It wasn’t enough for us to do a Match of the Year countdown, in true Voices of Wrestling fashion, we had to jump a little higher, go the extra mile, etc. so we’re doing a Match of the Month countdown! I do want to stress that we’re taking this a bit differently with a total different approach and intention. The goal of this project isn’t to necessarily rank every match, every month and the goal also isn’t to shout at the top of the mountain that the first match on the list IS definitively the match of the month. Instead, the goal of this project is just to keep people aware of what great wrestling occurred in the month, show you something you may have missed and tell you why you should seek it out. The overall goal is to make our Match of the Year project easier for our voters. Each year, we get frantic emails/tweets from voters and fans alike saying they aren’t prepared or back-logged on matches, our goal here is to prevent that.
You’ll notice our matches here are ranked with a “Result” below each match. If you haven’t been following along, we went a different direction with voting for this than our standard Match of the Year voting. Instead of sending out ballots on a monthly basis, we’ve gone very informal while at the same time breaking new ground. We’ve introduced (thanks to @JoshEngleman) a H2H “ELO” style of voting.
ELO has been adopted by sports websites in recent years as a way of ranking all-time great players. Baseball/Basketball/Football-Reference all have an ELO rater where you vote for one player over the other — who was the better player? In the end, after millions of votes have been calculated, each player is ranked. That’s essentially what we’re going to do here. Our voting contained two randomly generated matches from our list as well as a third “NEITHER” vote. Voters (sent to the general public via Twitter and the Voices of Wrestling forum) selected which match they thought was better (or passed) and hit submit. Voters were then given two more randomly generated matches and again picked the match they liked better (or passed). There was no limit to the number of votes a single voter could use. In the end, we received 13,278 votes for the 23 matches in our dataset.
In the results section you’ll see four numbers. The first is the amount of H2H wins the match received, the second being H2H losses, the third being passes and the fourth the Win Percentage for the match. We’ve also ranked the matches by Win % and placed them into tiers depending on where they finished and how far they were away from their peers.
Enough talk, let’s get to January’s Match of the Month countdown.
Kota Ibushi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
Wrestle Kingdom 9
Results: 538-36-65 (94%)
I am what New Japan needs, especially in North America. I am the NJPW casual viewer. This match from the now-legendary Wrestle Kingdom 9 sold me for good on NJPW, Ibushi and most importantly, our Strong Style Savior, Nakamura. Not only is this one of the top matches of the month (and likely the year, unless we are in for an amazing year of wrestling), this is one of the best wrestling matches I’ve seen in 20 years of watching. The greatness of this match is somewhat diminished by the greatness surrounding it at WK9, but to not seek this one out means you aren’t a wrestling fan. Ibushi’s struggle and Nakamura’s swag are why we care about the characters and their incredible mesh of styles are the perfect blend of grace and physicality. *****
Analysis: This match jumped out to an early lead and never really looked back, an absolutely dominating performance from a sure-fire MOTY contender when the year is out. In H2H voting, this match only lost 39 times with the most losses coming against John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins from Royal Rumble and Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi from the same Wrestle Kingdom 9 show. Even against those two matches (which you’ll be seeing here very soon), it wasn’t close. This match beat the SummerSlam one 32-12 in H2h while beating Tanahashi vs. Okada 28-2. Utter domination. The rest of the field had a 90% losing percentage against this match. This wasn’t close, your no-doubter Match of the Month.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada
Wrestle Kingdom 9
Results: 484-69-70 (88%)
Kept apart for nearly 15 months after facing each other six times over the previous 20, the seventh match (technically eighth) between the New Japan aces was to me their best work yet, and it’s not as if they were clearing low hurdles when you consider the previous six bouts were all MOTY contenders, with a couple of them picking up various MOTY awards.
This had the kind of elite in-match storytelling that takes a solid, well worked match and elevates it to something special. Each match in this series has told it’s own unique story, whether it was a new star in Okada emerging out of literally nowhere (New Beginning 2012), Tanahashi working the right arm to take away the deadly Rainmaker (Invasion Attack 2013), Tanahashi feigning a knee injury and working subtle heel (2013 G1), or in this case, the cocky Okada, a man possessed after losing his title to A.J. Styles, being thwarted by a champion who seemingly had the perfect gameplan, and even then had to exhaust beyond maximum effort to finally put down his rival. Tanahashi countered the tombstone, he survived Deep in Debt, and he even kicked out of the Rainmaker proper for the first time ever (he also kicked out at Invasion Attack, but only after Okada’s slow crawl to make the cover and after weakening Okada’s arm).
