Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn
NXT ArRival (WWE)
201 total points (4 first place votes)
“In hindsight I think it was this match that got people to start looking at NXT as the second coming of ECW or early ROH or whatever it’s currently seen as. It’s what made people realise that NXT is the best thing WWE does, basically. For it to do that it had to be incredible. And it was.”
“This was just an awesome match, from the story going in to the story they told, the pacing and the overall in ring work and yes the ref bumps, this all worked to get the goal, which was Zayn with the title. They told the story; they completed the journey and delivered excellent wrestling. This is a true MOTY candidate.”
“I didn’t think these two could top their best two-of-three falls epic from the summer of ’13, but the first ever live match aired on WWE Network didn’t just exceed that multi-fall match from last year, it did so by building upon it and using it as a base for the final battle. Great matches don’t happen in a vacuum, and when they are aware of the past, they are elevated. It doesn’t hurt that Zayn may be the best at acting punch-drunk on spaghetti legs as well.”
-Thomas Holzerman, or TH if you will
“This match happened so early in the year, but thankfully it still stood out through the remaining 10 Months of the Year as one of 2014’s best matches. It was awesome when it happened, and it’s still awesome 10 Months after the fact. Sami Zayn is a magical performer, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be a top star on WWE’s Main Roster. Cesaro, on the other hand, proved how awesome he really is, and this match further exemplifies how much WWE has screwed him up following his big win at WrestleMania 30.”
“Cesaro caps off an amazing month with this classic, while Sami Zayn shows he would just be beginning his amazing climb to the top of NXT. This match was the opener on the first NXT live special, and it would set the tone for the developmental promotion for all of 2014.”
“The match that thrust NXT into the forefront and made the Clash of the NXT Champions Events much watch television. Antonio Cesaro versus Sami Zayn was great fundamental storytelling culminating in this great blow off performance.”
“One of my favorite things in wrestling is playing off previous matches, and this one had that in bunches. The best moment of that is Cesaro blocking the tope through the turnbuckles with an uppercut. So cool.
Cesaro continued his great year here and played the rough veteran so well. Sami Zayn could be one of the best babyface workers in history. These two were made to wrestle each other.”
“Zayn and Cesaro are two of the best wrestlers in the world working right now and they proved it here. The match was all about Zayn putting everything that he had out there and being shown by Cesaro that he isn’t ready yet. Zayn may have defeated Cesaro before, but that was when Cesaro didn’t take him seriously. This time both men went in fully prepared and Cesaro was the clear better of the two. Zayn wanted to get Cesaro’s respect and even after losing the battle, he still got it. This is just about as good as wrestling gets in WWE.”
“There was not a match that invested me emotionally in 2014 the way this one did. Zayn, the ultimate babyface, played his role to utter perfection. This is the sort of stuff that should be at Wrestlemania, not, with all fairness to the NXT fans, in front of 300 people. Cesaro was on another planet this night. He was more than just a base for Zayn to flip off of. He was the ultimate bad guy in 2014. He used his size and his experience to overpower Zayn, who just barely came up short.”
“Thee guys really should be at the top of the card for WWE and be career opponents and I hope that does happen. They had the great 2/3 falls match in 2013 (which I got confused with this match when I ran down my 2014 MOTY list on my podcast, a sign of aging). Here, they took everything that worked well in the 2/3 falls match and put it into a straightforward match. Zayn is the top babyface in wrestling and Cesaro in February had one of the best months for anyone this year, with this match a major showcase. Zayn doing his dive through the turnbuckles into the uppercut was the highlight.”
“With the possible exception of Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kazuchika Okada, I defy you to find two men with better in ring chemistry. This was the first live match on The Network, the first NXT match many casual fans had ever seen, and very likely the first exposure to Sami Zayn for thousands of WWE fans. A great first impression for Zayn, as this match set the stage for Zayn’s tremendous year as he reestablished himself firmly among the top five workers in the world.”
“Sami Zayn was firmly entrenched in NXT by this point, while Cesaro was on the rise on the main roster. The story was set up for Sami to hopefully win the big one, but he just couldn’t do it. Each man played off of their past encounters and Sami Zayn was given his brightest spotlight to this point by WWE. In defeat, he came off great while Cesaro emerged as a man who seemed destined for great things on the main roster.”
“It is written somewhere in a holy book that these two are not allowed to have a bad match. After a tremendous series last year the former independent mainstays topped themselves on the first NXT special. Everything you need to know about this match can be captured in the post match handshake. Sami Zayn is panting hard having endured a beating, coming back and coming up a bit short—a year long narrative for him. Cesaro barely broke a sweet but had a weary look in his eye after wrestling the perfect match and still almost losing. It is not get much better than this folks.”
“On one level, this was just an excellent match between two guys who know each other very well from years of working in the indies. This time they were just doing it in front of a new, wider audience. This was also an important match in establishing Sammi Zayn’s character, and kicking off his long journey to the top of NXT.”
“In what was basically a squandered year due to lack of opportunities for the Swiss Superman, the inaugural NXT special was the time he really got to show just how much we’re missing out on. He couldn’t have had a better opponent either, as I really feel these guys are 2 and 3 in the entire company in terms of ring work, behind only Bryan. These guys just meshed perfectly, with Zayn’s boundless underdog charisma and tenacity proving the perfect foil for Cesaro’s inhuman displays of power and him being the best true wrestler in the world. This was the fifth singles match between the two in NXT, one of them being three falls, and it really proved why these two are two of the best in the world at building a series of match. Not only did it not feel repetitive, it built upon those prior matches. Just masterful.”
“Sami Zayn might be the best long program wrestler in the world, and both of his major programs in 2014 paid off with top-10 matches. Zayn’s story ends with him earning Cesaro’s respect, and Cesaro looked like an absolute killer. The fact that this isn’t Zayn’s best match of the year is a testament to just how good of a wrestler Sami Zayn is, and how good NXT’s long-term booking of him has been.”
“Not quite as good as their first match, but this one was so special; the first live NXT match in front of a red hot crowd, with spots that played off of the original match so well.”
“This match had excellent build. It’s best to watch their previous matches leading up to this one to get the whole emotional impact, but it’s even great on standalone. Zayn kicking out after one is something that I’m not a fan of, but this was a brilliantly worked match from both guys. It’s certainly the best NXT match of the year in a year where NXT was very good.”
“Glad I went back to this one because it was even better than I remembered. Felt like the legwork was more or less shrugged off the first time around but this time I totally bought the adrenaline angle. Starts hot, cools off but is still interesting in the middle, then gets hot towards the end. Fantastic. You’ve got some callbacks to the first match with the big dive early on and the jumping DDT that gets snuffed out in this. Like that was the most badass part of the match. Insanity. Then you’ve got the freaky Cesaro strength spots. Loved the set-up to the big swing where Cesaro soaks in the moments prior and gets caught so when he gets another shot he goes right for it. Cesaro looks like a brute and Zayn plays a beautiful underdog.”
“Zayn, and Cesaro were able to show the world what they were made of, and helped usher in NXT’s first special on the WWE Network which was called NXT: Arrival. Amazing action.”
-The PDT Podcast With Rick & Junior
“Two guys who have a history of great matches, this may be their best. Emotional match with Sami and how beloved he is to that crowd as Cesaro just cannot seem to put him away and is so close to getting pinned. He’s the guy in WWE and he is bringing the NXT guy to his level. This is also a special match just for the meaning of the whole WWE Network and being the first live special. There is a lot of pressure in situations where you are expected to put on a ****1/2+ match and they did it with ease. Great use of the ONE COUNT, too.”
“This is the match that brought me back into wrestling. I had been a lapsed fan for a number of years. But I had heard about WWE Network and decided to order the thing and see if maybe I could start to like wrestling again. I was at work and couldn’t watch ArRIVAL as it happened, but I heard all the buzz about this match. I sat down the next day and as I watched it I knew I was hooked. I remembered why I had loved wrestling, why I had been a fan for so many years. Cesaro and Zayn were dynamic wrestlers putting on a dynamic and varied performance. The dance I had known for years was in the capable hands of these youngsters, and I knew that I had caught the wrestling bug once again.”
