Welcome to In Your Head! Wrestling podcast, news and community!
Welcome to In Your Head! Wrestling podcast, news and community!
Part 2 of 2: Matches 50-1
By ?Riren? John Wiswell
50. Samoa Joe Vs. Christian Cage (October 14) ? There Must Be a Winner Match from TNA: Bound For Glory
This was the catharsis match of the year. Christian went undefeated for about two years in TNA, even losing titles in protected fashion. He'd been bounced around and brutalized, but always found away around losing, causing both kayfabe and smark frustration. But this time he couldn't bridge out of the Kokina Clutch, or be saved by a disqualification, or have someone steal the title in a ladder match. Joe pulled out all of his big offense, including two dives to the outside that were simply perfect; the first immaculately executed, the second unbelievable even though he'd pulled it out before. It told a story of retribution, and of Joe's last chance to break Christian's unbeaten run and beat his smarmy ass. And he did. Even the timing of the Unprettier so close to the run-in made it instinctively feel like Christian might win this one too. This was the kind of climactic loss Christian's character was built to deliver, and boy did it ever. As a result the guys in the next match used broken glass and shopping carts and fell off a balcony, and still couldn't match the emotion these guys did.
49. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Jun Akiyama (September 9) - Pro Wrestling NOAH at the Tokyo Nippon Budokan
This semi-final match would have been an acceptable finale anywhere else in the world, though the finale was very good in its own way. Here Akiyama and Morishima went full-bore, using slightly more realistic tactics (resisting moves at almost every chance) while still bringing a lot of energy and unleashing the heavy stuff whenever there was an opening (from the opening minutes to the knockout-blow finish). They created a level of emotion we don?t see often in Akiyama?s these days, and should have reminded audiences of how fun it can be. It also generated at least half the emotion in the (immediately proceeding) finals, which was a darned fun match, but couldn?t touch this.
48. Chris Harris Vs. James Storm (May 13) - Texas Death Match from TNA: Sacrifice
Harris and Storm had a lot to make up for after their awful blindfold cage match at Lockdown, and they did at Sacrifice. Unlike most hardcore matches, they didn?t just knock each other out with weapons. They built a bloody, hate-filled match that epitomized what their feud should have been. It wasn?t about goofy fake blindness, but about athleticism, Storm?s flourishing selfish persona, and retribution for betrayal. It just about erased the disappointing build-up.
47. BJ Whitmer Vs. Jimmy Jacobs (March 4) ? Falls Count Anywhere Match from ROH: Fifth Year Festival: Finale
A wild brawl that was never too contrived and kept up the excitement not just with offense and ferocious fighting, but threats of high offense like throwing each other off the balcony. Just the threat of it lent energy to the flow of the brawl, which was compulsively, almost guiltily watchable. By the time they fought to the ring they?d sold their hatred better than in any other skirmish of the feud, including their infamous cage match. The in-ring portion was solid and carried through on the emotion so well that bad run-ins couldn?t hurt it, and the finish delivered an emotional release that could have feasibly ended the feud, and was different enough from the conclusion of the later cage match that if anyone was dissatisfied with that, this should have done it for them.
46. Samoa Joe Vs. Christian Cage (March 11) - TNA: Destination X
They had the perfect atmosphere for this match, following the weekend when Joe was finally pulled from ROH and PWG, bringing speculation to its highest that he would become champion. Cage busted his ass on offense and defense, and ate up the beating his character so richly deserved. A great dynamic, though also destined to be overlooked by the droves of people who will forget any quality work Joe did in TNA this year because of his gross misuse. If only they could have recaptured this magic for more of their feud later this same year, instead of pulling out a couple of good skits and one more great match from a multi-month program.
45. Brent Albright Vs. BJ Whitmer (February 16) - Tables Are Legal Match from ROH: Fifth Year Festival: NY
Accusations that any hardcore wrestlers could have done this are baseless; this wrought emotion out of overkill. This brought the awe of one highspot from Final Battle 2006 and made it into a full match, a throwback to the wild Tanaka/Awesome matches in ECW. Albright showed more charisma destroying a defective table here than he has in some entire matches. Whitmer can be very entertaining in ROH?s hardcore environment, where it?s not too common and explosiveness is usually a positive. The loser walked out of this match looking more powerful and important than ever. Having watched this match with three different groups of people, and seeing all of them lose their minds over it, I stand by this as a glorious hardcore match.
44. Colt Cabana Vs. Delirious (April 13) ? ROH: This Means War 2
Comedy is sorely underappreciated in wrestling, but I?ll take this over most of the pro-graps drama out there. This was completely different from their match in England, with less references to Big Daddy and more zany antics between their two characters. Seldom do we see someone work the ass in a wrestling match ? and never (in my recollection) have we seen anyone blatantly no-sell the ass as was done in this match. The only flaw was not coming up with a humorous climax instead of the roll-up that ended things. Everything up until that was a joy.
43. Naomichi Marufuji Vs. Claudio Castagnoli (November 3) - ROH: Glory By Honor 6 Night 2
I think this may be the first instance of a top rope claw hold in ROH history. Marufuji and Castagnoli wrestling a looser, more jovial style allowed them to mix humor or generally unacceptable moves into ROH along with their high octane stuff, creating a very entertaining atmosphere in which acrobatics and antics were equally acceptable. At the same time they managed to trade a dozen jumping dodges and counters without ever coming off as choreographed, something that trips up a lot of Chikara Pro matches. They also used this to be unpredictable moment-to-moment; there's a Dragon Screw that I'm sure no one saw coming, and it immediately changed the course of the match. Even when they took to the mat with slower holds, they kept the holds novel, using things the audience hasn't seen often or at all, giving them something distinct to watch even in the slowest parts of the match. I expect the big negative criticism of the match to be "spotty selling" for Castagnoli's leg. He's no Shawn Michaels and kept gutting through it to the point of seeming to forget it hurt or disregarding it to hit big things like the Bicycle Kick. In truth, Castagnoli sold his knee through timing more than incapacity, giving Marufuji several openings to take over. It also came across in his desperation; he pulled out a huge throw later in the match that, again, I don't think anybody saw coming, but that totally made sense as Marufuji couldn't have scouted it and it would hurt Marufuji enough to give him the advantage despite any lingering pain in his leg. I prefer consistency in selling for its simplicity, but this worked and doesn't deserve the typical accusation of an American indy guy forgetting to sell. At very least, heck, he's Swiss.