Tanahashi was ready for all of Okada’s weapons, but he couldn’t find a way to kill him. Countless High Fly Flow’s and destroyed ribs couldn’t get the job done. It was only after a dragon screw tangled into the ropes and a HFF to the knee that Tanahashi was able to keep Okada from kicking out. A stunned Okada cried, hammering home the shocking disappointment, as Tanahashi mocked him from the ring. Long time rivals, high stakes, high drama, high level emotion, and elite level ring work and psychology. This is the best rivalry in modern wrestling, and this was the best match yet from two men who already have multiple 5-star matches and nothing below MOTY level on their resumes against each other. An instant classic, and it will be very hard to top for MOTY for this reviewer. *****
Analysis: Surprisingly this match had a tough time, really never sniffing the top while being thoroughly dominated by Ibushi and Nakamura (8-28) but still holding its own against Cena, Lesnar and Rollins (25-11). Perhaps the most surprisingly H2H results was this match losing five times to Joe Doering vs. Go Shiozaki (28-5) as well as dropping five to Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Minori Suzuki, also from Wrestle Kingdom 9 (30-5).
John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins
Royal Rumble 2015
Results: 514-94-62 (85%)
This match painted the picture of what the perfect Triple Threat Match should look like. It had a variety of dynamic characters. We go the ultimate hero (Cena), the sniveling/sleazy scumbag heel (Rollins) and the unstoppable monster (Lesnar). This match saw seven Attitude Adjustments, two F5’s, two Curb Stomps and 13 German Suplexes. Not to mention the Spear through the barricade, the sickest looking Flying Elbow Drop through the Announcer’s table, and a Phoenix Splash.
This match certainly did not suffer from the usual tropes of the Triple Threat match. The first half involved all three men heavily. Brock Lesnar stalked his prey (Cena and Rollins) like Frankenstein. Lesnar has become the most unstoppable force the WWE has seen this century. Cena’s urgent trifecta of Attitude Adjustments to finally put away this freak of nature that won’t give up his title was insane. The thing this match should forever be known for, however, is that this is the official break out performance for Seth Rollins. Rollins looked like a true star in this match, proving that he belongs with the likes of Cena and Lesnar as a true threat to take the WWE title from them. Seth Rollins trying to finish off Cena and going to his old bag of tricks by pulling out the Phoenix Splash was genius. It is such an easy tool to use in pro wrestling storytelling to give a wrestler a move that they only have to pull out every once while when they have run out of options. Kenta Kobashi had the Burning Hammer, Kota Ibushi has the Phoenix Plex etc. This match was just beautifully paced and left you wanting more of Rollins and Lesnar. ****¼
Analysis: Our least passed match in the countdown, this Royal Rumble battle held its own against the entire field. Of course, it was no match for Tanahashi/Okada and Ibushi/Nakamura where it recieved 31% and 27% of the votes respectively. This is the only match in the top three to not fully sweep. Yes, every single match on this countdown received at least one win against this triple threat match. Yes, even our last place match at least got a win (26-1) against it.
Tetsuya Naito vs. A.J. Styles
Wrestle Kingdom 9
Results: 322-214-101 (60%)
Though it was outshined by the matches that followed it at NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 9 supershow (Nakamura vs. Ibushi and Tanahashi vs. Okada), Naito vs. Styles is a fantastic match. In any other month, we may talk about it as a Match of the Month contender but in January 2015? It may not be in the top five and that’s not a slight because this is such a great match.
The story was all about A.J.’s Styles Clash finisher and Naito looking to avoid the Clash at all costs. The match taking place just weeks after YOSHI-TATSU’s neck was legitimately broken via a botched Styles Clash, made the move and this match all that much more important.
From the opening bell, Styles had one idea in mind: hit the Styles Clash. Within seconds of the match starting it looked like Styles had him but Naito squirmed out of the way, saving the match and maybe his life. The rest of the match focused on Styles trying to slow down Naito with repeated shots to the leg in hopes of hitting the now-deadly move. Styles continued to work over Naito’s knee, even locking in his Calf Cutter submission maneuver but the fiery Naito just wouldn’t let up.
