The Riren 100 #74-50, 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. Today’s chapter covers matches 74-50. If you just want the list, skip to Section B. Section C is the meat, with countdown and review 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. Naomichi Marufuji Vs. Prince Devitt (December 23) – NJPW: Super J-Cup 5th Stage Finals: Land of Confusion
51. Jimmy Jacobs Vs. Delirious (March 14) – No Disqualification Match from ROH: Insanity Unleashed
52. Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs. Masato Tanaka (August 15) – NJPW: G1 Climax Day 7
53. Shingo Takagi Vs. Tyler Black (March 7) wXw: 16 Carat Tournament 2009 Night 2
54. Kaz Hayashi Vs. Super Crazy (September 26) – AJPW at the Yokohama Bunka Gymnasium
55. Bryan Danielson Vs. Mike Quackenbush (March 20) – ROH: Steel City Clash
56. Shingo Takagi & YAMATO Vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima & Masaaki Mochizuki (aired August 6) – Dragon Gate Infinity 142
57. Christopher Daniels Vs. AJ Styles (December 20) – TNA: Final Resolution
58. Kevin Steen & El Generico Vs. Nick & Matt Jackson (June 12) – ROH: Contention
59. Alex Shelley & Chris Sabin Vs. Nick & Matt Jackson (April 11) – PWG: Ninety-Nine
60. Davey Richards & Eddie Edwards Vs. Nick & Matt Jackson (aired November 23) – ROH on HDNet
61. Bryan Danielson Vs. Naruki Doi (taped September 6) – Dragon Gate USA: Untouchable/Open the Untouchable Gate
62. Masato Yoshino, BxB Hulk & PAC Vs. Dragon Kid, Taku Iwasa & Akira Tozawa (July 19) – Dragon Gate: KOBE Festival 2009
63. Davey Richards Vs. Claudio Castagnoli (September 18) – ROH: Final Countdown Tour Dayton
64. Nigel McGuinness Vs. El Generico (taped January 31, aired April 17) – ROH: Caged Collision
65. Jerry Lynn Vs. Roderick Strong (April 24) – ROH: A Cut Above
66. Chris Sabin Vs. Tyler Black (March 6) – wXw: 16 Carat Gold Tournament 2009 Night 1
67. Chris Jericho Vs. Rey Mysterio (June 7) – No Holds Barred Match from WWE: Extreme Rules
68. Dick Togo Vs. Billy Ken Kid (May 20) – Osaka Pro: Osaka Pro 10th Anniversary Show
69. Bryan Danielson Vs. Brian Kendrick (August 28) – PWG: The Speed of Sound
70. Chris Jericho Vs. Rey Mysterio (May 17) – WWE: Judgment Day
71. Mike Quackenbush, Jigsaw, Helios & Lince Dorado Vs. Hallowicked, Frightmare, Hallowicked (Cheech) & Frightmare (Cloudy) (May 24) – Atomico Match from Chikara Pro: Anniversario Yang
72. Jun Akiyama, Minoru Suzuki & Takashi Sugiura Vs. Takeshi Rikio, KENTA & Mohammed Yone (September 27) – Pro Wrestling NOAH: Great Voyage 2009 in Tokyo
73. Kurt Angle Vs. AJ Styles (aired October 15) – TNA: Impact
74. Yuji Nagata Vs. Hirooki Gotoh (February 15) – NJPW: Circuit 2009 New Japanism
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

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.

74. Yuji Nagata Vs. Hirooki Gotoh (February 15) – NJPW: Circuit 2009 New Japanism
Gotoh’s best match since the Destruction 2007 main event against Tanahashi. Nagata made the match seem desperate immediately by showing weakness and the frequent trips to the outside, setting up more passionate exchanges when the two actually stuck together. He gave Gotoh enough counters and made him seem like more of a force than Giant Bernard ever did, even when he got the upperhand. That his first true dominant period came as a result of kicking Gotoh’s knee, and that the kick was a reference to a prior injury in one of their matches, only increased Gotoh’s profile even as he went down. Nagata was in top form for framing and timing his kicks, but Gotoh followed suit with his strikes, especially the Clotheslines, and his attempts at top turnbuckle offense. Where many big-time Japanese matches have that finishing stretch of unbelievable kickouts, they transitioned into it seamlessly, working better at all the things Tanahashi and Nakamura would try to do with twice the time higher on the card.