“The first Ring of Honor match, or American independent rather, that I ever saw was El Generico vs. Claudio Castagnoli in the “Race to the Top Tournament” finals on a DVD I bought on a whim to see what the hype was all about with this “Ring of Honor”. Needless to say I fell in love with the work of these two men then and have followed their careers since. This match was a culmination of everything these two men worked for since that night in 2007. This was the first match to ever stream live on the WWE Network and the WWE could not have picked a better one. Sami Zayn’s “He can’t win the big one” story began on the indies, but for all intents and purposes started here with this match. Zayn put every ounce of sweat and tears in this match and Cesaro hit Zayn with everything he had in his arsenal. This match wasn’t for a title or contendership. It was about Zayn earning Cesaro’s respect and proving that he belongs in the WWE system. Sami Zayn is the best in the world when it comes to selling and creating drama inside of a match. There is NO ONE better than this guy. The selling that Zayn does in this match is utter brilliance. From Zayn collapsing after Cesaro’s brutal uppercuts to Zayn selling his knee as if someone is cutting his leg off with a chainsaw. The match finishes with Zayn receiving the Swiss Death and kicking out at 1, which for my money is the best “kick out at 1” I’ve ever seen with the exception of Nakamura/Ibushi ’13.”
-Taylor C. Mitchell
“Cesaro had an incredible February. His performance in the Elimination Chamber was great and he was made to look like a real threat after great matches with Randy Orton and John Cena. The Cena match in particular was a real stand out moment where he outclasses Cena in every way and only loses due to experience and Cena’s (sorry everyone) ability to never give up. He basically made Cena’s entire slogan make sense as a character attribute for once and it was great.
And yet, the crowning achievement came on NXT with another amazing Sami Zayn rematch in which the two somehow didn’t disappoint after setting the bar so high with their 2/3 falls match.
It’s the #1 Cesaro MotY, endorsed by both members of Push Cesaro, what else do you need?”
Adrian Neville vs. Sami Zayn
NXT Takeover: [R] Evolution (WWE)
248 total points (6 first place votes)
“When wrestling is done right, there’s nothing like it. There’s moments and matches that make you remember why you devote so much of your life to such a stupid endevour. This match was one of those moments I will never forget, one of those moments that makes it all worth it. For those who have been invested in the Sami Zayn/El Generico/Rami Sebei story for years, this was your moment of glory, this was your pay off. Even if you just picked up on Sami Zayn through NXT, you felt the same way, that’s how well done this angle and this match was. The uber babyface Zayn is constantly told he’s too nice to win the big match, he finally snaps at the go-home show and put his career on the line to prove he CAN win the big one. In the match, he dodges every step, jumps over every hurdle and then is met with his own mortality. He has a chance to cheat and win the title, he stars at it, the crowd is begging him to win the right way. Think about that, for all the narrative post-Steve Austin that people want the badass/renegade/take no shit babyface, you have a building of people BEGGING a wrestler to win without cheating, win with honor. Fuck, if that doesn’t get you excited, I don’t know what will. Zayn throws the title down and wins his way making the moment that much more special and that much more important. The technical aspects of the match are perfect and filled with callbacks to each of their previous encounters. Once this was over, I knew it was my Match of the Year and it may be one of my top five matches of all-time. It’s not often I jump up and down and yell when something happens in a wrestling ring anymore — this match made me do that. ”
“2014 was an absolutely fantastic year of pro wrestling. If anyone says they didn’t have some sort of inner struggle in their decision for the #1 match of the year then they’re lying. My tie breaking decision was based on one thing. What match had me the most emotionally invested and still gives me goosebumps when rewatching despite already knowing the result. The story of Sami Zayn having his own inner struggle throughout this match was so, so good. “Can I do this? Should I cheat to win like everyone else? Can I be more vicious than Neville? What do I need to do differently?” These were the questions running through Zayn’s head before and throughout this match. In the closing sequence after Zayn hits the Exploder Suplex into the turnbuckles and he sets up for the Helluva Kick in the corner he slows down, takes a deep breath, wipes his hand over his face, just to make sure he was going to hit Neville with this kick because he knew Neville was at his breaking point and if that boot hits in him in the face then he is done and the NXT Championship title that has eluded Neville for so long is his.
The post-match beat down from Kevin Owens complete with a Power Bomb to Zayn on the apron was the cherry on top. WWE rewarded Independent Wrestling fans on this night and every single one of them was grateful for it.”
-Taylor C. Mitchell
“The story of Zayn in NXT and his run for the title added to the in-ring history of these two led to a masterpiece here. Just a crowd that was so emotionally into this match where you see grown men BEGGING Sami not to turn to heel tactics to win the match. For a guy who wore a mask to much acclaim, he showed incredible facial expressions here. The post match with Owens was absolutely chilling with them hugging and absolutely a surprise when Owens turned at the very last second. Just spectacular.”
“This was such well told story, the crowd were invested in both performers and the match that Zayn & Neville delivered was paced expertly, with some stunning athleticism on display from both men. I feel like the reason this match was so beloved was because it was an organic story, nothing about it was forced and over-complicated and the pay-off was rapturous. The post-match angle was handled so well, with Owens turning on long-time friend/enemy Zayn in the very last moments on air, with the commentary team long signed off and the copyright logo already on screen. Great stuff.”
“Sami wins the big one. Finally.”
-The PDT Podcast With Rick & Junior
“The climax to the story of Sami Zayn went as perfectly as anyone could have hoped. The crown jewel of a consistent NXT product that has been outworking and out shining the min WWE product for most of the year. Zayn finally getting the title, Neville adding layers to his character. The Kevin Owens betrayal. It all went so, so well.”
“So we’ve come to the end of the road and still I can’t let go. Sami Zayn’s year long journey comes full circle. Adrian Neville was brilliant in this match as he never went full heel but was willing to take any means necessary to keep his title. Sami Zayn had to unleash a mean side to show Neville and his doubters that he had that spirit in him. The near falls down the stretch, the counters from both men to each other’s moves was glorious. The fans were fully invested in Sami overcoming his odds and obstacles to finally claim the title they rightfully believed was his. The final close up of Zayn’s face before he nails the Helluva Kick to capture the title and the fans exploding over the victory made this match a classic. This sealed R Evolution as one of the best NXT Clash Of The Champions specials ever. Good for both men who are coming into their primes.”
“This match, the emotion, and the excitement was great for this match. Zayn and Neville tore the house down at Full Sail and performed at the level where I couldn’t stop watching. This match defined what NXT is.”
“Sami Zayn is a special babyface. The crowd is an extension of his self, his boundless energy and optimism. And in this match, Neville works them like he would any of Zayn’s other appendages—slowing the tempo, shutting them up, and sucking the life out of the challenger. Of course, Zayn is too tenacious to let it last. The in-ring work, while not reaching the heights of Cesaro vs. Zayn from NXT Arrival, is as exciting and clean as you’d expect from these two, but it was Sami Zayn’s maturation as a talker (his half of that go-home segment was some of the year’s best mic work) and the perfect booking of their rivalry and Neville’s slow heel turn that built the atmosphere for this contest and made it as huge as it was. It was a testament to the elevatory power of good and simple storytelling, a transformative moment for NXT, the best thing WWE produced all year, and—I’ll admit it—a babyface win that actually had me tearing up. And hey, any match with a ref bump that isn’t immediately followed by me all but slamming my palm through my forehead has to be doing something right.”
“Zayn finallywinning the NXT Championship was a fantastic moment, and it came at the end of an equally fantastic match that played off of Zayn and Neville’s previous matches really well. When I first watched R-Evolution, it was 3 am and I had come home from a drunken night out. I remember reallyloving this match at that time, even though I probably barely remembered any spots at the time. Happily, it was still awesome upon re-watching.”
“This was the perfect end to an incredible story. It’s also the kind of thing that makes it even more frustrating that RAW is a tire fire of a wrestling show, because while they’re dumping gas on the blaze to try to rival Springfield’s iconic monument, NXT is busy producing five star matches and gripping personal feuds.”
“I’m ranking this match so high not just because the ringwork was excellent, but because this was one of the few times in recent memory that I was emotionally moved by WWE. Between the excellent booking of Zayn’s long, difficult, and often unfair road to the title and his undeniable charm and charisma, Sami Zayn’s victory was cathartic. Add to it the new presence, support and eventual turn of his longtime friend Kevin Steen (now Owens), this was easily one of the top moments in professional wrestling in 2014.”
“It’s a mystery how NXT and Raw are a part of the same company. Week after week NXT delivers fantastic wrestling, a variety of engaging characters, and top-notch stories. The toppest notch story being Sammi Zayn’s incredible physical and personal struggle to become NXT champion. Every part it was done to perfection. Zayn’s character development during his journey to the top is a thing of beauty. When a pro graps match can bring me to tears, you know they’re doing something right.”