After it looked like Naito had thoroughly gained momentum, he got a little too cute and attempted a top-rope hurricanrana. Styles held onto Naito’s leg and hit a Styles Clash from the top rope for the win. All you need to know about how well this move and match were built is to hear the screams from the crowd when they sensed the Styles Clash coming. It wasn’t just that Naito was about the lose the match and the heel/Bullet Club leader Styles was going to win. No, people legitimately feared for Naito’s life and well being. The last time Styles hit this move he broke a guy’s neck… now he’s going to do it OFF THE TOP ROPE?! Of course, like 99.9999% of people that take the Styles Clash Naito was fine, but the visual, the finish and this match were incredible. ***¾
Joe Doering vs. Go Shiozaki
New Year Wars
Results: 239-181-131 (57%)
With many fans looking forward to January 4th and New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom show, All-Japan ran its New Years Wars 2015 show at Korakuen Hall the day before. While the pre-show buzz wasn’t nearly as noisy, there was one match that had the markings to be the best of the night. What no one may have expected was that Go Shiozaki and Joe Doering were not only going to steal the show but also be the first true MOTY contender just three days into the new year.
It was the fourth time since April 2014 that these two worked a singles match. Doering defeated Shiozaki in just over 20 minutes at A.J.PW Raising an Army in October in their most recent encounter and this match was built as Shiozaki getting his rematch and overcoming the tough Texan in his quest for the Triple Crown. It is a classic formula but don’t be fooled into thinking you’ve seen this play out before. Yes, Doering is cut from the same mold as Stan Hansen–that’s an easy comparison and a very good thing – but it is Go Shiozaki’s underdog spirit that makes this match special.
It starts deliberately, but things really pick up at the 15:00 mark when Doering shakes off and no-sells a series of spike DDTs. The ‘oh shit’ look on Shiozaki’s face is priceless. From there it is more brutal, hard-hitting, flesh-smacking clotheslines and one of my favorite moves – Joe Doering’s crossbody/spear – that takes Shiozaki out of his boots. There is nothing graceful about this crossbody. This is not Ricky Steamboat. Doering is a fucking bulldozer at 80mph. This, along with some of the best 2.999 kick outs of all time, blast the match onto another level. Korakuen Hall is rocking.
The finish is Shiozaki throwing bombs at Doering with Joe standing his ground taking one big shot after another ( is this HOSS ever going to go down?!?) until finally Shiozaki puts everything he has behind one BIG clothesline to get the win and the Triple Crown. It was as if Doering and Shiozaki said, “lets see if you guys in the big building across the walkway can top this match”. These two set the bar for Match of The Year and reminded us all that All Japan might be the promotion that you’d want to pay closer attention too in 2015 ****¼
– Damon McDonald
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Togi Makabe
Wrestle Kingdom 9
Results: 263-223-92 (54%)
If you’re a fan of wrestlers beating the crap out of each other, leaving it all on the line, and sacrificing their own pain in order to inflict some on their opponent all for the chance to walk away as champion, then this is your match. Togi Makabe won the NEVER Openweight Championship from Ishii by being the tougher man, a seemingly impossible thought after Ishii’s run to close 2014. Makabe was landing power moves like powerbombs and bridging germans, all on Ishii’s bad shoulder, before finally landing a top rope double knee drop onto Ishii’s head for the pinfall. A fun, brutal affair to give you a true sense of what the NEVER title has meant over the course of 2014 into 2015. ****
– Rob McCarron
Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Minoru Suzuki
Wrestle Kingdom 9
Results: 254-248-92 (51%)
This was a match that could only be won by knockout or submission. Suzuki brought the big match gear to a Prince Devitt level with his all white gear, complete with dyed white hair. The backstory of this feud was that Sakuraba used a Kimura (which he cleverly calls the Sakuraba Lock) as his finisher and Suzuki was upset that his Kimura didn’t get the same respect. Many months of wars in tag team matches and the legitimate MMA credentials of both men led to New Japan booking a knockouts or submissions only match. These two were given under ten minutes to tell a story that normally takes 20 to tell. Stiff exchanges and entertaining grappling dominated the early part of the bout.
