June has almost concluded which means we’re about halfway through the 2018 calendar year. Let’s take a look at some of the best matches thus far and reflect on the highlights. The candidates are listed below in chronological order with the winner being announced last.
Kenny Omega (c) v. Chris Jericho – Wrestle Kingdom 12 (1.4)
I was initially worried that Jericho was reaching a certain age and that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with Kenny. What then happened was far from my assumption. The No DQ stipulation really added to the match and the new environment brought Jericho into his comfort zone. He made the most out of his new heel “Alpha” persona and delivered on all levels. The Wrestle Kingdom card was loaded with great matches but this is the match that brought a whole bunch of fresh eyes on the New Japan product. Even with all the hype surrounding the match, they surpassed my expectations by putting on my favorite match of the night.
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) v. Minoru Suzuki – NJPW New Beginning in Sapporo (1.27)
Not enough people talked about this match because it wasn’t on some giant marquee show. I showed it to a friend and a family member and they were incredibly impressed. The friend even had a frozen expression on his face with mouth agape at the match’s conclusion. Suzuki had injured Tana’s knee earlier in the month and was obsessed with exploiting it. Add that with his already injured bicep muscle to Suzuki’s target of choice. Minoru Suzuki worked the body parts for the whole match which isn’t to most fans’ liking but I thought it was riveting stuff. The top villain of the company was setting an example at the expense of the top hero as the fans watched in agony. The fans cheered Tanahashi on while the official urged him to save himself and give up but he refused. I was captivated. It happened Royal Rumble weekend and I genuinely didn’t think any WWE match was going to top it but then something happened…
Andrade “Cien” Almas (c) v. Johnny Gargano – NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia (1.27)
It was the instant classic that WWE has been searching for. Every time I thought the match was near its conclusion, the competitors traded even more holds and near-falls. It was the first WWE match that Dave Meltzer has awarded 5 stars since 2011 and I think it rightfully deserved it. The showcase of technicians paired with the involvement of Zelina Vega and Candice LeRae gave us something all fans could enjoy. Johnny has had such a big 2018 that this match already feels so far in the past. I know a lot of fans wanted this to be Johnny’s crowning moment but I think the right man won.
The Young Bucks v. The Golden Lovers – NJPW Strong Style Evolved (3.25)
If you love storytelling then this is the match for you. Some elements of the story date back about 8 years. Newly realigned with his former lover, Kota Ibushi, Kenny Omega was forced to battle his two closest friends for the right of tag team supremacy. You can visibly see the emotional thermometer fluctuate for all four men throughout the match. Anguish, regret, aggression, passion, love – all of it. It was truly a work of art. The entire audience rose in unison at the sound of the final bell and delivered a standing ovation. Many tears were shed that night.
The Night of Ladder Wars and Blood Feuds – ROH Supercard of Honor XII & NXT TakeOver: New Orleans (4.7)
Like many fans, I was labored with the first-world problem of choosing between NXT and Ring of Honor. I ultimately chose NXT because I was a little more invested in those storylines going into Saturday night. Of course I didn’t regret my decision because I ended up seeing an all-time great ladder match for the North American Title. The guy next to me even called his friend twice during the match to make sure he was watching it. While all of that was going on, the Young Bucks (and Flip Gordon) were putting on a classic ladder match of their own against SoCal Uncensored over in ROH. Both cards also had the two hottest feuds of the wrestling world headlining: Omega v. Cody & Gargano v. Ciampa. The Gargano and Ciampa match might be my favorite match I’ve ever seen live. I’ll never forget the fans raining down expletives on Ciampa for several minutes straight during his entrance. The perfect combinations of booking, storytelling, and brutality concluded the best show I’ve ever attended. I had the ROH main event spoiled for me but I’m still glad I went back to watch it. It was obviously entertaining and I’m incredibly excited for Cody’s and Kenny’s rematch for the IWGP Heavyweight belt next week.
