Welcome to In Your Head! Wrestling podcast, news and community!
Welcome to In Your Head! Wrestling podcast, news and community!
By John Wiswell
Abstract: John Wiswell celebrates the best matches of the year from WWE, TNA, ROH, PWG, NOAH, Dragon Gate, AJPW, NJPW and a bunch of places of which you?ve never heard. This is no mere Top 10. This is a manly list with manly words like ?nuance,? ?intervals,? and ?kicking it into his face.?
The Riren 100
By John Wiswell
Section A: Why Write This?
Welcome to my top 100 matches of the year. If you just want the list, skip to Section B. Section C is the meat, with countdown and review of every match. Most of these thoughts were written months apart as I watched the individual shows, edited at multiple periods throughout the year. Writing all this in one weekend would probably kill me, but taking a few minutes to write about a great match is a good way to reflect on our collective hobby, especially in this period when so many people have mistaken ?criticism? to mean ?stuff I hated.? So this list is a response to those Top Fives and Top Tens that seem so sad, as with seven hours of wrestling on TV in the U.S. per week and numerous indies, if you only saw five matches you want to celebrate you really need a new hobby. This is something we love. Each match in both Section B and C list the wrestlers, the date, the company and the show name, so you can track down the episode or DVD of anything you like.
The list covers every WWE and TNA pay per view as well as their television shows. I?m pretty sure that if it weren?t for my local library intervening I would have irrevocable brain damage. But you?ll notice most of the matches aren?t from those two companies. The list expands to every ROH DVD and PPV this year, and all the Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Chikara Pro and IWA: Mid South I could get my hands on. Miscellaneous North American indies, such as IWS, got fewer viewings, but if readers have any matches they want considered, they can submit them to firstname.lastname@example.org. I?ve regularly watched NJPW, NOAH, Zero-1 and Dragon Gate, with a handful of AJPW, El Dorado, SEM, DDT, BJW, general Joshi and Battlarts on the side. A match must be watched at least twice to be on the list, as you can?t have a full grasp of a match in just one viewing. Again if you feel a match is unrepresented, feel free to drop me a line. Honestly my only regret in putting the list together is the absence of Lucha in my life, which comes from not getting the proper television stations. That, and I?d like to go outside every so often. Maybe read a book.
A list like this brings up the fundamental problems of comparing wrestling matches. For instance, there is no such thing as the one formula for a great match. Not every tag match has to have a Ricky Morton character selling his way up to the hot tag under the oppression of a Midnight Express. Not every great singles match needs to be a Hart Dungeon technical clinic. The formula or story wrestlers try to tell can be just as important as how they tell it, and a variety of things succeed. Shawn Michaels can make a match more compelling by showing a leg injury in every motion he makes, while Samoa Joe can make a match just as compelling by noticeably ignoring that same pain, and Umaga may add to his aura by completely disregarding everything an opponent throws at him. The psychology of how and what to show in response to an opponent?s offense is one of many factors that can make a match shine. Many things come into play, and different features become the basis of different matches: the way moves are executed, the kinds that are used, how they?re pulled together, the characters that are established, the physical chemistry, how they play the audience, general audience participation, how sympathetic or convincing selling is, the tenacity shown by someone who fights against injury or physical limitations, the story that is told, how the performance resonates with the style of the company. Rather, it?s how things work and what qualities come together that make a match, and they can come together in many different wildly entertaining ways. The importance in a list like this is less ranking one match above another, and more recognizing the many successful works in this art.
How are we supposed to compare matches without a rubric? Usually I hate comparing them, and generally avoid the practice except in this annual column. How the heck are you supposed to judge Michaels and Jericho?s Ladder Match against McGuinness and Danielson?s mat fare in Japan? A comedy tag against a hardcore war? The truth is that one match at this level is seldom truly better than another. One match does certain things that another doesn?t, or does those things better. Especially in comparing your favorite matches of a year, you?ll find they are both better than each other at specific things. One has a perfect ending and frequent references to wrestling history, while another has more passion and more amazing highspots. Usually the best match of the year is the one that did the best at the things you care for the most. And in that spirit, I admit that most of these rankings are intuitive and based on personal preferences. I?ll also accuse that every other list is, too. The goal really isn?t to determine #1, #2 and #3, but to gather a hundred matches I loved and hope it resonates with others.
Despite all that, I expect hate mail for putting a comedy battle royale as high as I did.
Because I couldn?t provide a timely update to the list last year, one match from the very end of 2007 that demands recognition will appear on the 2008 list. Every December wrestling critics face this problem with the dead zone of releases: not everything that happened in 2008 is yet available for viewing. Pro Wrestling NOAH is infamous for releasing matches long after they happen, PWG has yet to release its Battle of Los Angeles tournament, which is infamous for having at least one must-see match, and ROH still has several releases to go. Starting this year (or technically, next year) each Riren 100 will be updated in the March-April period when everything from various companies has been released. In that interim I welcome any readers to submit other matches for consideration or re-consideration.
Given that there are a hundred matches, I?m sure you?ll disagree with at least one being ahead of another. And even though there are a hundred, I?m sure there are some you think I missed or was a bastard to exclude ? I had 28 matches on my ?short list? alone that I had to cut. But know that any criticism of match placement is less interesting than your response to what I actually wrote about the match. If you have a gripe, your own list (even just a Top 3), or if you have other matches you want to see praised, I encourage you drop a comment on www.inyourheadonline.com, or e-mail me at Riren100@gmail.com.
