The Riren 100 #49-25, 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 the Pulse is featuring matches 49 to 25. If you just want the list, skip to Section B. Section C features a countdown and review of today’s matches; reviews for 100-50 are already up here on the Pulse. 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. Bryan Danielson Vs. Chris Hero (September 18) – ROH: Final Countdown Dayton
26. Katsuhiko Nakajima Vs. KENTA (February 11) – Kensuke Office: Take the Dream Volume 7
27. Kurt Angle Vs. Jeff Jarrett (January 11) – No Disqualification Match from TNA: Genesis
28. The Great Muta Vs. Yoshihiro Takayama (March 14) – AJPW: Pro Wrestle Love in Ryogoku Vol. 3
29. The Undertaker Vs. C.M. Punk Vs. Rey Mysterio Vs. Dave Batista (October 25) – WWE: Bragging Rights
30. Katsuhiko Nakajima Vs. Kotaro Suzuki (October 15) – Pro Wrestling NOAH: Autumn Navigation
31. Evan Bourne Vs. John Morrison (April 14) – ECW on Sci Fi
32. Masato Tanaka Vs. Toshiaki Kawada (October 24) – Zero-1: Never Gonna Stop
33. CIMA & Susumu Yokosuka Vs. Nick & Matt Jackson (taped July 25, aired September 4) – Dragon Gate USA: Enter the Dragon/Open the Historic Gate
34. KENTA Vs. Chris Hero (aired October 12) – ROH on HDNet
35. Rey Mysterio Jr. Vs. John Morrison Vs. Carlito Colon Vs. MVP Vs. The Great Khali Vs. Vladimir Koslov Vs. HHH Vs. Randy Orton Vs. JTG Vs. Ted DiBiase Jr. Vs. Chris Jericho Vs. Mike Knox Vs. The Miz Vs. Fit Finlay Vs. Cody Rhodes Vs. The Undertaker Vs. Goldust Vs. CM Punk Vs. Mark Henry Vs. Shelton Benjamin Vs. William Regal Vs. Kofi Kingston Vs. Kane Vs. Ron Killings Vs. Rob Van Dam Vs. Brian Kendrick Vs. Dolph Ziegler Vs. Santino Marella Vs. Jim Duggan Vs. The Big Show (January 25) – Royal Rumble Match from WWE: Royal Rumble
36. Shingo Takagi, Dragon Kid & Taku Iwasa Vs. CIMA, GAMMA & KAGETORA (aired April 15) broadcast on Dragon Gate Infinity 128
37. Bryan Danielson Vs. Kenny Omega (April 12) – PWG: One Hundred
38. Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs. Manabu Nakanishi (June 20) – NJPW: Dominion
39. Bryan Danielson, Roderick Strong & KENTA Vs. Davey Richards, Eddie Edwards & Chris Hero (aired September 19) – ROH on HDNet
40. CIMA, Alex Shelley & Chris Sabin Vs. Brian Kendrick, Nick Jackson & Matt Jackson (September 4) – PWG: Guerres Sans Frontieres
41. Chris Jericho Vs. Rey Mysterio (June 28) – Mask Vs. Title Match from WWE: The Bash
42. Davey Richards & Eddie Edwards Vs. KENTA & Roderick Strong (June 26) – ROH: Violent Tendencies
43. Suicide (Christopher Daniels) Vs. Alex Shelley Vs. Chris Sabin Vs. Jay Lethal Vs. Consequences Creed (March 22) – Ultimate X Match from TNA: Destination X
44. Bryan Danielson Vs. Bad Bones (March 7) wXw: 16 Carat Tournament 2009 Night 2
45. Davey Richards Vs. Kevin Steen (May 8) – Anything Goes Match from ROH: Never Say Die
46. Shingo Takagi, YAMATO & Taku Iwasa Vs. Ikuto Hidaka, Hayato Fujita Jr. & Minoru (September 27) – Dragon Gate Infinity 149
47. Jerry Lynn Vs. Bryan Danielson Vs. Austin Aries Vs. Tyler Black (aired June 6) – ROH on HDNet
48. KENTA & Taiji Ishimori Vs. Bryan Danielson & Roderick Strong (July 21) – Pro Wrestling NOAH: Summer Navigation
49. Davey Richards Vs. Roderick Strong (July 31) – PWG: Threemendous 2
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

