The Riren 100 #100-75, by John Wiswell

Riren 100
By John Wiswell of www.johnwiswell.blogspot.com

Section A: Introduction

Welcome to my top 100 matches of the year. This is the first of a four-day feature, beginning with matches 100-75. 75-1 will appear later this week. Section B is just the match list. Section C features a countdown and review for each of today’s matches. Most of these thoughts were written months apart as I watched the individual shows, edited at multiple periods throughout the year. Writing all this in one weekend would probably kill me, but taking a few minutes to write about a great match is a good way to reflect on our collective hobby, especially when so many people have mistaken “criticism” to mean “stuff I hated.”

Each match in both Section B and C list the wrestlers, the date, the company and the show name, so you can track down the episode or DVD of anything you like. This list represents most of WWE’s weekly television and PPVs, TNA Impact and its PPVs, most of what was broadcasted in Japan by AJPW, NJPW and NOAH, all of ROH’s DVDs up to Final Countdown Tour: Boston, TV shows and Final Battle 2009, all of PWG’s DVDs up to Against the Grain, about ten shows from Chikara, a few shows by DDT, Dragon Gate’s weekly Infinity show and PPVs, the two Dragon Gate USA PPVs, and a few miscellaneous independent shows. Any candidate has to be watched at least twice, as the initial viewing (especially a live viewing) leaves a certain impression that needs to be checked. This is the third year of the list and at this point I’m resigned to Lucha not being a part of it. I’d love to get into Mexican wrestling, but at this point it’s either watch that or go outside and do things.

This list is not about who the best wrestler in the world is. Bryan Danielson’s matches have been a staple of the list for all three years, yet he’s very unlikely to have many appearances next year. Some wrestlers don’t get the opportunity to shine often, while others provide consistent quality performances that simply aren’t amazing, and then there’s Santino Marella. Wrestling takes all kinds. This list is only about the best matches of the year. By counting a hundred we can reflect on more of what was worthwhile in the hobby than a mere “match of the year” or top five. If you only have five matches you’re really happy about seeing in 365 -five days, I recommend another hobby.

Just as it doesn’t indicate one best wrestler, the list doesn’t reflect one best kind of match. There’s no such thing. There are great fifteen-minute matches and great hours draws, great brawls, technical matches and high-flying affairs, great straight matches and gimmick matches. Having a longer list also gives us room to acknowledge the disparate kinds of worthwhile matches that happen in a year. #1 is singles, #3 is a tag, #4 is a triple threat and #8 is in a ridiculous cage.

Given that there are a hundred matches, you’re bound to disagree with at least one being ahead of another. Every year somebody makes an empty death threat over their favorite match being beneath some obviously inferior one, or worse, that their favorite wasn’t on the list at all. Even with one hundred matches, some don’t make it. I had seventeen matches on my “short list” that I had to cut this year. But know that any criticism of match placement is less interesting than your response to what I actually wrote about the match. If you have a gripe, your own list (even just a Top 3), or if you have other matches you want to praise, you can e-mail me at Riren100@gmail.com.

If you enjoy the list, please check out http://pledgie.com/campaigns/6993 It’s a charitable drive to help with a ridiculously expensive surgery. Any donations will help.

You can also read my blog at www.johnwiswell.blogspot.com . This is another side of my writing, mostly in monologues and short fiction. Something new goes up every day.

On to the list.