Section B: The List
1. Kenta Kobashi, KENTA, Atsushi Aoki & Akihito Ito Vs. Kensuke Sasaki, Katshuhiko Nakajima, Takashi Okita & Kento Miyahara (August 17) ? Pro Wrestling SEM and Kensuke Office: SEMex: Take The Dream Vol. 6
2. Nigel McGuinness Vs. Austin Aries (taped December 26, 2007, aired March 7) - ROH: Rising Above
3. Edge Vs. The Undertaker (August 17) ? Hell in a Cell Match from WWE: Summerslam
4. Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black Vs. Chris Sabin & Alex Shelley (April 1 ? ROH: Tag Wars 2008
5. Nigel McGuinness Vs. Bryan Danielson Vs. Claudio Castagnoli Vs. Tyler Black (August 2) ? Four Corner Elimination from Death Before Dishonor 6
6. Bryan Danielson Vs. Claudio Castagnoli (July 25) ? ROH: Northern Navigation
7. Kenta Kobashi, Tamon Honda & Shuhei Taniguchi Vs. Takeshi Morishima, Takashi Sugiura & Naomichi Marufuji (February 21) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Second Navigation at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium #2
8. Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black Vs. Jay & Mark Briscoe (March 29) - Relaxed Rules Match from ROH: Supercard of Honor 3
9. Kenta Kobashi & KENTA Vs. Kensuke Sasaki & Katsuhiko Nakajima (June 14) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Great Voyage 2008 in Yokohama
10. Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black Vs. Austin Aries & Bryan Danielson (June 7) ? ROH: Respect is Earned 2
11. Shawn Michaels Vs. Chris Jericho (October 5) ? Ladder Match from WWE: No Mercy
12. Austin Aries Vs. Jimmy Jacobs (June 2 ? ROH: Vendetta 2
13. Muscle Sakai Vs. Brother YASSHI Vs. Takaku Fuke Vs. Fuuka Vs. Tetsuya Naito Vs. Ippei Ota Vs. Seiya Sanada Vs. Hikaru Sato Vs. Kiku-Jumbo Vs. Akira-Araya Vs. KUSHIDA Vs. TAKEMURA Vs. Danshoku Dino Vs. Sanshiro Chono (June 17) ? 14-person inter-gender inter-weight-class Battle Royale from Minoru Suzuki?s 20x2th Birthday Party
14. Nigel McGuinness Vs. Austin Aries (March 29) ? ROH: Supercard of Honor 3
15. Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black Vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico (September 19) ? ROH: Driven 2008
16. Nigel McGuinness Vs. El Generico (August 15) - ROH: Age of Insanity
17. Bryan Danielson Vs. Tyler Black (July 26) ? ROH: New Horizons
18. Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs. Suwama (April 9) ? AJPW: Champions Carnival 2008
19. Austin Aries Vs. Go Shiozaki (February 23) - ROH: Sixth Anniversary Show
20. The Royal Rumble Match (January 27) ? WWE: Royal Rumble
21. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Naomichi Marufuji & Takashi Sugiura (March 2) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Second Navigation at the Nippon Budokan
22. Austin Aries Vs. Bryan Danielson (taped March 16, aired May 29) ? ROH: Take No Prisoners
23. Naomichi Marufuji & Katsuhiko Nakajima Vs. KENTA & Kota Ibushi (September 14) ? ROH: The Tokyo Summit
24. HHH Vs. Umaga Vs. Jeff Hardy Vs. JBL Vs. Chris Jericho Vs. Shawn Michaels (February 17) ? Elimination Chamber Match from WWE: No Way Out
25. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Kensuke Sasaki (September 6) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Shiny Navigation 2008
26. Kevin Steen & El Generico Vs. Naruki Doi & Masato Yoshino (March 2 ? Ring of Honor: Dragon Gate Challenge 2
27. Jimmy Jacobs Vs. BJ Whitmer (April 12) ? No Rope Barbed Wire Match from IWA: MS: April Bloodshowers
28. KENTA & Taiji Ishimori Vs. Kotaro Suzuki & Yoshinobu Kanemaru (December 7) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Winter Navigation 2008
29. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Chris Sabin & Alex Shelley (April 19) ? ROH: Return Engagement
30. Austin Aries Vs. Erick Stevens (January 11) ? FIP Title Match at ROH: Proving Ground
31. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Takashi Sugiura (June 14) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Great Voyage 2008 in Yokohama
32. Nigel McGuinness Vs. Bryan Danielson (February 23) - ROH: Sixth Anniversary Show
33. Mike Quackenbush Vs. Johnny Saint (March ? World of Sport Rules Match from Westside Xtreme Wrestling: 16 Carat Gold Tournament Night 2
34. Nigel McGuinness Vs. Tyler Black (taped March 16, aired May 29) ? ROH: Take No Prisoners
35. Kurt Angle Vs. Yuji Nagata (January 4) ? NJPW: Wrestle Kingdom 2
36. Masato Tanaka Vs. Manabu Nakanishi (April 6) ? Zero 1 Max: Miracle Rocket: 2nd Impact
37. Kurt Angle Vs. AJ Styles (August 10) ? ?Last Man Standing Match? that was actually a Texas Death Match from TNA: Hard Justice
38. Nigel McGuinness Vs. Bryan Danielson (September 13) ? ROH: Battle of the Best
39. Aja Kong Vs. Meiko Satomura (October 26) ? Sendai Girls
40. Brent Albright Vs. Adam Pearce (August 2) - Death Before Dishonor 6
41. Bryan Danielson Vs. Low Ki (January 5) ? PWG: All Star Weekend 6 Night 1
42. Austin Aries Vs. Go Shiozaki (October 24) ? FIP Title Match from ROH: Return of 187
43. Roderick Strong Vs. Erick Stevens (February 16) ? Full Impact Pro: Redefined
44. Shawn Michaels Vs. Jeff Hardy (February 11) ? WWE: Raw
45. Minoru Fujita & Takuya Sugawara Vs. Ikuto Hidaka & Munenori Sawa (August 3) ? Zero-1: Fire Festival 2008
46. Umaga Vs. Jeff Hardy (January 7) - Steel Cage Match from WWE: Raw
47. Edge Vs. The Undertaker (March 30) ? WWE: Wrestlemania 24
48. Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black Vs. Brent Albright & BJ Whitmer Vs. Davey Richards & Rocky Romero Vs. Austin Aries & Bryan Danielson (January 26) - ROH: Without Remorse
49. Kurt Angle Vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (February 17) ? NJPW: New Japanism in Ryogoku
50. Naomichi Marufuji Vs. KENTA (October ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Autumn Navigation
51. Yuji Nagata Vs. Masato Tanaka (October 13) ? NJPW: Destruction 2008
52. Bryan Danielson Vs. Tyler Black (May 9) ? ROH: Southern Navigation
53. Bryan Danielson Vs. Tyler Black (January 25) - ROH: Breakout
54. Ric Flair Vs. Shawn Michaels (March 30) - WWE: Wrestlemania 24
55. Mitsuharu Misawa, Naomichi Marufuji & Takashi Sugiura Vs. Kenta Kobashi, Yoshihiro Takayama & Katsuhiko Nakajima (July 1 ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Summer Navigation 2008
56. Kevin Steen & El Generico Vs. Homicide & Hernandez Vs. Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black Vs. Davey Richards & Chris Hero (October 24) ? 30-Minute Iron Team Match from ROH: Return of 187
57. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima & Kota Ibushi (September 6) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Shiny Navigation 2008
58. Takeshi Morishima, Naomichi Marufuji & Go Shiozaki Vs. Roderick Strong, Davey Richards & Rocky Romero (May 9) ? ROH: Southern Navigation
59. Shingo Takagi & BxB Hulk Vs. Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black (March 2 ? Ring of Honor: Dragon Gate Challenge 2
60. Bryan Danielson & Eddie Edwards Vs. KENTA & Taiji Ishimori (June 21) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: European Navigation
61. Nigel McGuinness Vs. Roderick Strong (September 19) ? ROH: Driven 2008
62. John Cena Vs. Dave Batista (August 17) ?WWE: Summerslam
63. Kurt Angle Vs. A.J. Styles (June ? TNA: Slammiversary
64. Shawn Michaels Vs. Chris Jericho (July 20) ? WWE: Great American Bash
65. Shingo Takagi, BxB Hulk & Cyber Kong Vs. Kota Ibushi, HARASHIMA & Antonio Honda (April 13) - DDT and Dragon Gate co-present DDG Returns
66. Bryan Danielson Vs. Tyler Black Vs. Kenny Omega (November ? ROH: Bound By Hate
67. Eddie Kingston Vs. 2 Cold Scorpio (March 1) ? IWA: Mid South: The 500th Show
68. Shingo Takagi & BxB Hulk Vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico (March 29) ? Ring of Honor: Supercard of Honor 3
69. HHH Vs. Jeff Hardy (October 5) ? WWE: No Mercy
70. Roderick Strong Vs. Davey Richards (September 13) ? ROH: Battle of the Best
71. MEN's Teioh, Shinobu, Onryo & KUDO Vs. Makoto Oishi, Tsutomu Oosugi, Hercules Senga & Yuki Sato (October 27) ? BJW: Men?s World
72. Bryan Danielson Vs. Bad Bones (March 9) - Westside Xtreme Wrestling: 16 Carat Gold Tournament Night 3
73. Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black Vs. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Brent Albright & B.J. Whitmer Vs. Jack Evans & Jigsaw (January 11) ? ?Ultimate? Ultimate Endurance ROH: Proving Ground
74. Kenta Kobashi, Tamon Honda & KENTA Vs. Yoshihiro Takayama, Takuma Sano & Go Shiozaki (April 27) ?Pro Wrestling NOAH at the Tokyo Nippon Budokan
75. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Homicide & Hernandez (October 25) ?ROH: Ring of Homicide 2
76. Giant Bernard Vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (March 23) - NJPW New Japan Cup: Who Is The Highest?
