The year 2014 was an unbelievable one for wrestling, from great matches, more exposure for companies across the country/the world and once-in-a-lifetime moments and experiences. What you’re about to read is the best of the best.

Our voters have done the work, researched, re-watched, written and argued their case. This is the end result of all that hard work, all that time and all the commitment — these are the top 10 matches of 2014.

Before we get into the countdown, if you’re new to this countdown, be sure to check out the rest of our list: http://www.voicesofwrestling.com/category/columns-2/2014-match-of-the-year/

Quickly, here’s how the voting works as well as who voted in this year’s poll.

The Voters

Here are the 67 voters (with their credentials), all of whom worked very hard, re-watched dozens of matches, and took their ballots very seriously. We thank all of them for their hard work. We’re proud of who who chose to participate, and we believe this impressive list of names helps give the poll instant credibility:

The Original Four

  • Joe Lanza (@voiceswrestling) – That’s me. Voices of Wrestling Podcast co-host, VOW co-owner, and proud scribe of the WWE Superstars reviews that none of you bother to read. Follow my personal account (@JoeMLanza) for lots of Tweets about TV shows, college basketball, and MLB.
  • Rich Kraetsch (@voiceswrestling) – VOW co-owner, the mild mannered and sane half of the VOW Podcast, and the man who came up with the original idea for this poll.
  • Larry – The VOW PWG reviewer. Not much else is known about this man of mystery other than he is a proud Miami Hurricane who may have met Joe Lanza at an ECW show in 1996 without either of us realizing it.
  • Billy Carpenter (@4CR_Billy) – 4CRwrestling.com/4 Corners Radio

The Rest

How The Voting Works

Each voter was sent a ballot and asked to vote for their ten best matches of the year, ranking them from 1-10. We used the same weighted balloting system used by Major League Baseball for their Most Valuable Player voting, with a first place vote worth 14 points, and a descending 9-8-7… scale from there.

The points for each match are then added, with any ties broken in the following order:

  • 1.) Most total votes
  • 2.) Match which received the highest singular vote on any ballot

As an example, if two matches are tied in points, with one match appearing on more total ballots, it will not require the second step tie breaker. The match appearing on more total ballots would place higher.

If two matches are tied in points, and remain tied by appearing on the same number of ballots, the match with the highest singular vote will win the tiebreaker.

Each voter was also encouraged to add short blurbs explaining why they voted for each match. These blurbs are what will give our articles flavor as we release the results.

Any worked match on earth from December 1, 2013 – December 31, 2014 was eligible. We chose to use the Observer calendar (December ’12 – November ’13) last year because we realized that many potential voters work very hard all year compiling lists of their favorite matches based on that time frame for WON Awards purposes. In an era where a large chunk of wrestling footage is now available either live or with very short turn around, we are moving away from the Observer calendar and towards a standard 12-month January – December voting period. The 13-month year was necessary this year in order to include December 2013 matches that were ineligible last year.

Our long term goal is to become the most comprehensive, inclusive, and respected MOTY poll in all of wrestling, and to continue to cross promote the great ventures of our voter pool while hopefully exposing fans to matches that they otherwise never would have discovered.

It’s time to reveal which matches were the best of 2014. In a series of articles that will follow over the next week, we will reveal the matches that finished 120-51, 50-26, 25-11 and 1-10.

10

Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tomoaki Honma
August 3
G1 Climax – Night 8 (NJPW)
86 total points (1 first place vote)

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x22ston_g1-climax-24-block-a-match-katsuyori-shibata-vs-tomoaki-honma_sport

“For all the build of “who will be the guy” to face Styles for his title, the real drama for many audiences during this year’s G1 was “Would Honma get a win.” While he didn’t, no match gave Honma as much a chance to shine as the ultimate underdog than versus the vicious offense of Shibata.”

-Jeff Hawkins

“This match was just a little over 10 minutes but this was one of the most amazing 10 minute matches you will ever see because from bell to bell this was complete warfare. Honma is such a great opponent for someone like Shibata as he can take every beating you can give him and he just keeps coming back for more then getting his shots in whenever the opportunity came. The stretch run was really fun as it looked like Honma may steal one away from Shibata before he would get crushed. This was the type of match that would’ve made Yuki Ishikawa & Daisuke Ikeda proud.”

-Kris Zellner

“No match this year told a better story from bell to bell. Even without watching previously it was obvious that Honma was the underdog who would never ever quit, and that Shibata was the merciless assassin who would kill you if that’s what it took to make you give up. By the end of the match I was so invested in Honma pulling off the upset that I found myself screaming profanity at the tv when he lost, yet being happy for Shibata who instantly became someone I wanted to watch as much of as possible. This wasn’t a huge match like Nak/Okada, or a hossfight to the death like Goto/Ishii. This was a first round NCAA tournament game, where some team with multiple directions in its name hangs tough with the powerhouse school until the very end, only to come up just short. By halftime you love that school you’ve never heard of, and at the final buzzer you tip your hat to big time college for never letting the pressure of the upset possibility get to them.”

