August 2017 was perhaps the greatest month in what has been perhaps the greatest year of in-ring professional wrestling of all-time. We’re in rare air right now. We got the incredible second half of NJPW’s G1 Climax, the finals of WCPW’s World Cup tournament, NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, big shows from AJPW, NOAH and DDT, and a decent second-half of WWE SummerSlam. In honor of how great this month was, I highlighted 20 matches instead of ten. Free of charge. The things I do for love.
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20. Naoya Nomura & KAI vs Strong BJ, AJPW 8/27
(My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****1/2)
This heavyweight tag team match harkened back to the old days of AJPW tags. It may not be on the same level of the elite matches from back then, but it had a similar spirit. A lot of that coming from Naoya Nomura.
Nomura is one of the best underdog babyfaces in Puro. Watching him fire up against Sekimoto and Okabayashi was a thing of beauty. KAI is no longer the same KAI who was the failed ace of Wrestle-1. Dude’s a legit character now and a very good worker. Tag matches seem to be where he can do his best work. And Strong BJ at this point have to be considered one of the best tag teams in the history of Japan.
19. Keith Lee vs Travis Banks, PROGRESS 7/30
(My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****1/4)
This indie dream match lived up to its billing. The dynamic of the tenacious fiery babyface Banks trying to chop down the charismatic mountain Keith Lee was a spectacle that anyone could enjoy. Banks’ loss here sets up a probable title defense down the line against Lee, and a rematch that many will be anticipating.
18. Ember Moon vs Asuka, NXT 8/19
(My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****, Meltzer Rating: ****1/2)
This match eclipsed (see what I did there) their first encounter, bringing more weight and drama to this clash than the previous. Both women were great here, and this is probably the best women’s match under the WWE banner this year. Ember’s athleticism, offense and timing were all top notch and Asuka is…just the best at everything. I was rooting for Ember to win here but was totally fine with the outcome.
This match is even more badass when you realize Asuka worked a lot of it with a broken collarbone. She’s a true empress. While I don’t think this feud reached Sasha/Bayley levels it already is arguably the second best women’s feud (in-ring) in WWE history.
17. Kenny Omega vs EVIL, NJPW 8/3
(My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****)
These two went ham against each other. They worked so aggressively with each other that it bordered on dangerous. It was quite a bit like the Finals match between Omega and Naito in that way. EVIL was working on another level in this tournament. He had really stepped up; he must’ve known he was getting pushed. Funny how motivation can affect someone’s ethic. Not that EVIL wasn’t working hard before, but he had a real edge to him in this tournament and this match especially.
This was the match where EVIL seemed to be knocked out towards the end following a snug V Trigger. People argued about how this was handled in the moment, but at least EVIL was ok enough to finish the tournament after this, though we don’t know what effects he may be feeling after this. Omega tried his best to do the finish light as a feather, hopefully that helped. Even with that ending this match was great.
16. Braun Strowman vs Samoa Joe vs Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar, WWE 8/20
(My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****1/2, Meltzer Rating: ****3/4)
I absolutely loved the first half of this. I was getting ready to throw five at it. Then the Lesnar stretcher spot happened and…while I don’t usually get mad about that spot, here I did. It’s Brock Lesnar; we all know he can’t be hurt. But everything up until that point was perfect. Joe and Reigns killing each other, Lesnar killing them, Braun killing everyone. It was great.
The second half of this became more of a finisher fest and had that multi man trope of everyone breaking up pins. It was done well but I’m not a fan of that structure. Especially since Joe’s finish is the choke and he never properly established it on anyone long enough for there to be any drama, and going into this he was the guy many people (including me) wanted to win. This was as advertised though, a four way mean guy match with top, protected guys. It made Braun an absolute star. One of the best WWE matches in what has been a slow year for them, in ring.
15. Kazuchika Okada vs EVIL, NJPW 8/5
(My Rating: ****1/4, VOW Rating: ****1/2, Meltzer Rating: ****1/4)
The biggest upset of the year. Okada’s first singles loss since last year’s G1 to Ishii, and his first loss all year. EVIL is breaking out, ladies and gentlemen. All aboard the bandwagon. I’ve always liked EVIL but I never thought NJPW would try as hard with him as they are, having him finish third in his block in this year’s G1, above notable names like Sanada and Minoru Suzuki.
This may have been his best match as well. He had a great opponent for it in Okada, and he took no prisoners. EVIL was on a mission of destruction from the start. He stockpiled damage onto Okada’s head and neck and eventually caught him with the STO. This is a marker for EVIL’s career; it will be highlighted in video packages for years to come. Can’t wait for their rematch.
