Welcome to In Your Head! Wrestling podcast, news and community!
Welcome to In Your Head! Wrestling podcast, news and community!
Section C: Countdown and Review
100. Edge Vs. Jeff Hardy (January 25) ? No Disqualification Match from WWE: Royal Rumble
After all the attacks and sabotage by unknown parties, it made total sense for Hardy to go nuts on Chavo Guerrero Jr. like that. In fact, Hardy fought the whole match with that degree of angered abandon, not even flinching at the No Disqualification stipulation and immediately flying at Edge, and then going for a weapon, working out his frustration in his hectic style. It?s no surprise that the two work famously together, but they had some particularly shining moments, like Edge catching Hardy mid-seesaw in the corner and Spearing him across the ring. While not the biggest match of Hardy?s career, it was by far one of his best performances, using conviction to get across all of his decisions. And say what you like about the story of Matt Hardy?s turn, but his delivery was excellent.
99. Kota Ibushi Vs. Koji Kanemoto (May 30) - NJPW: Circuit 2009 Best of the Super Juniors 16
So I guess Ibushi and Kanemoto decided to do everything you?d normally do in a thirty-minute match in just fifteen and see how that worked instead. How did it work? It created one of the best New Japan main events of the year, going at a breakneck pace that packed not just moves, but moments. The two trading count-out attempts, Kanemoto countering Ibushi?s double Moonsault attempt before going for his own, and even Ibushi simply being unable to escape the Ankle Lock at the end were all concise and earned in seconds. This was the antithesis of last year?s lauded Kondo Vs. Marufuji in AJPW, going as quickly to tell stories as possible and being all the more impressive for it.
98. Nigel McGuinness Vs. KENTA (March 21) ? ROH: Seventh Anniversary Show
They had two major options: pretend McGuinness wasn?t hurt and try to wrestle a match without letting on he had two serious arm injuries, or build a story around McGuinness?s limitations. I think they made the right choice, but it meant the recklessly stiff KENTA battering McGuinness?s injured biceps for the better part of twenty minutes. McGuinness gets points for having taken it. They built a good story out of McGuinness trying to inflict the same pain on KENTA, attacking his arms not to take offense away from him, but to give him the same disability. One could imagine McGuinness?s increased arm work came in part from all the fears he had for what opponents would do to him (suggested again in the Lynn title defense). Using headbutts for his standard strike was inspired. Around the frame of arm work, they made a good match of KENTA?s standard offense, clever counters like the Go 2 Sleep out of McGuinness corner headstand, and McGuinness gradually doing anything he could think of, including a great version of the G2S himself. The London Dungeon variation at the end looked truly grueling.
97. Bryan Danielson Vs. Tyler Black Vs. Adam Polak Vs. Absolute Andy (March wXw: 16 Carat Tournament 2009 Night 3
Four-ways where two bad guys and two good guys essentially act as tag teams are usually lame, but this worked on a zany level. Black and Andy had no particular personalities, so naturally they chased the heels; meanwhile Polak was the inexplicable little buddy to champion Danielson, something unnecessary and great. He posed and pointed to Danielson for approval and went for tags whenever asked, while the champ cheered him from the apron. I was sad to see him eliminated first. After that we got to watch Danielson abuse Black, and unsurprisingly he?s good at that. Andy made the hot entry and nearly eliminated Danielson, only to be distracted by a toilet paper shower from some heels and was himself eliminated. That returned us to Danielson abusing Black, Black mounted a familiar comeback and did everything he could, while Danielson relied on strikes and a Sleeperhold, keeping to his heel minimalism. Danielson made basic tactics, like getting his foot on the ropes to escape a surefire pinfall, work in a modern setting. I wish more people could. Black survived too many sleepers, though, and eventually Danielson had to use his Elbow Barrage and Triangle Choke to eliminate his final challenger.
96. Kenta Kobashi & Yoshihiro Takayama Vs. Keiji Mutoj & Akira Taue (September 27) - Pro Wrestling NOAH: Great Voyage 2009 in Tokyo
Akira Taue should not be wrestling at this stage in his life, but the Hurricanrana he took from Kobashi was amazing. Sometimes over-the-hill wrestlers whose execution is shot can make a splash with one or two well-planned spots. Terry Funk lengthened his career considerably by exploiting that idea. Here you got a better match because of it, and because the other three men involved had the gravitas to make big moves mean a lot even if they weren?t executed crisply. Mutoh in particular sone out there, with the NOAH crowd adoring him despite him being an outsider, and his exchanges with Kobashi teasing their famous offense so wisely. Even on the apron, Mutoh injected personality in his rally cries to Taue, acting like the ring general that more Japanese vets should. With Taue in the supporting offensive role and Takayama playing the jerk (a particularly neat moment where he fought with the outsider referee over how he was allowed to cover an opponent) plugged everything together into one of the more memorable NOAH tags of the year.
95. Alex Shelley Vs. Chris Sabin (January 11) ? TNA: Genesis
The story may have been too subtle for some. But if you watch from early on you can see Shelley press Sabin instead of settling for Mexican Stand-Offs when he could have got them for a rest, and between that, the slap mid-match, and look on his face after the Somersault Legdrop on the ropes, Shelley was a distinctly darker player than his partner. He was frustrated and scheming from the outset. The barrage of finishers at the end may also have put some people off, but they were a fantastic array of potential endings, and they setup Shelley?s ploy very well. Sabin has come a long way as a singles wrestler in the last three years, and he carried his end of the bargain every bit as smoothly as Shelley at his very best. If anything these two were too good, able to do too much and execute it too well while not accentuating Shelley?s dark streak. But that wasn?t a flaw ? it only hurt it for some audiences. As it was, it was the best X-Division Title match since Samoa Joe and A.J. Styles left for bigger things.
94. John Cena, Ricky Steamboat, CM Punk, Rey Mysterio & Jeff Hardy Vs. Edge, Big Show, Chris Jericho, Kane & Matt Hardy (April 6) ? WWE: Raw
What made this stand above all the other random tag matches WWE throws on television? Steamboat?s participation was one obvious element, doing all the things that had been shocking the previous night at Wrestlemania, with all their luster and specialness here. Matt and Jeff Hardy had great interactions, like Matt falling down, seeing his brother tag in, and scooting back as fast as he could to tag out without ever losing eye contact. Mysterio, Edge and Jericho were able to pop in whenever necessary, adding even more impressive offense or picking the bones of someone weakened by what others set up. Punk and Kane used their reliable interactions to add filler in-between the hotter material. Even Big Show registering the pain from Steamboat?s chops was cool. And it all tied together with Edge and Jericho?s underhandedness not being enough, and two of the greatest flyers of two generations putting them down for the finish.
