With music and films out of the way, it’s time to finish the year with a list that actually reflects the name of the site, it’s wrassling time. First, though, I have a few disclaimers. This list will be New Japan heavy because I mainly watch New Japan. I’m also limiting myself to one match per a feud and as I have reviewed a lot of these before I’ll be linking to my previous reviews rather than going in depth. I will, however, talk a bit about those I haven’t had a chance to ramble about. Right, let’s do this.
20. Kota Ibushi vs Kenny Omega, G1 Climax 28 (11/8/18), NJPW
“And yet, this was incredible. It was a beautiful, violent display of what wrestling can be. These two men went out there and delivered everything they did with a viciousness that they couldn’t do with anyone else. Look at the snap as Kota hits the Last Ride or the way Omega fought out of the Reverse Hurricanrana by dropping Ibushi on his head. That’s only two examples of many, but it’s living proof that their love for each other gives them the ability to damn near murder each other.”
Despite clearly holding back (presumably for a match at some point in 2019), Ibushi and Omega reminded the world why we’ve been clinging to their story for years.
19. Hiromu Takahashi vs Taiji Ishimori, BOSJ Final (4/6/18), NJPW
“The problem with a Time Bomb is that it always goes off. Finally, Hiromu was able to throw himself across the ring and connect with the Sunset Bomb to the outside. At this point, Kevin Kelly and Chris Sabin (who had joined him on commentary) were doing a fantastic job of breaking down Takahashi’s wrestling style. He doesn’t care about longevity, he cares about winning. Here, we began to see how far Hiromu would go to get the victory. Some of the bumps he took were insane, and they weren’t all from Ishimori’s offence.”
God, I miss Hiromu. In the final of the Super Juniors, the clinical offence of Ishimori went up against the Time Bomb’s insanity. In the end, insanity won out, but the journey that took us there was one hell of a ride.
18. WALTER vs Ilja Dragunov, True Colours (14/4/18), wXw
“As we entered the final act, it felt like WALTER could have shot Dragunov in the head, and he still would have kicked out. Forget wrestling. I don’t know how that man kept coming back. How he kept gritting his teeth and battling through those chops to keep this fight going. He did, though, and eventually, he connected with a Torpedo Moskau for the win.”
At this point, WALTER vs Dragunov is a sure thing. After Ilja’s return at 16 Carat, it was only a matter of time until the war continued. Thankfully, it lived up to all the expectations.
17. Kazuchika Okada vs Tetsuya Naito, Wrestle Kingdom (4/1/18), NJPW
“Then they moved into that final stretch, which was one of the most edge of your seat, eye-popping and orgasmic finishes of all time. I was so sure that Naito was going to win and yet he couldn’t get it done. Every chance he had came to a screeching halt as Okada came roaring back. When he hit that dropkick and then sneered in Naito’s direction, you suddenly realised there was no way this champion was going down. And he wasn’t. Not today anyway.”
The quality of the Dome’s main event has been overshadowed by the shock over Okada’s win. Still, this was one hell of a match that will make it all the sweeter when Naito eventually win the big one.
16. Kota Ibushi vs Zack Sabre Jr, New Japan Cup (15/3/18), NJPW
“It got to the point where these two were just throwing everything they had each other. Strike after strike, hold after hold. It became a question of who could survive the longest without being forced into a mistake by exhaustion.
Round two of a feud that played a huge role in establishing Zack Sabre Jr. as one of NJPW’s best. Both of these men have had an outstanding bell to bell year and putting them together guarantees magic.
15. Will Ospreay vs Matt Riddle, Scrappermania 4 (12/5/18), OTT
In what would prove to be their final match in a series which traversed multiple promotions, Matt Riddle and Will Ospreay produced perhaps their best yet. It was, in many ways, a perfect example of the current indie style. A seamless flow of incredible action with both men pushing each other to reach new levels.
What made this particular bout so great, were the adjustments Will has made to his style this year. This was still the high flyer vs the MMA dude, but Ospreay was at the start of his period of bulking up, and his strikes were starting to take on the vicious edge that now characterises them. That subtle tweak allowed him to duke it out with Riddle, putting them on an even keel which allowed them to push the action even further.
With Riddle now in WWE, we won’t be seeing this match again for at least a while. However, this was pretty much the perfect end to their feud as Will was able to pick up the win for the first time. In many ways, you could point at this (from a kayfabe point of view) as the moment where Ospreay began to gain the confidence to push himself towards heavyweight. With his match against Ibushi coming soon, I think we can all be thankful for that.
14. WALTER vs Jordan Devlin, WrestleRama 2 (19/8/18), OTT
I don’t care if you’re talking on an indie level or in the shit stained walls of WWE, you will struggle to find a better build-up to a match than this one. Just watch the fucking video package, Jesus Christ man. That shit gets you pumped.
And that story played into the action. Devlin was the hometown boy, the Import Killer. WALTER is the invading force. It’s fucking Ivan Drago coming over to America and murdering Apollo Creed to win the Cold War all over again.