Section B: The List

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.
15.
16.
17.
18.
19.
20.
21.
22.
23.
24.
25.
26.
27.
28.
29.
30.
31.
32.
33.
34.
35.
36.
37.
38.
39.
40.
41.
42.
43.
44.
45.
46.
47.
48.
49.
50.
51.
52.
53.
54.
55.
56.
57.
58.
59.
60.
61.
62.
63.
64.
65.
66.
67.
68.
69.
70.
71.
72.
73.
74.
75. Christian Vs. Jack Swagger (aired February 24) – WWE: ECW on Sci Fi
76. Katsuhiko Nakajima Vs. Roderick Strong (April 3) – ROH: Supercard of Honor 4
77. Edge Vs. John Morrison (aired June 19) – WWE: Smackdown
78. Takashi Sugiura & Atsushi Aoki Vs. Hirooki Gotoh & Kazuchika Odaka (May 5) – NJPW: Divergence
79. Davey Richards & Eddie Edwards Vs. Bryan Danielson & Tyler Black (taped April 18) – appearing on ROH: Double Feature 2
80. Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (November 11) – NJPW: Destruction 2009
81. Jimmy Jacobs Vs. Tyler Black (June 26) – Steel Cage Match from ROH: Violent Tendencies
82. Jeff Hardy Vs. John Morrison (aired July 31) – WWE: Smackdown
83. Bryan Danielson Vs. Tyler Black (aired April 25) – ROH
84. Shingo Takagi & YAMATO Vs. Masaaki Mochizuki & Don Fuji (November 23) Dragon Gate: The Gate of Destiny 2009
85. Hirooki Gotoh Vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (March 15) – NJPW: New Japan Cup 2
86. Mike Quackenbush & Jigsaw Vs. Cheech & Cloudy (February 21) – Chikara Pro: Motivation Means Opportunity
87. Alex Shelley & Chris Sabin Vs. Prince Devitt & Ryusuke Taguchi (July 5) – NJPW: Circuit 2009 New Japan Soul
88. Christian Vs. William Regal (September 13) – WWE: Breaking Point
89. Mike Quackenbush, Jigsaw, Soldier Ant & Fire Ant Vs. Amasis, Hallowicked, Gran Akuma & Icarus (taped July 25, aired September 4) – Dragon Gate USA: Enter the Dragon/Open the Historic Gate
90. Jerry Lynn Vs. Colt Cabana (April 25) – ROH: The Homecoming 2
91. Shingo Takagi Vs. YAMATO (January 23) – No Rope Match broadcast on Dragon Gate Infinity 118
92. Kevin Steen, El Generico & Bobby Dempsey Vs. Davey Richards, Eddie Edwards & Chris Hero (March 13) – ROH: Stylin’ and Profilin’
93. Kota Ibushi & Kenny Omega Vs. Danshoku Dino & “Yoshihiko” (May 4) – DDT in Tokyo
94. John Cena, Ricky Steamboat, CM Punk, Rey Mysterio & Jeff Hardy Vs. Edge, Big Show, Chris Jericho, Kane & Matt Hardy (April 6) – WWE: Raw
95. Alex Shelley Vs. Chris Sabin (January 11) – TNA: Genesis
96. Kenta Kobashi & Yoshihiro Takayama Vs. Keiji Mutoh & Akira Taue (September 27) – Pro Wrestling NOAH: Great Voyage 2009 in Tokyo
97. Bryan Danielson Vs. Tyler Black Vs. Adam Polak Vs. Absolute Andy (March 8) wXw: 16 Carat Tournament 2009 Night 3
98. Nigel McGuinness Vs. KENTA (March 21) – ROH: Seventh Anniversary Show
99. Kota Ibushi Vs. Koji Kanemoto (May 30) – NJPW: Circuit 2009 Best of the Super Juniors 16
100. Edge Vs. Jeff Hardy (January 25) – No Disqualification Match from WWE: Royal Rumble

Section C: Countdown and Review

100. Edge Vs. Jeff Hardy (January 25) – No Disqualification Match from WWE: Royal Rumble
After all the attacks and sabotage by unknown parties, it made total sense for Hardy to go nuts on Chavo Guerrero Jr. like that. In fact, Hardy fought the whole match with that degree of angered abandon, not even flinching at the No Disqualification stipulation and immediately flying at Edge, and then going for a weapon, working out his frustration in his hectic style. It’s no surprise that the two work famously together, but they had some particularly shining moments, like Edge catching Hardy mid-seesaw in the corner and Spearing him across the ring. While not the biggest match of Hardy’s career, it was by far one of his best performances, using conviction to get across all of his decisions. And say what you like about the story of Matt Hardy’s turn, but his delivery was excellent.