73. Kurt Angle Vs. AJ Styles (aired October 15) – TNA: Impact
I wish TNA’s booking was as competent as the opening minute of this match. Excellent amateur/technical hybrid wrestling that lasted only as long as they had interesting holds to try, and then Angle immediately snapped into an Arm Wringer. Just as quickly, Styles ended Angle’s dominant period with a picture perfect Dropkick. You knew you were in good hands from thereon. Beyond a technically sound match, they seeded their strengths superbly, first defining Angle as the superior technician, then drawing that into a power game for his Suplexes. You can complain about Angle hitting the first successful dive, but his character was looking for it. Especially by mid-match, he lived on big reversals, and when he paused to recover after earning those breathers, he’d always pose and try to convince himself that he was better. That first dive was the first instance of him trying to show Styles up. Even near the end when he caught Styles on the top rope with his classic counter throw, Angle had to pose as he went for the cover, trying to prove something. Styles has spent a lot of his career as the flying underdog, and between that experience and his precision, he was obviously perfect for it. The result was a match that the following PPV simply couldn’t top.

72. Jun Akiyama, Minoru Suzuki & Takashi Sugiura Vs. Takeshi Rikio, KENTA & Mohammed Yone (September 27) – Pro Wrestling NOAH: Great Voyage 2009 in Tokyo
The Misawa tribute shows didn’t have to do anything as complicated or groundbreaking as this. Even internationally, people expected feel-good shows under the great green banner. Instead Akiyama and Suzuki walked down with obvious conflict, disliking each other and reaffirming years of tension between their characters that traces back to Misawa’s heyday. Suzuki’s reluctance to even tag in the NOAH vet, instead favoring Sugiura, was an interesting touch. On the opposite team, Yone was clearly hustling harder than usual even in the execution of moves – I can’t remember the last time he got that much distance on a Leg Drop. Rikio stepped up as the sole heavyweight force of his team, getting into Akiyama and Suzuki’s faces, which made it all the more surprising when it was Sugiura who dropped him. While the one Spear could have been a nice spot, by the second you knew something was up. So for all the aggression between the heavyweights and KENTA’s slick timing, Sugiura Vs. Rikio emerged as the story of the match, with Sugiura being able to outmaneuver the big guy and throw the same kinds of offense, as well as his Ankle Lock. While Akiyama and Suzuki couldn’t co-exist to score an individual pinfall, they could isolate the juniors from the team, setting up a classic tag submission spot where the audience should expect a miraculous save. But it didn’t come. And when it didn’t? Sugiura got the second biggest victory of his NOAH career and a massive upset. The surprise of going against the miraculous save convention cemented Sugiura, who already performed like a total equal to the former GHC Heavyweight Champ. In a way, this helped remind people that Sugiura was viable for the belt he’d win later that year.

71. Mike Quackenbush, Jigsaw, Helios & Lince Dorado Vs. Hallowicked, Frightmare, Hallowicked (Cheech) & Frightmare (Cloudy) (May 24) – Atomico Match from Chikara Pro: Anniversario Yang
If you’re confused by the second team, you should be. In story Cheech and Cloudy dressed like their partners to throw the enemy team off balance, though the orange and green outfits were different enough that it was never too confusing to the audience. They wrestled like a unified force, with the Frightmares as more excitable, but all four ready to take opportunities. Unlike FIST’s heel tactics, this Incoherence squad used traditional offense with fact pacing, like “Fake” Hallowicked’s killer Big Boot to Quackenbush on the apron, which allowed it to maintain its sprint style. As it was they had eight of the best sprinters in the company, and the last-minute addition of Quackenbush to the Technicos Team was a natural improvement. He took the right bumps and helped direct traffic like the veteran many Chikara guys still need, but got out of the way when Dorado or Helios was ready to shine. The result was perhaps the best Atomico sprint Chikara’s ever had. No one man dominated, instead blending into a series of exchanges between the flashy three Technicos and their veteran teacher, and the unified force Incoherence constantly watching each other’s backs. Dorado had one of his better nights, looking just as crisp as Helios, sealing up all-around shining performances going into the ending. There was no overkill, it didn’t go too long, and everybody was on.

