that Kazuchika Okada can work a good match with pretty much anyone, when it comes to his matches with Tetsuya Naito everything just seems to click. At King of Pro Wrestling this past October, the two squared off one-on-one for the third time this year, and put on a terrific match that surpassed the lot.
After a less than stellar first half of the year, Okada came back from a very impressive G1 and brought that into the later stages of the year. This match against Naito had everything you'd want, and pretty much expect from these two, with a highly engaging 20 minute contest, and a brilliant closing sequence.
26. The Young Bucks vs. reDRagon - ROH All Star Extravaganza VI
The Young Bucks have had an amazing year. From tearing it up in Reseda every month to breaking through into Japan, the Bucks have solidified themselves as the best tag team in the world.
Some of their finest matches have come from Ring of Honor though, where they faced off against reDRagon in a trio of matches that showcased both teams insane chemistry with each other. Their last encounter came at All Star Extravaganza VI where both teams faced off in a 2-out-of-3 Falls tag team match to settle it all. The result was a hugely exciting match that had everything you'd want to see from these four men - a fast pace, high flying, near falls, O'Reilly arm bars, and SUPER KICKS galore. While not the best match of the series (actually the weakest), this match was just a ton of fun.
25. The Young Bucks vs. Time Splitters - NJPW Dominion
The Young Bucks have helped breath some life into the junior heavyweight tag team scene in New Japan. Of all the consistently fun tag team matches that they had, their match against the always impressive Time Splitters at June's Dominion PPV was the best of the lot.
Even with the likes of Kushida in them, junior tag team bouts don't always get the biggest reactions from fans. Whether it's because of their place on the card, or the fact that there's so may gaijins involved is up for debate, but it's something that's always been kind of noticeable. The Young Bucks vs. Time Splitters match at Dominion was a big exception though, as the crowd gradually got more and more involved as the bout went on.
For around 15 minutes both teams put on a highly entertaining match that great spots, fluid sequences, and some fantastic near falls in the final few minutes. It's one of those cases where both teams just click together, and the crowd ate it all up.
24. Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn - WWE NXT ArRVAL
Despite only winning the NXT Title a few weeks ago, Sami Zayn has been the guy in NXT over the past 12 months, and has consistently put on some very good matches in that time. Sami's best match last year came against Cesaro when the two faced off in an excellent 2-out-of-3 falls match.
This year, both men topped themselves at ArRIVAL, when they battled it out in a gripping contest that showcased both of these men greatest strengths in the ring. The big, skilled powerhouse vs. the gutsy high flyer is the kind of dynamic that just suits these guys so well. There's a certain amount of chemistry that's hard to come by, but both Cesaro and Zayn have it.
Besides the great action, both men also told a great story in the ring as well, as Sami Zayn pulled out all the stops, only to fall short at the power and size of Cesaro. While NXT has been lauded for its great in-ring action, it's their simple and effective storytelling that makes it such a fun product to watch. And this match exemplifies all of that.
23. Kazuchika Okada vs. Hirooki Goto - NJPW The New Beginning in Osaka
When he's champion, there's no one in the world who can keep up with his level of quality in terms of title defenses. It almost seems effortless at times, but Okada always seems to put on a good to great title defense, no matter who he's against.
Earlier in the year at The New Beginning in Osaka, Okada put on the best title defense of his latest reign when he took on Hirooki Goto in a brilliant bout. Filled it a great pace, nice psychology, and a great closing stretch, this match featured everything that's special about Okada. Goto also complimented Okada's work very well, and more than held his own to produce some excellent sequences throughout the match.
22. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura - NJPW Invasion Attack
Every match between Tanahashi and Nakamura this year have all had a different aspect to them that's made them great. Their last encounter at Invasion Attack was arguably the best, both for its action, and original structure of the match.
When you have two of you top guys pitted against each other you're normally going to get a pretty contest where the opponents cancel each there out a lot. With this match though, it was so different.
For most of the match we had Tanahashi working over Nakamura for most of the match, preventing his opponent from getting anything in. It was such a fresh approach to such a high profile match, and really made for a very engaging bout. It's these kind of aspects that make Tanahashi such a great wrestler, as he's able to structure matches in so many different ways
21. reDRagon vs. The Young Bucks - ROH Raising the Bar: Night 2
This was both teams' first encounter in 2014, and a real hidden gem from them as well. While ROH house shows, and the Chicago market in general aren't anything special anymore, this match between reDRagon and The Young Bucks from the Frontier Fieldhouse proved to be one of the best matches from the company this year.
