Classics vs. Current: 37 matches vs. 37 matches
2017 was such an incredible year of pro wrestling it gave me this idea for a rewatch project: watch every Wrestling Observer Newsletter Match of the Year winner all the way back to 1980 and compare them to my favorite 37 matches from 2017.
The goal would be to see how this historic year measures up with the greatest matches of all time. To determine matchups, I threw both lists of 37 into a randomizer to pair them off.
My prediction going in is that my 2017 matches would actually win out, because I got to handpick each of them, and because of how much wrestling has evolved over the years, I’m sure the much older matches will struggle to hold up. If two matches are too close to call, I will give that pairing a DRAW—I only want definitive winners.
1. CM Punk vs. John Cena (7/17/11) vs. Kazuchika Okada vs. Minoru Suzuki (8/8/17)
Okada and Suzuki featured Suzuki’s best match of 2017. Punk vs. Cena was one of my favorite matches of all time. It had an atmosphere that few matches can capture. Almost nothing in 2017 can top it. The classics take Round 1 easily.
2. Manami Toyota/Toshiyo Yamada vs. Dynamite Kansai/Mayumi Ozaki (4/11/93) vs. Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate (5/20/17)
This one was close. Both matches featured great athleticism and are great representative matches—for joshi wrestling and UK wrestling respectively. I enjoyed Dunne/Bate so much, it had such great atmosphere, peak NXT stuff, and it’s probably one of the top three NXT matches ever and the best WWE match of 2017.
But I can’t say it was better than that women’s tag…or vice versa. This one is a DRAW.
3. Jushin Liger vs. Naoki Sano (1/31/90) vs. Michael Elgin vs. Tetsuya Naito (2/11/17)
Liger and Sano had an intense brawl with excellent selling and fire from Liger. Elgin and Naito each put in a top three performance of their respective careers. True epics.
Sano peaked here, and he might be one of the weakest wrestlers on either the “Current” or “Classic” list. Not that he’s bad, just clearly a notch below the elite. As excellent as Liger was I have to give it to perhaps the most overlooked five star match of all time: Elgin vs. Naito.
Current wins this round.
4. Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (4/7/13) vs. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kenny Omega (7/2/17)
A lot of parallels here as both these matches were part of an excellent series in their respective years, both of them saw an important crowning of a champion and nd both increased NJPW’s visibility in the west.
This particular Okada/Tana match is what got me into NJPW and puroresu in the modern day, so it’s a very important match to me.
Omega and Ishii was awesome, but I have to give this round to Classics.
5. Sting vs. Ric Flair (3/27/88) vs. Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada (8/12/17)
This is a true clash of the times. This was my first time watching the NWA title match and I really enjoyed it. The irony to me is how modern wrestling, especially puroresu, gets flak from some wrestling purists for the lack of selling, meanwhile in this classic among old school classics, Sting was no selling everything. And it WORKED. At one point he no sells an atomic drop, basically ignores it to continue pursuing his own offense.
This Omega/Okada clash is my third favorite of the trilogy but it still wins handily here. It’s the most condensed, action-packed match of the trilogy and the selling and storytelling is almost unrivaled. Current wins this round.
6. Minoru Suzuki vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (10/8/12) vs. Kenny Omega vs. Michael Elgin (7/1/17)
Though under the same company name and in the same era these are two very different matches. One is full of drama and story, the other an action-packed athletic spectacle. Though Tana/Suzuki is only five years old, it feels similar to a real old time classic in how it was worked—so simple, yet so brilliant. For where Omega/Elgin was on their respective card, they over delivered but the Classics win this one.
7. The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels (4/5/09) vs. Tetsuya Naito vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (6/11/17)
The HBK/Taker match was my favorite match of all time before this year. I watch it once a year and I never re-watch matches. The Naito/Tana match was excellent, and I love the work the arm vs. work the leg story but HBK/Taker, on that night, was perfect.
I’m reminded why Shawn Michaels is my favorite wrestler of all time. Minutes into re-watching it I was filled with such glee. It’s an all-time legendary match, no doubt. Classics win this round.
8. Kurt Angle & Chris Benoit vs. Edge & Rey Mysterio (10/20/02) vs. Katsuyori Shibata vs. Kazuchika Okada (4/9/17)
The era of the SmackDown Six was a magical time. But so is pro wrestling in 2017.
