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My New Year's Revolution: The Rewatchening

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Kenta Kobashi/Go Shiozaki vs. Genichiro Tenryu/Jun Akiyama (NOAH, 4/24/05) 

Somebody must have pissed in Tenryu’s Cheerios that morning, because he’s even grumpier than usual. When he wasn’t roughing up the rookie Shiozaki, he was going out of his way to pick fights with Kobashi. He starts off by chucking a table at Kobashi and then throws a water bottle at him when both men were in their respective corners. Throughout the match, Kobashi has a “What the hell is this guy’s problem?” expression on his face. Once Kobashi gets his hands on Tenryu, he sells the machine gun chops in hilarious fashion, even blading his chest to put them over. There’s a great subtle moment after Tenryu breaks up a Kobashi pin on Akiyama. Tenryu and Kobashi start trading chops, but once the referee turns away to check on Akiyama, Tenryu starts throwing punches. Shiozaki shows plenty of spunk throughout, but he’s obviously in way over his head here, so the outcome is never in doubt. But in a match like this, it’s the journey that counts, not the destination. In his role as mentor, Kobashi mainly hangs back and exhorts Shiozaki to keep fighting, only intervening directly to break up a double-team on the outside. My only real complaint is Akiyama’s lack of assertiveness. Unlike the other three wrestlers, who have clearly defined roles and play them to perfection, Akiyama’s part could have been played by just about anybody. He’s never bad, but he’s mostly just kind of there, which is par for the course for him. He was in plenty of all-star dream match tags during this period and didn’t stand out in any of them. It seemed like his role was to eat up time and then take a back seat while the real stars went at it. Watching this match, it’s obvious why Tenryu is a legend and Akiyama never reached that level despite being far more gifted technically and athletically. ****1/2 

John Cena vs. JBL (WWE, 5/22/05) 

This might be the ultimate example of the stars aligning and two wrestlers producing something far beyond their normal capabilities. Cena would eventually become a fine worker, but at this stage of his career, he was terrible at pretty much everything except selling and bleeding. And JBL was always limited and reliant on smoke and mirrors to produce decent matches. Stick the two of them in a match with a gimmick that accentuates both of their strengths and you end up with something shockingly great. The first few minutes are a bit dodgy (some crappy mat wrestling followed by some crappy crowd brawling), but it picks up after JBL tries to strangle Cena with the timekeeper’s belt. I always mark out for heels using the belts of ringside officials as weapons. You know, Cena might actually be the best of all time at selling being strangled. I don’t think anyone coughs and wheezes quite like him. Cena bleeds an absolute gusher after getting hit with a chair, and JBL kicking and stomping a bloody Cena was easily the highlight of the match in my book. I also really liked JBL’s use of Krav Maga tactics like low blows and thumbs to the eye to cut off Cena’s comebacks. The last third or so of this match is Austin/Dude Love-style brawling through props, but I thought it felt far more organic than is typical for that style. I even thought the I Quit stipulation added to the match. It's important to note that Cena never asked JBL to quit. Rather, he did it of his own volition. It got the babyface over as a total badass and the heel over as a total coward when the chips are down, which is the ideal outcome for this kind of match. If Cena had worked more matches like this during his first reign, crowds never would have turned on him. ****1/4 

Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio (WWE, 6/23/05) 

I remember there was a time when some would argue this was as good or better than their Halloween Havoc match. That’s obviously nowhere near the consensus today, but this is still their best WWE match. The opening matwork is solid if rather incongruous with where their feud was at that point. Rey hits a plancha and Michael Cole asks if he can keep it rolling right before going to commercial, so WWE has been doing that crap for even longer than I thought. Shoving Rey off the top turnbuckle to the floor off a rope break was a fantastic transition to Eddie in control. The Eddie beatdown probably could have been a few minutes shorter, but Eddie’s impressive variety of offense along with Rey’s brilliant selling meant that it never dragged. It reminded me of Rey/Ultimo at WW3 in that regard. Mockingly slapping Rey on the ground and then unloading with stiff kicks when he tried throwing kicks from his back was a classic rudo bully move. Rey countering a camel clutch by dumping Eddie out of the ring only for Eddie to roll right back in and drop a Greg Valentine elbow on Rey’s back was another great sequence. All of the 619 teases and cutoffs were really well done. Toward the end of the match, Rey went for a pin after Eddie missed a frog splash. Rey’s overly theatrical “NOOOOO~!” after Eddie kicked out was an unfortunate precursor to the modern shocked face after a kickout, so that’s another terrible WWE trope that goes back even longer than you might think. Regardless, I’d say this is easily the best match in the history of Smackdown. ****1/2 

KENTA vs. SUWA (NOAH, 9/18/05) 

Misawa had thought that the traditional All Japan booking style had become stagnant, so when he formed NOAH, he tried to open things up with more American-style angles. This match is a particularly extreme example. For reasons I’ve never seen explained, SUWA thinks the match is bullshit and wants no part of the proceedings. He brings an AV equipment case with him to the ring and tears up the parchment the figurehead authority figure (in this case, legendary former referee Joe Higuchi) reads from. Once the match begins, he clobbers KENTA with the ring bell and then the case, forcing the ref to call for the DQ. It’s practically impossible to get disqualified in a puro match, which pretty well indicates how far out of bounds SUWA’s behavior was. He celebrates like he managed to pull one over on NOAH, but Higuchi won’t allow him to get away with such blatant disrespect and orders the match to be restarted. I thought it was a neat way for a Japanese authority figure to do something other than deliver the proclamation before title matches without going full WWE. SUWA is all the way down the entrance ramp by this point, but KENTA drags him back to the ringside area. Once the match restarts, SUWA goes out of his way to get into it with Higuchi and KENTA’s second Kikuchi, but he tries to be a bit more subtle with the cheating. He turns away from the referee while strangling KENTA with his wrist tape, and he tries to make it look like an accident when he shoves the ref into the ropes to block a KENTA springboard dropkick. After a while, things settle down and it becomes a more conventional juniors match. I think the idea is that SUWA started wrestling more on the level because he sensed he might actually win. It’s a nice idea, but I didn’t find the action nearly as compelling as the earlier heel clinic. I like KENTA much more when he’s an underdog against heavyweights than when he’s trading highspots with guys his size or smaller. The two of them trying to knock each other out with shoot punches at the end was tremendous, though. I'd probably appreciate the match more if I knew the backstory, but even without that knowledge, SUWA’s heel work is easy enough to appreciate. ****1/2 

Genichiro Tenryu vs. KENTA (NOAH, 10/8/05) 

A fiery young junior who loves to take it to heavyweights vs. a surly veteran who loves to put young punks in their place is a match made in heaven, so you better believe this delivers. There’s an obvious comparison to be made with KENTA/Takayama since both matches are worked in a similar style, are of similar length, and have similar outcomes. As much as I enjoy Takayama’s straightforward assault, I was more entertained by Tenryu’s more varied and chaotic offense, beginning when KENTA tries to jump Tenryu at the opening bell and walks right into a goo punch. In addition to his usual punches, chops, and kicks to the head, Tenryu employs chairs, the timekeeper’s table, and the ring bell hammer. There’s also some surprising subtle psychology. Tenryu temporarily stops throwing punches and chops because his hand hurts from throwing so many, which gives KENTA an opening to make a comeback. With all that said, it’s a bit too one-sided, so I found it slightly less satisfying than the Takayama match. However, Tenryu’s offensive tour de force makes it well worth watching. Tenryu tossing KENTA a water bottle to wash the blood out of his mouth was an amusing moment after the match. ****1/4 

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Samoa Joe vs. AJ Styles (TNA, 12/11/05) 

Most people who don’t share my visceral hatred of triple threat matches would probably rank the triple threat at Unbreakable as the greatest match in TNA history, but this will always be my pick. At the very least, it’s the greatest singles match in the history of the company. It’s unfortunate that Joe’s rampage through the X Division coincided with all the Planet Jarrett bullshit, because that was the closest TNA ever came to being legitimately good. AJ’s Fosbury flop to Joe on the outside is an iconic spot, and justifiably so, but it’s the storytelling that makes this match tick. This is close to perfect big vs. little action with AJ’s high-risk approach contrasted with the straightforward brutality of Joe. AJ ends up with a bloody mouth along with almost getting dropped on his head on a powerslam, and seeing him crash and burn repeatedly makes it even more rewarding when he’s able to get anything going on offense. He’s so out of it that even when he lands the Styles Clash, he’s not able to execute a proper pin, which ends up costing him. When he rolls Joe over for the double leg cradle, he doesn’t drape his right leg over Joe’s left arm, and Joe ends up lifting his left shoulder. Shortly afterward, Joe resorts to shortcuts by shoving the ref into the ropes to knock AJ off the top turnbuckle and getting AJ in the coquina clutch by pulling on his trunks. Joe is still a dominant force, but those two spots keep AJ credible in defeat. ****3/4 

Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Takeshi Morishima (NOAH, 3/5/06) 

For my money, this is Misawa’s last bona fide MOTYC. Given how unimaginably broken down he was at this point, it’s a miracle he was even ambulatory, let alone able to participate in a match this hard-hitting. This ends up being largely carried by Morishima, who in this match at least looks like the best superheavyweight to come down the pike in ages. He looked like a runaway freight train when he was throwing lariats. He’s also a tremendously giving bumper and seller, even taking a Tiger Driver from the apron to the floor. This isn’t a squash by any means, but it consists largely of Misawa being obliterated with lariats, clubbing forearms, and backdrops before making his final comeback. This match shows that just as an awesome finishing run can elevate all but the very worst matches, an underwhelming finish can deflate all but the very best. As cool as it was to see Misawa snap and murder an opponent with elbows, an epic extended comeback would have taken this to another level. This may not have anywhere near the depth of Misawa’s most storied matches, but the physicality is something else. ****1/4 

Yoshihiro Takayama/Minoru Suzuki vs. Yuji Nagata/Naofumi Yamamoto (NJPW, 10/9/06) 

Believe it or not, the future Yoshi Tatsu was involved in a classic match. And he wasn’t just along for the ride, either. First of all, the tagline for this match is TACTICS VS. TYRANT, which alone is almost sufficient to make it a MOTYC. On top of that, it combines veterans disrespecting a young lion, outsiders disrespecting the home promotion, and shooters disrespecting pro wrestling. Somewhat surprisingly given their history together, Nagata/Takayama is by far the least important pairing. Rather, the centerpiece of the match is Suzuki and Takayama delivering a sickening beatdown to Yamamoto. The young boy whose role in a tag match is to get his ass kicked and then eat the pin is a time-honored puro trope, but even by that standard, this is an extreme beating. What makes it unique is the way they mix in comedy with all the violence. Suzuki shows a mischievous side throughout, like tagging in to boot Yamamoto off the apron and immediately tagging back out and counting along when the referee gives Nagata a five-count to return to his corner. But when he casually sidesteps Yamamoto’s strike flurries before unloading with knees, he makes it clear that it’s not all fun and games. Like the Joker or Freddy Krueger, he can have you laughing at his antics one moment and horrified at his brutality the next. Yamamoto’s selling is sublime, and his persistence in the face of overwhelming odds is admirable. Nagata doesn’t have much to do before the hot tag, but he provides some amusement when he breaks up a Takayama/Suzuki double submission and then stomps on Yamamoto to encourage him to fight back. Nagata and Suzuki trying to out-feint each other was entertaining as well. Takayama mainly serves as cleanup hitter, which was probably the best use of him post-stroke. To top it all off, Takayama and Suzuki settle who starts the match with a game of RPS, although Yamamoto jumps them before the bell to render it a moot point. ****3/4 

John Cena vs. Umaga (WWE, 1/28/07) 

It’s amazing how much things can change in a little over a decade because there’s absolutely no way the Umaga gimmick would fly today. But him being a jungle savage who needed direction from Armando Alejandro Estrada actually worked to the betterment of the match because it meant that he focused on simply demolishing Cena rather than setting up the pointlessly convoluted spots you usually see in WWE gimmick matches. The most complicated spot he set up was placing the ring steps in the corner. I’ve said before that Cena’s two greatest strengths are selling and bleeding, and he does plenty of both in this match. He’s also probably the only person who can make picking up the ring steps seem like a genuine feat of Herculean strength. What makes this such a great babyface champion vs. monster heel match is that Cena ends up eating shit whenever he tries a standard comeback. Perhaps most notably, he punches his bloody forehead to fire himself up and then runs right into a Samoan drop. It’s only by using Umaga’s size and momentum against him, like the Samoan wrecking ball into the steps and the splash through the announce table, that he’s able to get anything going. Cena’s tough as nails, but he’s not invincible, so he has to rely on his wits to survive. Some might wonder why Estrada undid the turnbuckle at the end rather than simply giving Umaga the wrench to use as a spike, but anyone who has seen the 1992 Wargames match knows how much damage the turnbuckle connecting rod can do. Flawless big vs. little psychology and the lack of overly contrived spots means that for my tastes, this is not only the greatest WWE gimmick match of all time, it’s the best possible WWE gimmick match. It should be noted, though, that the referee’s count for Umaga was clearly faster than the one he gave Cena. Estrada should have filed a formal complaint. ****3/4 