77. Mitsuharu Misawa Vs. Takeshi Morishima (March 2) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Second Navigation at the Nippon Budokan
78. Shingo Takagi & BxB Hulk Vs. KENTA & Taiji Ishimori (March 20) ? Dragon Gate: The Gate of Generation
79. Bryan Danielson Vs. Mike Quackenbush (March 7) - Westside Xtreme Wrestling: 16 Carat Gold Tournament Night 1
80. Jun Akiyama & Takeshi Rikio Vs. Kensuke Sasaki & Katsuhiko Nakajima (April 27) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH at the Tokyo Nippon Budokan
81. Naomichi Marufuji Vs. Roderick Strong (July 25) ? ROH: Northern Navigation
82. Kurt Angle Vs. Christian Cage (February 10) ? TNA: Against All Odds
83. Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black Vs. Naomichi Marufuji & Go Shiozaki (August 1) ? ROH: Fueling the Fire
84. CIMA, Dragon Kid & Ryo Saito Vs. Masato Yoshino, Naruki Doi & Genki Horiguchi (March 29) ? ROH: Supercard of Honor 3
85. Roderick Strong Vs. Rocky Romero (January 27) ? Pro Wrestling Guerrilla: Pearl Habra
86. Chris Sabin & Alex Shelley Vs. James Storm & Bobby Roode (November 9) ? TNA: Turning Point
87. Bryan Danielson Vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima (September 20) ? ROH: Glory By Honor 7
88. Bryan Danielson Vs. Claudio Castagnoli (June 2 ? ROH: Vendetta 2
89. El Generico Vs. Taiji Ishimori (March 7) - Westside Xtreme Wrestling: 16 Carat Gold Tournament Night 1
90. Nigel McGuinness Vs. Jimmy Jacobs (September 14) ? ROH: Tokyo Summit
91. Chris Sabin & Alex Shelley Vs. Masato Tanaka & Daisuke Sekimoto (October 25) Pro Wrestling Expo: Part 3: Blue Chapter
92. Bryan Danielson Vs. Naomichi Marufuji (May 10) ? ROH: A New Level
93. Roderick Strong Vs. Tyler Black (August 30) - PWG: All Star Weekend 7 Night 1
94. Edge Vs. Rey Mysterio Jr. (January 27) - WWE: Royal Rumble
95. El Generico Vs. Kota Ibushi (April 19) ? ROH: Return Engagement
96. Naomichi Marufuji & Takashi Sugiura Vs. Jun Akiyama & Takeshi Rikio (April 12) - Pro Wrestling NOAH: Global Tag League at the Hiroshima Green Arena
97. Kurt Angle Vs. Samoa Joe (April 13) - TNA: Lockdown
98. Claudio Castagnoli Vs. El Generico (January 26) - ROH: Without Remorse
99. Naomichi Marufuji Vs. Mike Quackenbush (March 9) - Westside Xtreme Wrestling: 16 Carat Gold Tournament Night 3
100. Randy Orton Vs. HHH Vs. John Cena (March 30) - WWE: Wrestlemania 24
Section C: Countdown & Reviews
100. Randy Orton Vs. HHH Vs. John Cena (March 30) - WWE: Wrestlemania 24 - "Great ending. Great ending. Great ending." It was all I could say for minutes after this match. I couldn't even explain why, though I can now. HHH and Cena's exchanges throughout the match teased that Pedigree, and HHH finally got it. In came Orton with a kick to the head WWE built so well that he believably could steal the victory with HHH just two feet away and having been a non-factor for at least five minutes. HHH's Pedigree, Cena's ability to escape it and Orton's kick to the head - pieces of recent WWE history flowed together for that perfect "son of a bitch!" ending. Before the conclusion, Cena and HHH's exchanges absolutely carried the match. Orton was almost a prop for them, much as he was in the build to Wrestlemania. That he came out of all that only to steal it suited his character perfectly in a storyline that didn't suit him at all.
99. Naomichi Marufuji Vs. Mike Quackenbush (March 9) - Westside Xtreme Wrestling: 16 Carat Gold Tournament Night 3 ? First, a big anti-shout-out to the wXw producers that decided to show extreme close-ups of Marufuji protecting Quackenbush on so many stomps, kicks and ground moves. Any other camera angle would have hidden it entirely, as they always do in every other promotion. It was particularly annoying because these are two guys with great ability for detail work, such that very few people in any given live audience see the flaws, and get immersed how they frame and execute things. That was the quality that set this apart. WXW saw a lot of matches with big offense, stories and complex exchanges at 16 Carat, but this was one of those that stood out thanks to the ability to make more of what they did without even having to pause and burn time registering it. It was about reactions, frustration and easy escapes, which flowed into more prolonged selling (not merely pain and exhaustion, but in the confusion, frustration and struggle of whoever was in control too). It?s odd that this had almost half the time of Hero Vs. Danielson from the same show but was so much more effective. They had just enough time to do just about everything they needed to, never went crazy, and had a magnificent number of little reactions to offense throughout.
98. Claudio Castagnoli Vs. El Generico (January 26) - ROH: Without Remorse ? A fun opening segment bled into balanced action before one errant kick gave the whole match a course. Serious credit goes to Generico?s phenomenal selling, which was sympathetic throughout, and he seldom forgot to do something like limp or clutch his leg to remind us of that weakness, even after pulling off some amazing counters. They nailed the Yoshitonic reversal to the Ricola Bomb even better than they did at 2007?s Race to the Top, and yet Generico was able to suck everything right back into his weak leg. That earned him a great final comeback, pulling off offense that should have been implausible given his leg injury, but making it believable in driving the sympathy that deep. And the final minute? Well that was just out of this world.
97. Naomichi Marufuji & Takashi Sugiura Vs. Jun Akiyama & Takeshi Rikio (April 12) - Pro Wrestling NOAH: Global Tag League at the Hiroshima Green Arena - From the opening exchange you knew this was going to be the best match of the night. Marufuji and Akiyama went into a streak of offense that had to end in a Mexican stand-off, but they kept it going just a few beats longer than most guys could. Akiyama was showing he brought his A-game despite his injury (and against two opponents who had beaten him in the past), while Marufuji was proving his quickness and ability. They were fluid and aggressive at the same time in a way you don't see out of two guys anywhere in the world very often, and they carried it throughout the match. Rikio played the significantly slower, mean brick wall of a man, serving as more of an unyielding force than even Morishima was playing before his title win. It paid off later, making when Sugiura actually picked him up mean more. Marufuji's unusually long exchange with Rikio that chopped him down to size was also unusually entertaining, especially for something where his most spectacular offense was a dropkick. And even if the slow equalization of Rikio bored some viewers, Akiyama made up for it in spades taking just about anything Marufuji or Sugiura wanted to throw at him. Spear? Sure. A vertical suplex from a man more than fifty pounds lighter than him? Sure. German Suplex from the other guy? Hell, he'd take a dropkick to the face mid-move, to boot. Akiyama deserves significant praise for his energy that night, in showing exhaustion and weakness, and in counters and delivering moves (like some crazy flying knees).
