This year got off to a hot start with another stacked January. Things cooled off in February and you could make a case that none of the matches in this Top 10 will make a dent in the final Voices of Wrestling Match of the Year poll. With that said, there was still plenty of newsworthy and notable matches from the month.
Thanks to Josh Engleman we have brought back the H2H voting system for the Match of the Month and you guys have spoken. As voted on by you, the February 2016 Match of the Month is:
#1: IWGP Intercontinental Championship – Kenny Omega vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
New Japan Pro Wrestling
The New Beginning in Niigata
Win Percentage: 79.7%
The Build: The entire build to this match was centered around the ascension of Kenny Omega as a top heavyweight wrestler in NJPW. After losing his IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship to KUSHIDA at the Tokyo Dome on January 4, Omega took one step back and approximately 1,000 steps forward. The night following Wrestle Kingdom 10 Omega earned a pinfall victory over Shinsuke Nakamura, kicked AJ Styles out of Bullet Club, assumed the leadership role of Bullet Club, declared himself a heavyweight wrestler, AND declared his intent to become the IWGP Intercontinental Champion.
Nakamura threw a monkey wrench into Omega’s plan when he signed a contract with WWE forcing NJPW to strip him of the Intercontinental Championship. Omega was still put into the match for the now vacant Intercontinental Championship against “X”, but was not going to be able to defeat NJPW pillar Nakamura to notch his belt on the way to the top. After a ton of speculation over who “X” was going to be we found out at Nakamura’s farewell show. In an attempt to crash Nakamura’s send off party, Omega called Nakamura out for being too afraid to step into the ring with Omega. Hiroshi Tanahashi wanted nothing to do with these insults being thrown at Nakamura and stepped up to Omega declaring himself as “X.”
The Match: Years from now people won’t remember this match for anything more than the first major checkpoint in Omega’s ascent as a heavyweight main event act in NJPW. The match was very good, but the history books will read more about the match result and what it meant to Omega’s career.
Omega is a selling fetishist’s dream, and it’s a crime that that crowd doesn’t clamor around this guy. There is no wrestler in the world better at consistently selling a limb and showing how it affects his entire moveset. Another interesting aspect of Omega’s ascent is that he has made it a point to “collect” the finishing maneuvers of the guys he defeats. Omega has now collected the Styles Clash and the Boma Ye (which he now refers to as the V-Trigger). In this match Omega tried to put Tanahashi away with the V-Trigger, but couldn’t. Meaning the V-Trigger has the same effect for Omega that the Boma Ye had for Nakamura. It took three V-Triggers in this match plus Omega’s already established finisher, the One Winged Angel. This match also had “Bullet Club shenanigans”, but they didn’t directly affect the outcome of the match so Omega still came out looking strong in his victory.
The Voting: This match won the H2H voting with a clear 5.2% margin over second place. Even though this match was the clear winner for February, it won’t do well in Match of the Year polls. I had this match at **** and there will be at least 15 matches that surpass it in the G1 alone.
The rest of the top five:
#2: NEVER Openweight Championship – Tomohiro Ishii vs. Katsuyori Shibata ©
New Japan Pro Wrestling
The New Beginning in Osaka
Win Percentage: 74.5%
The Build: This was a rematch of their Wrestle Kingdom 10 match that saw Shibata win the NEVER Openweight Championship over Ishii. There wasn’t a lot of story told leading up to this match on NJPW’s part. It was made up mostly in undercard multi-man tag team matches and the minds of the fans that wanted to see these two go to war again.
The Match: Ishii has been the consummate leader of the NEVER Openweight “division.” Through these fans have come to expect a certain hard hitting style when it comes to these matches and there is no more perfect dance partner for Ishii in that style than Shibata. This match was slightly better than their Wrestle Kingdom 10 match, which was great in its own right. These two men just completely brutalized each other for nearly twenty minutes. Ishii continues to be the best non-main event wrestler on the planet. Ishii is known for his hard-hitting offense, but I urge anyone who doesn’t consume a lot of NJPW to watch Ishii for his selling. There isn’t a wrestler in the world today that is better than Ishii at the “collapse after a brutal exchange.” It always comes off like he is in a real fight.