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Yuji Nagata (NJPW, 4/13/07) 

This is Nagata’s first title shot since the end of his first reign in 2003, and he delivers a superbly constructed and worked title bout. This is a match where knowledge of their previous history helps immensely. They had met in the New Japan Cup in each of the previous years, with Nagata destroying Tanahashi before getting disqualified in 2005 and beating Tanahashi in 2006. This year, Tanahashi isn’t in the Cup due to being IWGP champion, and Nagata earns a shot at the belt by winning the tournament. In each of those matches, Nagata targeted Tanahashi’s arm with kicks and submissions. Also in each of those matches, Tanahashi countered Nagata’s kicks with dragon screws, but only to give himself a breather rather than a setup to leg work. Since that last meeting, Tanahashi has adopted the High Fly Flow as his finisher. He thus has extra incentive to go after the leg since the most obvious counter is to put the knees up. In fact, I believe this is the first instance of Tanahashi incorporating heavy leg work into a match. Tanahashi knows that Nagata will go after the arm, and he also knows that Nagata can be baited into catching his leg on the top rope. So after making the ropes on an armbar, he sets the trap by rolling to the apron. He then lands a dragon screw and begins a full-fledged assault on Nagata’s leg. With a new finisher and a more focused attack, it appears that Tanahashi may have finally solved the puzzle. But although Nagata sells the leg impeccably, he's still more than capable of fighting back with a bad wheel. Tanahashi can’t help himself from getting into a strike battle, and Nagata ends up taking his head off with a kick from his good leg. Cool finish as Nagata performs a bridging backdrop with a unique bridge that takes the pressure off his injured leg. ****1/2 

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Yuji Nagata vs. Togi Makabe (NJPW, 7/6/07) 

They ran an IWGP title match at Korakuen, so it was clear New Japan had fallen on hard times. Nevertheless, this is a blast. It’s basically the best possible Dump Matsumoto match with lots of weapons, interference, and brawling all over the place. Makabe clocks Nagata with a chair, stabs him with scissors, and strangles him with a chain. His GBH stablemates also interfere liberally. Oh, for the days when Toru Yano was a serious heel. I find the use of stabbing implements as weapons in pro wrestling to be inherently distasteful, but the fact that Makabe used safety scissors makes it unintentionally hilarious rather than macabre. The fact that all this occurred in plain view of the referee was a bit off-putting. I understand the mindset of showing some leniency so the match can be decided in the ring by the wrestlers, but the ref has to maintain some semblance of authority. When the heels are running roughshod to this degree with no repercussions, that authority is completely undermined. Refusing to count a couple of pins after weapon-assisted moves was as far as he went in enforcing the rules. I don’t need wrestling to always be presented as pure sport, but I’d rather it not be this much of a circus. As a one-off, though, this worked as a morality play by showing that cheaters never prosper. And Nagata snapping and opening Makabe up with elbows that made Orton/Lesnar look like a paper cut was a great ace moment. This is a bit rough around the edges to say the least, but it’s neat to occasionally see something so far outside the box. ****1/4 

Dr. Wagner Jr. vs. Mistico (CMLL, 7/27/07) 

Due to stricter adherence to weight classes in Mexico and luchadores being on the smaller side in general, a high-profile singles match like this with a significant size disparity between the competitors in a Mexican promotion really stands out. Wagner here looks like the coolest and most badass wrestler on Earth. He gives a cameraman a too sweet on the way to the ring, beats Mistico from pillar to post, and terrorizes a group of female Mistico fans in the front row. Much of his offensive repertoire is standard New Japan junior offense, but it looks devastating in a lucha libre context, even more so due to Mistico’s strong selling and bumping. There’s a pose-off at the beginning of the third fall that nearly killed the match for me, but they got back to business shortly afterward. One important detail is that for most of the match’s pin attempts, the wrestler being pinned makes a continuous effort to kick out the entire time. That makes the pins where the wrestler lies motionless before kicking out at the last second even more impactful. That sort of progression in nearfalls is sorely missed in modern wrestling. Wagner powerbombing Mistico on the floor in front of his female fans at the end was both amusing and shockingly brutal. It wasn’t a Hansen-style release powerbomb, either. It was a full-on Vader/Cactus Jack powerbomb, the kind that usually results in a stretcher job. It was actually believable that the referee and ringside doctor would be so concerned with checking on Mistico that they wouldn’t notice the Ultimo Guerrero run-in. ****1/2 

Bryan Danielson vs. Takeshi Morishima (ROH, 8/25/07) 

Danielson is considered to be the greatest of all time or close to it by many fans, while Morishima is considered to be the greatest of all time or close to it by nobody. So when there’s a match between the two that’s received close to universal praise, it’s natural to focus on Danielson’s performance. I’ve even seen this described as a Danielson carry job, which is ludicrous. Make no mistake, Danielson delivers an outstanding performance in every respect and is the key driver of the action. But Morishima more than holds up his end. Watching this so soon after watching a few of his matches in NOAH pre-excursion caused me to view his performance in a new light. He starts out calm and collected, not a runaway freight train like in the NOAH matches. It’s as if earlier in his career, he wanted to take his opponents out as quickly as possible because he was afraid of being taken into deep water. Now that he’s grown as a wrestler, he’s not afraid to let the opponent dictate the pace because he knows he can weather the storm. Danielson employs the same strategy that Kiyoshi Tamura tried against Vader: go after the leg and have him so worried about protecting it that it opens him up for potential knockout blows. However, just as in Tamura/Vader, the fatal flaw of that strategy is that being close enough to do damage to the big man means that he’s close enough to do damage to you. That damage comes a little more than four minutes in when Danielson suffers a detached retina. Morishima then starts teeing off on Danielson’s face even more, and many of the shots are undoubtedly wince-inducing. But as much as I hate to say it, the match wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable without them. If Morishima had shied away from Danielson’s eye, it would have stuck out like a sore thumb and probably brought the match down. Morishima’s selling of the leg work is more understated than some might like, but that makes it even more epic when his leg finally buckles and he collapses like a demolished skyscraper. Danielson tries to finish him off with a back superplex, but Morishima reverses into a crossbody and comes down on Danielson’s head. Danielson still has some fight left, but that’s a wrap as far as there being any doubt over the outcome. ****1/2 

John Cena vs. Randy Orton (WWE, 8/26/07) 

To think, there was a time when this was a never-before-seen dream match. I remember hearing that in the wake of the Benoit tragedy, WWE made a conscious effort to re-educate the fans to accept slower-paced matches with fewer high-risk maneuvers. And when you need to slow things down, of course you turn to Orton. But in all seriousness, this is actually pretty spectacular, like a WWE version of Tenryu/Hashimoto or Choshu/Hashimoto. There’s nothing fancy, but their absolute commitment to getting every hold and strike over as meaningful makes this more than the sum of its parts. There’s even a big beefy lock-up at the beginning. Cena thrives on momentum, so Orton’s gameplan is to slow things to a crawl and shut Cena down whenever he tries to pick up the pace. I’ll concede that a match built largely around chinlocks has a pretty hard ceiling, but if this match doesn’t reach that ceiling, it comes close. For one thing, Orton works his chinlocks like he’s trying to rip his opponent’s head off. In addition, he had RKOed Cena onto a chair on Saturday Night’s Main Event eight days beforehand, so he had extra reason to target the head region. Cena’s selling is amazing, particularly of Orton’s punches. It’s not just the stumbling around, it’s the look on his face that gives the impression that he’s been genuinely knocked loopy. Just when it seems that Cena is on his last legs, Orton can’t help himself from going for the punt. He had gotten to that point by playing small ball, and swinging for the fences ends up costing him when Cena reverses into an STFU (a move name that sounded stupid at the time and is positively embarrassing today). Orton makes the ropes and lands an RKO when Cena tries to press the advantage. But he can’t cover immediately due to the damage to his leg (which the STF also targets). Moreover, he can’t execute a proper cover and simply drapes his arm over Cena’s body, enabling Cena to barely get his shoulder up. Amazing how that one risk by Orton ended up backfiring on multiple levels. That’s the kind of subtle nuanced storytelling you hardly ever see in WWE. Orton’s completely thrown off his game at this point and makes the cardinal mistake of trying to pull Cena to his feet, allowing him to hit the FU out of nowhere. This match probably deserved a better ending, but it seemed to be intended to set up a Cena/Orton gimmick match that we never got due to Cena’s injury. Thanks a lot, Mr. Kennedy. ****1/4

Kensuke Sasaki vs. KENTA (NOAH, 7/18/08) 

This is like a thinking man’s version of Ishii/Shibata, which sense because Sasaki and Ishii are both disciples of the Choshu/Tenryu style and KENTA was a huge influence on Shibata. You know, KENTA deserves more recognition as one of the most influential wrestlers of the modern era. Pretty much every smaller wrestler who throws kicks draws from him to a degree. Hell, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan in WWE were practically KENTA cosplayers. This particular match has all the high-impact action of a typical NEVER Openweight title match without any of the dumb shit like endless forearm exchanges and popping up to trade German suplexes. Plus, the junior vs. heavy aspect gives it an extra dimension. To put it in boxing terms, KENTA is a swarmer while Sasaki is a slugger. As such, Sasaki mostly dominates (at one point, he simply picks KENTA up and bullrushes him into the corner), but KENTA gets to show enough to look credible. He even has his finisher somewhat protected. It looked like he didn’t quite hit the GTS flush, so it ended up being a great near sports-style nearfall. Sasaki was being built up for a GHC title match, so the outcome is never really in doubt, but it still manages to be a hell of a ride. ****1/2 

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Minoru Suzuki/Taiyo Kea vs. Suwama/Shuji Kondo (AJPW, 3/14/09) 

The Pro Wrestling Love era was a dark time for All Japan, but Suzuki’s work in the company was one of the bright spots, and this is one of his standout matches from that period. For one thing, Suzuki and Kea come out to a mashup of Holding Out for a Hero and Kaze Ni Nare, which is obviously too awesome for words. Beyond that, the teamwork they display is quite a sight to see. Suwama is the muscle of his team (although Kondo is no slouch in that department), so Suzuki and Kea avoid engaging him directly. Rather, they provoke him into losing his temper and neutralize him with a spike piledriver on the floor, allowing them to isolate Kondo. When Suwama comes in off the hot tag later in the match, they go nuts with blind tags. They even catch him off guard with a fake blind tag, which I don’t recall seeing anyone else ever do. The one downside of the match is that Suzuki/Kea’s work on top was a bit dry. During this period at least, Suzuki needed a bruiser as his tag partner to provide a contrast to his stretching. However, there was a nifty moment when Suzuki had Kondo in a cross ambreaker and directed the referee to keep an eye on Suwama to keep him from breaking it up. The referee eventually came back to check for a submission, which allowed Suwama to run in for the save, but it gave Suzuki a few extra seconds to work the hold. For those who enjoy this, the two teams worked a match in the same vein at the Destroyer memorial show in 2019. ****1/4 

LA Park vs. El Mesias (AAA, 12/5/10) 

For heavyweight lucha brawling, this is as good as it gets. It naturally begins with the rudo Park getting the jump on the tecnico Mesias, and Park recklessly chucks chairs at Mesias, beats him up in front of a group of women in the front row, and powerbombs him onto a wheeled garbage cart. When a fan dumps a beer on Park in the stands, he takes it out on Mesias with some especially stiff punches. Mesias initiates his comeback by ducking a chairshot, kicking Park in the gut, and stumbling around a bit before standing tall. It was reminiscent of Sangre Chicana/MS-1, which of course is the gold standard of lucha brawls. Mesias came at Park with a shoulder block tope like he was shot out of a cannon. Between the force of the dive and the blood loss, Park being counted out seemed plausible at that point. After a while, this shifts from a pure brawl to a Hokuto/Kandori-style war of attrition. To be honest, that part of the match probably went a few minutes two long, although there was never any spotty selling or easy comebacks. Things picked back up when a ref bump allowed Park to land the dreaded martinete (tombstone piledriver), the most devastating maneuver in lucha libre. I really liked how Mesias spent the rest of the match trying to hold his neck in place. I found Park placing the mask of his recently murdered brother on Mesias and then draping a white sheet over his body to be in rather poor taste, but I suppose it’s small potatoes for a promotion that billed a literal rapist as Love Machine. Great Austin/Rock-style finish as Park lands a low blow and then wipes Mesias out with repeated chairshots. ****1/2  