49. Davey Richards Vs. Roderick Strong (July 31) – PWG: Threemendous 2
Reminiscent of the great Strong/Romero PWG matches, Strong and Richards stayed in motion for nearly the entire match. If they were both down, at least one of them was trying rouse themselves, pounding the mat, reaching for ropes or some other little thing that spoke to keeping this match going. And in motion? Richards was nearly as fluid and even more brutal an opponent than Romero used to be for Strong. Richards’s combos were particularly brutal, particularly the one ending in a Basement Lariat for a nearfall. Rather than letting their chop/kick battles linger and soak up too much time, the two increased aggression and had fake-outs at the end to keep the match progressing forward. It was almost a Dragon Gate pace for a non-Dragon Gate style, the sort of match that can’t last to draw-lengths, nor should it, being far more exciting this way.

48. KENTA & Taiji Ishimori Vs. Bryan Danielson & Roderick Strong (July 21) – Pro Wrestling NOAH: Summer Navigation
I shouldn’t have loved Danielson’s little sideways glance before he jumped Ishimori as much as I did. It’s the little things in life you cherish, and attackers wielding flowers are instantly more amusing. From the pre-emptive strike the match hit a good pace, out of which any two guys could explode. Strong relished a little guy he could throw around, and I think he’s waited his whole life to reverse a Handspring into one of his Backbreakers. Naturally KENTA and Danielson were the stars, beating the heck out of each other and setting up the nifty reversals to the Fireman’s Carry. While KENTA couldn’t execute the final muscle-up into the Go 2 Sleep with Cena-like competence (or strength), it was still a well-built and impressive moment. Strong followed the entire match as a great clean-up guy, with flashier power moves and following up Danielson’s attack on the arm well. That left Ishimori to fill in a few flying moves, and you knew he was good for them.

47. Jerry Lynn Vs. Bryan Danielson Vs. Austin Aries Vs. Tyler Black (aired June 6) – ROH on HDNet
Everyone worked well, but Aries was the linchpin. He was a jerk from the outset and set up the essential schadenfreude from his comeuppance in the opening minute to having his dives thwarted to thinking he would win the title by a three-man count-out. With a good villain in the middle of the match, the three other athletes could just play to their strengths, with Lynn and Danielson being more technical and Black being the most explosive. It built and built until everyone had at least one moment of potential victory. And in terms of using an old school Piledriver as a finisher in ROH, it would be hard to get a cleverer setup or more believable delivery than Lynn catching Danielson in the float-over of the Cattle Mutilation.

46. Shingo Takagi, YAMATO & Taku Iwasa Vs. Ikuto Hidaka, Hayato Fujita Jr. & Minoru (September 27) – Dragon Gate Infinity 149
Yeah, this match actually happened. It looks weird, right? Weirder that Taku Iwasa retired after this. Not going out to Real Hazard or in some big title challenge. Nope. He lost to the Super Indy Squad. But what a match to go out, letting his neck take some scary abuse as he played the weak link one last time. Shingo and YAMATO didn’t let him hang out there, either, with YAMATO particularly stepping up his game, like he does when he’s got media attention for facing outsiders. He worked well with them, letting them take out his legs, and in turn got some cool moments, like catching Hidaka in the middle of that absurd rebound he likes to do and plowing him with a German Suplex. And Hidaka was motivated! It’s great see him when he cares, hustling around the ring like he might even be in the same age bracket as Fujita and Minoru. The overtime might have thrown some people off, but playing with the idea that the DG and indy guys would go to a draw and be just as good as each other only to go the other way provided a few more thrills and a good cap, both to the match and Iwasa’s career. We can only hope that he heals well.