96. Kurt Angle Vs. Samoa Joe (April 13) - TNA: Lockdown - Slower and more meaningful than the normal TNA match, this brought elements of the Japanese "realistic" fight style, but wasn't as nuanced. Angle and Joe weren't as expressive in pain or active in grapples as Yuji Nagata or Bryan Danielson might have been, instead relying on the atmosphere they established. They carried themselves with a gravity that trumped that of all their previous matches. But as someone who does not follow MMA, this didn't look anything like an MMA match to me - unless tests of strength, ear claps, Lariats and long Figure Fours are MMA standards I just haven't seen before. It was essentially a more basic modern pro wrestling match, drawing on realistic fight atmosphere. Their minimalism worked well, but truly clicked in the final stretch where they went into more holds with fewer breaks in-between. The final six or seven minutes of counter-wrestling told more of a story and was more engaging than the previous fifteen minutes of a genuinely good match.
95. El Generico Vs. Kota Ibushi (April 19) ? ROH: Return Engagement ? During his ROH tour Ibushi essentially did the same moves in three matches with very little in the way of varied execution or build, leaving those matches fun but not as substantial as I?d hoped. That made enough sense; he was wrestling in front of a brand new audience for his first times in the country. This was the match where he changed it up. Just Generico getting the knees up to block the first attempt at a Standing Moonsault seeding the second (and successful) attempt made that better. The match had several such intelligent touches that are crucial to great flying. You had Ibushi and Generico in the ring, so you knew they?d bend like Gumbi and sell like they were dead for each other. And you could take for granted what a sound base Generico would be on most receipts, whether just eating crazy kicks and flipping offense, or catching his opponent and sending him flying with heavyweight offense that might not normally fit, but did here. Anybody can do a lot of big offense, but it takes smart wrestlers to build it, and gifted wrestlers to hit timing like this. They had this sense of beats ? Ibushi coming in with a handstand kick to send Generico to the outside, a beat, and then his rebounding Moonsault, or Generico lifting him for the Michinoku Driver and waiting just another beat to drop him. These things are so much more special when the hesitation feels neither too short nor too long. It creates amazing memories, and there?s no surprise that a few exchanges here are people?s ?moments of the year.? I don?t think I?ve ever seen Ibushi pull off the ?Matrix move? sequence any better than here.
94. Edge Vs. Rey Mysterio Jr. (January 27) - WWE: Royal Rumble ? I joked that this was the best match to happen in front of the worst crowd of the year, and it?s one of those things that pops into my head when people say crowd response should define how good a match is. This crowd insisted on cheering Edge and booing Rey Jr. despite weeks of stories, their entrenched characters, how every other audience reacted, and did so in such nonsensical fashion as to be obvious that it was a crowd of those ?cool? fans I try to avoid sitting too close to at Burger King. Edge and Rey Jr. were stuck, as they even had a planned finish that forced them not to alter their roles on crowd response. They wound up having a great match despite their audience, in the sort of story that is how WWE should have brought Rey Mysterio Jr. into the World Title scene in the first place. Not by having Mark Henry and Great Khali kill him. You do it by having him utilize small, logical tricks like tripping a guy when other opponents would just lie on the canvas, or land on his feet when other guys would crash and burn on the outside. Edge was more than a foot taller and yet looked convincingly week whenever Rey Jr. had the advantage, and channeled that into looking diabolical whenever he got the chance to dominate. When they slowed it down Edge used unusual holds to keep things interesting. Really, the variety of offense is what set this apart from Orton/Hardy that same night, as while Orton and Hardy relied on the same tricks over and over again until the finish, Rey Jr. and Edge innovated. They worked in front of an unenviable "smart" crowd in the middle of a storyline where they could not plausibly switch roles, and still managed to turn the audience at special moments and finally capture them in the end. They deserved a far better audience (don?t bother defending them ? this is the crowd that cheered for hepatitis fifteen minutes later), but they couldn't obscure what a great story was told. And damn, what a finish.
93. Roderick Strong Vs. Tyler Black (August 30) - PWG: All Star Weekend 7 Night 1 ? Strong is a master of combos. He?s developed in his stocky powerhouse role over the years and built several series of strikes and grapple moves into believably devastating and match-ending moments that border on overkill, but more often, like in this match, are very exciting and quickly push the match to another level. This worked out very well for Black, who is more adept at sprints or places where he can showcase (and receive) big offense. Black also ragdolled very well for his shorter opponent, making Strong a believable aggressor. Black?s own aggression was great as a response to Strong?s brutality, particularly in his little comeback series early on that ended with a very satisfying stomp to the abdomen, where years ago he would have done something much nuttier. Once they got up to that level, they traded offense and flowed remarkably.
92. Bryan Danielson Vs. Naomichi Marufuji (May 10) ? ROH: A New Level ? If you go back to Final Battle 2005, it?s startling to see how much Marufuji has grown as a technical wrestler. Then many critics said the match was doomed because Marufuji was a spot monkey, and he surprised with a sound ground game. This time Marufuji was even faster and at greater ease in holds than Danielson, able to switch gears and add a little flair or move through a hold more quickly. That spirit made the mirror-wrestling work better than it normally does, and spoke a grudge Marufuji?s character might have held against Danielson for that lucky folding pin three years ago. Marufuji was able to go through all that and coax the audience into an idea of how this whole match would go, only to turn around and attack the neck and create a new opening in the match, letting him set up the possibility of the Shiranui ending things. Even there it was fiercely competitive and some of the more compulsively watchable mirror wrestling, and later, desperation wrestling from Danielson I?ve seen this year.
91. Chris Sabin & Alex Shelley Vs. Masato Tanaka & Daisuke Sekimoto (October 25) Pro Wrestling Expo: Part 3: Blue Chapter ? I wish this could have happened in front of a healthier crowd, but what can you do? Both teams wanted to be in control, and the greatness came when one would scramble to make the most of a chance to get control back. Since Shelley, Sabin and Tanaka are all excellent sprinters, the desperate spurts of offense came off very well, while the rest of the match was defined by fighting to keep control over an isolated opponent. There, Sekimoto shone as he refused to go up for moves, while again the other three simply had the quickness to escape or hit something effective for the breather before an attempted tag. The match was defined by what tricks someone had left and how far they could press their luck, leading to perhaps too many hot tags. For other men and other matches, maybe. Not this one, though.