The key point of the match happened just four minutes into the match. They battled on the apron and Sakuraba locked on the Sakuraba Lock. That did wonders for showing the Sakuraba did have the killer Kimura, but he wasn’t able to beat Suzuki because it was on the floor. Suzuki, as he always does, did a masterful job of selling his left arm. He brilliantly worked the rest of the match without the use of his left arm, eating repeated kicks, as he was unable to defend himself because of his arm. Suzuki and Sakuraba continued to battle with sick slap exchanges (Suzuki only using his right arm, of course.) Usually, in Minoru Suzuki matches, he spends 80% of the matches dominating, so watching him being bullied made for a fascinating change. Suzuki’s caught a with his rib and pinned it into place, allowing him to hit shots long enough to down Sakuraba. He quickly hit the running boot and the SAKA OTOSHI to get the submission. Even the sleeper was brilliant, as Suzuki cinched it in extra tight with his right arm to avoid using the left arm. Such a basic match on paper, but it was executed perfectly by both men. Brutal exchanges, crisp submissions, excellent story.
I loved this match. I’ve watched it four times and I continue to find little things that make it special. I really recommend checking this match out. It is completely different from any other match you will find in the match of the month. Being a huge Minoru Suzuki fan, it’s so fun to watch a beautiful match like this after 18 months of being relegated to a comedy role. ****
Dangan Yankees vs. TMDK
Pro Wrestling NOAH
New Year Navigation
Results: 185-207-146 (47%)
A great professional wrestling match needs a greater story to live in the minds of fans forever, or at least stand out in a match of the month poll. The story of TMDK’s January 10th victory over the Dungan Yankees is one of survival. Nichols & Haste are a solid unit but they are not the violence machine the Yankees are. Each step by the TMDK was into the path of a murderous chop or a fast ball knee to the stomach. In the midst of the route the Australians only chance to survive was to work together. After dividing and conquering the robotic Yankees, TMDK combined strength to try and double team their foes into oblivion, an ultimately successful strategy. Not only was the fight entertaining but it highlighted the idea that the key to survival often lies in strength in numbers. ****
Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi vs. Shuji Ishikawa & Kohei Sato
Results: 131-202-181 (39%)
Okabayashi already had teamed with Yuji Hino and they made a great HOSS tag team and even had a great tag match with Yuko Miyamoto and Isami Kodaka for the New Year’s Eve 2015 Three Organizations Tag Tournament which you should check out as well. If you want to see 4 guys destroy each other without hesitation while not backing down from each other the Strong BJ division will make you love BJW outside of the death matches. This is simple in its brutality and is not flashy at all, they mainly just throw chops, knees, kicks and forearms and drop each other on their heads. Plus those headbutts are something that Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii would not attempt. They do not hold back with strikes and they also put over that Okabayashi has the number of Ishikawa. This is mainly about who gives the best shot and whoever does not get knocked out by subsequent shot.
How do you take down a tower? With lariats, brainbusters, dropkicks and an unrelenting sense of ruthless aggression. This has little details with the facial expressions of both teams, fun double team moments, the fans being ridiculously hot for Strong BJ to claim a victory and the selling of Sekimoto and Okabayashi is second to none. The last few minutes of this match are nothing but a heat generator full of near falls and even more stiff strikes. At one point Twin Towers tries to knee Okabayashi’s soul out of his body and then follows up with attempting full blown brain trauma with two forearms to the side of his head. Of course Sekimoto hits my favorite German Suplex to push this thing into hyperdrive and then no sells Sato’s German Suplex and hits a lariat that Mom would make, full of substance and flavor.