45. Davey Richards Vs. Kevin Steen (May 8) – Anything Goes Match from ROH: Never Say Die
Steen and Richards took a lot on their shoulders that night. Lost on the DVD audience, this Boston show was seemingly doomed after losing both Mike Quackenbush and Tyler Black, losing its main event title match and semi-main event triple threat. On a show that already lacked Austin Aries and Roderick Strong, ROH chose only to add Chris Hero, and put him in a title match against the largely unpopular babyface champion Jerry Lynn. Wrestlers had to make it up to the Boston fans, and management appeared to give wrestlers lenience in returning to the old style to do it. Hero Vs. Lynn really ought to have been the match to deliver (and though that match is not on this list, it did deliver), but with such a polarized audience, it was good of Richards and Steen to deliver in this position, before intermission where they could wow the crowd without burning them out for the main event. Crowd brawling is old on the indies, but it made sense to drag each other everywhere so that everyone who paid to get in would be at least ten feet from the action, if only for a moment. At ringside they went nuts on each other, with Steen tossing Richards through a table moments into the match, and weapons coming into smart play. Richards wrapping a chain around his foot for the Kawada Style kicks was downright sinister. Steen set up the ladder, and later the double tables, so that they could loom over the match, to be teased and later stared at, knowing something huge was coming. That the spill was actually a false finish worked because Steen fell outside the ring and had to be dragged in to be covered, but also worked in that it brought the match to an insane level of heat. Even though Steen excels as a tag wrestler, he and Richards did better here at expressing the destructive hatred between their teams than any of their tags leading up to it.

44. Bryan Danielson Vs. Bad Bones (March 7) wXw: 16 Carat Tournament 2009 Night 2
Big Danielson re-matches always have references to previous iterations. The biggest influence here was Danielson simply recognizing Bones’s strengths. While he has a fondness for arm work, it fits better against this opponent than almost any, trying to take the knockout blows and big throws away from the German Psycho. And while ringpost shots are played out, having one as the result of a counter to a counter made it novel, and any problem was covered up when Danielson immediately pounced on the potential injury. Rather than a chicken heel, Danielson was petty, going for little openings against Bones, and when he had the advantage, snapping at the referee at any chance – the same prick character he used to assume in matches against A.J. Styles, when he felt he shouldn’t have to prove himself. It was a good move not to scale back technique or strikes, as throwing everything onto the champion only made Bad Bones seem tougher – Danielson had to use this concentrated onslaught to stay in control, and he had to be in control of a long match to ensure winning. For his part, Bones paced himself and stood ground like a real force, not Morishima, but someone you’d have to struggle with to keep down.

43. Suicide (Christopher Daniels) Vs. Alex Shelley Vs. Chris Sabin Vs. Jay Lethal Vs. Consequences Creed (March 22) – Ultimate X Match from TNA: Destination X
For years Jay Briscoe has been doing a Complete Shot into the second turnbuckle. He grabs the guy as he charges at him in the corner, and the motion is always stilted, and you have to wonder why people would even charge at him at this point, or at least why they wouldn’t figure out some kind of counter. In this match Alex Shelley took that move after stunning a man in the corner, preventing him from being able to counter, turned him around and hit it to put him out of competition. It made sense to include it in a combo and the other guy had no ability to counter it. That was emblematic of what this match did right. The match was at its best when guys were adding a little explicit logic to all the cool stuff they’d come up with, like the Guns framing their signature offense, using the Whisper in the Wind Dropkick to send Suicide out of the ring in the opening minute, or Shelley faking an Asai Moonsault to attract Lethal’s attention before Sabin dove through his legs with a Suicide Dive. Just the way they came to build a Tower of Doom, and that Suicide could use the structure to avoid getting thrown off the top of that Tower combo, made more sense than the average spot-driven match. That’s all you needed to add, because in the hands of Shelley, Sabin and Daniels (playing Suicide in that time period), you knew great gimmick match offense was on the way. Suicide coming off the post to knock three guys off the belt might have been the best ending to an Ultimate X yet.

42. Davey Richards & Eddie Edwards Vs. KENTA & Roderick Strong (June 26) – ROH: Violent Tendencies
The American Wolves open their matches methodically, isolating opponents and usually picking apart a limb. That is logical, but makes for some dull starts. KENTA and Strong took the logical and entertaining route for this opening, not allowing themselves to be isolated, striking the heck out of Edwards and dominating either man when they could pin them down. While not the brawl of an opening live reports suggested, they began in the equivalent of second gear, with Strong in particular not letting up, stomping on Edwards in the corner when he could have just ground his boot into the man. Once again the best exchanges were between Richards and KENTA, particularly in their double-KO exchange, but Edwards made the most of his time on offense, like in framing his Backpack Chinbreaker better than usual. They played around in that second gear of intensity before going full speed at the end with Strong and KENTA playing some great saves and cut-offs picked up from hundreds of tag matches they’ve been in over the years. They put the Wolves to a better test than most opponents, and that allowed for a much better match.