“The only North American match I have nominated, which is certainly and indictment of the US scene. But that’s a story for another time. NXT is indisputably a better show than Raw and SmackDown and you need look no further than the way Sami Zayn was booked for any proof. Zayn was the quintessential underdog, always coming up short during big matches because he lacked the killer instinct of a champion. Not only was this match tremendous from a technical standpoint, but the storytelling and psychology was simply perfect. It’s extremely rare that we get a WWE match with as much genuine emotion and passion as this.”
“A master class in long term storytelling paying off in a satisfying manner. I just remember how happy everyone on the internet was after the show. This match showed just how great pro wrestling can be when it’s done right.”
“Despite not winning the NXT Championship until the end of the year, NXT in 2014 was all about Sami Zayn. His climb to the title was one of the bright sparks on the brand throughout the year, and his chase came to a brilliant conclusion against Adrian Neville at R Evolution.
One of the best parts of this match was the story that it told. Zayn’s ‘good guy’ personality costing him so many times in the past was a great call back, and really helped intensify the drama in the match. On top of all that, the action itself was fantastic, with both guys pulling out awesome moves, and exchanging in some great spots. This match hit all the right boxes in the finale of their exciting feud.”
“The definitive match of 2014. NXT seamlessly blends the WWE-style with modern Indy wrestling while adding WWE production values to an old school small studio wrestling show of the late 80’s and early 90’s with a hot Indy crowd. The story’s told are basic, mostly ring-based, with weekly TV building up to quarterly big events. It is almost genius if it weren’t so simple. Adrian Neville versus Sami Zayn at [R]Evolution is all that is right about wrestling. Simple storytelling, big match feel, hot crowd, flawless execution, in-match story progression, big moment, a title change, post-match surprise. I was marking out like I was 12-years old again.”
“Every inch of this match played into a story that not only was built up strongly over the previous month, but also culminating almost a year’s worth of Zayn’s fight to the title. To say that Full Sail students saw some great wrestling this year would be an understatement, and Zayn was a big part of much of it.”
“It was the best thing the WWE did all year and I truly believe nothing even comes close – that includes Shield / Wyatt or HHH vs. Bryan at WrestleMania. It speaks volumes about the current state of the WWE, doesn’t it?”
“The best pure babyface in wrestling, presented with a moment to turn his back on his ideals to win the prize he has been chasing fruitlessly for so long, has a second to decide what winning really means. Is winning having your hand raised, or being true to yourself? Oh yeah, the in-ring (and out of ring, and through ring ropes) wrestling was damn awesome too.”
“This is another match where the story played into the match. Sami had never won the big one, so this was a do or die moment for him. Every near fall in the end was amazing because people genuinely wanted to see Sami win. Even when he had the opportunity to smack Neville with the belt, and people were cheering him on to do it, he refused! He wanted to do it the right way, and the did end up winning the title in a great, heated match with lots of passion and emotion. People had been waiting for months for Sami to win the title, and when he finally did it was awesome.”
“Another great story. They laid this match out perfectly for the audience. It was super hot. The right guy one. They didn’t need 2 ref bumps. The angle at the end was an exclamation point.”
“This match was the culmination of Sami Zayn’s 2014. What made this match so great wasn’t just the top notch in-ring work, it was the story that led up to it. Zayn winning the NXT Championship mattered in a way that most championship victories in WWE don’t. There was a year-long buildup to the victory that felt organic. I’m not one of the people that screams the praises of NXT from the rooftops, but this match showed that they’re doing something right in developmental.”
“This was for the NXT Heavyweight Title and was the culmination of a year plus long story for Zayn and his plight to become the #1 guy in the promotion. He fought all the foes that was in his path and while he won some he lost the most important ones especially to his former best friend in Neville. The buildup for this was as good as any match in America this year and the match definitely paid off everything in spades as these two went toe to toe throwing out everything in their arsenal to try and prove to themselves and the other just who was the better man. Zayn’s emotion here was so fun to watch as you could tell this really meant a lot to him and the stretch run to the finish was a true showcase for him. The crowd was also great here reacting to everything the right way and the postmatch was just as awesome as even Pat Patterson ran down to the ring to join the fun. The stuff with Kevin Owens was a great addendum to what was going on and then the shock value angle at the end was the perfect swerve ending to send the fans home confused. Just a great presentation.”
“This match featured the kind of long-form payoff that we just don’t see in wrestling these days, with Sami Zayn finally reaching the pinnacle and becoming NXT Champion. The drama and storytelling was top-notch, and even the ref bump was used wisely. Combine that with the actual in-ring work, and I didn’t watch a better match this year. People were still analyzing and dissecting this match in the days following, with everyone seemingly finding something else they liked about it when reflecting back. That’s how you know you’ve hooked an audience.”
“Adrian Neville & Sami Zayn are two guys who, under normal circumstances, can have a great match no matter where they’re wrestling. What made this match different from all the others they had before was that it was the perfect combination of fantastic wrestling & storytelling (the good kind of WWE storytelling). In hindsight, it seemed like they were building up to this moment all year with Sami Zayn. Everything he did in 2014 built up to this match, and when it happened, it was truly something special. This match serves as a perfect example of why we all are fans of pro-wrestling. We live for moments like this, and the match, the moment, the celebration, and in the end, the Kevin Owens heel turn, made this just a masterpiece.”
“It was an outstanding capper on a phenomenal year for NXT. Neville and Zayn played a game of can-you-top-that early leading into the story-heavy falling action and resolution featuring Zayn’s eternal struggle with giving into the dark side. I felt the pain inside me when Zayn hesitated with that belt shot on Neville that never came. Premiere storytelling in a wrestling ring.”
-Thomas Holzerman, or TH if you will
“These two guys had the crowd at the palm of their hands for 20 plus minutes and the crowd ate up everything. The story of Zayn’s last chance at becoming NXT champion to Neville playing the dickish heel was compelling. All things considered this match was incredible.“
“Two veterans yet somehow they’re still fresh and hungry that make the WWE’s developmental title seem like the most prestigious belt in the universe.”
The Shield vs. Wyatt Family
Elimination Chamber (WWE)
282 total points (8 first place votes)
“Best tag team match I’ve ever seen in my life (knocking off #10 on my list). Best Heel vs. Heel match I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“It’s a match with six hungry lions in the WWE desperate to stand out. There was German superplexes into topes. Table spots. The crowd was hot (I was there) and the chants were wild. It was a beautiful spectacle and proved that there were many stars in these two stables.”
“Remember when The Wyatts were cool? This match begins with “This is Awesome” chants and it is indeed awesome. The dynamics of The Shield play out well at the beginning of the match as they work in synch and this stays the case until Ambrose gets driven off by Wyatt. The numbers game becomes in favour of The Wyatts and they take advantage by dispatching Rollins and then eventually Reigns. It’s a passing of the torch match. If only it had stuck, but as it stands it’s the apex of everything WWE worked towards with six man tag action with the birth of The Shield back in 2012. War was mentioned several times in promos in the lead in to the match, and it is just that, but what really puts it over the top is that both teams wrestle as one and they are on equal footing throughout the majority of the match. The match is only won when one team began to crumble.”
“Sometimes you have to go with your gut.
My gut reaction to seeing this match in real time was that it was an excellent match, with outstanding psychology, great performances from all six men, and the perfect mix of fast paced chaos, and dramatic, heat building, traditional, tag team wrestling. It had a hot crowd, outstanding, well timed highspots, stiff shots from the big guys, and the sort of atmosphere that very few modern U.S. matches have. In the moment it was my front runner for match of the year, and for months when asked what my pick was this was my go to match.
Then I re-watched it.
It wasn’t that it was bad on re-watch. Far from it. But watching it at 2AM, with a rain storm that was causing major problems with my Network feed, hurt the flow of the match and tempered my enthusiasm for it. People were shocked when I didn’t have it rated in the top tier of 2014 matches on the most recent episode of The Wrestling Culture Podcast, so I decided I would watch it one last time.
I’m glad I did, because on second re-watch it was every bit the match I had thought it was in real time. In fact on the third go around not only did I think this was clearly the best WWE match of the year, I came away thinking it was one of the best WWE matches of all time, and one of only two matches I could seriously consider for my top spot on this ballot.
What did this match have that others didn’t have? It had a crowd that believed they were watching an all time classic even before the bell rang. It had two hot acts, filled with young talent, who at the time felt like they were on their way to being the biggest things in the business. It had a great performance from Luke Harper, who busted his tope out for the first time in a WWE ring, a spot so well timed and delivered, that it’s easy to forget it was followed by a murderous looking Rollins hilo that set the table for the stretch run. It had six performers who understood their gimmicks and characters, and knew how to interject those things into their in ring performance.
