As I explained in Part 1 (and again in Part 2!) 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 Schirmaker, 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.
After taking a week off to spend four and a half hours re-watching WrestleMania 20 for the Place to be Podcast, I bring you Matches #15-11, starting with….
#15: Titan vs. Virus
CMLL on Caneda Tres, January28, 2014
What It’s All About: Virus does not look like a wrestler. He has an odd body shape, a greasy Mexi-mullet, and wears neon green. But don’t be fooled – a wrestler he is indeed, and an incredible one to watch at that. In this match, he challenges the younger Titan – a crisp-moving, masked luchador – for the CMLL Middleweight Title in a 2 out of 3 fall match.
Spot of the Match: Virus really is a joy to watch for lovers of grappling. His transitions between holds are so smooth and fun to watch. One such sequence that stands out to me the most was when he catches Titan in midair, sweeps his legs into position for what appears to be Boston crab or slingshot, only to roll through into his submission maneuver for the first fall. The speed and ease with which he does all of this is truly a sight to behold
What Could Have Been Better: My expectations might have been a bit too high based on the ranking and positive comments about it at Voices of Wrestling. While it tells a good story in the ring, it doesn’t quite feel as impactful or important as some of the lucha matches I’d watched earlier in the list. It’s hard for me to pinpoint my exact beef, as the match was worked near perfectly. It might just be that Titan feels to be a bit more of a standard “lucha” worker, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, guys like Cavernario and Dragon Lee stand out to me a lot more in the ring. This one may require a re-watch before my re-rankings.
Why It’s Great: While it didn’t blow me away as much as some other matches on this list, make no mistake about it, this is a great match. The story from my viewpoint was basically Virus being a master grappler and outmaneuvering Titan for much of the match, save for what appeared to be a bit of a flukey 2nd fall for Titan. But then Titan ends all doubt, as he comes back to out-grapple the grappler, and lock Virus in a submission of his own for the win.
#14: Katsuyori Shibata vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Destruction in Kobe (New Japan), September 21, 2014
What It’s All About: A dramatic video package before the match gives me a sense that this match is a big deal; a battle between two great rivals. This feeling would prove correct, as these two would go on to work a stiff and brutal match, one that seemed to blur the line between shoot and work. It was only after the match I would find out how true this was, as the two wrestlers apparently have had legit heat with each other for several years.
Spot of the Match: In a match worked as stiff as this one, it’s fitting that I hand the Spot of the Match to a stiff slap in the face. After a lengthy exchange of forearms, Tanahashi winds up and delivers a huge slap to the face of Shibata, knocking him to the ground. This comes after a similar slap to start the match. Shibata responds by getting up a delivering a devastating spinning back fist that sends Tanahashi straight to the ground himself. This was a truly awesome moment that the crowd just ate right up. I’ll also give a consolation prize to the intense post-match handshake, which the crowd popped for more than any move in the actual match. This makes a lot more sense once you understand the context of the feud between the two.
What Could Have Been Better: This match is so brutal and back and forth, and as the case with many of these matches it’s difficult to find much fault with it. For how back and forth the match felt, it seemed like the finish was almost too swift and decisive. Once Tanahashi took charge and hit his cross body and frog splash it was over. No near falls, no back and forth delivery of finishers. I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, but it did take me aback a bit, and I definitely was expecting Shibata to seem like more of a threat towards the end.
Why It’s Great: If I had to describe this match in one word it would be “stiff.” These two slapped and kicked the crap out of each other, and did so in convincing fashion. The leg work and submissions by both men were well executed and truly looked painful. Once again NJPW delivers a match that just feels real and legit. We always have to suspend our disbelief somewhat when watching wrestling, but this was one match where we didn’t need to stretch ourselves too much in that department. If you could force “wrestling is FAKE!” naysayers to watch one match, this should probably be the one.
#13. reDRagon vs. The Young Bucks
War of the Worlds (Ring of Honor), May 17, 2014
What It’s All About: Two of the hottest if not THE hottest tag teams in non-WWE wrestling meet at Ring of Honor’s combo show with New Japan Pro Wrestling dubbed “War of the Worlds.” I was already somewhat familiar with these teams from the four way tag team match at NJPW’s “Wrestle Kingdom 9.” I was impressed with both and was excited to see them face off in this highly touted match for the Ring of Honor Tag Team Championship.
Spot of the Match: How does one choose a single solitary “spot” in this one? While watching this match, I kept saying “there’s my spot of the match!”, only to have it one-upped moments later. These two teams are both incredibly innovative with their tag team maneuvers, and my jaw proceeded to drop every single time. The spot of the match should probably be a five or six way tie, but since I must choose, I will go with the Bucks positioning Kyle O’Reilly to deliver a tombstone to his own partner by kicking his legs out from under him. They immediately followed this with a double super kick to O’Reilly’s face. This spot felt like something you’d see as an ECW comedy spot, but it didn’t feel like a comedy spot in this match. Consolation prize to the Buck double multiple flips into the corner only to deliver a “devastating back rake.” Awesome!
What Could Have Been Better: My only real complaint is that some of the Young Bucks double team maneuvers appear like they are more designed to just look cool (and they do!) then to actually look devastating. Many of them do, but I think they could trim down the arsenal just a tad and stick to the moves which really look impactful more so than just to make people go “oooohhhh!”