41. Chris Jericho Vs. Rey Mysterio (June 28) – Mask Vs. Title Match from WWE: The Bash
Another bad-looking PPV, another night made worthwhile by Jericho and Mysterio. The Bash was bashed for its name and short build-up, but actually delivered some quality. This was the watermark. Jericho and Mysterio busted out their biggest counters, like the Super Powerbomb and Mysterio finally escaping Jericho’s Torture Rack variation. The ending was reminiscent of tricks Mysterio played on Eddie Guerrero in years past, but as a reference or as something new to WWE, it was brilliant, especially as a play off the end of their Extreme Rules match. Until then, they built with bigger and bigger bombs, varying things up more than in previous outings while remembering the essentials, like Mysterio’s tenacity in the Walls of Jericho and Jericho’s wariness of the 619. By this point, these two had pretty much cemented their nomination for Feud of the Year.

40. CIMA, Alex Shelley & Chris Sabin Vs. Brian Kendrick, Nick Jackson & Matt Jackson (September 4) – PWG: Guerres Sans Frontieres
“Never in your wildest dreams!” advertised PWG. Well my wildest dreams include being chased through haunted towns by allasauruses that are mad at me for card tricks from Christmas parties that they know full well didn’t happen, so of course good wrestling matches couldn’t happen in my wildest dreams. My wild dreams tend to be incoherent. Great matches tend to have some degree of integral coherence, like this one. One of its best features were how the singles and tag wrestlers complimented each other, like Shelley knowing how to help or setup all of CIMA’s big Dragon Gate offense (even grabbing a leg to hold the victim in place for the Venus Palm). They never had to stop and explicitly talk out working together. It was implied through teamwork that these guys knew each other and were working as oiled machines. In turn, the match could promptly accelerate to several series of crazy moves, all from their respective arsenals, with partners ready to back up the legal man to keep things in motion. If you haven’t see the match you can still assume based on the six guys involved that they were really good at that sort of sprinting, being so polished at it. Kendrick could have played more of a spoiler role than he did with his new grounded wrestling style, but once it became obvious that sprinting was the theme he played a superb victim, bumping and absorbing punishment like a madman, setting up scenarios where his partners seemed amazing in their few saves.

39. Bryan Danielson, Roderick Strong & KENTA Vs. Davey Richards, Eddie Edwards & Chris Hero (aired September 19) – ROH on HDNet
It’s funny that Strong & Danielson made better teammates for KENTA than veteran tag stars Steen & Generico, but the match worked much better this time. In the first one only KENTA and Richards really shone, and largely only against each other. This time the faces were largely united by love of striking, with Danielson moonlighting as a weak link who could make his own explosive escape. Instead of lots of big saves, this match showcased lots of big interruptions, particularly from Hero and the Wolves cutting off any of their three opponents with something from the sides. Rather than breaking the flow, those interruptions made the match more heated as nobody let up once they caught the advantage, instead pounding on whoever they caught with novel offense. They balanced striking with throws and flying moves so that even when the Wolves dominated early on it was never dull, and rather than throwing a dozen strikes, made single blows so effective that a late-match Rolling Elbow from Hero was something we could understand him expecting to pin KENTA. KENTA played his normal killer kicker with several world-class flurries of offense, but never made them go too long. With no one hogging the ring they constructed an effortless story of two teams that, even if they weren’t entirely cohesive, were made up of relentless wrestlers who would jump in if they could and were constantly aware of tagging out. That makes for excellent sprint storytelling, and these are six top wrestlers to do it.

38. Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs. Manabu Nakanishi (June 20) – NJPW: Dominion
Leave it to Tanahashi to make old tactics seem worth watching. Dropkicks to the knee, the Figure Four, even smacking Nakanishi’s knee into the post – stuff that is overused to the point of tedium in so many matches worked here. Tanahashi’s charisma certainly helped, as did Nakanishi’s mean facial expressions and brute size. Tanahashi came across as competent enough, and Nakanishi immovable enough, that you trusted the smaller man really did have to wrestle this way, and when it came time, Nakanishi was too much even for vintage anti-giant strategy. He was too strong to be picked apart, and so agile that he could Dropkick even after the assault. Tanahashi paid for it the rest of the match, getting the crap beaten out of him. Few men contort in the Torture Rack like he did. They took the brave course of giving Nakanishi most of the offense, but the nearfalls and slow beating actually worked. The end became a question of how much Tanahashi could do, and if anything would be effective against the giant who’d battered him for so much of the match. The comebacks didn’t go too long, either, differing wildly from their first match, and making the title change all the more exciting.