The No Mercy tag match may have been the peak of the SmackDown Six, as the Shibata title challenge was Shibata’s peak. Okada/Shibata would beat out most MOTY winners— it’s the kind of match that made me want to do this project to begin with. And as great as this tag was, it indeed will fall to it. Chalk one up for Current.
9. Keiji Mutoh vs. Genichiro Tenryu (6/8/01) VS. Kenny Omega vs. Michael Elgin (7/27/17)
I have to be honest; I’m not quite sure why Mutoh/Tenryu won match of the year in 2001. It’s like a **** match to me. Great sure, but MOTY? Off the top of my head I can think of five WWE matches from that year that were better. In my view, it’s the weakest match on either team thus far. Omega and Elgin had another classic in their series. These guys had two near five star matches in a month. It blows the Muta match away. Chalk it up for Current.
10. Mitsuharu Misawa and Jun Akiyama vs. Steve Williams and Johnny Ace (6/7/96) vs. Kazuchika Okada vs. Michael Elgin (7/22/17)
This was a tough one.
The Steve Williams/Michael Elgin comparison was easy to make after watching these two back to back. Rewatching this epic tag match reignited my anger that Jun Akiyama isn’t in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame: he was the star of this match, and look who was in it! The way they put over Williams’ Backdrop Driver is one of my favorite things in any match ever. It killed Akiyama so Misawa had to wrestle some of the match totally alone. This made Akiyama’s comeback that much sweeter.
The Elgin/Okada match is also incredible, and may be Elgin’s best performance to date, which says a lot considering the year he had. This match flowed so well even with the clash of styles. It was amazingly smooth, even something as simple as the last powerbomb reversed into the Tombstone was like poetry. As hard as this is to pick I’m gonna go with the tag. Maybe the best tag match ever. Classics take this one.
11. Ricky Steamboat vs. Ric Flair (4/2/89) vs. Travis Banks vs. Tyler Bate (5/29/17)
I know it’s blasphemous, but I’m not as big a fan of this, the Clash of Champions Flair/Steamboat match, as I am the other two. The first one at Chi-Town Rumble is easily my favorite. Had that been the match on the table it would have won. I understand this hour long draw was remarkable for its time, but it doesn’t hold up that well, it’s boring in many parts. I will however credit both men for their excellent performances.
Banks vs. Bate was one ref bump too many away from being five stars for me. It’s one of the greatest PROGRESS matches of all time, one of the best indie matches of all time, and hell, probably one of the best UK matches of all time. Outside the ref bumps, it’s damned perfect in every way. The moment of Banks winning eclipses the unique double pin finish from the Clash. I could get heat for this, but I’m giving this round to Current.
12. Ric Flair vs. Barry Windham (2/14/86) vs. Ilja Dragunov vs. Walter (3/12/17)
This was my first time viewing the Flair/Windham match and it was such a treat — it holds up. I didn’t think any match from 30 yearswould hold up against what is one of my favorite matches of all time in Dragunov vs. Walter.
Sure, a 50 minute match ending in a double DQ by today’s standard would be infuriating, but it weirdly worked here.
I’ve gushed about Dragunov vs. Walter before in my Match of the Month columns but I’ll just say it’s my favorite non-NJPW match this year and it instantly made Ilja Dragunov my favorite European wrestler. Even though it’s in my personal top 20 matches ever, I can’t definitively put it above Windham/Flair, which I believe was the first five-star Meltzer match in North America, and deservedly so. This one is a DRAW.
13. Hiroshi Hase/Kensuke Sasaki vs. Steiner Brothers (3/21/91) vs. Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada (6/11/17)
Rewatching this tag match was a lot of fun, it’s great. Okada vs. Omega at Dominion is my second favorite match of all time, confirmed upon rewatch. The tag can’t compete with it, virtually nothing can. Current takes this round.
14. Takeshi Morishima vs. Bryan Danielson (8/25/07) vs. Will Ospreay vs. KUSHIDA (6/3/17)
This is tough. The ROH match is even better than I remembered as Danielson was on another level. The Juniors final is also on another level, though, being my favorite match ever for each participant. I give the very slight edge to Ospreay/KUSHIDA here. Current wins this round.
15. Manami Toyota vs. Kyoko Inoue (5/7/95) vs. Keith Lee vs. Donovan Dijak (9/3/17)
These are two very different matches. Yes, both feature a lot of high spots and big moves, but one is an hour long draw and the other is an all-action 20 minute sprint. I’m not a huge fan of the hour long draws, but this woman’s match is my second favorite hour long match ever, there’s so much action in it. It’s way ahead of its time. Lee/Dijak also feels like a historic match in signifying the new breed of big man/heavyweight pro wrestling. Too close to call, this one is a DRAW.
