Welcome to In Your Head! Wrestling podcast, news and community!
Welcome to In Your Head! Wrestling podcast, news and community!
By John Wiswell
59. Shingo Takagi & BxB Hulk Vs. Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black (March 2 ? Ring of Honor: Dragon Gate Challenge 2 ? A sadly overlooked level in Tyler Black's rise in Ring of Honor, showing he could step up in big tag match situations even better than he did at Final Battle 2007. Black's athleticism shown as he managed to serve as a great base for Hulk and go nuts with Shingo. Shingo brought a sorely-missed fire back to Ring of Honor, plugging himself into ever spot where he could help, again showing his brilliance in tag scenarios. Shingo and Hulk flowed over the match, dropping in a great variety of offense while letting their opponents shine in their own ways. Jacobs had a minimized role, but was sound in what he did, while the others flourished. Amazing sprint-style action. The team of Shingo & Hulk will be missed.
58. Takeshi Morishima, Naomichi Marufuji & Go Shiozaki Vs. Roderick Strong, Davey Richards & Rocky Romero (May 9) ? ROH: Southern Navigation ? This belongs on the list solely for Morishima?s Azucar sexy dance, and I will hear nothing to the contrary. The first half of the match is a very good testament to the roles of comedy and lightheartedness in ROH, which completely won over the crowds and often came in unexpected ways. The one homophobic moment was irksome (?That was gay! That was gay!? Really, guys?), but other than that it all clicked, even Richards slingshotting Romero into a low blow late in the match. They transitioned from the No Remorse Corps as loony goons to threats fairly seamlessly, especially thanks to the NOAH team?s excellent give-and-take. Even Morishima bumped for them. You build that all around Romero being at the top of his game, Marufuji going a hundred miles an hour, Richards filling every gap he could find and Morishima, Strong and Go all bringing real force to it, and you had the right mix of fun and riveting action.
57. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima & Kota Ibushi (September 6) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Shiny Navigation 2008 ? Jay Briscoe has never had such a believable nearfall from a Lariat. I mention the Lariat from a match of numerous amazing tandem moves because its success showed why this match worked. Dragon Gate has plenty of matches with amazing acrobatics, but between Ibushi and the Briscoes this match had a fundamental passion, pretty wild leading to a few errant palm strikes, but mostly holding to a serious devotion. Ibushi?s reversal mid-whip to the outside into a Moonsault on the other Briscoe signaled how crazy it would get, and the guys definitely didn?t disappoint on that end either.
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 ? I watched Return of 187 and Ring of Homicide 2 on the same day, and couldn?t help comparing this match to the Six Man Mayhem from the other show. Realistically this had more rules, had more guys and was even more gimmicky, but it far out-shone the scramble on almost minute-by-minute basis. Sure, the guys in the Mayhem hit a lot of impressive stuff, but these men made it all fit together much better, whether it was Hero abusing Generico, Hero and Richards collaborating for a fluke double tag-in, Jacobs fleeing a challenge to set up Black entering as a formidable opponent, or LAX?s disdain for the Age of the Fall. These eight men had a better sense of beats in action than the six in a one-fall match, using tags to set up some hot entries (like Hernandez?s house of fire first entry). Upon re-watching it I came to terms with the two ways to approach this match: 1) it had way too many guys and rules, or 2) it had an amazing number of top-shelf tag wrestlers that should be able to make anything work. Fortunately the latter was the stronger force in the actual execution. So Steen and Hernandez were screwing around as the two biggest guys in the match, where Richards could only try to be a beast against either of them, and moments later when Black and Homicide swapped in you?d get a beautiful exchange, only for Jacobs to try to break up Homicide?s momentum. And in the middle of that kind of heated action you had Richards take advantage of a totally unrelated leg weakness in Steen to escape a certain fall ? a memory to detail that validates looking for story in this type of match. That kind of flow is hard, and having to keep it up and keep improvising this level of creativity for a half an hour is a true feat. It only suffers for the lack of a proper finish, when everything they?d sustained so well for twenty-five minutes bottlenecked and even the winners got confused. Sometimes ROH is lucky they have the talent to execute the things they write for them.
55. Mitsuharu Misawa, Naomichi Marufuji & Takashi Sugiura Vs. Kenta Kobashi, Yoshihiro Takayama & Katsuhiko Nakajima (July 1 ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Summer Navigation 2008 - Sugiura was the warhorse of this match, providing some great striking and power moments with each opponent, building around a match where the emotional highs came from Takayama and Kobashi?s self-destruction. Takayama being so petulant and Kobashi gradually losing his temper worked so well in a match where they were facing younger, faster guys with some unnerving raw power. Turning it around mid-match and having the younger guys play off Takayama and Kobashi?s issue made guys getting knocked off the apron more entertaining than it had any right to be. They let Misawa rest well and pick his involvements, setting up a great comeback for Nakajima and some above-par interactions with Kobashi, especially him getting pummeled in the corner. They had a match that could easily coast on the Kobashi team?s internal strife, but built so much more into it; Marufuji and Kobashi are as reliable as it gets in NOAH for fun moments in tag matches and this was no different with Marufuji?s smart counters and fake-outs. They were trying to have something at least a little special on nearly every tag-in. Quality NOAH trios tags are essentially about how many iterations of the guys can work out well, and this was one of those where nearly everything clicked.
54. Ric Flair Vs. Shawn Michaels (March 30) - WWE: Wrestlemania 24 ? For pure nostalgia and emotion, nothing will top this match. After an unparalleled career, fans refused to see flaws in Ric Flair?s game. There were plenty of flaws ? he couldn?t hit his Shin Breaker and he was off on chops, but that didn?t matter. Shawn Michaels overusing the Superkick didn?t matter. They channeled dozens of wrestling memories through a clever eyepoke, a low blow everyone saw coming, Michaels?s Figure Four-style hold, and repeated attempts with Flair?s classic Figure Four. They rode what suspended disbelief the storyline had built (mostly what Flair?s riveting promo from the previous Raw had built) to create as many hopeful moments as possible before the inevitable fall. I?m not even close to Flair?s biggest fan, but the emotion that night was too great to ignore.
53. Bryan Danielson Vs. Tyler Black (January 25) - ROH: Breakout - A radically different upstart story from the ones told in Erick Stevens's January matches, Black and Danielson told of an upstart character testing and digging on the veteran without sacrificing any of the athleticism. Really, this wouldn't have worked without that athleticism - Black was taller, faster, far more agile, and managed to show it early on without having to go out of his way. The somersault into a slap was great early punctuation of that theme. They put Black on display, at first with counters and escapes, then later with tenacity, flying and some serious bombs in his offense, while never forgetting what they established earlier. Danielson's early retribution made the best use of palm strikes in a long time, and from there they hit a fast middle gear that they kept up for a surprisingly long time, turning Black from an upstart to a caustic equal. The finishing stretch is phenomenal, but the actual ending is indefensible. Maybe Black intended to land the Phoenix Splash differently. It was something for them to think about for the inevitable rematch.
