After an incredible start to the year, February’s wrestling delights were always going to struggle to compete with January’s. Honestly, I had to make an effort to fill this list which is why it’s a bit late (I was ill over the weekend and used it as an opportunity to catch up on hyped stuff). That brings its own excitement, though, as it means there are a few matches I might not have checked out otherwise. Let’s have a look.
10. Will Ospreay vs PAC, High Stakes (15/2/19), RevPro
There have been a lot of complaints about this one from the CCK interference to the inkling that Ospreay and PAC were holding back, only occasionally hitting top speed before slowing right back down again. On top of that, the finish has infuriated some as they went to a draw with PAC both attempting to get disqualified and passing on a clear opportunity to win.
However, even with those issues, there was enough here to suggest these two can create magic. When they did rev things up, the action became seamless as two incredible high flyers began to push each other to the limit. Promotional politics might stop us ever seeing Ospreay and PAC fully unleashed on each other, but judging by this, if we do, it could be breathtaking.
9. Queen’s Quest (Momo Watanabe and Utami Hayashishita) vs STARS (Mayu Iwatani and Arisa Hoshiki), New Years Stars (17/2/19), Stardom
A match built around making Hoshiki look great even in defeat. She did all the kicking, and I am a fan of Hoshiki doing all the kicking. On top of that, she seemed to take the vast majority of Queen’s Quest’s offence, spending a lot of time being suplexed, which can’t be fun.
Throw in three of Stardom’s best, and you’ve got a recipe for success. This was just a damn good match that everyone worked to perfection and left me with a big old smile on my face. No-one is going to complain about that, surely?
8. Zack Sabre Jr. vs EVIL, The New Beginning in Sapporo (2/2/19), NJPW
EVIL finally banished the spectre of Zack Sabre Jr after spending months being pinned by him every time they came face to face. People go on about Sanada’s Paradise Lock being inescapable, but for EVIL, that European Clutch was proving to be a death trap.
Until this match, where EVIL finally got a chance to work through his issues. He started by trying to out-wrestle Zack which (as anyone could tell you) is a dumb idea. However, by the end, EVIL had his mojo back and realised that if you smack the English fucker in the face, he goes down. Sometimes you need therapy, sometimes you need to Lariat a prick. For EVIL, on this occasion, it was the later.
7. Will Ospreay vs Dalton Castle, Honor Rising (22/2/19), NJPW
Dalton Castle and Will Ospreay had a good old-fashioned slugfest, and it was great. Castle has always been a decent wrestler, but with his current injury woes (seriously, the guy is beat the hell up), I wasn’t sure how he’d manage on a big stage against someone like Ospreay.
Well, it turns out he’d manage by working his fucking arse off. These two beat the hell out of each other, hitting hard and having Castle toss Will all over the place. We expect that from Ospreay at this point, he always delivers, but this wasn’t a carry job. Dalton was right there alongside him, right up until Will put him down for the three and continued his run of pinning the big boys.
6. Ryusuke Taguchi vs Taiji Ishimori, The New Beginning in Osaka (11/2/19), NJPW
It’s been a while since Big Match Taguchi paid us a visit, but he turned up in Osaka to prove he ain’t dead yet. Even the comedy that they incorporated turned into a hit as we got to watch Ishimori pull some Sailor Boys dance moves to the delight of all involved. It was beautiful.
The real magic was towards the end, though, when Taguchi hit the Dodon and, for two and three-quarter seconds, convinced me that he might just do it. Of course, it wasn’t to be, but the wielder of The Funky Weapon strapped on his boots and showed us he still has it, which was more than enough to put a smile on my face.
5. Mayu Iwatani vs Konami, New Years Stars (24/2/19), Stardom
Limb matches are a staple of wrestling, and yet, they are hard to make captivating. It sets one wrestler up as the dominant force as the other spends more time selling than they do on the offensive. Getting that balance right, and delivering something that is also exciting, is tough, yet Iwatani and Konami did it.
And, in doing so, they had perhaps the best Woman Of Honor title match to date. This was a genuine thrill ride and even as someone who went in convinced that Iwatani would retain, Konami caught me on more than one occasion. I’ve got a review of this going up in the next couple of days, so I’ll leave it there, but this was very good. Go watch it.