99. Kota Ibushi Vs. Koji Kanemoto (May 30) – NJPW: Circuit 2009 Best of the Super Juniors 16
So I guess Ibushi and Kanemoto decided to do everything you’d normally do in a thirty-minute match in just fifteen and see how that worked instead. How did it work? It created one of the best New Japan main events of the year, going at a breakneck pace that packed not just moves, but moments. The two trading count-out attempts, Kanemoto countering Ibushi’s double Moonsault attempt before going for his own, and even Ibushi simply being unable to escape the Ankle Lock at the end were all concise and earned in seconds. This was the antithesis of last year’s lauded Kondo Vs. Marufuji in AJPW, going as quickly to tell stories as possible and being all the more impressive for it.

98. Nigel McGuinness Vs. KENTA (March 21) – ROH: Seventh Anniversary Show
They had two major options: pretend McGuinness wasn’t hurt and try to wrestle a match without letting on he had two serious arm injuries, or build a story around McGuinness’s limitations. I think they made the right choice, but it meant the recklessly stiff KENTA battering McGuinness’s injured biceps for the better part of twenty minutes. McGuinness gets points for having taken it. They built a good story out of McGuinness trying to inflict the same pain on KENTA, attacking his arms not to take offense away from him, but to give him the same disability. One could imagine McGuinness’s increased arm work came in part from all the fears he had for what opponents would do to him (suggested again in the Lynn title defense). Using headbutts for his standard strike was inspired. Around the frame of arm work, they made a good match of KENTA’s standard offense, clever counters like the Go 2 Sleep out of McGuinness corner headstand, and McGuinness gradually doing anything he could think of, including a great version of the G2S himself. The London Dungeon variation at the end looked truly grueling.

97. Bryan Danielson Vs. Tyler Black Vs. Adam Polak Vs. Absolute Andy (March 8) wXw: 16 Carat Tournament 2009 Night 3
Four-ways where two bad guys and two good guys essentially act as tag teams are usually lame, but this worked on a zany level. Black and Andy had no particular personalities, so naturally they chased the heels; meanwhile Polak was the inexplicable little buddy to champion Danielson, something unnecessary and great. He posed and pointed to Danielson for approval and went for tags whenever asked, while the champ cheered him from the apron. I was sad to see him eliminated first. After that we got to watch Danielson abuse Black, and unsurprisingly he’s good at that. Andy made the hot entry and nearly eliminated Danielson, only to be distracted by a toilet paper shower from some heels and was himself eliminated. That returned us to Danielson abusing Black, Black mounted a familiar comeback and did everything he could, while Danielson relied on strikes and a Sleeperhold, keeping to his heel minimalism. Danielson made basic tactics, like getting his foot on the ropes to escape a surefire pinfall, work in a modern setting. I wish more people could. Black survived too many sleepers, though, and eventually Danielson had to use his Elbow Barrage and Triangle Choke to eliminate his final challenger.

96. Kenta Kobashi & Yoshihiro Takayama Vs. Keiji Mutoj & Akira Taue (September 27) – Pro Wrestling NOAH: Great Voyage 2009 in Tokyo
Akira Taue should not be wrestling at this stage in his life, but the Hurricanrana he took from Kobashi was amazing. Sometimes over-the-hill wrestlers whose execution is shot can make a splash with one or two well-planned spots. Terry Funk lengthened his career considerably by exploiting that idea. Here you got a better match because of it, and because the other three men involved had the gravitas to make big moves mean a lot even if they weren’t executed crisply. Mutoh in particular sone out there, with the NOAH crowd adoring him despite him being an outsider, and his exchanges with Kobashi teasing their famous offense so wisely. Even on the apron, Mutoh injected personality in his rally cries to Taue, acting like the ring general that more Japanese vets should. With Taue in the supporting offensive role and Takayama playing the jerk (a particularly neat moment where he fought with the outsider referee over how he was allowed to cover an opponent) plugged everything together into one of the more memorable NOAH tags of the year.