The Voting: This match was the clear number 2 the entire duration of the voting process. This match received a lot of praise from the get-go, but will most likely split votes with their Wrestle Kingdom matches when it comes to MOTY voting.
#3: PROGRESS Championship (No Disqualification Match) – Marty Scurll vs Will Ospreay ©
PROGRESS Chapter 25: Chat Shit Get Banged
January 24 (Aired/Released in February)
Win Percentage: 63.6%
The Build: The UK independents have the most exciting scene in the world and it is building steam on the backs of these two men. The build for this match was about Ospreay trying to continue his path to becoming the flagship wrestler of PROGRESS while Scurll was trying to win his first PROGRESS championship. The anticipation for this match was also mounted on the high praise these men received from each of their previous encounters, including last wrestling in a Match of the Year candidate just eight days prior to this match for RevPro.
The Match: This match was better than their RevPro match from earlier in the month. This match felt more personal whereas the RevPro match felt more like a showcase of cool moves. The No DQ stipulation helped add to the intensity of this fiery rivalry. Ospreay is only 22 years old, so it feels criminal to harshly critique his work, but when a wrestler has received such high praise he opens himself up for it. Ospreay’s biggest criticism has always been his selling. What people don’t give him credit for though is his facial expressions and the fire he shows on comebacks. Sure, he might stop selling a limb that has been worked over once in awhile, but the vulnerability Ospreay shows when he is getting beat down reminds me of an El Generico/Sami Zayn. Ospreay will always garner sympathy from the crowd.
Marty Scurll is the master of the Crossface Chickenwing, which is exciting for me because that has always been my all-time favorite submission hold. The RevPro match was built around Scurll trying to put Ospreay away with the Chickenwing, but it wasn’t until Scurll locked his fingers together and got the full effect of the Chickenwing until he was able to force Ospreay to give up in that match. This important aspect of the RevPro match was not touched upon once by the commentators. They were too busy schilling the idea of a Marty Scurll action figure to catch on to the story Ospreay and Scurll were telling. This time though, the commentators picked up on this on the first attempt Scurll made at locking in the Chickenwing. Go try to put your friend in a Crossface Chickenwing. It won’t be until you clasp your fingers together that they will scream for mercy.
The Voting: This match finished in third place in voting for the second month in a row (important note, that I determined the rankings last month sans H2H voting). This match suffered from the general public being more familiar/invested in the Kenny Omega ascension than anything happening in PROGRESS Wrestling or else this match would have received more votes.
#4: Losing Unit Must Disband Match – Dia.HEARTS vs. Monster Express vs. VerserK
Truth Gate 2016
Win Percentage: 56.8%
The Build: If you don’t follow Dragon Gate I would highly recommend reading ALL of John Carroll’s Dragon Gate history articles on this website. They’re great reads that go down easy and catch you up on the rich history of Japan’s 2nd biggest promotion. Some cliff notes of John’s Dragon Gate 101: The Units article are that Dia.HEARTS were formed and looked to be the big time babyface unit of Dragon Gate, but have struggled since their inception in September of 2014. BxB Hulk was the top guy in the unit and has been out with a shoulder injury since this past October thus explaining his absence from this all-important match. Monster Express has been around the longest of the three units in this match and they walk into this match on the backs of their 7 month reign with the Open the Triangle Gate Championships (Dragon Gate’s six man tag team championships.) VerserK is the newest of the three units, but they are the most powerful. VerserK is the top heel unit in Dragon Gate and have been wreaking havoc on the promotion with their leader, Shingo Takagi walking into the match as the Open the Dream Gate Champion (Dragon Gate’s World Champion).
