I recently stumbled upon Voices of Wrestling rankings of the “Top Matches of 2014”, featuring votes and commentary from such Place to be Nation luminaries as Steven Graham, Pete Schirmacher, and Chad Campbell. One of my biggest challenges as a wrestling fan, who is trying to expand his wrestling horizons outside of the familiar confines of the WWE Network, is figuring out just where to start when watching other promotions. With the vast majority of the matches on the list coming from non-WWE promotions, a list like this is exactly what I needed to bring some focus to my wrestling viewing.
Voices of Wrestling really put a serious effort into this, ranking 121 matches of 2014. I don’t have the time nor energy to watch all 121 matches, but I decided I could muster just enough of both to watch the Top 25. Most of these matches I have never seen before and feature wrestlers I have never seen wrestle before, so it should be a fun experiment. And GOOD NEWS Place to be Nation – I’m taking you along for the ride!
Over the next few weeks I will watch the Top 25 Matches of 2014 from the Voices of Wrestling list, provide my thoughts on why it was a great match, what could have been improved, and if you’re determined enough to make the whole journey with me, you’ll be rewarded with my re-rankings at the end.
Without further adieu, I bring you Matches #25-21, starting with….
#25: Cavernario vs. Rey Cometa
81st Anniversary (CMLL), September 19, 2014
What It’s All About: Cavernario is apparently a wrestling caveman. It might sound silly – and it certainly IS silly – but it only took about 30 seconds for me to realize that it’s both silly and AWESOME. Cavernario flies all over the place and really plays up the “Wildman” aspect of his character – crazy hair, covered in cave dirt,flying around like a madman – even biting the chin of his opponent. Rey Cometa is more of a standard high-flying luchador, and I mean that in the best way possible. As I would learn as the match progressed, this one was 2 out of 3 falls and a hair vs hair match!
Spot of the Match: There’s lots of choices here, but to me it’s the giant superfly-esque splash by Cavernario from the top rope onto Cometa on the floor outside. This just looks devastating on the unforgiving floors of CMLL, and in wrestling that’s about all that matters.
What Could Have Been Better: It’s hard to find any major flaws with this match – they don’t even give you the time to process anything between moves. I would say I found that the finish – a submission hold by Cavernario – felt a bit out of place after 20 minutes of high-flying maneuvers. But it’s a pretty badass submission move, so I’ll let it slide and just say “I wish I had 5 more minutes of this!”
Why It’s Great: The phrase “total nonstop action” has become tainted in the professional wrestling world over the years, for obvious reasons. But it’s appropriate here, as from the very first moment with the sequence on the stage, these two are go-go-go and it feels like the match never takes a breather. It’s a spot fest by definition, but it’s done in a way where the match tells a story – a story of desperation, of Comet King and one Caveman fighting tooth and nail to avoid having their hair lobbed off. Does it get more “wrestling” than that?
#24: Daniel Bryan vs. Batista vs. Randy Orton
WrestleMania XXX, April 6, 2014
What It’s All About: Now this match is one I’m quite familiar with, as I was there live in the SuperDome for WrestleMania XXX and Daniel Bryan’s epic night. By now I presume most people reading this know the story – Bryan is kept out of the Rumble despite being the most over guy in the WWE (luckily they’ll never make that mistake again!), Batista returns and gets the insta-push to the main event vs. Orton, and the WWE Universe demands their hero gets a match with HHH that will get him into the title match if he wins. Spoiler Alert: Bryan defeats Hunter (more on that in later installments of this series), and finds himself right where he belonged the whole time.
Spot of the Match: Plenty of cool moments in this one, but the Batista Bomb –RKO combo through the announce table was just too sweet. The sickest part of it was watching Orton land on a monitor and slice his back open the hard way. Kudos to him for toughness. Ouch.
What Could Have Been Better: I’m hard pressed to find something wrong with that match itself, but since I’m forcing myself to nitpick, I’ll say that I wish Bryan continued to sell his injured (for weeks) shoulder in the post-match celebration. He sold it for the entire Hunter match and the entire main event, but the second he gets Batista to tap out he’s magically fine! I know, I know…”adrenaline.”
Why It’s Great: The atmosphere in New Orleans was off the charts electric, and it carries over on a rewatch. The crowd is just so into Daniel Bryan that he could basically just do kicks and chops the whole match and they would have been fine with it. The crowd is into every single move, and the match has that intense, main event – dare I say “Sports Entertainment” – feel that WWE does so well when they do it right. There were so many cool moments mixed in – Hunter and Steph’s appearance with crooked referee Scott Armstrong and the ensuing tope onto all 3 of them, Orton and Batista teaming up to take out Bryan, and Bryan’s triumphant return from the stretcher all stand out. Certainly a Top 5 WWE match of 2014.
#23. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Invasion Attack (NJPW), April 6, 2014
What It’s All About: I knew nothing about either of these guys going in. Nakamura immediately stands out to me – he has very unique mannerism heading to and once in the ring. Both he and Tanahashi look like they could have been plucked straight out of “Mortal Kombat.” This match is for the IWGP Intercontinental Title (as I know from the several close ups of the belt, a nice effect), and it’s a simple story: Tanahashi destroys Nakamura’s leg for most of the match, while Nakamura battles back as the fiery, sympathetic babyface.
