All right, before we start…
I have been missing in action for a little while. There is a good reason for this. I live in a rural Australian town, and since late November my country has been on freakin’ fire!
If you want to avoid politics, skip the next paragraph.
To get all political for a moment, the conservative government we’ve had in this country for the past too many years, the right wing politicians running the place, have cut money to the rural fire-fighting services, have cut money to help the reduction of fire hazards, and have actively encouraged behaviours that increase climate change. (Yes, it’s real; yes it’s man-made; yes, I believe science; conspiracy theories are bullshit.) And then, when our country was burning, our Prime Minister went to Hawaii for a holiday, and when he came back he went to the cricket and drank beer. And then the right wing conservative voters for some reason (well, because the Murdoch media tells them to, because Rupert Murdoch and his lackeys are lying dickheads who deserve to have their faces pushed into blenders) are blaming the Greens for the fires! Morons. I live in a burning country and am surrounded by morons.
Anyway, what this means is that there are some things a little more important than watching and writing about wrestling. However, I feel I really should do something to let you know I haven’t been burnt to a crisp like the tens of 1000s of animals and a third of Kangaroo Island (where I have relatives… scary shit). And so, in that regard, I present my own favourite matches of 2019.
These matches come from PPVs only. I don’t watch a lot of the weekly televised product, so I decided to limit myself to the PPV (or PPV-type events). A further caveat: I only saw two NJPW shows (Wrestle Kingdom 13 and Dominion), all of the WWE and AEW shows and… well, that’s it. We don’t get ROH here (which is a shame because I used to watch it) or Impact (which I haven’t watched since 2013 when it was still TNA, but I have been told it has become good), so I apologise for missing those.
And for those playing at home, my favourite television match of the year that I saw was Daniel Bryan v Adam Cole for the NXT Championship on Smackdown, November 1.
Anyway… my own top 10 PPV matches of 2019! (Finally!)
First, some that were good and almost made the list… but not quite.
Adam Cole v Johnny Gargano (NXT: TakeOver New York, April 5)
Two-out-of-three falls match for the vacant NXT Championship
This was a very good match, don’t get me wrong, and these two have insane chemistry together. What knocked it out of my top 10 was the ref bump and the outside interference which was not needed; sports entertainment ruining things. Gargano won 2 falls to 1 to win the title.
Rhea Ripley, Candice LaRae, Tegan Nox & Dakota Kai v Bianca Belair, Kay lee Ray, Io Shirai & Shayna Baszler (NXT: TakeOver WarGames III, November 23)
Along with Survivor Series, Rhea Ripley’s coming out party. Best match of that weekend. BUT! 2-on-4, including the NXT women’s champion, and the 2 win? Overcoming the odds is one thing, but this didn’t make sense. Also, everything in the ring stopping while Kai killed Nox was not good. Ripley and LaRae get the win.
Daniel Bryan v Kofi Kingston (WWE Wrestlemania 35, April 7)
WWE Championship match
Both wrestlers played their parts well, the crowd was hot for this, it felt like it could have gone either way, and it had a feel-good ending. But if you take away the emotion and just watch the match, it is not the greatest. The emotion lifts it; that will mean nothing in 5 years’ time; it might not mean anything now with Kofi appearing on pre-shows as a tag champ… Kofi defeated Daniel to be new champion.
Jon Moxley v Kenny Omega (AEW Full Gear, November 9)
Lights Out match
A little over-the-top, and the teased blood at the start made the lack of blood with the barbed wire trampoline seem ridiculous. But as a spot-tacular violent match, it was hard to beat in US mainstream wrestling this year. Mox won.
Pac v Hangman Page (AEW Full Gear, November 9)
Too short, but intense and hard-hitting and a really good match from these two, which Page won.
Buddy Murphy v Aleister Black (WWE TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs, December 15)
Match of the night and the closest any of these came to being in the top 10. Hard hitting match, almost verging on Japanese in style. Black won with a black mass out of nowhere.
=9) Lucha Brothers v Young Bucks (AEW Double Or Nothing, May 25; AEW All-Out, August 31)
AAA Tag Team Titles; AAA Tag Team Titles, Ladder Match
Okay, a tie here with two matches. But, really, I could not separate them The Double Or Nothing match had better flow and some absolutely insane moves, especially some of the tag team moves; the All-Out match had less flow, at least one serious botch, and a run-in at the end after it was all over, but they managed to up the ante with the ladders giving them the chance to out-insane anything I have seen. Some spots were repeated as well, but when members of opposing teams mirrored each other that was a cool visual, and that ridiculous Canadian destroyer off a ladder through a table was the best move I have ever seen in a ladder match. Really, it was one match split over two PPVs. Young Bucks won the first to retain; Lucha Brothers won the second to be new champs.