4. El Barbaro Cavernario vs Titan, Viernes Espectaculares (22/2/19), CMLL
I don’t watch much lucha. In fact, outside of hyped matches, Fantastica Mania and my drunk watches of TripleMania, I watch none. However, this was one of those talked about performances while I’m aware of these two from their annual trips to New Japan, so I figured why not!
And I was rewarded with a cracking match that saw Titan overcome Cavernario, but Cavernario arguably looking like the star. He dominated a lot of this, with Titan responding with flurries of his spectacular offence. Not that Cavenario doesn’t have a bit of that up his sleeve too, that splash to the outside is still mental.
What I love about the best Lucha is how smooth it is, and that was on display here. Take the final seconds of the match, where Titan escapes a submission, hits the ropes, ties Cavenario up in an intricate hold of his own and then smoothly slips that into a flash pin for the three. It’s beautiful, and if you fancy a look at some lucha for the first time, I imagine there would be worse places to start.
3. Kento Miyahara vs Suwama, Excite Series (24/2/19), AJPW
In many ways, this was a simple match. Suwama came in with a plan, he intended to negate Miyahara’s offence which he did by dropping him on his head and locking him up in chokeholds whenever he could. It was a tactic that for vast swathes of the match seemed to be working, he was able to avoid Miyahara’s signature offence as every time it looked like Kento was going to come into it he cut him off.
All of which allowed Miyahara to slip into an underdog role that he seemed to revel in. If I’m perfectly honest, I watch very little All Japan, so I can’t claim to be a Miyahara expert, but he was great. While Suwama was all methodical violence, Miyahara was fiery passion, grasping every chance he got no matter how hard he was being hit. Even as someone who had no connection to him, I started to care.
It all built to a final act which nailed it. These two went back and forth, near fall after near fall as they battled desperately to try and get the three. In the end, Miyahara would hit Suwama with a ridiculous Arm Trap Delayed German where he seemed to hold him in the air for a week before smashing him down on the back of his head. It was a fantastic finish to an outstanding match.
2. Jay White vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, The New Beginning in Osaka (11/2/19), NJPW
I’m well aware that I like this match more than most. In fact, I’ve pretty much been the high man on Jay White since his return to NJPW, and I can’t see it stopping anytime soon. The complaint that this match lacked the New Japan sparkle that we’ve come to expect is perfectly understandable, I just don’t give a shit.
Because it made up for it in other ways. For the last however many months, Jay White has had Hiroshi Tanahashi’s number. In fact, minus The Dome last year, he’s had it since he returned. He’s been a constant thorn in The Ace’s side, and it all built to this moment. The moment where just a month after Tanahashi had clawed his way back to the top of the mountain White turned up and ruined the party. He didn’t just beat him, he dominated him. Switchblade went out there and made the wrestler New Japan refer to as The Ace Of The Universe look like an old man, just like he told you he would.
And I loved that story. I loved the merciless way that White did it, plucking him out of the air on a High Fly Flow to deliver a picture-perfect Bladerunner. Sure, Gedo popped his ugly mug into the ring a couple of times in the match, but come the final seconds it was just White vs Tanahashi and Jay proved the better man. For me that’s wrestling, and this caught me.
1. PAC vs KZY, Open The Truth Gate (10/2/19), Dragon Gate
Since returning to ring from his enforced holiday, PAC has had all the buzz. However, I don’t think it’s harsh to say that said buzz has yet to cross over into a standout in-ring performance. There have been good matches (I opened this list with one), but nothing of the quality that people expect from The Man That Gravity Forgot. Until now that is.
Because this was incredible and as someone who doesn’t regularly tune into Dragon Gate I would probably believe you if you told me that PAC had killed KZY. That way that motherfucker was bumping was extraordinary. There was a Lariat where he seemed to crumble in on himself and don’t get me started on the Shooting Star Press to his back, WHILE HE WAS STANDING! Who fucking does that?
Even coming into it knowing the result, I found myself gripped by its back and forth as KZY threw everything he had at The Bastard King. In the end, though, the reign continued when he spiked him with a Second Rope Tombstone followed by the Black Arrow. What a fucking match.
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