I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but this is a wrestling website. So, while I’m sure you were all desperate for my takes on music and film, this is the biggy: my twenty favourite matches of the year. I’ll be keeping it short because I’ve written about all of these before, but there is no harm in dishing out a reminder.
It’s Ishii and Nagata beating each other up, what else could you want? I love these men, and I love watching them hit each other. It really is that simple.
The first two matches on this list might suggest that I have a type. Who am I kidding? I definitely have a type. It’s big beefy men who enjoy hitting each other. Watching this match, you realise just how wasted WALTER is in that shit show of a company.
A match that will probably be much higher on other’s lists, but is still incredible. The combination of that rabid Irish crowd and two outstanding wrestlers created magic for OTT.
Sareee has had a hell of a year, and it was kicked off by this war with Meiko. Satomura can have a great match with anyone, but when you put her in there with someone of Sareee’s talents, you’re not going to get anything less than brilliance.
Kota and Will had a great match at the Dome, but they’d end up topping themselves in the G1, ramping everything up as Ibushi avenged his defeat. These two had sublime in-ring years (they’ll appear on this list more than once), so it was no surprise that they got the best out of each other.
Yes, Jungle losing big title matches is becoming a cruel joke at this point, but it doesn’t change the fact she’s brilliant in them. While Arisa was great too, this was a Jungle match even in defeat, as she continues to be one of the very best.
I know very little about SEAdLINNING, but this was a hell of a match. These two murdered each other with both belts and their hair on the line in a battle that got ridiculously stiff. If you like your wrestlers to hit each other, you’ll like this.
Years after their time training together, Naito was finally given a chance to avenge his numerous sparring defeats to Shingo and, to the surprise of no-one, the result was magic. There are people that think Naito is broken and can’t do it any more, and when he produces performances like this, that looks like a baffling take.
If you put Jungle Kyona and Momo Watanabe in the ring together, you’re probably going to get something awesome. They went out and had a war, trading bombs as Jungle once again fell short in her quest to win a title. Watanabe had a quieter second half of the year, but at this stage, she was one of the best wrestlers on the planet and matches like this prove that’s no idle boast.
PAC’s journey with the Dragon Gate title was pivotal in breathing new life into the promotion, and this was probably the high spot when it came to in-ring quality. The Bastard King and KZY clicked in all the right ways, telling a fantastic underdog story as KZY threw everything he had at the champion before finally falling to PAC’s brutality. What a match.
Who loves neck bumps? Yes, some people think Naito and Ibushi have gone too far, and that’s obviously their prerogative, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it. These two men push each other to take insane risks, and it is a gripping and occasionally horrifying watch. That won’t stop me tuning in every time they do it, though.
A passing of the torch moment as Kota Ibushi finally surpassed the man he describes as a God. With the benefit of hindsight, the second Ibushi pinned Tana his path was clear. He was en route to the Tokyo Dome and these two magical men kicked that journey off with a hell of a match.
A match that’s taken on a whole new edge after recent developments, Kagetsu and Hazuki have insane chemistry. They also appear to have the kind of friendship that allows them to beat the shit out of each other, which is great news for us. Hazuki threw everything she had her Oedo Tai boss, but couldn’t quite get the job done. It kind of breaks my heart that she might never get that moment now.
SHO and Shingo are Juniors who wrestle like super-heavyweights, and they had one of the best matches of this year’s Super Juniors on night one. This was a hard-hitting war as SHO tried desperately to prove he was in Shingo’s league. He wouldn’t get the win, but he looked fucking awesome in defeat.
A story which bubbled under the surface all year came to a head when Arisa and Tam were finally unleashed on each other. These frenemies took out all that frustration and anger in the ring, putting together something that was as emotional as it was hard-hitting. I’ve loved the tale Nakano and Hoshiki have crafted, and this was its high point.
The rare battle of the generations where the veteran coming out on top was 100% the right decision. Kenny’s time with New Japan appears to have come to a rather unpleasant end, but he could be sublime when he wanted to, and he went out on a high with this Dome epic.
Being honest, this is a match that benefited from the live bump. Sitting in the arena watching Kazu and Suzuki rekindle their long-running rivalry was something special, and the sound of their blows thudding in is ingrained in my head. Wrestling is always better in person, and I’ve no shame about letting that influence my list.
White vs Ibushi was perhaps not the greatest wrestling match, but as a piece of storytelling, it had me hooked. I was gripped by every near fall, desperate for Ibushi to overcome White and his army of cronies. I fucking love wrestling, but even I only get this invested in a match occasionally. When it happens, you know they’ve conjured something special.
Yup, it’s another one. Two big strong boys hitting each other really hard until one of them can’t stand anymore. Shingo and Ishii are two of my favourite wrestlers on the planet, and watching them wage war was always going to get me onside.
These two men have had extraordinary years, so it’s fitting that they top this list. It’s also fitting because this match was fucking awesome. Takagi has been great ever since he stepped into New Japan, but this year has seen him go from strength to strength and while this was the end of his unbeaten run, it was a jewel in his crown all the same. He not only looked a star himself but played a huge part in making Ospreay feel like a man who could challenge heavyweights, a development which one suspects is going to be rather important going forward.