14. Will Ospreay vs Mike Bailey, WCPW 8/24
(My Rating: ****1/2)
For several years I’ve always looked at these two as the future of pro wrestling, and this match only made me surer of this. The creative and unique things these guys can do together goes unheralded, I feel. We all know about Ospreay and Ricochet, and Bailey is not as good as Ricochet, but he’s a different beast altogether. Bailey uses some of the most inventive and athletic kicks in wrestling and Ospreay is of course a world class high flyer. This was an excellent display of not only what these two can do together, but what the future of pro wrestling very well could look like.
13. Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Brian Cage, NOAH 7/27
(My Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****3/4, Meltzer Rating: ****3/4)
This was the best Brian Cage match I’ve ever seen. The man who gets his shit in was more than that on this occasion, in a main event title bout in Japan, his athleticism and power was focused and structured to deliver on a psychology level as well. Nakajima really helped reel him in and keep the match focused.
When you focus what Brian Cage can do, it’s really quite extraordinary. He had a similar performance to this against Matanza in season 2 of Lucha Underground. It may be a sign of maturity on the part of cage, that he’s truly learning how to be a compelling singles wrestler. The F-5 countered into a destroyer from Nakajima is a spot of the year contender. Cage no selling the super Brainbuster was also excellent stuff. This was an excellent match and should be seen even by people who are not necessarily fans of Cage or are unfamiliar with NOAH and Nakajima.
12. Tomohiro Ishii vs Yuji Nagata, NJPW 8/1
(My Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****1/4, Meltzer Rating: ****1/2)
This was the legendary Yuji Nagata’s best match of the tournament. He had a great one, and of course, who else to bring this out of him but Tomohiro Ishii. Ishii gave Tenzan his best match last year, and this year he gives Nagata a classic as well. This was a war. Several times this match had me jumping off my chair, thinking Nagata had pulled out his first victory, as Tenzan had done to Ishii last year. Excellent near falls and strike exchanges. Another case for why Tomohiro Ishii is the best wrestler in the world.
11. Tomohiro Ishii vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, NJPW 8/6
(My Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****3/4, Meltzer Rating: ****1/2)
These two worked the safest match of their respective tournaments with each other. And it was awesome. This wasn’t the war these two have had in the past, or like the wars they had earlier in this tournament. They weren’t in a main event spot. And still, they worked an excellent match using simple storytelling, psychology and drama.
Both of these men excel at selling, so they worked each other over and grounded each other with prolonged submission spots, in which each fought and clawed valiantly to get the rope. This is working smarter rather than just harder. The crowd was into all of these submission spots because these two know how to deliver drama and are also very over characters. This was a masterclass, pro wrestling 101.
10. Kota Ibushi vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, NJPW 8/1
(My Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****1/4, Meltzer Rating: ****3/4)
They gave Ibushi the big win in his hometown. One of the more anticipated matches in the G1, this delivered in spades. Equaling their classic from a couple of G1’s ago, these two men put on a beautiful display of pro wrestling. Ibushi countering Tana’s low dropkick by leaping over him and delivering a double stomp, timed perfectly, will always be impressive. Ibushi’s deadlift inside out Super German suplex may be my favorite movie in all of wrestling. Tanahashi kicking out of the Last Ride powerbomb was a tremendous nearfall, and then Ibushi established his wrist clutch knee strike finish by defeating Tanahashi with it for the first time. Excellent match.
9. Konosuke Takeshita vs Tetsuya Endo, DDT 8/20
(My Rating: ****1/2, VOW Rating: ****1/2)
This is what wrestling is all about. Two men, former friends and partners, both given the keys to the kingdom, both heralded as the future of their company, both overcoming the company’s predecessors (Singles wins over Harashima, a tag win over Ibushi and Omega) and meeting in the main event on their biggest show of the year for the top prize. It’s really not that hard. But it is satisfying.
These men both had to win. Takeshita, the newly crowned Ace, had to keep his spot. Endo had to take it. They wrestled their hearts out. Their youth and exuberance was on full display. Not only are these men the future of DDT, they are the future of Japanese wrestling.
8. Kento Miyahara vs Shuji Ishikawa, AJPW 8/27
(My Rating: ****3/4, VOW Rating: ****3/4)
If Kazuchika Okada didn’t exist, Kento Miyahara would be my favorite Ace in pro wrestling. He’s got it all. This match was exemplary of the Japanese main event style. What I loved about this match, besides everything, was how it didn’t have the same Miyahara formula to it. Now that he had been dethroned, Miyahara needed a new game plan to overcome the man who had beaten him, the great Shuji Ishikawa. Ishikawa has had an incredible last couple of years. He’s been the BJW Strong champion, the KO-D Openweight champion, and here the defending AJPW Triple Crown champion. He’s won the Strong Climb, the King of DDT and the Champion Carnival. He’s main evented DDT’s and AJPW’s biggest shows as champion. In a lot of ways, he is Mr. Puro. He was awesome in this match, playing the domineering heel.
