I expect many people will have many different favorites this month, as we saw so much high level wrestling during the month. Coming up with a consensus top/best match of the month will not be easy. Let’s dive in.
As always, if you want to help contribute to this list, head over to the VOW Forums (voicesofwrestling.com/forums) and look for our Match of the Month subforum!
10. Kento Miyahara vs Shuji Ishikawa, AJPW 5/21
(My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****1/2)
At last, the illustrious and successful reign of Kento Miyahara is at an end. I could’ve watched it continue, but you could pick a lot worse guys for him to lose to than Shuji Ishikawa. I feel pretty smart as, in only a year or so of following AJPW as a company I correctly predicted Shuji Ishikawa to win Champion’s Carnival. What I did not predict, nor did most, was that Shuji Ishikawa would be the man to unseat Kento Miyahara as Triple Crown champion.
Kento Miyahara has been one of the bright spots of pro wrestling for me in the last 18 months. And that’s in a world that is already, fairly bright. His star power and match quality and AJPW main event presence was one of my favorite things going in all of wrestling.
Here is where it ends. I’m not too worried; he’s still the Ace of AJPW and will get the title back.
Shuji Ishikawa was excellent here as he always is. Being the imposing, domineering outsider figure that Miyahara failed to overcome. I can’t wait for the rematch.
9. Nikki Cross vs Asuka, NXT 6/28
(My Rating: ****1/4)
This was the best WWE women’s match of the year. And the best WWE women’s car crash style gimmick match I’ve ever seen. Nikki Cross was something special; we’d seen that in her over the months since her debut. I was quite interested in her challenge against Asuka; maybe the most interested I’d been since Asuka unseated Bayley.
Both these women took incredible bumps here. This was everything a last man standing match should be. Except with women. Nikki worked to her gimmick of being willing to do anything and everything to defeat Asuka. This was the closest Asuka had come to tasting defeat, as she really had to tough out some brutal offense and answer the standing 10 counts.
I feel like this match has not gotten as much buzz as it deserves. Had it occurred on PPV or a Takeover I feel everyone would be talking about it. This match was truly groundbreaking, more violent than the women’s Hell in a Cell match or the Money in the Bank ladder matches.
Go back and watch this. NXT is really good again.
8. Jake Lee vs Shuji Ishikawa, AJPW 6/11
(My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****1/4)
In Jake Lee’s first shot at the Triple Crown, he stepped up big time. Though the man he was facing was larger and more experienced than him, Jake took it to him for the entire match, never backing down. That’s what I loved about this match.
Jake came in as the underdog so I expected a match where Shuji Ishikawa beat down on him mercilessly, but no. Jake Lee took the fight to Shuji the whole way through. He fought like a man trying to win a fight. That may read weirdly, but sometimes in pro wrestling it doesn’t feel that way. Sometimes you can feel the men working together to tell a story. In this match there were times when it felt like Jake Lee was getting more offense in than Shuji even expected him to.
Sometimes Jake Lee has trouble showing fire. He had no trouble in this match. He fired up big time and went blow for blow with Shuji Ishikawa, who I should mention, was awesome as usual. Ishikawa has some of the most vicious and believable looking offense in the game. And he did eventually put a whooping on Jake Lee. Then he disrespected him. That’s when Jake fired up.
Jake Lee is a future star in AJPW. He will wear the Triple Crown one day. This was just not yet his day.
7. Io Shirai vs Mayu Iwatani, Stardom 6/21
(My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****1/4)
The passing of the torch that almost happened last December. Considering that Io may have been injured going into this match (thus possibly delaying her WWE debut), she put on one hell of a performance here.
Io Shirai, since I started watching her in 2013, has been in my opinion the best woman wrestler on earth, and Top 10 wrestler of either gender. She reminds me of Manami Toyota out there. Not only with her great athleticism, but how she carries herself like a star.
Mayu Iwatani, the plucky youngest sister of the Stardom three pillars, almost retired from wrestling altogether, but now in the absence of Kairi and probably Io, is looking to be the future of Stardom. And the future is bright.
Mayu finally got her revenge on Io and finally captured the World of Stardom title, using her beautiful variant of the dragon suplex. I’m sad to see Kairi go and I will be sad when Io goes, but I am excited to see Mayu lead Stardom into the future.
6. Matt Riddle vs Jeff Cobb, PROGRESS 5/28
(My Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****3/4)
BIG LADS WRESTLING!! Riddle’s been so great with his run with the Atlas title. Since Riddle and Cobb had their grappling skirmish last year during a 10 man at BOLA, promotions everywhere have been putting this match together to draw crowds. This was the best match these two have had together, and it’s not close.
This was the match everyone has wanted these two to have. Balls to the wall action, no downtime. Cobb throwing Riddle, Riddle throwing Cobb, a sprint to the end. The nearfall after Riddle’s Fisherman Buster where riddle falls to the floor in a disbelieving fit is one of my favorite nearfalls of the year.
This was the standout match of night 1 of Super Strong Style 16.