42. El Generico Vs. CIMA (May 20) ? PWG: Dynamite Duumverate Tag Team Title Tournament Night 2
Starting off by riffing on Stalker Ichikawa at the concession table was a great way to diffuse the tension and expectations on this match. Once they escaped the live crowd?s preconceived notions of a classic, they were able to work at their own pace, playing with comedy in a way that only these guys (and Delirious) really can, letting it feed into drama. Generico snapping over the loss of his tastle (and proceeding to whip CIMA mercilessly with that same one-foot-long piece of cloth) was hilarious, but they were just as capable of getting into great athletic drama. The finish was perfect, with some of the best Brainbusters in the world. Considering both guys use a lot of goofy comedy selling, they really toned it down here, with CIMA in particular showing off how dazed and barely conscious he was in the final stretch.
41. Jeff & Matt Hardy Vs. Shelton Benjamin & Charlie Haas (June 3) - Ladder Match from WWE: One Night Stand
Shelton Benjamin died for your sins. Goodness gracious, not only was he on top of his flying that night, but he bumped like a man possessed, managing to steal a ladder match from Jeff and Matt Hardy. Not that the other three guys didn?t tie together something really special for that lackluster show.
40. Bryan Danielson Vs. Takeshi Morishima (August 25) ? ROH: Manhattan Mayhem 2
Two guys with amazing auras just going to town on each other. Danielson worked the leg, Morishima went for the knockout, and somebody was going to have to go down and stay down. That?s all there really was to this. The crowd was nuclear-hot, augmenting all the physicality and enmity between the two guys. Danielson once again displayed amazing tenacity, fighting through a serious eye injury. Even though I?m a fan of his, I really wish he?d take better care of himself.
39. Jack Evans, Austin Aries & Roderick Strong Vs. Delirious, Davey Richards & Shingo Takagi (January 27) - ROH: Battle of the Icons
This was the first of many ROH matches in 2007 where you wondered why certain people were together. Richards, Takagi and Delirious? They had nothing in common and didn?t seem to have complimentary styles. But when the match got going they gelled like brothers. By the time they did a group pose (from which Richards was unceremoniously ejected, possibly for not being manly enough), I was enjoying them more than Generation Next. Of course, Evans, Strong and Aries probably structured the match and set the pace. Being higher-tier stars they could pretty much do what they wanted, but their opponents really shined, as eccentric characters and as very credible challengers. It?s a shame they?ll probably never team up again.
38. Bryan Danielson Vs. Takeshi Morishima (September 15) - ROH: Man Up
While they couldn't reach the passion of their first encounter, they damn sure tried. Like their first match, everything was simple or logical. They didn't merely lock up, but grabbed at each other's bodies, trying to choke or batter the other guy to the point where they could keep an advantage. It was almost disturbingly physical at some points, especially with the blows to the eye of Danielson, but always with purpose. It was a little silly to pretend Morishima was hitting the head but not the eye early on (the live audience didn't see it that way, so I'm not sure why the commentators pretended otherwise), but the finish was glorious. It might have felt contrived to people only watching their third ROH show via PPV, but in the long run this gave Morishima the win while protecting Danielson to challenge him again once he recovered.
37. Jay Briscoe, Erick Stevens & Mark Briscoe Vs. El Generico & Kevin Steen (April 14) - ROH: Fighting Spirit
An unusually overbooked match for Ring of Honor, but the men involved made everything work. Even Davey Richards? cameo during the run-in had flair to it. For once overbooking something built emotion ? and man, what emotion. ROH enjoys playing with the line between kayfabe and reality, especially when it comes to injuries. Its fans (at least for now) fear for the worst whenever someone gets hurt, and having Steen and Generico go after Mark Briscoe?s head when he was originally announced as unavailable on account of a concussion was just plain scary.
36. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Brent Albright (August 11) - ROH: Death Before Dishonor 5 Night 2
Brent Albright belongs in ROH. Morishima started off the match with a majority of the audience cheering for him and cheering more passionately than Albright?s fans, and damned if Albright didn?t turn them around. The third quarter of the match was the turning point, where Albright?s strategy shifted between submissions and jaw-dropping power. For his part, Morishima sure knows how to get an audience involved and turn them around. It?s downright deceptive, because he plays everything so plain-faced most of the time. His unstoppable character met a lot of great little tests in this match, with Albright taking advantage of Morishima?s signature taunting. Normally Morishima will stand still or even roar at his opponent to get them to come at him and counter from there, able to absorb a clothesline or a kick, or stop a suplex attempt with his weight strength. Not so against Albright. From the first body slam to the very end, they drew on that ?immovable? trait Morishima has built to drive the crowd into a fever pitch, when they could have just as easily kept going to the Crowbar and had an easier match. The execution on things was also better here; one of Morishima?s trademark spots, having his Hip Attack reversed into a German Suplex, worked better here than it ever has NOAH, possibly because Albright has such strength and experience with the move. But that same quality of execution and nuance was threaded throughout the match, right down to how deeply Albright to cinch in an armbar. The ending was a little anticlimactic, as the energy the last kickout generated created the wrong emotion (at least in me and the crowd) for the decisive finish that came seconds later. It?s funny, really, because up until then anything could have been ended it, but that last kickout created the expectation of more than they had planned.