95. Alex Shelley Vs. Chris Sabin (January 11) – TNA: Genesis
The story may have been too subtle for some. But if you watch from early on you can see Shelley press Sabin instead of settling for Mexican Stand-Offs when he could have got them for a rest, and between that, the slap mid-match, and look on his face after the Somersault Legdrop on the ropes, Shelley was a distinctly darker player than his partner. He was frustrated and scheming from the outset. The barrage of finishers at the end may also have put some people off, but they were a fantastic array of potential endings, and they setup Shelley’s ploy very well. Sabin has come a long way as a singles wrestler in the last three years, and he carried his end of the bargain every bit as smoothly as Shelley at his very best. If anything these two were too good, able to do too much and execute it too well while not accentuating Shelley’s dark streak. But that wasn’t a flaw – it only hurt it for some audiences. As it was, it was the best X-Division Title match since Samoa Joe and A.J. Styles left for bigger things.

94. John Cena, Ricky Steamboat, CM Punk, Rey Mysterio & Jeff Hardy Vs. Edge, Big Show, Chris Jericho, Kane & Matt Hardy (April 6) – WWE: Raw
What made this stand above all the other random tag matches WWE throws on television? Steamboat’s participation was one obvious element, doing all the things that had been shocking the previous night at Wrestlemania, with all their luster and specialness here. Matt and Jeff Hardy had great interactions, like Matt falling down, seeing his brother tag in, and scooting back as fast as he could to tag out without ever losing eye contact. Mysterio, Edge and Jericho were able to pop in whenever necessary, adding even more impressive offense or picking the bones of someone weakened by what others set up. Punk and Kane used their reliable interactions to add filler in-between the hotter material. Even Big Show registering the pain from Steamboat’s chops was cool. And it all tied together with Edge and Jericho’s underhandedness not being enough, and two of the greatest flyers of two generations putting them down for the finish.

93. Kota Ibushi & Kenny Omega Vs. Danshoku Dino & “Yoshihiko” (May 4) – DDT in Tokyo
What’s better than a wrestling blow-up doll dressed as the Great Muta? It getting destroyed only to come back later in the match as the Undertaker. Ibushi & Omega took it so seriously, from Ibushi’s long stare into its eyes during the handshake on. Dino has used the prop a few times but never with this level of amusement. For his part, Omega seemed to be trying to have the match of his life against the doll, including taking intricate bumps and reversals from it just to see if he could do them, and cribbing a full ludicrous combo from Street Fighter 2’s Zangief for a nearfall. From start to finish, this was easily one of the funniest matches of the year.

92. Kevin Steen, El Generico & Bobby Dempsey Vs. Davey Richards, Eddie Edwards & Chris Hero (March 13) – ROH: Stylin’ and Profilin’
Can you make a great match be all about someone who isn’t ready to have a great match? This is evidence for the case. Make no mistake: Dempsey must improve far beyond this to last in quality wrestling. But for this match his awkwardness only helped the sympathy case, and accentuate why he needed Steen & Generico in his corner. When he stood up for himself, even if it meant taking a worse beating, it worked much in the way it worked for Pelle Primeau at his breakout two years ago. Primeau improved, until his tragic injury. Dempsey should look to stay healthy, but follow in Primeau footsteps. But for the actual match, Richards hustled and Steen & Generico carried most of the workload. Hero handed Dempsey his two big moments, doing everything for him save grimacing and bleeding. And really, it wasn’t entirely about Big Bobby; Steen’s leg was a story, and if anybody shone, it was Richards or Hero. For one night, Dempsey lived in a tailor made role.

91. Shingo Takagi Vs. YAMATO (January 23) – No Rope Match broadcast on Dragon Gate Infinity 118
When we hear about No Rope matches in America, we often expect the next words to be “Barbed Wire.” But here Shingo and YAMATO accentuated falls from the apron as the hazard, making it a much safer match than something with gimmicked ropes, and adding another realm of offense that rose naturally from their brawling and Shingo’s power. YAMATO’s big spill into the first three rows of chairs is one of my favorite visuals of the year. From crowd brawling to YAMATO’s constant hints at how difficult this was to Shingo’s big power comebacks, both showed how far they’ve come in the last two years. The rampant interference in big Dragon Gate matches hurts many of them, but was held back and framed well here. The only major interference was Real Hazard striking Shingo as he was about to set up a Powerbomb off the apron, but everything leading up to that made the interference necessary. The whole series before that strike was exceptional, with YAMATO trying to roll a few feet away after the second Last Chancery knowing he couldn’t kick out, and then catching Shingo in a Triangle Choke but only using it as a breather, lying on his back as his legs did the work. And that the interlopers were neutralized a moment later, and that YAMATO won with a slick (and desperate) final Sleeper Hold counter moments later, sealed up a fine match.