Not only did this match show the two teams stellar chemistry with each other, it also showed something that not many people thought, which is that The Young Bucks can put on a pretty great non-spot fest type of match.
Using Matt Buck's legitimate broken wrist as focal point in the match, both teams told a great story of the wrist being a target of reDRagon's, and later a weapon of The Bucks in the later stages of the match. Between all that there was some terrific selling from Matt Buck, some nice submission based moves from O'Reilly and Fish, and of course some exciting Super Kick-heavy sequences in the last few minutes of the bout. it had all the fun moves you'd expect from these two teams, and a good story to it to top it all off.
20. Kota Ibushi vs. Tomohiro Ishii - NJPW Back in Yokohama Arena
It's kind of amazing how good Tomohiro Ishii is considering he has such a limited move set. Such a situation would hold most wrestlers back in terms of putting on different types of matches with different types of wrestlers, but with Ishii he always finds a way to make it work.
At Back in Yokohama Arena, he faced off against Kota Ibushi, someone who such a different style to Ishii's. That didn't stop him from incorporating his style into the match though, nor did it stop him from allowing Ibushi's high flying into it either. Right from the bell everything just clicked between them, and throughout the match they displayed some tremendous spots, and exciting near falls that had the fans invested in every moment. Both styles meshed perfectly, and nothing looked out of place.
It's a credit to Ishii that he's able to get these pretty young wrestlers with their ridiculous hairstyles and make them look like total bad asses.
19. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Katsuyori Shibata - NJPW Destruction in Kobe
Some of the best feuds in wrestling are those with real life animosity, and the feud that Tanahashi and Shibata had this year was about as real as it gets.
Their second, and final, one-on-one encounter took place at Destruction in Kobe, in what was easily the most physical match of the year. Tanahashi almost played by Shibata's rules as the two traded stiff looking blows for 18 minutes. Neither man held back, and as the bout went on things only seemed to get more intense between the two.
Some will argue that they were too stiff, others will argue that it wasn't as bad as they made it look. Whatever the viewpoint though, there's no denying that this was a gripping contest that ended the half-decade long grudge in perfect fashion.
18. Adam Cole vs. Zack Sabre Jr. - PWG Battle of Los Angeles: Night 2
This year's Battle of Los Angeles played host to many debutants, but none more impressive than Zack Sabre Jr. Having seen very little of him before (one random match from Noah to be exact), the British style he brought in front of the Reseda crowd was a breath of fresh air, and quite simply just a joy to watch.
The best thing PWG did during that triple header was pit Sabre Jr. against Adam Cole in some capacity, and he proved to be the perfect opponent during the tournament. Everything both men did just gelled together so well, and they're singles match on night 2 of BOLA had so much to enjoy.
You had Sabre schooling Cole on the mat on numerous occasions (with terrific Adam Cole mannerisms that made him look even better), Cole catching him out with some of his signature moves, and an excellent closing stretch which had both of them combined. Everything they did came off as smoothly a you like.
17. Randy Orton vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan - WWE WrestleMania XXX
It was an emotional, gut wrenching, annoying, confusing, roller coaster of a ride for Daniel Bryan, but at WrestleMania XXX the 'Yes' man finally got what he deserved, a World title win on the grandest stage of them all
While the crowd were very much subdued due to the shock result of Lesnar vs. Undertaker, there seemed to be a willingness on the fans part to give Daniel Bryan his moment. And even though many were just kind of waiting for Daniel Bryan to get his hand raised in the end, it didn't stop them from getting behind every moment in the match as well, which certainly added to the drama.
The match itself had everything to you'd expect from a match with an abusive authoritative figure storyline behind it. Dirty tricks, interference's, and near falls galore can easily ruin a match, but in this case it made sense, and ultimately added some great drama to it.
Everyone played there part well, from the underdog challenger Bryan, to the egotistical heel due Orton and Batista, to the power couple Triple H and Stephanie, making for an exciting championship match that was all sorts of crazy, emotional, and fun. Whatever happens to Bryan in the future (and already it's been frustrating and unlucky), this was a fitting end to his story.
16. Kota Ibushi vs. Ricochet - NJPW Dominion
It's been a great year for Ricochet, who, after being turned down by WWE at the start of the year has gone on to win PWG's Battle of Los Angeles, New Japan's Best of Super Junior's, and land himself a leading role of sorts in Robert Rodriguez's Lucha Underground.