But beyond all this, this match told a great story. The Shield were an act who lived by their unity, their strength in numbers. They separated teams, took individuals out one-by-one, and won their matches by taking out the last man standing 3-on-1. Here The Shield came in with dissension in their ranks, egos out of control, more furious in their attack than disciplined. And they paid for it.
In the end The Shield lost because of the numbers game. Ambrose was taken out. Rollins was put through a table, just as The Shield had done with The Undertaker and so many others before. Reigns was left to go it alone, and just when it looked like he would, Harper fell on his sword for the good of his team, and The Shield lost the first battle in what should have been the big WWE war of 2014.
If you watch the build to this match, and even the follow up match on Raw (which honestly could have finished in my top ten as well), this feels like the beginning of an all time classic feud. On the other hand if you look at this through the rear view, devoid of that context, it’s possible to forget just how great this was, as like most great things in the WWE, what should have been was brutally murdered by booking.
Still in that moment, on February 23, The Wyatts and The Shield had a transcendentally great match, and a true Match of the Year. And in this moment now, I can’t justify putting anything above it.”
“The most unforgettable match of the year. A match I feel will be looked back on from different generations as a historic match in the company’s history. Just starts with a crowd that is absolutely jacked to the gills in excitement and these six don’t stop for about twenty minutes going all out. Just an amazing spectacle of a match and something that will be rewatched many times for years to come.”
“This match showed that the matches between the stables are not dead. We honestly think there should be more of them.”
-The PDT Podcast With Rick & Junior
“Once upon a time, there were two factions in the WWE. They were the two most over stables the company had seen in a long time. Each member had a huge amount of potential in front of them. There were no magic tricks, no awful promos, and they were vary dominate.
This match represents the last time the SHIELD were firing on all cylinders. This is arguably the best six-man tag of 2014.”
“When The Wyatt Family came onto the Main Roster around SummerSlam 2013, this match was was the one that most people wanted to see. The Wyatt Family vs The Shield. All 6 men were young stars just trying to make a name for themselves and they were getting popular. Then, they were scheduled in a match. This match was 10 times better than most WWE 6-Man Tag matches because it let every single wrestler shine. This match was a highlight on the Road to WrestleMania and a definite Match of the Year candidate.”
“After all the hype I wasn’t sure if this match could ever match it but I suppose I never really should have questioned it. They didn’t start this one hot and heavy but instead threw some gnarly punches which did my heart some good. Felt like when both teams had their time to shine early they both used teamwork but in different ways. The Shield was tagging in and out like a machine while the Wyatts were trading off mauling duties. There is something about Ambrose that I both love and hate. His wild and crazy offense fits perfectly with his character but it barely looks like he’s even making contact with the target. Maybe I’m just a prick since I rarely see comments feeling that way. Love how this turned into a decent, simply moving along sort of match into complete chaos. You’ve got Ambrose and Wyatt brawling into the crowd, Harper doing a dive, Rollins being chucked threw a table, just craziness. This match in the most fantastic of ways; Reigns, a man who has been built up as a potential one man wrecking crew, being put to the test against the Family and comes oh so close to dismantling them only for family to put an end to his conquest.”
“In a lot of ways this was the finale of the WWE trios craze that swarmed the company throughout most of 2013 and into the early months of 2014. And boy did it deliver. With one of the hottest crowds in recent memory, the best was extremely engaging and hard hitting from bell to bell. All six guys put on sensational performances, particularly Luke Harper who was the best of the bunch. Then there was the perfectly booked finish where Roman Reigns, the top dog of the Shield, is left to fight on his own in a masterful callback to all of the previous Shield beat downs over the course of the preceding year. All in all, this was a terrific match and probably the last truly epic trios match in WWE.”
“This match might suffer in the years to come due to the typical incompetency of the WWE’s booking/writing team. While this match could have signaled the start of a year-long feud between these two factions and inspired years of PPV trios matches between teams formed with the same creative ambition, it is instead a bittersweet memory that somewhat perfectly captures the promise of the WWE and the inevitable letdown that comes from following them.
The Shield was comprised of three talented wrestlers that each had very glaring strengths and weaknesses as performers (with Ambrose being the most well-rounded of the three). When they were together though, you pretty much only saw their strengths on display. Rollins brought the excitement. Ambrose brought an edge of unpredictability. Reigns brought a presence and a handful of classically WWE, trademarked movez (albeit ones that he performs with a fair amount of clumsiness). They were all at their peak here as a unit, and they brought out the best of a faction that was still trying establish themselves as an artistic force to be reckoned with.
While The Wyatts had an up-and-down creative year, this match kicked off their run of fantastic tag team matches. Luke Harper really seemed to break out in this match, and he showed off his WWE main-eventer potential. Everyone played their part though, and it’s a shame that we don’t know how far The Wyatt Family could have gone as a trios.
This is a modern WWE classic and my favorite wrestling match of the year. It prominently featured six talented younger wrestlers (how often has the WWE done that in the last fifteen years?), and it allowed them to have the very best match possible. They did just that. It’s a shame that the WWE didn’t know what they had with this feud.”
“This made me love a “this is awesome” chant which I didn’t think was possible. Trios matches are one of my favorite matches in wrestling but I will freely admit that the amount of sure-fire MOTYC from trios matches is slim even in Mexico where they are more prevalent. This match at least has a heavy stake in the argument that it is the greatest trios match in U.S. wrestling history and showed how powerful The Shield overall could be as a unit.”
“The chant this is awesome is one that’s very much lost its importance over the last decade or so, getting used at anything that eclipses what most would describe as “good” on the indy scene these days. However, when the Shield and the Wyatts squared off for the first time before the start of their first match, I was totally with the crowd. The atmosphere for this match was my favourite atmosphere for any Western match this year, and the action totally delivered to the same level. The rest of the year has shown I can pass on Wyatt, Rowan, Reigns and Ambrose as in ring workers, but everything clicked to the nth degree here. These two teams had been kept apart so well previously, and when they did finally clash, it was awesome.”
“The two hottest, original factions WWE has created in years faced-off (literally, for nearly a minute in the ring) when both were at their peak. Early in the match, when Bray Wyatt screamed at Rollins & Reigns in the corner, “Is this not what you wanted?!,” the answer from most in the “WWE Universe” would have been a resounding yes.”
“The crowd’s “This is Awesome” chant was a bit premature but spot on. Two great units tore the house down in a match where the numbers game finally caught up with The Shield.”
“Super impressive match and a real testament to the WWE training program, no way Husky Harris/Thoruf/Brodie Lee v. Tyler Black/Jon Moxley/Leakee would be anywhere close to this good. I really loved how the Wyatt’s out Shielded the Shield, as for over a year the Shield would win by isolating people and picking off the weak link, and here the Wyatts did it to them. It was like watch a fast break basketball team run into a team who can out run them. Man did I love Ambrose here, he always kind of had a Piper feel in promos, but here he really was wrestling like peak Piper, an out of control lunatic who was always popping off and throwing wild hands. The Bray v. Roman battle of the bulls was perfectly pulled off here. It is too bad they rushed this feud a bit, I would have loved to see this a hundred different ways, really the best heel v. heel match in US wrestling history, and the rematch wasn’t far behind.”
“The Wyatt Family has had an iffy run on the main roster since their debut on it in the summer of 2013. At Elimination Chamber, the long-teased Wyatts vs. Shield match came to fruition and delivered something that allowed everyone in it to shine while the Family prevailed to set up Bray Wyatt against Cena at WrestleMania.”
“Whilst many say The Shield broke up at their peak, I would argue that their peak was four months earlier in this match against The Wyatts. The build was so simple, so effective, so good, so…. not like WWE. It was so fantastic that the fans were in a frenzy before the bell even rang.”
“This is the WWE’s new Razor vs Michaels ladder match or Hardy’s vs Edge and Christian Ladder Match as it is one that they will constantly aspire to and reference for years to come. The Shield has the best six-man matches in WWE history and this is at the top. It was also the breakout performance for Luke Harper. It’s unfortunate they didn’t keep the feud going but this was great and was my MOTY until I did some lucha catch-up late in the year.”
“I wasn’t stunned to see this not be on the Slammy awards list for best match, but then again WWE is completely inept at keeping track of anything these days. Still, everything about this match was about great timing. People wanted to see the Shield and Wyatts go at it. They didn’t need a reason. They just wanted it to happen and it did, and it lead to the best match of 2014 from the WWE. The crowd was white hot for everything and the six men involved all did their job fantastically. Funny how when you give people what they want, they’ll react to it and enjoy themselves!”