90. Nigel McGuinness Vs. Jimmy Jacobs (September 14) ? ROH: Tokyo Summit ? A lot of clever use of the ring area, whether it was sliding in and out of the ropes, rebounding from them, or borrowing NOAH?s infamous ?death move on the walkway.? Both guys have some smart offense for that sort of thing, but it was interesting to see it all framed into a match where neither was comfortable enough in a straight-on confrontation for the whole match. Jacobs in particular looked pensive against the champion. It even meant some shady moves with the referee, but they were at least clever moves for once, like using Todd Sinclair to throw off McGuinness?s corner headstand. McGuinness?s rare 2008 role as an ROH good guy worked with competent wrestling and reliable striking on his part, but mostly took off because of how careful Jacobs?s performance was. From his looks of uncertainty holding a wristlock to the multiple attempts to get the comfort of control in the Guillotine Choke, he created an easy avenue for McGuinness to use to return to his heroic roots.
89. El Generico Vs. Taiji Ishimori (March 7) - Westside Xtreme Wrestling: 16 Carat Gold Tournament Night 1 ? An excellent, tight flying match. Tight in that they accomplished so much in fifteen minutes without rushing, and tight because their execution was so dead-on. From teasing dives to counters to a Yakuza Kick to a Moonsault to the floor, this was the match everyone hoped for when they heard these two would go at it. They paced themselves with holds, making sure not to go too crazy until the end, but never resorted to simply sitting around. Their time made that possible, even as their sense of expansion made it seem longer than it was at the appropriate high points.
88. Bryan Danielson Vs. Claudio Castagnoli (June 2 ? ROH: Vendetta 2 ? Castagnoli played off of two themes in Danielson?s ROH persona. The first was a lightheartedness that expanded quickly this year, as he relaxed into this role as the most popular and arguably most technically sound wrestler in the company. Danielson would ease up in his matches, taking more ease with holds and goof around some, and when he relented enough to mess about with Castagnoli, Castagnoli was able to go even with him. The second trait was much longer-running: Danielson liked to force his opponents around, striking on them at his pace and forcing them from hold to hold. Castagnoli was too big, too strong and too versed at mat wrestling for Danielson to succeed like that, providing a different challenge than even Morishima or Stevens did. That made it more dynamic than Danielson?s average midcard ROH performance, and they seized on it to elevate Castagnoli in ways the first McGuinness match simply failed to accomplish. The portion where they messed around was funny, but it also gave the audience a suggestion as to how much longer things would go when they turned serious. Then the match kept going, Castagnoli didn?t crumble under Danielson?s blows and couldn?t be dissected the way Stevens had the previous night. It was actually a brilliant precursor to their deadly serious feud later, as from the opening minute Danielson was taken aback by how tough Castagnoli was for him, and he was the one who jumped at the opportunity to turn things serious when his opponent would have continued in more playful fashion. By the end, all the traded high-end offense made Castagnoli?s seem on par with Danielson?s, which was no small boost.
87. Bryan Danielson Vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima (September 20) ? ROH: Glory By Honor 7 ? One of those Danielson matches where really simple things meant a lot - and it does mean something when the former ECW Arena gives you a round of applause for a leg trip. I am not insulting other approaches to wrestling when I say it simply makes so much more sense for Nakajima to be able to stop a big kick from Danielson when Danielson?s leg has been worked on and he?s already been pushing how much he should have done on it. At the same time, that kind of approach made it a world away from the normal Japanese superstar debut in ROH?s U.S. shows, with Danielson treating Nakajima like a serious threat from whom he didn?t even want to receive one kick. By the time Nakajima caught Danielson from the apron, anyone unfamiliar with Nakajima knew exactly why. Contrast this with Kota Ibushi?s matches in ROH, where Ibushi was doing everything in his repertoire in every match, and you see fewer amazing moves, but more art to the wrestling. When they started throwing bombs at each other it meant more, with the anticipation for Nakajima?s side, and the intensity Danielson had saved. Plus for all the people who hate Kurt Angle, Nakajima actually attacked Danielson?s leg for a substantial period before attempting an Ankle Lock!
86. Chris Sabin & Alex Shelley Vs. James Storm & Bobby Roode (November 9) ? TNA: Turning Point ? It was good to see the Guns unholstered for once in TNA. Sabin particularly came across like a star, with heroic charisma on pretty much every tag and conducting some his finest anti-double-team offense since early in the Team 3D feud. Sabin and Shelley were obviously able to hit a lot of beautiful tandem offense on the dastardly bad guys, but the sheer length of the match really opened things up emotionally, letting them invest more than just pretty moves. There were pretty moves, of course ? the Tower of Doom that Shelley initiated from the Tree of Woe was just about the coolest use of that tag team trope TNA has ever done. Storm and Roode played the solid supporting villain roles well, with Storm really excelling at bullying the smaller guys and improving his game, be it in the clever execution of a drop toe hold or in putting on a hat while taking Shelley for granted.
85. Roderick Strong Vs. Rocky Romero (January 27) ? Pro Wrestling Guerrilla: Pearl Habra - It was foolish to hope they?d catch the pace of their original PWG match, but they sure tried. Having Romero get a submission in the opening seconds was actually brilliant, playing into the unique athletic animosity between the two of them, as well as setting up the importance of submission holds. Those defined the match, almost like chapter points around fast-based action that was still largely ground-based. Strong and Romero wrestle each other in a way in PWG that simply cannot last too long. Very few wrestlers in PWG (if any) could throw this much this fast and still produce a sense of sympathy and believability. It could have gone a lot longer and I?d have been happy (maybe even happier), but they earned the brevity with their step-and-a-half pacing, tremendous physicality and downright angry execution. What other opponents have these guys faced that could go this fast and not miss a beat?
84. CIMA, Dragon Kid & Ryo Saito Vs. Masato Yoshino, Naruki Doi & Genki Horiguchi (March 29) ? ROH: Supercard of Honor 3 ? It paled in comparison to its predecessors and its overkill at the end was undeniable, but similarly undeniable was the excitement of the match. CIMA was not the same man who had visited ROH two years prior, and hurting badly he chose smarter routes of injecting personality into the match and letting his partners do the flying. Dragon Kid soared as is his trademark on an ROH Supercard, while Yoshino really picked up his game. On nights like these he is one of the best cruiserweights in the world, able to bully, to hit blistering offense, and to eat offense, playing any role that?s needed at any moment ? stuff too complex for some wrestling fans, but mandatory in Dragon Gate, and even to the uninitiated, very forgivable when Dragon Gate guys visit Ring of Honor. Yoshino, Doi and Dragon Kid provided enough horsepower and CIMA enough non-workrate amusement to make this one of the year?s better trios tags, while Saito wisely stepped in when necessary, and Horiguchi followed the leads of his more capable teammates.
83. Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black Vs. Naomichi Marufuji & Go Shiozaki (August 1) ? ROH: Fueling the Fire ? Marufuji continues to be my favorite visitor in ROH as he screws around and yet is so talented that he can pull off almost anything he wants in the normally overserious ROH main event scene. In this case it meant out-heeling the heels, spending much of the early part of the match cheating and beating on Jimmy Jacobs. Go was able to follow his lead well thanks to months of cocky conditioning under Larry Sweeney, showing much more character than he would have in August of 2007. Jacobs was a perfect victim, having known how to take these beatings for years (I can?t remember anyone who made Go?s chops look this good save Aries) but this time adding the seasoning of being the villain everyone wanted to see roughed up, even if it was by unfair means. They spun all that energy into some excellent competitive wrestling, letting Black do the heavy lifting in sprint periods where he was most capable. Marufuji meshed as well with Black as everyone had hoped, but Jacobs held up in the hot and heavy stuff much better than usual with a strong sense of timing and (eventually) fatigue. Then it became a matter of partners playing well off of each other, and Marufuji was excellent at adding a little more to a cut-off to set up Go, or Jacobs would find just the right time to cut an opponent off (like that Spear to break up Go?s Suplex reversal to a Small Package that was simply inspired). All said, it was an excellently-wrestled unusual match for America where the villains were the victims of more antics than the foreign heroes, and those attitudes and antics clicked as well as any of the high-quality physical wrestling fans demand from ROH. While it wasn?t exactly the sort of match Eddie Guerrero would have wrestled, it reminded me of him in way I wish I felt more often.