Miyahara had great babyface fire. And those blackout knees are probably tied with Omega’s V trigger as my favorite strikes in wrestling. He whittled away at Ishikawa’s defense, chipped away at the larger man. He eventually weakened him enough for the shit-down German suplex, and reclaimed his title and position atop the company he helped to rebuild. A classic.
7. Will Ospreay vs KUSHIDA, WCPW 8/26
(My Rating: ****3/4)
They tried to surpass their five-star encounter in the Best of the Super Juniors final, and while I don’t think they did, this was probably still the 2nd best match these two have had against each other in what has been an excellent series. The story continues of Ospreay not being able to get past KUSHIDA, even on his own turf.
They worked this match with a real intensity. KUSHIDA has had a real edge since his comeback story at this year’s Best of the Super Juniors. Ospreay, who recently turned face in WCPW, matched every bit of it. These two have incredible chemistry. Ospreay giving KUSHIDA the Danielson stomps, only for KUSHIDA to fighting spirit his way through it and turn it around on Ospreay, is something I’ll never forget from this match. Ospreay hit a big dive into the crowd at one point. They exchanged Kawada kicks. It was a hot final and as far as I saw, the best match of the WCPW World Cup, and possibly the best match in WCPW’s short history.
6. Kazuchika Okada vs Minoru Suzuki, NJPW 8/8
(My Rating: ****3/4, VOW Rating: ****1/4, Meltzer Rating: ****3/4)
I thought this was better than their previous encounter in February. It was much more focused on striking and less so on submissions. There was no late match leg lock that Okada survived for an exorbitant amount of time. This was two men swinging at each other, bending each other until one of them broke. And neither man did.
Okada continues to evolve as a performer. Suzuki brings out the more old school puro side of Okada. The side of him that isn’t just a pretty boy with a pretty dropkick and a nifty finish. The side of him that’s a warrior, a gladiator. This is the Okada we may see more of in his old age, grumpily bullying young lions in multi man tag openers. But now we get to enjoy him in his prime, while he still has the dropkick, the athleticism. He threw every bit of that he had at Suzuki, but it wasn’t enough to beat him in 30 minutes.
5. Will Ospreay vs Adam Brooks, MCW 8/5
(My Rating: ****3/4)
Will Ospreay ventured over to Australia, and he intends to be the guy to put their scene on the map. I think this is a brilliant move, as he’s done all there is to do in the UK. He can be a legend in Australia now. He’s off to a great start, having two MOTY contenders in the scene.
Ospreay worked this like the supreme wrestler he is, while also showcasing what his opponent, Adam Brooks, was capable of. They had dynamic high spots, including a springboard Destroyer on the apron. They had intense strike exchanges, no sell spots, and a kickout at 1…all of your big main event tropes but executed perfectly.
Ospreay has really started working his Rainmaker tribute spots into his matches in depth. This match made me a fan of Adam Brooks, and made me want to see more of the Australian scene. Mission accomplished.
4. Will Ospreay vs Robbie Eagles, PWA 8/7
(My Rating: ****3/4)
Longtime Australian wrestling fans said this was the best match they ever saw happen in Australia. I’m no longtime expert but I have to say, it’s the best one I’ve seen. Edging out the above match by a hair, in my view, this match had similar structure and feeling to it. A big fight with intense sequences of offense. Robbie Eagles looked even more impressive than Brooks here, his offense was on point. He kept pace with Ospreay step for step, and his fire down the stretch held me gripped to the screen.
This match made me a fan of Robbie Eagle, and made me want to see more of the Australian scene. Mission accomplished.
3. Tetsuya Naito vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, NJPW 8/11
(My Rating: ****3/4, VOW Rating: ****3/4, Meltzer Rating: *****)
I loved this match and I’m probably the low man on it. In a year where we’ve had several amazing wrestling trilogies, this one should not be overlooked. These men have put together 3 excellent contests, each one different from the former. This was an excellent final chapter.
Naito continued to come up with fresh and dynamic ways to work over Tanahashi’s arm. The counter to Tanahashi’s crossbody by stepping back and dropkicking the arm on the way down was so perfect. Tana countered by attacking Naito’s leg, as he’s wont to do. The technical masterclass these two put on was something to behold. I love their “arm vs leg” matches. Naito would try to kick Tana’s arm, and Tana would make him pay by grabbing his leg. Tana would go to dragon screw Naito, and Naito would counter by attacking Tana’s arm. Just brilliant stuff.