“This was from the last real PPV put on by the WWE before the Network launched and this match was worth all the money you could put out for the show as the whole atmosphere here was tremendous. The fact that the crowd chanted THIS IS AWESOME before the match even started was amazing and made this match feel really special. This match was full of violent intense action where both trios went full force with everything they had and the Wyatt’s trying to beat the Shield at their own game. Everyone was great in their roles especially Ambrose as the out of control maniac while Roman & Bray were great as the powerhouses of their team that when they faced off it felt like a big deal. You watch this match again and it makes you feel sad at what would happen to these 6 guys the rest of the year…well we’ll always have the Elimination Chamber PPV.”
“When the crowd is chanting “This is awesome!” before the match even begins, you know you are in for something special. This was a war where everybody looked outstanding. Everybody was so great, I can’t even pick a MVP for this one. Dean Ambrose emerged as a great Ricky Morton babyface here. Erick Rowan more than held his own and looked like a legit monster. Seth Rollins was a lunatic with his great offensive flurry. Luke Harper may have the best facial expressions in wrestling, and his dives were out of this world. Roman Reigns has one of the best sequences in wrestling and just great charisma. Bray Wyatt was great as the ringleader here.
The story the finish of this match told was wrestling at its best. The Shield had spent a year beating people by out numbering them. Finally, the Wyatt Family gets the numbers, leaving Roman Reigns alone. The moment where Roman realizes that what he has done to so many others was about to happen to him was priceless. Of course him trying to survive was intense stuff. A perfectly booked match and a rare match that gets ***** from me.”
“Ever since the debut of The Shield, we saw a renaissance of Six-Man Tags in WWE. Both The Shield & The Wyatt Family were two of the best trios to come along in WWE in recent memory. It was inevitable that these two forces would clash, and when they did, it was simply awesome. This was definitely one of WWE’s bright spots in 2014.”
“I have a soft spot for nutty multi-man brawls, and WWE during The Shield’s tenure had quite a few of them. Their magnum opus may have been the all-bets-off gang war against the Wyatt Family, the new psychos on the block. Bray Wyatt told the three that they picked a lovely hill to die on in the leadup to the match, but that death was anything but lovely. It was gutty, gritty, and jaw-dropping in some respects. Dean Ambrose getting abducted by Wyatt at the end was the perfect segue into the finish.”
-Thomas Holzerman, or TH if you will
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kazuchika Okada
G1 Climax Finals (NJPW)
332 total points (9 first place votes)
“This match was awesome, the action was exciting and Nakamura’s charisma was sleeping through the entire time.”
“Everything from Okada using Nakamura’s odd rope break into a DDT to the 3 rainmakers is phenomenal. The two shining stars of NJPW on the biggest stage, having a great match.”
“Okada vs. Nakamura was the kind of main event that you want to close out a tournament like the G1. They got over 20-minutes, it never felt wrong or long and the fact that it had been so long since they wrestled each other made it feel special. Both guys are on such a high level right now, especially Okada, and the closing stretch of the match was so awesome, the crowd loved it and this came across big time and special. Okada was obviously one of the top guys of the company (along with Tanahashi and Nakamura) but stepped up his game even more during this year’s G1.”
“Down the line we’ll really understand the significance of this. Okada ended his stablemate and covert rival with three consecutive Rainmakers, transitioning from boy price to kingmaker in one phenomenal match. Of all the matches listed, this is the most successful main event match, working the crowd into the headspace of the pinnacle of 12 days of combat and then cranking through the gears to end on the most shocking and spectacular and definitive note possible. No endless fighting spirit. No million reversals and counters. Just a finality that strapped another jet-pack to the already pushed Okada and set course for superstardom.”
“You got Nakamura who has been the complete worker for over 2 years now since he came back from Mexico versus Rainmaker Okada as Okada is looking to re-capture the IWGP Title but his stablemate stands in his way and the finishing stretch to this match is literally out of this world!”
“The closing stretch of this match put it over the top for me and made it a MOTY contender. Okada, the man who was wronged early in the summer by the heel group Bullet Club is on the path to redemption. It just so happens that path leads to CHAOS stablemate Shinsuke Nakamura. Okada has his number on this day and when he’s ready to pick up the victory, “The Rainmaker” takes it up a notch. Nah, it’s not good enough just to beat this guy with one little Rainmaker, no no, I need a few more. With each subsequent Rainmaker, all the aggression, all the hatred, all the revenge Okada wanted to get was represented. He didn’t just want to beat Nakamura and get a title shot at the Tokyo Dome. He wanted to prove to everyone that HE is the future star of this company and he’s the alpha-male. This was so great and featured perhaps the best counter to a move I’ve ever seen (Nakamura turning a Rainmaker attempt into an armbar)”
“I’ve seen Nakamura do that same counter to Kurt Angle and Ibushi at WK9 and yet I still can’t help popping every time I see him armbar Okada.”
“Watching these two in the ring is like poetry, and that was never more evident than the beauty of the arm bar transition on Okada’s attempted Rainmaker. A moment of such grace I was left with my mouth agape moments afterward.”
“The Young Icon vs. The Coolest Mother ****er in the World of Professional Wrestling squared off in the finals of the Greatest Pro Wrestling Tournament in history. The 2014 G1 Climax contained what was perhaps the best 3 weeks of wrestling we will ever see and could not have been capped off better than with this match. This was the first time I ever had the chance to watch NJPW live and it was worth staying up until 2am to see and turned me from a more than casual NJPW fan to an avid fan. Okada walked into this match with a sense of nervousness on his face and walked out of this match with more confidence and swagger than he ever knew he could possess. Once Nakamura countered the Rainmaker into the Cross Arm Breaker Okada turned a corner that he will never turn back from. Okada got out of the Cross Arm Breaker and proceeded to KILL Nakamura with THREE VICIOUS RAIN MAKERS. Okada proved that he is a badass and he is taking over NJPW.”
-Taylor C. Mitchell
“This was a ferocious, career making performance from Okada, had his career not already been made with the string of great matches under his belt. Nakamura might be the very best in the world at present and he busted his ass in this one, working overtime and selling like a madman as Okada had to effectively dismantle him piece by piece to get the win. The confidence and poise he showed in this match only makes his current storyline all the more compelling, as this is the same Okada that Tanahashi trounced just five months later. An Okada who was supremely confident in his ability, until Tanahashi showed him that he’s not yet the man he thought he was, not yet the Ace of New Japan.”
“This is a match that at the moment, only NJPW could successfully book. And it shows just how great they are at complex booking. Look at a few of the elements involved. Two of the top 3 stars in the company. Both are heels. Both are stablemates/allies. Both were champions at the top of the year, and both have a case to be #1 contender.
If this were WWE, these two would have broken up, and hated each other. Someone would have turned face. They would have traded wins for a few months, etc. But not in Japan. Okada was fed up that he had to even chase a belt after losing due to BC interference. He wasn’t going to let anyone get in his way. Not even Nakamura. Okada’s fire at the end of the match, with the triple-rainmaker was amazing. And Nakamura as always made it look like slight-work.”
“A match that I thought would never happen and let alone happen in the Seibu Dome, I can still see this happening further down the line in the Tokyo Dome. Okada worked his way back to the main event picture during the G-1 while Nakamura continued to put on MOTYC’s after MOTYC’s. The counters to the Rainmaker, both men going for each other’s heads to dismantle the body. Nakamura’s armbar transition from the Rainmaker is my favorite spot of the year. The finish where Okada killed Nakamura dead with the Rainmaker 3 times to leave no shred of disbelief in anyone’s mind that Okada is the top dog in CHAOS. Brisk pace, this moved along perfect and the interplay between both members was brilliant. Okada said in his promo after winning said he wants to face Nakamura again. Sooner rather than later please.”
“Both guys were at the height of their powers here. Nakamura, cool as ever, laughs off Okada’s early aggression and posturing (both literal and figurative), and Okada is doing his “cocky asshole with something to prove” shtick. It’s appropriate too, because after losing his title Okada became a bit of an afterthought and seemed to be searching for a way back to the top. This was his opportunity to reestablish himself as an ace—the top dog in Chaos and all of New Japan. At the end of a tense closing stretch (my favorite of the year by far), Okada steps up to the plate and then demolishes it, kicking out after multiple Bomayes and finally obliterating Nakamura with three Rainmakers—THREE. It was an emphatic statement from Okada, backed up by his fiery post-match promo.