16. Kenta Kobashi vs. Jun Akiyama (6/10/04) vs. Tetsuya Naito vs. Kenny Omega (8/13/17)
I mean, this is just a clash of all-time great matches. I didn’t think anything would beat Kobashi/Akiyama, but they drew one of the strongest 2017 matches to be paired with. Can’t choose a winner here, these matches are both legendary. It’s another DRAW.
17. Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels (3/20/94) vs. Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada (1/4/17)
The greatest ladder match of all time vs. my favorite match of all time. HBK vs. Razor doesn’t hold up as well against modern day ladder matches. Omega vs. Okada at the Dome, well…I think it’s the best match ever! Current takes this round.
18. Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid (8/5/82) vs. AJ Styles vs. John Cena (1/29/17)
This was a lot tougher than I expected it to be. Mask vs. Kid holds up very well, they did some really cool stuff back then. Though Cena can’t compete in terms of workrate with the other three men in this one, he brought so much emotion and fire to his match with Styles.
Styles comes across as an all-time worker, not only in his match but compared with the Jr. heavyweight classic. I know this is going to upset people, but I have to give this one to Current.
19. Tiger Mask II vs. Kuniaki Kobayashi (6/21/85) vs. Tetsuya Naito vs. Kota Ibushi (7/17/17)
Now THIS is the type of matchup I like to see for this project. TM II vs. Kobayashi is an excellent, classic match. It is not as fun to watch as Naito vs. Ibushi. I rediscovered how awesome Naito/Ibushi was in this rewatch. Current wins this round, surging ahead.
20. Kenta Kobashi vs. Mitsuharu Misawa (3/1/03) vs. Tetsuya Naito vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (1/4/17)
Of all of their amazing matches, this is my personal favorite Misawa/Kobashi encounter. It’s one of my all-time favorite matches. Naito vs. Tanahashi at the Dome is excellent, but not in the same league as what is maybe the best NOAH match of all time. Classics win this round.
21. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi (1/4/15) vs. Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii (5/3/17)
This is the Omega/Ishii match I gave five stars and won my May 2017 Match of the Month award. I thought it was the best match of the trilogy. Although I feel it will go overlooked and underrated in this cluttered year, it is not as incredible and breathtaking as Ibushi vs. Nakamura. Classics take this round.
22. Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin (3/23/97) vs. Tetsuya Naito vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (8/11/17)
This is a tricky one, a real apples to oranges comparison. The crazy brawling spectacle with maybe the most memorable finish to a match in the past 20 years in North America vs. the excellent workrate Kings Road-style Japanese masterclass. I underestimated this Naito/Tanahashi match; it’s a five-star match for sure upon rewatch, the best of the trilogy. Truly can’t choose between them. DRAW.
23. Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels (10/5/08) vs. Penta/Fenix vs. Young Bucks vs. Sydal/Ricochet (3/18/17)
The HBK/Y2J ladder match is a perfect example of why I did this project. It’s an excellent match with incredible psychology that can’t touch the elite stuff from 2017. The PWG spotfest is probably the three best PWG match of 2017, and it still beats it. Shawn Michaels is possibly my all-time favorite wrestler, and this was the peak of one of his best feuds. Current wins this round.
24. Dragon Kid, Ryo Saito and Genki Horiguchi vs. CIMA, Masato Yoshino and Naruki Doi (3/31/06) vs. KUSHIDA vs. Hiromu Dominion (6/11/17)
The legendary all action six-man vs. KUSHIDA’s redemption arc. As much as I love KUSHIDA and his edge and fire in this match, the ROH six-man is such an incredible spectacle. No match has more moves per minute and no match I know of got a “Please don’t stop”, chant. Classics win this round.
25. The Freebirds vs. The Von Erichs – Anything Goes (7/4/84) vs. Kento Miyahara vs. Shuji Ishikawa (8/27/17)
This six-man might hold up the least well of any match so far. Yes, it had a ton of heat and the Von Erichs were more over than anybody in wrestling today, but as a match…there’s not much to it. It’s about the exact opposite of the ROH/Dragon Gate six-man tag above. Miyahara/Ishikawa is excellent. Current wins this round.
26. The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels (3/28/10) vs. Hiromu Takahashi vs. Dragon Lee (2/11/17)
Hiromu vs. Dragon Lee is an excellent car crash style spotfest. HBK/Taker 2, though lesser than the first, has weight and gravity to it that few matches have. It’s unforgettable. Classics win this round.
