Those that saw my previous list of the best matches of 2017, you may be surprised that the list is half as long and isn’t just a love letter to WWE. To be blunt, WWE (Raw and Smackdown) have really let me known every since the Royal Rumble and it feels like every month is getting harder and harder to watch due to bad storytelling, roughly half the roster now being on the injuured list, repeat after repeat after repeat after repeat matches and feuds and of course the whole Saudi Arabia thing that has made me almost stop watching entirely (mainly keeping up as I still have favorite wrestlers that are there and they are not the ones responsible. I’m smart enough to realize that). But also since last year, my love for NXT has grown exponentially and I have been able to REALLY discover wrestling outside of the WWE moniker. While there are sooooo many promotions I can’t follow, haven;t had the chance to follow, and simply don’t know about; I have been able to enjoy more from promotions like New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring Of Honor and more. And with the heavily rumored talks of the wrestling stable The Elite potentially starting their own promotion in 2019/2020 to possibly rival the WWE (or at least give them reason to believe they are not the only horse in town anymore in the states); it’s an exciting time to be a wrestling fan...if you know where to look for it.
Granted, I am not the biggest wrestling fan in the world anymore, my knowledge of wrestling up to 2001 means that I have 2002-2016 wrestling that I’ve missed out on experiencing first hand. The following 5 matches is not the most comprehensive list in the world, nor will I treat it as such. I treat this as a music fan that got back into the love of wrestling and enjoys it for what is, while still being a complete smark about it. But here is my top 5 matches of 2018 and 5 excellent reasons for non wrestling fans to give pro wrestling a(nother) shot.
5.) Hangman Page vs Joey Janela (Chicago Street Fight)- All In
Right up till the time I originally stopped watching wrestling, I LOVED hardcore matches and that only grew as I got older. I loved the table crashes, chairshots, the blood, the chaos of it all. Now a days I am a bit more sensitive to it all, especially after I got the internet and found out about Japanese Death Matches and especially considering the horrific events that happened in 2007 that lead to the WWE being more mindful more of concussions and affects to the brain (come on, you know what I’m talking about, just google it if you really don’t know), it’s really hard to look back at some matches of the past, especially unprotected chair shots. All that said, when I first heard of this match, I was curious as I love Hangman Page, but knew literally nothing of Joey Janela, so I had zero insight as to what they had in store. Simply put these guys absolutely delivered. Some spots made my jaw drop wondering how they did not die (specially Janela), the use of tables, ladders, chairs and a literal Cracker Barrel just had everything I loved about hardcore wrestling back when I was a kid, but updated so it was a little safer, yet, even more INSANE. Plus the events that happened after the match featuring Famous Dick Wrestler, Joey Ryan just added all the comedy aspects that I miss about old school WWF wrestling, as immature as one could see it. Just a perfect hardcore match that’s not too extreme but brutal as you can get at the same time.
4.) Kazichika Okada vs Marty Scurll- All In
What else can I possibly say about All In? As a whole it’s the best PPV to this date! This match was an absolute highlight of that. Much like the match coming up after this; this match focuses on two villains that came together for this PPV, but not for a title, not for brand supremacy, not even for a title shot; but simply because these two are two of the best in the buesiness at what they do. Okada representing Japan and the Villain Marty Scurll representing the UK (and The Elite) in the longest match of All In. What made this match work so well was not just the chemistry between the two; but it was a match where you thought you knew who was going to win from the beginning, but as the match went on, you began to really question it and think “WOW, IS HE GOING TO WIN?” That’s great storytelling in wrestling when you are genuinely wondering what will happen. This nearly 30 minute match will keep you on the edge of your seat and for good reason. A sheer David vs Goliath match that will keep you guessing till the very end.