5. Tetsuya Naito vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, NJPW 6/11
(My Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****1/2, Meltzer Rating: ****1/2)
These two had another classic. Tanahashi, hurt shoulder and all, toughed it out and put on a classic performance. Much like KUSHIDA did earlier in the night, Tanahashi had a mean streak going here, a killer instinct. Jumping Naito before the bell, viciously ground and pounding him, even spitting on him at one point.
If you think about it, Tanahashi hadn’t won a big match in a while before this. Sure, he had avenged losses against Sanada and EVIL. But the unofficial promise he made to Shinsuke Nakamura to take care of the IC division in his stead had not come to fruition for a year and a half. The former Ace needed a big win here, and he got it.
Naito for his part was excellent. Every time Tanahashi used his arm, Naito would make him pay for it. There was an excellent counter here when Tanahashi went for a dragon screw on Naito, but Naito caught Tana’s bad arm as Tana went for the move. He kept making Tanahashi pay. Naito, I feel, has not been heralded enough for his brilliance this year. This man’s delivered in every big spot he’s been in. Yes he’s in a stacked promotion, but that doesn’t take away from his in ring greatness in 2017.
Tanahashi giving the Nakamura gesture on the top rope is yet another great NJPW moment. This company knows how to create great moments in matches. Tana hits the High Fly Flow and Naito kicks out, because he’s a top guy. Tanahashi submitting Naito was such excellent storytelling and booking.
This was every bit as good as their Dome match, if not better.
4. KUSHIDA vs Hiromu Takahashi, NJPW 6/11
(My Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****1/4 Meltzer Rating: ****3/4)
And thus KUSHIDA’s redemption was complete. If it were me, I’d have waited for the Dome next year, but I can’t be upset that we got a match this good on this show.
Though not in a main event slot like the BOTSJ final, KUSHIDA retained his mean streak he found in that match and brought it here. Besides maybe Dragon Lee, I don’t think anyone has given Hiromu this much high impact offense this year. KUSHIDA looked like an absolute world beater, as Hiromu had looked ever since the Dome.
KUSHIDA didn’t win with Back to the Future, but rather with his most painful version of the hoverboard lock, which I thought was a nice touch showcasing KUSHIDA’s killer instinct even more.
KUSHIDA and Hiromu both are having excellent years. Their continued struggle for dominance over the Jr division will be fun to follow.
3. Travis Banks vs Tyler Bate, PROGRESS 5/29
(My Rating: ****3/4, VOW Rating: ****3/4)
This was everything a tournament final is supposed to be. This match was the best SSS16 final of all time, if not the best Progress match of all time. Travis Banks has arrived, ladies and gentlemen. Similar to the WXW 16 Karat Gold finals between Ilja Dragunov and Walter, the babyface Travis Banks was invincible on this night. And the domineering Tyler Bate was the perfect man to stand in his way. No, Tyler Bate is not a heavyweight like Walter, but he was booked so perfectly in the tournament and combined with his mainstream success and his position in British Strong Style, he was the perfect foil for the Kiwi Buzzsaw on this night.
This is the blueprint for how to put together a singles epic. The run in from CCK was perfect. Travis Banks’ comebacks were divine. Tyler Bate on offense was compelling and the striking sequences were breathtaking.
Bate’s headspring rebound lariat may be my favorite move in wrestling right now. Much like KUSHIDA, Travis Banks utilized some vicious stomps down the stretch on Bate. Travis Banks, like Roderick Strong and Cedric Alexander, has this uncanny ability to shift gears in a match. When Banks presses on the gas pedal there’s no one better.
There was one ref bump too many. Pretty much my only complaint about the match.
Tyler Bate is a sleeper WOTY candidate in my book. Between this and his Takeover math with Dunne, he’s got two matches that could legitimately make many top 10 lists by year’s end.
2. KUSHIDA vs Will Ospreay, NJPW 6/3
(My Rating: *****, VOW Rating: *****, Meltzer Rating: *****)
This is the first 5 star match for either man, and it’s quite poetic it comes with them against each other. These are my two favorite Jr heavyweights in the world. KUSHIDA suggested in his promo before the match, “Let’s go crazy”. And oh boy did they. These men combined not only the grace and speed of a Jr bout, but the stiff striking and brutality of a heavyweight slugfest. Forearms, Kawada kicks, palm strikes, leg kicks, arm kicks, the Hideo Nomo punch, the Danielson stomps…They perhaps had the best striking exchange of the entire year, and that’s saying something in a promotion that has guys like Ishii, Goto and Shibata.
And then there was the flying. KUSHIDA is not known to fly as much but he did quite a bit here. And Ospreay pulled out old tricks and new, including a breathtaking shooting star press while KUSHIDA was draped over the top rope. He of course followed that up with a reverse rana on the apron because like KUSHIDA had asked, he was going crazy.
Going into this I was sure Ospreay was winning, and when KUSHIDA dropped him with the avalanche Back to the Future, my jaw dropped. And I knew exactly where the story was going.
This was the most complete performance of either man’s career. Every BOTSJ finals that I’ve seen going back to 2013 was a MOTY contender, and this may have been the greatest one of all time.