Naito hit several Destino variants before putting his rival away with the full rotation Destino. Excellent match.
2. Kenny Omega vs Tetsuya Naito, NJPW 8/13
(My Rating: *****, VOW Rating: ****3/4, Meltzer Rating: *****3/4)
This was an insane spotfest. Seriously, the things these men did bordered on dangerous several times but when it was all said and done I felt like I had witnessed greatness. Not just the greatness of this match, but of the entire G1 27, and especially of the final three nights. Both of these men defeated their greatest rivals of the year in the days prior to this contest. This was the rematch from their MOTY level encounter last year (my favorite match of 2016). There was tons of pressure on them to deliver and once again, they did so in spades.
The scary Piledriver spot and DDT into the ring post, while not exactly going as planned, didn’t actually injure either man and only added a sense of danger and stakes to this clash. The top rope powerbomb reversed into a rana by Naito is my favorite spot of the year. I couldn’t believe how well they executed that. This was followed up by a super reverse rana, of course, spiking Omega from the second rope.
I love that Naito went for the Stardust Press in this match. He was emptying the playbook against Omega. Look for him to do the same at the Dome.
The way Naito reversed the One Winged Angel into the Destino was beautiful. Omega survived multiple Destino variants, attempted to blitz Naito with V Triggers like he had done to Okada, but in the end, he fell to Naito’s determination. Naito hit a final Destino, cementing his place in the Wrestle Kingdom main event.
In any other year, Kenny Omega would be the obvious pick for wrestler of the year. I would submit that his year has been better than any of the years for which people actually won that award this century. Compare AJ Styles in 2015 or Tanahashi in 2012 or even the legendary Kenta Kobashi in 2004…I think Omega’s 2017 has been better.
Not only that, but in many years, Tetsuya Naito would’ve won Wrestler of the Year for the type of year he’s having. And he’s not even really in the conversation, which is amazing.
1. Kenny Omega vs Kazuchika Okada, NJPW 8/12
(My Rating: *****, VOW Rating: *****, Meltzer Rating: ******)
A masterpiece. That’s how VOW writer Rich Kraetsch described this match, and really, you could say that about the entire Omega/Okada trilogy. While this may be personally my third favorite of the series, the difference in quality of these matches is nigh indistinguishable. I said after their Dome match that I wouldn’t hold them up to that same standard ever again, because an off the charts great match like that may have just been lightning in a bottle. But nope, they replicated it at Dominion and then here, in their shortest match to date. This was a sprint of epic proportions.
Omega’s offense in this match was absolutely devastating. A reverse rana on the floor and a dragon suplex on the apron…while Okada’s neck was already injured from his battle with Suzuki. Omega would continue the pressure by removing the tape and chopping Okada repeatedly on the neck. Vicious stuff here, Omega was playing for keeps.
The Rainmaker reversed into the Uranage had me leaping off my chair, exclaiming “What the fuck?!” to no one. Has there ever been a more devastating Uranage before? I can’t think of one.
But even besides the high spots, watching these two move with each other, it’s like poetry. Every sequence, every transition, they flow together every step of the way. It’s high art.
It really showed in the go home sequence. Okada had wrestled this man for about 140 minutes this year without getting pinned, by avoiding taking the One Winged Angel in the middle of the ring. Omega would not be denied on this night, even hitting a Croyt’s Wrath on the larger Okada. A Rainmaker V Trigger later and Okada was done. Omega pinned him with the One Winged Angel. It was the expected outcome, and it did not lessen the moment in the slightest.
Omega and Okada is now the superlative when we speak of wrestling. It used to be Flair Steamboat, and maybe it still is for some, but for me and this generation, it is now Omega/Okada. And really, can any higher praise be given to their series of matches? I hope to see it again at Wrestle Kingdom 13.
- The Usos vs The New Day 8/20
- Aleister Black vs Kyle O’Reilly, 8/2
- Johnny Gargano vs Andrade Cien Almas, 8/19
- Sanity vs Authors of Pain, 8/19
- Aleister Black vs Hideo Itami, 8/19
- Prince Puma vs Dante Fox, 8/2
- Prince Puma vs Fenix, 8/16
- Will Ospreay vs Rey Mysterio, 8/23
- Will Ospreay vs Ricochet, 8/26
- James Davis vs Rob Lynch, 7/30
- Pete Dunne vs Jack Sexsmith, 7/30
- Andrews vs Haskins vs Lee vs Theory, 8/12
- Matt Riddle vs Walter, 8/12
If you want to participate in our Match of the Month process, join us on our MOTM subforum at voicesofwrestling.com/forum