52. Bryan Danielson Vs. Tyler Black (May 9) ? ROH: Southern Navigation ? At Breakout Black was constantly responding to Danielson, with his most impressive offense being a slap across the face. This time he came out at the bell and hit Danielson with his style of offense. The lead couldn?t last, but it defined the match as something between two guys who were much closer to the equal than the kick-out-kid act Black had in their first match and at Take No Prisoners against Nigel McGuinness. The offense wasn?t just flying, but some slick kicks in unexpected positions to counter Danielson?s offense, and at least one truly impressive power spot with the Powerbomb into the corner. Black presented a package of threats that defined the match as different, even as Danielson?s simple technical genius and striking ability let him find his openings and tear Black apart. It always warms my heart to see a crowd in a high-octane company like ROH cheer louder for a Dragon Sleeper than a Backbreaker onto chairs. Danielson was possibly even more on his game than at Breakout, not having to dictate quite so much of the match but firing up like a good disgruntled veteran (veteran by ROH standards, anyway), and working holds like the Indian Deathlock and Heel Hooks that functioned viciously and entertainingly, even as the low-demand style of that offense made Black?s cutting edge repertoire look even flashier.
51. Yuji Nagata Vs. Masato Tanaka (October 13) ? NJPW: Destruction 2008 ? This was my match. I had an internet black out three days before it happened and wouldn?t check e-mail until I had the chance to see it, unspoiled and unfettered. I threatened at least two other writers with physical violence to preserve its sanctity. There was a glee in my life at the mere prospect of Nagata, my favorite Japanese wrestler of 2007 now back from a health scare, facing Masato Tanaka, who had been on a tear like no one else in the country in all of 2008. NJPW Vs. Zero-1 had me giddy. Nagata and Tanaka knew it was more than just Tanaka?s first singles match against a top NJPW guy ? it was the Tanaka singles match against * the * NJPW guy. That was why they fought evenly in a lock-up and went forearm for forearm to start things off, before expertly switching to Nagata trying kick Tanaka?s head off his shoulders. There was an equality about them, each man with his assortment of killer strikes, of hazards on the mat, and suplexes that could destroy. Tanaka reminded us of that last part when he dragged Nagata out and dropped him on the concrete to maintain a struggling advantage. Of course it turned into Tanaka being the weaker one, almost embarrassing himself in moments like the failed Spear on Nagata that merely turned into a front facelock, but all of it came out of a great sense of understated showmanship in front of NJPW?s audience. Tanaka was the hero in his buildings, but the vulnerable antagonist here. Nagata was the quintessential Japanese hero, upright with the big holds, almost punishing Tanaka for the audience. Tanaka put him in the perfect frame of peril for the second half, especially on those sick Sliding D elbow strikes. Nagata?s bloody nose only added to the spirit he was wrestling for.
50. Naomichi Marufuji Vs. KENTA (October ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Autumn Navigation ? One of those matches that brings up the futility of comparing matches at all. Contrast this sixty-minute draw of amazing moves and a handful of dramatic false finishes to a tight fifteen-minute story of hatred and brawling. Which is better? They?re nothing alike and have disparate appeals. For the few threads that run through the match, especially in what offense was chosen when, it hardly deserves high praise. Yet the amount of athleticism, toughness and innovation displayed throughout with a focus that never dropped to plodding or wondering what to do absolutely makes it one of the hundred most notable matches of the year. The ending has grown on me more subsequent viewings, not a dramatic false finish or the strikes galore of the KENTA/Kobashi Vs. Sasaki/Nakajima tag in the same promotion, but two guys worn out and relying on those same palm strikes, barely able to stand and yet damned if they?d let the other guy one-up them here, in the main event that would give the other guy two belts. The storied rivalry of KENTA and Marufuji will last a great deal longer, but it came through in so much of what they did, not raw hate, but an emotion just as dangerous in how competitive they were and how badly they wanted this victory ? and more importantly, how badly each didn?t want the other guy to win. That?s what makes this going an hour not hurt all the matches against other competitors of similar ability that their offense will end. It made all the kick-outs worthwhile ? and critics of overkill be damned, but they did have the decency to protect the Pole Shift by having a battered Marufuji struggle to get over to the cover. But especially in subsequent viewings what stood out wasn?t the ungodly offense they ate over that hour, but how they so seldom meandered, paused or stretched something out unnaturally. That gravely hurt the Kondo/Marufuji title match from AJPW ? it was a great twenty-minute match that went forty. A lot of NOAH singles go longer than they need to, and longer than the wrestlers have the talent to give them a sense of substance. Clearly they paced themselves in the opening ten minutes, but there was an overwhelming feeling that these were two wrestlers going at each other for an hour, not two guys doing a match for an hour. Outside of that, it was a heck of a ride.
49. Kurt Angle Vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (February 17) ? NJPW: New Japanism in Ryogoku - They worked Angle?s Ankle Lock in clever and believable ways that we largely haven?t seen since he went to TNA. Nakamura had some of the best counters of the hold to date, making Angle fight him in one direction only to turn around in the hopes of an escape or reversal. The Jujigatame also hasn?t looked this devastating in NJPW outside a Yuji Nagata match in quite a while. They channeled MMA moves into pro wrestling logic in the fashion many Japanese matches only aspire to these days, wholly explaining the shortness of the match through the danger of the Ankle Lock and Jujigatame.
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 - People have overlooked how good the first fall of this match was. There was too much competition for these guys to snatch pinfalls or apply effective submissions and it quickly turned into the generic ROH scramble. Black's Twisting Moonsault to the floor has never been stable and required even more focus to pull off than anything else guys were trying (plus he'd almost missed it at Breakout the previous night); that in addition to pinfall attempts in general not being anticipated in the match made Richards?s technical roll-up perfect. From there things developed interestingly, truly exploding in the final fall that made Richards and Romero look like they belonged in the ring against Aries and Danielson. It?s a shame ROH didn?t capitalize on that performance more later on because it could have seriously helped the tag and singles careers of those two guys. Not that Aries and Danielson were slouches; their offensive flurries were inspired and Aries busted out the mother of all great hot tags. The final minutes were simply mesmerizing.