His best stuff this year has arguably come from Japan, even though his stint was short lived due contractual obligations with Lucha Underground. After a very impressive showing in the Best of Super Juniors tournament Ricochet went on to face Kota Ibushi at Dominion for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.
The match was about as good as you're going to get in terms of pure athleticism, as both men put on a terrific back and forth match with some awe inspiring, ridiculously innovative moves spots that you won't see anywhere else. It was a showcase of two of the best high flyers in the world today going to to toe, and the result was pretty great.
15. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Katsuyori Shibata - NJPW G1 Climax 24: Day 4
There's an image before the bell which brilliantly sets the tone for this match, and perfectly describes both men that no other image could. There's Tanahashi, the charismatic, and exuberant face of the company with a rockstar persona that sets him apart from everyone else. And then there's Shibata, the deadly, no nonsense fighter who just likes to get the job done. Both polar opposites, both guys that hate each other.
At this years G1 Climax tournament, both guys faced off in a grueling, and exciting bout that highlighted both men's personalities, styles, and traits in excellent fashion. Shibata looked to knock Tanahashi off his stride with hard strikes, while Tanahashi kept to his strengths trying to catch him out with his explosive offense.
It was a match that told a superb story of two guys colliding, both stylistically, and mentally. For 15 minutes it was two wrestlers letting their hatred for each other out, with terrific call backs to their previous encounter, stiff shots, and great sequences in between. A truly great match that highlights both men's disdain for each other in excellent form.
AJ Styles as had a resurgence since leaving TNA, with some of the finest work in his entire career unsurprisingly coming from New Japan. At this summer's G1 Climax, AJ showed just how versatile a wrestler he can be, putting on different matches of equal quality almost every night.
On day 4 of the tournament, Styles faced off against Tetsuya Naito in a fantastic match that seems to have fallen under the radar due to that night's (and the tournament as a whole) stacked card.
Both men told a great story in the match as Styles went after the open wound on Naito's head, which he received the previous day. On a personal note, seeing blood inside a New Japan ring for the first time brought and "oh shit" reaction out of me, and that reaction stayed throughout most of the match as AJ viciously and methodically worked his match around Naito's bloodied face. AJ has never been a great heel, but in this match he brought a certain mean streak to his game that complimented Naito's gutsy underdog look perfectly, which made for an excellent dynamic in the match. Coupled with a very good pace and great spots throughout, this all made for a terrific match.
13. Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tomoaki Honma - NJPW G1 Climax 24: Day 8
Shortly before G1 Climax 24, Kota Ibushi suffered an injury, putting him out of the tournament. The spot was later filled by Tomoaki Honma, a bit part player who's been in and out of New Japan for a few years. The replacement didn't look very good on paper, but Honma soon proved to be the most entertaining wrestler in the entire tournament, losing every single match in his block, yet becoming one of the most over people in the process.
Tomoaki Honma approached every match the same. Go out full force with quick flurry of strikes, lariats, and (often unsuccessful) headbutts, and try to pick up the win. It was an approach that often times became repetitive, but not once did it becoming anything but awesome.
Honma brought this tactic into his match against Katsuyori Shibata, which made for a superb contest with both men going all out for 10 minutes. The action was fast, the strikes were stiff, and the near falls towards the end of the match were fantastic. Honma's fearless approach matched with Shibata's no bullshit approach made for vigorous results. Everything about this match was explosive.
12. The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family - WWE Elimination Chamber
At the start of the year The Shield and The Wyatt Family were put into what was essentially a filler feud before WrestleMania. The result, however was far from filler, as it ended up being one of the most fun feuds from WWE this year.
At Elimination Chamber, both teams took part in a highly entertaining 6-Man Tag Team match that showcased every single person exceptionally well. While some have gone on to greater things in singles action since then, this was a match that's structure highlighted everyone's strengths.
The tornado tag rules enabled the likes of Rollins and Harper to fly recklessly around the ring and ringside, the chaos enabled Ambrose, Wyatt, and Rowan to brawl everywhere without any overbooking pulling them down, and the multi-man stipulation enabled Roman Reigns to appear in short bursts with his explosive offense. Everything in this match had something for every man to shine off, which made for a special match that was a ton of fun from start to finish.
Tomohiro Ishii is arguably at his best when he's fired up, hitting lariats, powerbombs, and brainbusters in back and forth exchanges. At Day 4 of the G1 Climax, Ishii had the perfect opponent to do that against.