70. Chris Jericho Vs. Rey Mysterio (May 17) – WWE: Judgment Day
The series of teased 619 and Boston Crabs was easily one of the best sequences in WWE of the year. While the commentators told a story of Jericho scouting Mysterio, Mysterio was just as excited and prepared for his old opponent. They speed and stride that lamentably few Mysterio matches get to, while also elevating Mysterio as the aggressor. Like the Elimination Chamber match earlier in the year, Mysterio showed he can be much more than an underdog, going evenly with Jericho through preparedness and high risk offense.

69. Bryan Danielson Vs. Brian Kendrick (August 28) – PWG: The Speed of Sound
This was not the match everyone expected. You think of Spanky as funny, exuberant, or at least as a flyer. Here he played a slightly vicious and petty striker. The knees to Danielson’s arm and the kicks at his head were a big shock and defined the match. Throughout he was just as creative as Danielson, deliberately kicking away from where Danielson was setting him up and going for sporadic offense like a vulture. For a semi-main event it flew by, with Danielson repeatedly fighting back like he does so well and Kendrick experimenting in his role as an aggressor, something he almost never got to try in WWE. It worked down to a bizarre level where imperfections made the match more interesting. Take the series of roll-ups near the end. Ever since Jerry Lynn popularized these in the U.S., wrestlers have aimed for perfection in their execution. Here Kendrick popped up and struggled with his right arm to hook the free leg before sitting down, a decided imperfection. Even if it was the result of real fatigue, it added a hint of desperation to his petty character. It worked all the way to the end, with the returning jerk scoring a Schoolboy after a low blow. The ending was a low note even though it was sensible and held the match back from being a classic, but still demands praise for being a successful experiment for Kendrick.

68. Dick Togo Vs. Billy Ken Kid (May 20) – Osaka Pro: Osaka Pro 10th Anniversary Show
I was in a bad mood after the October Hell in a Cell PPV from WWE. What a waste of a gimmick match, with the non-cage bouts having cooler spots and better stories, and the final match featuring the cleverness of locking a guy outside the cage constantly so that the two teams almost never actually fought in what was supposed to be their blow-off. I decided to catch up on miscellaneous puro afterwards, and that included some Osaka Pro. This was the match that turned my mood around. Togo can be the man when he wants, and he was defining the match early on, grinding him with the Headlock and trying so much harder to escape Kid’s Headscissors, then giving the champion all the offense he wanted before going for patented Senton-based offense that he still does better than almost anyone. That Kid turned the match around by hitting his own version of a Senton (this one flipping over the ring post to the outside) was pure class. It was that sort of back-and-forth that WWE’s entire show had lacked in favor of going for single or double turns that led to dramatic endings. There was more struggle here than in WWE’s Cell matches. Naturally Japanese indies go differently, though, and once they hit the finishing series Togo went on fire with Pedigree attempts, a killer Powerbomb reversal, and totally earning his non-title victory without punking out Kid. I would not mind watching him as champion if he could put on twenty-minute defenses like this.

67. Chris Jericho Vs. Rey Mysterio (June 7) – No Holds Barred Match from WWE: Extreme Rules
Picking up considerably more counters than the standard WWE match, the two guys raised the bar for how studied two WWE opponents can be. If Mysterio hesitated rebounding from the ropes, Jericho would move for the counter. But Mysterio threw himself into the match with such vigor that Jericho couldn’t just bully him or rely on scientific counters; see the moment where Jericho caught him with a Shoulderblock coming off the ropes, but Mysterio hit him with such speed that Jericho toppled as well. Once again Jericho was prepared for the 619, but once again they found novel ways to frame it, like the 619 to the back of his head, and Jericho’s desperation theft of the mask. And just like that, both guys were ready for any standard offense, and ready to change things up to make them work, like when Mysterio played opossum while Jericho went for the chair, then went all Sabu on him.