-Sean Flynn

“Tomoaki Honma, despite losing every one of his 2014 G1 matches – a tournament he was placed in simply due to a Kota Ibushi concussion – was, along with Tomohiro Ishii, one half of the most outstanding in-ring pair of the entire tournament. Crowds adored Honma throughout the later days of July and early August, and with losses accumulating throughout, they only got surprisingly more into him with each passing night – and fans couldn’t wish for Honma’s G1 victory to come any more than on August 3rd against Katsuyori Shibata. Honma fought the younger, faster, more highly skilled Shibata to the end in an epic death fight of a match, the finish came at the right time, but unfortunately the wrong man went over considering the match in a vacuum – had Honma bested Shibata on the eight night of the G1, Shibata/Honma would be discussed as an all-time five star classic, and even still, it was arguably the greatest match to come out of 2014.”

-Ryan Clingman

“No match in 2014 made me more excited than this one. I was jumping up and down the second time I watched it. Some people don’t like the finish, and while it was disappointing Honma never got his big win, what is ultimately more valiant than fighting your heart out in a war you’ll never win?”

-Joe Gagne

“The G1 Climax is booked and laid out so meticulously that calling an audible on a finish is damn near impossible. However, this is the match that a change should have been made, because Honma and Shibata worked the crowd into an absolute frenzy that will be almost impossible to duplicate. Honma was booked to lose every one of his G1 matches, and he did, however this was the night that the people were ready to see him get the upset victory. Still, the match was an all-out war and the best 11 minute match you are going to see anywhere.”

-Ben Carass

“It was clear to me that one Honma match had to be in my top 10. After thinking about it for about 30 seconds I was sure which one it had to be: Honma vs. Shibata. Not only was this a breathtaking hard hitter, but it was the match that had my believing in Honma the most. I was so sure this would be his one G1 victory and every time he came close I was at the edge of my seat. I couldn’t even be mad in the end when Shibata won, because it was just so damn good.”

-STRIGGA

“Honmania hit its peak in this match, as the Osaka crowd was fully behind Honma and even believed he could defeat Shibata. Shibata brilliantly stopped Honma at every turn, only for him to bounce back up and continue gleefully attempting Kokeshis. The Shibata backhand slap into Honma’s jumping Kokeshi was glorious to behold.”

-Oliver Court

“I loved watching the 2014 G1 Climax because it featured a ton of fresh matchups in front of hot crowds in compact matches. Of all the matches that featured that formula, Shibata and Honma managed to have the best one. Shibata excels in the G1 because his style matches up so well with the previously described formula. He works fast and hits hard, and that style loses its “punch” so to speak over the course of longer matches. Honma replacing Kota Ibushi proved to be a blessing in disguise in a variety of ways, and he probably ended up being the MVP of the whole tournament. The only way this match (and his G1 run in general) could have been better is if NJPW had Honma go over here. Shibata didn’t need the win, and Honma winning this one probably would have gotten the biggest reaction of the whole tournament.”

-TJ Hawke

“Honma had a fantastic showing in the G1, in spite of failing to win a single match, and for my money this was the pick of his matches. Shibata has a lot of support from the crowd, but in Osaka they wanted nothing else but to see Honma pick up the win. The resulting match was as hard-hitting as you’d expect, but I loved Honma’s ability to frustrate Shibata by not being drawn into his strike battles and the crowd’s huge reactions for every near-fall.”

-SenorLARIATO

“I’d nominate Honma’s entire G1 run if I could, Honma’s face post Nagata slap deserves a spot on this vote alone. Honma put on one of the great hopeless underdog performances all tournament and it all built up to this. He was 0-6 and the tournament was nearing the end. Ishii showed us last year that underdogs can score massive wins against big opponents like Tanahashi and Shibata. If he was going to get a big win, this was it. Everyone knew it. Everyone wanted Honma to get this. Honmania was running wild. This is basically this years Ishii vs Shibata in terms of fast-paced, hard hitting action between a murder

That aside, the face chop to leaping Kokeshi spot is one of the best moments all year, bar none.”

-CJ Roy

9

Tomohiro Ishii vs. Hirooki Goto
November 8
Power Struggle (NJPW)
95 total points (1 first place vote) 

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x29nd88_never-openweight-championship-match-tomohiro-ishii-c-vs-hirooki-goto-11-8-14_sport

“Ishii is a master at making his matches look like believable fights that both men are trying their hardest to win, which no doubt a rarity on the US scene. This was total brutality: chops, elbows, forearms, lariats, kicks, headbutts. I don’t want to hear the spurious, “two guys just hitting each other with no psychology” line. You want psychology? How about Ishii working on a separated shoulder and still fighting his ass off to defend his title?”