82. Kurt Angle Vs. Christian Cage (February 10) ? TNA: Against All Odds -
Making up for a disappointing outing the previous month, Angle and Cage gave the standard opening to a TNA match, with a stiff feeling-out process and general frustration (though even in this they did better than Booker and Roode did that same night). What really set this match apart was the energy they had from the first attempt at an Ankle Lock (in an innovative position, as the men fought on the apron), which carried all the way to the run-ins. Samoa Joe served as a fair enforcer, considering that his participation was minimal until the absolute idiocy of interference at the end. Those shenanigans detracted from the overall match, but even then Angle and Cage tried to keep things going with rhythmic big moments (going for a finisher, winding up with a chair) that could have ended the match if they landed.
81. Naomichi Marufuji Vs. Roderick Strong (July 25) ? ROH: Northern Navigation ? I had to watch this three times to really get a grasp on it. We all had mixed feelings about Gabe Sapolsky?s departure, but there were definitely shows that could have used different shaping under his reign and Northern Navigation was one of them. This should not have followed Danielson Vs. Castagnoli 2, and might have actually been the best possible warm-up for it. It wasn?t as long, wasn?t as smoothly wrestled, was a very similar athletic competition and didn?t even try to build to the heights of the previous match, making what was a great match look bad just because of when it happened. Even the crowd was noticeably quieter than they had been for the half-hour chain-wrestling marathon right before this. When watched independent of the show it was on Marufuji worked holds like very few people in Japan or America can, Strong had great counters and a better sense of vulnerability (even humorous vulnerability a few times, like biting the ropes to break a hold), and they built to some great combo false-finishes that you?d expect in a high-profile match with Roderick Strong. Strong?s ability to express vulnerability has improved a lot this year and matched up very well with power-based comebacks, holding back on agile moves like his Malenko-style dropkick and making them even more special. Marufuji was able to play at any level that Strong could take it, giving entertaining offense of all stripes and handing Strong whatever he needed whether it was agony on the mat or being caught in the middle of a flying move. All of Marufuji?s responses were crucial because, even in 2008, timing was the key to a great Strong singles match ? but here they followed timing like true professionals, whether it was elevating the violence, or simply building to one guy taking the other down in a thirty-second exchange. This match might sell some DVD?s if placed on another show. Instead it was one of many rich dishes on a show, perhaps better taken à la carte than in order.
80. Jun Akiyama & Takeshi Rikio Vs. Kensuke Sasaki & Katsuhiko Nakajima (April 27) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH at the Tokyo Nippon Budokan - I don?t know who lit the fire under Akiyama?s ass in 2008, but he went on a tear in tag matches. Here he showed the most life of all the big tag matches since his rejuvenation, showing so much emotional investment against Sasaki and so much concern for Rikio. Rikio was such a great brick wall against Nakajima that the only disappointment is that they weren?t in the ring more often. The whole match was snug to scary degrees, faster paced than is usual for three of the four men, and so aggressive that you could tell it was personal even without following the Japanese scene before seeing this. Just a battle.
79. Bryan Danielson Vs. Mike Quackenbush (March 7) - Westside Xtreme Wrestling: 16 Carat Gold Tournament Night 1 ? Here?s a switch. Let?s have somebody dominate Danielson in a technical match for a change! And if that?s what you want, it doesn?t get better than wXw?s budget lighting creating a solar flare over Quackenbush?s shoulder as he stood, arms folded, watching Danielson writhe in an Indian Deathlock. Of course, Quackenbush didn?t really dominate, they just teased how much better he could be thanks to speed and smoothness, playing off the German crowd?s rabid hatred of ?Overrated? Bryan Danielson. You knew the technical exchanges would be great with Quackenbush?s ability and know-how and Danielson?s attitude and attention to detail. The crowd only gave them more with which to play.
78. Shingo Takagi & BxB Hulk Vs. KENTA & Taiji Ishimori (March 20) ? Dragon Gate: The Gate of Generation ? Clearly a really good match, but also a very weird tag team match. Ishimori bumped and flew for Shingo, KENTA laid in savagely on Shingo, and Ishimori and Hulk worked really well together. Most of the pairings worked out, but none of the multi-man action sunk in, so that even when three or four guys were in the ring it only clicked when the emphasis was on two of them (aside from Ishimori?s beautiful reversal of a Pancake into a Dropkick). KENTA?s cocky shtick usually comes off as odd or forced, but actually worked with the way he treated Shingo. The finishing stretch was by far the most entertaining part of the match, as you?d expect, but it?s hard to pinpoint when that stretch began. It seemed to come up right out of the middle of the match with Shingo starting to get comeuppance on KENTA, and rolled on for several minutes into some of the best (and scariest) strikes Dragon Gate has ever seen. In case you were wondering, Shingo still throws one of the best Lariats in pro wrestling, and KENTA still throws some of the best kicks to the head.
77. Mitsuharu Misawa Vs. Takeshi Morishima (March 2) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Second Navigation at the Nippon Budokan ? Easily Misawa?s best singles match in years, with only his title victory over Marufuji in December of 2006 coming close. The opening minutes had the energy and stiffness of the 2007 Samoa Joe match, but didn?t disintegrate the way that match did. Misawa brought actual strategy and used a surprising amount of aerial offense, building up to a great suicide dive for Morishima. Morishima was stellar on offense, and gave Misawa everything he wanted on defense, creating one of those magical Japanese ending stretches where the crowd was feverish for everything.
76. Giant Bernard Vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (March 23) - NJPW New Japan Cup: Who Is The Highest? ? Real or a performance, Bernard?s fatigue made this match. He channeled it into believable selling for things as small as reactions to Tanahashi?s strikes, to being vulnerable to much bigger offense that he still normally would have been able to counter out of pure power. He pulled it into things as simple as staggering when catching Tanahashi on a flying move. For his part, Tanahashi put in significant fire and played the flashy face role audiences demanded (and sometimes imagined, disregarding his actual character) during his heelish period in 2007. Watching Bernard?s offense build (particularly for the Sitout Tombstone) while Tanahashi threw everything he had at the giant was a great way to cap off the New Japan Cup.
75. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Homicide & Hernandez (October 25) ?ROH: Ring of Homicide 2 ? Hernandez is impressive in TNA, but they didn?t give have a platform like this in all of 2008. More than twenty minutes in the main event, and in ROH a TNA visitor of his mass alone feels special. But against the Briscoes, those brawlers who can bump like Hell, you had a guy who could simply overwhelm two brawlers who like having their way with every opponent and had grown too limited to adapt like the Murder City Machine Guns or Steen & Generico might have in their place. Meanwhile of course anything Homicide did in his return to ROH in New Jersey was treated like gold from the crowd, but he actually played an excellent general behind Hernandez?s brawn, deliberately playing multi-man offense, power and brawling to get the upperhand and frustrate the Briscoes with their own strengths. It was almost like a come-uppance for the Briscoes after two years of being allowed to run roughshod over way too many opponents. You had Homicide straight up insulting them at multiple points, including a headbutt that took them right back to the Rottweilers feud years ago. That lit a real fire under Jay Briscoe, bringing the passion to the Briscoes? offense that is necessary to making their style work. And while some may have seen things like Hernandez?s dive as contrived, it really attested to how a little more structure allows these teams to work their offense rather than just do it.
74. Kenta Kobashi, Tamon Honda & KENTA Vs. Yoshihiro Takayama, Takuma Sano & Go Shiozaki (April 27) ?Pro Wrestling NOAH at the Tokyo Nippon Budokan ? Go stepped up in a big way in his early segments with Kobashi and Takayama, showing respect, frustration and power, and generating some great emotion, especially in briefly turning against Takayama. The match never reached those heights again but followed a good course. For once Takayama actually seemed to care about a match. Kobashi and KENTA going to town on Takayama was great fun, especially with Kobashi and Takayama going after each other after the match. The final minutes were particularly engaging for the formula of four guys preoccupied on the outside while two traded pin attempts inside.
73. Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black Vs. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Brent Albright & B.J. Whitmer Vs. Jack Evans & Jigsaw (January 11) ? ?Ultimate? Ultimate Endurance ROH: Proving Ground ? The first fall featured some crazy creativity, particularly from the Vulture Squad. The second fall was so manic and uncontrollable, rising to one hard crashing wave at the end with the ladder. It wasn?t too long, but as a short single fall it was wild and more riveting than almost any single-fall match on WWE or TNA television this year, regardless of length. The final fall had more heart and energy than the Briscoes? title loss at Final Battle 2007. Mark Briscoe was the soul of the match, showing so much guts and determination. Whitmer and Jacobs had a great moment of a showdown. The Vulture Squad brought the spectacle. Jacobs and Black looked like a fine-tuned team after only working together for a few matches in ROH.
72. Bryan Danielson Vs. Bad Bones (March 9) - Westside Xtreme Wrestling: 16 Carat Gold Tournament Night 3 ? Especially upon re-watching it, it?s impressive how many comebacks (major and just one-move momentum stoppers) Bad Bones pulled out that would typical signify dominance or physical superiority, but that he pulled off sympathetically. Danielson earned his dominant parts of the match better than he did in any other match of the tournament, not merely with technical savvy like he tried to pull off against Chris Hero, but with so many allusions the offense of past opponents (as well as how he beat them). He thought he deserved to be in control here, having used so many tricks for breathers and advantages before. He made many of the parts where he was in control about revenge on an audience that had hated him from the first minute of Night 1. Those dualities ? Bones?s sympathetic offense, and Danielson?s cocky control ? rapidly enriched everything else they did.
71. MEN's Teioh, Shinobu, Onryo & KUDO Vs. Makoto Oishi, Tsutomu Oosugi, Hercules Senga & Yuki Sato (October 27) ? BJW: Men?s World ? Some of the most beautiful exchanges I?ve seen in a wrestling ring this year, and one of those matches that makes me wish I could follow BJW more regularly. There?s always 2009. For now, there?s this. Teioh can still go very well, especially put into the sequences of pairs in this kind of match. Similarly a guy like KUDO, who I think has issues that stand out even in 2 Vs. 2 matches, was just about flawless for the bits and pieces he jumped in to perform. It?s a series of sprints punctuated with a little humor (like the opening ?dong? quadruple kick), and while sprint matches seldom have much story, these make them as much art in the form as anything. Some of the grace on display here would make Dragon Gate vets blush. It?s good to see some of these faces popping up in Dragon Gate now.
70. Roderick Strong Vs. Davey Richards (September 13) ? ROH: Battle of the Best ? They came in with an interesting dynamic. Richards wrestled like he thought he was in the right: he took the fight to Strong immediately, standing up to him and trying to embarrass him for a year of being treated like a lackey. But it was actually Strong who had been wronged back at Respect is Earned 2, and Strong who really had an axe to grind, so he was even more assertive as soon as he could shake loose of Richards?s holds. At first it looked like Richards was going to run, crawling to flee away from Strong?s stinging chops, until he was stuck in the corner and had to strike back. For a moment he was back in that lackey role, and whatever had made him come into the match swinging took over for the remainder. In all of it Richards looked about as good as he ever has, with masterful delivery of things as simple as a knee lift (finally making that move look like it should floor someone, as opposed to just doing it for that purpose), shoulder charge in the corner, and even his expression after the obligatory opening Mexican Standoff. He kept determination and weakness in his posture and face at nearly all times, but let that play through everything he executed. Execution has long been his greatest strength, and against Strong he had someone who could almost match it, but even when he couldn?t, could at least follow the structure of a brutal match that swung between strikes, throws and grueling holds. Thus Richards had to fight for a Camel Clutch mid-match, and Strong knew him enough to immediately go for a second Tiger Bomb at the end.
69. HHH Vs. Jeff Hardy (October 5) ? WWE: No Mercy ? The Hangman Pedigree tease was insane. In fact, most of HHH?s little variations added energy to the match, like his surprise attack at the opening and cheap pin attempt, first rope elbow drop to end a series of them, and sifting through vintage holds to maintain the advantage. Never has his version of the Flair corner bump felt more natural to one of his matches. Hardy deserves a medal for taking that missed plancha, feeding into what HHH setup with the partially blocked Flying Clothesline from the apron. That crash and burn led to one of the better domination periods HHH has had, thanks in part to his opponent being a ragdoll, but also with HHH getting creative in his abuse, looking more like a dominant powerhouse than normal. Hardy was more than a ragdoll, though, bringing his patented passion and framing it in gutsy little packages, like that horrendous flip to the outside, and then catching HHH with it a second time. The conclusion was reminiscent of Tyler Black Vs. Bryan Danielson from ROH?s Breakout, except (oddly for WWE) it was even more over the top. But Hardy?s natural connection with the audience sold the resilience, and noticeably getting into position for HHH?s reversal may have made some people?s blood boil, but it couldn?t ruin such a strong match.
68. Shingo Takagi & BxB Hulk Vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico (March 29) - ROH: Supercard of Honor 3 ? Everyone seems to overlook the sudden drop from their hot start into something resembling a ?heat segment? on Hulk by two guys who were over as babyfaces, which dragged the match to a crawl. I don?t know why they felt the need to cool things down when they had the crowd ready from the start, but when they picked up again it was beautiful. Dueling sawed off powerhouses in Steen and Shingo with Hulk and Generico as energizing as ever, hot false finishes and two teams working in feverish tandem. When it was good, it was as good as anything that weekend, and if you check the date, you know it was a heck of a weekend.