66. Chris Sabin Vs. Tyler Black (March 6) – wXw: 16 Carat Gold Tournament 2009 Night 1
Question: what’s easier heat than Bryan Danielson playing Abdominal Stretches to a crowd that thinks he’s overrated? Answer: Chris Sabin being happy he works for TNA. I thought Austin Aries had killed anti-TNA humor of using The Stroke on indies, but no, Sabin made it great again. What separated him from most heel acts on this show and around the indies was a sense of time, never letting any one thing go on too long and become cloyingly stale. Nor did Sabin’s TNAntics get in the way of the athletic stuff, as he was quick to bring cool holds and pin attempts around them, and mostly it bottled Black up, building perfect comeback opportunities for him. Black excels at the underdog game, and with a superb sprint partner, exploded out of it in golden combos and big offense. And when they graduated to killer offense, Sabin was ready with well-paced counters, comeuppance and his own stuff. We knew they could work together from their tag encounters in PWG and ROH, but it was still good to see them go at it without tag partners around.

65. Jerry Lynn Vs. Roderick Strong (April 24) – ROH: A Cut Above
They had a solid opening and moved along well, but it was the cut that made this match. Any doubts of Roderick Strong’s passion disappeared when he smashed into the guardrail and came up immediately with his face covered in blood. A wrestler whose facial expressions have been the weakest point of performance for years looked truly desperate under the crimson mask, and he staggered around to accentuate just how much the wound took from him. They stumbled into additional drama, too – why let the match continue if Strong wasn’t going to win? It turns out the answer is that Strong is a tough S.O.B., but until Lynn won they had something. Strong took every bump, including a terrifying Whirlwind DDT off the apron, teasing how hurt he was and trying to rip into Lynn with worse. The desperation enhanced everything he tried to do, like the teased Superplex to the outside and the Back Suplex onto the apron (which he went for immediately, failed, and only caught later to even things up). If the fanbase had been more open-minded to Lynn as champion, putting on this match and outdoing Black Vs. Richards would have begun to turn them around. By virtue of ROH’s DVD model, at least they could see he’d had good matches, even if most came out after he lost the belt.

64. Nigel McGuinness Vs. El Generico (taped January 31, aired April 17) – ROH: Caged Collision
El Generico may be the perfect opponent for McGuinness, or at least he was before he departed on injury. As a masked wrestler Generico was forced to learn other means of expression, from gasping in pain to kicking his legs when in arm holds, doing all the activity to get over holds while McGuinness remained stoic or slow and sadistic. Using the old Ricky Steamboat philosophy of always fighting back, he built hope spots in what could have been a one-sided beating, and his flashier and catchier offense was the perfect counterpoint to McGuinness’s. They made this match a little more dramatic by having McGuinness come out of the gate with big offense, showing how he’d come to fear Generico’s resilience, and instantly attacking the shoulder made the eventual submission more tolerable, where it defeated the theme of the unyielding underdog in some other McGuinness title defenses.

63. Davey Richards Vs. Claudio Castagnoli (September 18) – ROH: Final Countdown Tour Dayton
It took a few viewings to grasp how great this match was. On the first viewing things like their early mat work, Richards’s dive fake out landing in perfect position to stare at Castagnoli, and the final reversal were all startlingly slick. These guys know what they’re doing and are amazing at it. But it was only when rewatching it that I could see how their slickness came together. Richards loves to attack the arm, but Castagnoli’s power and striking game rely on the arms, particularly in those effortless brute throws. Richards took them like no one else in ROH, making Castagnoli look like Hercules. Once Richards got some serious offense on the arm, Castagnoli kept it present, even selling the bicep after a Basement Chest Kick that would have grazed his arm. It helped that both had novel holds to make the slower portions more interesting, but even on my fourth viewing it was Castagnoli’s throws and Richards’s explosiveness that were the highlights. Like in his 2007 PPV match against Matt Sydal (now Evan Bourne in WWE), Castagnoli bumped like a madman, taking falls every bit as fluidly as his much shorter opponent, giving Richards even more credibility whenever he fought back. I’d never seen them go at it in singles, but now I hope they do it much more often.