Dick Togo vs. Antonio Honda (DDT, 1/30/11) 

DDT is quite the strange promotion. They promote matches where ladders win championships and wrestlers face blow-up dolls, but they also promote completely straight title matches like this one. Honda, normally a midcard comedy guy, has the match of his life, while Togo lets it all hang out during his retirement tour (this being pro wrestling, he would unretire a few years later). Honda starts things off by going after Togo’s arm Anderson-style, and Togo emotes like his arm is being fed into a wood chipper. His selling was probably a bit too demonstrative for basic holds like wristlocks and hammerlocks, so it could be argued that he was actually overselling. But the key to body part selling isn’t what you do while the part is under direct assault but what you do in between. In that respect, Togo’s selling in the opening minutes was brilliant. At one point, he goes for a Pedigree but can’t complete the double underhook due to the arm damage, allowing Honda to regain control by going back to the arm. There are even subtle details like only using his good arm when using the ropes to pull himself up. Eventually, the pain becomes too much to bear as Togo has to make the ropes and roll to the outside. Honda tries to press his advantage, but he busts himself open when he tumbles into some chairs at ringside. Once they make it back into the ring, this turns into a Mid-South brawl as Togo works the cut with punches and stomps. He even does a Ted DiBiase-style fist drop. Eventually, Honda drops the strap Lawler-style and explodes with a punch flurry that ends with a massive Popeye uppercut that Togo does a massive Bluto bump for. Honda also apes Inoki down the stretch with his enzuigiris and octopus holds. He stops going after the arm in the second half of the match, but his earlier work creeps up periodically, like when Togo’s arm gives out while applying a crossface. Togo’s frequent Pedigree teases get it over as the most consequential move imaginable, and when he finally fights through the pain to land it, you know it’s a wrap. As you can tell from this writeup, the match employs many elements more common to 1980s territory wrestling than 2010s puro. Although I don’t think they were entirely successful at integrating them into a coherent whole, it’s nice to know that the classics never die. ****1/2 

Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus (WWE, 4/29/12) 

Many high-profile WWE matches from this period are almost as interesting as sociological experiments as they are as wrestling matches. It was around this time that WWE crowds began to revolt against the planned direction to an unprecedented degree, and the company seemed to be at a loss as to how to compel them to react the way they were “supposed” to. Case in point, Bryan was getting over far more than WWE would have liked, so they tried to nip it in the bud by having Sheamus infamously beat him in 18 seconds for the World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania. As we all know, it backfired spectacularly as Bryan ended up more over than ever, leading to this match as a sort of attempt at a make-good. But it ended up being too little too late, and it marked the beginning of the end of Sheamus being taken seriously as a top guy. That’s a shame, because while he may not be the kind of guy you can build a promotion around, he’s an asset as one of the guys in the mix. He’s a bruiser with an impressive offensive arsenal and a strong enough seller to make smaller opponents look credible, allowing him to work as both a top face and a top heel. I got the impression that a lot of fans were as much into the idea of Bryan as a WWE main eventer as they were into the actual matches, leading to a lot of the matches, particularly the ones with Punk and Cena, being vastly overrated in my view. However, I’ve always thought this match held up really well from an in-ring standpoint. In fact, it was my match of the night when I watched Extreme Rules live, largely because the ending to Cena/Lesnar left such a bad taste in my mouth. This was the closest we got to ROH Danielson in a WWE ring up to this point, as he’s in full-on Best in the World heel mode. He even does the “I have till five” spot. Sheamus goes for a brogue kick early on and makes a “this close” hand gesture when it misses, which shows the biggest problem with Sheamus from a psychology standpoint. If you have a move that is virtually guaranteed to end a match, can be hit out of nowhere, and doesn’t put you at a disadvantage if you miss it, there’s no real reason to not spend the entire match trying to land it. That’s why I’m a strong advocate of wrestlers suffering some sort of penalty when they go for their finishers too early to act as a deterrent. There’s probably no WWE spot more played out than a wrestler going shoulder-first into the ringpost, but they did a great job here of treating it like a move that completely changed the complexion of the match. It exacerbated the damage from Bryan’s earlier arm work and made Sheamus even more vulnerable to the Yes lock. Bryan employs the old Iron Man match heel tactic of getting intentionally disqualified to do further damage, although I would have preferred that he really earn the DQ with a chair or something rather than simply kicking Sheamus in the ropes. Sheamus’ desperation brogue kick at the beginning of the third fall was a fantastic way for him to get back in the match. He was still out of it after having passed out in the Yes lock to end the second fall, so he wasn’t able to immediately cover. Plus, he wasn’t quite able to get all of it, so it ended up looking more like a claymore kick. Whether intentional or not, it provided additional justification for Bryan being able to kick out. The finish was rather abrupt, but I did appreciate Bryan not doing the cliched repeatedly popping up to feed Sheamus’ comeback at the end. WWE would end up winning its war with the fans, leading to the current state of affairs where nobody cares because nothing matters. But that’s a story for another day. ****1/2 

John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar (WWE, 4/29/12) 

I don’t know what more needs to be said about this one. It’s a surreal spectacle unlike any other, simultaneously shocking, exhilarating, and baffling. The shooter who comes in to destroy the fake pro wrestlers was well-established in Japanese wrestling, but it was novelty in a major-league American promotion. The fact that Lesnar was a superstar in pro wrestling before joining UFC made him doubly dangerous. Nobody had any real idea of what to expect going in, and Lesnar starting things off by opening Cena up with elbows to the head and flattening him with a clothesline made it clear that any preconceived notions had to be thrown out the window. The chaos and brutality give the match a “this isn’t supposed to be happening” vibe you almost never see in WWE. All the spots that didn’t go according to plan, like Lesnar going over the top rope and nearly blowing out his knee, added to the chaotic atmosphere. I should note that I hate the referee stopping things so the doctors could patch up Cena as much today as I did at the time. Not only did it disrupt the flow of the match, it made no logical sense in a no-DQ bout that featured multiple ref bumps. Thankfully, they learned their lesson from that debacle and actively encouraged the spilling of blood in subsequent Lesnar matches. The ending is of course completely indefensible from a booking standpoint, but it’s far enough in the rear view mirror that I don’t get bent out of shape over it. Also, I’ll admit that Cena making a miracle comeback to win in the end made for a better self-contained match. It helps that I’ve long since given up on expecting WWE to be able to do anything right. ****3/4 

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One of the reasons I dig this thread is the analysis often has me revisiting some of these matches. Like I recall not really caring for Orton-Cena '07 when I first saw it but now I'm probably going to revisit it to see if it's better than I recall.

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Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Minoru Suzuki (NJPW, 10/8/12) 

Analyzing matches can be tricky business. I think that if you set out to discover something in a match you want to be there, you’ll more likely than not find it. With that said, I think I’m on to something here. As with everyone else, it was always the lack of nearfalls and dueling limb work (Tanahashi’s arm vs. Suzuki’s leg) that stood out to me. When I rewatched the match for this project, I appreciated all that stuff on an intellectual level, but it didn’t quite connect with me viscerally. However, there did seem to be an additional important aspect to the match. It wasn’t just a contest between wrestlers, it was a clash of wrestling philosophies (traditional catch wrestling vs. modern pro style). I watched the match again with that idea in mind, and it clicked with me much more. Suzuki doesn’t just want to beat Tanahashi and take his title. He wants to embarrass Tanahashi and prove his style is a joke. We see that in the opening minutes when he lands a few cheap shots but never follows up on them. That all changes when Tanahashi applies an abdominal stretch and plays air guitar on Suzuki’s ribcage. Suzuki may not respect Tanahashi, but he won’t tolerate being mocked. That leads to a scramble that allows Suzuki to land an armbar in the ropes. When Suzuki targets Tanahashi’s arm, it’s with legitimate holds like the double wristlock and the cross armbreaker. By contrast, Tanahashi goes after Suzuki’s leg with “fake” moves like dragon screws and low dropkicks. He even applies a figure-four, which is the ultimate fuck-you to a self-styled shooter dating back to the first Mutoh/Takada match during the New Japan/UWFi feud. It’s notable that Suzuki stops going after the arm after the figure-four spot, instead focusing on slapping Tanahashi around and choking him out. It’s as if the figure-four was such a grave insult that it caused him to lose sight of the task at hand. By contrast, Tanahashi kept targeting the leg until the very end, and his superior focus ended up carrying the day. I wish Tanahashi’s selling had been more demonstrative when his arm was being worked over and a few of the holds probably went on for too long, but this was top-class stuff overall. ****1/2 

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada (NJPW, 4/7/13) 

I’ve soured somewhat on modern New Japan, but this still holds up as a classic for me. It’s definitely one of the greatest matches the company ever put on from a psychology standpoint. Okada is prepared for the usual Tanahashi strategy of targeting the leg and rebuffs it, so Tanahashi shifts gears and goes after the Rainmaker arm. Slamming Okada’s arm into the mat repeatedly was a cool carny move. It probably didn’t hurt much if at all, but it made a nice loud sound when Okada’s arm hit the mat and got a good reaction from the audience. As with any match centered around body part work, Okada’s selling is what makes it all work. He does all sorts of things both major and minor to put over the damage to his arm. He even sells the impact when he comes down from a dropkick. The way he sold his arm while doing the Rainmaker pose was reminiscent of Rick Rude, which is the highest compliment I can give someone. He makes believable comebacks while using his injured arm as little as possible, only throwing elbows when absolutely necessary. At one point, he switches his elbow pad from his left arm to his right, which gives it some needed protection. It should be noted that he was only able to lock in the Red Ink with the elbow pad on his right arm. The logic is a bit questionable, but I think that was the idea. However, the pad also lessens the impact of his strikes, and he needs a full-force Rainmaker to get the win, so he ends up jettisoning it entirely. Tanahashi not working the leg meant that Okada could block the High Fly Flow by putting up his knees and hit the tombstone with no negative effects, which ended up being Tanahashi’s undoing. Okada had figured out how to neutralize Tanahashi’s primary strategy and had progressed to the point where a secondary one wasn’t enough to put him away. Thus began the next stage of their rivalry, although they never matched what they accomplished here. ****3/4 

Kazuchika Okada vs. Togi Makabe (NJPW, 6/22/13) 

I actually prefer this to most of the more widely acclaimed Okada IWGP title matches, largely because I think being an arrogant prick is a much more natural fit for him than whatever his current character is supposed to be. Cocky young pretty boy vs. grizzled veteran brawler is a natural matchup, and they exploit it to the hilt. In the beginning, Okada tries to engage Makabe in a striking battle and gets his ass handed to him. Later on, he tries to do a Hashimoto-style brick wall no-sell of Makabe’s lariats, but he gets dropped by the third one. However, when Makabe goes for a fourth, Okada counters with a dropkick. The idea seems to be that Okada has allowed success to go to his head and fooled himself into thinking he’s a tough guy, and Makabe is just the guy to snap him back to reality. But it doesn’t matter in the end, because Okada is so damn good that he can pull it out by going back to what he does best (neck work and dropkicks). I suppose most New Japan fans get their fix of compact matches from the G1, but I can’t be the only one who wishes they would run more title matches like this to serve as a palate cleanser in between all the lengthy epics. ****1/2 

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi (NJPW, 8/4/13) 

I’ve always thought this was better than their Wrestle Kingdom match. I once watched the two matches back-to-back, and they struck me as largely identical. My theory is that most people will prefer whichever one they saw first, and the one at WK happened on a much larger stage. There's also a bit of a nostalgia factor with this being the first Nakamura match I ever saw that I really liked. He’s well into his King of Strong Style persona here, and he acts like sharing the ring with some indy scrub is a massive affront to his dignity. The key is the contrast between Ibushi’s high-risk approach and Nakamura’s straightforward assault. In this match at least, Ibushi has the Rey Mysterio-like ability to make his flashy spots look like realistic counters. He also goes splat several times when going for something spectacular, making the highspots he lands more meaningful. You can’t really call it high-risk if the only actual risk is in the execution. This is pretty great throughout, but it reaches another level near the end when Nakamura, enraged by this DDT joker’s refusal to stay down, viciously stomps Ibushi repeatedly in the corner. Ibushi responds by manning up and leveling Nakamura with palm strikes and punches. Cool finish as Ibushi kicks out of a boma ye at one but collapses and immediately eats a second boma ye for the pin. That’s my favorite kind of fighting spirit kick out. ****1/2 

Brock Lesnar vs. CM Punk (WWE, 8/18/13) 

I have to admit that subsequent outside events have somewhat diminished my ability to enjoy this match. After seeing Punk in UFC, I find it difficult to suspend my disbelief enough to buy him as a legitimate threat to Lesnar. Setting that aside, this is close to a perfect 2010s WWE no-DQ match. There’s no blood, but it has everything else you would want in this kind of match. Brock looks like the most dangerous man alive, and Punk wrestles like he’s in the fight of his life. When he wasn’t recklessly throwing himself at Brock or rocking him with knees, he was engaging in desperation biting and low blows. There were no contrived sequences involving someone setting up a chair or a table in the corner, nor were there gimmick weapons like kendo sticks or garbage cans conveniently underneath the ring, so this never lost the feel of a violent fight rather than a cartoon weapons brawl. Other than a couple of blatant restholds in the middle of the match, it’s hard to criticize anything they did in the ring. I suppose you could question why Brock would go for a chair. After all, what the hell does he need a chair for when he could kill us all with his bare hands? But it came across to me like it was a matter of him wanting a chair rather than needing one. He enjoys brutalizing and embarrassing his opponents, and that was just another means for him to do so. It was the same motivation behind him doing the Three Amigos just to be a dick. The only real problem with the match was Heyman’s repeated involvement. I get that they had to shift the focus back to Punk/Heyman since Punk/Lesnar was a one-off, but that could have been accomplished with a single well-timed interference spot near the end. Punk repeatedly turning his back on the grizzly to go after Heyman made him look like an idiot. Regardless, for the past seven-plus years, I’ve gone back and forth between this and Okada/Tanahashi at Invasion Attack for my 2013 MOTY pick. This time around, I give the nod to Punk/Lesnar by the slimmest of margins. Don’t be surprised if I change my mind again in the future, though. ****3/4 

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Apologies to anyone still following along, but more modern matches give me writer's block for some reason. The finish line is in sight, though, so bear with me.