What a performance from Devlin too. Those who have seen a lot of him have been proclaiming his greatness for a while, but this was the moment he burst onto the map. He was in there with WALTER, the big bad to end all big bads and he was giving everything to try and put that massive fucker down. Taking those chops and screaming raw, bloody defiance.
The part that makes it truly brilliant, though? It’s the fact WALTER wins. Almost easily. Devlin battles and he fights, but come to the end he just can’t do it. WALTER is too big. He’s too smart and he’s too damn good. The Ring General spikes Devlin on his head and the Irish crowd gasps in shock. There’s a moment of silence when the ref’s hand hits the mat and it’s incredible.
Because while wrestling has a tendency to chase the pop, that moment is just as important. It’s the sound of a group of people caught up in a moment. A group of people who have bought so fully into the David and Goliath story that they can’t believe Goliath has won. That’s something special.
13. WALTER vs Timothy Thatcher, BOLA (15/9/18), PWG
“It led to a match that wasn’t pretty but was a motherfucking war. Everything about it was grunty and gruesome. Just the sound of the blows shows how different these men are to most. It wasn’t the clean claps we associate with wrestling (although there was some of that too), but the dull fleshy thud of fists and boots as they met their target.”
RINGKAMPF faced off a few times this year, but my personal favourite took place at BOLA. If you like your wrestling to look real, then this match will tick every box you have.
12. Hiromu Takahashi vs Will Ospreay, Dominion (9/6/18), NJPW
“And it all ended with Hiromu getting Belt-San back. The look of pure glee on his face at that moment was beautiful because that’s the thing which fuels his insanity. The reason he is willing to throw himself off the apron or be dropped on the back of his head is that it is all building towards him holding the title. You don’t need intricate psychology in his matches because that’s not the kind of man he is. He’s an obsessed man, one who will fight forever to get what he wants.”
Will Ospreay has had one hell of a year, but this was Hiromu’s moment. He wrestled it with the wild abandon that he wrestles every match with and was well-deserving of another run with the Junior Title. It’s just a shame that it ended the way it did.
11. The Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson) vs The Golden Lovers (Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi, Strong Style Evolved (25/3/18), NJPW
The final touch was Nick sat in the centre of the ring, tears streaming down his face as he held his brother. He was the kid stuck in a horrible divorce, broken as he watched the people he loved kill each other. He didn’t want this, he never wanted this.”
The implosion of The Bullet Club may have meandered towards the end of the year, but at this point, it was on fire as this match summing up why it captivated the world. The Bucks and The Lovers did an outstanding job of merging the bombast of wrestling with the simple story of friendships being ripped apart.
10. Zack Sabre Jr. vs A-Kid, Total Rumble 8 (14/4/18), WWW
If Spanish wrestling takes off in the next few years (which many predict it will), this match shall be pinpointed as a pivotal moment in its evolution. With the likes of Dave Meltzer having picked up on it, it’s thrust WWW into people’s minds, and it’s now up to them to capitalise on it.
And while I will go on to praise A-Kid, I want to start by taking a few seconds to once again sing an ever-reliable classic about how fantastic Zack Sabre Jr is. No-one pays the cocky arsehole better, and he was at his cockiest arseholiest here. He’s the big shot coming into the territory who thinks he’s going to twist the local dude into a pretzel and head to the pub.
Little did he know that A-Kid would prove to be a stiffer challenge than most. I reviewed a few of his tag matches in RevPro with Team White Wolf and liked what I saw, but this was one hell of a step-up. He isn’t being led through this by Zack, he’s right there alongside him, matching him on the mat and ready to prove himself to the world. He’s a fully formed ready to go pro-wrestler coming out of a territory that most people weren’t aware existed. Something tells me that won’t be the case when we come to the end of 2019.
9. Kenny Omega vs Tomohiro Ishii, G1 Climax 28 (4/8/18), NJPW
“And how unbelievably wonderful was he (Ishii) during this fight? He sold that neck like a star, to the extent that I was worried there might be a legit injury involved. Then there was that sequence where he powered through an Omega flurry of V-Triggers, staggering back before roaring forward, desperate to get his hands on the IWGP Heavyweight Champion. The blood pooling in his mouth only adding to the image of a warrior who was refusing to go down.”
Tomohiro Ishii is the fucking boy. No-one can watch him pin Kenny Omega and not want to scream in delight.
8. Andrade Almas vs Johnny Gargano, NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia (27/1/18), NXT
“Except, he could lose. He could lose this match because in the brash playboy that is Andrade Almas he is against someone who might just be better than him. Someone who has all the talent he has and also that extra bit of cruelty. That ability to spot an opportunity and take it. Johnny’s purity might just be the thing that holds him back.”
The match that transitioned Gargano from being half of a fantastic tag team to someone widely recognised as one of the best wrestlers in the world. This happened in January and people still talk about it with awe.