The finishing stretch is basically Okabayashi’s final stand as he has to hit Ishikawa with everything in his repertoire. Ishikawa is a gamer as he gets near falls to jump the fans out of their seats and get behind Okabayashi possibly winning this thing. Lariat, powerbomb, another lariat and finally a Golem Splash from Okabayashi put away one half of the Twin Towers. This was more about Okabayashi getting in line for a shot at Ishikawa’s BJW World Strong Heayweight Championship than anything but their partners put in good work as well. Strong BJ makes me a happy individual and Sato who many people have not liked for years is doing the best work of his career. It’s not pretty, it could make viewers uncomfortable and this style of wrestling is something you cannot do every night but for somebody like me it is always welcome in my wheelhouse. If deathmatches are all you think BJW does, go down this avenue and never look back. ****
Cavernario vs. Rey Cometa
FantasticaMania: Day 6
Results: 138-212-162 (39%)
From the final night of the Fantasticamania tour, this was a rematch from the great hair vs hair bout at last year’s CMLL Anniversary show. This may have been a tick below the level of that encounter, but this was still my favorite match of this year’s Fantasticamania. Cavernario was his usual force of nature, with a style and intensity to his work that nobody else on the CMLL roster can match. It’s no surprise that he was a huge hit on the tour and got over big time in Japan. Cometa is criminally underrated, both as a flyer and an overall worker, and if you didn’t know any better you would never know that he worked this match on a blown out knee. That may have been why this wasn’t quite at the level of the hair bout from September, but this was still well above “go out of your way to see it” level. ****
Forever Hooligans vs. reDRagon vs. Time Splitters vs. Young Bucks
Wrestle Kingdom 9
Results: 183-321-104 (36%)
Amazing that this match is in the Best of January consideration, as it is, at best, the fifth best match of the show it took place on. Of course, that just goes to show the depth and quality that was NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 9. I wouldn’t consider this one of the best ten matches of January 2015, but it does have its moments: Dives a plenty, Romero clotheslining everyone while screaming “Forever!” like a mad man, Young Bucks being the Young Bucks, and more. It’s a fun match, although it relied heavily on spots being perfectly timed. That ended up being a downfall, however, when a key Meltzer Driver sequence in the middle saw its timing fail, leading to a referee’s 3 count being held up by what felt like two hours. In the end, it was a hot opener on a show that will go down likely as the 2015 Show of the Year. ***
– Rob McCarron
Hulk/Mochi/Dragon Kid vs Tozawa/Shingo/Sachihoko BOY
Open the New Year Gate: Day 4
Results: 97-193-171 (33%)
This is a good example of the type of great Dragon Gate match that gets lost in the shuffle, because Dragon Gate tends to churn out one of these frenetic six man tags on nearly every show. Sometimes these types of bouts suffer from being too long, and there are few things in wrestling more exhausting than a Dragon Gate trios match that overstays its welcome, but this match is a great example of just the right length of time for the stories they were telling. The meat of the match is made up of the ongoing Shingo/Hulk rivalry, and grumpy Masaaki Mochizuki being amused (and annoyed) at the antics of the lowest ranked guy in the match, Sachihoko BOY. The closing stretch is your classic Dragon Gate closing stretch, meaning it’s a brilliant exhibition of speed, grace, skill, and intensity. I’ve often said that this is the most skilled and refined roster in the world, and it’s closing stretches like this that prove it. Mochi knocking out BOY with a vicious kick to the head after the rest of the participants took each other out like a train wreck felt like a satisfying (if not predictable) finish. ****
El Hijo del Fantasma/Fenix/Pentagon Jr. vs. El Hijo de Fishman/Flamita/Sky Man
Promociones Cara Lucha
Results: 106-217-176 (33%)
If you want dingy Lucha in the middle of Nowhere, Mexico then this match is the cure for what ails you. You also get to see six men work without being restrained and it makes for a truly, ridiculously entertaining match. I love Lucha fans, they are so fervent in their hatred or loyalty to certain wrestlers and you can hear it here. Fenix and Flamita continue to be two of the most fluid luchadors in the world, even Pentagon Jr. seems like a saint in AAA and Lucha Underground compared to how he wrestles here. The strikes the rudos employ carry an extra sense of violence and urgency behind them (listen to the thump on some of those slaps to the chest). This match is also helped by the fact that there is no commentary and you are focused on the action in the ring and the fans loudly proclaiming their love of Lucha. The tecnicos work from underneath and of course the rudos win the first fall with a clean sweep of the tecnicos as Fantasma gets the powerbomb, Fenix gets the double stomp and Pentagon Jr. gets the package piledriver.
These fans are are rowdy, and if you don’t pay attention you won’t notice that a fan throws a beer from the balcony onto Fenix and Flamita. The strikes between Fenix and Flamita would fit well on a NJPW show. Flamita hits the Flam Fly to tie this up 1-1. The pace is great and hardly lets up.