93. Kota Ibushi & Kenny Omega Vs. Danshoku Dino & ?Yoshihiko? (May 4) ? DDT in Tokyo
What?s better than a wrestling blow-up doll dressed as the Great Muta? It getting destroyed only to come back later in the match as the Undertaker. Ibushi & Omega took it so seriously, from Ibushi?s long stare into its eyes during the handshake on. Dino has used the prop a few times but never with this level of amusement. For his part, Omega seemed to be trying to have the match of his life against the doll, including taking intricate bumps and reversals from it just to see if he could do them, and cribbing a full ludicrous combo from Street Fighter 2?s Zangief for a nearfall. From start to finish, this was easily one of the funniest matches of the year.
92. Kevin Steen, El Generico & Bobby Dempsey Vs. Davey Richards, Eddie Edwards & Chris Hero (March 13) ? ROH: Stylin? and Profilin?
Can you make a great match be all about someone who isn?t ready to have a great match? This is evidence for the case. Make no mistake: Dempsey must improve far beyond this to last in quality wrestling. But for this match his awkwardness only helped the sympathy case, and accentuate why he needed Steen & Generico in his corner. When he stood up for himself, even if it meant taking a worse beating, it worked much in the way it worked for Pelle Primeau at his breakout two years ago. Primeau improved, until his tragic injury. Dempsey should look to stay healthy, but follow in Primeau footsteps. But for the actual match, Richards hustled and Steen & Generico carried most of the workload. Hero handed Dempsey his two big moments, doing everything for him save grimacing and bleeding. And really, it wasn?t entirely about Big Bobby; Steen?s leg was a story, and if anybody shone, it was Richards or Hero. For one night, Dempsey lived in a tailor made role.
91. Shingo Takagi Vs. YAMATO (January 23) ? No Rope Match broadcast on Dragon Gate Infinity 118
When we hear about No Rope matches in America, we often expect the next words to be ?Barbed Wire.? But here Shingo and YAMATO accentuated falls from the apron as the hazard, making it a much safer match than something with gimmicked ropes, and adding another realm of offense that rose naturally from their brawling and Shingo?s power. YAMATO?s big spill into the first three rows of chairs is one of my favorite visuals of the year. From crowd brawling to YAMATO?s constant hints at how difficult this was to Shingo?s big power comebacks, both showed how far they?ve come in the last two years. The rampant interference in big Dragon Gate matches hurts many of them, but was held back and framed well here. The only major interference was Real Hazard striking Shingo as he was about to set up a Powerbomb off the apron, but everything leading up to that made the interference necessary. The whole series before that strike was exceptional, with YAMATO trying to roll a few feet away after the second Last Chancery knowing he couldn?t kick out, and then catching Shingo in a Triangle Choke but only using it as a breather, lying on his back as his legs did the work. And that the interlopers were neutralized a moment later, and that YAMATO won with a slick (and desperate) final Sleeper Hold counter moments later, sealed up a fine match.
90. Jerry Lynn Vs. Colt Cabana (April 25) ? ROH: The Homecoming 2
This was actually a brilliant match. Ever since his recent run began in ROH, Lynn has showed his age. He?s in phenomenal condition for that age, but it?s still much older than most of his competition. In his first match against Danielson, Lynn got noticeably more sloppy as time progressed. Even in sprints, Lynn lags behind after ten minutes, clearly not able to keep up. Here, Lynn and Cabana actually worked that into the story. Cabana was goofing around but kept turning things into mat wrestling. The emphasis on Headlocks allowed him to keep the match in motion, forcing Lynn to adjust and wear himself out. Lynn proudly played his own head games and tried to keep up, but within fifteen minutes it was apparent that Cabana had more wind and could keep this up longer than the veteran. And despite Lynn?s limitation, Cabana kept the offense safe and crisp, not sacrificing quality in the ways that have hurt a lot of Lynn?s other big matches. Like a lot of matches with that sort of story, Lynn tried to retaliate with big offense like the DDT on the apron, which would hopefully knock out or at least shake up Cabana. But that wasn?t enough, because Cabana also had the size and strength advantage, and was able to turn things back into his favor. What is normally an excuse to shovel out big offense became part of a neat story as Lynn shocked Cabana by refusing to tap to the Billy Goat?s Curse and kicking out of the Colt 45. He even tried the Pepsi Plunge, borrowing from CM Punk, but Lynn still kicked out ? he could be exhausted and out-wrestled, but Lynn wouldn?t give. Lynn?s final rally could have been more climactic, but this was a damned good match.
89. Mike Quackenbush, Jigsaw, Soldier Ant & Fire Ant Vs. Amasis, Hallowicked, Gran Akuma & Icarus (taped July 25, aired September 4) ? Dragon Gate USA: Enter the Dragon/Open the Historic Gate
I guess since they were on pay per view it made sense that they?d put on their best possible performance, but it?s still funny that one of the best Chikara Atomicos matches happened outside of Chikara. Quackenbush is unparalleled, but Jigsaw was on his A-game with fast movements, Hallowicked hustled and Akuma was a superb bully. Where the Ants? wacky offense usually slows things down to the point of hurting pacing, here their roles were structured well, leaving them simply amusing. Amasis?s occasional sloppiness also could have detracted, but instead he was totally hilarious, from the cocky dancing heel to the whipping boy of his team. They got everybody in and out to keep the crests and valleys of their sprint going and it only got hotter as it went on. Before the DGUSA PPV I joked that Chikara Vs. Dragon Gate made little sense since Dragon Gate had such a better upper-tier roster; funny, then, that the Chikara guys put on a better match than almost anything on DGUSA?s debut show.