90. Jerry Lynn Vs. Colt Cabana (April 25) – ROH: The Homecoming 2
This was actually a brilliant match. Ever since his recent run began in ROH, Lynn has showed his age. He’s in phenomenal condition for that age, but it’s still much older than most of his competition. In his first match against Danielson, Lynn got noticeably more sloppy as time progressed. Even in sprints, Lynn lags behind after ten minutes, clearly not able to keep up. Here, Lynn and Cabana actually worked that into the story. Cabana was goofing around but kept turning things into mat wrestling. The emphasis on Headlocks allowed him to keep the match in motion, forcing Lynn to adjust and wear himself out. Lynn proudly played his own head games and tried to keep up, but within fifteen minutes it was apparent that Cabana had more wind and could keep this up longer than the veteran. And despite Lynn’s limitation, Cabana kept the offense safe and crisp, not sacrificing quality in the ways that have hurt a lot of Lynn’s other big matches. Like a lot of matches with that sort of story, Lynn tried to retaliate with big offense like the DDT on the apron, which would hopefully knock out or at least shake up Cabana. But that wasn’t enough, because Cabana also had the size and strength advantage, and was able to turn things back into his favor. What is normally an excuse to shovel out big offense became part of a neat story as Lynn shocked Cabana by refusing to tap to the Billy Goat’s Curse and kicking out of the Colt 45. He even tried the Pepsi Plunge, borrowing from CM Punk, but Lynn still kicked out – he could be exhausted and out-wrestled, but Lynn wouldn’t give. Lynn’s final rally could have been more climactic, but this was a damned good match.

89. Mike Quackenbush, Jigsaw, Soldier Ant & Fire Ant Vs. Amasis, Hallowicked, Gran Akuma & Icarus (taped July 25, aired September 4) – Dragon Gate USA: Enter the Dragon/Open the Historic Gate
I guess since they were on pay per view it made sense that they’d put on their best possible performance, but it’s still funny that one of the best Chikara Atomicos matches happened outside of Chikara. Quackenbush is unparalleled, but Jigsaw was on his A-game with fast movements, Hallowicked hustled and Akuma was a superb bully. Where the Ants’ wacky offense usually slows things down to the point of hurting pacing, here their roles were structured well, leaving them simply amusing. Amasis’s occasional sloppiness also could have detracted, but instead he was totally hilarious, from the cocky dancing heel to the whipping boy of his team. They got everybody in and out to keep the crests and valleys of their sprint going and it only got hotter as it went on. Before the DGUSA PPV I joked that Chikara Vs. Dragon Gate made little sense since Dragon Gate had such a better upper-tier roster; funny, then, that the Chikara guys put on a better match than almost anything on DGUSA’s debut show.

88. Christian Vs. William Regal (September 13) – WWE: Breaking Point
Crowd reaction is not everything. Plenty of good matches have happened in front of crowds that didn’t know what was going on. The famous Malenko Vs. Guerrero ECW match happened in front of a crowd that sat on its hands for more than two thirds of it. But winning over a crowd can be a sign of great wrestlers. The PPV audience clearly didn’t know about Christian and Regal’s ECW feud or their styles, yet the two drew them in by the middle of the match with explosive pacing, killer Suplexes and Christian’s flying. Christian is not a crisp flyer but made it work with timing, and Regal followed with just enough counters to give the audience room to cheer. They even drew in the “boo” Vs. “yay” strike sequence briefly. And before winning the crowd over they were building a damn solid match from the first minute with little hesitations and facial expressions that registered much more serious consideration on the part of the wrestlers than was seen in any of the higher profile matches on this show. They built that up and into Regal’s ground attack, Christian finding agile escapes rather than pure power. Regal retaliated with brutal strikes and heavy Suplexes, coming at him from all angles for everything like the Regal Plex counter to pinning him by sitting on his shoulders when he just happened to be in that position. When Christian began flying a lot, it made sense. Even the ending was smart – a subtle reference to Summerslam where Christian had cleverly scouted how Regal took off his robe, this time scouting how he moved when coming in for the Knee Trembler.