1. Kazuchika Okada vs Kenny Omega, NJPW 6/11
(My Rating: ******, VOW Rating: *****, Meltzer Rating: ******1/4)
They did it again. Honestly, I didn’t think they could. I would’ve been totally fine with a ****1/2 match. Producing quality like they did at the dome I was sure was lightning in a bottle. But it appears what we have here is much more than that. What we have with these two men is, already, the greatest in ring rivalry I’ve ever seen. Kazuchika Okada is the best professional wrestler whose career I’ve followed in real time. He’s surpassed HBK for me. Kenny Omega is the best overall performer going right now.
How many more superlatives can I use here? Here’s one: this was the best hour of wrestling I’ve ever seen. Best time limit draw. This had the best “foot on the rope spot I ever saw. Watching in real time, I had complete tunnel vision to how close those ropes were, because Omega finally hitting that One Winged Angle and hooking Okada deep was all I could see.
Omega going after Okada’s leg early on, which some will criticize as “not going anywhere”; I knew was a red herring. After all, Okada withstood leg attacks from Hiroshi Tanahashi and Minoru Suzuki, men who excel at that sort of thing. Omega’s leg attack was never going to work on Okada.
After about 30 minutes of just excellent professional wrestling, we got to my favorite story in the match. Omega kicks out of a Rainmaker and Okada has had enough. He elbows him through the table, gives him the big missile dropkick. Omega’s done. Okada gives him some short arm clotheslines, including my favorite one going through Omega’s raised left arm, indicating he Omega some fight left. Okada lariats straight through that arm and Omega’s body. Cody comes down with the towel. What I loved about this was how much it babyfaced Omega. I did not see that coming. He’s the gaijin leader of Bullet Club, after all.
Omega makes his great comeback and when he rubs the towel on himself and chucks it, I lose my mind. Then Okada dropkicks him to death and does the same with the towel, now I’m convinced Okada is winning after all, but no.
Down the stretch it starts to occur to me that this might go 60. Okada’s continue use of the dropkick to cut Kenny off was so brilliant. I never saw it coming every, single, time. Does anyone get more out of a dropkick than Okada, in pro wrestling history? Even Don Callus’ call of it was amazing, as he was pulling for Omega openly and after the 4th or 5th dropkick he yells, “Goddamn dropkick!” Best call on the English announce side all night (they did a great job, I should mention).
Okada’s knees were vicious. His selling was brilliant. He rag dolled himself and bounced around as well as anyone I’d ever seen. Makes me laugh remembering when people said, “Omega’s pretty good, but he won’t replace AJ Styles.” Oh yeah? Two 6 star matches later, what do you say to that, internet? On this night I thought Omega was perfect.
Personally, I do like the Dome match slightly more. But I view these matches as nigh equals. The Dome one was just first, and more shocking to my system. Omega said in an interview he sees things in both matches he could’ve done differently/better. Maybe we’ll see what those are in his G1 rematch with Okada, because I can’t find much of anything.
It makes me laugh that Meltzer gave this ******1/4, breaking his own scale. It’s like he wanted people to be mad at him.
This is a match, and a feud, that is seminal to this generation. I can’t truly express with the mere written word how much I appreciate the renaissance NJPW is in, and has been in, for years now. For me, this is the best wrestling has ever been. I couldn’t have picked a better year to start writing this column. I’ve had at least one 5+ star match every month. This month I had two. Like I’ve said before, it’s an embarrassment of riches.
- Samoa Joe vs Finn Balor vs Roman reigns vs Bray Wyatt vs Seth Rollins, 6/4
- Sami Zayn vs Dolph Ziggler vs Baron Corbin vs AJ Styles vs Kevin Owens vs Shinsuke Nakamura, 6/18
- Adam Cole vs Hangman Page, 6/3
- Young Bucks vs Best Friends vs War Machine, 6/23
- Marty Scurll vs KUSHIDA, 6/23
- Atsushi Kotoge vs Kenoh, 6/4
- Kaito Kiyomiya vs Go Shiozaki, 6/4
- Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Muhammad Yone, 6/4
- Masa Kitamiya & Go Shiozaki vs. Naomichi Marufuji & Maybach Taniguchi 6/25
- HAYATA vs. Taiji Ishimori, 6/25
- Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Atsushi Kotoge, 6/25
- Shingo Takagi vs BxB Hulk, 6/1
- Naruki Doi vs T-Hawk, 6/11
- Minoru Suzuki vs Takagi, 6/1
- Tetsuya Endo vs HARASHIMA, 6/25
- Matt Riddle vs Zack Sabre Jr., 6/24
- Jaka vs Zack Sabre Jr., 6/25
- Keith Lee vs Matt Riddle, 6/25
- Lio Rush vs Davey Richards, Defy 3, 5/26
- Sami Callihan vs Brain Cage vs Keith Lee, FSW, 6/9
- Fred Yehi vs Anthony Henry, Style Battle, 6/16
- Chihiro Hashimoto vs Hiroyo Matsumoto, Sendai Girls, 6/10
- Yuji Okabayashi & Kaito Kiyomiya vs. Go Shiozaki & Takuya Nomura, Fortune Dream, 6/14