88. Christian Vs. William Regal (September 13) ? WWE: Breaking Point
Crowd reaction is not everything. Plenty of good matches have happened in front of crowds that didn?t know what was going on. The famous Malenko Vs. Guerrero ECW match happened in front of a crowd that sat on its hands for more than two thirds of it. But winning over a crowd can be a sign of great wrestlers. The PPV audience clearly didn?t know about Christian and Regal?s ECW feud or their styles, yet the two drew them in by the middle of the match with explosive pacing, killer Suplexes and Christian?s flying. Christian is not a crisp flyer but made it work with timing, and Regal followed with just enough counters to give the audience room to cheer. They even drew in the ?boo? Vs. ?yay? strike sequence briefly. And before winning the crowd over they were building a damn solid match from the first minute with little hesitations and facial expressions that registered much more serious consideration on the part of the wrestlers than was seen in any of the higher profile matches on this show. They built that up and into Regal?s ground attack, Christian finding agile escapes rather than pure power. Regal retaliated with brutal strikes and heavy Suplexes, coming at him from all angles for everything like the Regal Plex counter to pinning him by sitting on his shoulders when he just happened to be in that position. When Christian began flying a lot, it made sense. Even the ending was smart ? a subtle reference to Summerslam where Christian had cleverly scouted how Regal took off his robe, this time scouting how he moved when coming in for the Knee Trembler.
87. Alex Shelley & Chris Sabin Vs. Prince Devitt & Ryusuke Taguchi (July 5) ? NJPW: Circuit 2009 New Japan Soul
The best of the Guns? New Japan tour, where Shelley brought the most attitude and Sabin brought the most of his showmanship. Sure, there were pretty double team moves and things broke down into several slick sprints, but this stepped above the rest by a little more comfort in the TNA boys? characters, and an emphasis on Prince Devitt. Taguchi is unreliable, and keeping him in the secondary role kept things smoother (though he still managed to almost kill both his opponents). It?s a shame they couldn?t keep this spirit together for their big re-match.
86. Mike Quackenbush & Jigsaw Vs. Cheech & Cloudy (February 21) ? Chikara Pro: Motivation Means Opportunity
All the energy of the best Incoherence tags with the added fluidity of Quackensaw flying and mat work. Cheech & Cloudy worked as one, introducing their own phenomenal combos and keeping up with the pace necessary for the best kind of Quackenbush tag. And man, is it nice to see Jigsaw under a mask again. He?s one of the few people who is more expressive with his face covered, knowing how to make the most of holds and falls with the suggestions of a mask.
85. Hirooki Gotoh Vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (March 15) ? NJPW: New Japan Cup 2
Once again the finals of New Japan?s Cup tournament delivers on of their top matches of the year. Two punches have not been so cool in Japanese wrestling years as Gotoh jacking Nakamura, getting chastised by the ref, only for Nakamura to push the ref out of the way and deck Gotoh. From Nakamura trying to ground Gotoh in the beginning to Gotoh catching him in mid-flying armbar takedown to drop him on his head, these guys captured the intensity of the tournament while accenting their exhaustion, equally in their body language and in how they ebbed and flowed on offense.
84. Shingo Takagi & YAMATO Vs. Masaaki Mochizuki & Don Fuji (November 23) Dragon Gate: The Gate of Destiny 2009
The questionable factor in this match was Don Fuji, but he came in clearly caring, hustling with Shingo and playing juvenile one-upsmanship with YAMATO. With Fuji in motion, Mochizuki could play with the no-nonsense opportunist and striker that worked out well in his tags with Nakajima. By far the best moments were those leading to the draw finish against Shingo, again echoing Mochizuki?s time tagging with Nakajima, this time with Mochizuki being almost as good as the Kensuke Office prodigy at intense offensive trades with the former body builder. While the final five minutes were the hottest, these guys ripped into each other throughout the match with the kind of sincerity and abandon that would revitalize WWE?s tag division, if only that company cared.
83. Bryan Danielson Vs. Tyler Black (aired April 25) ? ROH
Danielson Vs. Black I, II and III all made the Riren 100 last year. Shockingly, Danielson Vs. Black IV made it on this year. It certainly had the best opening of an ROH TV match, mixing Danielson?s appreciation of crowd support, their crisp technical wrestling and escapes from offense the two had established in previous TV main events. That carried over to a more methodical match than the previous three, but carried with sound character and some excellent new additions, like Black modifying the Aries head-kick setup for his own low kick, and Danielson preparing for the Pele with a submission. While the Turnbuckle Powerbomb was much more dramatic in their third match, it was a superb choice as the closer, allowing the two to collapse from damage and exhaustion before the TV time limit expired. Though their later HDNet matches were more popular (especially the one where Black finally upset the veteran), this was the one with the most spirit. Their later matches imitated this one, trying to tell a story that was really best told the first (or fourth) time.
82. Jeff Hardy Vs. John Morrison (aired July 31) ? WWE: Smackdown
John Morrison?s hot streak rolled on. He and Hardy played off two things for two crowds: Morrison?s push and recent defeats over Punk for the kayfabe element, and the rumor that Hardy would quit soon for the ?smart? crowd. Everything about the match, from Morrison getting the upper hand on the mat to getting more highspots to getting more offense after mid-match, built Morrison as this successor star. Even the kickout of the Swanton played off the potential of a championship change. Where Hardy was clearly battered and took things easier, Morrison bumped harder and flew to compensate for him, and Hardy turned up his expressiveness in that role. Also, damned if Morrison doesn?t have a great Running Kneestrike.
81. Jimmy Jacobs Vs. Tyler Black (June 26) - Steel Cage Match from ROH: Violent Tendencies
It was strange to see Jacobs in such an unsophisticated gimmick match. At this point in his career Jacobs has been in so many big gimmick matches and made so many of them special that you?d think he would structure this one better. Yet even the ending was clearly choreographed, with Black knocking Jacobs out with a combo, setting up the table, setting him on it and going to the top of the cage. A big Jacobs match is usually smarter; you?d expect the table to be set up ahead of time, if not for some of the knockout exchange to lay Jacobs out on top of it. While this was far from a bad Cage Match, it was distinctly below Jacobs?s ability to tell a story with a gimmick. The best parts came from athletic exchanges like the Headscissors games appearing multiple times, culminating in the Super Hurricanrana attempt that Black reversed into a Buckle Bomb. The cage was an effective weapon largely in how they varied traditional offense with it, like Black spinning Jacobs into the fence. Its big moment was seeing both men fight and fall to the floor below, beginning to highlight the notion that Jacobs wasn?t the only hardcore guy here, and that Black might be just as determined, but more athletically gifted. They had their feud moments, like the explicitness of dueling spikes, or the subtlety of someone finally countering Jacobs?s Spear ? and that counter being Black stealing his own End Times submission. Jacobs stealing the Basement Superkick in retaliation later was appropriately petty, but still the theft didn?t build to a crescendo. The match belongs somewhere on a top 100, but beneath the likes of Jacobs?s classic against Whitmer from 2007.
80. Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (November 11) - NJPW: Destruction 2009
When Nakamura cares, he is an excellent technical wrestler. Look at the opening minutes and see the small movements he makes in leglocks, trying to get slightly better position to tighten a hold. Ground game is Nakamura's underpraised great strength. Of course, Nakamura's new character is that he's scuzzy and lazy, further accentuating the slacker tendencies he's been criticized for in the past. And yet this is Nakamura at his most charismatic, his jerk who constantly wants his opponents to see him not sweating them, who rushes back inside the ring to make it appear he isn't shaken, and on the best occasions, who has to hustle to prove he is the great wrestler that he wants to be seen as. Tanahashi has none of that. Charisma is natural to him now, as it athleticism, such that just by suddenly sprinting to the ropes he lights up the crowd and seems like one of the best wrestlers in the world. The match erased any fears that Tanahashi came back too soon from injury, and reignited everything good about a Nakamura/Tanahashi feud. Tanahashi didn't oversell the injury that put him out and forced Nakamura to the mat, grabbing holds and sticking to them just as long, epitomized when they were at the ropes and rather than get the relief of release, Tanahashi cranked on his own Ankle Pick. The ending was inspired, with Tanahashi getting the crowd to a fever pitch, then missing that crucial Frog Splash and setting up a believable knockout combo for Nakamura that reinforced how dangerous his final Kneestrike is.
79. Davey Richards & Eddie Edwards Vs. Bryan Danielson & Tyler Black (taped April 1 ? appearing on ROH: Double Feature 2
Like Morishima Vs. Danielson 1 from 2007, this is the match ROH fans will write me angry e-mails about, chastising me for it not being near the top of the list. I?m not sorry to you fans. I?m sorry for myself because I was incredibly eager to see it. The live reports were phenomenal. The DVD is totally worth purchase, putting together the best matches from two nights of shows. Yet even though this is the best match from that weekend, it?s far from the best tag match of the year. The first twenty minutes, and arguably the first half hour, are plodding and clearly paced like four guys who are going to a draw. The Wolves bailing with their belts only to be dragged back to the ring was pro wrestling treacle. They used the same offense they always do without much clever variation or novel placement. Even Black crawling back into the ring at 19 echoed Take No Prisoners 2008, similar yet distinctly less inspired this time. The 45-minute duration accentuated the Wolves? worst weakness: their penchant for masturbatory mat work that isn?t novel and doesn?t convince fans the victim will tap, and so merely fills time instead of building drama. It?s a trait that hurt a lot of their big matches in 2009. It did not cripple this match, as the match is not bad. They?re all quite good wrestlers and unsurprisingly it?s still a solid match even in the slow periods, but solid matches do not top this list. A lot of solid matches do not make the list at all ? this is for great matches. It?s the final period that put this into great match territory. Edwards?s Top Rope Knee Drop onto Danielson in the Cattle Mutilation was inspired, attacking the previously weakened limb in the middle of such a dramatic moment. Black finally turned it up after that with high energy and his best spots, like the totally believable Buckle Bomb & Superkick combo. They wrestled a slow match from there, a punctuated equilibrium of near-knockouts that finally earned the pace. It?s damn good. It?s simply not the best. I can?t in good conscience put this above the Wolves? KENTA/Strong defense from Violent Tendencies, let alone the best tags in NOAH, PWG and Chikara.
78. Takashi Sugiura & Atsushi Aoki Vs. Hirooki Gotoh & Kazuchika Odaka (May 5) - NJPW: Divergence
I can't be the only one who was surprised by Odaka and Aoki. They were in there with Sugiura, a veteran bad ass, and Gotoh, the future of New Japan, and the kids were the MVP's. Where the established stars smoldered and took pot shots, these two went after each other like defending their companies mattered. And it wasn't hardcore brawling, but passion injected into takedowns and headlocks, moving with such aggression and character. By the time Aoki started spitting and showboating they'd established more tangible rivalry than some entire feuds in NOAH and New Japan. Gotoh and Sugiura were good generals, but they were in it to get the opposite veteran in more traditional roles. Odaka and Aoki sold the idea that each was the only opening they had to get a win for his company, and then Sugiura opened it up, selling nearfalls for Odaka that seemed impossible and suddenly meant he graduated from what he thought was possible, building a career-maker for the young lion. Shorter, less dangerous and a heck of a lot better than most NJPW main events this year - including the main of the show it was on (which had its own moments of greatness).
77. Edge Vs. John Morrison (aired June 19) ? WWE: Smackdown
Morrison ruled post-Draft television. While the Benjamin, Jericho and Punk matches from that period are not on this list, if you look them up, you?ll be in good hands. This was simply the best of that stand-out series, following the classic formula of the upstart lasting longer and longer than you?d expect, both guys getting bigger offense until you questioned who would pull this one out. If WWE were a sounder storytelling ground, this match would made Morrison a star, despite him actually losing cleanly. Instead the two had to settle for stealing the show from an episode billed as having two main events, and this match being neither of them.
76. Katsuhiko Nakajima Vs. Roderick Strong (April 3) ? ROH: Supercard of Honor 4
In this period Strong had several ROH matches that were short, action-packed and unrelenting in pace. A lot of matches are praised by commentators as being unrelenting, but these two guys didn?t let up for more than ten seconds. They slumped and breathed heavily like there was a serious effort, but they kept getting up and racing for another strike or throw to stay in control and bring the other guy down. By the time they graduated to Strong?s big combo offense it was clear this could not go long and both guys were trying to knock the other out. Nakajima typically wrestles an exhibition style that?s above the ability of most top-flight guys, yet he couldn?t rest on his exhibitions and got visibly more concerned about his ability to keep Strong down, or keep him from countering. And the counters! They even thought to have quick escapes from the Stronghold and Ankle Lock when they easily could have sat in the holds to rest. They didn?t, and that?s a testament to why this wasn?t a truly unrelenting match. They never stopped working.