87. Alex Shelley & Chris Sabin Vs. Prince Devitt & Ryusuke Taguchi (July 5) – NJPW: Circuit 2009 New Japan Soul
The best of the Guns’ New Japan tour, where Shelley brought the most attitude and Sabin brought the most of his showmanship. Sure, there were pretty double team moves and things broke down into several slick sprints, but this stepped above the rest by a little more comfort in the TNA boys’ characters, and an emphasis on Prince Devitt. Taguchi is unreliable, and keeping him in the secondary role kept things smoother (though he still managed to almost kill both his opponents). It’s a shame they couldn’t keep this spirit together for their big re-match.

86. Mike Quackenbush & Jigsaw Vs. Cheech & Cloudy (February 21) – Chikara Pro: Motivation Means Opportunity
All the energy of the best Incoherence tags with the added fluidity of Quackensaw flying and mat work. Cheech & Cloudy worked as one, introducing their own phenomenal combos and keeping up with the pace necessary for the best kind of Quackenbush tag. And man, is it nice to see Jigsaw under a mask again. He’s one of the few people who is more expressive with his face covered, knowing how to make the most of holds and falls with the suggestions of a mask.

85. Hirooki Gotoh Vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (March 15) – NJPW: New Japan Cup 2
Once again the finals of New Japan’s Cup tournament delivers on of their top matches of the year. Two punches have not been so cool in Japanese wrestling years as Gotoh jacking Nakamura, getting chastised by the ref, only for Nakamura to push the ref out of the way and deck Gotoh. From Nakamura trying to ground Gotoh in the beginning to Gotoh catching him in mid-flying armbar takedown to drop him on his head, these guys captured the intensity of the tournament while accenting their exhaustion, equally in their body language and in how they ebbed and flowed on offense.

84. Shingo Takagi & YAMATO Vs. Masaaki Mochizuki & Don Fuji (November 23) Dragon Gate: The Gate of Destiny 2009
The questionable factor in this match was Don Fuji, but he came in clearly caring, hustling with Shingo and playing juvenile one-upsmanship with YAMATO. With Fuji in motion, Mochizuki could play with the no-nonsense opportunist and striker that worked out well in his tags with Nakajima. By far the best moments were those leading to the draw finish against Shingo, again echoing Mochizuki’s time tagging with Nakajima, this time with Mochizuki being almost as good as the Kensuke Office prodigy at intense offensive trades with the former body builder. While the final five minutes were the hottest, these guys ripped into each other throughout the match with the kind of sincerity and abandon that would revitalize WWE’s tag division, if only that company cared.

83. Bryan Danielson Vs. Tyler Black (aired April 25) – ROH
Danielson Vs. Black I, II and III all made the Riren 100 last year. Shockingly, Danielson Vs. Black IV made it on this year. It certainly had the best opening of an ROH TV match, mixing Danielson’s appreciation of crowd support, their crisp technical wrestling and escapes from offense the two had established in previous TV main events. That carried over to a more methodical match than the previous three, but carried with sound character and some excellent new additions, like Black modifying the Aries head-kick setup for his own low kick, and Danielson preparing for the Pele with a submission. While the Turnbuckle Powerbomb was much more dramatic in their third match, it was a superb choice as the closer, allowing the two to collapse from damage and exhaustion before the TV time limit expired. Though their later HDNet matches were more popular (especially the one where Black finally upset the veteran), this was the one with the most spirit. Their later matches imitated this one, trying to tell a story that was really best told the first (or fourth) time.

82. Jeff Hardy Vs. John Morrison (aired July 31) – WWE: Smackdown
John Morrison’s hot streak rolled on. He and Hardy played off two things for two crowds: Morrison’s push and recent defeats over Punk for the kayfabe element, and the rumor that Hardy would quit soon for the “smart” crowd. Everything about the match, from Morrison getting the upper hand on the mat to getting more highspots to getting more offense after mid-match, built Morrison as this successor star. Even the kickout of the Swanton played off the potential of a championship change. Where Hardy was clearly battered and took things easier, Morrison bumped harder and flew to compensate for him, and Hardy turned up his expressiveness in that role. Also, damned if Morrison doesn’t have a great Running Kneestrike.

