Editor’s Note: Match of the Month is back! For those unaware, Taylor Mitchell who headed up the project throughout 2016 had to step away from his duties. In his stead, our devoted forum members, including the author of this very piece Lawson, began manually logging matches each month in our dedicated Match of the Month sub forum. We can’t thank them, especially Lawson, enough for their hard work and for keeping this very important project alive. Some weeks ago, Lawson reached out asking to take on the project as a written column again and here we are. Without further adieu, we present January 2017’s Match of the Month countdown! -Rich Kraetsch
When I volunteered to helm this project I had no idea the month we’d be starting out with would be so full of excellent wrestling. Wrestling truly is in a golden age right now… if you have the time to consume it all. But maybe you don’t, so that’s what this is for. We’re bringing to you all of the best wrestling each month, to help you catch up on what you missed. And maybe get you into a new promotion or two, who knows?
Let’s begin, there’s an embarrassment of riches here.
10. Trevor Lee vs Brad Attitude, CWF Mid-Atlantic 1/18
(My Rating: ****1/4)
I loved the storytelling of this match. Attitude can’t be disqualified but Trevor Lee can. There’s a time limit and Attitude would win the title in case of a draw, and Lee’s entire title reign has been about having long matches without time limits and outlasting his opponents. Trevor Lee’s journey towards overcoming the odds was compelling and the work in the match matched the story to a tee.
9. Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Takashi Sugiura, NOAH, 1/7
(VOW Rating: ****, My Rating: ****1/4)
Finally Sugiura is free of Suzuki Gun and gets his rematch against Nakajima. Nakajima is really working for me as the Ace of NOAH and he showed exactly why here.
8. Chris Hero vs Zack Sabre Jr., EVOLVE, 1/28
(VOW Rating: ****1/2, My Rating: ****1/4)
This was truly a worthy way to send Hero off to NXT. Hero is a lot of people’s greatest opponent, but Sabre just might’ve been Hero’s greatest opponent during this indie run he’s had. They had great match after great match and Sabre finally getting that elusive win over Hero in EVOLVE was the perfect sendoff.
7. Tyler Bate vs Pete Dunne, WWE, 1/15
(Meltzer Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****1/4, My Rating ****1/4)
The meeting of the two best participants in this year’s UK tournament, this final was everything a tournament final should be. Drama, storytelling, an excellent fiery comeback, great near falls…and in the end the babyface triumphed.
6. Hiromu Takahashi vs KUSHIDA, 1/4
(Meltzer Rating: ****1/2,VOW Rating: ****1/2, My Rating: ****1/2)
This match started the great run of matches at this year’s Wrestle Kingdom. Though almost universally regarded as the weakest of the four heralded contests, it’s still a damned excellent match. Helping its cause, this was a match that only these two juniors could have. Hiromu’s charisma and KUSHIDA’s babyface fire clashed so well here—and besides the occasional hiccup on a move or two—the work was phenomenal. And as much as I love KUSHIDA, the right guy won.
5. Marty Scurll vs Zack Sabre Jr., RPW, 1/22,
(VOW Rating: ****1/2, My Rating: ****1/2)
This match didn’t quite breeze by as quickly as another 40+ minute match this month, but it was a classic display of pure technical ability. I’d seen these men wrestle several times before in different promotions, and after a year of build I can say this is the best match I’ve seen them have.
4. Hirooki Goto vs Katsuyori Shibata, 1/4
(Meltzer Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****3/4, My Rating: ****1/2)
We’ve become familiar with the NEVER title being the “strong style” title in NJPW. Well, these guys killed each other for it on the grand stage of the Tokyo Dome. They’d had many wars before, but each man’s character was in a very different place on this night. The closing stretch where Goto repeatedly headbutts Shibata is one of the better sequences you’ll ever see—and maybe the most violent.
3. Tetsuya Naito vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, 1/4
(Meltzer Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****3/4, My Rating: ****1/2)
Some people’s favorite match on this excellent Dome show, Tanahashi & Naito went out there and told a classic pro wrestling story. The leg work and selling from each man was superb. The character work was on point. Both men felt like superstars. Had this been the main event of the Tokyo Dome no one could be disappointed. The outcome, though surprising to many, in hindsight seemed to be the right call. The journeys of these men intrigue me as the year rolls on.
2. AJ Styles vs John Cena, WWE, 1/29
(Meltzer Rating: ****3/4, My Rating: ****3/4)
Superior to their much heralded SummerSlam 2016 match in every aspect (besides perhaps the outcome for us Styles fans), this match felt like two big stars emptying their entire playbook on one another in order to secure victory. Very much worked in the Cena main event style, with a ton of near falls, false finishes, and movez…this match was as close to the apex of that style as you’ll ever find. A lot of that has to do with the greatness that was AJ Styles in this match. Throw in a ton of excellent submission reversals (shades of Angle/Benoit) and you have yourself my second favorite Cena match of all time between the famous CM Punk match at Money In The Bank 2011.
1. Kenny Omega vs Kazuchika Okada, 1/4
(Meltzer Rating: ******, VOW Rating: *****, My Rating: ******)
NJPW Purocast host Damon McDonald and I have had many disagreements, but on this we concur: Omega vs Okada is our favorite match of all time. I’d be shocked if any match unseated Omega/Okada as my #1 this year. If you go back and watch Omega’s G1 match with Naito, his final with Goto and then this match, it makes a perfect trilogy of Omega’s journey to being the hottest guy in wrestling today.