62. Masato Yoshino, BxB Hulk & PAC Vs. Dragon Kid, Taku Iwasa & Akira Tozawa (July 19) – Dragon Gate: KOBE Festival 2009
One mark of a great Dragon Gate tag is when it ends and I’m shocked to find half an hour went by. Like many top-level trios tags, they had good ideas for the beginning as well as the end, the best being Hulk playing mindgames with Tozawa over the “fireball” attack, leading to the more experienced main eventer picking on the opposing team’s weakest link. Tozawa still proved himself with some flashy offense, while Iwasa was a brighter star, with great innovations nearly every time he was on sustained offense (the Gory Bomb on the apron was particularly crazy). Yoshino and Kid served as the maestros, bringing gravitas and ensuring whenever things got fast-paced that they would be well-structured. Things naturally grew more complex until the reliably entertaining series of nearfalls, but setting PAC up for another big title pinfall was probably the wisest way to end it. PAC, like Iwasa, showed he absolutely belonged, with the two of them carrying as much athleticism as Yoshino and Kid. All that raw ability with a little structure from two vets provided a better over-all trios tag than many with more seasoned players in the company this year.

61. Bryan Danielson Vs. Naruki Doi (taped September 6) – Dragon Gate USA: Untouchable/Open the Untouchable Gate
Bryan Danielson has a unique achievement this year. He has at least one match on the Riren 100 from ROH, PWG, Chikara, NOAH, wXw, and now DGUSA. Nothing close has happened in the three years I’ve done this list, and I can’t think of another guy in my life who has done the same. And here Danielson visited DGUSA for just one night before leaving forever for WWE, and he left behind pretty handily the best singles match of Naruki Doi’s career. Where for the last year Doi has opened matches with useless and even detrimental mat holds, Danielson feverishly tore into the champion’s arm. Once they entered sprint territory Doi was totally at home, though his wasn’t a purely spotty performance, knowing how to flail with his body and go down like a ton of bricks to add importance to moments like Danielson’s big running chest kick. It came off as the big battle Doi has wanted all his Dragon Gate title defenses to be, only now he had the technical genius that could make it possible.

60. Davey Richards & Eddie Edwards Vs. Nick & Matt Jackson (aired November 23) – ROH on HDNet
The Bucks’ crazy offense made for great hopeful nearfalls near the end, timed to perfection as potential upsets. Their speed alone pulled the Wolves into a different sort of match, having to both be in the ring to watch each other’s backs and hit their own tandem offense. From there it became the tag equivalent of strong men against flyers, even if the Wolves were more strikers than power guys. Even before the Bucks could test them and were being beaten down, the little guys excelled, with Matt Jackson having two particularly painful-looking “kickbag” moments, and the Wolves setting them up for fakeouts into devastating strikes. It only got better from there.

59. Alex Shelley & Chris Sabin Vs. Nick & Matt Jackson (April 11) – PWG: Ninety-Nine
Shelley & Sabin didn’t necessarily hold back and rely on boring tactics, but they were the lower key bullies in this match, hitting what they had to in order to keep up while seeing the Young Bucks for amazing comebacks. Rather than an absolute Armageddon of combos, the Guns built and match that made the Bucks shine as their successors, which was particularly gracious of them as TNA visitors. Even trying to help the Jacksons, there was no question that the Guns were more seasoned and slick, but they put their opponents at their own level, and did it with more than one big pinfall after going toe-to-toe. Their increasing desperation towards the end tied into their tactics, shocked at these upstarts. For their part, the Bucks were as crisp and creative as ever. All it takes is fine structure like this to make them shine, and soon they won’t need a great team to give it to them.

58. Kevin Steen & El Generico Vs. Nick & Matt Jackson (June 12) – ROH: Contention
The Young Bucks have really fun offense. This isn’t a surprise, but they still manage to pull shockers from nowhere, like Nick Jackson’s slick Moonsault through the ropes onto Steen when he had been focusing on Generico. What made this match stand out over the average Bucks tag were their opponents. Steen & Generico are an excellent dynamic team and every year they make the best out of somebody. Generico bumped and sold the Bucks’ crazy stuff like few on earth can, from flailing in fear of their ability after one reversed his patented Knucklelock Drag, to contorting his body on every part of a Neck/Backbreaker combo. And because Generico played Gilligan, Steen came in as the killer Skipper, a perfect bully to the smaller opponents who could stomp them to the ground in the middle of chain wrestling, find the right spot to Superkick them out of a combo, and generally play the power guy that lets smaller flyers experiment. Naturally, Steen & Generico are also competent sprinters, but they let the Bucks sore, building to a very plausible upset, especially when they turned the tables and made Steen the potential loser at the end. The Bucks lost no face in the end because, though the tide turned against them quickly, the veterans dumped several world-beating moves to make sure Matt would stay down, and Generico still had to jump on Nick to keep him from making the save.