47. Edge Vs. The Undertaker (March 30) ? WWE: Wrestlemania 24 - Just by positioning this match last on Wrestlemania, WWE gave it something no storyline could. Why put a match everyone considered a lock for the Undertaker to win in the main event? It had such a bad build. But WWE does stupid stuff all the time. Oh Christ, were they going to have Edge break the Undertaker?s streak after all? That was on everyone?s mind from the second the pre-match video played. The slow beginning dampened that anxiety while Edge wore Undertaker down to his physical level with a series of moves on the outside, necessary to turn the match into as even a contest as it was. It really clicked when they got into Edge?s counters, showing how much Edge had prepared while feigning arrogance and idiocy with Vickie Guerrero. Those same preparations made Undertaker?s ultimate counter of the Spear with the Gogoplata all the sweeter, showing that while he?d tried to rely on force, he brought preparations of his own (even if the commentators didn?t mention it). It was more nuanced than that (Undertaker planned ahead to counter the counter to his Old School Arm Bar Smash), but they let Edge?s preparation override his to give that last surprise more kick. The false finish with Charles Robinson sprinting down the incredibly long rampway to count the fall after the Tombstone was as brilliant a way of getting around the Tombstone as an inevitable match-ender as anything. The following minute with the goons and the Spears had the raucous magic the match called for.
46. Umaga Vs. Jeff Hardy (January 7) Steel Cage Match from WWE: Raw ? They showed great chemistry throughout 2007 and opened up 2008 with a bang. A good, steady start with Umaga dominatingly more actively (rather than relying on some of the boring holds that killed audiences in latter-2007 bouts) and a few premature hope spots, including a phenomenal reversal that almost saw Hardy escape over the top of the cage. Everything from the moment they returned from commercials was solid, as they drew the crowd into everything including Umaga?s nerve hold, which usually quiets the crowd (even Ric Flair couldn?t make it work). Orton?s presence at ringside detracted from the emotion between the two guys, but he provided some tremendous facial reactions to Hardy?s comebacks. Hardy didn?t dominate, but every time he came in control he looked legit without damaging Umaga?s aura. Each of the chair attacks could have feasibly finished the match, and while I hate the idea of a savage who pins people with a thumb-punch relying on a weapon, his chairshot to Hardy?s back was sickening. The finish was a great tease that had me screaming at the TV for Hardy to dive onto Orton. Umaga and Hardy is one pair I never tire of watching go at it.
45. Minoru Fujita & Takuya Sugawara Vs. Ikuto Hidaka & Munenori Sawa (August 3) ? Zero-1: Fire Festival 2008 ? Hidaka is golden so long as he?s motivated and hgis opponents can keep up. Every time Going up against his most infamous partner in Fujita guaranteed that here, and Hidaka went on a roll for the first ten minutes of the match before the Sworn Brothers really took over. Both sides had great energy, even in the sick holds the Sworn Brothers threw on Hidaka, carrying the emotion from exchange to exchange in inspiring fashion. You have to love the way the Fire Festival crowd got invested in this, especially as it went on. It had little to none of the awkwardness in exchanges that hinders a lot of the lesser Zero-1 I?ve seen; this is the type of stuff that makes me go out and get more from that great Japanese indy. It didn?t have false finishes so much as things everyone believed might end it, a subtle difference ? this didn?t have the ?gotcha!? effect of many matches that hinge on big kick-outs.
44. Shawn Michaels Vs. Jeff Hardy (February 11) ? WWE: Raw ? A match of character from the opening fist bump and chop. Hardy proved he could play the top babyface against anyone, and Michaels managed to play a subtle heel role that could be cheered on offense but simultaneously could be rooted against. Rather than building to one climactic ending moment, they built a dozen lesser moments that made it compulsively watchable wrestling television, from a meaningful clothesline spot to a huge powerslam on the floor. My one complaint is that this match also featured the goofiest moment of the year: Shawn Michaels going for a standing second rope double axe-handle to Jeff Hardy on the mat, specifically because everyone counters it with a boot to the face, so that he could catch Hardy?s leg and apply a submission hold. Planning ahead to counter a counter to a move that could not work in the first place was like wrestling metafiction.
43. Roderick Strong Vs. Erick Stevens (February 16) ? Full Impact Pro: Redefined -
Do you enjoy watching the sweat spray off of grown men?s chests while they chop each other? Then this was the feud for you. The significant size difference between Strong and Stevens takes a lot of people out of their matches (particularly new viewers who don?t follow the indies). Strong is primarily a striker and power wrestler with some solid technical ability, but being smaller, his striking and power moves aren?t believable enough to let him dominate Stevens, and he isn?t an aggressive enough technical wrestler to make picking Stevens apart believable on a regular basis (as, say, William Regal or Bryan Danielson might have been). The two were very clever in this match to lock horns so much of the time and fight over hammerlocks, often with Stevens legs bent to some degree to give the impression of him being a little shorter, and given Stevens enough control time to underplay the usual Strong-dominance that hindered previous matches. Stevens followed through on his own physical success and became too confident, given Strong little openings for logical reversals, but never too much. They framed their struggle such that Stevens was elevated to Strong?s level in character, and Strong was elevated to a physically believable level. And while you can?t credit the wrestlers for the camera work, the camera angles contributed to neutralizing the size issue. The match was such a struggle that the one (possibly accidental) belt shot believably put things in Strong?s power, and Stevens sold and bumped like a martyr to accentuate it. The subtle story of Strong?s underhanded tactics was also brilliantly woven in, such that you might convince yourself he wasn?t up to something until the end. They made the most of that available passion by executing things so fluidly, moving through a complex struggle in a way that was easy to follow. It far outshone the looser matches that follow in ROH.
42. Austin Aries Vs. Go Shiozaki (October 24) ? FIP Title Match from ROH: Return of 187 ? This match showed how much Go had grown in singles over his ROH tenure. He wasn?t as stiff in falling and taking moves, more natural with reversals, and his character was well suited to the expanded story. At the Sixth Anniversary Show only Aries had scouted Go, where this time Go was prepared for many of Aries?s trademarks, even willing to threaten a Brainbuster before Aries had hit one. His new attitude fit cowardly dodges (like bailing to the ropes in avoiding Aries?s dropkick escape trick), and especially well in brutalizing Aries with different kinds of chops. Just like before, Aries took everything like a champ, but this time Go had a smarmy personality to redefine the match, making it less about out-doing the original, and more about telling a new story. Casting Aries as a stronger underdog who needed the quick strikes and high risk of the first match, but included more ground-based striking hoping to keep the bigger guy loopy also switched up original role nicely, though simply not as radical a change as Go becoming the villain. From the plays on original strategies all the way to the plunge of a finish, this was a heck of a way to introduce Go as FIP champion to the ROH audience.