I love how Pentagon Jr. and Hijo del Fantasma don’t have time for the antics of the tecnicos and lay them out at every turn. These sequences with Fenix and Flamita make me want them to have a singles match. I feel like they tried to cram so much in here that certain parts come down to Fenix and Flamita. Fenix ends it with a devastating modified Tombstone piledriver to win this round for the rudos. It was sloppy at times, the camera work was wonky and there were some noticeable botches but this match has charm in spades and anytime Flamita and Fenix can work together I’m content. ****¼
Eita vs. Jimmy Kagetora
Open the New Year Gate: Day 3
Results: 100-209-177 (32%)
So, it’s been a long long time since I watched any Dragon Gate. Like, since they showed up in ROH in 2006. So the biggest shock to me of the match was just how grounded it was. Not just in the sense of Eita and Kagetora were on the ground a lot, but the match itself was grounded in a story with a clear through line. I came in expecting a flippy floppy fandingodango designed to give Jim Cornette nightmares. Instead I got a guy constantly working for a submission he finally caught at the end.
That’s not to say there weren’t some things that made me rewind to watch again as soon as they happened. The sequence where Eita came from the outside, feinted a tornado DDT and ended up rolling into Numero Uno. Kagetora’s wrist toss into the running corner dropkick. Kagetora’s turnbuckle handstand into a falling DDT was absolutely perfect.
My only nitpick with the match is the first half may have been too slow. With multiple outside the ring breaks and chances for both men to drink water and be iced down by their entourage it made the first half feel choppy. Not a mind-blowing spectacle of a match, but definitely one that has me wanting to start watching more Dragon Gate. ***¾
Mascara Dorada vs. Negro Casas
CMLL on Fox Sports
Results: 110-233-164 (32%)
I ended up liking this match, and it was good, just not out of this world great. Negro Casas is very good, especially at his age, and he never looked off. But the real person who stood out here was Mascara Dorada — he was great at everything he did! From his signature rope spot to that crazy running and jumping into the ring with a hurricanrana seamlessly was pretty damn amazing. He took some big dives that looked great as well.
The match itself was fine. The first two falls were nothing to write home about, with Dorada taking the first fall and Casas taking the second. It’s the usual spot of getting caught and pinned or submitted quickly. I don’t know if I like that so much in a wrestling match, because then there’s not much to a point of doing a 2 out of 3 falls match in the first place, but that’s just how things were done here. It totally picked up in the third fall and the nearfalls were entertaining up to the finish with Dorada pinning Casas to win the CMLL Welterweight title. So overall, this was a solid bout with some fun nearfalls at the end. Better than most stuff seen this month in North America, but at best really just a pretty fun TV match. ***¼
Timothy Thatcher vs. Ricochet
Results: 112-251-155 (31%)
The story of the contest was very simple. Ricochet and Thatcher both chose a body part to work over. Thatcher made mincemeat out of Ricochet’s arm by slamming it hard on the canvass and locked in a Fujiwara Armbar whenever the opportunity presented itself. Forced to wrestle a style that grounded his aerial game, Ricochet responded with strategically timed strikes to Thatcher’s mid-section. By the time Ricochet found an opening to fly, a Shooting Star Press was sufficient to gain the pinfall.
Tim Thatcher is a polarizing figure among wrestling fans. I’ve heard him hailed as a wrestling genius and read tales of some catching a snooze during his matches. The way he controlled the tempo against Ricochet was not what his detractors would expect. Not once did Thatcher resort to holds keep control of the fight. Instead, he drilled the former Open the Freedom Gate Champion with European Uppercuts each time Ricochet showed signs of life. In my opinion not only was that strategy unique but it reminded me of how great a technical match can be.