Why It’s Great: Wowie wow wow was this match fun! On one side we have the brash, super-kicking Young Bucks facing the tough-as-nails, suplexing, grappling and kicking duo reDRagon. I really enjoyed the Bucks as cocky brats who back it up in the ring. It felt like they were channeling their inner X-Pac with their crotch chops, but somehow it all works for them. O’Reilly and Fish are such old school bad-asses. They are like Arn and Tully meets the Midnight Express with some MMA thrown in. The interference from MMA fighter Tom Lawler in the beginning worked well and was forgotten once these guys got rolling. The double teams from both wowed, and I bit on every single one of the near falls towards the end. The finish was great with O’Reilly and Fish hitting Chasing the Dragon for yet another two count only for O’Reilly to immediately go back into the arm bar for the dramatic tap out and the titles. This match isn’t a spot fest; it told a real story and escalated the spots as the match went in one of the most unique, intense tag team matches I can recall seating. I want to see so much more from both of these teams!
#12. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kota Ibushi
Back to Yokohama Arena (NJPW) May 25, 2014
What It’s All About: This is another match from two guys who I got a glimpse of when watching “Wrestle Kingdom 9”, and was impressed by both. Ishii is basically just a walking badass, and exudes toughness from the moment we see him emerge to walk to the ring. Ibushi is an amazing high flyer and great seller. I was really looking forward to see how their styles clashed in this match, which was for the “NEVER Openweight Championship”, which from what I gather is basically a “tough man” championship in NJPW. As far as I can tell there are no rule changes for matches concerning the NEVER title; rather it’s more of a signal that there is a brutal match on the way. And indeed there would be…
Spot of the Match: This match’s praise, like that of Tanahashi vs. Shibata, comes mainly for the stiffness and brutality of the work put in by both men. There are a couple high-flying moments from Ibushi, including an amazing-looking moonsault from the top rope to the outside. The move really stood out a lot more in this match, which was mostly about hard striking. But the move that “wow’d” me even more was an amazing kick delivered by Ibushi where he basically does a 360 flip in the air and connects with Ishii’s head. I had to literally go back and watch the move again to make sure I really saw what I thought I saw.
What Could Have Been Better: My only minor complaint is that, at times, Ishii’s forearms didn’t look very impressive. This is a complaint I have with a lot of the NJPW “forearm striking” – where they often look like they are being casually laid into the opponent without really doing any damage. This was even more apparent to me in this match due to how realistic and stiff the rest of the striking in the match was, which made any weak forearms stand out even more.
Why It’s Great: This is a match that seems like a clash of styles on paper, but Ibushi decided to play Ishii’s game in his pursuit of the NEVER title, and matched him strike for strike, blow for blow, nasty headbutt for nasty headbutt in this absolutely brutal match. There were a couple spots that seemed “blown” and that resulted in Ibushi landing in uncomfortably awkward spots, but I think they actually ended up helping the match, as Ibushi’s selling only further played into the brutality. I could totally buy that these guys were so exhausted from beating each other that it affected their ability to hit their big moves. The numerous lariats – a favorite in NJPW – were a thrill to watch as the match raced to the finish. You could see a bloody Ishii eventually just say “You know what, FUCK THIS GUY” and finally just demolish him with his brainbuster to put an end to the brutality. The doctors attending to both men after the match really helped sell the brutality even after the bell. This match raised the stock of Ishii and even more so Ibushi in my eyes, and any match that can make both guys look even better coming out of it than they did looking in his to be considered great.
#11. Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena
Summerslam (WWE) August 17, 2014
What It’s All About: This is a match which I witnessed live, and the live experience probably adds to my enjoyment of it. I can’t recall a main event talent like John Cena ever being squashed in such a manner. While almost everyone expected Brock Lesnar to take the title here, nobody expected such a one-sided match and the absolute destruction of the legitimate “face of the WWE.”
Spot of the Match: Can 16 German suplex tie for “Spot of the Match?” I’ll try to be more decisive, and pick Brock’s Undertaker Situp following the F-5. He truly put himself over at a “Beast” with the insane look on his face and the cackling that ensued. He then gets up and does his warm-up “dance” and taunts Cena, who just looks like his spirit has been completely crushed as he sits in the corner wondering what he can possibly due to stop Lesnar. Just amazing stuff.
What Could Have Been Better: I suppose I could say I was hoping for a more competitive and exciting match, but that would have defeated the purpose and effectiveness of this match. We did get that slightly more competitive match at Night of Champions, which I enjoyed before the interference finish ruined it, but even with a clean finish I would have hate to rate this higher. Honestly, for what they were trying to accomplish with this match, it was done perfectly. How about: “I wish there were 21 German Suplexes” so Heyman could somehow use that to play into the “21-1” meme.
Why It’s Great: Brock was absolutely masterful in delivering the beating of a lifetime to Cena, and played up the role of evil, maniacal monster the entire time. The effectiveness of the “little stuff” from Brock cannot be overstated here. Brock’s facial expressions, his cackling, his berating of the ref to ask Cena if he wanted to quit, the taunting – it was just masterful. Brock reacted to Cena’s defiance with more rolling F-5’s followed by a “ask him now” to the ref was just awesome. Cena’s selling of how overwhelmed he was, while still maintaining his fighting spirit and will to win were an essential part of this as well. Even his STF looked legit for once when he finally was able to get Brock into the submission. But this did nothing more than anger The Beast, who dragged Cena’s corpse up for one final F-5 and the title. The most-lopsided main event in WWE history, and arguably one of the most entertaining. This will be difficult to rank, as I could see it ranked lower than many matches here but could also envision an argument for the #1 spot. I guess y’all will have to stay tuned to this series to find out where it ends up on my list!
Well that’s it for Part 3! 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 dig into the Top Ten by looking at Matches #10-6. Check out the list at Voices of Wrestling if you want to do your homework ahead of time.