75. Christian Vs. Jack Swagger (aired February 24) - WWE: ECW on Sci Fi
Tommy Dreamer, Matt Hardy and Fit Finlay played up some of Swagger's natural power, but it was never utilized to this degree. Cage gave Swagger many places to toss him around or place added lift in otherwise technical situations, and Swagger seized other opportunities like a simple Vader-style batting Clothesline to add that power game. Cage followed it up by flying for him, both taking to the air in offense and reeling as a result of punishment. When he was on the mat, even outside of a hold, Cage would find a position and work it as though he was more hurt than normal, best exemplified when he rolled halfway out of the ring and dangled form the bottom rope leading to the last commercial break.
74. Yuji Nagata Vs. Hirooki Gotoh (February 15) - NJPW: Circuit 2009 New Japanism
Gotoh?s best match since the Destruction 2007 main event against Tanahashi. Nagata made the match seem desperate immediately by showing weakness and the frequent trips to the outside, setting up more passionate exchanges when the two actually stuck together. He gave Gotoh enough counters and made him seem like more of a force than Giant Bernard ever did, even when he got the upperhand. That his first true dominant period came as a result of kicking Gotoh?s knee, and that the kick was a reference to a prior injury in one of their matches, only increased Gotoh?s profile even as he went down. Nagata was in top form for framing and timing his kicks, but Gotoh followed suit with his strikes, especially the Clotheslines, and his attempts at top turnbuckle offense. Where many big-time Japanese matches have that finishing stretch of unbelievable kickouts, they transitioned into it seamlessly, working better at all the things Tanahashi and Nakamura would try to do with twice the time higher on the card.
73. Kurt Angle Vs. AJ Styles (aired October 15) - TNA: Impact
I wish TNA?s booking was as competent as the opening minute of this match. Excellent amateur/technical hybrid wrestling that lasted only as long as they had interesting holds to try, and then Angle immediately snapped into an Arm Wringer. Just as quickly, Styles ended Angle?s dominant period with a picture perfect Dropkick. You knew you were in good hands from thereon. Beyond a technically sound match, they seeded their strengths superbly, first defining Angle as the superior technician, then drawing that into a power game for his Suplexes. You can complain about Angle hitting the first successful dive, but his character was looking for it. Especially by mid-match, he lived on big reversals, and when he paused to recover after earning those breathers, he?d always pose and try to convince himself that he was better. That first dive was the first instance of him trying to show Styles up. Even near the end when he caught Styles on the top rope with his classic counter throw, Angle had to pose as he went for the cover, trying to prove something. Styles has spent a lot of his career as the flying underdog, and between that experience and his precision, he was obviously perfect for it. The result was a match that the following PPV simply couldn?t top.
72. Jun Akiyama, Minoru Suzuki & Takashi Sugiura Vs. Takeshi Rikio, KENTA & Mohammed Yone (September 27) - Pro Wrestling NOAH: Great Voyage 2009 in Tokyo
The Misawa tribute shows didn?t have to do anything as complicated or groundbreaking as this. Even internationally, people expected feel-good shows under the great green banner. Instead Akiyama and Suzuki walked down with obvious conflict, disliking each other and reaffirming years of tension between their characters that traces back to Misawa?s heyday. Suzuki?s reluctance to even tag in the NOAH vet, instead favoring Sugiura, was an interesting touch. On the opposite team, Yone was clearly hustling harder than usual even in the execution of moves ? I can?t remember the last time he got that much distance on a Leg Drop. Rikio stepped up as the sole heavyweight force of his team, getting into Akiyama and Suzuki?s faces, which made it all the more surprising when it was Sugiura who dropped him. While the one Spear could have been a nice spot, by the second you knew something was up. So for all the aggression between the heavyweights and KENTA?s slick timing, Sugiura Vs. Rikio emerged as the story of the match, with Sugiura being able to outmaneuver the big guy and throw the same kinds of offense, as well as his Ankle Lock. While Akiyama and Suzuki couldn?t co-exist to score an individual pinfall, they could isolate the juniors from the team, setting up a classic tag submission spot where the audience should expect a miraculous save. But it didn?t come. And when it didn?t? Sugiura got the second biggest victory of his NOAH career and a massive upset. The surprise of going against the miraculous save convention cemented Sugiura, who already performed like a total equal to the former GHC Heavyweight Champ. In a way, this helped remind people that Sugiura was viable for the belt he?d win later that year.
71. Mike Quackenbush, Jigsaw, Helios & Lince Dorado Vs. Hallowicked, Frightmare, Hallowicked (Cheech) & Frightmare (Cloudy) (May 24) ? Atomico Match from Chikara Pro: Anniversario Yang
If you?re confused by the second team, you should be. In story Cheech and Cloudy dressed like their partners to throw the enemy team off balance, though the orange and green outfits were different enough that it was never too confusing to the audience. They wrestled like a unified force, with the Frightmares as more excitable, but all four ready to take opportunities. Unlike FIST?s heel tactics, this Incoherence squad used traditional offense with fact pacing, like ?Fake? Hallowicked?s killer Big Boot to Quackenbush on the apron, which allowed it to maintain its sprint style. As it was they had eight of the best sprinters in the company, and the last-minute addition of Quackenbush to the Technicos Team was a natural improvement. He took the right bumps and helped direct traffic like the veteran many Chikara guys still need, but got out of the way when Dorado or Helios was ready to shine. The result was perhaps the best Atomico sprint Chikara?s ever had. No one man dominated, instead blending into a series of exchanges between the flashy three Technicos and their veteran teacher, and the unified force Incoherence constantly watching each other?s backs. Dorado had one of his better nights, looking just as crisp as Helios, sealing up all-around shining performances going into the ending. There was no overkill, it didn?t go too long, and everybody was on.
70. Chris Jericho Vs. Rey Mysterio (May 17) ? WWE: Judgment Day
The series of teased 619 and Boston Crabs was easily one of the best sequences in WWE of the year. While the commentators told a story of Jericho scouting Mysterio, Mysterio was just as excited and prepared for his old opponent. They speed and stride that lamentably few Mysterio matches get to, while also elevating Mysterio as the aggressor. Like the Elimination Chamber match earlier in the year, Mysterio showed he can be much more than an underdog, going evenly with Jericho through preparedness and high risk offense.