 

Daniel Bryan vs. HHH (WWE, 4/6/14) 

I must confess that I’ve never been a Daniel Bryan Guy. I always thought he was a great wrestler and was happy to see him succeed, but I was never particularly emotionally invested in him. Even at the height of the Yes Movement, I felt like I was largely on the outside looking in. I’m not saying that to denigrate anyone who was really into him, because establishing an emotional connection with the audience is a major part of wrestling. It just means that I probably approach his matches with a more detached perspective than most. Take this match, for example. If you don’t find the idea of Bryan vanquishing the hated HHH to earn a title shot in the main event of Wrestlemania inherently captivating, there’s not much to his performance here. This is probably going to sound like I’m trolling, but it honestly felt like a borderline HHH carry job to me. He controls most of the match, keeps things interesting while on top, and is the one responsible for feeding Bryan’s comebacks and timing the cutoffs. The crossface chickenwing-tiger suplex sequence looked like something out of 90s All Japan. Repeatedly trying to win by countout was a nice touch as well, with the idea being he was trying to minimize his exertion to save himself for the main event. Bryan hit some nice dives early on, but he doesn’t do much more down the stretch than run through his signature spots. Unlike, say, the Morishima and Sheamus matches, I never got the sense that he was trying to implement a specific strategy. In particular, I would have liked to have seen him do more to try to shield his injured arm. Still, his selling and bumping were strong for the most part, and he enhanced the match simply by being so over with the crowd. This is an excellent match overall, which again is largely due to the efforts of HHH. This is probably the only time he truly looked like the heir to Harley Race and Ric Flair he always imagined himself to be. It was also in spite of Stephanie’s incessant screeching at ringside. I’ve always hated heels generating heat by being annoying. To me, that’s the wrong kind of heat. If a heel does something despicable that makes me angry, I want to follow along because I attain catharsis when the babyface gains revenge. If a heel annoys me, there’s nothing that can happen in a wrestling ring that will make me whole, so I just want to stop watching. ****1/2 

Hirooki Goto/Katsuyori Shibata vs. Yuji Nagata/Tomoaki Honma (NJPW, 6/21/14) 

Honma is the perfect addition to give these strong style slugfests a hook beyond just tough guys clobbering each other. He’s the lovable loser who the audience can’t help but get behind and root for to steal a victory even though they know deep down he never will. He wrestles like he’s been thrown into the lion’s den and might as well go down swinging since he’s doomed regardless. We see that in the beginning when he jumps Goto and Shibata before the bell and shortly afterward when he sneaks in a few sucker punches while he and Nagata are double-teaming Shibata in the corner. Shibata would pay Honma back with a punch of his own that Honma does a boxing-style crumple sell for. He struggles valiantly, even getting a great nearfall when he reverses a shouten into a small package, before inevitably going down in flames. Other than Honma’s underdog performance, the best thing about the match is the compact nature. It’s a manageable length at 11 minutes, and they keep the fighting spirit overkill to a minimum. Shibata does pop up from an exploder, but there’s nothing so egregious that it takes me out of the match. It all adds up to a textbook example of less being more. ****1/2 

AJ Styles vs. Minoru Suzuki (NJPW, 8/1/14) 

A lot of the time when wrestlers of disparate styles face each other, it either results in a muddled mess where neither wrestler knows how to make the other look good or one wrestler largely conforming to the style of the other. This particular match is the best kind of styles clash (no pun intended), as both men give each other enough space to show what they’re best at without losing sight of who they are. Suzuki allows AJ to show off his athleticism without seeming overly cooperative, and AJ goes blow-for-blow with Suzuki while impeccably selling Suzuki’s submission work. This is an all-round virtuoso performance from Suzuki, from his “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy” facial expression in the opening minutes to his work on AJ’s arm. Suzuki countering the Bullet Club finger gun taunt by pulling back on AJ’s finger was pretty cool, but what made it even better was when he countered a phenomenal forearm with a Fujiwara armbar and pulled back on the same finger. I didn’t care for the ankle lock reversal sequence, but Suzuki being a step ahead and slapping on a cross armbreaker was great. It’s like he was trying to send a message that wrestling Kurt Angle a few times in TNA doesn’t make you a submission expert. Even the obligatory Bullet Club and Suzuki-gun run-ins didn’t hurt this too much. ****3/4 

Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tomoaki Honma (NJPW, 8/3/14) 

It takes a lot for a modern New Japan forearm-fest to not annoy the shit out of me, so they achieved something truly special here. Although this is worked fairly evenly, there’s a clear sense of hierarchy with Honma as the dogged underdog and Shibata the violent bully. Shibata isn’t exactly known for taking it easy on opponents, but he seemed even more brutal than usual here. Every elbow and kick sounded like a gunshot. All of Honma’s offensive maneuvers and pin attempts are tinged with desperation, while Shibata remains relatively unflappable throughout. Watching a Honma match from this period is a lot like watching a Final Destination film. You know going in that he’s going to die horribly, so you tune in to see exactly how it happens and how long he can manage to cheat death. It can be as formulaic as a typical slasher film, but it’s a formula that excels at delivering both pathos and excitement when done well. A final nice touch at the end was Shibata having to hesitate before hitting the PK because Honma went down awkwardly after the GTS like he was legitimately knocked out. It’s always great to see wrestlers not simply neatly move into position for their opponent’s offense. ****1/2  

Kazuchika Okada vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (NJPW, 8/10/14) 

It was a huge deal when these two won their respective G1 blocks because it meant we’d see the long-anticipated “forbidden” matchup between the top two guys in CHAOS. This is sometimes described as their first match against each other since Okada’s rise to main event status, but they actually faced each other in the 2012 G1 in a match that has been largely forgotten for whatever reason. In any event, they show here that you don’t have to go over 30 minutes and have a million big moves to produce an epic. For one thing, all the sequences where they struggle to gain or maintain control give this an almost King’s Road feel. It’s that kind of struggle that separates an actual contest from an exhibition of signature spots. There’s also some cool learned psychology on display. At one point, Nakamura tries to apply a cross armbreaker to Okada’s Rainmaker arm and turns it into a triangle choke when Okada tries to reverse. Okada then tries to make the ropes, which allows Nakamura to fully apply the armbreaker. Later on, when Nakamura reverses a Rainmaker attempt into another cross armbreaker, Okada has it scouted and escapes by raking Nakamura’s eyes with his boot. I will say that I can’t stand how Okada uses the reverse neckbreaker as an out-of-nowhere reversal. The setup for that move is far too complicated for that purpose. I also have an issue with how New Japan uses finishers. For Nakamura, only the standard boma ye is capable of ending matches. All the other variants (sliding, diving, enzui) essentially act as setup moves. By the same token, Okada hits two short-arm clotheslines near the end of this match. But it’s not a proper Rainmaker unless he does the ripcord motion beforehand, so they don’t count. If they’re going to treat finishers like magic spells that only work if you pronounce each syllable correctly, I’d rather they not use virtually identical moves to set up the real deal. Overall, though, this is a dream match that lives up to the billing. ****1/2 

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Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns (WWE, 3/29/15) 

I should probably note that the result of this match permanently killed my interest in WWE, at least as far as watching on a weekly basis. The prospect of the Authority and Seth Rollins dominating Raw every week was too much for me to bear. Just about everybody seems to have turned on Rollins these days, so it pleases me to have been ahead of the curve. But that takes nothing away from the actual match. I’ve often seen this described as a heavyweight clash of the titans slugfest, but I think it’s far too one-sided to reach that level. This goes less than 17 minutes, and Roman barely gets in any offense at all for the first 12. Rollins cashes in a little more than 15 minutes in, so this is only a competitive one-on-one match for about three minutes. But I don’t mind that, because post-UFC Brock is just about my favorite guy to watch maul someone. Although I hate all the chants in modern wrestling, the fans chanting “This is awesome” while Roman was getting his ass kicked was pretty hilarious. There was a bit of serendipity in the beginning when Brock suffered a cut on his cheek during the opening tussle. Without that, Brock refusing to pin Roman after hitting an F5 would have come across as cheap. With it, it was an awesome “Nobody makes me bleed my own blood” moment. As great as Brock tossing Roman around was, though, it ended up planting the seeds of his ruination as a worker. The way he suplexed John Cena to death at Summerslam in 2014 got the ball rolling, and the fans and announce team here turning his suplexes into a count-along comedy spot was the next step. Suplex City becoming a meme would be the final nail in the coffin. That’s not to say he was no longer capable of having great matches, but it was the end of him being virtually guaranteed to deliver a classic every time out. It’s also worth noting that Roman’s comeback after posting Brock consisted entirely of Superman punches and spears. As a standalone match, all this was great. But it was terrible as a template for future matches, which is what it ended up being. ****1/4

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (NJPW, 8/16/15) 

First off, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that Twist and Shout is such a stupid name for a move that it nearly single-handedly takes me out of Tanahashi’s matches. Setting that aside, these two had produced some good matches with each other before this encounter, but they had yet to deliver the kind of epic you associate with a generation-defining rivalry. The issue, I think, was one of compatibility of styles. Tanahashi loves to use leg work as both a means of filling time and a storytelling device, but Nakamura is notoriously terrible at leg selling. And even if he wasn’t, robbing him of the ability to throw knees takes away like 75% of his offense. It may be sound strategy, but it makes for a rather boring match. They take a couple of different approaches to solving that dilemma here. The first approach is to use Nakamura’s arm as a red herring. He comes in with his left arm heavily bandaged, and his frantic reaction when Tanahashi tries to go after it makes it clear that his priority is defending this newly developed vulnerability. Instead, he falls victim to the no-mixup mixup as Tanahashi starts targeting the leg after all. The second is to spread out Tanahashi’s leg work. He never works it for so long that Nakamura being able to move around and use knee strikes would be unrealistic, but he periodically goes back to it to cut Nakamura off so it’s never completely forgotten about. At the end, Nakamura goes for a Landslide off the top rope, which he used to beat Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom in 2008. Tanahashi fights him off and comes down with a High Fly Flow while Nakamura is hanging on to the ropes and trying not to fall off the turnbuckle. It’s probably the only time in history the wrestler coming off the top onto an opponent hanging in the ropes spot has ever looked good. Although they headlined the Tokyo Dome against each other on three occasions, this feels far bigger than any of their previous encounters. In addition, this would end up being their last singles match together. It thus feels like the definitive statement and blowoff of their rivalry even if it wasn’t intended as such. ****1/2 

Kazuchika Okada vs. Tomohiro Ishii (NJPW, 8/6/16) 