Like in his match against Katsuyori Shibata, Tomoaki Honma brought his fearless, fast paced approach at Tomohiro Ishii, looking to put him away as quickly as possible. But while Shibata looked to tame Honma more than anything, Ishii went out with the same game plan as Honma's, which made for a terrific story that in many ways represents what the G1 Climax is all about.
For 12 minutes both guys put on an exhilarating bout that was fought at a tremendously fast pace from bell to bell. Some matches can be hard to take in all at once, and this match didn't give you a second to take anything in. And that's what was so special about it. One cool spot was met with another one straight afterwards, the near falls were quick and sudden, and every exchange ended with no clear winner. Both men threw everything at you in such a short amount of time, but managed to spread it out brilliantly.
10. The Young Bucks vs. World's Cutest Tag Team - PWG Eleven
PWG matches don't always hit their mark. Some spot fests drag out for too long, some comedy routines fall a bit flat, and sometimes the wrestlers don't quite have the chemistry together. When all of those things click inside Reseda's American Legion Hall though, there's nothing more fun to watch in all of wrestling.
The Young Bucks vs. World's Cutest Tag Team at Eleven perfectly represents everything that's great about PWG. A hot crowd, fast pace, silly comedy spots, "holy shit" moments, and Superkicks aplenty. Both teams combined all of those things excellently, which made for a fantastic back and forth match that had everything you could want from a Guerrilla Warfare.
More than anything though, this was a breakthrough performance from Candice LeRae, who put in a gutsy display in front of the approving Reseda crowd. Matched with an underrated partner in Joey Ryan, and perfect opponents in The Young Bucks, everything between these two teams came off brilliantly.
9. Hirooki Goto vs. Tomohiro Ishii - NJPW Power Struggle
In many ways Goto vs. Ishii from Power Struggle was this year's Shibata vs. ishii from 2013. It was two guys trading blows, looking to see who falls first. Simple concept, hard in execution.
Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii are two of the best wrestlers in the world for these types of matches. They're two popular guys who hit hard, and aren't afraid to put their bodies on the line. The exchanges between these two men were highly intense, with both guys trading lariats, kicks, headbutts, and neckbreakers in dramatic fashion. Ishii and Goto don't have the most diverse move set (Ishii especially), and the moves used in the this match don't sound that exciting, but it's the pure intensity that both guys bring to them that makes it so entertaining.
For 17 minutes both men simply destroyed each other. The manner in which they exchanged blows was almost exhausting to watch, with the pace of the match never slowing down for a second. For pure brutality, there's been no match this year like it.
Tomohiro Ishii has had a fantastic year. Over the course of this year he's reminded people just how versatile a wrestler he is, with short bursts against the likes of Tomoaki Honma, lengthy bouts against the likes of Yujiro Takahashi, and wars against the likes of Hirooki Goto. His most impressive performance came at The New Beginning in Osaka when he took on Tetsuya Naito in a tremendous match full of excitement.
Ishii's best matches are generally those when his opponent wrestles to his strengths, and that's exactly what Tetsuya Naito did when he took the fight to Ishii for over 20 minutes. The story of Naito standing to-to-toe was excellent, as he engaged in some great exchanges involving headbutts, lariats, sweet reversals.
Some matches can suffer from an over reliance on near falls for drama, but in this case the close two counts simply added to the already terrific action throughout. Every kick out was met with a thunderous roar from the Osaka crowd, with each one getting more and more engaging as the bout went on. Between the good story, dramatic near falls, and excellent action, everything between these two men just fell into place.
7. Adrian Neville vs. Sami Zayn - WWE NXT R Evolution
Despite not winning the NXT Championship until the end of the year, NXT in 2014 was all about Sami Zayn. His climb to the title was one of the bright sparks on the brand throughout the year, and his chase came to a brilliant conclusion against Adrian Neville at R Evolution.
There's not many wrestlers on the WWE roster (if any) that truly represent a good babyface, but Sami Zayn is one of them. Sami is the gutsy underdog who always wants to do things the right way, and at R Evolution that was highlighted so well. One of the best parts of this match was the story that it told. Zayn’s ‘good guy’ personality costing him so many times in the past was a great call back, and really helped intensify the drama in the match.
On top of all that, the action itself was fantastic, with both guys pulling out awesome moves, and exchanging in some great spots. This match hit all the right boxes in the finale of their exciting feud.
Despite a short stay in NJPW, Ricochet took part in some highly exciting matches for the promotion, with the best coming against Kushida at the Best of Super Juniors Finals in Tokyo. The pace at which these two wrestled each other was terrific, and the moves they hit were about as fluid, graceful and athletic as you’re going to see in 2014.