It was Nakamura, though, who made the whole thing work: that incredible flipping counter of the Rainmaker into an armbar; that image of him waiting in the corner for Okada to get up so he can knee his head off, a wild grin the only part of his face not obscured by clumps of sweaty hair; the no-sell (un-sell?) of the Irish whip where Nak just flops on the floor instead of hitting the ropes; and the complete back flip he did when eating that final Rainmaker. The guy’s just incredible, and he made Okada look like a mega-star again.”
“A huge match-up on the grand stage of the G1 Final did not dissapoint, as Okada made his mark on pro wrestling with his 3-Rainmaker destruction of his stablemate in an awesome match. Nakamura’s Rainmaker reversal into an Armbar made me jump out of my seat.”
“A technically fine match but one that is carried by the visuals of the match.. Seeing the sun set on the Seibu Dome and that translating to the passing of the torch going on in the ring was a powerful moment. This kickstarted the what was thought to be crowning path for Okada as he takes everything Nakamura has and decides to obliterate him at the finish making it certain on this night who the better man was.”
“This match is great, but I think it’s even better in retrospect. Okada killing Nakamura with three Rainmakers then ultimately falling to Tanahashi at the Dome because the Rainmaker fails him is wonderful storytelling, and the fact that the match leading up to that major story point tells its own well-crafted tale is just the cherry on top. And, y’know, the crazy-ass armbar counter is pretty great, too.”
“These guys are two of the best in the business right now and I believe we will ultimately see this as the first in a long series of great matches between the two. This long-awaited match was amazing, but it could have been better with a greater build than it being the Final of the G1 allowed.”
“Kazuchika Okada. Shinsuke Nakamura. One on one. Do you really need to know any more than that?”
“Okada and Nakamura had what can only be described as a perfect match. Okada is in his prime and Nakamura has spent the past two years using his charisma to take his matches to another level. The Rainmaker being countered into a flawless flying armbar by Nakamura will remain something that will be imitated for years to come.”
“Huge match, huge setting, huge drama! The finishing sequence will live on in our memories for a long time.”
“Amongst all the great matches, Okada vs. Nakamura was the best match from the G1 Climax, and also the best match from anywhere in 2014. Some matches are helped by the hype they have behind them, and when they do live up to the hype it’s hard to find anything better.
Okada vs. Nakamura was an excellent showcase between two guys at the top of their game. Having never faced each other before it was hard to say how good their chemistry was going to be, but on the night it proved to be as good as any. The pace was great, the exchanges were top notch, and the action all round was just so much fun to watch.
A lot of matches in 2014 had moves or moments that made me pop out of my seat, and this match consisted of two of those – the Rainmaker attempt reversed into a cross arm breaker from Nakamura, and Okada’s vicious hat-trick of Rainmaker’s. While the best of matches need those great elements of psychology and storytelling behind them, sometimes they just need those awesome moments to make them stand out. And this match was full of them.”
“The best finish of the year, with the hungry, angry, and frustrated Okada destroying his CHAOS senior and symbolically taking his place as the unit alpha male. Nakamura reversing an Okada Rainmaker attempt may have been the spot of the year. High stakes and tremendous drama.”
“From the moment the match ended, I knew it would be hard to find a better match in 2014. Sure enough, nothing beat it. There were great performances by many men, but none greater than this. Nakamura shined through as an utter superstar. His charisma matches his in-ring performance, both of which were at an elite level. Okada, on the other hand, showed a side of him we hadn’t seen yet. He was vicious. He wasn’t playing games. He had transformed from the cocky, young punk that upset Hiroshi Tanahashi back in February of 2012. This was a man fighting to be the ace of the company. His brutal display of lariats, capped off by one final Rainmaker, put Nakamura away. It was a shocking display, something we’ve never seen from Okada before. This match capped off what was arguably the best wrestling tournament of all-time.”
“When evaluating matches worked in the big-match New Japan style in 2014, whether from the G1 Climax or elsewhere, there were, in my mind, none greater than Kazuchika Okada versus Shinsuke Nakamura at the Seibu Dome in the G1 Final. Whilst one could very much argue against the making of the match on a booking front, with Okada/Nakamura standing prior to the match as one of the few marquee unprotected pairings the company had on offer, few who saw the match would doubt that it was an in-ring success. Nakamura and Okada both performed at close to their optimum, resulting in not only a hard-fought match, but also one of the most impactful spots of the year in Okada’s triple Rainmaker.”
“The final match of the 2014 G1 Climax – a bout pitting Shinsuke Nakamura and Kazuchika Okada – had all of the elements of a big time match going in. It was a tournament final, the first high stakes meeting between the two stable mates, and the headline match of a major Dome show. Okada and Nakamura wrestled a match that felt just as grandiose and important as the circumstances surrounding it. From the opening feeling out process on, this was a match that felt appropriately epic. Nakamura gave an outstanding performance including a flying arm bar that might have been the best single spot of the match. Okada wrestled with a rarely seen intensity. The finish in which Okada used three straight Rainmaker lariats to ensure that Nakamura would not get up was one of the best finishing sequences of the entire year.”
“This was pro wrestling perfection. Two of the best on the planet putting a topper on the greatest two week span in professional wrestling history. Nakamura cements his 2014 Wrestler of the Year with this performance and Okada adds another chapter to his already legendary career. Give it all the stars!”
“The rainmaker counter into the cross armbreaker. Best 3 seconds of the year. Everything else was also awesome. The night I became a giant raving Okada fanboy.”
“All I have to say about this match is…THAT armbar transition. They held off this match forever and ever, and when they finally did it…it was friggin’ awesome.”
“Just an epic final. Two members of Chaos going after it. Had a different feel than the rest of the matches in the tournament.”
“They closed out the greatest tournament in all of wrestling with the greatest match of the year. An absolute masterpiece. It had an absolutely definitive ending that I won’t forget anytime soon.”
“Shinsuke Nakamura is one of the greatest performers in wrestling right now as everything he does is top notch and you add in Okada who is a rising phenomenon who is on the cusp of becoming the top guy this was the perfect matchup to end this great tournament. This match featured all the bells and whistles you would expect from a high-end NJPW main event match but turned up to another level as everything felt more important than usual which it was because of what they were fighting for. The stretch run of both men throwing out their entire arsenal and their big moves on numerous occasions was perfect for this style of match and the finish was excellent.”
“Of course there was no way that the Finals of one of the greatest tournaments in wrestling history wasn’t going to be on my list. This was a first time ever match of sorts (since Okada became a top star in New Japan) and it delivered in so many ways. Nakamura is without a doubt my favorite New Japan wrestler, and Okada is just so awesome. Loved this match!”
AJ Styles vs. Minoru Suzuki
G1 Climax – Night 7 (NJPW)
376 total points (11 first place votes)
“Can there be any doubt or dissensus? Can there be any critics or nitpickers? Can anyone drill a hole in this absolutely first rate bout without looking a little bit like they don’t enjoy this magnificent sport? Sometimes you see something that transcends not only your expectation of the moment but the very limits of what you thought possible. That is what these guys do. Riding the crest of a wave of a tournament already pushing beyond success, the 68th match in the 24th G1 Climax was the best of its evening, tournament, year and – from where I stand right now – decade. Suzuki’s endlessly nuanced face. Styles as the perfect mirror. Stop me. I am having hot flashes.”
“I didn’t think this match had much going for it going in. I assumed that, pardon the tired pun, that there would be a styles clash in this situation. AJ flies, Minoru Suzuki does not. Man, did they go in there and prove me wrong. They had one of the best matches of the year. MY favorite match of the year, in fact. Suzuki was the star here, working on Styles’ fingers and generally just wearing him down every time he was offense. I can’t even articulate why it’s so great. The atmosphere, the overall work, everything just clicked here and you can see it. Excellent stuff.”
“Just a tremendous match and the one I think will win this. Both guys meshed beautifully here. AJ selling of Suzuki offense was a thing of beauty. So many fun spots and the icing of them was AJ’s gun to the head.”
“This battle between the two leaders of Suzukigun and Bullet Club proved that Suzuki really is the best heel working in wrestling right now. Everything about him just screams that he’s a bad guy. This match was strong enough to give Styles’ run as IWGP Heavyweight Champion some extra legitimacy.”
“Minoru Suzuki being in the #2 match of the year in my mind in 2014 is something I thought I would never say but here he is and this match with Styles was pretty freaking amazing. No one had a career resurgence this year like Styles who was reborn after leaving that dumpster fire known as TNA and in a year of great performances by him this is at the top of the list as the style clash (no pun intended) here made for a fascinating watch. Suzuki was such a prick here just making Styles his bitch early and often but Styles would fight back with his high impact offense as well as trading strikes with the legend Suzuki. The stretch run was great and the finish was very well done capping off a classic match.”
