As I explained in Part 1, 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.
Without further adieu, I now bring you Matches #20-16, starting with….
#20: Charlotte vs. Natalya
NXT Takeover, May 29, 2014
What It’s All About: Two one-named Divas, two second generation relatives of Hall of Fame legends, one NXT title. Possibly the two best female wrestlers in WWE put on a clinic in the finals of the NXT Women’s Championship tournament, with their famous forebearers, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and Bret “Hitman” Hart at ringside.
Spot of the Match: There were lots of great holds and reversals and counterholds in this one, really putting both women over as masters of their craft. To me, the spot that stands out the most is Charlotte applying the figure four while she slides to the outside and continues to hold it for the ref’s five count. A unique use of the move that looking back it’s sort of shocking her father never tried (that I know of – if I’m wrong send me the footage!)
What Could Have Been Better: While the chain wrestling was great, I think the match could have used a little more time and had a few more high impact sequences mixed in. I love body work as much as anyone this side of Parv, but a match that had all of the elements of an epic title match between the emphasis on the belt and the great antics by (mostly) Flair and Hart at ringside really could have used a little more of an epic execution. Great match, but I felt it needed just a tick more.
Why It’s Great: The phrase “wrestling clinic” is such a cliché that it barely seems to have any meaning anymore, but if it were ever appropriate it would be here. These two really wrestled for 90% of the match, something that is rarely seen in the “Sports Entertainment” era. Natalya really did a great job of helping put over Charlotte as being able to match her – quite literally – move for move. Top it all of with the presence and of Hart and Flair, along with the post-match celebrations and shows of respect, and the overall package is superb. Unquestionably the best Divas match of the year (with a shout out to Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks from R Evolution). These two both belong on the big stage.
#19: The Shield (Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose) vs Evolution (Triple H, Randy Orton, and Batista)
Extreme Rules, May 4, 2014
What It’s All About: The future of the WWE faces off against the past (and some might say present, in the case of Orton.) These two teams had the aura of hated rivals, and their pre-match standoff would have felt much more epic if it hadn’t been surpassed earlier that year by the Wyatts-Shield pre-match standoff. Say what you will about Hunter – he and his Evolution co-horts put the Shield boys over strong here, and brought us a great six man match along the way.
Spot of the Match: It would be pretty hard to justify giving this to anything other than Rollins’ dive off the stage onto Hunter, Orton and Ambrose. Unlike a lot of these types of spots, this one really did feel like it came “from out of nowhere”, as they did a great job of hiding Rollins and focusing on the action at hand until the moment he leaped onto the floor. All four of them sold the dive perfectly, and if that weren’t enough, it played right into the finish of the match with Reigns being left alone in the ring with Batista.
What Could Have Been Better: It feels very strange to make this criticism, especially since I have really tired of the WWE-style “brawl through the crowd” over the years, but the brawl in this match was done so well that I actually wanted more of it. I thought we could have gotten just a little more violence leading up to Rollins taking out the rest of the crew before the finish in the ring to juxtapose with the more straightforward tag match we got for the first 2/3 of the match.
Why It’s Great: This was enjoyable on several levels, and it almost felt like two matches in one. We had the first part of the match which was basically a straightforward six man tag match with really great work by all six men. The Shield got to shine, and Rollins and Ambrose got to take turns as face in peril before Reigns finally got the hottest tag of all. Just as it seems we’re racing to our finish as Reigns takes a pedigree and an RKO, we get the distraction as Ambrose does his great table dive which sparks the brawl into the crowd. Unlike many matches of this variety, the brawl portion was done in a logical way that kept the story of the match going. The finish was great, with Rollins’ dive segueing right into Reigns’ comeback and spear of Batista to finish it off. This makes me wish The Shield and Evolution stayed together just a little longer so we could get a few more months of this match in various combinations. I enjoyed the Payback match as well, but this told the more complete story.
#18. Kazuchika Okada vs. Minoru Suzuki
G1 Climax – Night 11 (NJPW), August 8, 2014
What It’s All About: Since I wrote Part 1 of this series I have finally gotten around to watching “Wrestle Kingdom 9” – a show I can’t recommend highly enough – so I am mildly familiar with both of these guys. Okada is considered one of the best wrestlers in New Japan, and he is super over with the crowd. Suzuki comes across as a total badass shoot-type fighter. His battle with Sakuraba at WK9 was impressive, and he would impress even more in this bout with Okada as part of the G1 Climax tournament.
Spot of the Match: When you think of “spots”, a closed fist punch probably isn’t what comes to mind. But New Japan is a different kind of wrestling promotion, where the “no closed fists” rule is enforced and closed fist punches are rarely seen. Instead most competitors batter each other with forearms and slaps to the face. Between the rarity of the closed fist and the building intensity of this match, when Suzuki finally pops Okada right In the kisser the crowd pops huge, and Okada reacts as if his entire family’s heritage was disgraced with this one brutal act. This led directly to the intense finish with Okada finally destroying Suzuki with the Rainmaker lariat.