3.) Tomasso Ciamp vs Velveteen Dream (NXT Championship)- NXT Takeover: WarGames II
My favorite One on One match under the WWE moniker. Who would have thought as a kid who stopped watching when he was 11 would get back into it in 2017 and discover that wrestling as DRAMATICALLY improved in all facets. A brilliant match between two egomaniacs (both heel and babyface….that’s bad guy and good guy for the non wrestling fans out there). Both men are LOVED by the crowd but get the exact reactions they deserve. Ciampa being one of, if not the greatest heel of all time, the crowd despising him, his infatuation of never losing the title, undeniably fantastic promo work and a master of the ring and what a bad guy should be. The Dream starting off as the eccentric megalomaniac bad guy, turned into one of the most loved baby faces in NXT history...all while still pretty much being exactly the same. To make it simple, he is the 2018 version of WWF legend, Goldust, but updated for the time and no focus on sexuality (unless you look for it...perv!) The battle between these two seemed like it was going to be a good match, but not the best of the night, and it did start that way; but the longer it went, the better it became. Every near fall had you gasping when the opponent kicked out before 3. The high spots from Dream were insane, the tactics by Ciampa were so methodical and brilliant. Easily some of the best chemistry I’ve ever seen between two guys in the ring. It’s a shame we’ll never get a match like this in the WWE, but thankfully for fans like myself, NXT exists and only gets better as time moves on.
2.) Adam Cole v Ricochet v Lars Sullivan v Killian Dain v Velveteen Dream v EC3 (North American Title Ladder Match)- NXT Takeover: New Orleans
My favorite match under the WWE moniker. This match has everything you could possibly ask for. Hardcore spots, high flying, infinite tension, and 6 of the best NXT superstars (past and present) at the time. You got the smarmy villain that’s a mix of Shawn Michaels and Triple H (Cole), The master of the fly flying spots (Ricochet), The monster brute (Sullivan), The loveable brute (Dain), The flamboyant egomaniac (Dream), and the Cocky rich kid who just came to town (EC3). Outside of supernatural powers ala The Undertaker or the bloody brutality you find in CZW or Japanese death matches; it’s so hard to be disappointed in this match. When it was live, you had no idea who was going to win and if you were a fan of NXT; you would have been happy to see that belt on any of the six. The outcome was exactly how it should have been (which won’t be spoiled here) and 4 of the guys men in this match have had great success after this match (the other two; Dain and EC3 have so much untapped potential that hasn’t hit this year yet, mainly due to booking and over saturation of great talent). There’s so much good to say about this match. Just go watch it and see why wrestling as as good as it has ever been.
1.) Kenny Omega vs Kazuchika Okada (2 Out Of 3 Falls)- Dominion 2018
This is simply the greatest match I have ever seen. The 4th One on One encounter between these two legends of the business gave us a 65 minute epic that pulled at your heart and soul with every passing minute. Not to mention that this was a 2 out of 3 falls match, which just built the tension even more. The near falls, the repeated finishers, the endurance, and most importantly, the story being told in the ring is simply astounding. Omega is arguably the moved wrestler of today. His love of video games, the most brilliant acting seen in wrestling, an absolute seller of any match he is in, the best promos in the game, and such a loveable personality; the man has it all. Okada is the definition of Japanese wrestling. His persona, his skillset, his (at the time) no nonsense mentality, and absolute sheer brilliance in the ring. Every single time between these four matches, these two have been in the ring, has been masterclasses on wrestling with every match being better than the last. Whenever anyone says that wrestling was only good in the late 90s during the WWF’s Attitude era; make them watch this match and this should easily change their minds. Two of the absolute best wrestlers not under the WWE moniker, it’s not even up for discussion.
And there you have it. My top 5 matches of 2018. I again apologize for no Main Roster WWE making the list, but, if you’ve seen the quality this year; there have been some good to great matches, but absolutely nothing I would go back to. The fact I have been watching about the first half hour of Raw before shutting it off due to sheer boredom pretty much says it all. Coming back into wrestling last year; that’s a heartbreaking statement. BUT thankfully things like NXT, NJPW, ROH, what ever The Elite do in 2019, etc prove that there is quality wrestling out there, just like quality music in 2018. You just gotta look for it.
- Josh Rundquist (That Drummer Guy)