8) The Laredo Kid, Pentagon Jr & Rey Fenix v The Young Bucks & Kenny Omega (AEW Fyter Fest, June 29)
From the opening when the Elite came out dressed as Akuma, Ryu and Ken from Street Fighter (“Round 1 – fight!”), this was a gymnastics display on steroids and damn if it wasn’t fun. No story-telling, the selling was optional, and the moves defied belief in the realms of a legitimate fight, but I loved this match so much at the time. 20 minutes of greatness. The end came when Omega pinned Laredo Kid, and I really didn’t want it to end.
7) AJ Styles v Seth Rollins (WWE Money in the Bank, May 19)
WWE Universal Championship match
Styles has been a favourite of mine for a very long time; he is one of the people involved in my favourite wrestling match ever (from TNA). While the Rollins character is not one I enjoy, he knows how to bring it in the ring with the right opponent, and Styles is the right opponent. Nice moves, nice counters, decent exchanges, lots of near-falls. It was a good wrestling match, not relying on the flippy stuff, but on telling a story of near-equality in the ring. And after it all, when Rollins retained the title, there was a decent show of respect.
6) Ronda Rousey v Charlotte Flair v Becky Lynch (WWE Wrestlemania 35, April 7)
“Winner Take All” Triple Threat Match for the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Titles
This match was the best women’s match I have seen in WWE’s main roster ever. I stand by that. I have seen better on NXT and one or two independent shows, but of all the women’s wrestling I’ve seen in my 40-plus years of watching this sport, easily this is in my top 10, maybe top 5. Yes, I was that sold on it. Two things did get me – the way it did what most 3-way dances do and fall into a series of 1-on-1 matches punctuated by 3-way action and the ending. Rousey’s bump on the apron was nasty-looking, the selling was great and everything felt clean. It was also one of the very best Wrestlemania main events and Lynch winning both belts was an awesome feel-good moment. Worth noting, also my favourite main roster match from the WWE.
5) Io Shirai v Candice LaRae (NXT: TakeOver Toronto, August 10)
And then we jump to another women’s match that I felt was singularly awesome. The reason I rated this one higher was because of the intensity that did not let up. I mean, 3 minutes in and LaRae is suplexed onto the announce table! And that Spanish Fly from the top rope, my God! Look, there was no cheating, nothing extraneous, just two wrestlers beating the living crap out of one another until Shirai locked in a Koji clutch. But LaRae didn’t tap – she passed out. Great match, and one I feel has been all but forgotten already.
4) Adam Cole v Johnny Gargano (NXT: TakeOver Toronto, August 10)
2 out of 3 Falls Match, NXT Championship match
Fall one was a wrestling match – with awesome moves, a story told about working on previously injured body parts, and solid selling – which Gargano gave up via DQ with a chair shot. But that meant fall 2, a street fight, went easily to him after he lawn-darted Cole into a chair in the corner. Then came fall 3 – the Ambrose Asylum. Cage + barbed wire + weapons = insanity. Cole somehow got his arm over Gargano to retain the title after they both fell from the cage through tables. No outside interference, just two guys wrestling. But it needed blood, and that is my biggest complaint.
3) Will Ospreay v Dragon Lee (NJPW Dominion 6.9, June 9)
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
To try and describe some of the moves in this match would be near-impossible. These two pulled out moves and counters I have never seen. Lee rana’ed Ospreay from the apron to the floor, but Ospreay countered by somersaulting completely in the air and landing on his feet! And there was the best Spanish fly I have ever seen. This was just a great match. No shenanigans, no interference, just two guys putting it all on the line to win that title. Ospreay is regarded as one of the best in the world; you’d be hard-pressed to disagree. Ospreay won the title from Lee, and Lee strapped the belt around his waist after the match. Wow.
2) Kenny Omega v Hiroshi Tanahashi (NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 13, January 4)
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
This match told a very definite story. Tanahashi is not happy with modern wrestling and its tables and high spots; Omega thinks he’s old-fashioned. And they carried this through the match until Tanahashi just let Omega have it. This was wonderful. It was not just a spot-fest; it told a story accentuated by high spots, but not over-whelmed by them. This match went for 40 minutes, but when it was over and I realised how much time had passed I was surprised – it did not feel like it. Just brilliant. Tanahashi got the win to take the title from Omega, but that was almost secondary – the match was the thing.
