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Andrew’s Top Matches: MoTY Top 5 Vote

Ahh the end of the year, means we have a Match of the Year pool to finalize and then breakdown to a Top 5!

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Ahh the end of the year, means we have a Match of the Year pool to finalize and then breakdown to a Top 5! Obviously, some matches that make personal lists won’t be here because of how this pool was created. Certain months were loaded and the beginning of quarantine was, well let’s say, awkward.

Without further ado, let’s get to the Final 12, and whittle it down to a Top 5!

  • January – Wrestle Kingdom 14: Double Gold Match: Kazuchika Okada vs Tetsuya Naito
  • February – AEW Revolution: AEW World Tag Team Championship: Hangman Page & Kenny Omega (c) vs The Young Bucks
  • March – AEW Dynamite: AAA Mega Championship: Kenny Omega (c) vs Sammy Guevara
  • April – WrestleMania 36: NXT Women’s Championship: Rhea Ripley (c) vs Charlotte Flair
  • May – NXT: Pit Fight: Matt Riddle vs Tim Thatcher
  • June – NXT In Your House: NXT Women’s Champion Triple Threat: Io Shirai vs Charlotte Flair (c) vs Rhea Ripley
  • July – NJPW Dominion: NEVER Openweight Championship: Shingo Takagi (c) vs SHO
  • August – NOAH the Chronicle Vol 3: GHC National Openweight & GHC Heavyweight Championship Double Title Match: Kenoh (c) vs Go Shiozaki (c)
  • September – AEW Dynamite: Parking Lot Fight: Santana & Ortiz vs Best Friends
  • October – NXT UK: United Kingdom Championship: Walter (c) vs Ilja Dragunov
  • November – NJPW BOSJ 27: Robbie Eagles vs Hiromu Takahashi
  • December – NOAH Final Chronicle: GHC Heavyweight Championship: Go Shiozaki (c) vs Takashi Sugiura

Here we are! 3 AEW matches, 2 from Pro Wrestling NOAH, 3 from NJPW and 4 under the WWE umbrella. That’s not a terrible spread all things considered. Now let’s work things out for to turn 12 into 5.

– NXT In Your House: NXT Women’s Champion Triple Threat: Io Shirai vs Charlotte Flair (c) vs Rhea Ripley

Air Date June 7th

This was a beautiful transition to help Io get over the hump and differentiate herself from being just “another Japanese female champion”. Charlotte was doing some of the best work of her career earlier in the year and Rhea worked hard to get out from under both Toni Storm and Charlotte’s shadows, to become something special.

Instead of being crowned the top of the mountain, Rhea was kept in check, but never destroyed. This started a great story of building herself back up and raising the quality of a women’s division that was seen to be inferior to previous incarnations. Io’s championship run mixed with Rhea’s ability to get a great match out of everyone was ignited here. Great match, fun spots, fun use of an old PPV name and lead to a lot of great things.

– NOAH the Chronicle Vol 3: GHC National Openweight & GHC Heavyweight Championship Double Title Match: Kenoh (c) vs Go Shiozaki (c)

Air Date 8.10.2020

In a world where everyone and their brother were crowning double champions, NOAH decided to take a stab at a match where the winner would be a double champion. Go Shiozaki has established himself as a great fighting champion, embodying the heartbeat of what Pro Wrestling NOAH was back in the Golden Era and helping to restore the belief in the product. Kenoh however is no slouch and trying to establish the National Championship and of course, ruining Shiozaki’s story would be great.

Kenoh tends to always play the Vegeta role, but that’s because he’s not the largest wrestler, very brash and always angry or yelling. This was his chance to ruin the man who’s been touting “I Am NOAH, We Are NOAH” all year, and maybe finally get the respect he feels he doesn’t have yet.

Fantastically paced match, great strikes, great action and it ended with a Time Limit Draw. So they avoided falling into the 2020 trope of double championship holders, while playing with it enough to draw in some inquiring eyes. Both champions looked great, made both belts feel equal and it was just a great spectacle.