69. Bryan Danielson Vs. Brian Kendrick (August 2 ? PWG: The Speed of Sound
This was not the match everyone expected. You think of Spanky as funny, exuberant, or at least as a flyer. Here he played a slightly vicious and petty striker. The knees to Danielson?s arm and the kicks at his head were a big shock and defined the match. Throughout he was just as creative as Danielson, deliberately kicking away from where Danielson was setting him up and going for sporadic offense like a vulture. For a semi-main event it flew by, with Danielson repeatedly fighting back like he does so well and Kendrick experimenting in his role as an aggressor, something he almost never got to try in WWE. It worked down to a bizarre level where imperfections made the match more interesting. Take the series of roll-ups near the end. Ever since Jerry Lynn popularized these in the U.S., wrestlers have aimed for perfection in their execution. Here Kendrick popped up and struggled with his right arm to hook the free leg before sitting down, a decided imperfection. Even if it was the result of real fatigue, it added a hint of desperation to his petty character. It worked all the way to the end, with the returning jerk scoring a Schoolboy after a low blow. The ending was a low note even though it was sensible and held the match back from being a classic, but still demands praise for being a successful experiment for Kendrick.
68. Dick Togo Vs. Billy Ken Kid (May 20) ? Osaka Pro: Osaka Pro 10th Anniversary Show
I was in a bad mood after the October Hell in a Cell PPV from WWE. What a waste of a gimmick match, with the non-cage bouts having cooler spots and better stories, and the final match featuring the cleverness of locking a guy outside the cage constantly so that the two teams almost never actually fought in what was supposed to be their blow-off. I decided to catch up on miscellaneous puro afterwards, and that included some Osaka Pro. This was the match that turned my mood around. Togo can be the man when he wants, and he was defining the match early on, grinding him with the Headlock and trying so much harder to escape Kid?s Headscissors, then giving the champion all the offense he wanted before going for patented Senton-based offense that he still does better than almost anyone. That Kid turned the match around by hitting his own version of a Senton (this one flipping over the ring post to the outside) was pure class. It was that sort of back-and-forth that WWE?s entire show had lacked in favor of going for single or double turns that led to dramatic endings. There was more struggle here than in WWE?s Cell matches. Naturally Japanese indies go differently, though, and once they hit the finishing series Togo went on fire with Pedigree attempts, a killer Powerbomb reversal, and totally earning his non-title victory without punking out Kid. I would not mind watching him as champion if he could put on twenty-minute defenses like this.
67. Chris Jericho Vs. Rey Mysterio (June 7) ? No Holds Barred Match from WWE: Extreme Rules
Picking up considerably more counters than the standard WWE match, the two guys raised the bar for how studied two WWE opponents can be. If Mysterio hesitated rebounding from the ropes, Jericho would move for the counter. But Mysterio threw himself into the match with such vigor that Jericho couldn?t just bully him or rely on scientific counters; see the moment where Jericho caught him with a Shoulderblock coming off the ropes, but Mysterio hit him with such speed that Jericho toppled as well. Once again Jericho was prepared for the 619, but once again they found novel ways to frame it, like the 619 to the back of his head, and Jericho?s desperation theft of the mask. And just like that, both guys were ready for any standard offense, and ready to change things up to make them work, like when Mysterio played opossum while Jericho went for the chair, then went all Sabu on him.
66. Chris Sabin Vs. Tyler Black (March 6) - wXw: 16 Carat Gold Tournament 2009 Night 1
Question: what?s easier heat than Bryan Danielson playing Abdominal Stretches to a crowd that thinks he?s overrated? Answer: Chris Sabin being happy he works for TNA. I thought Austin Aries had killed anti-TNA humor of using The Stroke on indies, but no, Sabin made it great again. What separated him from most heel acts on this show and around the indies was a sense of time, never letting any one thing go on too long and become cloyingly stale. Nor did Sabin?s TNAntics get in the way of the athletic stuff, as he was quick to bring cool holds and pin attempts around them, and mostly it bottled Black up, building perfect comeback opportunities for him. Black excels at the underdog game, and with a superb sprint partner, exploded out of it in golden combos and big offense. And when they graduated to killer offense, Sabin was ready with well-paced counters, comeuppance and his own stuff. We knew they could work together from their tag encounters in PWG and ROH, but it was still good to see them go at it without tag partners around.
65. Jerry Lynn Vs. Roderick Strong (April 24) ? ROH: A Cut Above
They had a solid opening and moved along well, but it was the cut that made this match. Any doubts of Roderick Strong?s passion disappeared when he smashed into the guardrail and came up immediately with his face covered in blood. A wrestler whose facial expressions have been the weakest point of performance for years looked truly desperate under the crimson mask, and he staggered around to accentuate just how much the wound took from him. They stumbled into additional drama, too ? why let the match continue if Strong wasn?t going to win? It turns out the answer is that Strong is a tough S.O.B., but until Lynn won they had something. Strong took every bump, including a terrifying Whirlwind DDT off the apron, teasing how hurt he was and trying to rip into Lynn with worse. The desperation enhanced everything he tried to do, like the teased Superplex to the outside and the Back Suplex onto the apron (which he went for immediately, failed, and only caught later to even things up). If the fanbase had been more open-minded to Lynn as champion, putting on this match and outdoing Black Vs. Richards would have begun to turn them around. By virtue of ROH?s DVD model, at least they could see he?d had good matches, even if most came out after he lost the belt.
64. Nigel McGuinness Vs. El Generico (taped January 31, aired April 17) - ROH: Caged Collision
El Generico may be the perfect opponent for McGuinness, or at least he was before he departed on injury. As a masked wrestler Generico was forced to learn other means of expression, from gasping in pain to kicking his legs when in arm holds, doing all the activity to get over holds while McGuinness remained stoic or slow and sadistic. Using the old Ricky Steamboat philosophy of always fighting back, he built hope spots in what could have been a one-sided beating, and his flashier and catchier offense was the perfect counterpoint to McGuinness's. They made this match a little more dramatic by having McGuinness come out of the gate with big offense, showing how he?d come to fear Generico?s resilience, and instantly attacking the shoulder made the eventual submission more tolerable, where it defeated the theme of the unyielding underdog in some other McGuinness title defenses.