What Could Have Been Better: This whole “what could have been better” thing seemed like a great idea for this series, but boy is it getting more difficult as I get further down the list. This match really delivered and it’s hard to find many flaws in it. If anything, I’ll say that Okada’s tombstone piledriver to me is a much more devastating looking finisher than his Rainmaker lariat, and I might have preferred the former as the finish of the match, especially considering the constant teases of it throughout. But I also understand that in context, the Rainmaker lariat has been built up as Okada’s Big Finish move, and the crowd certainly buys it as such.
Why It’s Great: This match is absolutely awesome, largely due to Suzuki’s viciousness and all around bad-assery. He looks and acts like a total psycho, taunting Okada with his tongue sticking out and slaps to the face. He’s absolutely vicious in his assault on Okada’s arm, and constantly finds unique ways to return back to it. Okada does a spectacular job selling, and the whole thing builds to a frenzied finish after Suzuki kicks out of the tombstone and cracks Okada smack in the kisser with the aforementioned closed fist. This is my favorite New Japan match I’ve seen to date, but that may not last long, as we move on to…
#17 Ricochet vs. Kushida
Best of the Super Juniors Finals (NJPW) June 8, 2014
What It’s All About: I’ll tell you what New Japan Pro Wrestling and I have in common – our love of tournaments. This match is the finals of the “Best of the Super Juniors” tournament, featuring New Japan stalwart Kushida facing off against Ricochet – who has wrestled all over the world and currently pulls double duty wrestling as Prince Puma in Lucha Underground. These two are both “high flyers” in the sense of what they are able to do athletically, but they are also both very gifted workers full of charisma, and all of their skills would be on full display here.
Spot of the Match: One of Ricochet’s finishers is essentially a “Go to Sleep” to the stomach, and at one point towards the super-hot finish it appears that he’s about to hit it, when Kushida rolls out of it and into another armbar on Ricochet’s brutalized arm. It was such an incredibly smooth transition, something these New Japan guys are especially adept at. It felt like the finish of the match to me after all the focus on Ricochet’s arm, and I was genuinely surprised when Ricochet worked his way out and finished off Kushida for good.
What Could Have Been Better: I feel like I’ve seen the “try everything and then just kick the guy in the head one more time” finish in so many New Japan matches already, and I’m only just becoming familiar with the promotion. Call me old fashioned, but I like when guys win with one of their actual finishers or signature moves. That being said, the kick to the head was devastating, so pardon my nitpicking.
Why It’s Great: Wow. Just wow. These two really BROUGHT it, and kept pace with each other for the entire match. The focus on Ricochet’s arm and his super selling throughout were stupendous. It was never forgotten, and played into almost every movement of this match. The excellent mat work made the high spots feel all the more special and impactful. These two could have just gone out and traded aerial maneuvers and near falls for 20 minutes and put on a great match. But instead of basing a match around those things these two went and put on a real wrestling match that used high spots and near falls as pivot points as opposed to the building the match around them. The result is one of the most captivating, unique matches I’ve seen in a long time.
#16. Virus/Cachorro/Hechicero vs. Negro Casas/Cavernario/Dragon Lee
Super Viernes (CMLL), May 23, 2014
What It’s All About: This takes place smack in the middle of the En Busca tournament, and features some of CMLL’s top talent, from youngsters Hechicero and Cavernario to old hands Negro Casas and Virus. These 6 men put on a high flying, fast-paced extravaganza of a match that pretty much sums up the best of what CMLL and the lucha style has to offer.
Spot of the Match: As with many of the CMLL matches, this is a non-stop spot fest and it’s hard to pick any one sequence. So I’m going to pull a cop-out and award the spot of the match to Cavernario’s entrance. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a wrestling caveman dancing among Mexican go-go dancers.
What Could Have Been Better: The one thing that stands out to me a bit in these CMLL matches is just how disjointed they often feel. The athleticism put on display always impresses, but at times it feels like these guys are trading moves back and forth more than telling a coherent story. I found the finish to be confusing, as we were in the third fall (caida) and saw Cavernario and Virus both seemingly get submissions before Hechicero pins Dragon Lee for the win. It wasn’t clear if there was an elimination aspect that kicked in or if it just wasn’t the legal men who were submitting earlier, but trying to figure it all out definitely pulled me out of the end of the match.
Why It’s Great: Don’t let my criticism fool you; this match is 28 minutes of fun from start to finish and I include the entrances of all six wrestlers in that time span. One thing that stands about to me about CMLL is that the promotion just feels fun. It doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, as we can see with some of the gimmicks and cheesy entrance videos. In a way it just feels so Mexico, and as someone who has spent a good chunk of time south of the border I mean that in a positive way. These guys fly all over the place and put together some of the most mind-boggling exchanges you’ll ever see. Sure, it makes things confusing at times, but it’s that beautiful chaos that makes this match so great.
Well that’s it for Part 2! I hope you’re enjoying 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 #15-11. Check out the list at Voices of Wrestling if you want to do your homework ahead of time.