– NJPW Dominion: NEVER Openweight Championship: Shingo Takagi (c) vs SHO

Air Date 7.12.2020

This was SHO’s coming out party. YOH picking up an injury caused Roppongi 3k to have to vacate the Junior Tag Titles and SHO was trying to find where he fit in the current landscape. So SHO got a win over Shingo in the New Japan Cup which allowed them to play on a storyline from last year. When Shingo was still in the Junior Division he overpowered everyone and saw a bit of himself in SHO.

With the big brother/little brother dynamic, SHO finally got a win, which allowed him the chance to challenge for a singles title. Shingo was put on the back foot for the first time in this rivalry, and there were plenty of times when SHO had moments to pull out victory. The first really great New Japan after they returned from quarantine, still holds up through the entire year.

– NXT UK: United Kingdom Championship: Walter (c) vs Ilja Dragunov

Air Date 10.29.2020

Now you know the match is special when Cornette, Meltzer and most of the IWC agree that this was a fantastic match. Ilja had some momentum before quarantine coming off of great matches with Finn Balor, Cesaro and winning a Battle Royale. Walter on the other hand, has been a dominant force and even the previous champions like Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate looked out of their depth a little.

So the unproven Ilja (as far as NXT UK goes), looks to take out the monster who’s beaten people “better” than he is. Ilja came out energetic, fast, violent and made it look like a fight instead of a skit. Walter tried he usual offense, mauling Ilja with the big bear paws, Powerbombs, the big boy Splash, and Ilja wouldn’t die.

The fact that Walter had to choke the life out of Ilja, and he didn’t tap, sends a huge message. Afterwards Walter was impressed, and Ilja was a made man. That was such an old school violent match, it felt fresh and beautiful.

– NOAH Final Chronicle: GHC Heavyweight Championship: Go Shiozaki (c) vs Takashi Sugiura

Air Date 12.6.2020

Now I already discussed the year that Shiozaki has had, and gushed a bit in the previous article. Between the samurai 30 minute stare down into the brawl all over the building with Kazuyuki Fujita, the bittersweet history between he and Akitoshi Saito, the establishing match with Naomichi Marufuji (establishing because Shiozaki hasn’t had much singles success over Marufuji and doing the I AM NOAH catch phrase means you have to go through Marufuji who’s been the icon and the genius of NOAH), Time Limit Draw with a great champion in Kenoh, getting revenge over the betrayal of his best friend Katsuhiko Nakajima and this match against Suguira.

This match was the culmination of the entire year. Sugiura being one of the last original 20 members NOAH means the I AM NOAH train has to go through him as well. Sugiura also has history of being the road block in Shiozaki championship runs. Just a fantastic match where the more knowledge you have of everything, the more threads that got pulled on. Fantastic work in NOAH, most notable Go Shiozaki.

 

Thoughts:

Of course some of these matches are a little weaker than others, but such is the way that 2020 went. I think most of wrestling adjusted fairly well all things considered, and since Japan got their act together more quickly than the west, it’s definitely nice to see mostly normal matches by the end of the year.

However, this is a vote, so pick your Top 5 out of these Final 12! This year was interesting with the companies that fell off a bit, some were exposed and others embraced the challenge and flourished (here’s looking at you NOAH).

So place your votes and let’s get to some highlights of this awkward year!


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Opinion

Steve Cook’s Fave Five: April 2021

It’s a little more than halfway through April! You know what that means…

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It’s a little more than halfway through April! You know what that means.

It’s time to talk about my current five favorite wrestlers like I’m Booker T. Let’s break down the Fave Five!

5. Samoa Joe

I figure what happened between Samoa Joe & WWE was the following: WWE offered Joe an announcing contract since either they didn’t want to use him in the ring or their doctors wouldn’t clear him to wrestle. Joe looked at the contract, noticed the financial discrepancy, realized he could probably get NJPW to let him train young boys in California for that kind of money and said “thanks but no thanks”. Nothing else really makes sense to me.

Unfortunately, those who thought that WWE wouldn’t utilize Joe to their fullest potential were right. It wasn’t all WWE’s fault though. Joe had a lot of miles on his tires when he got there. Injuries are always more of a concern with larger wrestlers the older they get. And when Joe was healthy, he did get to do some good stuff and show people a glimpse of the Samoa Joe that people like me raved about back in the mid to late 2000s.