-Ben Carass 

“There’s nothing fancy here. It’s a recipe that works and doesn’t need any tinkering. Two bulls throwing bombs in front of a red hot Sumo Hall crowd. Ishii is the gift that keeps on giving.”

-Alan4L

“Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii are two of the best wrestlers in the world for these types of matches. They’re two popular guys who hit hard, and aren’t afraid to put their bodies on the line. The exchanges between these two men were highly intense, with both guys trading lariats, kicks, headbutts, and neckbreakers in dramatic fashion. Ishii and Goto don’t have the most diverse move set (Ishii especially), and the moves used in this match don’t sound that exciting, but it’s the pure intensity that both guys bring to them that makes it so entertaining.”

-Eddie Burke

“What an amazing display of toughness. By this point in the year, Ishii was ready to break in half. Among his grocery list of injuries was his separated shoulder, which was put to the test in this seventeen minute classic. He and Goto never left the ring. They stood nose-to-nose. They fought to see who the tougher man was. I use the term fought on purpose, instead of “wrestle”. Ishii knows he isn’t the greatest technician on the roster. He didn’t try to work the arm of Goto, he tried to knock him down for the three count. When you step into Ishii’s element, you better be prepared for a fight. That’s exactly what this was and it delivered to the fullest extent.”

-Case Lowe

“2014 was a year that saw a wealth of potential match of the year candidates produced worldwide, many equal in layout quality and execution. Consequently, there was no single bout that truly stood taller than all others as in years prior. However, where many matches equaled each other in work alone, Tomohiro Ishii and Hirooki Goto in the Osaka Bodymaker Coliseum bested every match-up I saw in 2014 in a vital department – crowd heat. It wasn’t since the heyday of All Japan, or the glory days of Pro-Wrestling NOAH, that I saw a crowd of any sort rumble in the manner that the Bodymaker did on November 8th; it was a feature all but extinct from current pro-wrestling. But, Ishii and Goto managed to, through one of the most immaculately laid-out bachi bachi wars I saw all year, capture some of that All Japan magic and produce not only one of the most memorable matches of 2014, but also the very best.”

-Ryan Clingman

“I wrote about Hirooki Goto in the New Japan eBook and I think this match put Goto over for me big time. Just 20 minutes of two guys locking in and beating the living shit out of each other. Ishii was already on a Wrestler of the Year run (with a shoulder held together with bubble gum and tape) but for me Goto took this match to a new level.”

-Damon McDonald 

“One of my favorite movies in the last few years is “Pacific Rim”. Why? Simple. Giant robots vs. giant monsters in slobberknockers. These two might not have been as large as those robots or monsters, but the level of violence and earth quaking shots was in the same league. Sometimes you just like to see two guys see who can beat the other guy to sleep first.” 

-Sean Flynn

“I was expecting a stiff battle here, without a doubt. Ishii’s been the go to guy for that and Goto can get in a brawl with the best of them. But man, I did not expect what I saw here. It was so reminiscent of the first Shibata and Ishii match where they just destroyed each other forever. It was the same here, and seeing stiff shot after stiff shot was amazing to witness. A classic, stiff brawl this was.”

-Bryan Rose

“Brutal…brutal match. (That’s always a good thing, right?)”

-Jason Felix

“Tomohiro Ishii had an amazing 2014, winning his first ever title in New Japan and putting on a great performance in the 24th G1 Climax, but perhaps the match that most exemplified Ishii’s strengths was this absolute war against Hirooki Goto. At times it was almost too uncomfortable to watch, knowing how banged up Ishii was after the G1, but part of Ishii’s appeal is the fire and determination he shows and the crowd have responded to it in a big way this year. Goto, meanwhile, often feels like something of a forgotten man in the mid-to-upper echelons of New Japan’s roster, but this was a match to remind everyone of the potential Hirooki Goto still possesses.”

-SenorLARIATO

“If you want two men brutalizing each other with vicious lariats, forearms, headbutts and whatever else is in their arsenal then this is a dream match for you. A real fight feel where someone spitting up blood will make you uncomfortable if you are not a fan of this style. Give me your best shot and I will repay in kind tenfold. 2 warriors decimating each other for 18 minutes, it’s not pretty, it’s not technical and some may be turned off by this but for 2 men who are willing to destroy themselves for our entertainment you cannot but be amazed by their effort. This match cemented Ishii as Wrestler Of The Year for me while Goto is stuck in the challenger role he knows so well, it’s just bad he excels at it.”