The manner in which Kushida looked to lock in the Kimura Lock made for an exciting element of the match, and made way for some great reversals and sequences throughout. Everything between these two men just clicked, and added with a hot crowd that were behind every moment, this was an excellent match from start to finish.
5. Kazuchika Okada vs. Minoru Suzuki – NJPW G1 Climax 24: Day 11
While the praise was mostly focused on AJ Styles and Kazuchika Okada post G1 Climax, one of the wrestlers that fell under the radar in some respects was the ever consistent Minoru Suzuki. And on day 11 of the tournament, he showed just how great a performer he still is when he put on a fantastic match against Okada.
Suzuki can be one of the best in New Japan when it comes to working on a body part, and Okada is equally one of the best when it comes to selling an injured body part as well. This made for a great dynamic as Suzuki relentlessly went after the right arm of Okada, restraining much of his offense throughout.
While a few matches from the tournament helped make Okada look like the angry, driven challenger that was ready to take back the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, this one arguably did the best job of doing that, as he used the story of his hurt arm to put on a fiery and exciting comeback in one of the companies finest matches of the year.
4. Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H – WWE WrestleMania XXX
Seeing my favourite wrestler growing up take on my favourite wrestler today was special in itself, and the fact they delivered in such a great manner made it all the better for me. I was slightly worried that the match would be more of a brawl given the storyline behind their match, but after just a few minutes it became clear that they were intent on putting on a more technical matchup, much to my delight.
The story of this match was really great as the veteran looked to tame Daniel Bryan by working on his injured shoulder, forcing Bryan to take more risks to help get back into the match. When working on a body part Triple H’s technical attributes really shine through, and the work he did on Bryan’s shoulder was fantastic. And while Bryan didn’t get the same sort of offense in, his flurry of strikes were very well placed throughout the match, and added some great moments throughout the match. This match had everything I wanted to see between these two men.
3. The Young Bucks vs. reDRagon – ROH War of the Worlds
Both of these teams had a fantastic 2014. The Young Bucks tore it up in ROH, PWG and NJPW, winning all three companies Tag Team Championships at one point, while reDRagon proved to be the brightest part of ROH throughout the year, and an exciting addition to NJPW. It’s no surprise that their best stuff came when they faced off against each other.
Their match at War of the Worlds was undeniably the best tag team match in 2014. For little under 13 minutes both teams but on an exhilarating match with brilliant spots and a rapid pace from start to finish. Every move was crisp and fluid from all four guys, and every great spot transitioned into another great spot with such ease. The chemistry these two teams have together is unmatched from any other team around the world, and this match showcased their immense ability perfectly.
2. AJ Styles vs. Minoru Suzuki – NJPW G1 Climax 24: Day 7
While a great match from New Japan, no matter who it’s from, should never come as a surprise, the excellence of Styles vs. Suzuki sort of came out of nowhere. Suzuki was stuck in a dull feud with Sakuraba, Styles was still sort of finding his feet in the company (despite his success). At the same time though, when you think of who was in the match, maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Both guys put on a classic match that simply had so much to admire about it. I loved how Styles, the supposed mean leader of the intimidating Bullet Club, was totally shut up from the grizzled badass Suzuki for the majority of the match. This match had such a great dynamic as Styles looked to gain control of the match, but always seemed to be caught out from the veteran, whether it was from ring smarts or straight out cheating (such as the closed fist) from Suzuki.
With all of that, as well as great sequences, reversals and a terrific finishing stretch, this match was pure brilliance.
1. Kazuchika Okada vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – NJPW G1 Climax 24: Day 12
Amongst all the great matches, Okada vs. Nakamura was the best match from the G1 Climax, and also the best match from anywhere in 2014. Some matches are helped by the hype they have behind them, and when they do live up to the hype it’s hard to find anything better.
Okada vs. Nakamura was an excellent showcase between two guys at the top of their game. Having never faced each other before it was hard to say how good their chemistry was going to be, but on the night it proved to be as good as any. The pace was great, the exchanges were top notch, and the action all round was just so much fun to watch.
A lot of matches in 2014 had moves or moments that made me pop out of my seat, and this match consisted of two of those – the Rainmaker attempt reversed into a cross arm breaker from Nakamura, and Okada’s vicious hat-trick of Rainmaker’s. While the best of matches need those great elements of psychology and storytelling behind them, sometimes they just need those awesome moments to make them stand out. And this match was full of them.