37. Bryan Danielson Vs. Kenny Omega (April 12) – PWG: One Hundred
The last five minutes are as good as any singles sprint this year (even if it hasn’t been an amazing year for sprint wrestling). What’s amazing is that the extremely athletic wrestling they used came out of one of the best comedy performances of the year. Danielson’s dive and the trading finishers were all executed with the sense of gravity that comes from years of doing that sort of thing. Danielson should have that kind of confidence. But I’ve never seen humor like some of these things, such as Omega strapping pad after pad to his arm so that Danielson couldn’t work it over, until it was invincible. Grabbing the microphone to renegotiate the terms of the match, including three separate and different kinds of Tests of Strength, was simply mind-blowing. There was dancing. There was a Body Slide pin attempt out of a dance step. The two were so unflinchingly comfortable with completely embarrassing themselves in front of an audience, truly more comfortable at that than most of their peers are in the serious wrestling that dominates the market. Omega was the pure good, but Danielson was just upright enough, playing the implausible veteran (even though he’s in his twenties) who was at first happy with this youngster’s enthusiasm, and then felt the need to punish him for his deception. Omega coming up with Bugs Bunny-like reasons for Danielson to not “kicking your ****ing head in,” and his many failed attempts to jump the man, was a joy that is far too rare in an overserious industry.

36. Shingo Takagi, Dragon Kid & Taku Iwasa Vs. CIMA, GAMMA & KAGETORA (aired April 15) broadcast on Dragon Gate Infinity 128
I was hoping they’d name their stable “ALL CAPS” instead of “Warriors 5,” but what can you do? With a motivated CIMA and healthy KAGETORA, even GAMMA couldn’t drag this match down. He looked downright good for once, especially in his moment stealing CIMA’s Guillotine Choke DDT as a fakeout into the Vertical Suplex. Otherwise you had CIMA hitting everything with great timing, Dragon Kid flying at top speed, and Shingo playing a fine centerpiece. The match simply built and built, and like the best puro tags, only got hotter as different pairings squared off or tagged in. At the end, Iwasa once again showed his mettle at the end, this time by trading finishers with KAGETORA, while the more established guys blitzed around them.

35. Rey Mysterio Jr. Vs. John Morrison Vs. Carlito Colon Vs. MVP Vs. The Great Khali Vs. Vladimir Kozlov Vs. HHH Vs. Randy Orton Vs. JTG Vs. Ted DiBiase Jr. Vs. Chris Jericho Vs. Mike Knox Vs. The Miz Vs. Fit Finlay Vs. Cody Rhodes Vs. The Undertaker Vs. Goldust Vs. CM Punk Vs. Mark Henry Vs. Shelton Benjamin Vs. William Regal Vs. Kofi Kingston Vs. Kane Vs. Ron Killings Vs. Rob Van Dam Vs. Brian Kendrick Vs. Dolph Ziggler Vs. Santino Marella Vs. Jim Duggan Vs. The Big Show (January 25) – Royal Rumble Match from WWE: Royal Rumble
I was watching this with Randall Nichols ( http://mojo-wire-productions.blogspot.com/ ), and he commented that he’d never seen a Rumble like this. It had been a long time since we’d seen such a simple Rumble format, with the roster forming a giant clot of wrestlers in single digits and it lasting until the 30th man came down. That made it a much less complex edition than usual, though it was still just about the best battle royal you could find. They opened with some great athletic exchanges between Rey Jr., Carlito, Morrison and MVP, with special praise going to Morrison and Rey Jr.’s mirror near-eliminations. Later Morrison and JTG had a mad double skin-the-cat moment, playing off of the uncanny number of quality elimination teases that went all the way up until the end with Big Show narrowly avoiding the tumble. You had to use things like that in a match where so many people were stuck brawling in the ring and pushing each other at the ropes. You still had a few scintillating entrances, like Shelton Benjamin nailing everyone, RVD’s surprise and Undertaker’s early dominance. Without the typical monster entrance that cleared the ring, they framed Khali and Koslov for decent roles before letting the more competent guys run with it. They went lighter on the lighter-hearted moments, but you still had Dolph Ziggler introducing himself only to get eliminated, Santino setting the elimination record, and Jim Duggan mount an amazing entry and decking the Undertaker. While not as exciting the previous year’s and not having anything to match the shock of Cena’s return, this had nothing like the previous year’s screw-ups and a strongly plotted ending with the Legacy being disposed to grant Orton victory.