-Rob Barry

“This was the match that Ishii vs. Makabe should have been at Wrestle Kingdom. Everything was stiff and loud and looked painful as hell, and the crowd was losing its mind for the entire thing. Both men were on point and looked like the toughest motherfuckers on the planet. Ishii rocked an unforgettable headbutt and powerbomb. Goto unleashed what might have been the most cringe-inducing lariat of the year about half way through the match, bringing Ishii down hard as the disgusting slap rang through the arena. There’s not much more to say about this, but that’s the appeal of this kind of over the top, head-on collision. This was a tremendous way to end a year of tremendous performances from Tomohiro Ishii. Now if only he’d take some time off before he loses that arm completely. Jesus, guy.”

-Matt Gerardi

“A brutal match that exploded out of the gate and never slowed down in intensity or excitement. This was 2014’s Ishii/Shibata, if that makes any sense.” 

-Oliver Court

“Something of a structuralist commentary on Western criticism of Japanese wrestling itself, this match pitted two stiff, strong style wrestlers in a match where both refused to sell for the other until they legitimately couldn’t any longer, which was, of course, a work. It was genius. And fucking awesome.”

-Josh Katzker

8

Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H
April 6
WrestleMania XXX (WWE)
102 total points (1 first place vote)

“Seeing my favourite wrestler growing up take on my favourite wrestler today was special in itself, and the fact they delivered in such a great manner made it all the better for me. I was slightly worried that the match would be more of a brawl given the storyline behind their match, but after just a few minutes it became clear that they were intent on putting on a more technical match up, much to my delight.

The story of this match was really great as the veteran looked to tame Daniel Bryan by working on his injured shoulder, forcing Bryan to take more risks to help get back into the match. When working on a body part Triple H’s technical attributes really shine through, and the work he did on Bryan’s shoulder was fantastic. And while Bryan didn’t get the same sort of offense in, his flurry of strikes were very well placed throughout the match, and added some great moments throughout the match. This match had everything I wanted to see between these two men.”

-Eddie Burke

“I dislike Helmsley about as much as I dislike anyone in wrestling, but I have to give him a bunch of credit here. He was really nasty tearing at Bryan’s arm, he was really deliberate, showing each part of the application of the hold, it is a really effective performative tactic in a big stage like a Dome. I also thought his cutoffs were really awesome, Bryan is great at working at pace and every time Helmsley would stop him it would be like a car speeding into a wall. I think a lot of that is how great Bryan bumps, he totally wipes himself out on the clothesline and goes really high on the spinebuster, but a big part was knowing the right time to bring the match back down. HHH isn’t very flexible and that made the submission attempts by both guys guys a little awkward, but that is really my only quibble. Totally shocked Bryan didn’t get eaten up here, I knew he was going to win, but I didn’t think he would come out looking good.” 

-Phil Schneider

“A top three HHH match of all time without any doubt and his most selfless performance. Bryan was a made man before WrestleMania 30, but being in the crowd and waiting for the other “shoe” to drop and it never coming was a liberating experience that felt like the restart of a new era of WWE. This match told a great story and wouldn’t have felt out of place on 1980’s NWA tv. That modern classic feel and build along with the excellent performances of both men make it one of the best matches of 2014.”

-Chad Campbell

“This was the match that most people were looking forward to since the Summer of 2013 and these two men did not let anyone down. This was the first match on the card, but you’d think it was the main event. The match and the storytelling was great and was instantly a Match of the Year candidate with the effort these guys put out there.”

-Ryan Davis

“Hunter at his best can still bring it. He brought it with Bryan in this match. A very good match. “

-Michael Anderson

“The culmination of the Daniel Bryan narrative that began at SummerSlam in 2013. This was the money match of WWE’s biggest show of the year, and both Daniel Bryan and HHH delivered. It is no big surprise that Daniel Bryan would wrestle a perfect match, but HHH is just as good here as he dropped the pretenses of overselling a narrative by laying around the apron or in the mat for long periods of time as he has been known to do on occasion. Instead, he keeps up with Bryan’s momentum and there is very little downtime between action. Momentum is ultimately what makes this such a good match as both men were synchronized and running through strings of action in a very fluid way. Daniel Bryan as a wrestler in this specific time period is an athlete of hyper action, and I believe that is what got him over more than anything. He suicide dives through the ropes, he’s constantly running, and hitting missile drop kicks. HHH keeps up with him, and it’s a thing of beauty. The submission maneuvers of each him letting you believe that either man could win add a sense of reality to the match, because HHH could have conceivably won this, and gave us the disaster Evolution main event, instead a running knee ends this and sends Bryan onto the title match that he would later win.”

 -Willow Maclay

“It was a culmination of a year long storyline with Daniel Bryan vs The Authority and Triple H to his credit sold for Daniel Bryan. Stephanie sold the match with her facial reactions very well and the match was technically good.” 