41. Bryan Danielson Vs. Low Ki (January 5) ? PWG: All Star Weekend 6 Night 1 ? Fantastic nuanced minimalism. If you want to do technical wrestling today, watch matches like this to see how Danielson and Ki used small expressions and motions while sitting in a hold to express their struggle. They incorporated elements of amateur wrestling and MMA seamlessly into a free pro wrestling grappling style, and their ease with grappling counters needs to be seen. Even if you like PWG?s commentary, this is better without because Excalibur and Bryce Remsburg couldn?t catch everything these guys hinted at, and their actions were so in touch with the intimate crowd that the crowd?s groans and cheers served as a much more fitting soundtrack. The hesitation in their approaches, the hesitation towards switching holds, and even how much they managed to do with their legs twined in the opening segment was fascinating. Danielson using the front of not wanting them to strike each other, and later of trying to escape Ki?s retribution, threaded all the lock-ups and technical exchanges before Ki got his highly satisfying chance to lay into him. That chance was also a great example of how to make really hard strikes mean something rather than just doing them at all points during a match. Here they built up every really painful action so that it meant more emotionally when it happened. Low Ki was definitely off in the final minutes, seeming to go completely against the flow and logic of the match (crossing the ring to take a breather when he had a viable pinfall opportunity, going for a Phoenix Splash and messing it up, seeming to require Danielson to scoop him up into a hold), but even if he wasn?t hurt (and that did seem more like the result of an injured performer than intention), the ending delivered and rested atop a stunning body of a match.
40. Brent Albright Vs. Adam Pearce (August 2) - Death Before Dishonor 6 ? Some matches mean more simply because of where they happen. You let Bourne and Mysterio Jr. go free on Raw and even if they do something merely on par with what?s normal in an indy, it means more because of how they work that material with that novel audience. Albright and Pearce took classic elements of NWA title matches and brought them to ROH for that same kind of imported meaning. It helped that they were structured very well: Larry Sweeney stepped in only to be cut off, and the fall through the table and Piledriver were totally believable elements to an ending we didn?t want to see but thought was certain. And it was about damned time Albright got an ROH crowd that appreciated the way he fired up. The crowd treated them like titans, and Albright in particular stepped it up for them, in the way he put effort into every grope for the ropes, the delivery of the German Suplexes, right up to the last seconds, adjusting his angle and grip on the Crowbar to force Pearce to give in. That is the testament to detail that always enriches a match: working the Crowbar with aspects of technical wrestling a match that was far from technical, making the whole thing better. Pearce has been a good bully and focus of comeuppance for a long time, but I?ve never seen him in such a position to make the most of it.
39. Aja Kong Vs. Meiko Satomura (October 26) ? Sendai Girls ? If you were squeamish at Morishima attacking Danielson?s eye in ROH last year, fear Aja Kong. Even Michaels and Jericho weren?t this deep with their eye-related violence. It wasn?t just starting the match with a spinning backfist, but taking so many opportunities to dig at Satomura?s eye, even when she was just lying in a lackadaisical cover. If it was a chinlock? An opportunity to rake the eye. If Satomura started coming back? A palmstrike across the brow. Kong wasn?t a mere sadist, but tickled to be one. Satomura had all the necessary fire and technical ability to play the role, but the best fun came from her simply trying to chop down this mammoth opponent ? and it?s saying something when solid desperation comebacks aren?t the highlight of a match like this. They weren?t content for a simple comeback story, but made Kong resilient when she wasn?t formidable. In that way, they went from the best kind of return match for Satomura to the best kind of competitive match for both of them. Unsurprisingly the mix made it the most emotional women?s match I?ve seen all year.
38. Nigel McGuinness Vs. Bryan Danielson (September 13) ? ROH: Battle of the Best ? I would be a happier wrestling fan if more people could do this much this well in mat holds. What an opening, completely harnessing the tone of ROH?s Japan shows for a scientific wrestling match that took both men so seriously that neither could rush into anything. Other matches use slowness to stall, build (often empty) emotion or to save the wrestlers exerting themselves as they pad the time they?re in the ring. This was all about emphasizing how good and how dangerous McGuinness and Danielson were. It never became as hot as Unified or Driven 2007, focusing on the contest aspect without resorting to as many strikes or generic fighting spirit. Instead it was essentially the Survival of the Fittest 2007 preliminary without the short time limit. In one sense it was necessary, as it was the wrong crowd to do a big blow-off style match. In another sense it was prudent, in that they added another diverse chapter to their storied history, something that won?t resemble anything too much as to seem cheap ? as I already mentioned, it was an extension of a previous match that had been clipped by circumstances. It was refreshing both because it was so different from the Sixth Anniversary Show match, and because the two are so good at technical wrestling. Danielson wouldn?t just stall to clasp his hands in a double underhook; he fought for the proper angle. McGuinness looked for the chance to hit one stunning Reverse Elbow for several minutes, rather than throwing one whenever he felt like it. They even performed McGuinness?s mule kick in above average fashion, with Danielson in more believable ring positioning to try to counter it the first time only to be suckered. At all times they were vulnerable: sometimes they were tired, sometimes in pain or unable to escape a hold, sometimes only looking for a counter or the ropes when they weren?t available. In the previous match on the card El Generico hit a Top Rope Splash to almost no effect; here, an Irish Whip was devastating. How expressive they were as they went from moment to moment carried very simple wrestling far beyond what a lot of matches that rely on much more dangerous feats accomplish.
37. Kurt Angle Vs. AJ Styles (August 10) ? ?Last Man Standing Match? that was actually a Texas Death Match from TNA Hard Justice ? If 2008 was Kurt Angle?s last year in wrestling, this match would have been a suitable end. With its athleticism, ferocity and conclusion, this would have been the note to walk out on, setting up Styles for a permanent main-eventer run so long as TNA could sustain him. A shame, then, that TNA immediately followed it up with an angle and two TV rematches, and Styles was pushed back into the bizarre ?unaccomplished young gun? role later in the year. It started out with a peculiar charm in its brawling, for there?s nothing like seeing two guys fight all over the aisle way only to still rely on professional wrestling offense like a Capture Suplex or plancha. Especially in the style that Angle wrestles, it suggests that pro wrestling is the most effective offense outside the ring ? obviously false, but reinforcing something very positive in a wrestling match. They reserved hitting each other at full force to important moments, like the double Cross-Body Block mid-match. The taunting reversals were also smarter, as Angle would catch Styles in a Powerbomb and actually fold him up for the pin, only pulling him up into Styles?s own Styles Clash once he kicked out ? something Styles ought to do himself. Styles played the same game with an Ankle Lock, where he braced himself and stayed mid-ring, not immediately following Angle to maintain his leverage, but letting Angle crawl forward a little and lose all of his own leverage before finally grapevining the legs. Not just stealing from each other, but showing each other how they could do their offense better was a great layer to some of their upper tier exchanges, and added meaning to the first fall. It was that same pointed familiarity that carried to Angle fighting to have his way on the top rope, a place he can usually charge up onto and have his way, and ultimately trying to brutalize someone with one more Suplex and getting it turned on him in devastating fashion. It?s always a big statement when a guy wins a match with something he?s never (or rarely) done before and it still makes total sense.