34. KENTA Vs. Chris Hero (aired October 12) – ROH on HDNet
The two big matches he had with Danielson showed it, but by virtue of appearing first, this became the greatest testament to Hero’s improvements in the last few years. Gone were the interminable and masturbatory mat wrestling segments, in favor of a few key holds from each man, most seeing the victim struggle for a counter or to reach the ropes, both men in movement to give conflict where the old Hero would just sit there. For much of his indy tenure his biggest flaw was timing, and here he put on a great match against a wrestler whose matches are based almost entirely around strikes and throws in a certain pace. The results of Hero’s improved timing were brilliant exchanges like the Turnbuckle Yakuza Kicks. I’ve read that particular exchange ripped apart, which is sad. The no-selling has purpose there. The entire exchange is about surprise: first that Hero can rebound so quickly, then that he retaliates with a Yakuza Kick of his own, and then that KENTA can still overcome him. This was not something that Hero or KENTA does in every match, and while KENTA is guiltier of that sort of thing, he’s seldom timed it so well or made it seem so special. And the way they came back so often made sense in the story of the match, with Hero deliberately trying to setup for big knockouts and avoiding the Go 2 Sleep, which virtue of his avoidance, he turned into an obvious knockout move for KENTA. Around the little bits of interference and Hero sandbagging to escape the Go 2 Sleep, they built Hero some beautiful false finishes, particularly the Neckbreaker into a Rolling Elbow that would have been an absolutely believable ending. I’ll agree with critics that the outside interference was unnecessary, but it didn’t hurt the story nearly as much as early reviews pretended. The Del Rey grabbed KENTA’s leg, she was swiftly dealt with, and Kingston ran in to keep Hero from cheating with the loaded elbow pad. Both provided distractions the match didn’t need, but neither had a serious effect on the actual match.

33. CIMA & Susumu Yokosuka Vs. Nick & Matt Jackson (taped July 25th, aired September 4) – Dragon Gate USA: Enter the Dragon/Open the Historic Gate
The Young Bucks improved noticeably with every visit to Dragon Gate. It made sense, then, that their best match yet would be against Dragon Gate guys when the company came to their home soil. And it was their best performance. All the crazy choreographed offense was there, but they were more aware of pressing their opponents, not thinking through spots, but subtly commanding each other to keep going to the next one if this one failed. That’s the big leap a team like the Young Bucks needs to make: going from “indy face” wrestling where they’re consciously out of character, to making offensive waves the plan of their characters. Their opponents didn’t hurt. CIMA was motivated and could rest in-between tags, allowing him to hustle at full speed for nearly the whole match, busting out combos that complimented and challenged the younger team. In particular, his Double Stomp onto Nick Jackson on the guardrail was the best variation of that contrived tandem move to date. Susumu backed up CIMA well and did everything to makes the Bucks shine. It was bold for Dragon Gate to give gaijin (even if they were Americans in America) the big push as the top team for the first show. All four guys went out of their way to make it work.

32. Masato Tanaka Vs. Toshiaki Kawada (October 24) – Zero-1: Never Gonna Stop
They took a couple of minutes to get going, but once they started, they never thought about stopping. This is the kind of match the long feuds in WWE need: fifteen minutes of desperation, both guys accelerating as they realize they aren’t getting it done, one man more seasoned and formidable, but the other bringing tricks and throwing them out in a blitz. Kawada absolutely refusing to take Tanaka’s Top Rope Splash to the outside was great, made better when he kept trying to drive Tanaka through his own table. To extend the comparison to WWE, if HHH were in Kawada’s role he would have hammed it up or tried to seem too cool to take the move, where Kawada the curmudgeon made it work with a simultaneous excess and lack of class. They drove the crowd wild, such that I thought it ended on Kawada’s Powerbomb – I couldn’t hear if it was a three-count or not. Once Tanaka adjusted to having a physically superior opponent, he changed things up in clever ways too, like the Sliding D Chopblock to try and stop Kawada’s jumping kicks. They got snugger and fiercer until the very end, when it legitimately looked like Kawada and knocked out his opponent to win. Following an amazing performance at the Misawa tribute shows, this was a great way to re-ignite Kawada’s career.