“There were so many awesome matches in this year’s G1 Climax, but I feel like this one by far was the best match in the entire tournament. In the short time that I’ve been following/watching New Japan (since 2013), Minoru Suzuki has always been an interesting case to me. He’s been stuck in a seemingly endless feud with Toru Yano, having some of the most forgettable matches on New Japan iPPVs, yet when he gets in big match environments like this, he turns it up in a major way and seemingly always delivers. Combine that with the absolutely stellar 2014 that AJ Styles had, and you had magic in the making. I don’t think words can do this match justice. It speaks for itself.”
“Technically this match was near perfect. The story of this match with Suzuki working on the arm of Styles and doing everything that he could was fantastic. The finish was very strong too with Styles turning an armbar from Suzuki into a Styles Clash was awesome.”
“The match alone was amazing enough to be number one. However, Suzuki’s entrance was something else. Every aspiring professional wrestler needs to watch that entrance. The key to it is to not use it every match. Save it for that special match and get ready to make people know that they are in for something special.
This match had everything. Minoru Suzuki did more for A.J. Styles in Japan in one night than Tanahashi or Okada have in numerous matches. Easy ***** Match.”
“ I have been praising AJ Styles during this tournament for his great performances, and not just as far as the physical wrestling goes, but also due to the fact that he is laying out/calling great matches that make everyone involved look good. Suzuki work of the arm was great, Styles’ show of resilience and counters were not overstated, and worked perfectly. The stuff with Bullet Club and Suzuki-Gun worked as its own layer very well here as it never took away from the beautiful stuff happening in the ring. Much credit to Suzuki here as well, he more than did his part to make this a full boat of awesome, especially with his submission work during the match. This tops Zayn vs. Neville for me simply for the fact that there was no long term story heading in, and I didn’t need to become emotionally invested because Styles and Suzuki did that with their incredible work in the ring.”
“This match from Korakuen was laid in with the gun salute as the limbwork by Suzuki really soaked in this one for me. Yes, FINGERS were used as a selling point. Suzuki torturing Styles with submissions and the run-ins didn’t take away from the match in fact, it added to the finishing stretch and both guys were made for each other.”
“I was concerned going in this may be a cluster but it worked out just fine in the end. Styles wrestled more Suzuki’s style of match, which meant hard strikes and submissions, and whenever he did try to do a high flying move it generally didn’t work out for him anyway. The brief faction tussle made sense, TAKA has been interfering here and there throughout the tournament so naturally Bullet Club would come down to help. I thought Suzuki’s offense was a bit all over the place, the arm work was great but then he started going for ankle holds and he had that cross armbreaker locked in for way too long. On an already injured arm the cross armbreaker should have been the kiss of death, not just another move. But it was very exciting throughout and the time flew by, so I’d still recommend it, it just wasn’t without its flaws.”
“Just like the first Tanahashi/Shibata match, the camera work does an excellent job of building tension just by framing Suzuki’s entrance intelligently while also capturing the body language of both men. I’m not even sure how, but Suzuki looks even more intense then usual. His black eyes underneath that towel are reminiscent of a shark. Unlike Tanahashi/Shibata, these two had no prior tensions (other then a blog post from Suzuki which didn’t get translated for a few days) to build the match with which makes this nothing but pure presence and wrestling. It’s become my go to match to show someone NJPW because you don’t need anything explained to really get it. Suzuki deserves an award for his eyes and facial reactions. Love the sequence where Suzuki’s brutal submission work on the arm early on leads to AJ’s beautiful rolling counters in the corner ending with a great suplex on Suzuki. The movement in that sequence could be studied by action filmmakers.
At one point, AJ lifts Suzuki into a powerbomb but then converts it into a Styles Clash. Most people would use that as a big exclamation point on their ending, but instead of that, the spot instead has Suzuki countering that into an ankle lock which leads to even more counters. Styles even throws out a desperation Styles Clash that he doesn’t hit fully because of his injuries and fear that if he takes that time, Suzuki will counter. I love it when a wrestling match has guys sell the damage and fatigue from the match even when delivering the finishers. Too often you see video game perfect moves during massive fights because everyone just reaches down deep and can do anything for that moment. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but simple selling like this is so underutilized. It also sells the idea that Suzuki is still fighting him despite the position he is in. Win win.
Also, that crowd chanting for AJ at the end is amazing.”
“AJ Styles joined the NJPW Heavyweights roster on April 6th of 2014, but didn’t have that break out match that earned the adulation from the Japanese fans or put away any doubt if he “still had it” until August 1st. AJ Syles comes out first wearing the prestigious IWGP Heavyweight Championship that he “stole” from Kazuchika Okada when new Bullet Club member, Yujiro Takahashi aided Styles in defeating Okada. Suzuki comes out next and stares a hole through Styles from the moment he walks through the curtain until these two come to blows. The stare down between these two in the beginning of the match told the whole story. Suzuki one of the veteran locker room leaders of New Japan was staring at Styles with his eyes saying “Who in the Hell do you think you are to walk into MY company and STEAL the IWGP title?” and Styles eyes said back “I am not afraid of you. Give me everything you’ve got.”
This match then began as a battle of “show me what you’ve got” with Styles eventually edging out the victory by countering the Cross Arm Breaker into the Styles Clash and then finishing Suzuki off with another Cross Arm Breaker. The spot of the match though, was when AJ puts his finger gun to Suzuki’s head as if to tell Suzuki “you’re dead.”, only to have Suzuki SNAP and go nuts by attempting to break AJ’s finger for the rest of the match.”
-Taylor C. Mitchell
“AJ’s best match in a year where he had a fabulous year of countless in-ring performances. The difference of styles with Suzuki and him worked to the true art of wrestling where you can mesh them together into something unbelievably fun to watch. The Bullet Club run in leading only to a nearfall where these two went bonkers to try to defeat one another translated to any language. When you have the resume AJ had in 2015 and this is what you remember most, it says something.”
“This was probably the most high-profile match of the G1, owing to rave reviews from fans and critics alike, and a large factor in that was the clash of styles (forgive the pun) between Suzuki and Styles. I think it speaks volumes towards Suzuki & AJ’s quality that they could deliver such a near-perfect encounter on their first time in the ring and I enjoyed every minute of it. Suzuki exudes murderous intent when enraged and it was a delight to see him try and put Styles in his place.”
“The match that put over AJ in NJPW. Two badasses representing their heel stables, go at it, like more than just points were on the line. No outside interference, no nonsense.
Suzuki worked over AJ’s fingers, in the armlock heard around the world. Bell to bell, this was thrilling.”
“Minoru Suzuki is not wrestling Yano right? Hold on, it’s AJ Styles. You mean that guy that people gave up on in 2013 after a God awful stint with TNA. This guy AJ won’t get over in Korakuen, he’s a gaijin and he’s aligned with Bullet Club. Two heels going at each other with pure disdain and equal fan adulation. Suzuki trying to rip off AJ’s arm, AJ’s struggle to survive and the run ins from both Bullet Club and Suzuki Gun were fantastic. Hey AJ can go in 2014? Suzuki has immense loads of talent when not involved in feuds with comedy guys? Suzuki was sadistic with the limbwork, the submission reversals and AJ selling was brilliant. So many great moments in here that it all flows effortlessly and it’s just a master class from one of the greatest wrestlers of all time and one of the best of this current generation who many had left behind and forgotten. This match served as a reminder that Suzuki as well as AJ still have plenty to offer not just NJPW but pro wrestling. Bless them.”
“This match for all intents and purposes shouldn’t work. There are few truly annoying tropes this match brings to the table where one or two could easily make a perfectly fine match seem pointless. This match has a ref bump, interference bonanza, and trading ankle lock counters. Yet somehow none of those elements come close to damaging this match. Because despite those pieces coming into play there were too many fantastic parts to the match that were blended together to make this so darn good. The stare down into the high octane start as super-duper and the crowd was ELECTRIC for it. Suzuki goes after the arm whenever he gets the chance and it is swell. Styles is in the ropes? Breaking that arm. Just smashed Styles face into a chair? Using the chair to break that arm. Styles comes springboarding into the ring with his arm just hanging out there? You get the point. Lets get to the strike exchanges shall we? They were RUGGED! Really shouldn’t be a surprise with Suzuki in there but Styles certainly held his own. Suzuki landing that rocket punching closed fist was brilliant as was the Pele that followed. Remember that ankle lock sequence I was talking about as well? Yeah it was a bit silly but it began awesome and ended awesome. Absolutely adore when a wrestler sits on a counter like Suzuki did to deliver the scariest armbar I’ve ever seen in a wrestling match. It looked TOO real. Styles having to use a one legged Styles Clash was totally cool. Brutal strikes, countering that doesn’t feel incredibly rehearsed, nasty submissions from Suzuki, great selling especially from Styles, and a just brilliantly paced match.”