63. Davey Richards Vs. Claudio Castagnoli (September 1 ? ROH: Final Countdown Tour Dayton
It took a few viewings to grasp how great this match was. On the first viewing things like their early mat work, Richards?s dive fake out landing in perfect position to stare at Castagnoli, and the final reversal were all startlingly slick. These guys know what they?re doing and are amazing at it. But it was only when rewatching it that I could see how their slickness came together. Richards loves to attack the arm, but Castagnoli?s power and striking game rely on the arms, particularly in those effortless brute throws. Richards took them like no one else in ROH, making Castagnoli look like Hercules. Once Richards got some serious offense on the arm, Castagnoli kept it present, even selling the bicep after a Basement Chest Kick that would have grazed his arm. It helped that both had novel holds to make the slower portions more interesting, but even on my fourth viewing it was Castagnoli?s throws and Richards?s explosiveness that were the highlights. Like in his 2007 PPV match against Matt Sydal (now Evan Bourne in WWE), Castagnoli bumped like a madman, taking falls every bit as fluidly as his much shorter opponent, giving Richards even more credibility whenever he fought back. I?d never seen them go at it in singles, but now I hope they do it much more often.
62. Masato Yoshino, BxB Hulk & PAC Vs. Dragon Kid, Taku Iwasa & Akira Tozawa (July 19) ? Dragon Gate: KOBE Festival 2009
One mark of a great Dragon Gate tag is when it ends and I?m shocked to find half an hour went by. Like many top-level trios tags, they had good ideas for the beginning as well as the end, the best being Hulk playing mindgames with Tozawa over the ?fireball? attack, leading to the more experienced main eventer picking on the opposing team?s weakest link. Tozawa still proved himself with some flashy offense, while Iwasa was a brighter star, with great innovations nearly every time he was on sustained offense (the Gory Bomb on the apron was particularly crazy). Yoshino and Kid served as the maestros, bringing gravitas and ensuring whenever things got fast-paced that they would be well-structured. Things naturally grew more complex until the reliably entertaining series of nearfalls, but setting PAC up for another big title pinfall was probably the wisest way to end it. PAC, like Iwasa, showed he absolutely belonged, with the two of them carrying as much athleticism as Yoshino and Kid. All that raw ability with a little structure from two vets provided a better over-all trios tag than many with more seasoned players in the company this year.
61. Bryan Danielson Vs. Naruki Doi (taped September 6) ? Dragon Gate USA: Untouchable/Open the Untouchable Gate
Bryan Danielson has a unique achievement this year. He has at least one match on the Riren 100 from ROH, PWG, Chikara, NOAH, wXw, and now DGUSA. Nothing close has happened in the three years I?ve done this list, and I can?t think of another guy in my life who has done the same. And here Danielson visited DGUSA for just one night before leaving forever for WWE, and he left behind pretty handily the best singles match of Naruki Doi?s career. Where for the last year Doi has opened matches with useless and even detrimental mat holds, Danielson feverishly tore into the champion?s arm. Once they entered sprint territory Doi was totally at home, though his wasn?t a purely spotty performance, knowing how to flail with his body and go down like a ton of bricks to add importance to moments like Danielson?s big running chest kick. It came off as the big battle Doi has wanted all his Dragon Gate title defenses to be, only now he had the technical genius that could make it possible.
60. Davey Richards & Eddie Edwards Vs. Nick & Matt Jackson (aired November 23) ? ROH on HDNet
The Bucks? crazy offense made for great hopeful nearfalls near the end, timed to perfection as potential upsets. Their speed alone pulled the Wolves into a different sort of match, having to both be in the ring to watch each other?s backs and hit their own tandem offense. From there it became the tag equivalent of strong men against flyers, even if the Wolves were more strikers than power guys. Even before the Bucks could test them and were being beaten down, the little guys excelled, with Matt Jackson having two particularly painful-looking ?kickbag? moments, and the Wolves setting them up for fakeouts into devastating strikes. It only got better from there.
59. Alex Shelley & Chris Sabin Vs. Nick & Matt Jackson (April 11) - PWG: Ninety-Nine
Shelley & Sabin didn?t necessarily hold back and rely on boring tactics, but they were the lower key bullies in this match, hitting what they had to in order to keep up while seeing the Young Bucks for amazing comebacks. Rather than an absolute Armageddon of combos, the Guns built and match that made the Bucks shine as their successors, which was particularly gracious of them as TNA visitors. Even trying to help the Jacksons, there was no question that the Guns were more seasoned and slick, but they put their opponents at their own level, and did it with more than one big pinfall after going toe-to-toe. Their increasing desperation towards the end tied into their tactics, shocked at these upstarts. For their part, the Bucks were as crisp and creative as ever. All it takes is fine structure like this to make them shine, and soon they won?t need a great team to give it to them.
58. Kevin Steen & El Generico Vs. Nick & Matt Jackson (June 12) - ROH: Contention
The Young Bucks have really fun offense. This isn?t a surprise, but they still manage to pull shockers from nowhere, like Nick Jackson?s slick Moonsault through the ropes onto Steen when he had been focusing on Generico. What made this match stand out over the average Bucks tag were their opponents. Steen & Generico are an excellent dynamic team and every year they make the best out of somebody. Generico bumped and sold the Bucks? crazy stuff like few on earth can, from flailing in fear of their ability after one reversed his patented Knucklelock Drag, to contorting his body on every part of a Neck/Backbreaker combo. And because Generico played Gilligan, Steen came in as the killer Skipper, a perfect bully to the smaller opponents who could stomp them to the ground in the middle of chain wrestling, find the right spot to Superkick them out of a combo, and generally play the power guy that lets smaller flyers experiment. Naturally, Steen & Generico are also competent sprinters, but they let the Bucks sore, building to a very plausible upset, especially when they turned the tables and made Steen the potential loser at the end. The Bucks lost no face in the end because, though the tide turned against them quickly, the veterans dumped several world-beating moves to make sure Matt would stay down, and Generico still had to jump on Nick to keep him from making the save.