81. Jimmy Jacobs Vs. Tyler Black (June 26) – Steel Cage Match from ROH: Violent Tendencies
It was strange to see Jacobs in such an unsophisticated gimmick match. At this point in his career Jacobs has been in so many big gimmick matches and made so many of them special that you’d think he would structure this one better. Yet even the ending was clearly choreographed, with Black knocking Jacobs out with a combo, setting up the table, setting him on it and going to the top of the cage. A big Jacobs match is usually smarter; you’d expect the table to be set up ahead of time, if not for some of the knockout exchange to lay Jacobs out on top of it. While this was far from a bad Cage Match, it was distinctly below Jacobs’s ability to tell a story with a gimmick. The best parts came from athletic exchanges like the Headscissors games appearing multiple times, culminating in the Super Hurricanrana attempt that Black reversed into a Buckle Bomb. The cage was an effective weapon largely in how they varied traditional offense with it, like Black spinning Jacobs into the fence. Its big moment was seeing both men fight and fall to the floor below, beginning to highlight the notion that Jacobs wasn’t the only hardcore guy here, and that Black might be just as determined, but more athletically gifted. They had their feud moments, like the explicitness of dueling spikes, or the subtlety of someone finally countering Jacobs’s Spear – and that counter being Black stealing his own End Times submission. Jacobs stealing the Basement Superkick in retaliation later was appropriately petty, but still the theft didn’t build to a crescendo. The match belongs somewhere on a top 100, but beneath the likes of Jacobs’s classic against Whitmer from 2007.

80. Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (November 11) – NJPW: Destruction 2009
When Nakamura cares, he is an excellent technical wrestler. Look at the opening minutes and see the small movements he makes in leglocks, trying to get slightly better position to tighten a hold. Ground game is Nakamura’s underpraised great strength. Of course, Nakamura’s new character is that he’s scuzzy and lazy, further accentuating the slacker tendencies he’s been criticized for in the past. And yet this is Nakamura at his most charismatic, his jerk who constantly wants his opponents to see him not sweating them, who rushes back inside the ring to make it appear he isn’t shaken, and on the best occasions, who has to hustle to prove he is the great wrestler that he wants to be seen as. Tanahashi has none of that. Charisma is natural to him now, as it athleticism, such that just by suddenly sprinting to the ropes he lights up the crowd and seems like one of the best wrestlers in the world. The match erased any fears that Tanahashi came back too soon from injury, and reignited everything good about a Nakamura/Tanahashi feud. Tanahashi didn’t oversell the injury that put him out and forced Nakamura to the mat, grabbing holds and sticking to them just as long, epitomized when they were at the ropes and rather than get the relief of release, Tanahashi cranked on his own Ankle Pick. The ending was inspired, with Tanahashi getting the crowd to a fever pitch, then missing that crucial Frog Splash and setting up a believable knockout combo for Nakamura that reinforced how dangerous his final Kneestrike is.

79. Davey Richards & Eddie Edwards Vs. Bryan Danielson & Tyler Black (taped April 18) – appearing on ROH: Double Feature 2
Like Morishima Vs. Danielson 1 from 2007, this is the match ROH fans will write me angry e-mails about, chastising me for it not being near the top of the list. I’m not sorry to you fans. I’m sorry for myself because I was incredibly eager to see it. The live reports were phenomenal. The DVD is totally worth purchase, putting together the best matches from two nights of shows. Yet even though this is the best match from that weekend, it’s far from the best tag match of the year. The first twenty minutes, and arguably the first half hour, are plodding and clearly paced like four guys who are going to a draw. The Wolves bailing with their belts only to be dragged back to the ring was pro wrestling treacle. They used the same offense they always do without much clever variation or novel placement. Even Black crawling back into the ring at 19 echoed Take No Prisoners 2008, similar yet distinctly less inspired this time. The 45-minute duration accentuated the Wolves’ worst weakness: their penchant for masturbatory mat work that isn’t novel and doesn’t convince fans the victim will tap, and so merely fills time instead of building drama. It’s a trait that hurt a lot of their big matches in 2009. It did not cripple this match, as the match is not bad. They’re all quite good wrestlers and unsurprisingly it’s still a solid match even in the slow periods, but solid matches do not top this list. A lot of solid matches do not make the list at all – this is for great matches. It’s the final period that put this into great match territory. Edwards’s Top Rope Knee Drop onto Danielson in the Cattle Mutilation was inspired, attacking the previously weakened limb in the middle of such a dramatic moment. Black finally turned it up after that with high energy and his best spots, like the totally believable Buckle Bomb & Superkick combo. They wrestled a slow match from there, a punctuated equilibrium of near-knockouts that finally earned the pace. It’s damn good. It’s simply not the best. I can’t in good conscience put this above the Wolves’ KENTA/Strong defense from Violent Tendencies, let alone the best tags in NOAH, PWG and Chikara.