-Danny Kuchler 

“This contest is my unquestioned match of the year, not just for the technical nuts and bolts, but the emotional catharsis. It was Bryan not only proving that his brand of wrestling was not only viable but popular, but it was him kicking and suplexing the boogeyman in the room that said guys like him couldn’t be the ace of WWE. Triple H turned in his best performance in a match since probably his first Undertaker streak match all the way back at WrestleMania X-7 too. He busted his ass to make sure that Bryan looked like a rockstar. All-around, this was the match that defined wrestling in 2014.”

-Thomas Holzerman, or TH if you will

“Daniel Bryan’s victory over Triple H at Wrestlemania was as much about the admission from WWE that they dropped the ball on Bryan and decided to listen to the fans, as much as it was Bryan advancing to the main event of the show against Batista and Randy Orton for the WWE World Title. Anyone who doubted that Hunter would do the job to Bryan here was proven wrong. Using this match to kick off the show was a smart move, getting the crowd into it early and opening things on a positive note.” 

-Greg Parks

“This might had been the best Triple H match of his career, if not, it’s the best match I can recall since 2001. Stephanie McMahon was an ultra heel in Triple H’s corner, and she really helped make this one a classic. There’s a bunch of neat things you don’t normally see in the WWE, like a Tiger Suplex. Triple H actually felt like the cerebral assassin in this one, doing the little things right. The story was almost perfect for the overall theme of WrestleMania, and this can go down as the second best WrestleMania opener in history, behind Owen Hart vs. Bret Hart.”

-Steven Graham

“There are few things that I popped for in wrestling this year as much as I did for Triple H pulling out a Tiger suplex. This was easily my favorite WWE pay per view match of the year. Bryan really brought the best out of Triple H.”

-Kelly Harrass 

“A great part of DB’s journey and this was step one for tonight. He also had a 3 way later. This match was wrestling while his main event was sports entertainment. What a great story and made you proud to be a fan.” 

-Pete Schirmacher

“Let’s be honest, this is all one giant gauntlet match. First HHH went out tapping to Bryan in a match we all feared could end in the worst of ways. Then Bryan beat cleanly the returning muscle bound legend and the favorite son. Short of then somehow winning against The Rock I can’t think of a way that WWE could have put him over more that night in New Orleans. Yes everything went to hell after that, but during those two matches from the first bell to Bryan raising the belts it was damn near flawless on the biggest stage of all.”

-Sean Flynn

“When discussing all-time great openers, Daniel Bryan and Triple H’s show opening bout from WrestleMania 30 certainly needs to be in the discussion. Granted, the stakes were higher than your normal show opener, but the match was a great example of how to put together an epic match without emptying the entire bag of tricks. While the match had the structure and feeling of a classic Bryan match, the often-derided Triple H was terrific in adapting to Bryan’s flavor of wrestling. This might have been the best match and performance of Triple H’s career. The two wrestlers created doubt to what should have been an obvious conclusion and in the process wrestled the WWE’s best match of 2014.

-Paul Cooke 

7

Tetsuya Naito vs. Tomohiro Ishii
February 11
New Beginning in Osaka (NJPW)
102 total points (1 first place vote) 

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1bvqqa_tomohiro-ishii-vs-tetsuya-naito-njpw-the-new-beginning-in-osaka-2014_sport

“Ishii’s best matches are generally those when his opponent wrestles to his strengths, and that’s exactly what Tetsuya Naito did when he took the fight to Ishii for over 20 minutes. The story of Naito standing to-to-toe with Ishii was excellent, as they engaged in some great exchanges throughout the match. 

Some matches can suffer from an over reliance on near falls for drama, but in this case the close two counts simply added to the already terrific action. Every kick out was met with a thunderous roar from the Osaka crowd, with each one getting more and more engaging as the bout went on. Between the good story, dramatic near falls, and excellent action, everything between these two men just fell into place.”

-Eddie Burke

“The first of a trilogy of brilliant battles between the rising darling and commercial failure of 2013 is a clinic in smart work. Naito is meant to be the face, but Osaka hates his guts. Naito curls his lip, sneers back into the darkness and works with the enmity, gutsily flipping the dynamic and turning a match for the company’s tertiary title into grinding ball of tension. Ishii’s stellar 2014 begins here, always hard, always working novel variations to get to his undeniable stuff. At one point this felt like #1. In most years it would be.”

-Fujiwara Armbar

“Tomohiro Ishii defeated Tetsuya Naito to become the new NEVER Champion, and when they were done they hit the clubhouse as the early leader for the 2014 MOTY. This was a 24-minute battle that felt gritty and real. Brutal chops, elbows and head butts along with your usual lariats and such were plentiful; but the big thing was Naito using a German suplex and Ishii selling it as if his arm was being ripped off. From beginning to end I was glued to this match, the crowd fell in love with the match and cheering both wildly by the end of it all. I loved this, and while early, I feel it has a set the bar for the MOTY stuff in 2014.”