36. Masato Tanaka Vs. Manabu Nakanishi (April 6) ? Zero 1 Max: Miracle Rocket: 2nd Impact - Masato Tanaka went wild in the opening minutes, establishing a white-hot atmosphere of hatred around the fight before channeling it into a more traditional Japanese pro-wrestling match. From thereon they hit a flow where they could rely on passionate violence or the more standard big-time wrestling style without breaking the story they told or their hold over the audience. Both halves of this dualistic flow complimented the other, and especially with the brawling on the outside and some of the struggles mid-match, added energy when they switched up. Nakanishi was almost guiltily fun as the immovable object-style powerhouse, really coming into his own mid-match and towards the end with a great sense of when to do nothing and let Tanaka accentuate his strength. So Nakanishi resisting an irish whip became as impressive as Tanaka hitting a Sliding D at top speed. Some may find this match too chaotic or think it went overboard, but you have to appreciate how they channeled their brief excesses into a truly minimalistic ending ? perhaps a standard finishing sequence for Tanaka?s big matches these days, but fitting far better than usual.
35. Kurt Angle Vs. Yuji Nagata (January 4) ? NJPW: Wrestle Kingdom 2 - I think most people expected more of a technical, mat-based match, especially early on. I know I did. Instead they surprised me by going for the heavy artillery early. The prideful attempts for knockout kicks were great touches, and the almost resentful exchanges of Suplexes should have established animosity for any American viewers who didn?t know the backstory of the IWGP belt situation. Angle just was not going to chain wrestle in the opening, but if he was going to stiff Nagata, Nagata was going to bring it back to him. Saving the chain wrestling for later was unorthodox, but completely worked, especially with their series of reversals of high profile finishing holds. You had to love Nagata refusing to show weakness in his leg even as Angle ripped on it, and something possessing Angle to work Nagata?s leg more aggressively, logically and convincingly than he did to any TNA opponent in all of 2007, just four days into 2008. Nagata is a very underrated seller, in that he simultaneously conveys feeling pain and fighting through pain, conveying weakness and toughness, which makes any course of action he might take plausible. It?s equally believable that his leg would give out the next time he went for a throw, or that he?d be able to Saito Suplex Angle to death, and the NJPW audience will passionately buy into either. Throughout the match you can see him take rounder steps with the leg Angle worked over, and have to catch himself when he tries to rest on it ? he doesn?t express the weakness constantly, but it?s downright to say it he forgets it. Meanwhile, is downright fun to watch Angle freeze up in agony from every strike, in what might have been his most entertaining selling since his jump to TNA. It lacked an explosive ending appropriate to such a clash of stars, but it was great up until that finish.
34. Nigel McGuinness Vs. Tyler Black (taped March 16, aired May 29) ? ROH: Take No Prisoners ? What a one-two punch this was with Danielson Vs. Aries, making Take No Prisoners one of my favorite PPV?s of the year, up there with Summerslam. While Danielson/Aries was much more fluid, competitive, consistent and arguably deeper, this had higher highs. Everything from the chairshot on was special, and McGuinness introduced his end-match formula of a ridiculous number of kickouts in grand fashion. You couldn?t have asked for a better subject than Black, who bumped and sold like he was getting murdered. It?s a testament to Black?s ability to read, flow with and command crowds that his F-5, a move he?d never even used in ROH before, was a believable nearfall. Even months later on PPV I was ready for the title to change hands at his last roll-up attempt. Yes, McGuinness?s domination in the first half gets tired. Yes, on repeated viewings the kick-outs can be a bit much. Yes, Black submitting works to negate a lot of what the match set up, and a knockout pin wouldn?t have been difficult to use instead. But this made a star even better than the Breakout match, and in tandem with it, got things rolling for Black?s great year in Ring of Honor.
33. Mike Quackenbush Vs. Johnny Saint (March ? World of Sport Rules Match from Westside Xtreme Wrestling: 16 Carat Gold Tournament Night 2 ? You know what? I dare you to do this when you?re 65. Seriously, while Michaels Vs. Flair from Wrestlemania had an incomparably more dramatic build, Saint?s sheer ability here put Flair?s to shame. And one can?t discount the references in this contest either, right down to the hold Quackenbush used to win his only fall. The creativity of counters (including pretending to stumble when trapped in a Front Facelock), fluidity of exchanges to take control back from one side to another, and the packing of meaning into little moments (like Saint finding a way to return to his feet when trapped in knucklelocks before the first bell, or him managing to pull a Bodyslam just at another) took this far above the normal technical match between men of any age and experience level. The lack of animosity didn?t hurt it at all, suggesting hate-based wrestling some companies force too hard into every angle might not be necessary ? the legitimate surprise of Quackenbush (such as after the first fall) only complimented the veteran. Little dashes of humor were structured to reinforce how sound Saint was, again only reinforcing the drama of a hateless but difficult match. When you add how rad it is to see a 65-year-old man effortlessly catch Mike Quackenbush?s arm and roll into a submission hold that only requires him to do a push-up? well, it sure gets on this list.
32. Nigel McGuinness Vs. Bryan Danielson (February 23) - ROH: Sixth Anniversary Show - The restart was a great bit of wrestling theatre, and an homage for what Ring of Honor is supposed to stand. Someone can go for a DQ and escape with the title in WWE (in fact, Randy Orton did that same thing at No Way Out a few days before this match), but here the locker room wouldn't allow it. So while it was by-the-numbers before the disqualification, the real match began after the restart. It still couldn't match Unified or Driven for intensity or creativity, and the men didn't hit a similar groove. McGuinness's attack on Danielson's arm was uninspired, hailing back to one of the things that held back their first match at Weekend of Champions Night 2. However, they built out of that and into a solid brawl where the heavy bombs of offense meant a lot. The best theme was how McGuinness handled Danielson's head after Danielson promised not to go after his. At first he was actually hesitant to do damage there, then he hit a desperation Lariat that dumped Danielson on the back of his head. Later he hit a Tower of London, only to cut himself open. You could interpret that he was just doing enough to get an advantage or actually became absorbed in his own fear of damage to his head, but thereafter he went right back into arm work (much better stuff than earlier in the match, including stealing Danielson's Cattle Mutilation) and striking. By that stretch they at least earned their conceits, particularly the question of why Danielson wouldn't go right after his head after the DQ and his cowardly escape attempt. The last ten minutes climbed back up to the best these guys can do together, with references to their history and some logical innovations. Hey, McGuinness put his arm up at 1 when the ref was checking if he was conscious in a hold. It's about freaking time someone did that. And it figured into the point McGuinness really wanted to make. Beyond any dubious concern for his health, he'd never been able to fairly and decisively beat Danielson, and whether he recognized his shortcuts before snapping at the end or not, he was trying in his way. When he gave in and went for Danielson?s eye, though, he threw it all away and embraced perhaps the most wicked mid-match turn in ROH history. He was a prick at the start of the show, but this was a whole other magnitude.
31. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Takashi Sugiura (June 14) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Great Voyage 2008 in Yokohama - Sugiura is still trying to prove himself in high profile matches. He succeeds every time, but it?s mostly despite NOAH?s wishes, and he drifts back down thanks to their lack of attention. In matches like these, his effort bleeds through to character in little moments like the Super Hurricanrana and German Suplex combo in this match: the first move being unusual athleticism from him and the sort of move that always makes Morishima psych up in anger, opening him to a second sledgehammer move in the beautiful and surprisingly powerful reversal into the suplex. That one exchange embodied everything Sugiura brought to the table: agility unbefitting his shape, strength unbefitting his size, excellent technical skill and strategic plotting of offense. Morishima gave him enough time to seem like a real force (if not a real threat), even taking a Kobashi-style drop off the apron at one point. None of this hurt Morishima, however, who came across as a juggernaut who necessitated loads of high-level offense from his opponent. Sugiura is a more believable fighter at the heavyweight class than anyone ex-Junior in NOAH, and when Morishima turned things around he laid into Sugiura with some very visually effective punches, forearms and lariats. He earned that ?Japanese monster!? title the commentator kept shouting, and was only made more believable by how varied Sugiura had to keep his game, reversing a back suplex into a splash here, picking the ankle there, all in the attempt keep himself in control. Morishima further accentuated that struggle with his own high-end offense near the end, both trying to make a point as a would-be dominant champion, and to break this smaller but driven opponent. A top-turnbuckle Double Stomp just to keep Sugiura down was impressive, but how many times in the last year have you seen Morishima Moonsault? That a former Junior Heavyweight, even one as strong and talented as Sugiura, could struggle to *remain* in control lent this a drama you can?t get in every match, but which couldn?t have been given to a better challenger.
30. Austin Aries Vs. Erick Stevens (January 11) ? FIP Title Match at ROH: Proving Ground ? This reminded me of the much-lauded Cena/Michaels 2 match from Raw last year. Then, you could tell Michaels was more responsible for it working so well, but could also see that Cena was capable and bringing everything he had to his role. Here, Aries was clearly in charge more of the time, but every time Stevens took over he showed character, confidence, effort, power and ability. This is the kind of match that makes somebody because when Stevens was given something, he used it, rather than just going through it and getting back under the direction of his more seasoned opponent. Aries?s big traits were setting the pace of the segments, bringing much more variety to the offense, and growing increasing agitated and aggressive. The build-up to the double count-out was inspired, and Aries?s dive was crazy (though ROH used an awful camera angle that obscured just how far he jumped). Everything after the restart of the match possessed exhilarating sprint, with every thirty seconds pointed by some purpose ? going for the 450, going for the Horns of Aries, and going for the Doctor Bomb. Because of that directed energy, everything worked even better, and Aries?s amazing reversal to the Suplex came off as even more impressive. It should have made Stevens, but unfortunately ROH?s handling of him in 2008 wasn?t as good as some of his performances.
29. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Chris Sabin & Alex Shelley (April 19) ? ROH: Return Engagement ? In mid-2008 people were surprised that the Briscoes would claim they needed to go back to their roots with more brawling. But if you watched this match, you could tell why. They tried submissions and both wound tied up in the ring. They tried to go flying and Sabin bowled them over even with the referee getting in his way. Even when they pulled some big reversals, like Mark flying into the ring to turn Shelley?s Air Raid Crash into a setup for Jay?s Jay Driller, the Guns turned it around on them again. All their wars with the Age of the Fall had left their state-of-the-art fast, flying and innovative rusty, below the level they were at last year. They walked into the match prepared to wrestle the same gameplan as last year with little preparation, continuing to fall back on the big tricks of 2007 even late in the match, hitting one big slow tandem move just to setup their Doomsday Device variant, and found their execution was off and the fatigue they went through left them too sluggish to hit it before Sabin could run in. It doesn?t get plainer than Jay Briscoe picking up Alex Shelley on his shoulders for that Springboard Doomsday Device only to end up getting Skull Fucked. As Sabin and Shelley said at the top of the show, they spent the year off studying the Briscoes? offense, and came out with fast counters and their trademark tandem moves in ways the Briscoes weren?t ready for. The Briscoes were probably physically stronger and possibly tougher, so it made sense that those things were what helped them hang in. Their reliable offense was ugly and simple, like a quick and loose Death Valley Driver, chops to the throat and the ground-and-pound based offense that granted them their longest stretch of domination. Their coolest counters were things like an Exploder Suplex on one guy that slammed him onto his partner to break up a submission ? technically complex, but relying only on brute force. The Briscoes simply did not have the skills in complex clutches that they?d once had, while Shelley & Sabin had only gotten better at picking spots. It was a good story that made for a less compelling match than their 2007 encounter (#1 on the Riren 100 in 2007), but not by too much.
28. KENTA & Taiji Ishimori Vs. Kotaro Suzuki & Yoshinobu Kanemaru (December 7) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Winter Navigation 2008 - KENTA started out with an aggression that would really define him as one of the greats in the world if he could bring it to more singles matches and keep it up. For this match more than any other in the two teams? feud, he was the defining element, almost a dangerous veteran in the role someone like Takayama or Kobashi normally plays. That made every time either guy went so much as even with him that much more impressive, and despite being a former singles (and still tag) champion, Kanemaru still showed the benefits of being elevated. It meant that much more for them to actually bust open and dominate KENTA. Ishimori was more on-point with offense and reversals than usual, and he?s usually one of the best, and his dynamic spills helped Suzuki and Kanemaru look slicker than ever. And really, how cool was it when Suzuki caught Ishimori?s legs during his normal cocky dive fake, only to yank him out of the ring and wing him into the guardrail? They established peril and consequence, and got rolling at more apt times than pretty much any NOAH Juniors tag match this year, without so much of the perfunctory deliveries that show when unseasoned guys don?t know what they?re doing. Similarly their crescendos were higher, better-timed and better-executed than even the previous matches the teams had with each other could lead you to expect. They stepped up, including more character like Suzuki?s struggle at ringside to take the bell, putting attitude into places that would normally be lulls. Especially on this show NOAH had a lot of to prove, but these might have been the only guys to prove it.