“2014’s G1 Climax was outstanding. Personally, I’m not a huge New Japan fan, but there were several matches from this tournament that really stood out. This was the killer. Suzuki puts on a career performance that is solidified with the “gun to the head” spot (which might be the spot of the year). Moreover, A.J. Styles had a remarkable 2014, but this was the peak of his year. This match also had the best Styles Clash teases I’ve ever seen and one of the more exciting finishing runs in wrestling for 2014. If you haven’t seen it. Watch it now!”
“This is the kind of dense, nuanced match that gets better with every rewatch. It has some of the best sequences and individual moments of the year (the incredible chain of flipping ankle-lock reversals ending with an impromptu half Styles Clash, comes to mind), but it really comes down to the psychological details each wrestler gives us and the series of scenes that’s carefully constructed around them. You can see the fury slowly building inside Suzuki until it bubbles over and he knocks Styles from the top rope, becoming a unrelenting bull. AJ matches him beat for beat, flipping between cocky aggressor and believably terrified victim. All of those changes in temperament are tied to appropriate, memorable spots, like Suzuki grabbing and trying to break off AJ’s stupid fingers after the guy decided to taunt him with the Bullet Club gesture. Just brilliant performances from both men that, by the end, even had the Japanese fans cheering for their gaijin heel champion.”
“G1 Night 7 was a special night of wrestling, and this match was the highlight of it. AJ Styles cemented his place in NJPW with a stormer of a performance in this match, and Suzuki definitely made Styles bring his A+ game. So many amazing moments in this match that grabbed my interest and never let go.”
“Many thing have been said about Styles vs. Suzuki in Korakuen Hall, amongst them both wrestlers calling it just another match. For me as a fan it was much, much more than just another match. It was an almost perfect pro-wrestling spectacle. The run ins of both factions didn’t ruin the match, but it added to the excitement. What followed was a brilliant back and forth match with Styles trying to hit the Styles Clash from any position and Suzuki fighting it off and even working over Styles “BULLET CLUB finger”. I watched the final 5 minutes of this one standing and couldn’t believe what I saw.”
“The match I think will run away with the poll and a worthy choice. AJ has a super year in 2014 with just miss matches on my list like the Chris Hero ROH match. This combined all the best elements that he had honed over the years of showing restraint and mixing in his highspots and combined that with an outstanding Suzuki performance to mold a classic. The 2014 G-1 was one of the greatest wrestling tournaments from a match quality standpoint in the history of wrestling, and this match was the gem of the entire tournament.”
“This was AJ Styles’ “OH SHIT” moment in New Japan, where people were forced to realize that he was a big-time player. From the opening stare down to the Suzuki-Gun/Bullet Club brawl to the final stretch, this match was as compelling as professional wrestling gets.”
“Despite a ref bump and outside interference, the outstanding storytelling ability of both men shone, making this my second favorite match of the year. AJ was tremendous here, proving himself Suzuki’s equal when it comes to in-ring psychology.”
“Going in to this match, I wasn’t expecting anything special. I didn’t think it would be bad. With the right opponent and motivation, Suzuki can be one of the best. Styles is, well phenomenal of course. SO really, I probably should’ve known this was going to going to be something special.
Not to take away from AJ Styles, who of course played a major part in making this one a classic, but it was Suzuki’s work in the match that really got me. I knew he was good, but after a never-ending feud with Toru Yano, which had its moments, I hadn’t really seen Suzuki at his best. Here with AJ, he put on a master class. His facials rival William Regal’s. In fact, it’s the same things that make William Regal so special that make Suzuki special. The facials, the technical precision (the fingers spot), the hardened veteran persona. It just works so brilliantly. This match started somewhat of a resurgence for Suzuki, who looked like a million bucks going into Wrestle Kingdom 9, and is currently leading a Suzukigun invasion of NOAH.”
“How could a match between a Japanese guy that has the gimmick of not doing any phony looking pro wrestling spots and an American that is renowned for his flashy high spots be any good? Well, because they are both fantastic workers for a start, but most importantly, Minoru Suzuki is a wrestling genius. The way he worked over AJ’s fingers throughout the match was pure art, as was the Volk Han-esque grappling and the beautifully timed single punch to the face. My favorite match of the year on my favorite show of the year.”
“Suzuki isn’t the most consistent guy in the world, but a couple of times a year he will bust out a straight classic. This was off the charts, the old US Indy fan in me finds it really weird that AJ Styles is the IWGP Champion, I really think he owes it to Jeff G. Bailey to give Iceberg a shot at the belt. Suzuki is like the worlds greatest Fuchi in this match, just torturing Styles like a sadistic prison camp guard in a WW2 movie. He just fucks Styles arm up and twists and hyper extends his fingers. Styles has great big bomb moves, and he does a great job timing them for biggest impact. Also the fast counter open hand strike sections look so much better than the endless elbow smashes which mar a lot of these NJPW matches. Finish run was super exciting, this is the rare modern New Japan match which I think totally lives up to it’s hype.”
“Ten years ago, the idea of a Styles-Suzuki match would have seemed like a massive clash in styles that wouldn’t do either many any favors. AJ has slowed his style down and it’s enabled him to have far better matches than anyone could’ve expected in Japan as he’s mixed flying with physicality perfectly. This match played to the strengths of each man with AJ as a cocky heel and Suzuki as a badass. Both men shined brightly focusing on the music between the notes and gave viewers a classic match in the process.”
“While a great match from New Japan, no matter who it’s from, should never come as a surprise, the excellence of Styles vs. Suzuki sort of came out of nowhere. Suzuki was stuck in a dull feud with Sakuraba, Styles was still sort of finding his feet in the company (despite his success). At the same time though, when you think of who was in the match, maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Both guys put on a classic match that simply had so much to admire about it. I loved how Styles, the supposed mean leader of the intimidating Bullet Club, was totally shut up from the grizzled badass Suzuki for the majority of the match. This match had such a great dynamic as Styles looked to gain control of the match, but always seemed to be caught out from the veteran, whether it was from ring smarts or straight out cheating (such as the closed fist) from Suzuki.
With all of that, as well as great sequences, reversals and a terrific finishing stretch, this match was pure brilliance.”
“The likely MOTY for most people and would have been for me if I didn’t love the above matches so much more. The first half of the match was quite good and the Bullet Club interference was a little out-of-place. BUT it provided a dividing line between the good half of the match and it going into being off-the-charts. AJ holding up his hand to Suzuki’s head in the form of a gun and Susuki then grabbing his fingers and working them over was genius.”
“I am far from the biggest fan of the Styles/Suzuki match from August 1st, despite my thorough enjoyment of it and fandom of both performers. However, as far as effective, efficient and legitimate work went in 2014, for 16 minutes and 20 seconds on August 1st, there were no two men better. Suzuki’s finger work was utterly fantastic, reminiscent of his outrage following Tanahashi’s air guitar over his ribs in 2012, and the timing of a simple punch towards the closing stretch was shockingly made it one of the more surprising and creative spots of the entire year. With 2014 spawning many a great match and no strong outlying performance, this may very well top several awards lists.”
“A match more polarizing than I think many suspect. You could watch this match three times, spread out three different weeks, and think differently of it each time. It’s great in ring, the interference is kept to a minimum, and the two pulled out spots that take thought and creativity while keeping realism in tact to an amazing degree.”
“One of the more endearing qualities of pro wrestling is how greatness will often come from unexpected places. Nestled innocently in the 8th position on the 10-match Korakuen G-1 Climax card, the first time matchup between A.J. Styles and Minoru Suzuki started without much in the way of expectations and ended up as one of the year’s best matches. Suzuki’s attack on Style’s hand and fingers was both unique and immensely entertaining. Styles shined while on offense and defense. His comebacks were well timed which, along with the fun submission reversal sequence in the latter portions of the match, helped elevate the drama to the next level. In all, Suzuki and Styles produced a high impact, dramatic match that is amongst the best of both men’s long careers.”
“Gun to your head: Did you think going into this year’s G1 that this match (above all others) would steal the tourney? It was A.J. and Minoru both making a statement. AJ placing roots at the top of New Japan’s roster with his “I deserve to be here” performance and Suzuki reminding everyone that he can still deliver a big match. Two guys with something to prove to the fans and the company…and maybe even the locker room? Until the finals, this was Match Of The G1. “