67. Eddie Kingston Vs. 2 Cold Scorpio (March 1) ? IWA: Mid South: The 500th Show ? One of the more watchable struggles IWA:MS has featured in years. IWA:MS has a lot of off-kilter matches and a lot of off-kilter strike exchanges, but these two summoned a great rhythm that felt distinct to the company. Their exchange at the middle of the match clicked far better anything Mid South has seen since Low Ki left (at least until that point). They carried that intuitive sense of striking all the way to the end of the match, gradually making Kingston a more believability threat as it progressed. Technical wrestling is one of Kingston?s weakest points out of character, and it really said something to exhibit that in the opening with Scorpio manipulating the weakness in character. Not only did Kingston have something to prove against a much more famous opponent, but he was at a disadvantage in versatility of offense. He showed with little things like quickly going from a boxing stance into a collar-and-elbow tie-up, and hammered home his disadvantage in all the force he had to apply to get a hold to work, how he could only take the advantage through really basic holds (Kingston couldn?t rely on more than headlocks for the first half of the match), and emphasizing the pain of the holds he was caught in after reversals. You could see not just frustration, but desperate attempts to out-think Scorpio on Kingston?s face. The ending came out of nowhere, but it had to, and it spoke to Scorpio overlooking Kingston?s greatest strength after manipulating his weaknesses earlier.
66. Bryan Danielson Vs. Tyler Black Vs. Kenny Omega (November ? ROH: Bound By Hate ? While not Omega?s debut, this is how you introduce a bluechipper to an audience. It?ll probably go down in people?s memories as his first appearance. They started him out as humorously naïve against the omnipotent Bryan Danielson, with Black going after any openings Danielson left, giving Omega breathing room. Gradually he shone more against each man, surviving big offense, escaping big holds, and eventually hitting his own stuff in some very well-timed deliveries while the more seasoned wrestlers tried to take each other out. Letting him hang in when they abused him in various ways worked, especially by not focusing on grinding him down for two long. By the end it was totally believable that Danielson had to destroy him to beat him, and the finale certainly accomplished that. Around that you had Black?s opportunism and Danielson?s incredible technical savvy to spin out plenty of entertaining moments, building and building to an excellent three-way dance.
65. Shingo Takagi, BxB Hulk & Cyber Kong Vs. Kota Ibushi, HARASHIMA & Antonio Honda (April 13) - DDT and Dragon Gate co-present DDG Returns ? What a moment when Honda kicked out of the Doomsday Heel Kick, tried to sit up with no idea where he was, skin beat red from exhaustion, and a little trickle of blood rolled out of his nose. HARASHIMA and Ibushi were on fire the entire match, and it might have been even better if Honda had sat more of it to let them play off of Shingo and Hulk. Kong showcased more character than usual, picking good spots to jump in and providing fitting brutality for the match-ending knockout.
64. Shawn Michaels Vs. Chris Jericho (July 20) ? WWE: Great American Bash ? Sting Vs. Angle last year was criticized for being too technical and straight-laced when it was supposed to be a bloodfeud. This seemed aimed for the same ends, with even better exchanges, but satisfying itself with smaller retribution, like Michaels making him scream in the Figure Four. What was a good exhibition with a vein of antagonism turned great, through, when Cade came out and set up that scary Moonsault. Then came the elbow and Michaels?s eye injury. Video packages played in the following month didn?t do justice to how aggressive the match got, including Jericho?s reaction to and escape from the desperation Crippler Crossface. HHH and Michaels insisting on using the Crippler Crossface has caused a lot of mixed emotions, but Jericho escaping it and attacking Michaels?s eye with greater fervor than ever was an inspired way of channeling those emotions into the flow of the actual match. The ref stoppage was so unusual and disturbing that the crowd simply stared, but that was part of its disturbing appeal.
63. Kurt Angle Vs. A.J. Styles (June ? TNA: Slammiversary ? The kind of athletic wrestling we all wish TNA would showcase more often. Even Angle has lamented it in shoot interviews, and throughout 2008 he produced it on PPV?s. You had two guys near enough in size that they could do just about anything to each other, with Styles having the distinct aerial advantage and Angle having a superior ground and throwing game. Still Styles tried to dig into him with things like the Backbreaker or Pumphandle Rib Breaker, trying to prove himself by asserting himself through all these facets of offense. It produced such a meaty pro wrestling match that Angle had to resort to more brawling, specifically in punctuating his dominant periods with straight punches to keep Styles weak. The ending was hammy, but the body of the match was so refreshingly competitive that it proved itself despite the booking.
62. John Cena Vs. Dave Batista (August 17) ?WWE: Summerslam ? Everyone expected this to start out slowly for no good reason, other than that when WWE is unconfident about guys they always tell them to start with slow basics. That?s the way we?re used to it, I guess, but Cena and Batista went with their strengths and produced the heavy bombs within minutes. I was surprised WWE played it off as Batista only being ?three seconds better? the next night when he clearly drilled Cena with the first Powerbomb and looked like a wild animal after the kick out, in comparison to his opponent looking dead. Cena deserves huge credit for his work in 2008: he choked against Orton, was the one pinned in the three-way at Wrestlemania, was eliminated at Backlash, lost clean to HHH in their big rematch, lost to JBL on PPV in a brawl and then went down to Batista at Summerslam. The Royal Rumble was his only big PPV win of the year until his return from neck surgery at Survivor Series, and in everything else he made a concentrated effort to help his opponents. It was no different at Summerslam, where he was vulnerable in everything he did, from getting tossed around to struggling to hoist Batista onto his shoulders (including in one very cool reversal).
61. Nigel McGuinness Vs. Roderick Strong (September 19) ? ROH: Driven 2008 ? An excellent execution on the premise of a champion comfortable with plodding dominance trying to stop a very explosive challenger. Being dynamic worked so much better than their similar bland roles from the Without Remorse match, and Strong presented something unusual as the explosive challenger by relying on high-impact strikes, power moves and combos instead of the traditional flying or charismatic-based offense, making him not just someone who might beat McGuinness, but someone who challenged him on his fundamental strengths of a height/strength advantage and striking power. Everything after they returned from the floor for the second time was magic, with Strong getting more and more interesting combos and opportunities, breaking out of McGuinness?s attempts to define the match. Their timing got better as they went along, lending more gravity to the things they tried with little pauses or just the right pace in-between a series of moves.
60. Bryan Danielson & Eddie Edwards Vs. KENTA & Taiji Ishimori (June 21) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: European Navigation - One of the impressive feature was how they packaged Edwards and Ishimori?s normal offense. Ishimori loves to do the fake-out dive, but Danielson set it up so well this time. Similarly by having a fast exchange of strikes in the corner, Ishimori and Edwards setup the Backpack Stunner better than I?ve ever seen it done before. Things that normally look awkward were slick here. That smoothness helped keep the flow of the match, and so long as it seemed to come across without a hitch, the highs and lows were easier during multi-man offense and the much simpler stuff Danielson did worked much better. Instead of simply looking out of place by messing around the Surfboard, he came across as an awful prick that fit right into his team. The match speaks the aesthetic tag teams can create when they make everything click; otherwise, would a stomp to the arm get such a cry of sympathy from the crowd moments after a running power move? And just like that, Danielson and KENTA fit their more established offense in, one much more technical-based, the other with big kicks, able to plug them in at any time to the faster, more fundamentally exciting stuff Ishimori and Edwards would try. It made for a match where almost anything they wanted to do could fit in and where Danielson and KENTA were superstars, but also where Edwards could make himself with one of the best performances of his career.
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