57. Christopher Daniels Vs. AJ Styles (December 20) – TNA: Final Resolution
Earlier in the night Taz boasted that Kurt Angle had “a load of moves” the audience had never seen before. While that was hyperbole, it might have been true for Daniels. He hustled in the Turning Point triple threat match, but one-on-one, he busted out every exotic move he knew, including the fun variation on a Superplex from the ropes instead of turnbuckles. Things like the Lying Crossface and Shining Wizard came across as equal parts novel and desperate as he tried to keep the more gifted athlete down. My highlight was toying with their expired friendship, Daniels begging off in the corner and catching the advantage but going for a hold instead of the standard cheapshot, so that even then Styles would hesitate to outright punch him later. Styles demanding Daniels fight like a man when he pulled the same stunt later was almost as sweet. Whatever made them decide to end with the Super Styles Clash instead of letting Styles win with the normal one, it further helped elevate Daniels, who used that match to validate that he belongs in TNA main events. Whether TNA lets him stick around that scene in 2010 is another question.

56. Shingo Takagi & YAMATO Vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima & Masaaki Mochizuki (aired August 6) – Dragon Gate Infinity 142
Nakajima and Mochizuki are similar kickers and they learned about each other in their multi-promotional feud, but I wasn’t prepared for them to completely mirror their offense like this. It was amusing to see Nakajima even borrow the running kick to a guy on the apron and set the tone for the team as a cohesive unit. Shingo & YAMATO had no such plan, which was surprising given you’d think they’d have worked more out together, but it worked given that they really were new as a team and had divergent approaches. YAMATO came in very reminiscent to the prick he was as a heel and creating a classic moment goading Mochizuki to kick him harder and harder until Nakajima knocked him out. Meanwhile, Shingo was the star, framing great exchanges with Nakajima, both setting up the kick-based offense and laying in with superior strength. God willing we’ll see a singles match out of these two some day, especially based on the actions at the draw where the two were so carried away that Nakajima had to literally knock Shingo out to stop the fight.

55. Bryan Danielson Vs. Mike Quackenbush (March 20) – ROH: Steel City Clash
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Danielson and Quackenbush had a great match. It’s such a joy to see two guys who know so many holds and can flow between them so effortlessly. Very few technicians are comfortable enough to make the “free hand” taunt joke these two did, and almost none in the world are good enough to trade holds and momentum as sharply as these two. It is not only variety of holds and counters that make this match worth tracking down, though. The comfort level with their ability allowed things like Quackenbush selling an arm wringer with his entire body, making it look like his arm almost came out of the socket on a perfectly safe maneuver. Not as long or showstopping as their wXw bout last year, this was a shorter match that packed all the tricks and plenty of little touches to make them work.

54. Kaz Hayashi Vs. Super Crazy (September 26) – AJPW at the Yokohama Bunka Gymnasium
Brilliant to have Super Crazy do the takedowns and mat work only to have Kaz use a Lucha Rana and the Arm Drag to get the advantage early on. This was an unusual blend of Lucha offense and Puro mentality, with Crazy pacing himself to keep the crowd buzzing while Kaz accentuated the smaller things. The way Kaz stretched out in the modified Gory Special, or just how high he flailed when getting lobbed over the guardrail and crashed into chairs, made everything seem more effective. That was part of the secret to making this fifteen-minute title defense feel as big as any of his thirty-minute defenses. Another part was that blend, with Mexican holds and flipping offense that alternated with hard strikes and the Japanese ideal of false finishes. By swapping between kinds of offense they got to the bigger stuff sooner and kept things unpredictable enough to reach what a lot of Japanese matches have to wait a long time to get into. If only more matches could go this way.