In any event, Joe got his WWE run. It was a thing that happened. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t wind up in AEW because he seems like the kind of guy Tony Khan would throw all the money at. Should be fun!

4. Kris Statlander

AEW does have a pretty insane number of factions right now. It risks the possibility of all of the groups blending together, with none of them really capturing the attention of fans. However, there are positive things about AEW’s faction warfare that shouldn’t be overlooked. It makes booking fresh matches to fill cards pretty easy. You can have groups facing off each week, but in different combinations that keep it fresh.

Another good thing: It can help us decide how we feel about characters that we might be on the fence about. Kris Statlander’s character was a topic of discussion from the moment she entered AEW. A lot of people weren’t sure how to take her. Wrestling aliens, or wrestlers who think they’re aliens, aren’t exactly common. Its the kind of thing that gets over in the indies, because those feds attract fans that are more willing to buy into unique concepts. Mainstream is a tougher sell.

Aligning Kris with the Best Friends makes sense to those in the know, since she came up working shows with them. It also helps people that don’t know about her figure out more. The Best Friends are a happy go lucky group that are the whitest of white meat babyfaces you’ll find in AEW, and that’s a good thing. They’re welcoming to people with unique personalities, as Orange Cassidy’s presence establishes. A friendly alien couldn’t ask for a better group to surround herself with, and from their appearances so far she seems like a perfect fit.

Add in the fact that the time on the shelf helped her get into better shape and refine her look & presence, and the sky’s the limit for Statlander. As long as she can stay in the ring, I’m expecting big things from her in 2021.

3. Tay Conti

Sometimes, all one needs is a change of scenery to approach their true potential. Tay spent a few years at the WWE Performance Center learning how to be a professional wrestler. During her time there, Tay never showed much in the way of potential. Even though she had a combat sports background and had the type of physical appearance that gets attention, Conti’s TV time was very limited and uneventful. She seemed like one of those wrestlers that was bound to stay in developmental until WWE gave up on them, then drop off the face of the earth without most wrestling fans noticing.

Tay’s story took a different route. She ended up being one of the cuts that AEW took an interest in, and was brought in for the Deadly Draw Women’s Tag Team Tournament. Her teaming with Anna Jay worked well on & off-camera, and she pretty much fit right in with the group immediately. She started training with Dustin Rhodes, and pretty much immediately started looking better in the ring & figuring out what worked for her. Now, she’s one of the people helping AEW’s women’s division go to a higher level.

This isn’t meant to denigrate WWE’s Performance Center or its methods. There just isn’t a wrestling training center out there that’s going to work for everybody. Tay had to find what worked for her. The people that recently got cut will have to do the same. Hopefully, the people that recently got signed by WWE will thrive in that environment.

2. Bianca Belair

We’ve recently seen three new Women’s Champions under the WWE umbrella, all of whom are great in their own way. I’ve talked about Rhea Ripley before, she’s got unlimited potential and so far she’s done very well on the main roster. Raquel Gonzalez is doing very well on NXT and her push to the championship made perfect sense & got over. I do think the best of the title changes was Bianca’s defeat of Sasha Banks in the main event of WrestleMania Saturday. It was a special moment for Bianca, a very fun match to watch, and a great performance from both Bianca & Sasha Banks, who did everything she could to make Bianca in that match.

You see the video of the NXT segment up above, with the three current Women’s Champions under the WWE umbrella celebrating together. Apparently there was a picture taken in 2019, and there were pictures taken after this week’s NXT, with Triple H making sure to get in there as he likes to do with all new champions. I’ve never really been a fan of that sort of thing, even the “Horsewomen” celebrations on previous NXT shows didn’t do much for me.

Besides the usual complaints people have about things like that, the thing that I didn’t like was how Rhea & Raquel came off. They were all smiling & happy like they were Big Daddy Cool Diesel after beating Mr. Bob Backlund in 1994. Completely against what Raquel has been up to this point, and what Rhea has been when she’s been at her best. Hopefully this is just a one-time thing for Rhea for the portion of the NXT audience that likes their lady wrestlers crying & happy after their performances, and hopefully it’s leading to Raquel getting dismembered by Dakota Kai, who can’t be happy about her heater winning the championship and then turning into Smilin’ Diesel.