78. Takashi Sugiura & Atsushi Aoki Vs. Hirooki Gotoh & Kazuchika Odaka (May 5) – NJPW: Divergence
I can’t be the only one who was surprised by Odaka and Aoki. They were in there with Sugiura, a veteran bad ass, and Gotoh, the future of New Japan, and the kids were the MVP’s. Where the established stars smoldered and took pot shots, these two went after each other like defending their companies mattered. And it wasn’t hardcore brawling, but passion injected into takedowns and headlocks, moving with such aggression and character. By the time Aoki started spitting and showboating they’d established more tangible rivalry than some entire feuds in NOAH and New Japan. Gotoh and Sugiura were good generals, but they were in it to get the opposite veteran in more traditional roles. Odaka and Aoki sold the idea that each was the only opening they had to get a win for his company, and then Sugiura opened it up, selling nearfalls for Odaka that seemed impossible and suddenly meant he graduated from what he thought was possible, building a career-maker for the young lion. Shorter, less dangerous and a heck of a lot better than most NJPW main events this year – including the main of the show it was on (which had its own moments of greatness).

77. Edge Vs. John Morrison (aired June 19) – WWE: Smackdown
Morrison ruled post-Draft television. While the Benjamin, Jericho and Punk matches from that period are not on this list, if you look them up, you’ll be in good hands. This was simply the best of that stand-out series, following the classic formula of the upstart lasting longer and longer than you’d expect, both guys getting bigger offense until you questioned who would pull this one out. If WWE were a sounder storytelling ground, this match would made Morrison a star, despite him actually losing cleanly. Instead the two had to settle for stealing the show from an episode billed as having two main events, and this match being neither of them.

76. Katsuhiko Nakajima Vs. Roderick Strong (April 3) – ROH: Supercard of Honor 4
In this period Strong had several ROH matches that were short, action-packed and unrelenting in pace. A lot of matches are praised by commentators as being unrelenting, but these two guys didn’t let up for more than ten seconds. They slumped and breathed heavily like there was a serious effort, but they kept getting up and racing for another strike or throw to stay in control and bring the other guy down. By the time they graduated to Strong’s big combo offense it was clear this could not go long and both guys were trying to knock the other out. Nakajima typically wrestles an exhibition style that’s above the ability of most top-flight guys, yet he couldn’t rest on his exhibitions and got visibly more concerned about his ability to keep Strong down, or keep him from countering. And the counters! They even thought to have quick escapes from the Stronghold and Ankle Lock when they easily could have sat in the holds to rest. They didn’t, and that’s a testament to why this wasn’t a truly unrelenting match. They never stopped working.

75. Christian Vs. Jack Swagger (aired February 24) – WWE: ECW on Sci Fi
Tommy Dreamer, Matt Hardy and Fit Finlay played up some of Swagger’s natural power, but it was never utilized to this degree. Cage gave Swagger many places to toss him around or place added lift in otherwise technical situations, and Swagger seized other opportunities like a simple Vader-style batting Clothesline to add that power game. Cage followed it up by flying for him, both taking to the air in offense and reeling as a result of punishment. When he was on the mat, even outside of a hold, Cage would find a position and work it as though he was more hurt than normal, best exemplified when he rolled halfway out of the ring and dangled form the bottom rope leading to the last commercial break.

Tags: , , ,