-Larry Csonka

“This match was a ***** match, if I did star ratings. This told the story of New Japan’s continual underdog finally getting the big win. Naito was game for a fight and he did everything in his power to make Ishii in to a star, which he did. Naito elevated himself in this match (in my eyes) from a guy I didn’t care for to one of the best in the world. This is one of the better matches I’ve ever seen. Make sure to watch it before you die. In fact, watch this entire feud. It is unquestionably the Feud of the Year. The series of three matches that these two had are neck and neck with the Flair v. Steamboat and Okada v. Tanahashi feuds for best Trilogy matches within one year.”

-Jason Felix

“Tomohiro Ishii defeated Tetsuya Naito to become the new NEVER Champion, and when they were done they hit the clubhouse as the early leader for the 2014 MOTY. This was a 24-minute battle that felt gritty and real. Brutal chops, elbows and head butts along with your usual lariats and such were plentiful; but the big thing was Naito using a German suplex and Ishii selling it as if his arm was being ripped off. From beginning to end I was glued to this match, the crowd fell in love with the match and cheering both wildly by the end of it all. I loved this, and while early, I feel it has a set the bar for the MOTY stuff in 2014.”

-Jeff Hawkins

“Holy hell, this was great. Ishii acted like an unbreakable wall that kept challenging Naito to bring it. Just when it looked like Naito would answer the call, Ishii proved himself to be that unbreakable wall in winning the NEVER Openweight Title.”

-Rob McCarron

“2013 saw the elevation of Tetsuya Naito into the main event scene fall relatively flat. 2014 saw him embrace his role as an upper mid-carder and as a result, he had the best year of his career. His innate ability to construct matches at the highest level was evident all year, highlighted by his matches early in the year with the most unlikely sympathetic heel, Tomohiro Ishii. The dynamic of the Osaka crowd, the depth of match construction, and the flawless execution make this one of the best matches of the year and both of their careers.” 

-Larry

“During the annual heavyweight multi-man tags as part of the annual Best of the Super Juniors tournament of 2012, Naito flared into the main event spotlight with blow-away heated performances, teaming with bitter partner, Hiroshi Tanahashi. Unfortunately, Naito’s then building momentum was halted due to a leg injury, and upon his return, whilst pushed like a star, wasn’t reacted to like one. Naito’s spark had dwindled even after winning the 2013 G1 Climax. However, it was in the first half of 2014 that with a series of headbutts, elbows, screams, and oodles of fighting spirit that Tomohiro Ishii reignited Naito’s star flame, making not only for a more popular Naito, but also the very best in-ring series of the year, a series that found its zenith on February 11th in Osaka.” 

-Ryan Clingman 

“Tetsuya Naito has to thank Tomohiro Ishii for saving his main event career. This match kicked off an epic trilogy that one could argue has saved Naito’s career as a legitimate threat. This was just another example of Tomohiro Ishii being the most outstanding wrestling in the world.” 

-Case Lowe 

“Great pacing with a strong build in the kick-off singles match for the 2014 Match of the Year. Ishii got to the next level in winning the title and Naito’s spot on the card was pretty much saved. I liked that on the second exchange of elbows and strikes Naito chest-bumped his way out of it. Then when the third exchange came they both fell to the mat from exhaustion. All the spots were really solid and popped the crowd well, building a sense of drama that made Ishii’s going over that much more effective.”

-Dave Musgrave

“The only five star match of the year. This was compelling bell to bell, from Naito’s early elbow strikes to Ishii’s dome, to Ishii backing Naito into a corner, grabbing him by the hair, getting inches from his face, and screaming (in English) “WHO IS THE CHAMPIONNN!!”, and all the way through to the frenetic & dramatic finishing stretch. Naito lost the match, his title, and later, the feud, but the Ishii matches pumped life back into his career after being voted out of the Wrestle Kingdom main event by the fans.”

 -Joe Lanza 

“I liked Ishii before, but this is the match that turned me into a die-hard Ishii fan. It was also the start of Ishii’s Never title reign. Similar to how Nakamura made the IC title feel just as important to the IWGP heavyweight title, Ishii made the Never title feel much more important than it had any right to be. Takahashi tried to ruin Ishii’s hard work, but thankfully that wrong was righted. Ishii’s title reign included some of the best matches I’d seen all year, and it all started here with Naito.” 

-Zachariah Dominello

 “This match was Ishii’s best of the year. More than simply doling out and taking punishment, here he was motivated by an outright refusal to relinquish the NEVER title to Naito who was equally motivated on the heels of what had been a poor (and somewhat embarrassing) start to the year for him. Both guys were loaded with piss and vinegar here, delivering one of the best matches of the year.” 