I can’t say that I’m an Ishii fan overall. A wrestler whose style is centered around straightforward hard-hitting offense should be right up my alley, but all the endless forearm exchanges and popping up from suplexes and the like are instant turnoffs for me. There’s obviously an audience for that sort of thing, but I’m not a part of it. So for my tastes, this is not only my favorite Ishii match but the best possible Ishii match. He does all of the things I like about him here and none of the things I don’t. It helps that Okada is probably the perfect opponent for him to work his tough guy act against. Okada is a tremendously talented athlete, but he’s far from an asskicker, so Ishii shrugging off his blows makes more sense than doing it to, say, Shibata. Plus, Okada being the promotion’s golden boy allows Ishii to assume the role of working class hero. They show at the very beginning that this won’t simply be a friendly skirmish between stablemates. Okada seems content to employ his usual grind-it-out strategy, but Ishii won’t accept that and nukes Okada with a lariat. Ishii chopping Okada in the throat during the Rainmaker pose was the spot of the year and possibly the decade, and stomping on Okada’s foot to block the tombstone wasn’t too far behind. Through most of the match, Okada has a look on his face like he has no idea what hit him. I liked how he was increasingly reliant on dropkicks down the stretch as he had run through his standard offense and that was all he had left that would faze Ishii. As with many Okada matches, it comes down to who lands the tombstone first, and Ishii’s Owen Driver ‘97 is a fitting coup de grace. The Japanese commentary team is perhaps the most underrated crucial aspect of this match. I think New Japan’s English commentators do a great job for the most part, but Jushin Liger losing his mind on commentary took this to another level. ****1/2   

DIY vs. Revival (WWE, 11/19/16) 

It should be clear by now that I’m pretty down on most modern epics compared to the classics of the past, so any time a new match receives buzz as the greatest of all time, my usual reaction is to reach for my revolver. In this case, however, I would take no issue with someone declaring this the greatest tag match in US history even if I personally wouldn’t go that far. At the very least, it feels like the supreme synthesis of the best elements of the classic and modern styles. This has all the fast-paced action and dramatic nearfalls that have become de rigueur for showcase NXT matches, but it remains tethered by traditional tag structure and psychology. Although many of the sequences were clearly planned out, they retain a sense of chaos and struggle and avoid seeming overly choreographed. They also avoid falling into the trap of working too evenly. It’s hard for me to get invested in matches where momentum shifts come too easily, and most junior and joshi tags lose me by having the match essentially reset after a hot tag. Here, once the Revival gain control, they never fully relinquish it until the very end. There didn’t seem to be any compelling storyline reason for this to be 2 out of 3 falls if the pre-match promo video is any indication, but it allowed both teams to hit their respective finishers and not have them cheapened by being kicked out of. Plus, this being a tag match allowed nearfalls to come from a wrestler’s partner breaking up a pin rather than simply kicking out. Kick-outs in wrestling matches are like jump scares in horror films: they usually get the intended reaction the first time around, but too many can be numbing, and there has to be something behind them or else they lose most of their impact once you know what’s coming. Johnny Gargano going into a catatonic state after Dawson kicked out of the slingshot DDT and the overly melodramatic moment at the end where Dash and Dawson were holding each other’s hands to try to avoid tapping out were unfortunate harbingers of what the NXT style would become, but those elements are restrained enough here that they can be easily overlooked. Gargano needs new kickpads, though. They’re obviously not doing their job if kicking a belt does that much damage to your leg. ****1/2 

Kento Miyahara vs. Shuji Ishikawa (AJPW, 8/27/17) 

All Japan started getting buzz as a promotion to watch in the mid-2010s, and for a lot of people, myself included, this match served as the promotion’s coming-out party. It’s Ishikawa’s performance that makes the match for me. He spent much of his career as a deathmatch goon and has the scars to prove it, but he doesn’t look at all out of place as Triple Crown champion. His knee lift is the best in wrestling since Takayama, and he has all sorts of interesting ways of working over Miyahara’s neck after sending him throat-first into the guardrail. I liked how he countered a shutdown German suplex attempt with a kamigoye, which made more sense than it probably sounds like. While obviously talented, Miyahara is also incredibly frustrating. His in-the-moment selling is fantastic, but he seems to have trouble transitioning to believable comebacks, so it often feels like he just decides to flip a switch and end a match. There’s a sequence in this match that shows him at both his best and his worst. After taking a Fire Thunder onto the apron, he clenches his fist to check for nerve damage in a brilliant subtle spot. About a minute and a half later, he pops up after taking a superplex so he can do a fighting spirit comeback. There’s some rather aimless back-and-forth down the stretch, and Miyahara ends up hitting about a million blackout knees and gets the shutdown German pretty much out of nowhere. It was jarring how disconnected it was from the rest of the match, like listening to a record and having someone suddenly lift the needle up. This ends up being the rare modern match where the body is far more interesting than the finishing run. It probably sounds like I’m more down on this match than I really am, but the weaknesses are more glaring to me and thus easier to write about. This is a very strong match overall with an outstanding performance from Ishikawa. ****1/4 

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Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles (WWE, 11/19/17)

Just about everybody breathed a sigh of relief when AJ beat Jinder Mahal for the Smackdown title so we’d get this match instead of Brock/Jinder, but there was reason for expectations to be tempered. Brock had become increasingly one-dimensional in the ring after Suplex City had become a thing, and AJ had spent much of the year embroiled in a feud with Kevin Owens that was generally regarded as underwhelming. Any fears that this match would underdeliver proved to be unfounded, as they knocked it out of the park. I’d say this blows away anything either man has done since. A lot of Brock’s opponents try to rush right at him when the bell rings, but AJ tries to stick and move. It ends up being to no avail, as Brock catches him with a kick and plows him into the corner. I was struck by how much of a bully Brock was in the early going. He steps on AJ’s throat, drags him around by the hair like a caveman, and easily dodges his haymakers after beckoning him to throw hands. I can’t remember any other match where he’s so focused on humiliating his opponent rather than inflicting pain. It’s amazing what the battle for brand supremacy will do to people. Suplex City-era Brock’s best matches have been against smaller opponents who can fly around and take huge bumps for his suplexes, and AJ fits that description to a T. There were a few unfortunate botches in the back half of the match, most notably on the tornado DDT attempt, and I thought they went to the “both guys lying around because they’re so exhausted” well too early for it to feel truly earned. Brock’s selling of the calf crusher was brilliant, and escaping by repeatedly slamming AJ’s head into the mat like a basketball was a genuine holy-shit moment. AJ removing his elbow pad before going for the second phenomenal forearm was a nice touch at the end, as was Brock’s leg nearly giving out before landing the F5. ****1/2

Katsuhiko Nakajima/Masa Kitamiya vs. Go Shiozaki/Kaito Kiyomiya (NOAH, 5/29/18) 

This was my favorite match of 2018, which I’m sure is a head-scratcher of a selection even among the handful of Western fans who still follow NOAH. But when it comes to modern wrestling, a relatively restrained and compact match with King’s Road tribute psychology is going to do a lot more for me than the swing-for-the-fences epics that most fans these days gravitate toward. I have no problem with being an outlier in matters of taste, and I promise I don’t think less of you as a person or a wrestling fan if you think the modern workrate style is the pinnacle of the art form. We just happen to derive entertainment from completely different things. Nakajima and Kitamiya, collectively known as The Aggression, are essentially a poor man’s Holy Demon Army with Nakajima as the guy who likes to kick people’s heads off and Kitamiya as the lumbering enforcer. Also, their entrance music is fucking AWESOME. Kiyomiya is NOAH’s prospective ace of the future, a role previously held by Shiozaki and Nakajima (NOAH goes through aces the way Spinal Tap goes through drummers). He’s supposedly working a Misawa tribute gimmick, but other than the green trunks, I don’t notice much of a resemblance. His offensive repertoire needs more elbows and fewer DDT variations. His ring gear isn’t the only thing about him that’s green, but it isn’t too noticeable in this match because he spends most of it either on the apron or laid out on the floor. The story of the match is the Aggression working over Shiozaki’s injured leg while keeping Kiyomiya isolated on the outside. It’s basically a hybrid of the leg injury storyline of 6/9/95 and the veteran being hung out to dry by his younger partner storyline of 12/6/96, albeit on a much smaller scale. About 16 minutes in, there’s a super Go Flasher attempt that looks like a blown spot. The match ends a few minutes later, so it’s possible that it was supposed to be a prelude to a comeback for GoKai and they called an audible and ended it early when the spot didn’t go as planned. If so, it was to the match’s benefit, as it really didn’t need a 50/50 finishing run. Shiozaki does attempt a comeback, but the damage to his leg makes him a sitting duck for Nakajima’s head kicks. Nakajima staring into Kiyomiya’s eyes and grinning while Kitamiya was holding him back and preventing him from breaking up the pin was a fantastic way to rub it in at the end. ****1/4   

Aja Kong vs. Hikaru Shida (OZ Academy, 9/17/18) 

As best I can tell, this is the first non-Stardom joshi match to gain much attention outside of the joshi enthusiast community in quite some time. I’m guessing it was largely due to the involvement of Aja Kong, who most fans probably thought had retired a long time ago. If this match is any indication, she doesn’t need to hang it up any time soon. She can’t move or bump well anymore, but she can still construct a match around violence. There aren’t too many wrestlers of either gender capable of having a match of this caliber more than thirty years into their career. The first 15 minutes or so of this match are centered around dueling limb work, beginning with Aja taking out Shida’s knee with her trusty trash can. Her leg work was probably a bit too methodical, but Shida’s selling of the work was impeccable. Shida is eventually able to turn things around by taking out Aja’s uraken arm with a desperation knee. Aja escaping a cross armbreaker by headbutting Shida’s injured leg was brilliant stuff. They eventually take it to the outside, where Aja lands a brainbuster on the entrance ramp. Shida’s struggle to beat the count and make it back in to the ring gave both women ample time for their injured limbs to recover. The finishing stretch is more of a slugfest with the limb work becoming more of an afterthought, although they do return to it periodically. I suppose you could criticize Shida for dropping the leg selling at the very end, but it was close enough to the finish that I could buy it as her fighting through the pain because she sensed Aja was on her last legs. It’s not my favorite storytelling mechanism, but it’s something. What this lacks in athleticism it more than makes up for in psychology and brutality. ****1/4

Cody vs. Dustin Rhodes (AEW, 5/25/19) 

I’ll admit that this match probably appeals to me more as a statement of what wrestling can be than as a well-worked wrestling match. The first several minutes are a whole lot of nothing, which tends to be the case with Cody matches. Things pick up after Cody blocks the Shattered Dreams by removing the turnbuckle pad and then sends Dustin face-first into the turnbuckle with a drop toehold. Dustin bleeds an absolute gusher (at least on par with the famous Muta bladejob, particularly the shot of blood pouring from his head like a faucet), and Cody does a fine job of working over the cut. I especially liked him dodging the Rhodes family uppercut and countering with a curb stomp. Cody applying a figure-four, the signature maneuver of their father’s archenemy, was a cool touch as well, although it would have worked better if Cody had played subtle heel rather than full-blown heel. Other than some incongruous athletic maneuvers that seemed intended mainly to elicit “You still got it” chants, Dustin’s performance was pretty much flawless. It also showed how the disappearance of blading on a major league level has been a net loss for wrestling. When done to excess, it makes wrestling look like a distasteful geek show, but when used sparingly, it can elevate the violence and drama of the match without the wrestlers needing to take suicidal bumps. I know a lot of people were overcome by the emotion of the post-match scene, but it didn’t do a thing for me. That’s partially because I’m a heartless bastard who doesn’t care about family drama, but it’s also because it didn’t feel authentic to me. Cody destroys a replica HHH throne with a sledgehammer to a huge babyface pop during his entrance, works the match as a total heel, and then cuts a heartfelt babyface promo after the match. It might have worked for me if Cody had showed some hesitation or regret while beating his brother to a bloody pulp, but he doesn’t seem to have much grasp of nuance or ambiguity, which admittedly are hard concepts to get over in a wrestling ring. Again, though, just about everyone else loved it, so I’ll just chalk it up to me being a weirdo who doesn’t connect to people and emotions in a conventional way. Setting that aside, it’s tremendously heartening to see that even Young Bucks fans can get wrapped up in a match built around punches and blood, which is good enough for me. ****1/4

LA Park vs. Jacob Fatu (MLW, 11/2/19) 

First things first, I hated hated HATED the Ishii/Shibata suplex trading in the beginning. It was enough to make me almost turn the match off the first time I tried to watch it. Nevertheless, I persisted, and I’m glad I did. This is closer to an 80s territory brawl than an ECW-style plunderfest or a strong style macho pissing contest. There’s even a fireball-throwing Arab manager. Fatu is a great athlete, especially for his size, but he’s not the most dynamic performer. His control segment was quite a bit too long and one-dimensional, and his idea of working the audience was periodically posing and yelling “Contra!” in between all the slaps and headbutts. Park saves that part of the match with his selling and attempts to establish separation. He also pulls off several moves that shouldn’t be possible for a man his age and size. There is a table conveniently located underneath the ring, but it doesn’t come into play until the very end. Other than that, all the weapons used are items like chairs and the ring bell that would naturally be at ringside, which adds to the unscripted feel. Pro wrestling desperately needs more superheavyweight bloodbaths like this. ****1/4

 

And that's a wrap. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.