Look at most of the matches on this list and you will find stiff or flashy bouts. Thatcher vs. Ricochet stands out as an exception as a tribute to wrestling’s nascent days when strategy and stretching were the keys to victory. Patience is needed to view this contest but the simplicity of it makes the match well worth seeking out. ****
Naomichi Marufuji vs. Satoshi Kojima
Pro Wrestling NOAH
New Year Navigation
Results: 112-261-169 (30%)
Kojima and Marufuji are ancient in wrestling years. Unlike many middle aged grapplers, both men keep a consistent work rate. Matches such as this January 10th duel for the GHC Championship show why. When a fan watches the match they will notice a lack of ill-advised bumps and cringe inducing kicks that Puro fans adore. Instead, the fan witnesses a contest between aging warhorses that know each other well. Much of the match is the combatants trading counters and reversing the other’s signature maneuvers. By the closing minutes, when the strikes got stiffer and Marufuji took a nasty bump on the ring apron, the moves actually meant something. Such a conservative approach serves as a lesson in longevity for wrestlers and produced a quality title defense for Marufuji that any fan will enjoy. ***¾
Big R Shimizu vs Jimmy Susumu
Open the New Year Gate: Day 4
Results: 93-231-171 (29%)
The Dragon Gate roster is littered with guys like Jimmy Kagetora and Jimmy Susumu who get almost zero hype outside of hardcore Dragon Gate circles (and even very little within those circles at times, to be honest), but if I had to list the top, say, 100 wrestlers in the world, guys like Kagetora & Susumu would not only be locks for the list, but probably challenge for the top 20. Guys like Susumu fly under the radar for a variety of reasons. Comparatively speaking in regard to other elite level workers, they’re rarely featured in big time singles matches, which is partly due to the DG way of cycling guys in and out of the mix, and partly due to being on such a loaded roster with an ever growing bevy of really strong young talent that demands to be pushed. Even though you may not always notice that he’s around, Susumu is a pro’s pro who can be counted on to lead a young wrestler like Big R Shimizu through his first long singles match, and at any time he can also be a Dream Gate challenger who tears the house down with one of the top stars. And while it may not seem like Susumu is a vital part of the roster, he’d leave a huge hole if he were missing, maybe ever more so than the loss of one of the stars, because the workhorse “glue guy” who can slide into virtually any role, from veteran gatekeeper, to the guy who keeps tag matches together, to mid card champion, or even the occasional run in the main events, is in reality a much harder position to groom than a star. You can’t prepare guys for a Susumu role, they just have to be really fucking good.
In this match, Susumu leads Shimizu, a budding young star with incredible upside, through a well paced story unlike nearly all of Shimizu’s previous matches, which have consisted of either tags, plowing through lower ranked guys, or short violent sprints against guys like Don Fujii. When Shimizu is a big star (and trust me, Shimizu is going to be a big star), nobody will remember matches like this during his formative days. Such is life for a guy like Susumu. You may not always notice, but he’s doing some of the best (and most vital) work on the roster. ****
Kenny Omega vs. Ryusuke Taguchi
Wrestle Kingdom 9
Results: 133-341-115 (28%)
Kenny Omega has fully immersed himself in his new gimmick, “The Cleaner”, as a member of the Bullet Club. Omega has become equal parts Razor Ramon and Brian Pillman wrapped up in the crazed quirky enigma that is Kenny Omega. This was the big in ring debut of Omega as an official roster member in NJPW and in the character that he has become. All of Omega’s antic within this match are spot on as perfect fits with his character as well as creating a match that stood out as unique on a match card chock full of great wrestling. Omega throwing his toothpick in the face of the referee, spraying Taguchi in the eyes, the Chainsaw Eye Rake, along with all of his taunts were just great ways to put Omega over as a the alpha heel within the junior ranks in New Japan.
This match had an interesting dynamic with Rysuke Taguchi walking into this match as the NJPW Jr. Heavyweight Champion only to defend that title against a member of the very group that Taguchi’s former teammate, Prince Devitt, created amongst the wreckage of Apollo 55. Taguchi made up with Devitt upon Prince’s departure to Orlando and it showed in this match when Taguchi paid tribute Devitt by landing Devitt’s signature Somersault Suicide Senton on Omega and his Young Bucks compadres.
Omega cements his place in the Jr. division with a decisive win over Taguchi with a vicious, yet beautiful looking German Suplex and then finishing off with a One Winged Angel to stamp his name as the new lead dog in the Jr. Division. This match was an excellent way to debut Kenny Omega as “The Cleaner” of the Junior Division and Taguchi worked a great match as his first victim. ***½
–Taylor C. Mitchell
Pequenos Reyes del Air
CMLL on CadenaTres
Results: 73-243-182 (23%)
Great matches come in many different forms. You have matches that tell a great self contained single match story. You have matches that pay off a long term narrative with call back spots and subtle match-to-match details. You have your fantastic workrate exhibitions. You can have a red hot crowd reacting to big stars on the big stage, transforming a good match into a great one. And then you have what we had here with the 2015 Pequenos Reyes del Air, which was an absolute train wreck of wild & wacky spots, punctuated by the near death of a participant (twice!). Was this a workrate classic with picture perfect psychology? No. Was this a payoff to a hot rivalry? Again, no. Was it the main event of one of the biggest shows of the year? Nope. This was unadulterated madness, with jaw dropping spots and participants who worked their asses off. There should be a match like this on every wrestling show, ever. ****