-Josh Katzker

“Osaka boos Naito immediately while heaping all of their praises on the cult folk indie hero Ishii. Lariats, Naito works subtle heel and both men sell their injuries like gold. A straight up war with lariats, enziguris, kitchen sinks, brainbusters and multiple 2.9999 counts. Osaka was ready for a title change this night and Ishii earned every bit of it. Counters, stiffness and both men working to absolute exhaustion. This was the match where people turned the corner on both Naito and Ishii. Ishii was finally ready to claim a title and Naito was going to show all of his underrated genius. Both men set out to prove a point to show who could be more brutally brilliant than the other and by the end there was not a doubt in anyone’s mind that both men had strong style spirit down to their souls.” 

-Rob Barry  

6

Atlantis vs. Ultimo Guerrero
September 19
81st Anniversary (CMLL)
172 total points (7 first place votes) 

“I hope that I am not the only person that voted for this match. I don’t want Rob to kick me in the face but this was literally the only Lucha Libre match I watched in all of 2014. I just love the drama and emotion of mask vs. mask matches, yes these guys are older and not as light on their feet as they used to be, but they build up these matches so well and they know just what to do to keep the crowd in their hands. They worked within their limitations and still put on an entertaining match. Work rate wise, not a Top 10 really, but in terms of just the atmosphere and how long it had been built up I thought it delivered.”

-Kevin Wilson

“This match does not really need my blurb, so I will keep it short – if you are someone who thinks the size of the stage matters a ton than this was the match of the year. High drama, high stakes, big moments, very strong wrestling, and a unique atmosphere that we may very well never see again in Arena Mexico. I’m not even a particularly big fan of either guy, and was mildly annoyed by the way the finish was set up, and I still couldn’t see a compelling argument for leaving it out of my top five. Two guys fighting for honor, leaving everything in the ring, and delivering on a decade long build in the process? This match is the way big time wrestling is supposed to be done.”

-Dylan Hales

“I’ve seen these two wrestle A LOT so I thought the match was good and even better than some of their previous matches, but what really made this match was how hot the crowd was and the emotion shown as Ultimo Guerrero had to unmask.” 

-Alfredo Esparza

“Spectacle, from start to finish. Other companies try as they might simply cannot match the heights of a well-built mascara con mascara match. Atlantis and Guerrero aren’t spring chickens, but they still have it in the ring and their years of experience and exploits adds to the gravitas of the match. From the opening introductions to the unmasking and Guerrero’s family bawling uncontrollably at ringside, this is the very definition of pro wrestling spectacle. The match itself is great, but this is a case of the complete package that pro wrestling can present. Everyone does their part, from the fans to the ring announcer. The atmosphere was unparalleled in 2014, and for one tiny moment I felt like an unjaded pro wrestling fan again. I was enthralled by what took place in Arena Mexico this day, and I was reminded of why I ever became a fan of pro wrestling in the first place.”

-Bill Thompson 

“This match would’ve been memorable for just happening, after a decade plus lead up and a cruel tease last year. They could’ve gotten a strong reaction just by doing the same basic match they’ve done countless times before. Atlantis and Ultimo Guerrero instead pushed themselves to new heights, drawing off the crowd and the emotion of the night to put together a match that’ll be remembered as among the best in the history of Arena Mexico. The match came off well on internet/TV, but it felt even more important in the building. Nothing could capture the feeling of being there for the post match unmasking or the shower of coins being thrown into the ring in appreciation of the match. This is a feud I’ve been following since day 1 and I actually got to see it end, so it means more to me than people coming in to it blank and I’m more willing to overlook the technical flaws, but this definitely came off as the best match of the year to me.” 

-thecubsfan

“I’m not sure whether it is due to my current taste in wrestling or due to some of the changes I’ve gone through in the past 365 days, but a big theme of my list was closure.

This match tackled that theme better than any other this year. It was the only CMLL show I saw live this year, as I wasn’t too familiar with lucha at the time. Even then this match completely entranced me. Mexico has greatest fans. And the best atmosphere, and this match showed how much ceremony and history can add to match. A feud that has been years in the making finally came to a close. And when it did, there wasn’t a dry eye in the arena. The best wrestling matches can make a fan out of someone without any real context. This match is what made me pay more attention to lucha. I had to give it #1 because of that.”

-Dante Kinney

“A mask is your livelihood in Mexico. This match was years in the making and matched an emotional peak that is rare in the history of pro wrestling. Grown men and women alike crying in the crowd at the culmination that was in question on the day of the show. Wrestling has the ability to reach deeper levels of complexity with special stipulations put into place. This match hurdled over all of those parameters and felt like a draining experience that is a lifetime memory.”

 -Chad Campbell

“In this case, it’s impossible to separate the context of the match from the match itself, which is what elevates it from a well-worked lucha match to a truly special bout worthy of a Match of the Year list. The urgency is palpable, and the overwhelming emotion of Guerrero losing his mask in front of his weeping family elevates this from match to moment.”