53. Shingo Takagi Vs. Tyler Black (March 7) wXw: 16 Carat Tournament 2009 Night 2
Shingo: Technician? I was expecting Black to get thrown around for twenty minutes, not Shingo to headbutt his hamstring and wrench a Stepover Toehold. But you know what? He was actually good at this, and it gave Black the oppressor opponent role he needs for well-timed explosive comebacks. When they did kick into high gear, they were as good as any two sprinters in the world. The exchange that ended in Black face-planting at top speed in a Complete Shot is one of my favorites of the year. Shingo was still a powerhouse and Black still had crazy athleticism, but they managed to bring more grounded story for the early chapters. I’d love to see what they could do in a high-profile re-match.

52. Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs. Masato Tanaka (August 15) – NJPW: G1 Climax Day 7
Finally Tanahashi wrestled an opponent who was suited to the length of a main event. TAJIRI counted, but because of TV contracts, that match didn’t air until after the entire tournament ended. Giant Bernard (Prince Albert or A-Train in the U.S.) was fun, but they weren’t trying to put their mark on the tournament. Here, Tanahashi and Tanaka were trying. Tanahashi tried to go blow-for-blow more than usual, and to their credit, they made the Zero-1 champ look like the superior striker. Tanahashi had to resort to technical attacks on the leg, hoping to prevent Tanaka’s charging match-ender offense. While the leg gave Tanahashi openings, it was clear Tanaka’s lighter schedule in the tournament gave him more time to prepare for his opponent, with counters ready for offense like the Slingblade and scouting his Flipping Sentons. Appropriately, Tanahashi only began to turn it around in the end when he had a counter ready for the Sliding D, dodging it and going for the leg again, combining counter strategy and his limb attack. That subtle mirroring of strategy flowed into both avoiding the other’s Frogsplash with the same use of the knees, with a beautiful moment of irony when Tanaka hurt his leg doing it. Because the interference preceded the final stretch, it didn’t detract much, especially since these two are capital finishing stretch guys.

51. Jimmy Jacobs Vs. Delirious (March 14) – No Disqualification Match from ROH: Insanity Unleashed
Bryan Danielson’s was the big ROH departure in 2009, but I will miss Jacobs. He had such a mind for starting hot but not burning himself or the crowd out, allowing him to build amazing hardcore matches. He did that here. Delirious’s energy was perfect to pop the opening with his Senton barrage, before Jacobs bailed and eventually went a cheap hardcore route to get the upperhand. Having scouted things like the Panic Attack knee was a subtle jab at having suspected he’d lose Delirious eventually. Before long they entered that ROH classic of trading potential match-winning waves of offense, but they varied their offense with weapons, huge strikes and knockout moves, keeping things fresh. Jacobs’s martyr-like selling and Delirious’s wildman antics brought additional life between the moves, and their showmanship was apparent in choosing when to make lulls and go for additional weapons, rather than the plodding IWA:MS style from which both emerged.

50. Naomichi Marufuji Vs. Prince Devitt (December 23) – NJPW: Super J-Cup 5th Stage Finals: Land of Confusion
Easily the best match of the end of the year. You should have heard me swearing as this match progressed, knowing I’d have to cut something from my list to fit it in. To those wondering, Marufuji is back and he still rules. Maybe he lost a step, but his sense of timing could make a far slower wrestler seem amazing. The Springboard Dropkick just as Devitt slid into the ring at 19 is easily one of the moments of the year, so excruciatingly well-executed. Devitt was obviously out-classed, in and out of kayfabe, but his expressiveness in taking a beating helped the match, accentuated in the post-match slow-motion replays of him reeling after getting his head kicked in over and over. Where Devitt is an undeniable athlete, Marufuji is a genius of offense, fitting things in like counters to a Wristlock or rebounding off the outside ropes for a Clothesline out of nowhere. Most of his offense wasn’t new, but he made it novel by pulling it out in such dire times, either for himself, or when he had Devitt down. While it will be a shame to lose KENTA for most of 2010, it’s great to have Marufuji back and going inter-company again.

Tags: ,