1) Cody v Dustin Rhodes (AEW Double Or Nothing, May 25)
I’m just going to cut and paste my review here: “I admit it – I thought this match would be meh. Cody v Dustin, the Rhodes brothers collide. Dustin’s older than me, Cody tended to be underwhelming, and I was sort of… meh. But they had the best video package I’ve seen in ages to introduce their match, with perfect music. Even got me a little pumped, but, you know… meh. However… Oh. My. God. To think we could have been having this for the past 10 years!? Cody comes out with Brandi and destroys a throne with a sledgehammer (ooh… subtle!), Dustin has half his face painted, the crowd is off the charts before they even lock up. This was a GREAT match! They told a story… It was not a spot-fest, fast-paced, but it was them knowing one another and countering each other. Earl Hebner is the ref!? And then Brandi got involved and DDP(!) carried her out. Dustin bleeds, they go back and forth, they counter one another… Dusty would have been proud. Dustin doesn’t just bleed; to quote JR: “He’s sweating blood!” There is blood everywhere. It pours out of Dustin. SHIT. And Dustin will not stay down. Look, this was old fashioned wrestling, the way I like it. In the end, Cody wins after around 25 minutes. Words cannot do it justice. HOLY SHIT! Then, after it was all over, Cody says he doesn’t want Dustin to retire, but he wants him as a brother, to tag with him. They hug – the crowd erupts!”
My match of the year. Maybe not technically the best, but for sheer emotion and sheer story-telling… I watched it again in compiling this list and it still gets me.
As an added bonus, my favourite PPV “bit”:
AEW Full Gear (November 9)
It’s post match after Ortiz and Santana have defeated the Young Bucks. The Rock’n’Roll Express are in the front row and have been abused during the match. After the match, Sammy Guevara comes out and joins Ortiz and Santana in beating down the Bucks. And then, out of nowhere, the R’n’R make the save! Ricky Morton hits a Canadian Destroyer!! Then he hit a suicide dive!! The man is in his 60s!! I said it then, I repeat it now: HOLY F*CK!!
All right, let’s look at the top ten.
10 matches. NJPW – 2 matches, WWE 4 matches (2 main roster, 2 NXT), AEW 4 matches. Yes, if you read my 10 Thoughts… columns from the year, you will see I was higher on some other matches in the immediate aftermath of the shows, but re-watching (really, with the fires, watching wrestling has been a nice diversion) them without the emotion of the time and with the value of hindsight has enabled me to view things a bit more dispassionately. My idea of a good match is something I could rewatch in 10 years and still love what I am seeing. See the Randy Savage-Ultimate Warrior match from Wrestlemania VII for the perfect example of that in my mind. The fact that a match from January, a little over 12 months ago, is number 2 on my list tells me that that match may well be the Flair-Steamboat for this generation.
Okay, what about shows? This time, let’s also consider the 6 “nearly there” matches on my list, and we see that no show had more than 2 matches there (WWE Wrestlemania 35, AEW Full Gear, AEW Double Or Nothing, NXT TakeOver Toronto), which means there was a decent spread. If we look at the wrestlers – Young Bucks and Lucha Brothers appeared three times, as did Kenny Omega, but Omega’s were against 3 different opponents, making him, I suppose, my wrestler of the year! Meanwhile, Adam Cole, Johnny Gargano, Candice LaRae and Io Shirai all appeared twice on the list, showing the talent pool in NXT.
I guess that’s my summation of 2019. After writing this, I had a look at other sites to see how I compared to everyone else. Well, I don’t. This list does not match anyone else. So, take this list for what it is – one old man’s personal opinion. But if you check out the top 10 matches, I am sure you will not be disappointed.
Tags: 2019, AAA Tag Team Titles, Adam Cole, AEW, AJ Styles, Aleister Black, All Out, Becky Lynch, bianca belair, Buddy Murphy, Candice LaRae, charlotte flair, Cody Rhodes, Dakota Kai, Daniel Bryan, Dominion, Double or Nothing, Dragon Lee, Dustin Rhodes, Full Gear, Fyter Fest, Hangman Page, hiroshi tanahashi, Io Shirai, johnny gargano, Jon Moxley, Kay Lee ray, Kenny Omega, Kofi Kingston, ladder match, Lucha Brothers, money in the bank, njpw, NXT, PAC, PPV, Rhea Ripley, rock'n'roll express, Ronda Rousey, seth rollins, Shayna Baszler, TakeOver New York, TakeOver WarGames III, Takeover: Toronto, Tegan Nox, The Laredo Kid, TLC, Will Ospreay, Women’s WarGames, Wrestle Kingdom 13, Wrestlemania 35, WWE, Young Bucks