Fortunately for Bianca, it does nothing to affect her character or our opinion of her. That’s why I think her title run will go best. I’m also putting her here because I’m pretty well convinced there isn’t a wrestling move or spot she can’t do well. Insanely talented, and the more experience she gets the better she’ll be.

1. Darby Allin

Sometimes you just want to watch something that’s stupid fun. Something that doesn’t need too much thought in order to enjoy it. Just people doing crazy things to entertain an audience. Darby Allin matches are just what you need when you’re looking for something like this. There isn’t anybody crazier in pro wrestling today than Darby, which is probably for the best. I’m convinced this kid has a death wish.

The one thing that kinda gets me about Darby sometimes is how he kicks out of everything. Poor Matt Hardy wasn’t going to beat that kid unless he shot him with a gun, and apparently there’s a metal detector at Daily’s Place. (Shoutout to Matt by the way, hell of an effort in that match.) But then I remember that Darby Allin is a daredevil and constantly posting videos online where he’s jumping off high places and doing crazy things. Obviously, it’s going to take a little more to beat a daredevil than your average pro wrestler.

What’s it going to take to beat Darby Allin? That’s a good reason to keep watching.


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NXT Minus 6: About that Cole-O’Reilly match…

It was the Takeover match that held the most promise. Where did it go wrong? 

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It was the Takeover match that held the most promise. Where did it go wrong? 

Exclusive: Kyle O'Reilly is ready to renew his career-long rivalry with Adam Cole at NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver

6. I was jacked to 11 for Adam Cole versus Kyle O’Reilly. I was ready to give it a Tokyo Dome 6 stars. MOTY before the bell rang. A masterwork of storytelling. I correctly predicted it would be an unsanctioned match. Then the action started, and it quickly became “be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.”

NXT TakeOver: New Orleans | WWE

5. After the first few acts of violence, it was apparent that the problem with the match would be the stipulation. The last NXT unsanctioned match was Johnny Gargano versus Tommaso Ciampa in 2018. That was 3 short years ago, but things move quickly in today’s world. There is very little chance an unsanctioned match can deliver the level of violence it promises as long as NXT is on the PG-13 Peacock.

The Most Brutal Spots from Adam Cole and Kyle O'Reilly's Insane Unsanctioned Match at NXT Takeover - EssentiallySports

4. Fans are losing their minds over all the content Peacock is leaving on the cutting floor. A lot of it was offensive and would never work today, but that’s not the point. The fact is there’s only so much violence Peacock’s parent company NBC will tolerate from wrestling. Take the chain, for example. Other than the clothesline, it was practically useless. O’Reilly tried to make it work, but it fell flat. In an unsanctioned match, 20 feet of heavy duty chain should be all you need to decimate another human being.

The B Word: Did Pro Wrestling's Blood Dry Up? | Ring the Damn Bell

3. Maybe I’m a victim of my own wrestling memory. An unsanctioned match in Memphis in the 80’s would have been a bloodbath. Someone would have been hung over the top rope with the chain around his neck. Whipped across the back. Hog tied. Someone would have wrapped it around their fist for a few stiff shots to their opponent’s forehead. But that goes back to my original point. None of that would fly today even if NXT was only on the WWE network.

5 Hilarious moments from this week's WWE programming

2. I’ll go so far as to say the only violent-promising stipulation that interests me is Falls Count Anywhere. There is zero drama in wrestlers pulling chairs from under the ring. The chance to use the naturally occurring environment as a weapon still holds a world of suspense. Someone is going through windows, walls, off the stage, over the guardrail, stuffed in a locker. Honestly, I’m tired of people getting hit in the stomach with folding chairs. Of all the ways to hit someone with a folding chair, that’s the least practical. 

WWE Announces Multiple Injuries At NXT New Year's Evil - WrestlingRumors.net

1. I’m sorry to say Kyle O’Reilly versus Adam Cole didn’t deliver what I expected. Maybe I’m in the minority. Maybe I don’t need over-the-top violence to entertain me. Maybe I don’t need wrestling to keep pushing the envelope. Five of my top 6 matches of 2021 are straight up wrestling matches. Maybe all I need is two (or three or four) strong characters and a good story. Damn, I sound old. 


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