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Final rankings:

Spoiler

1. Mitsuharu Misawa/Kenta Kobashi vs. Toshiaki Kawada/Akira Taue (AJPW, 6/9/95)
2. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Toshiaki Kawada (AJPW, 6/3/94)
3. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Kenta Kobashi (AJPW, 1/20/97)
4. Akira Hokuto vs. Shinobu Kandori (AJW, 4/2/93) 
5. Stan Hansen vs. Kenta Kobashi (AJPW, 7/29/93) 
6. Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin (WWF, 3/23/97) 
7. Mitsuharu Misawa/Kenta Kobashi vs. Toshiaki Kawada/Akira Taue (AJPW, 12/3/93) 
8. Mitsuharu Misawa/Toshiaki Kawada/Kenta Kobashi vs. Jumbo Tsuruta/Akira Taue/Masanobu Fuchi (AJPW, 10/19/90) 
9. Jumbo Tsuruta/Genichiro Tenryu vs. Riki Choshu/Yoshiaki Yatsu (AJPW, 1/28/86) 
10. Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin (WWF, 11/17/96) 
11. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Akira Taue (AJPW, 4/15/95) 
12. Kenta Kobashi vs. Yoshihiro Takayama (NOAH, 4/25/04) 
13. Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio Jr. (WCW, 10/26/97) 
14. Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk (WCW, 7/23/89) 
15. Vader vs. Sting (WCW, 12/28/92) 

16. Shawn Michaels vs. Mankind (WWF, 9/22/96) 
17. Vader vs. Sting (WCW, 7/12/92) 
18. Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat (WCW, 4/2/89) 
19. Jerry Lawler vs. Bill Dundee (Memphis, 6/6/83) 
20. MS-1 vs. Sangre Chicana (EMLL, 9/23/83) 
21. Midnight Rockers vs. Buddy Rose/Doug Somers (AWA, 8/30/86) 
22. Rick Rude vs. Ricky Steamboat (WCW, 6/20/92) 
23. Mitsuharu Misawa/Jun Akiyama vs. Toshiaki Kawada/Akira Taue (AJPW, 5/23/96) 
24. Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle (WWF, 8/19/01) 
25. Kenta Kobashi/Tsuyoshi Kikuchi vs. Doug Furnas/Dan Kroffat (AJPW, 5/25/92) 
26. El Hijo del Santo vs. Brazo de Oro (UWA, 1/13/91) 
27. Mitsuharu Misawa/Jun Akiyama vs. Toshiaki Kawada/Akira Taue (AJPW, 12/6/96) 
28. Stan Hansen vs. Toshiaki Kawada (AJPW, 2/28/93) 
29. Stan Hansen vs. Toshiaki Kawada (AJPW, 4/6/92) 
30. Sgt. Slaughter vs. Iron Sheik (WWF, 6/16/84) 
31. Jushin Liger vs. Naoki Sano (NJPW, 8/10/89) 
32. Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat (WCW, 2/20/89) 
33. Eddie Guerrero vs. Brock Lesnar (WWE, 2/15/04) 
34. Mitsuharu Misawa/Toshiaki Kawada/Kenta Kobashi vs. Jumbo Tsuruta/Akira Taue/Masanobu Fuchi (AJPW, 4/20/91) 
35. Jumbo Tsuruta vs. Genichiro Tenryu (AJPW, 6/5/89) 
36. Stan Hansen/Terry Gordy vs. Genichiro Tenryu/Toshiaki Kawada (AJPW, 12/16/88) 
37. Stan Hansen/Genichiro Tenryu vs. Jumbo Tsuruta/Yoshiaki Yatsu (AJPW, 12/6/89) 
38. Jerry Lawler vs. Terry Funk (Memphis, 3/23/81) 
39. Riki Choshu vs. Yoshiaki Fujiwara (NJPW, 6/9/87) 
40. Genichiro Tenryu/Koki Kitahara vs. Shiro Koshinaka/Kengo Kimura (WAR, 10/23/92) 
41. Tatsumi Fujinami/Riki Choshu/Akira Maeda/Kengo Kimura/Super Strong Machine vs. Antonio Inoki/Yoshiaki Fujiwara/Seiji Sakaguchi/Kantaro Hoshino/Keiji Mutoh (NJPW, 8/19/87) 
42. Jerry Lawler vs. Bill Dundee (Memphis, 12/30/85) 
43. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Jun Akiyama (AJPW, 2/27/00) 
44. Brock Lesnar vs. CM Punk (WWE, 8/18/13) 
45. Shinya Hashimoto vs. Kazuo Yamazaki (NJPW, 8/2/98) 
46. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada (NJPW, 4/7/13)
47. Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect (WWF, 6/13/93) 
48. Aja Kong vs. Manami Toyota (AJW, 11/20/94) 
49. Kenta Kobashi vs. Jun Akiyama (AJPW, 7/24/98) 
50. Kenta Kobashi vs. Yoshinari Ogawa (NOAH, 11/1/03) 
51. Samoa Joe vs. AJ Styles (TNA, 12/11/05)
52. AJ Styles vs. Minoru Suzuki (NJPW, 8/1/14)
53. Yoshihiro Takayama/Minoru Suzuki vs. Yuji Nagata/Naofumi Yamamoto (NJPW, 10/9/06) 
54. John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar (WWE, 4/29/12)
55. Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart (WWF, 3/20/94) 
56. John Cena vs. Umaga (WWE, 1/28/07) 
57. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Toshiaki Kawada (AJPW, 7/24/95) 
58. El Hijo del Santo/Scorpio Jr./Bestia Salvaje vs. Negro Casas/El Dandy/Hector Garza (CMLL, 11/29/96) 
59. Keiji Mutoh vs. Masahiro Chono (NJPW, 8/11/91) 
60. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Jumbo Tsuruta (AJPW, 6/8/90) 
61. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Jumbo Tsuruta (AJPW, 9/1/90) 

62. Giant Baba vs. Billy Robinson (AJPW, 7/24/76)
63. Mitsuharu Misawa/Akira Taue/Kenta Kobashi vs. Jumbo Tsuruta/The Great Kabuki/Masanobu Fuchi (AJPW, 5/26/90)
64. Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tomoaki Honma (NJPW, 8/3/14)
65. Terry Gordy vs. Killer Khan (WCCW, 11/22/84)
66. Jim Duggan vs. Ted DiBiase (Mid-South, 3/22/85)
67. Kenta Kobashi/Go Shiozaki vs. Genichiro Tenryu/Jun Akiyama (NOAH, 4/24/05)
68. Vader/Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Keiji Mutoh/Hiroshi Hase (NJPW, 5/1/92)
69. Aja Kong vs. Dynamite Kansai (AJW, 8/30/95)
70. Vader vs. Keiji Mutoh (NJPW, 8/10/91)
71. Bryan Danielson vs. Takeshi Morishima (ROH, 8/25/07)
72. Mitsuharu Misawa/Yoshinari Ogawa vs. KENTA/Naomichi Marufuji (NOAH, 4/25/04)
73. Steve Austin vs. The Rock (WWF, 4/1/01)
74. Bret Hart vs. Diesel (WWF, 11/19/95)
75. Lex Luger vs. Ricky Steamboat (WCW, 7/23/89)
76. Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat (WWF, 3/29/87)
77. Mitsuharu Misawa/Toshiaki Kawada/Tsuyoshi Kikuchi vs. Jumbo Tsuruta/Akira Taue/Masanobu Fuchi (AJPW, 10/15/91)
78. Kenta Kobashi/Jun Akiyama vs. Stan Hansen/Akira Taue (AJPW, 12/3/99)
79. Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog (WWF, 12/17/95)
80. Genichiro Tenryu/Takashi Ishikawa vs. Shinya Hashimoto/Michiyoshi Ohara (NJPW, 6/14/93)
81. Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio (WWE, 6/23/05)
82. Dick Togo vs. Antonio Honda (DDT, 1/30/11)
83. Hiroshi Tanahashi/Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Minoru Suzuki/Kensuke Sasaki (NJPW, 12/11/04)
84. Masa Saito/Riki Choshu/Super Strong Machine/Kuniaki Kobayashi/Hiro Saito vs. Tatsumi Fujinami/Yoshiaki Fujiwara/Kengo Kimura/Shiro Koshinaka/Keiichi Yamada (NJPW, 9/12/88)
85. Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog (WWF, 8/29/92)
86. Rick Rude vs. Masahiro Chono (NJPW, 8/12/92)
87. Shawn Michaels/Diesel vs. Razor Ramon/123 Kid (WWF, 10/30/94)
88. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Stan Hansen (AJPW, 5/21/93)
89. Ultimate Warrior vs. Rick Rude (WWF, 8/28/89)
90. Aja Kong vs. Yumiko Hotta (AJW, 1/24/94)
91. Hirooki Goto/Katsuyori Shibata vs. Yuji Nagata/Tomoaki Honma (NJPW, 6/21/14)
92. British Bulldogs vs. Hart Foundation (WWF, 9/23/85)
93. Barry Windham vs 2 Cold Scorpio (WCW, 6/16/93)
94. Kenta Kobashi/Jun Akiyama vs. Yoshihiro Takayama/Takao Omori (AJPW, 10/30/99)
95. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (NJPW, 8/16/15)
96. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi (NJPW, 8/4/13)
97. Kazuchika Okada vs. Togi Makabe (NJPW, 6/22/13)
98. Kenta Kobashi/Jun Akiyama vs. Stan Hansen/Vader (AJPW, 12/5/98)
99. Kensuke Sasaki vs. KENTA (NOAH, 7/18/08)
100. DIY vs. Revival (WWE, 11/19/16)
101. Dream Team vs. Ricky Steamboat/Tito Santana (WWF, 4/21/85)
102. Bret Hart vs. Ric Flair (WWF, 1/9/93)
103. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Minoru Suzuki (NJPW, 10/8/12)
104. Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat (WWF, 2/15/87)
105. El Dandy vs. Pirata Morgan (EMLL, 9/23/88)
106. Rick Martel vs. Jumbo Tsuruta (AWA, 9/29/85)
107. Ted DiBiase vs. Dick Murdoch (Mid-South, 12/31/85)
108. Genichiro Tenryu vs. Shinya Hashimoto (WAR, 6/17/93)
109. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Akira Taue (AJPW, 9/10/95)
110. Bob Backlund vs. Ken Patera (WWF, 5/19/80)
111. Dynamite Kid vs. Tatsumi Fujinami (NJPW, 2/5/80)
112. Jumbo Tsuruta vs. Jack Brisco (AJPW, 8/28/76)
113. Lex Luger/Barry Windham vs. Arn Anderson/Tully Blanchard (NWA, 3/27/88)
114. Barry Windham/Dustin Rhodes vs. Steve Austin/Larry Zbyszko (WCW, 2/29/92)
115. Dustin Rhodes vs. Bunkhouse Buck (WCW, 4/17/94)
116. Kenta Kobashi vs. Stan Hansen (AJPW, 9/5/96)
117. Daisuke Ikeda vs. Alexander Otsuka (Battlarts, 4/26/99)
118. Chris Benoit/Chris Jericho vs. Steve Austin/HHH (WWF, 5/21/01)
119. Kenta Kobashi/Jun Akiyama vs. Toshiaki Kawada/Akira Taue (AJPW, 10/11/98)
120. Kazuchika Okada vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (NJPW, 8/10/14)
121. Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus (WWE, 4/29/12)
122. Shawn Michaels vs. Diesel (WWF, 4/28/96)
123. Cactus Jack vs. Paul Orndorff (WCW, 2/21/93)
124. Manami Toyota vs. Dynamite Kansai (AJW, 12/4/95)
125. LA Park vs. El Mesias (AAA, 12/5/10)
126. Vader vs. Jun Akiyama (AJPW, 1/23/00)
127. Sgt. Slaughter vs. Pat Patterson (WWF, 5/4/81)
128. Riki Choshu vs. Shinya Hashimoto (NJPW, 8/2/96)
129. Kazuchika Okada vs. Tomohiro Ishii (NJPW, 8/6/16)
130. Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles (WWE, 11/19/17)
131. Randy Savage vs. Tito Santana (WWF, 4/22/86)
132. Rock & Roll Express vs. Midnight Express (WCW, 2/25/90)
133. Bret Hart/British Bulldog vs. Owen Hart/Bob Backlund (WWF, 2/26/95)
134. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Yuji Nagata (NJPW, 4/13/07)
135. KENTA vs. SUWA (NOAH, 9/18/05)
136. Dr. Wagner Jr. vs. Mistico (CMLL, 7/27/07)
137. Daniel Bryan vs. HHH (WWE, 4/6/14)
138. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Yoshihiro Takayama (NOAH, 9/23/02)
139. Ricky Steamboat/Shane Douglas vs. Barry Windham/Brian Pillman (WCW, 12/28/92)
140. Mitsuharu Misawa/Yoshinari Ogawa vs. Kenta Kobashi/Jun Akiyama (AJPW, 3/6/99)