27. Jimmy Jacobs Vs. B.J. Whitmer (April 12) ? No Rope Barbed Wire Match from IWA: MS: April Bloodshowers ? There are some difficult decisions in the Riren 100. This match is one of them. Matches like this have truly great moments and truly stupid moments, with the latter not being hidden, and sometimes outright emphasized. The minutes spent with duct tape only for somebody run in and cut it apart in thirty seconds was downright depressing. A few stretches of the match dragged. Some of the setups took so long that they further disjointed an already questionably paced match. The trade-off is that the highpoints were so impressive that if it did make it onto the list, it wouldn't be low. I wrote ?highpoints,? not ?highspots,? because this wasn?t about big flip or head drops, but periods of wrestling greatness in a long, thought-out match. It demands to be lauded. The pacing here isn't as much of an issue as their I Quit match as, between the damage they did, the destruction around and in the ring, and the atmosphere they played off of, this came across as a drawn-out war rather than listless. They started it off with remarkable sense, doing a great job of expressing the danger of the barbed wire in various ways: the traditional fighting of Irish Whips, the less common baseball slide under the wire, and Whitmer clutching his hand from just touching the stuff. The first real contact with the barbed wire was surprising and logical at the same time, simply great. We know Whitmer and Jacobs have great brawling chemistry (they earned two spots on the Riren 100 in 2007), and that brawling really worked. The use of duct tape in their I Quit match seriously hurt matters, and it definitely didn't help this time, but it didn't do as much damage because they were so much more focused. They built to a final chapter that you couldn't even classify as a finishing stretch. It was a chapter in a damned long, damned brutal match. The Barry White Driver off the apron was simply insane. The two Sentons were breathtaking - I have to use that word because for once it's true. The table not giving way made my breath catch in my throat. That one defective table accidentally provided IWA:MS with its most evocative finish in years, mixing irony, brutality and Jacobs?s great psychology. This match was disturbing and should never be done again - but it should also be on the list.
26. Kevin Steen & El Generico Vs. Naruki Doi & Masato Yoshino (March 2 ? Ring of Honor: Dragon Gate Challenge 2 - I lamented this in the Riren 100 last year, but it really seems like the top Dragon Gate wrestlers work harder in PWG and ROH than in their home promotion. Maybe it?s the encouragement of more vocally passionate audiences. Maybe it?s insecurity in wrestling in a foreign country, or they?re trying to advertise themselves to these new markets. Maybe they?re earning those pricey plane tickets, or maybe they love their craft but can?t physically keep this sort of performance level up all year round, but they seem to go faster and put more energy into their work in these American companies that have very similar in-ring styles to that of their home promotion. Here Doi and Yoshino were at their very best as a unit. They were a little on the faceless side, but that was a strength, allowing them to watch each other?s backs and file in against either of their opponents seamlessly. Yoshino was particularly on, picking his spots and hitting them with better pacing than I normally see him do in Dragon Gate. Steen played a very suitable powerhouse while Generico did everything you could expect from him, absorbing punishment and building small comebacks into a larger array of exceptionally structured offense. They all switched between strikes, work on the mat, work near the ropes, stuff on the outside, double teams, flying offense and power offense such that every exchange felt either fresh or more exciting than the last. This built to one of the best false finishes ROH has ever seen, and a highly satisfying real finish. A must-see for all fans of sprint tag wrestling.
25. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Kensuke Sasaki (September 6) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Shiny Navigation 2008 ? You can hate the decision of the company, but you shouldn?t hold it against the match two guys put on. These two walked into a war. Morishima approached Sasaki with a blunt physicality that matched or trumped the veteran, giving the match energy and necessitating the slower holds in this match, giving it a direction that was the only thing seriously lacking to Sasaki/Marufuji in Kensuke Office. Of course it helped that the two fought in a very similar style, making it much easier for them to click. But damn did they click, and from there you got tastes of Morishima?s astounding agility, made all the more impressive by him physically dwarfing Sasaki. Moves like Morishima?s early Dropkick (and shortly later, the Suicide Dive) added flare to what was already working, and later when he pulled out the Moonsault he got the properly augmented response. All these elements were tethered to the big brawl atmosphere, which lent itself just as much to a Missile Dropkick as to the three teased count-outs in the first ten minutes. The pliable atmosphere wasn?t a mere result of their reputations, but hard work in softening each other up, constantly requiring additional strikes or surprises to be able to hit the next big thing. Sasaki wrestles like he?s made of iron, but all of Morishima?s offense and resilience did more to build him as at or near that level of toughness than any of the Misawa matches. Those who hated this match on Morishima?s behalf would be well-served to go back and watch the crowd reaction to his signature offense. He lost, but he left an enormous star.
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 ? Wow, probably the best Chamber match to date. They started out with very simple, very athletic mat wrestling from Michaels and Jericho, then upped the ante with Umaga?s power (particularly his double Samoan Drop and ?ass through the glass? attack), and after JBL came in it became utterly entertaining chaos. The string of eliminations hindered what could have been a much longer, deeper match, but the final sequence between Jeff Hardy and HHH was very well done with a great fake-out of a false finish. Great star power, everyone made the most of the time they could, and everyone went fully into their roles.
23. Naomichi Marufuji & Katsuhiko Nakajima Vs. KENTA & Kota Ibushi (September 14) ? ROH: The Tokyo Summit ? You don?t get a better pure athletic pedigree than this. Switching primarily between the pairs of Marufuji & Ibushi and Nakajima & KENTA was wise, with the latter provided their increasing animosity through highly similar striking offense, while the former provided more aesthetic Junior heavyweight action with allusions back to when they were a team in the 2007 Differ Cup. From there they were able to play up Ibushi essentially auditioning for NOAH again by risking everything, and once again using it to produce a world-class performance. It was no mere exhibition for any of the men involved, with Marufuji and KENTA using some fresh counters to each other?s trademark offense, upping that rivalry as well. It made perfect sense that it aired on Samurai TV from the continuity of what guys did with each other, as well as putting on a match that belonged on any top-level NOAH show. They had an interesting use of overtime, not going overkill, but packing five more minutes of action on top of a great half-hour. While that didn?t add what it could have, it fit nicely atop an amazing body of a match.