35. Davey Richards Vs. Low Ki (April 7) ? PWG: All Star Weekend 5 Night 1 ? The best Ki Vs. Richards match to date, with Richards using his heel persona to prove he isn?t a ?clone? of the American indy?s favorite kicker. Richards was just about the perfect foil for the tireless fighter, able to both engage in athletic contests and beg off.
34. Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama Vs. Yoshihiro Takayama & Kenta Kobashi (December 2) - Pro Wrestling NOAH: Winter Navigation '07
If there was anything uplifting in the world of wrestling this year, it was the return of Kenta Kobashi. One of Japan's all-time greatest professional wrestlers announced that cancer wouldn't stop him and that he would return to us "without fail." In December, he made good on the promise. The people were living and dying with Kobashi that night - he got a hot tag pop after only being out of the ring for a minute. Jun Akiyama looked particularly excited to test his old rival again. Every move Kobashi hit was a surprise, just like Shawn Michaels' return many Summerslams ago in the Street Fight with HHH. We didn't know how much to expect from him. We got a guy who still looked younger and in better shape than the champion. Kobashi went back to his roots with some of the most sympathetic selling in the world, especially early on when he worked bumps to make you wonder if he?d aggravated some part of his body or if he was really up to this. Most other Japanese matches would be lucky to summon the emotion of the opening minutes of this contest at their climaxes; and the final minutes of this tag were out of this world. Just how much Kobashi could take?
33. Bryan Danielson Vs. CIMA (May 19) - PWG: Dynamite Duumvirate Tag Team Title Tournament Night 1
If you watched a hundred PWG matches, this one would still produce holds you'd never seen. Danielson brought out the best technical wrestling in CIMA in years. When it came to striking or flashy offense, CIMA was a wellspring of variety against Danielson's reliable minimalism. More than that, CIMA never went into overkill, and Danielson never did too little - they seemed to pull each other to a healthy midpoint. Very few wrestlers could have done this in their first match against each other. Unfortunately injuries prevented what would have been an amazing rematch. That?s something to look forward to in 2008.
32. Yuji Nagata Vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (August 12) - NJPW G1 Climax, Day 6
They have tiny pauses in-between motions, like the space between a knucklelock takedown and a dropkick, or in-between Nagata's two kicks in the Mexican Standoff. Every has pauses like this; they're intuitive beats. But Nagata and Nakamura's pauses are so brief that you can't look ahead or properly predict what they'll do - very fun for the crowd, perfect for match psychology. This also ratchets up the live crowd's response to reversals; Nakamura gets a pop off of a simple kick-takedown that's so resoundingly they make the takedown a spot. I know that the internet wrestling fans think of moonsaults or powerbombs through tables as spots these days, but a spot is a moment in a match that draws attention and emotion - and because of the way these guys approached each other, this was a spot. It's not all quick exchanges; they work holds and have domination periods, but there's something a little different in those, too. Yuji Nagata is particularly smart at moving in a hold. Nothing against Jay and Mark Briscoe, but they have a tendency to sit still once they've applied or get caught in a submission hold, unless they're going for the ropes. Nagata will try to get breathing room on the left, grab a leg to see if he can pry himself loose, test whether he can roll out in this direction - little stuff that it makes it much more fun to watch guys trade holds (or escape a hold and kick somebody's chest in). And before I forget, it is so damn fun to watch Nagata kick Nakamura. Nagata could just kick people in a limb and randomly grab holds on said-bodypart for the rest of his life and I would love him. Nakamura took everything like a champ, and expressed exhaustion with everything from his face to how limp a part of his body was. The ending was disappointing, but you cannot possibly hold it against them when Nakamura dislocated his shoulder so badly that he was out of action for months afterwards. This was too good to write off for the absence of a climactic finish.
31. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Austin Aries (April 27) - ROH: Battle of St. Paul
It played brilliantly off of Aries? famous title victory over Samoa Joe at Final Battle 2004, particularly in the finishing stretch. I think half the fans predicted just that sort of thing going into the building, but sometimes a thing is easy to predict because it?s the right thing to do. Aries looked particularly physically weak for an ROH match, leading to some truly emotional spots in an excellent big man/little man story.
30. Rocky Romero Vs. Roderick Strong (April 7) ? PWG: All Star Weekend 5 Night 1
Everything was quick and snug - not needlessly stiff, but packed with emotional content, as though this match was personal despite the lack of backstory. A lot of Fit Finlay and Samoa Joe matches are fun for their snugness, but you don't get a sense of rivalry or anger like these two guys pulled out that night. Romero and Strong pulled it off in such a way that the match felt like it could have ended halfway through with just one successful jujigatame or following up with one more big backbreaker. When they were hurt or exhausted they didn't just lie there, but kept moving or trying to move, and in holds they (Strong in particular) fought to find relief or escape. Particular props go to the cameramen of PWG whose angle on the Diablo Armbar made it look like Strong's arm came out of the socket. Their first match at 2006's BOLA was the best match of that night, but this was a world ahead of it. Its lowest points were generic indy one-upsmanship, except in fastforward. Indeed, most of the match seemed a full step faster than everything else on the card without ever feeling like a pointless sprint.
29. John Cena Vs. Umaga (January 2 - Last Man Standing Match from WWE: Royal Rumble
The culmination of one of the best monster challenger storylines this decade, coming off Cena?s roll-up victory in a previous match that didn?t settle the matter in anyone?s mind, not even Cena?s. Umaga not only looked like a beast and got plenty of offense here, but took it to a new level, particularly with his flying headbutt off the announcer?s table. The ending was brutal and creative, and lent a lot of credible toughness to Cena, at least until the Khali storyline seemed to reset his character and tried to do this all over again. Umaga is an excellent foil for talented babyfaces, and this was really a stage for Cena to show how much he could draw from the crowd. Boy, did he ever succeed.
28. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Roderick Strong (June 9) - ROH: Domination
For one night, against all reason, Roderick Strong was a babyface again. There was no way any of his jockish, bullyish badguy schtick was going to work against this monster. When he began outmaneuvering Morishima, and when he hoisted him up for those amazing power moves, he channeled the best energy he?s had in a singles performance since his bout with James Gibson in November 2005. Not just physical strength, but an energy in the crowd, for which he never had to pose or jawjack. Instead, Morishima and Strong engaged in a match so intense that the crowd had to follow. Strong usually bugs me, and I resisted liking this match on the first viewing because of nitpicking, but even I gave in by the end.
27. Shawn Michaels Vs. Edge (January 22) - Street Fight from WWE Raw
Destined to be overlooked (and to pleasantly surprise people on Youtube), this was a scary ten-minute street fight between a guy with a surgically repaired spine and a guy with a surgically repaired neck. Banged up and frustrated, they just went out there and wailed on each other with every weapon in sight. What separated this from typical hardcore fare is that Edge and Michaels knew how to pull things together in a flow, even when they were unusually stiff or raw. It couldn?t even be ruined by the run-in at the end (which was brilliantly filmed).
26. D-Lo Brown & Bull Buchanan Vs. Naomichi Marufuji & Takashi Sugiura (October 27) ? Pro Wrestling NOAH: Autumn Navigation
This was another of those matches that was sound and simple, but shined in the little things, like Marufuji's posture and expression when he was trying to sneak into the ring, or Brown taunting Marufuji to make it back in before the 20-count. All four guys worked some of Japan's staples really well, like a powerbomb onto the stage where they had photographers placed perfectly to swarm in concern, and the dominant team basking in the potential countout. Almost every match has openings for character or drama like this, but these guys made sure to fit character or varied offense into more of those opportunities than wrestlers normally even try. You'd have to do something special to make a match this exciting when Sugiura and Marufuji were defense for 2/3's of the time. Buchanan can really dominate a match in an entertaining way, even when he's throwing simple things like elbow drops and abdominal stretches. Somehow he extended his domination portions without needing to tag his more charismatic partner and kept the match very cohesive. And it wasn't just that he was an unstoppable force; when Sugiura came in with Yakuza Kicks or Marufuji fired back with slaps, they looked really good against him in ways they couldn't with, say, Bison Smith. Every big spot Brown was related to was teased for at least a moment so that you'd want to see it more, or wouldn't quite know what they'd pull off - something Marufuji took to like a fish to water. As a whole Brown and Buchanan have become a great team that WWE would be wise to resign, and that NOAH would be wise to keep around (I was stunned to read that they weren't gaijins for the following NOAH tour). With performances like this D-Lo Brown shouldn't be a road agent for TNA; he should be a main eventer. This was perhaps Buchanan and Brown's best showing together, epitomizing how good they can be as a force, picking on Junior Heavyweight who have great talent, but who have mostly shown on offense for most of their careers.
25. Yuji Nagata Vs. Minoru Suzuki (April 1) - NJPW/AJPW Supershow
Possibly the perfect Minoru Suzuki match, from the opening chairshot to weaken Nagata to all the shortcuts and holds later on, to his diabolical facial expressions and mannerisms, to Suzuki getting fired up and emotionally invested in the match when he'd been trying so hard to control the pace. Nagata brought classic sportsmanship and tried to quicken the pace, or at least subject Suzuki the punishment he so richly deserved (not necessarily from an NJPW wrestler, but from anyone - his character is a jerk). Even the finish was a work of art.
24. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico (August 25) ? 2/3 Falls Match from ROH: Manhattan Mayhem 2
There is a moment in this match where Jay and Mark incapacitate El Generico and corner Steen that better expresses the comeuppance for all his sneak attacks than anything they did in the gimmick matches. That was the strength of this match: nailing the characters as well as the workrate. More than any other match in their feud, this embodied their unique dynamic: the Briscoes were faces, but dominant, while Steen was the polar heel and El Generico could actually out-babyface them. It?s a testament to the Briscoes? abilities that they could simultaneously setup for one villainous opponent and one heroic opponent. Certainly having multiple falls have the guys more room to play, and wisely they chose to slow it down a bit ? there were still the insane highspots you expect from these teams, but they weren?t as rushed as the Driven PPV match. My only gripe with this was the booking decision to only go to two falls when everyone wanted three, and one team getting shut out really hurt the feud given all the losses they?d already accumulated.
23. Samoa Joe Vs. Davey Richards (February 23) - ROH: Fifth Year Festival: Dayton
After the dream match with Morishima, this was the match that had to happen before Joe left. Teased from Richards? first month in the company back in 2006, ROH probably banked on this coming far down the line, but had to put it out there after TNA gave Joe his marching orders. It was unfortunate because Richards was transitioning from a babyface, straight-laced fighter character (who would have been blissfully to watch against Joe) into the creepier underhanded character he is now (who would be fun to watch get thrashed by Joe). This was in the middle of it, so there were stretches of great striking and simple technical wrestling, with occasions of underhandedness. Richards wasn?t the wrestling machine in this match, frequently reacting to Joe?s offense, or trying to overcome him with speed while always remaining an obviously strong striker and technical wrestler. He innovated and countered with beautiful big stuff like the Tornado DDT onto the apron, and when he still couldn?t pin the legend, he went to the low blows. Normally these cheap shots are cloying, but Joe?s presence and status pulled them into the story, not only validating him destroying Richards at the end, but adding that much pleasure to seeing it happen. Joe controlled and defined the match, testing him at first, then taking out his aggression and showing how much Richards could withstand. Essentially both men had their strikes built up to a certain level of destructiveness, but had to use them to stun each other in order to win purchase for a bigger throw or dive, making everything that much more hard-fought and meaningful, and certainly setting up why Richards, who was already growing a mean streak, would stoop to cheat. Understatedly dynamic, this remains one of the overlooked great matches of the Fifth Year Festival.