This match is so great, it the insane high spots aren’t even my favorite parts. Yes, a dragon suplex from the top rope and a back body drop to the outside through a table are insane spots, but those only contribute towards the second act of this masterpiece. The escalation in the go home stretch is the best I’d ever seen. I’ve never been convinced a match was over more times in my life. But it never felt gratuitous. Everything felt earned. I can throw every superlative I know at this match and it would only scratch the surface to how it made me feel. And really, at the end of the day, that’s why I watch wrestling.
Just like the last two Januarys, NJPW not only provided multiple MOTY contenders, but may have already locked in THE Match Of The Year. Wrestle Kingdom was truly a special show, and has been since 2013. And Fantasticamania this year produced some very good matches as well.
- Young Bucks vs Roppongi Vice, 1/4 (Meltzer Rating: ***1/2, Site Rating: ****, My Rating: ****)
- Dragon Lee vs Cavernario, 1/20 (Site Rating: ****, My Rating ****)
- Volador Jr. vs Ultimo Guerrero, 1/22 (Site Rating: ****1/4)
This company had a sneaky good month bell-to-bell. A great Royal Rumble 2017 undercard and some good TV matches help make up for a below average TakeOver show and a forgettable Rumble match itself. Also, RAW is way too long, and I’m not afraid to be the one that says it. Call me the mayor of hot take city.
- Mark Andrews vs Pete Dunne, 1/15 (Meltzer Rating: ****, Site Rating ****, My Rating: ****)
- DIY vs The Revival, 1/17 (My Rating: ****)
- Sami Zayn vs Seth Rollins, 1/23 (My Rating ****)
- Andrade Cien Almas vs Roderick Strong, 1/28 (Meltzer Rating: ***, Site Rating: ****, My Rating: ****)
- DIY vs Authors Of Pain, 1/28 (Meltzer Rating ***1/2, Site Rating: ***, My rating: ****)
- Bobby Roode vs Shinsuke Nakamura, 1/28 (Meltzer Rating: ****1/4, Site Rating: **1/2, My Rating: ***1/2)
- Kevin Owens vs Roman Reigns No DQ, 1/29 (Meltzer Rating: ****1/2, My Rating: ****1/4)
- Dean Ambrose vs AJ Styles, 1/31 (Meltzer Rating ****1/4, My Rating: ****1/4)
I think the main company responsible for such an influx of great matches this month has got to be NOAH: The Reborn. They had a hell of a month. Moving a couple of their juniors up to heavyweight has certainly helped, and despite their thin roster they gave us a ton of fresh and intriguing matches in January.
- Taiji Ishimori vs Hajime Ohara, 1/7 (Site Rating: ****1/4, My Rating: ****1/4)
- Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Kenoh, 1/9 (Site Rating: ****, My Rating: ****)
- Hajime Ohara vs Daisuke Harada, 1/21 (Site Rating: ****1/4, My Rating: ****1/4)
- Go Shiozaki & Maybach Taniguchi vs Kenoh & Masa Kitamiya, 1/21 (Site Rating: ****1/4, My Rating: ****1/4)
- Fred Yehi vs Anthony Henry, Style Battle, 1/7 (Site Rating: ****, My Rating: ****)
- Matt Riddle vs ACH, Evolve 76, 1/27 (Site Rating: ****, My Rating: ****)
- Matt Riddle vs Dustin No DQ, Evolve 77, 1/28 (Site Rating: ****, My Rating: ****)
That’s right folks! You know it’s a good month when TNA gets in on the action.
- Moose vs Mike Bennett No DQ, 1/6 (My Rating: ****)
- Rosemary vs Jade Monsters Ball, 1/26 (Site Rating: ***3/4, My Rating: ****)
- Lashley vs Eddie Edwards Ironman, 1/26 (Site Rating: ****, My rating: ****)
- Jonathan Gresham vs David Starr, Beyond Wrestling, 12/29
- Kazusada Higuchi/Yoshihisa Uto vs Hideyoshi Kamitani/Konosuke Takeshita, Shuffle tag Tournament, 1/1 (My rating: ****1/4)
- Kohei Sato vs Yusaku Obata, Zero1, 1/1 (Site Rating: ****, My Rating: ****)
- Strong BJ vs Twin Towers, BJW, 1/2 (Site Rating: ****1/2, My Rating: ****1/4)
- Ryan Smile, Shane Strickland & Will Ospreay vs Pete Dunne, Marty Scurll & Travis Banks, RPW, 1/8
- Sammy Guevara vs Shane Strickland, Wrestle Circus, 1/20 (My rating: ****)
- Sami Callihan vs Dave Crist, CZW, 1/14 (My Rating: ****)
- Matt Riddle vs Katsuyori Shibata, RPW, 1/22 (Site Rating: ****1/2, My Rating: ****1/4)
- Kento Miyahara vs Takao Omori, AJPW, 1/15 (Site Rating ****1/4, My Rating: ****1/4)
- Kudo vs Konosuke Takeshita, DDT, 1/29