22. Austin Aries Vs. Bryan Danielson (taped March 16, aired May 29) ? ROH: Take No Prisoners ? People who say they take story over athletic wrestling often overlook the elements of story in matches like these. These were two extremely talented and versatile wrestlers who were too familiar with each other to be trapped easily, thinking sometimes three and four steps ahead. They kept emoting to give clues about what they were trying, and several of their chains had their own easily understood intuitive logic. They grew frustrated and fought to loosen each other up enough to find a weakness they knew how to exploit, and made the pursuit every bit as meaningful as a showier, more obvious story-match like McGuinness Vs. Danielson at the Sixth Anniversary show through their expressiveness, little motions and vast references to their history. There were so many little elements dropped in, more than average for Aries or Danielson who love such things, like Danielson checking his forehead and being surprised he wasn?t bleeding, Aries whipping off his elbow pad to do more damage only for the exposure to be turned around on him, and the way Danielson put up his hand to intercept Aries?s knee strikes while stuck in the Horns of Aries hold. The elements of narrative as the two guys tried to dissect and destroy each other came together with truly beautiful technical and high impact wrestling, mixing some of the best trading holds in contemporary wrestling with hard and meaningful shots. One kick to the spine from Danielson meant more here than three do in the average Low Ki match ? and really, moreso than three would in the average Danielson match, as they kept things so enticing and diverse that when one of the guys busted out a serious strike it meant something. This outstripped any of the Best of Three series they had in 2007 by going faster in the technical wrestling early on than Honor Nation, putting more emphasis on creativity and knowledgeable counters in the final segment than they did at Glory By Honor 6 Night 1, and creating as strong a dynamic in Aries focusing on the head and neck and Danielson focusing on the arm as they?ve ever done in any of their matches in any promotion. What elevated those area-specific attacks is that the two men were so good and so familiar with each other that they had to rely on other modes of attack just to weaken each other, and that they had real fireworks to throw in and make the area-specific attacks visually impressive, as well as going out of their ways to express the pain and struggle of the onslaughts. Altogether their work flowed like no two other guys in Ring of Honor can together. Just as I said in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007, if I could watch these guys wrestle one new match per year against each other for the rest of my life I?d die a happy fan.
21. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Naomichi Marufuji & Takashi Sugiura (March 2) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Second Navigation at the Nippon Budokan - Marufuji and Sugiura are all I could ask for in a tag team. Marufuji has character, bumps well, sells well, has a great sense of timing in nearly all things, and gives a Junior heavyweight feel to his portion of a match, while Sugiura is an excellent powerhouse, gets the most out of simple strikes than almost anyone in NOAH, and brings a grounded feel to his matches that lets opponents and partners alike spring over him. All that was on display this night. They were a great unit to play off the Briscoes? high octane offense, shaping their performances into segments. While a few of the exchanges looked highly choreographed, most of them were exciting or downright beautiful. The ending was one of the most phenomenal counters this decade.
20. The Royal Rumble Match (January 27) ? WWE: Royal Rumble - Every year you can rely on the Royal Rumble match to be worth watching. There are the small things, like unusual pairings that work so well you can?t wait for the sparks to turn into feuds (Morrison/Michaels and Umaga/Undertaker struck me the most, and frustrated me most when they didn?t materialize immediately afterwards). There are the nutty ways people try to stay in the ring. The Royal Rumble has unique advantages, like its entrants arriving every ninety seconds causing the spectacle of entrances to become part of the match. A surprise entrance, like Rowdy Roddy Piper?s this year, is an amazing thrill that matches any twisting Moonsault or narrow escape from elimination (and CM Punk marking out over the Piper/Snuka stand-off was almost as good as Piper?s entrance itself). Similarly because of the ninety-second intervals, something not having a big payoff (like that Piper/Snuka standoff) doesn?t hurt the match because so much can be going on that the remaining contestants can compensate. After the first ten guys entered this Rumble did just that, providing the ultimate in A.D.D. entertainment. It seemed like there were more miscues in this Rumble than usual, with things like CM Punk standing in the middle of the ring for ten seconds with Morrison on his shoulders, waiting for Miz to come down the aisle and charge him, or Undertaker throwing Umaga to the ropes and wandering away while Umaga tried to hold himself in position for a follow-up. The production work was also more questionable than usual, with the camera sticking on wrestlers who were in the middle of awkward pauses, or not filming the big action (like Undertaker?s table attack on Snitsky). Still, you could rely on amazing moments that the cameramen would catch, like Cody Rhodes?s kamikaze charge against Snitsky that nearly caused a double-outage and Shelton Benjamin?s springboard into a Double Stungun on two men that were standing on the second rope. Cena?s entrance electrified the crowd and imbued the match with a magic that lasted to the end, surging strongest in the Final 3 segment. Cena?s surprise redeemed any shortcomings of the match, making the final moments some of the most exciting of WWE?s year. Certainly Cena?s surprise overshadowed the blatant stupidity of Finlay being ?disqualified? and walking off with Hornswaggle. It?s next to impossible to appreciate how great this was on tape if you know the surprises and outcomes in advance. Of everything in the wrestling world, the Rumble is one match you must witness live or at least without foreknowledge.
19. Austin Aries Vs. Go Shiozaki (February 23) - ROH: Sixth Anniversary Show ?
Especially in early 2008 Go Shiozaki was at a stage in his career when he needed to be framed. He still can use help, but has improved ? and so it?s funny that his best singles match happened before he began to turn the bend. He didn?t need to be ?carried,? but he needed to be given something. Austin Aries gave him everything. They rapidly established that Go was stronger, more durable and possibly with greater stamina, while establishing that Aries was faster, a superior technician and with much more versatile offense. The most impressive part of all that they established is how they managed to establish two things at once: Aries having to avoid the heavy chop by running and getting momentum for his own strikes, or Aries manipulating holds while Go could power out of them. It all made intuitive and logical sense so that this could be watched critically or just for fun and appreciate the engaging performance all along. Aries threw in more little touches than usual, like returning to the overhead elbow multiple times in petty fashion trying to make a point to himself, or throwing kicks and knees to escape pinfall predicaments instead of just kicking out. Go responded with one of the best powerhouse performances of his career to date, using force to counter some of Aries? innovation and finesse (like one counter to the knees, which was a counter to a Suplex attempt, which ended in a Fisherman?s Buster that could have easily ended the match). Aries flew for Go?s offense and showed physical strain that highlighted how bluntly tough his opponent was, even to simply hit a move on. This was a classic example of making a guy seem incredibly tough such that beating him meant something.
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