22. Jimmy Jacobs Vs. BJ Whitmer (March 31) - Steel Cage Match from ROH: Supercard of Honor 2
One of the scariest matches of the year in any company, and scarier than any death match because unlike a pure hardcore brawl, there was no way to predict how far these guys were going to take things. From his entrance, Jimmy Jacobs teased doing something stupid off the top of the cage. In the match, they were just reckless enough that you worried they?d have an accident, and so gutsy that their real injuries didn?t slow them down. A magnificent blowoff to one of 2007?s best feuds that couldn?t be hindered, even by the timed release of weapons into the cage.
21. Shingo Takagi, CIMA & Susumu Yokosuka Vs. Dragon Kid, Ryo Saito & Masaaki Mochizuki (March 31) - Dragon Gate Rules Match from Supercard of Honor 2
While the ROH Vs. DG match from All Star Extravaganza pitted four cohesive Japanese wrestlers against four distinct American characters, this match let the Dragon Gate guys define their own roles and character. Dragon Kid fell into his classic underdog role, Mochizuki was the new face and a brutal kicker, CIMA was his perfect wacky and capable self, and Shingo shone as a real star, a powerhouse that his side was lucky to have. Rather than try to recreate or one-up last year?s groundbreaking tag match, these six guys took main event billing in this host company and created their own match, full of amazing moves and chains of events, but a little slower than last time, taking the time to establish their roles. As fun as the original Supercard of Honor trios tag was, only Dragon Kid and Genki Horiguchi really stood out as a characters ?the underdogs, the whipping boys, selling sympathetically, with Dragon Kid as the next-generation Rey Mysterio Jr. fighting back against brutal and inventive opponents, and Genki dying for the hot tag. This time more players stood out, rather than blending together as forces of really cool offense. The real success of the match was that they could establish personas and still create a breakneck match that had the crowd chanting, ?Please don?t stop! Please don?t stop!?
20. Mark Briscoe Vs. Roderick Strong Vs. Matt Cross Vs. Shingo Takagi Vs. Claudio Castagnoli Vs. Pelle Primeau (February 23) - ROH: Fifth Year Festival: Dayton
The last match anyone would expect to steal a show would be this. Six guys with no angles between them to base heat on, a potential huge clash of styles and some real inexperience ? many of these guys had never wrestled each other in ROH before, and Takagi and Primeau had only been wrestling for a couple of years. Yet it became the immaculate reception of wrestling, as everything clicked, everyone found a niche and they worked a little bit of every style into the perfect melting pot of a multi-man match. Cross and Primeau brought the highspots, Castagnoli and Takagi brought the powerspots, while Briscoe and Strong brought experience and just enough character to grease everything. Guys who totally lacked chemistry against each other in later months gelled here. This might just be what ROH wanted every other six-man to be.
19. Jack Evans Vs. Roderick Strong (March 30) - ROH: All Star Extravaganza 3
Evans had an unusual amount of fight in him, with much more offense and more variety to it than usual, and pulled some moves that no other human on the planet could do or take. Strong?s savage punishment on Evans was outrageous, from the stretches in submission holds to the brutality of the throws. Best of all the two worked the crowd?s chants into the match, using them alone to build to one very believable false finish. Far better than their later outings, this is one of the best examples of pure savagery in wrestling.
18. Yuji Nagata Vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (April 13) - NJPW: Circuit 2007 New Japan Brave Tour
The clash between a young lion that could go and a veteran that could go couldn?t have come off any better, and you can?t fault NJPW for building up money rematches down the line. Nagata seemed to control more of the pace, but Tanahashi brought such heart and vigor that his talents couldn?t be caged. We went in expecting a definitive winner, and even though we got one, both men exited feeling like the best in the world.
17. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Shingo Takagi (April 2 - ROH: Good Times, Great Memories
Funny to find some of the best heavyweight wrestling in the world in a cruiser-centric company like Ring of Honor, but Shingo and Morishima delivered. Shingo Takagi improved dramatically over his tour in ROH in 2006 and early 2007, and this was his last chance to show his gratitude. On the flipside, this was one of Morishima?s first great performances in the company, showing what a compelling champion he could be. They matched power-for-power extremely well, with blunt physicality and a Japanese intensity kicked up to an American brawl pace. It?s a shame they?ll probably never wrestle in singles competition again, but they?ve certainly gone to tear it up in their home promotions (Shingo in Dragon Gate, Morishima in NOAH).
16. The Undertaker Vs. Dave Batista (April 1) - WWE: Wrestlemania 23
Upfront, the finishing sequence is up there with Akiyama/Kobashi for the GHC title in 2004. I can?t think of a finishing sequence I?ve enjoyed more in WWE this decade. But from the opening bell these guys went at it, clearly trying to prove something to whoever booked their title match in the middle of the show. In particular, Undertaker?s dive towards the ramp and Batista?s powerslam through the table were uncanny highspots for two guys of their size and all the injuries they?ve sustained. I haven?t flipped out so hard in a long time. It definitely benefited from WWE?s long history of awful booking decisions; of course Undertaker should have won, but you couldn?t trust WWE to make the right decision. If you don?t let a dispassionate current viewing cloud your judgment over how important everything was as it unfolded that night, this remains one of WWE?s best of the year, and possibly Undertaker?s best Wrestlemania match. At the very least for what they did, this rivals the HHH and Flair matches from past Wrestlemanias, which says a lot for Dave Batista.
15. Bryan Danielson Vs. El Generico (July 29) ? PWG: Giant Size Annual #4
Bryan Danielson was bloodied from an earlier brawl with the Necro Butcher. El Generico was worn out from just fighting for the PWG tag titles. They took every ounce of emotional energy from those matches and bid them against a twelve-minute main event, winning the gamble and banking in the emotion of a half-hour match. Everything was on, from the stare-down as the belt was presented to the crowd, to Generico have the best execution of his trademark moves I?ve ever seen (especially snapping off the Blue Thunder Bomb and Knucklelock Tornado DDT), to Danielson?s logical and vicious repetition of elbow strikes and the Cattle Mutilation. Generico channeled Danielson?s insulting promo into a very good serious performance, not becoming a generic indy hero, but going through his own semi-goofy character to prove he deserved to be champion. Usually a dive to the outside within a minute of the match starting is terrible, but it made so much sense in the context of two guys trying to make points at each other?s expenses.
14. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Bryan Danielson (November 3) - ROH: Glory By Honor 6 Night 2
It seems like everyone else praised the emotion of the Manhattan Mayhem 2 match, but it just didn't register for me. It had emotion, but not that much. Not this much. This is the match where it all clicked, where it all felt hateful. This exuded an aura right into my living room, and came the closest of anything to matching the physicality and aura of the Morishima Vs. Joe match from February. If they didn't get the impact they wanted on one move, they'd grab each other and make sure to get it on the second. More so than in the other two matches, both guys paid exquisite attention to coming off as angry in their offense and coming off as vulnerable in selling. It created perfect moments, like Morishima running full tilt into Danielson on the apron, and Danielson flying off into the barricade with frightening speed. Things as small as the first time Danielson cried out in reaction to being hit in the eye had meaning. Just because it was a passionate brawl didn't mean they went to total meaninglessness; Danielson purposefully hit a sunset flip just to do it, as it's a move Morishima has countered in almost every match of his ROH tenure. They referenced their ROH careers, their feud, Danielson's injury, Morishima's weaknesses, tying it up in quite possibly the best disqualification finish I've ever seen. You knew exactly why Danielson did what he did. I've got to admit that a lot of the "stomps" to Morishima's crotch looked really weak, but the way Danielson tossed the referee completely redeemed it. Besides at least five of those kicks definitely looking like they could pop a testicle. The disqualification made more sense and meant more than most pinfalls. While I wasn?t as enchanted with these three matches as some people, I have no doubt the fourth singles match could be a classic climax.
13. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. El Generico & Kevin Steen (September 15) - Ladder War from ROH: Man Up
Thank God this feud ended. It was my favorite feud of the year, but it couldn't go any further, and we're lucky no one was seriously injured. As it was El Generico limped away and had to take time off for his hamstring. For the toll they took on their bodies, though, these men got every ounce of passion they could from the crowd. The increasing ladder sizes was brilliant, building to the "NO WAY!" moment when they commandeered a maintenance ladder that the guys could barely lift. In terms of innovation, they took the most memorable elements of the Death Before Dishonor 5 streetfight and exploded them. They had beautiful stuff, like a dive through the gap of a ladder. They had absolutely brutal stuff, like Steen's Cradle Piledriver through a ladder balanced on the ropes and yet another ladder. But most importantly, they paced things so you had the moments of and anticipation and doubt that magnified the importance of their big spots. It was never slow enough to break the spell, but never fast enough to go into overkill. And that's the happiest ending I could get to this feud, regardless of which team reached the belts (which was good, because that had a goofily hard time getting the belts off the rig). Criticism of unprotected headshots is comical when you stack that up against all the bumps they took on their backs. They risked slipped disks way more than they did concussions, but in either case, I'll be happy if the level of violence lowers in coming months.
12. Shingo Takagi, BxB Hulk & Cyber Kong Vs. Magnitude Kishiwada, Masato Yoshino & Naruki Doi Vs. Susumu Yokosuka, Ryo Saito & Dragon Kid (June 5) Dragon Gate Infinity: TV 65
If you?ve never seen Dragon Gate before, this match would probably baffle you. Imagine a threeway dance where each guy has two partners to tag out to ? a threeway trios tag. And this wasn?t oldschool NWA wrestling; these nine guys started at a reasonable pace and tried to break the speed limit as quickly as they could. The wrestlers got lost more often than the audience, and when a wrestler slowed down it only meant someone else had the advantage over him. Even for Dragon Gate the multi-man segments were stellar, with things like a six-man submission hold, three-man pile-up in the corner, and of course, the billion consecutive clotheslines to the corner. You see a lot of things telegraphed on the American indies; for instance, you can usually tell when a big series of dives to the outside is coming. With an unusual kinetic energy, those sorts of things don?t feel as forced or predictable here, especially not when the dives are this fast or the stereo submission holds are executed so slickly. The only real flaws are that the opening is a little too slow and clunky, and that Dragon Kid, Masato Yoshino and Shingo Takagi aren?t featured even more, as they are the stars of this match, executing everything, even things they?ve been doing for over a year, with fluidity and freshness. It?s not often that a Dragon Gate trios match makes me stop and say, ?Wow, that was a really good DDT.? Yoshino being such a small part of the match particularly hurts the second fall, as exciting as the action is.
11. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico (August 10) - Death Before Dishonor 5 Night 1
This is a hard match to write about because it isn't as logical an experience like most matches; it's a tsunami of experience, which builds and crashes waves, but there isn't much more to talk about after you express that the waves roll really high and crash really hard. Like all crazy brawls, this one had its awful moments, like Generico bouncing around to sell a crippling move or a Briscoe standing in position for a full second longer than was logically believable so that he could get nailed with a chair or an Ace Crusher. But like all great crazy brawls, the emotion it elicited far outweighed moments of disbelief, with amazing instances like Kevin Steen ripping the barricade apart to use as a weapon, or Mark Briscoe running and jumping onto the barricade, catching Kevin Steen in mid-air and mid-pose, and driving him into the floor. The one that struck me the hardest was Mark Briscoe trying to climb a broken ladder. The first half was so relentless with so much action scattered between the four men that it felt like it would never slow down, managing to outpace a lot of trios tag matches I?ve seen this year ? so that even if it bothered me from a kayfabe standpoint, it was truly awe-inspiring that these guys could really absorb so much punishment. The brutality worked because it was still special; Ring of Honor has never featured too many insane hardcore brawls, so when something like this or the 100th Show trios tag brawl occurs they can mean a lot, so long as guys like these structure and build the crescendos of the match. Despite all the fun, though, this match worried me for the future of ROH. These guys wrestled each other twice the next night, and had a cage and ladder match in the not-too-distant future, none of which were even released yet. They?d done enough that this would have been an amazing end to an amazing feud; but if they kept this up they could have overexposed and ruined brawls and hardcore elements in the company. If this pace and level of physicality is ever expected instead of just appreciated, you?ll know they went too far.
10. Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs. Hirooki Goto (November 11) - NJPW: Destruction 2007
Goto's face is so expressive, and he has such a distinct look. He's stocky, but not huge. He's tough, but relatable. He can become anything a match needs him to be, and this match saw him play every role. Meanwhile Tanahashi expanded his cockier role, taking advantage of the animosity in the opening ten minutes to almost become the heel of the match. And what animosity! They worked at a blistering clip for much more of the opening segment than you'd expect, especially considering how long the match went. They gave the audience something new to watch at least every five minutes, be it strike battles, grappling or even Goto taking flight. They earned the exhaustion by midway into the match, outdoing NOAH's usual formula of making you wonder what would finish one of these guys off. All along the way they played into some great dramatic moments, the slap-battle that degenerated into Goto throwing straight fists as Tanahashi's face that changed the tone of the match. The crowd was receptive up to that point, but it was louder from then on. They kicked it up another notch after the scary roll-up headdrop, which both guys exploited perfectly. Tanahashi bumped as great as always, but he sold injuries - really sold them, not just showing they hurt, but took moments to clutch his head and display the injury to the audience. Things like that fit perfectly into the big-match formula. Especially on repeat viewings it strikes me that Goto could have helped the finish by displaying more weakness in his leg, but this is another case of a match absorbing and overcoming its own shortcomings in the process of a live performance.
9. The Royal Rumble Match (January 2 - WWE: Royal Rumble
The Royal Rumble is usually the best match featuring more than four wrestlers in any given year, even though it?s often overlooked. It really shouldn?t be, considering how many Royal Rumbles were better than the Wrestlemania main events they spawned. This year?s in particular had a phenomenal finish between the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, with simply great teases on the elimination that no mere battle royale has summoned. And like all good Rumbles, the winner wasn?t certain. When there were only five guys left, it wasn?t a lock on who the last two would be. The Great Khali, who no fan in his proper mind would believe the WWE would put in a Wrestlemania main event, had an effective and convincing entry (and a relieving elimination). From the ground floor with Flair and Finlay starting things off and Edge entering the mix in the early going, it built and drew on the classic tools of the formula (like Kane?s dominant entrance, and Sandman bringing his cane in) to create a great ride.
8. Shawn Michaels Vs. John Cena (April 23) - WWE: Raw
Sometimes WWE is insane with what it gives away on free TV. Michaels and Cena?s Wrestlemania match couldn?t even be this good ? this used Raw?s dynamic and booking history to shock viewers. This went 55 minutes, unheard of in single-fall matches on or off WWE pay-per-view. Fans were conditioned to expect run-ins and non-finishes to these kinds of matches. We were promised Edge Vs. Orton later that night, and even people who didn?t think that match was coming could have expected a run-in by Rated RKO and an impromptu tag match to ensue in its wake. But nobody ran in. And Michaels and Cena continued to work at a fast pace- a pace that would have been quick in Ring of Honor. Michaels led the match but Cena kept up his part excellently, working on the outside, near the tables, with the steps, near the ropes, on the top rope and in the middle of the ring ? they used every part of the setting to tell an amazing story that you wouldn?t have even expected if you?d paid $39.95 for it. It went against everything you?re conditioned to expect on Raw, and thus came out better than anything on WWE PPV.
7. Naomichi Marufuji & Kota Iifushi Vs. KENTA & Taiji Ishimori (July 15) - NOAH: NTV Cup, Tokyo Nippon Budokan
Insane Japanese junior heavyweight tag match that divided Marufuji and KENTA, once NOAH?s best tag team, and giving them new, hungry, extremely capable partners. Iifushi put on a career-making performance, and Ishimori stepped up his game. I?m pretty sure this won Iifushi a few thousand new American fans who had never even heard of him before the NTV cup. Through 2006 and 2007, tags featuring KENTA had a staleness about them, but this completely busted out of it, in part because of his chemistry with Marufuji, and in part because Iifushi came with so much stuff prepared to do with him. From the kick exchanges to the top rope madness, this match stole the entire NTV Cup.
6. Mark Briscoe Vs. Jay Briscoe (March 4) - ROH: Fifth Year Festival: Finale
This match had all the little touches of a great brother Vs. brother fight, keeping it sporting instead of trying to create some overblown bloodfeud, building to a distinct and satisfying finish that spoke volumes on why they gel so well as a team. Jay wore black, Mark wore white. Jay looked for more of the basic queues and caught his brother in routines or high-risk stuff, while Mark relied more on recklessness and risks ? and yet Jay could still fly, and Mark could brawl just, and each just as well as his brother. If nothing else, this singles match illustrated how they differ for all the people who couldn?t tell the difference between them in tags. But this isn?t an ?if nothing else? situation ? because both were so driven by disappointment from the previous night and in a rivalry that would always run between them, it got so intense that one refused to stay down unless the other did, even if it killed him.
5. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Claudio Castagnoli (August 10) ? ROH: Death Before Dishonor 5 Night 1
This was an inspired match. Things meant so much - even things that are habitual for most matches had a reason here. For instance, the Mexican standoff (where two wrestlers go through a series of moves and then freeze - enormously popular in the old ECW) is usually just thrown out there. Any two guys can do it. Quackenbush and Danielson. Marufuji and Ishimori. Mysterio Jr. and Super Crazy. They usually do it for fun and the sake of doing it. But here Claudio stepped up and showed he could go nose-to-nose with Morishima, started to show off his own strength while out-pacing him, and Morishima came back with a fast shoulderblock, instantly turning around prepared for another very simple counter, knowing he couldn't charge on offense while forcing Claudio to pause because he couldn't rush back and get the upperhand either. Ba'am - standoff. It had been so long I'd actually forgotten you could have a purpose in one of those things. And they managed to bring meaning to so many parts of the match that could have just been hollow and fun, even a false finish off of a Giant Swing three minutes in that the crowd completely bought. Later they built on Castagnoli?s Ricola Bomb with more variety and simple creativity than I?d ever even imagined somebody would put into such a thing ? and pulled it off at every turn so it built rather than appeared contrived. A lot of people go full-bore in everything they do, but here putting everything they had into moments, like Claudio's suicide dive that destroyed the barricade, gave the match flare and perpetuated this aura that the live audience completely felt and shared. This match features the best-shot false finish I've seen all year, where everyone is on their feet and looking at each other in mingled excitement and confusion, half thinking the match is over, half blown away that he kicked out.
4. Samoa Joe Vs. Takeshi Morishima (February 16) - ROH: Fifth Year Festival: New York
How things change in a year. At the beginning of 2007, Samoa Joe was still the god of ROH, and Morishima was a dream visitor for the company. Now Joe is lost in the abyss of TNA booking and Morishima is a strong runner for the most valuable performer of Ring of Honor. It?s hard to even appreciate the dream match atmosphere of this clash, but the amazing passion of that New York City crowd helps a bit in conveying it. Like 2005?s Joe Vs. Kobashi, every stare and strike was pregnant with meaning. They didn?t ride the audience?s appreciation, though; Joe bumped like he barely ever bumps, and Morishima absorbed more shots than he typically takes from a Japanese legend in NOAH. They were so rough and their faces were so expressive that everything felt personal. It was a matter of reputation. This was the clash everyone wanted between two of the most agile heavyweights in the world. Both defied the definition of a ?heavyweight? or a ?fat wrestler.? They were monsters, and the only bad thing I can say about this match is that ROH couldn?t book the rematch.
3. CIMA, Susumu Yokosuka, Ryo Saito & Dragon Kid Vs. Austin Aries, Rocky Romero, Claudio Castagnoli & Delirious (March 30) - Dragon Gate Rules Match from ROH: All Star Extravaganza 3
Everyone looked past this match in anticipation of the Dragon Gate Trios bout the next night. That?s saddening, because the story of four cohesive Dragon Gate team wrestlers going against four incredibly capable ROH singles wrestlers was compelling and interesting, making all four ROH guys distinct and engaging, while the four DG guys could overwhelm any one of them given time. So ROH?s guys could go toe-to-toe or get the advantage on their own, but when they needed teamwork, it backfired on them. Some of these guys paired off miraculously well, too. Claudio Castagnoli is a great base for little flyers, and Dragon Kid is a great little flyer. Delirious and CIMA's interactions were solid gold, going from comedy to drama without anyone noticing. And some of the false finishes, such as Romero?s Diablo Armbar on CIMA, were remarkably effective even if they came out of nowhere. Romero hadn?t been much of a factor in the match, but even on DVD it would be easy to buy him taking it right there. This was great live and great on DVD. If you skipped ASE3 and went straight to Supercard of Honor 2, I highly recommend giving it a chance now (or the next time ROH has a sale).
2. Bryan Danielson Vs. Nigel McGuinness (June 9) ? Appearing on ROH: Driven, taped at ROH: Domination
Absolutely amazing, cutting everything I?ve ever disliked about any of their previous matches. Nothing was too long, no advantage felt too cheap, the technical and chain wrestling was snug and had variety, the striking was scary but never overdone, and to top it all off the audience poured cheers onto these guys, almost matching the atmosphere England gave them at ROH: Unified in 2006. People who are sick of McGuinness should know that he doesn?t bust out a dozen lariats or no-sell ridiculously; here they sell with the emotion of the crowd, and it is mesmerizing. People who are sick of Danielson should know that he doesn?t waste time on the mat, but works holds with nuance and venom, and is more than happy to change it up with striking, brawling and big throws. This also has the best final minute of any wrestling match this year. It summoned what every chop battle, forearm battle, kick contest and contest of strength in the last decade aimed to summon, and made it believable that even though these guys were exhausted, they would still fight to another thirty minutes if they could just throw one more forearm or one more headbutt. Everything from the moment Danielson was busted open could have ended the match and none of it was overkill. I burned my dinner because I was waiting to see how this ended, and I?d read the spoilers two months before ordering the show. It was that damn good.
1. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Alex Shelley & Chris Sabin (April 2 - ROH: Good Times, Great Memories
The Briscoes will probably not have this many matches on the Riren 100 in 2008. All year they?ve pushed the envelope, and they can only do so much more before they succumb to injury or grow stale in their own excess. But in this year of stunning performances that constantly raised the bar, this match didn?t only clear the bar, but hit the roof. Shelley and Sabin were originally slated for a long program, but when it was cut to one match, these guys put everything into a breakneck half-hour. Unlike the Briscoes? feud with Kevin Steen and El Generico, where they had breakneck matches over and over, the length and depth of this match came from nowhere, blowing past any expectations ROH or TNA fans could have had. Playing on those same shattered expectations, the false finishes with both teams? plethora of finishing moves made it unpredictable and exhilarating, even for people who knew the winners in advance. In a year when I wished wrestlers would slow things down, this match removed ?slow? from my vocabulary. And it wasn?t all excess ? Alex Shelley made sure of that. His shenanigans in the beginning helped set the unpredictable tone. His unexpected water mist attack was hilarious, established character, and prevented the audience from expecting an all-out sprint. The Murder City Machine Guns and Briscoes are quite possibly the two best teams at sprinting in America, so when it came to flat-out going, they put on one of the greatest spectacles in terms of complication and energy that I?ve ever seen.
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