31. Evan Bourne Vs. John Morrison (April 14) – ECW on Sci Fi
What was this about? Was Morrison trying to prove they should have shipped him to Raw instead of Miz? An advertisement of their promise when only older challengers were pushed against champion Swagger and the stiff Russian had just been dropped on the brand? I don’t know, but this twenty-minute opener was the best ECW match since… well, since Swagger Vs. Christian. Okay, ECW really was an oasis of great wrestling amidst WWE television for a while. But that’s not the point! The modified Torture Rack into the Headscissors! The knee of doom with Bourne in the ropes! Bourne’s kamikaze Cross Body to throw Morrison to the floor! All the non-finisher offense that somehow became believable false finishers! Wait, where are you going?

30. Katsuhiko Nakajima Vs. Kotaro Suzuki (October 15) – Pro Wrestling NOAH: Autumn Navigation
Every year there are thousands of matches where two guys each work a limb, but the story is still very conducive to draws and not used very often in them. It helped that in that half hour they didn’t exclusively work Suzuki’s arm and Nakajima’s leg (respectively), with Suzuki branching into flying and big throws, and Nakajima happy to hit all his favorite strikes (and Suzuki bumping like a madman for them). But the limbs were at the core of the match, with Suzuki taking Nakajima apart to start, twist his knee, dropping it on the apron and tricking him into kicking the ring post. In another wrinkle, he also dodged every attempt at the Death Rattle, suggesting his game plan was all about Nakajima’s lower body. This is NOAH, so none of that stopped Nakajima from kicking, but it gave Suzuki an opening he could return to throughout the match. And what do you do if Suzuki’s worked your leg for ten minutes and you need a limb to slow him down? Nakajima came up with the best possible answer: that disgusting knee drop across his arm. It framed just enough offense for Nakajima, between the kicks to the elbow and his favorite Armlock. Even on defense, Suzuki was the star of the match, selling like he was auditioning for Jim Crockett Promotions. They botched a few moves late in the game, but that was understandable based on their pace, and Suzuki made up for the flubbed Tombstone exchange with a surprise knee to Nakajima’s face. Suzuki had several little retaliations like that in the match, from the opening when he refused to let go of the Single Leglock to getting as much air as possible on Nakajima’s German Suplex. Because of their mutual injuries and exhaustion, reaching a time limit draw worked, and it was better because Suzuki absolutely had him at the end, making a rematch not just possible, but sought-after.

29. The Undertaker Vs. C.M. Punk Vs. Rey Mysterio Vs. Dave Batista (October 25) – WWE: Bragging Rights
Almost the foil of the Iron Man Match from the same night, this match stretched nothing out. They made the most of some spots, like Undertaker standing in quiet for a moment after leveling Mysterio with a Big Boot, or Punk grinning like a total bastard after hitting his Corner Knee. It was a match of pure opportunism, which meant everyone looking to cut each other off and quickly going for heavy bombs. Punk was a good catalyst, interrupting the most offense and picking on Mysterio at any given chance. Batista’s role was the most limited, getting framed for a few cut-offs (like a pair of murderous Lariats) and instances with Mysterio. The Batista/Mysterio angle might have gone too heavy too fast, but their story in the match was clever, with the big meathead figuring his little buddy would let him win and so even going to save him from the Last Ride Powerbomb, but Mysterio was only out for the title. That story and the opportunism of Punk gave enough plot to a fast-paced match. Undertaker, broken down and needing to be covered, still worked spots with each of his opponents, taking offense and trading potential match-enders to give everyone at least one cool moment.

28. The Great Muta Vs. Yoshihiro Takayama (March 14) – AJPW: Pro Wrestle Love in Ryogoku Vol. 3
The death of the Great Muta. The original entry I wrote for this match is now far too grim after the passing of Mitsuharu Misawa, but “The death of the Great Muta” really is what this match is all about. The man destructs. He spits his mist for show and is immediately Dropkicked to the ground. When he recovers he tries to stalk as always, but Takayama is resilient. Muta uses weapons to no lasting advantage. His vintage offense doesn’t put the outsider away. Takayama even bleeds, but is rising to his feet before Muta comes to attack him again. Takayama outlasts the Figure Four, kicks the smaller veteran around, and uses his own chair on him to signal the beginning of that destruction. He rips off the mask, busts him open in turn, rips at the wound with his fingers, and though Muta rallies, Takayama blocks the Shining Wizard and the mist to cut him off. At the end Muta fell to the German Suplex and was so beaten he coughed up his own mist. It was pitiful. For all the pomp of hype videos, long entrances and the belt awarding ceremony, the match was short and told a heck of a story, one of Takayama as the powerful invader overwhelming crushing the venerable legend. Muta hasn’t looked as vulnerable or sympathetic in years. He does it well.