The Match: If you’ve never watched watched a Dragon Gate show or have watched very little of their matches before then I recommend you ignore the majority opinion of the promotion and watch it for yourself. This match would be a good starting point (although I recommend reading through the aforementioned John Carroll article on units first.) The general perception of Dragon Gate is that they’re “spot-fest” wrestling and don’t sell. Do they grab headlocks and work over limbs for the duration of matches? No. But, there is plenty of state-of-the-art action, story, and drama in all of their matches that put you firmly on the edge of your seat. This match especially had all of those things and took place in front of a red hot Korakuen Hall crowd that was fully invested into each pinfall as they were on the edge of their seat waiting to see with unit would be forced to disband.
YAMATO and Naruki Doi walked into this match as the Open the Twin Gate Champions (DG’s tag team champions) on an historic reign. They picked up final pinfall on Kzy, of Dia.HEARTS, and forced Dia.HEARTS to disband, thus continuing VerserK’s dominance and destruction of Dragon Gate.
The Voting: This match started off slow in the voting, but quickly picked up steam over the next couple of days. As I said previously, this match is worth seeking out for non-Dragon Gate fans. Dragon Gate die-hards are calling this one of the best Dragon Gate matches ever and all have said this match will be a MOTYC.
#5: ROH World Television Championship – Tomohiro Ishii vs. Roderick Strong ©
Ring of Honor/New Japan Pro Wrestling
Honor Rising Night 1
Win Percentage: 43.2%
The Build: The build up to this match was purely based on ROH putting a couple of shows on in Japan. There was no prior issue between Strong and Ishii, but that doesn’t mean that fans weren’t drooling at the thought of these two workhorses clashing.
The Match: The overall response to this match was underwhelming considering the expectations fans had for the match. That’s not to say it wasn’t a very good match. The work was a little sloppy at times, probably due to having two workers that have never worked together before. I, personally, don’t mind a little sloppiness at times in my wrestling. I feel it even adds a little bit of realism to it as long as the performers follow up on blown spots properly.
Strong normally bullies wrestlers with his chops and stiff offense, but the story of this match told Strong was facing the biggest bully on the playground. Ishii finished the match with conviction and shockingly won the ROH World TV title in the process. Ishii then proceeded to stand over Strong with the TV title as the ultimate sign of disrespect. In his post-match interview Ishii showed just how much he didn’t respect Strong by calling him “soft” and stating this match was “boring and easy.”
The Voting: The fifth place match this month was fluctuating every day of the voting process. This match finished strong with a near 6% advantage over BUSHI vs. KUSHIDA. This was a good match, but I’d suspect it wouldn’t make the top 5 in stronger months.
MVP of February – Tomohiro Ishii: Ishii was the only wrestler to appear in the nominations twice and both of his matches made the top 5. Ishii is continuing to prove he is the best non-main eventer in the world. Bell-to-bell there are not many wrestlers on the planet that are as consistently great as Ishii and that is shown by Ishii being the only wrestler this year to be in three matches that received nomination for Match of the Month.
H2H Voting Results:
|NJPW: Kenny Omega vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi [2016-02-14]||256||65||40||361||79.7%||1|
|NJPW: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Katsuyori Shibata [2016-02-11]||226||77||35||338||74.5%||2|
|PROGRESS: Marty Scurll vs. Will Ospreay [2016-01-24]||157||90||73||319||63.6%||3|
|DG: Monster Express vs. Dia.HEARTS vs. VerserK [2016-02-04]||143||108||70||321||56.8%||4|
|NJPW/ROH: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Roderick Strong [2016-02-19]||115||151||52||318||43.2%||5|
|NJPW: KUSHIDA vs. BUSHI [2016-02-14]||108||182||47||337||37.4%||6|
|BJPW: Yuji Okabayashi vs. Ryota Hama [2016-01-24]||79||137||77||293||36.7%||7|
|NJPW: Young Bucks vs. reDRagon vs. Ricochet & Matt Sydal [2016-02-11]||113||199||54||366||36.1%||8|
|TWE: Fred Yehi vs. Colby Corino [2016-02-13]||18||205||90||313||8.0%||9|