7. Johnny Gargano vs Tomasso Ciampa, NXT TakeOver: New Orleans (7/4/18), NXT
“However, a redemption story does not redeem unless one learns from their mistakes. Johnny Gargano has learnt from his mistakes. As he sat, Ciampa attempted to strike, swinging the brace he’d removed from his knee at Gargano. This time, Johnny was ready. He’d hoped that maybe his friend had changed, but he still didn’t trust him. As the brace came towards him, Johnny Wrestling dodged out of the way and locked on the Garga-No-Escape, wrenching back on it. Then, he transitioned out of it, grabbing that same brace and wrapping it around Ciampa’s face as he slid into an STF. The demon tapped and Gargano was free.”
This feud should have died in New Orleans. Sadly, it didn’t, and the magic was lost. However, this first match was something truly incredible and one of the best things WWE has done in years.
6. Marty Scurll vs Will Ospreay, Sakura Genesis (1/4/18), NJPW
“Then disaster struck. It started when Will went for an Oscutter which allowed Scurll to push him over the top rope. On the way down his head bounced off the apron, a horrible wrenching blow that looked awful. That was only to be the appetiser. Just a few seconds later Will and Scurll were on the apron together. As Marty charged towards him, Ospreay used his momentum to leap backwards in a Spanish Fly and at the same time drive his own head into the apron.
This match will be remembered for the injury described above, but even more so than that, it was a fitting end to a feud that has defined both men’s careers. Ospreay and Scurll always create magic.
5. WALTER vs Will Ospreay, Fourth Anniversary Show (13/10/18), OTT
If Jordan Devlin falling to WALTER was Apollo Creed being killed in the ring then Will Ospreay stepping up to face the Ring General should have been the Rocky Balboa moment. Ospreay might not be Irish, but he’s made a home in OTT and he was looking to bring that title back.
And fuck, did he get close. There is a moment in this match when he stands on the top rope, waiting to fly, and as he does the crowd explodes. They know what’s coming and they don’t just want it, they crave it. The possibility that WALTER might be about to lose their beloved title is their Nirvana, and when Ospreay crashes down, and WALTER is gone, you can hear the groans of dismay.
Because once again, it’s not enough. Ospreay is transcendent in this one. He throws himself at the big man, convincing you and every other person watching that he can’t lose. You can’t try that hard and not win, hasn’t Hollywood taught us that?
Except you can, you can because in WALTER you have a man who may not actually be a man. He’s a Goliath, a Kraken or perhaps Cthulu himself in human form. Fuck knows, but he’s definitely fucking massive and will beat the living shit out of you. Ospreay was no Rocky Balboa, he was just the next man to fall.
4. Kazuchika Okada vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, Destruction (23/9/18), NJPW
“Except, if there is one thing Tanahashi has in bags, it’s fight. He fought out of Tombstones and slapped away Rainmakers. There might have been a focus on the change in Okada, but this is a different Tanahashi too. That desire to prove he still has it is driving him. Even Okada’s new Discus Rainmaker didn’t put him away. He kept fighting because he knows in his heart that this is his last chance. If he doesn’t go to the main event of the Dome this January 4th, he will never go again.
Truthfully, I could have included all three Tanahashi and Okada matches from this year. However, this was my favourite, as the Ace proved he still has what it takes. May this feud never end.
3. Kazuchika Okada vs Kenny Omega, Dominon (9/6/18), NJPW
“Even that became irrelevant, though. For in the final minutes there was no strategy to this, it was pure instinct. It was the two greatest wrestlers in the world swinging for the fences and giving everything they had. They’d poured their heart and soul into what they were doing, and all I could do was watch on, heart in mouth as they wowed me with the single greatest display of artistry and endurance I have ever seen.”
The greatest match of all time? Meh, such a thing is not quantifiable, and the fact I’ve got two ahead of it suggests not. However, you will rarely, if ever, see a more incredible performance from two men in a wrestling ring.
2. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kota Ibushi, G1 Climax 28 Final (12/8/18), NJPW
“Fuck knows whether I’ve got anywhere close to capturing how special this was. Some things can’t be bottled. Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kota Ibushi are definitely two of those things. If you are a wrestling fan, you owe it to yourself to watch it. To get caught up in the emotion of two men at the height of their craft giving everything they have to it. Fuck me, I really do love this shit.”
Ibushi stepped into the ring with his idol and fell short once more. However, the battle that came before his fall was one hell of a spectacle.
1. Kota Ibushi vs Tomohiro Ishii, G1 Climax (28/7/18), NJPW
“Do you want to know why I love wrestling? I love wrestling because of matches like this one. Tomohiro Ishii and Kota Ibushi went out there and murdered each other. Except they didn’t. Because it’s wrestling and the whole point of wrestling is that you don’t do that. However, it damn well looked like they were trying to because these are two of the best in-ring talents on the planet.”
Five months later I still feel like I can relieve this match just by closing my eyes. Ishii and Ibushi destroyed one another, producing a violent masterclass in psychology and thrilling action. These two may well be my favourite wrestles on the planet, and it’s matches like this that make that the case.