57. Christopher Daniels Vs. AJ Styles (December 20) ? TNA: Final Resolution
Earlier in the night Taz boasted that Kurt Angle had ?a load of moves? the audience had never seen before. While that was hyperbole, it might have been true for Daniels. He hustled in the Turning Point triple threat match, but one-on-one, he busted out every exotic move he knew, including the fun variation on a Superplex from the ropes instead of turnbuckles. Things like the Lying Crossface and Shining Wizard came across as equal parts novel and desperate as he tried to keep the more gifted athlete down. My highlight was toying with their expired friendship, Daniels begging off in the corner and catching the advantage but going for a hold instead of the standard cheapshot, so that even then Styles would hesitate to outright punch him later. Styles demanding Daniels fight like a man when he pulled the same stunt later was almost as sweet. Whatever made them decide to end with the Super Styles Clash instead of letting Styles win with the normal one, it further helped elevate Daniels, who used that match to validate that he belongs in TNA main events. Whether TNA lets him stick around that scene in 2010 is another question.
56. Shingo Takagi & YAMATO Vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima & Masaaki Mochizuki (aired August 6) ? Dragon Gate Infinity 142
Nakajima and Mochizuki are similar kickers and they learned about each other in their multi-promotional feud, but I wasn?t prepared for them to completely mirror their offense like this. It was amusing to see Nakajima even borrow the running kick to a guy on the apron and set the tone for the team as a cohesive unit. Shingo & YAMATO had no such plan, which was surprising given you?d think they?d have worked more out together, but it worked given that they really were new as a team and had divergent approaches. YAMATO came in very reminiscent to the prick he was as a heel and creating a classic moment goading Mochizuki to kick him harder and harder until Nakajima knocked him out. Meanwhile, Shingo was the star, framing great exchanges with Nakajima, both setting up the kick-based offense and laying in with superior strength. God willing we?ll see a singles match out of these two some day, especially based on the actions at the draw where the two were so carried away that Nakajima had to literally knock Shingo out to stop the fight.
55. Bryan Danielson Vs. Mike Quackenbush (March 20) ? ROH: Steel City Clash
Stop me if you?ve heard this one before: Danielson and Quackenbush had a great match. It?s such a joy to see two guys who know so many holds and can flow between them so effortlessly. Very few technicians are comfortable enough to make the ?free hand? taunt joke these two did, and almost none in the world are good enough to trade holds and momentum as sharply as these two. It is not only variety of holds and counters that make this match worth tracking down, though. The comfort level with their ability allowed things like Quackenbush selling an arm wringer with his entire body, making it look like his arm almost came out of the socket on a perfectly safe maneuver. Not as long or showstopping as their wXw bout last year, this was a shorter match that packed all the tricks and plenty of little touches to make them work.
54. Kaz Hayashi Vs. Super Crazy (September 26) ? AJPW at the Yokohama Bunka Gymnasium
Brilliant to have Super Crazy do the takedowns and mat work only to have Kaz use a Lucha Rana and the Arm Drag to get the advantage early on. This was an unusual blend of Lucha offense and Puro mentality, with Crazy pacing himself to keep the crowd buzzing while Kaz accentuated the smaller things. The way Kaz stretched out in the modified Gory Special, or just how high he flailed when getting lobbed over the guardrail and crashed into chairs, made everything seem more effective. That was part of the secret to making this fifteen-minute title defense feel as big as any of his thirty-minute defenses. Another part was that blend, with Mexican holds and flipping offense that alternated with hard strikes and the Japanese ideal of false finishes. By swapping between kinds of offense they got to the bigger stuff sooner and kept things unpredictable enough to reach what a lot of Japanese matches have to wait a long time to get into. If only more matches could go this way.
53. Shingo Takagi Vs. Tyler Black (March 7) wXw: 16 Carat Tournament 2009 Night 2
Shingo: Technician? I was expecting Black to get thrown around for twenty minutes, not Shingo to headbutt his hamstring and wrench a Stepover Toehold. But you know what? He was actually good at this, and it gave Black the oppressor opponent role he needs for well-timed explosive comebacks. When they did kick into high gear, they were as good as any two sprinters in the world. The exchange that ended in Black face-planting at top speed in a Complete Shot is one of my favorites of the year. Shingo was still a powerhouse and Black still had crazy athleticism, but they managed to bring more grounded story for the early chapters. I?d love to see what they could do in a high-profile re-match.
52. Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs. Masato Tanaka (August 15) ? NJPW: G1 Climax Day 7
Finally Tanahashi wrestled an opponent who was suited to the length of a main event. TAJIRI counted, but because of TV contracts, that match didn?t air until after the entire tournament ended. Giant Bernard (Prince Albert or A-Train in the U.S.) was fun, but they weren?t trying to put their mark on the tournament. Here, Tanahashi and Tanaka were trying. Tanahashi tried to go blow-for-blow more than usual, and to their credit, they made the Zero-1 champ look like the superior striker. Tanahashi had to resort to technical attacks on the leg, hoping to prevent Tanaka?s charging match-ender offense. While the leg gave Tanahashi openings, it was clear Tanaka?s lighter schedule in the tournament gave him more time to prepare for his opponent, with counters ready for offense like the Slingblade and scouting his Flipping Sentons. Appropriately, Tanahashi only began to turn it around in the end when he had a counter ready for the Sliding D, dodging it and going for the leg again, combining counter strategy and his limb attack. That subtle mirroring of strategy flowed into both avoiding the other?s Frogsplash with the same use of the knees, with a beautiful moment of irony when Tanaka hurt his leg doing it. Because the interference preceded the final stretch, it didn?t detract much, especially since these two are capital finishing stretch guys.
51. Jimmy Jacobs Vs. Delirious (March 14) ? No Disqualification Match from ROH: Insanity Unleashed
Bryan Danielson?s was the big ROH departure in 2009, but I will miss Jacobs. He had such a mind for starting hot but not burning himself or the crowd out, allowing him to build amazing hardcore matches. He did that here. Delirious?s energy was perfect to pop the opening with his Senton barrage, before Jacobs bailed and eventually went a cheap hardcore route to get the upperhand. Having scouted things like the Panic Attack knee was a subtle jab at having suspected he?d lose Delirious eventually. Before long they entered that ROH classic of trading potential match-winning waves of offense, but they varied their offense with weapons, huge strikes and knockout moves, keeping things fresh. Jacobs?s martyr-like selling and Delirious?s wildman antics brought additional life between the moves, and their showmanship was apparent in choosing when to make lulls and go for additional weapons, rather than the plodding IWA:MS style from which both emerged.
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