Spot of the Match: All of the leg destruction stuff from Tanahashi was deliberate and vicious, but I particularly liked the frog splash to the injured leg. I’m not used to seeing high flying “spot fest” type moves used in the context of working a body part like this, and this move was unexpected and effective in continuing the intensity of the damage being done to Nakamura’s leg.
What Could Have Been Better: I felt there could have been a bit more to the finishing sequence. It might just be my lack of familiarity with these wrestlers, but it felt like a little added drama – a few more near falls or a tease of a big submission on Nakamura’s leg – could have pushed this match just a *little* higher for me. If this sounds like a stretch to find a criticism, it’s because it is. This match is near-perfect.
Why It’s Great: This match is all about Nakamura’s amazing sell job of Tanahashi’s work on the leg. He never stops selling – any time we see his face you can tell he is writhing in pain and battling through. Tanahashi’s viciousness and focus shouldn’t be discounted either. This had the feel of a big time match between age-old rivals. Nakamura really has a unique feel to his style and approach in the ring, and Tanahashi is the perfect foil for him. I look forward to seeing more from both of these guys.
#22. Hechicero vs. Cavernario
Super Viernes (CMLL). June 20, 2014
What It’s All About: This is the finals of CMLL’s “En Busca de un Idolo” tournament, which translates to “In Search of an Idol.” So it’s basically CMLL’s version of American Idol, only it’s a wrestling tournament. I’m definitely excited to see more from the wrestling caveman, Mr. Cavernario. His opponent is Hechicero, who I am unfamiliar with, but it quickly becomes clear he is playing the role of calculated heel to Cavernario’s young wildman.
Spot of the Match: Since I already gave high praise to Cavernario’s superfly splash from the top rope to the concrete floor – which we see again here – I’ll choose a different spot, albeit one that likely wasn’t meant to be the spot that it was. At one point Cavernario performs a tope from the outside of the ring through the ropes, but Hechicero isn’t in position and Cavernario wipes out on the concrete. It’s clear from Hechi’s “hands up” impulse reaction that this wasn’t on purpose, but he immediately capitalized and turned it into part of the match. This really helped play up the “crafty heel vs. wild man” storyline and made the match all the more compelling.
What Could Have Been Better: I could have used some smoother transitions between moves and more focus on a body part. Most of the match seemed like “move-move-nearfall-move-move-nearfall” before Cavernario caught Hechicero in his submission. The improvisation on the botched tope makes up for all of this however.
Why It’s Great: I’m quickly coming to enjoy the CMLL matches as I become more familiar with the style, and this seems to be a pretty good representation of what you get from the promotion. Cavernario is quickly becoming one of my favorite guys to watch between his wild mannerisms, high flying moves and overall ring presence. A very different feel than the “Go go go!” back and forth match with Rey Cometa, but Hechicero works as a great foil to Cavernario and really gets him over as a believable underdog throughout the match.
#21. Masato Yoshino vs. Masaaki Mochizuki
Open the New Year Gate (Dragon Gate), January 16. 2014
What It’s All About: I certainly had no idea going what I was going to get going into this. The match was for the “Open the Dream Gate” championship, between the reigning Mochizuki and the challenger Yoshino. I get the sense that both of these guy’s have a long history in this promotion, and the match really has a big time feel from the beginning. It starts off with each guy going after each other’s arm, and if working over a body part is normally boring to you, it won’t be here. These guys use innovative maneuvers and submission holds to work each other over, and before you know it we’re in a fast paced sprint to the finish that never seems to end. And I mean that in the good way.
Spot of the Match: Several times Yoshino does some crazy flip move off the rope slamming down Moshizuki’s arm. I have no idea what this move is called and it may sound boring on paper, but it’s cool as hell to watch. While I mentioned Nakamura and Tanahashi looking like they were plucked out of the “Mortal Combat” game, this move looks like something you’d see in “Mortal Combat.” Honorable mention goes to Yoshino’s finisher – what I’m calling the “Top Rope Fisherman’s Suplex Slam”.
What Could Have Been Better: Speaking of Yoshino’s finisher, the reason it wasn’t the Spot of the Match is because the setup for it on the top rope was awkward and Moshizuki was clearly helping setup the move, something that took me out of the match for a second. I noticed this awkward setup in several other top rope maneuvers. The match was amazing, but once in a while this would pull me out of it.
Why It’s Great: I had never seen a Dragon Gate match before and if this is any indication of the kind of stuff they put out I plan to see a lot more in the future. As I mentioned earlier, these guys look like they are in the a video sometime with the ways they throw each other around, and often do so in the context of working the arm or entering into a submission hold. The finish with Moshizuki kicking out of the Top Rope Fisherman’s Suplex Slam, only to find himself locked in a final, dramatic submission hold on his arm and finally tap out was fantastic. The crowd, the seconds at ringside, and the mutual respect paid by both wrestlers post-match really gave this an even bigger feel, and it’s the little touches like that which can take an amazing match and make it feel like an all time great. These guys put on a match unlike I’ve ever seen before, and truly must be seen to be believed. I imagine this will do well in my re-rankings.
Well that’s it for Part 1! I hope you enjoyed the start of my little journey and that it will expose some people to some exciting new wrestling to watch – it certainly has for me! Next week, I’ll tackle matches #20-16. Check out the list at Voices of Wrestling if you want to do your homework ahead of time!