27. Kurt Angle Vs. Jeff Jarrett (January 11) – No Disqualification Match from TNA: Genesis
Their first match was good, but this is what it should have been. Jarrett destroyed himself with guts and gracelessness, fighting rather than relying on rusty technical savvy. When things panned out poorly he sold like a legend, crawling back to the ring and fighting to hang on a little longer. Blow by blow, it was amongst the richest grudge matches TNA has put on, with big falls and desperation. All the superfluous kickouts really added to the drama and the question of how it would end. They even teased the classic roll-up finishing things after everything else, but refused to stop at something so cheap. But that served only to psych out the audience, setting up Angle’s disappointing flash pin. Some people may pass on it for that, but like HHH Vs. Hardy from No Mercy in 2008, that couldn’t ruin what a great body they’d built. From brawling to counters to the series of big offense, this was amongst the most emotional stories Jarrett has ever told in TNA. Funny, then, that it was only his second match in as many years.

26. Katsuhiko Nakajima Vs. KENTA (February 11) – Kensuke Office: Take the Dream Volume 7
At Volume 6 they were two kickers doing all their offense to look cool, and they did. At Volume 7 were two guys tearing into each other, whether it was how Nakajima’s head was squeezed in a Headlock, or how KENTA was booted on the apron. There was emotion behind their attacks in a singles match for once, usually reserved for tag matches where veteran partners like Kobashi or Sasaki psych them up. The liveliness and conviction that usually makes them shine in tag matches was finally present in a big singles match between them. This time they deserved the main event slot, going back to their kicker roots often enough, but doing it in different positions to keep things fresh, and mixing in more important offense, like the series of failed Suplexes that led to both men falling onto the arena floor. Like the popular Marufuji Vs. KENTA hour draw in NOAH last year, they packed a lot in to their 40+ minutes and didn’t take nearly as many breaks as they could have. That helped as neither guy is that comfortable in slow periods, unable to really figure out how to do them. To their credit in the few slow periods, like an extended Bodyscissors by KENTA, they kept moving just enough to prevent the crowd from quieting, and kept themselves from losing the essential animosity. That last element is what separates this match from the much more praised one a month later.

25. Bryan Danielson Vs. Chris Hero (September 18) – ROH: Final Countdown Dayton
For years I didn’t care to watch Chris Hero. Sitting through his old and ridiculously long matches against CM Punk is the stuff of nightmares. Okay, not nightmares, but uncomfortable daydreams from which I’m happy to wake up. Over the years, Danielson was the one opponent who could always have a good match with Hero, whether he was on his loser streak in IWA:MS or playing Indy HHH in PWG. Where his mat wrestling was normally excruciating, Danielson could mat wrestle for both of them. Yet even in Danielson’s beloved ROH, they didn’t have truly great matches. The Hell Freezes Over title defense was one of the weakest title matches of Danielson’s year+ reign. There’s something wrong when Jimmy Wang Yang has a better title challenge than an indy superstar. You may look at this write-up and say, “Jeeze John, you just attacked Hero the whole time.” But I said all of that because this match is an example of how much Hero has improved. He wasn’t on Danielson’s level; they were on different levels. Hero’s pacing was better, his biggest strikes were just as (if not more) exciting than Danielson’s, and the way he cried out in protest or struggle in holds and pins showed so much of the character potential that he’s always had but never put together like he did in 2009. In 2007 this guy could backflip off the top rope, but in matches like these he shows why that athleticism makes him so formidable. This is a guy who is taller and stronger than his opponents, but also quite possibly faster and more agile than them, able to think on his feet, catch a guy like Danielson, and send him unconscious to the arena floor. Hero is now the athlete that deserves the fan following he had five years ago. He is far past the point where I would hope Danielson could have a good match around him. It was sad to see Danielson leave ROH, but at the same time, great to see Hero no longer need him. They expressed the same sentiment, too, with all the elbow exchanges, particularly Danielson trying to utilize Rolling Elbows, only to get caught and knocked out by them in the end. Those are Hero’s now.

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