141. Vader vs. Dustin Rhodes (WCW, 11/16/94)
142. Steiners vs. Nasty Boys (WCW, 10/27/90)
143. Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns (WWE, 3/29/15)
144. Toshiaki Kawada/Genichiro Tenryu vs. Stan Hansen/Maunakea Mossman (AJPW, 7/23/00) 
145. Bret Hart vs. Undertaker (WWF, 9/20/97) 
146. Vader vs. Kiyoshi Tamura (UWFi, 6/10/94) 
147. Bret Hart vs. 123 Kid (WWF, 7/11/94) 
148. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Vader (AJPW, 5/2/99)
149. John Cena vs. Randy Orton (WWE, 8/26/07)
150. HHH vs. Chris Jericho (WWF, 7/23/00)
151. Shinobu Kandori vs. Megumi Kudo (LLPW, 1/5/97)
152. Stan Hansen vs. Genichiro Tenryu (AJPW, 7/27/88)
153. Vader vs. Antonio Inoki (NJPW, 1/4/96)
154. Yoshihiro Takayama vs. KENTA (NOAH, 6/27/04)
155. Katsuhiko Nakajima/Masa Kitamiya vs. Go Shiozaki/Kaito Kiyomiya (NOAH, 5/29/18)
156. Yuji Nagata vs. Togi Makabe (NJPW, 7/6/07)
157. Aja Kong vs. Hikaru Shida (OZ Academy, 9/17/18) 
158. LA Park vs. Jacob Fatu (MLW, 11/2/19) 
159. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Takeshi Morishima (NOAH, 3/5/06) 
160. Yuji Nagata vs. Kensuke Sasaki (NJPW, 1/4/04) 
161. Takeshi Morishima vs. Daisuke Ikeda (NOAH, 6/1/04) 
162. John Cena vs. JBL (WWE, 5/22/05) 
163. Aja Kong vs. Meiko Satomura (GAEA, 9/15/99) 
164. Genichiro Tenryu vs. KENTA (NOAH, 10/8/05) 
165. Brock Lesnar vs. Undertaker (WWE, 10/20/02) 
166. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Vader (AJPW, 10/30/99)
167. Stan Hansen vs. Akira Taue (AJPW, 4/11/94) 
168. Dustin Rhodes/Ricky Steamboat vs. Enforcers (WCW, 11/19/91) 
169. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Kenta Kobashi (AJPW, 6/11/99) 
170. Minoru Suzuki/Taiyo Kea vs. Suwama/Shuji Kondo (AJPW, 3/14/09) 
171. Shinya Hashimoto/Junji Hirata vs. Masahiro Chono/Hiroyoshi Tenzan (NJPW, 6/12/95) 
172. Stan Hansen vs. Steve Williams (AJPW, 6/5/90) 
173. Dynamite Kid vs. Marty Jones (World of Sport, 2/5/83) 
174. Jumbo Tsuruta/The Great Kabuki/Takashi Ishikawa vs. Ashura Hara/Toshiaki Kawada/Samson Fuyuki (AJPW, 3/11/88) 
175. Vader vs. Stan Hansen (NJPW, 2/10/90) 
176. Rock & Roll Express vs. Andersons (NWA, 11/27/86) 
177. Vader vs. Ron Simmons (WCW, 8/2/92) 
178. Toshiaki Kawada vs. Akira Taue (AJPW, 1/15/91) 
179. Hart Foundation vs. Brain Busters (WWF, 8/28/89) 
180. Hiroshi Hase vs. Masahiro Chono (NJPW, 8/6/93) 
181. Vader vs. Riki Choshu (NJPW, 8/19/90) 
182. Jumbo Tsuruta vs. Genichiro Tenryu (AJPW, 8/31/87) 
183. Bull Power vs. Otto Wanz (CWA, 12/22/89) 
184. Nick Bockwinkel vs. Curt Hennig (AWA, 11/21/86) 
185. Ric Flair vs. Randy Savage (WCW, 6/18/95) 
186. Vader vs. Davey Boy Smith (WCW, 8/18/93) 
187. Sting vs. Lord Steven Regal (WCW, 6/16/96) 
188. Eddie Guerrero/Tajiri vs. Team Angle (WWE, 5/22/03) 
189. Riki Choshu vs. Killer Khan (AJPW, 7/31/86) 
190. Tony Salazar vs. Herodes (EMLL, 3/2/84) 
191. Kento Miyahara vs. Shuji Ishikawa (AJPW, 8/27/17) 
192. Scott Steiner vs. Goldberg (WCW, 9/17/00) 
193. Cody vs. Dustin Rhodes (AEW, 5/25/19) 
194. Vader vs. Nobuhiko Takada (UWFi, 8/18/94) 
195. Ric Flair vs. Brett Sawyer (Portland, 10/2/82) 
196. Antonio Inoki vs. Dick Murdoch (NJPW, 6/19/86) 
197. Jumping Bomb Angels vs. Glamour Girls (WWF, 11/24/87) 
198. Randy Savage vs. DDP (WCW, 4/6/97) 
199. Stan Hansen vs. Terry Funk (AJPW, 8/23/85) 
200. Antonio Inoki/Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Riki Choshu/Masa Saito (NJPW, 2/3/83)

 

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Well, like Dusty said, it will never be over. Going forward, I'll be updating this whenever a new match enters my top 150 (which I've decided is my cutoff for desert island status).

Genichiro Tenryu/Masao Orihara vs. The Great Kabuki/Tatsumi Kitahara (WAR, 7/14/92)
After some initial feeling out, Tenryu tries to collapse Kabuki's trachea with a chop to the throat, which Kabuki sells like he just swallowed battery acid. He then retaliates by trying to shatter Tenryu's jaw with uppercuts, so the tone is pretty well established. Orihara looks out of place with his attempts at complex athletic sequences, but at least they usually end with him getting dropped on the mat or kicked in the head. Kabuki and Kitahara unleash a hellacious beating on Orihara, and he sells throughout like he's on death's door. He also gets plenty of chances to show his stuff, most notably on a moonsault from the top turnbuckle to the floor. There's even some surprising learned psychology. When Orihara tries to make a comeback with kicks, Kabuki catches his leg and takes him down with a single leg trip. When Kitahara tries to do the same thing shortly afterward, Orihara shuts him down with slaps and then lays in a stomp for good measure before tagging out. Tenryu spends the bulk of the match standing on the apron and running in to break up pins with soccer ball kicks, but he's a surprisingly giving seller whenever he's the legal man. This is easily the best WAR match I've ever seen outside of the New Japan feud. ****1/2

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Updated top 150:

Spoiler

1. Mitsuharu Misawa/Kenta Kobashi vs. Toshiaki Kawada/Akira Taue (AJPW, 6/9/95)
2. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Toshiaki Kawada (AJPW, 6/3/94)
3. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Kenta Kobashi (AJPW, 1/20/97)
4. Akira Hokuto vs. Shinobu Kandori (AJW, 4/2/93)
5. Stan Hansen vs. Kenta Kobashi (AJPW, 7/29/93)
6. Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin (WWF, 3/23/97)
7. Mitsuharu Misawa/Kenta Kobashi vs. Toshiaki Kawada/Akira Taue (AJPW, 12/3/93)
8. Mitsuharu Misawa/Toshiaki Kawada/Kenta Kobashi vs. Jumbo Tsuruta/Akira Taue/Masanobu Fuchi (AJPW, 10/19/90)
9. Jumbo Tsuruta/Genichiro Tenryu vs. Riki Choshu/Yoshiaki Yatsu (AJPW, 1/28/86)
10. Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin (WWF, 11/17/96)
11. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Akira Taue (AJPW, 4/15/95)
12. Kenta Kobashi vs. Yoshihiro Takayama (NOAH, 4/25/04)
13. Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio Jr. (WCW, 10/26/97)
14. Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk (WCW, 7/23/89)
15. Vader vs. Sting (WCW, 12/28/92)
16. Shawn Michaels vs. Mankind (WWF, 9/22/96)
17. Vader vs. Sting (WCW, 7/12/92)
18. Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat (WCW, 4/2/89)
19. Jerry Lawler vs. Bill Dundee (Memphis, 6/6/83)
20. MS-1 vs. Sangre Chicana (EMLL, 9/23/83)
21. Midnight Rockers vs. Buddy Rose/Doug Somers (AWA, 8/30/86)
22. Rick Rude vs. Ricky Steamboat (WCW, 6/20/92)
23. Mitsuharu Misawa/Jun Akiyama vs. Toshiaki Kawada/Akira Taue (AJPW, 5/23/96)
24. Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle (WWF, 8/19/01)
25. Kenta Kobashi/Tsuyoshi Kikuchi vs. Doug Furnas/Dan Kroffat (AJPW, 5/25/92)
26. El Hijo del Santo vs. Brazo de Oro (UWA, 1/13/91)
27. Mitsuharu Misawa/Jun Akiyama vs. Toshiaki Kawada/Akira Taue (AJPW, 12/6/96)
28. Stan Hansen vs. Toshiaki Kawada (AJPW, 2/28/93)
29. Stan Hansen vs. Toshiaki Kawada (AJPW, 4/6/92)
30. Sgt. Slaughter vs. Iron Sheik (WWF, 6/16/84)
31. Jushin Liger vs. Naoki Sano (NJPW, 8/10/89)
32. Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat (WCW, 2/20/89)
33. Eddie Guerrero vs. Brock Lesnar (WWE, 2/15/04)
34. Mitsuharu Misawa/Toshiaki Kawada/Kenta Kobashi vs. Jumbo Tsuruta/Akira Taue/Masanobu Fuchi (AJPW, 4/20/91)
35. Jumbo Tsuruta vs. Genichiro Tenryu (AJPW, 6/5/89)
36. Stan Hansen/Terry Gordy vs. Genichiro Tenryu/Toshiaki Kawada (AJPW, 12/16/88)
37. Stan Hansen/Genichiro Tenryu vs. Jumbo Tsuruta/Yoshiaki Yatsu (AJPW, 12/6/89)
38. Jerry Lawler vs. Terry Funk (Memphis, 3/23/81)
39. Riki Choshu vs. Yoshiaki Fujiwara (NJPW, 6/9/87)
40. Genichiro Tenryu/Koki Kitahara vs. Shiro Koshinaka/Kengo Kimura (WAR, 10/23/92)
41. Tatsumi Fujinami/Riki Choshu/Akira Maeda/Kengo Kimura/Super Strong Machine vs. Antonio Inoki/Yoshiaki Fujiwara/Seiji Sakaguchi/Kantaro Hoshino/Keiji Mutoh (NJPW, 8/19/87)
42. Jerry Lawler vs. Bill Dundee (Memphis, 12/30/85)
43. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Jun Akiyama (AJPW, 2/27/00)
44. Brock Lesnar vs. CM Punk (WWE, 8/18/13)
45. Shinya Hashimoto vs. Kazuo Yamazaki (NJPW, 8/2/98)
46. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada (NJPW, 4/7/13)
47. Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect (WWF, 6/13/93)
48. Aja Kong vs. Manami Toyota (AJW, 11/20/94)
49. Kenta Kobashi vs. Jun Akiyama (AJPW, 7/24/98)
50. Kenta Kobashi vs. Yoshinari Ogawa (NOAH, 11/1/03)
51. Samoa Joe vs. AJ Styles (TNA, 12/11/05)
52. AJ Styles vs. Minoru Suzuki (NJPW, 8/1/14)
53. Yoshihiro Takayama/Minoru Suzuki vs. Yuji Nagata/Naofumi Yamamoto (NJPW, 10/9/06)
54. John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar (WWE, 4/29/12)
55. Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart (WWF, 3/20/94)
56. John Cena vs. Umaga (WWE, 1/28/07)
57. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Toshiaki Kawada (AJPW, 7/24/95)
58. El Hijo del Santo/Scorpio Jr./Bestia Salvaje vs. Negro Casas/El Dandy/Hector Garza (CMLL, 11/29/96)
59. Keiji Mutoh vs. Masahiro Chono (NJPW, 8/11/91)
60. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Jumbo Tsuruta (AJPW, 6/8/90)
61. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Jumbo Tsuruta (AJPW, 9/1/90)
62. Giant Baba vs. Billy Robinson (AJPW, 7/24/76)
63. Mitsuharu Misawa/Akira Taue/Kenta Kobashi vs. Jumbo Tsuruta/The Great Kabuki/Masanobu Fuchi (AJPW, 5/26/90)
64. Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tomoaki Honma (NJPW, 8/3/14)
65. Terry Gordy vs. Killer Khan (WCCW, 11/22/84)
66. Jim Duggan vs. Ted DiBiase (Mid-South, 3/22/85)
67. Kenta Kobashi/Go Shiozaki vs. Genichiro Tenryu/Jun Akiyama (NOAH, 4/24/05)
68. Vader/Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Keiji Mutoh/Hiroshi Hase (NJPW, 5/1/92)
69. Aja Kong vs. Dynamite Kansai (AJW, 8/30/95)
70. Vader vs. Keiji Mutoh (NJPW, 8/10/91)
71. Bryan Danielson vs. Takeshi Morishima (ROH, 8/25/07)
72. Mitsuharu Misawa/Yoshinari Ogawa vs. KENTA/Naomichi Marufuji (NOAH, 4/25/04)
73. Steve Austin vs. The Rock (WWF, 4/1/01)
74. Bret Hart vs. Diesel (WWF, 11/19/95)
75. Lex Luger vs. Ricky Steamboat (WCW, 7/23/89)
76. Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat (WWF, 3/29/87)
77. Mitsuharu Misawa/Toshiaki Kawada/Tsuyoshi Kikuchi vs. Jumbo Tsuruta/Akira Taue/Masanobu Fuchi (AJPW, 10/15/91)
78. Kenta Kobashi/Jun Akiyama vs. Stan Hansen/Akira Taue (AJPW, 12/3/99)
79. Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog (WWF, 12/17/95)
80. Genichiro Tenryu/Takashi Ishikawa vs. Shinya Hashimoto/Michiyoshi Ohara (NJPW, 6/14/93)
81. Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio (WWE, 6/23/05)
82. Dick Togo vs. Antonio Honda (DDT, 1/30/11)
83. Hiroshi Tanahashi/Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Minoru Suzuki/Kensuke Sasaki (NJPW, 12/11/04)
84. Masa Saito/Riki Choshu/Super Strong Machine/Kuniaki Kobayashi/Hiro Saito vs. Tatsumi Fujinami/Yoshiaki Fujiwara/Kengo Kimura/Shiro Koshinaka/Keiichi Yamada (NJPW, 9/12/88)
85. Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog (WWF, 8/29/92)
86. Rick Rude vs. Masahiro Chono (NJPW, 8/12/92)
87. Shawn Michaels/Diesel vs. Razor Ramon/123 Kid (WWF, 10/30/94)
88. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Stan Hansen (AJPW, 5/21/93)
89. Ultimate Warrior vs. Rick Rude (WWF, 8/28/89)
90. Aja Kong vs. Yumiko Hotta (AJW, 1/24/94)
91. Hirooki Goto/Katsuyori Shibata vs. Yuji Nagata/Tomoaki Honma (NJPW, 6/21/14)
92. British Bulldogs vs. Hart Foundation (WWF, 9/23/85)
93. Barry Windham vs 2 Cold Scorpio (WCW, 6/16/93)
94. Kenta Kobashi/Jun Akiyama vs. Yoshihiro Takayama/Takao Omori (AJPW, 10/30/99)
95. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (NJPW, 8/16/15)
96. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi (NJPW, 8/4/13)
97. Kazuchika Okada vs. Togi Makabe (NJPW, 6/22/13)
98. Kenta Kobashi/Jun Akiyama vs. Stan Hansen/Vader (AJPW, 12/5/98)
99. Kensuke Sasaki vs. KENTA (NOAH, 7/18/08)
100. DIY vs. Revival (WWE, 11/19/16)
101. Dream Team vs. Ricky Steamboat/Tito Santana (WWF, 4/21/85)
102. Bret Hart vs. Ric Flair (WWF, 1/9/93)
103. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Minoru Suzuki (NJPW, 10/8/12)
104. Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat (WWF, 2/15/87)
105. El Dandy vs. Pirata Morgan (EMLL, 9/23/88)
106. Rick Martel vs. Jumbo Tsuruta (AWA, 9/29/85)
107. Ted DiBiase vs. Dick Murdoch (Mid-South, 12/31/85)
108. Genichiro Tenryu vs. Shinya Hashimoto (WAR, 6/17/93)
109. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Akira Taue (AJPW, 9/10/95)
110. Bob Backlund vs. Ken Patera (WWF, 5/19/80)
111. Dynamite Kid vs. Tatsumi Fujinami (NJPW, 2/5/80)
112. Jumbo Tsuruta vs. Jack Brisco (AJPW, 8/28/76)
113. Lex Luger/Barry Windham vs. Arn Anderson/Tully Blanchard (NWA, 3/27/88)
114. Barry Windham/Dustin Rhodes vs. Steve Austin/Larry Zbyszko (WCW, 2/29/92)
115. Dustin Rhodes vs. Bunkhouse Buck (WCW, 4/17/94)
116. Kenta Kobashi vs. Stan Hansen (AJPW, 9/5/96)
117. Daisuke Ikeda vs. Alexander Otsuka (Battlarts, 4/26/99)
118. Chris Benoit/Chris Jericho vs. Steve Austin/HHH (WWF, 5/21/01)
119. Kenta Kobashi/Jun Akiyama vs. Toshiaki Kawada/Akira Taue (AJPW, 10/11/98)
120. Genichiro Tenryu/Masao Orihara vs. The Great Kabuki/Tatsumi Kitahara (WAR, 7/14/92)
121. Mitsuharu Misawa/Kenta Kobashi/Tsuyoshi Kikuchi vs. Toshiaki Kawada/Akira Taue/Yoshinari Ogawa (AJPW, 6/3/93)
122. Kazuchika Okada vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (NJPW, 8/10/14)
123. Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus (WWE, 4/29/12)
124. Shawn Michaels vs. Diesel (WWF, 4/28/96)
125. Cactus Jack vs. Paul Orndorff (WCW, 2/21/93)
126. Manami Toyota vs. Dynamite Kansai (AJW, 12/4/95)
127. Mitsuharu Misawa/Kenta Kobashi vs. Steve Williams/Johnny Ace (AJPW, 12/10/94)
128. LA Park vs. El Mesias (AAA, 12/5/10)
129. Vader vs. Jun Akiyama (AJPW, 1/23/00)
130. Sgt. Slaughter vs. Pat Patterson (WWF, 5/4/81)
131. Riki Choshu vs. Shinya Hashimoto (NJPW, 8/2/96)
132. Kazuchika Okada vs. Tomohiro Ishii (NJPW, 8/6/16)
133. Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles (WWE, 11/19/17)
134. Randy Savage vs. Tito Santana (WWF, 4/22/86)
135. Rock & Roll Express vs. Midnight Express (WCW, 2/25/90)
136. Bret Hart/British Bulldog vs. Owen Hart/Bob Backlund (WWF, 2/26/95)
137. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Yuji Nagata (NJPW, 4/13/07)
138. KENTA vs. SUWA (NOAH, 9/18/05)
139. Dr. Wagner Jr. vs. Mistico (CMLL, 7/27/07)
140. Daniel Bryan vs. HHH (WWE, 4/6/14)
141. Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Yoshihiro Takayama (NOAH, 9/23/02)
142. Ricky Steamboat/Shane Douglas vs. Barry Windham/Brian Pillman (WCW, 12/28/92)
143. Mitsuharu Misawa/Yoshinari Ogawa vs. Kenta Kobashi/Jun Akiyama (AJPW, 3/6/99)
144. Vader vs. Dustin Rhodes (WCW, 11/16/94)
145. Steiners vs. Nasty Boys (WCW, 10/27/90)
146. Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns (WWE, 3/29/15)
147. Toshiaki Kawada/Genichiro Tenryu vs. Stan Hansen/Maunakea Mossman (AJPW, 7/23/00) 
148. Bret Hart vs. Undertaker (WWF, 9/20/97) 
149. Vader vs. Kiyoshi Tamura (UWFi, 6/10/94) 
150. Bret Hart vs. 123 Kid (WWF, 7/11/94) 

 

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Update:

126. Mitsuharu Misawa/Kenta Kobashi vs. Steve Williams/Johnny Ace (AJPW, 12/10/94)

After further review and some serious consideration, I've decided that this is Doc's best match. It has deeper psychology than the 1990 brawl with Hansen and less downtime and overkill than his other acclaimed epics. It's also my pick for the best ever non-final (or more accurately, non-tournament-clinching) RWTL match. Unlike a lot of high-profile All Japan matches, there's no time-killing vibe in the opening minutes as they start out chippy with slapping, hair pulling, and two near pull-apart brawls. The bulk of the match is Misawa-in-peril, which works to the match's benefit because Kobashi refuses to allow Doc and Ace to simply sit in holds. Had Kobashi been the one being worked over, Misawa likely would have sat back and waited for the tag. Kobashi running in to break up submissions forced the Americans to really ramp up the aggression, and they obliged with some brutal double-team offense. In an ominous harbinger of the future, the crowd largely sits on their hands until the head drops start. The finishing run is the kind of controlled chaos this crew always excelled at delivering. Kobashi taking out Doc with a tiger suplex at the end was fitting payback for the release German he delivered to Kobashi earlier in the match. ****1/2

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Fantastic thread. Hard to disagree with anything here as you lay it out. Some really cool choices (like Scorpio-Windham) and I popped for every five star drop. I didn’t read through nearly everything, but every review I read was maybe the most pointed take I’ve seen on a lot of these matches. The more I think about it, the more accurate your final rankings seem. Somehow you have guided us through the fog. And of course there’s so much here I need to revisit. Great stuff, mate. 

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On 6/18/2020 at 5:40 PM, NintendoLogic said:

Update:

126. Mitsuharu Misawa/Kenta Kobashi vs. Steve Williams/Johnny Ace (AJPW, 12/10/94)

After further review and some serious consideration, I've decided that this is Doc's best match. It has deeper psychology than the 1990 brawl with Hansen and less downtime and overkill than his other acclaimed epics. It's also my pick for the best ever non-final (or more accurately, non-tournament-clinching) RWTL match. Unlike a lot of high-profile All Japan matches, there's no time-killing vibe in the opening minutes as they start out chippy with slapping, hair pulling, and two near pull-apart brawls. The bulk of the match is Misawa-in-peril, which works to the match's benefit because Kobashi refuses to allow Doc and Ace to simply sit in holds. Had Kobashi been the one being worked over, Misawa likely would have sat back and waited for the tag. Kobashi running in to break up submissions forced the Americans to really ramp up the aggression, and they obliged with some brutal double-team offense. In an ominous harbinger of the future, the crowd largely sits on their hands until the head drops start. The finishing run is the kind of controlled chaos this crew always excelled at delivering. Kobashi taking out Doc with a tiger suplex at the end was fitting payback for the release German he delivered to Kobashi earlier in the match. ****1/2

Hadn't watched this in years.  Did after your review and very glad I did.

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Thanks again for all the kind words, everyone. This project has been tremendously rewarding to be because it's helped me organize a lot of the thoughts jumbling around in my head in a more coherent fashion and caused me to pick up on some things I most likely wouldn't have noticed otherwise. I'm glad other people got something out of it as well.

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Update:

121. Mitsuharu Misawa/Kenta Kobashi/Tsuyoshi Kikuchi vs. Toshiaki Kawada/Akira Taue/Yoshinari Ogawa (AJPW, 6/3/93)

On the whole, I find the Misawa/Kawada six-mans to be rather underwhelming. Kawada wasn't quite as strong as Jumbo in kayfabe, so Taue had to carry more of the load for his side and move beyond being the designated punching bag. However, that meant a Kawada/Taue/Fuchi team would have no real kayfabe weaknesses. As a result, the third slot was usually filled by Ogawa, which was a significant step down. Ogawa's best work is as a weasel who catches opponents off-guard with roll-ups and eye pokes, which doesn't really lend itself to high-end trios action as well as Fuchi the master torturer. With all that said, this is easily the best post-Jumbo All Japan six-man in my book thanks to a world-class FIP performance from Kikuchi and Ogawa mostly staying out of the way. I really liked how they demonstrated that Ogawa and especially Kikuchi were in way over their heads. Kikuchi treats Taue like he's Andre the Giant, being unable to knock him off his feet or execute even basic suplexes and hiptosses. Again, the obvious highlight of the match is the horrific beatdown on Kikuchi. If someone were to claim that it was on par with the one in the Can-Ams match, I wouldn't argue the point. In addition to his selling, what makes him such a great FIP is the way he combines absorbing Japanese-style offense with American-style hope spots. Misawa has an awesome hot tag, and there are some fantastic exchanges between Kawada and Kobashi down the stretch. Kikuchi and Ogawa exchanging nearfalls isn't the ideal finishing run, but it doesn't go long enough to be truly offensive. It helps that much the attention goes toward Kobashi and Taue brawling on the outside. ****1/2

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