Kurt Angle & Ronda Rousey v. Triple H & Stephanie McMahon – Wrestlemania 34 (4.8)
I couldn’t remember if I was more intrigued or nervous for this one. Kurt and Triple H are at the tail-end of their careers, Steph hadn’t wrestled a match in years, and Ronda had never had a televised match ever. This was Kurt’s return to the grandest stage and Ronda’s re-introduction to the world. I just wanted desperately for everyone to do well because there were so many things that could have gone wrong. When reflecting back on the event that night, I decided this was the match that left me the most entertained. Keep in mind, I was sitting near the top of the Superdome. I was physically far removed from the electricity of the match but it still kept my attention the whole time. Also, being so high up means I can see everyone laying around the ring which gives me a chance to anticipate broken pinfalls and submissions. Even with that advantage, I still had no idea which way the match was going to tilt on many occasions. I don’t know if it was the spot on the card or everyone doing their job right but it was fantastic. Ronda having the match of the night at Wrestlemania in her television debut is an impossible feat to accomplish. You can tell they all worked really hard to put it together and I’m just so proud of all parties involved.
Hiromu Takahashi v. Taiji Ishimori – NJPW Best of the Super Jr. 25 Finals (6.4)
I wrote about this one in a past article so I wont go on for too long about it. This match was the conclusion of the Best of the Super Juniors tournament and clearly the best bout of the whole thing. The BOSJ Finals has a habit of providing a MOTY candidate and this one did not disappoint. This match had everything: submissions, dangerous spots, fights in the bleachers, crowd energy – you name it. With Hiromu being the fan favorite and Ishimori the newest member of the Bullet Club, NJPW’s junior heavyweight division is going to be in good hands for years to come.
Johnny Gargano v. Tommaso Ciampa II – NXT TakeOver: Chicago II (6.16)
When this one was over, my buddy and I were left laughing. Not because it was bad. It was executed so well that laughter was the only way we knew how to express our sheer joy and appreciation. A lot of us were anticipating Candice to cost Johnny the match but the segment beforehand told us that wasn’t going to happen. That was wise because then we went in with any expectations wiped clean. The match featured references to the feud’s history with added moments like the one involving Johnny’s wedding ring. As Ciampa was getting stretchered out, I was left wondering if they were ever going to incorporate the exposed ring canvas. They made sure to answer that thought right away.
Pete Dunne (c) v. Zack Gibson – NXT UK Championship Special (Aired 6.26)
This one was taped last week and televised this week so it’s the most recent addition to the list. It aired in the middle of the day in The States so not many fans have even seen it. I was ready to write about the United Kingdom Championship Tournament Finals between Gibson and Travis Banks but then this one edged it out the next night. Our favorite snarky heel, Pete Dunne was actually the babyface of this match which provided a refreshing dynamic. The UK crowd was hot as usual and Zack Gibson solidified himself as a potential cornerstone for the future NXT UK brand.
MOTY: Kazuchika Okada (c) v. Kenny Omega – NJPW Dominion (6.9)
I didn’t forget about it. I may have been running on zero sleep during the match but I didn’t forget. I said the winner was going to be announced last, remember? It was a 2 out of 3 Falls match that lasted over an hour with a storyline two years in the making. What more could you ask for as a wrestling fan? Some have said it’s the greatest match in the history of wrestling. I’m not sure if I’ll go that far but I understand the sentiment. I may not be ready to call it the best match ever but it’s going to be awhile before another match makes me jump up and down while hugging my best friend. It was the total underdog story that provided me with one of my favorite memories of watching wrestling. I can’t wait to see what Omega, Okada, and New Japan do to follow it.
I am fully aware I left off A LOT of great matches. Seth Rollins, Aleister Black, Tetsuya Naito, Will Ospreay and the Undisputed Era are notable absences but I promise they all very narrowly missed the cut. EC3 would want me to only include the top one percent of my favorites anyway. The ultimate deciding factor was which matches left me feeling something at the end. There is also a lack of female wrestlers. I think the reason for this is some of the most talented women on the roster (Sasha, Bayley, Ember, Becky, Nattie) haven’t yet received the high quality storylines they’re accustomed to. If Charlotte/Asuka and the women’s MITB match were each given 5 more minutes, they likely would have been on here. The NXT women’s division is also rebuilding with fresher faces. Shayna Baszler had stellar matches against Ember Moon and Toni Storm so I think she’s only going to get better. The next parts of my Review will look at current MVPs of 2018 and things to look out for the rest of the year.