-Jeff Martin 

“Wow. Totally exceeded my expectations. Really felt like a classic mascara contra mascara match. The stakes felt really high, two huge stars wagering their masks, which made every near fall huge. Ultimo Guerrero was throwing huge bombs, and Atlantis was trying to survive and catch him with the Alantida, there was a great moment where Guerrero hits the superbomb, rushes in an gets caught with the Altantida, only to have Atlantis collapse against the ropes unable to hold him. I didn’t love the finish with UG hitting his reverse superplex, which is always a kill shot, only to get two, and then get caught in the Alantida, almost felt like Atlantis no sold it a bit. This was a superhero in a mask match, so I forgive it a bit, but I thought it was slightly abrupt. Guerrero’s career match, everything he did seemed like it was done with more force and intensity, he knew he was losing his mask and he wanted to go out on top. Atlantis is such a great big match worker, he has tremendous timing and presence, he is the Idol of the Children and fights like losing will be breaking the hearts of little kids. Postmatch is great with UG surrendering his mask while his family is sobbing and the crowd is throwing money” 

-Phil Schneider 

“A rating or placement on a list of the best of the year could not possibly do this match justice. It is all that lucha is, in its importance, pageantry, and tradition. A rivalry that transcends the two competitors culminating into this surreal spectacle and one of the most emotional moments you will ever witness in professional wrestling. Sandwiched between it, is a truly great match that is a worthy blow off to a match that drew the largest gate in the history of lucha libre.”

-Larry

 “This match is what pro wrestling is about. Masks were on the line in this Best of 3 Falls match, so everything that was done was an attempt at a pin or submission. There wasn’t any goofiness, there wasn’t any wasted time, but there was plenty of emotion. In the end, Ultimo Guerrero lost the mask, but the two made history.” 

-Rob McCarron

“A classic? Does anything else even need to be said? I was there live and have never experienced anything so emotional. I even enjoyed the first two falls more than others as they did finishes that actually played off their rivalry like UG countering a roll-up CMLL tecnicos always use to win & Atlantis using UG’s own submission on him. The teased Atlantida’s in the 3rd fall were great & when he finally dropped to his knees I’ll never forget the arena exploding. It will take a lot to top this as the Match of the Decade for fans in Mexico.”

-RobViper

“I don’t watch a ton of lucha so I wasn’t familiar with the overarching story between these two, which seems to go back for a while. I knew this match was important, though, because it’s for the mask of two of the biggest stars in Mexico. So they had their match, and at a technical standpoint it was pretty good, but nothing amazing. But what made this match was the tension, especially during the third fall. Every pinfall attempt mattered. And when Ultimo Guerrero got pinned people responded by CRYING. The emotion in that match was intense, something that can’t be duplicated for a long time, and that is what made the bout amazing.”

-Bryan Rose

“When a crowd is brought to TEARS because they were so invested in the two wrestlers wrestling for their masks was just incredible. The crowd was hot the entire time and they wrestled a good match.” 

-Danny Kuchler 

“This was one of the most emotional matches I have seen in the last 20 years as everything involved in this match was done to almost perfection. The fact that you had fans who hadn’t been to live shows in 10 years or more came back to see this match to see these two legends put their masks on the line was fantastic and I saw quite a few of them say on social media that they didn’t need to come back because what they saw could never be topped. This started with the introductions which were amazing and set the tone for the match as both men put it all on the line to keep the treasure they valued the most. UG was trying to put Atlantis away as he was throwing some bombs but Atlantis would survive this onslaught most of the time but in the 3rd fall it looked like UG had him after the Guerrero Special (reverse superplex) which was his surefire finisher but Atlantis popped right up and caught him with the Atlantida which was Atlantis’ surefire finisher and got a quick submission. The finish felt abrupt yes but it played right into the story of Atlantis as the Idolo of the Ninos fighting back from whatever evil came his way. The postmatch was amazing as the cameras went right to UG’s family who were not clued into the finish and they were losing their minds crying over the finish which is something that can only happen in Mexico. UG taking off his mask crying as the fans threw in money before Atlantis went over and hugged him was also an amazing visual and the perfect end to the Match of the Year.”

-Kris Zellner

“When people say emotion is gone from wrestling or that current wrestling does not produce instant classics anymore, then those people have not seen Atlantis-Guerrero.”

-Steven Graham

“This is everything a main event match in wrestling should be– high stakes, genuine emotion, an atmosphere of pageantry, and a compelling in-ring story. The post-match reactions and promos gave it all added depth that American fans wish they could get. Were there better “in-ring” matches this year? Yes, especially in New Japan. But, there wasn’t a better overall package for a singular match in professional wrestling this year.”

-Jeff Hawkins

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