27. A.J. Styles vs. Minoru Suzuki (8/1/2014) vs. Ospreay vs. Robbie Eagles (8/4/2017)
This is a close one. Eagles and Ospreay had what some people called, “the best match in Australia”. It’s truly great, but Styles and Suzuki had an unforgettable match that barely eclipses it. I give this one to Classics.
28. Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage (3/29/87) vs. Will Ospreay vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (11/10/17)
It’s funny, it’s almost like the Sabre/Ospreay match is a modern version of the WrestleMania classic. Both have insanely high work rates for their eras. Savage/Steamboat is cool to go back and watch, but it can’t hold up to what two of the UK’s best can do together in 2017. Current wins this round.
29. Atlantis vs. Villano III (3/17/00) vs. Trevor Lee vs. Chip Day (4/26/17)
Talk about two different matches. Admittedly I’m less a fan of the Lucha style, but even I have to admit that this mask match is something else. I also really love the Lee/Day match. Trevor Lee’s title reign in CWF is worth checking out, and this match was his opus thus far. Honestly can’t pick between them, this one is a DRAW.
30. Kenta Kobashi vs. Mitsuharu Misawa (6/11/99) vs. Kazuchika Okada vs. Tiger Mask W (3/6/17)
Two excellent matches here. This Misawa/Kobashi clash is my favorite of their AJPW series. It’s easy to forget how good Okada/Tiger Mask was in such a loaded year, but it was truly epic. It can’t compete with the AJPW classic though. Classics win this round.
31. Kenta Kobashi vs. Mitsuharu Misawa (10/31/98) vs. Matt Riddle vs. Walter (7/9/17)
Riddle and Walter had themselves a bit of a classic AJPW style match in a Progress ring. They were an underrated feud of 2017. As excellent as their match was, it can’t stand up to the actual classic, one of the best Kobashi/Misawa matches in their legendary feud. The difference between great and legendary. Classics win this round.
32. Ric Flair vs. Harley Race (11/24/93) vs. Dante Fox vs. Killshot (9/27/17)
Flair/Race is the most primitive of matches so far on this rewatch. It’s historic for sure but I can’t really say I was too engaged by the match. Fox/Killshot absolutely went nuts and killed each other. Very different matches but I’m giving this one to Current.
33. Pat Patterson vs. Sgt. Slaughter (5/4/81) vs. Keith Lee vs. Tomohiro Ishii (11/9/17)
Even though it’s even older than the cage match from above, I enjoyed the Slaughter/Patterson brawl a lot more. Very intense and worth the rewatch for sure. That said, Ishii vs. Lee is better. Current takes this round.
34. Kenta Kobashi and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi vs. Doug Furnas and Dan Kroffat (5/25/92) vs. Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate (12/20/17)
Has anyone ever been more over in a match than Kikuchi was here? Maybe peak “Stone Cold” Steve Austin is all I can think of. He got one of the loudest pops I ever heard, just for doing a leg lariat. A leg lariat I tell you!
Dunne vs. Bate is awesome, love the wrist clutch stomp spots. Full Sail isn’t as good a crowd as the match deserves. In the tag, the crowd really makes the match; the match is good but the crowd is legendary. Classics take this round.
35. Bob Backlund vs. Ken Patera (5/19/80) vs. Will Ospreay vs. Ricochet (5/18/17)
Wow, the first match on the Classics list matches up with the most postmodern stylistic match on the Current list, and they’re also 37 years apart almost to the day. What a fun pairing.
I enjoyed watching babyface Backlund perform, but the age of the match hurts it in the face of the dynamic display of athleticism by the two best flyers in the world today. Current takes this one.
36. Kenta Kobashi vs. Samoa Joe (10/1/05) vs. Kento Miyahara vs. Suwama (10/9/17)
I’ve never been as high on this ROH match as everyone else. It’s got legendary crowd heat for sure, and it’s a dream match no doubt, but it’s a very simple match. I still think it’s great, just not the five snowflake classic that many regard it as. This will be controversial, but I like Miyahara/Suwama more. It’s not a clash of titans like the other match but it’s such a great display of pro wrestling structure and storytelling. By far Suwama’s best performance since coming back from injury. People will be mad, I’m giving this to Current.
37. Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (1/4/16) vs. Shotaro Ashino vs. Jiro Kuroshio (9/2/17)
My favorite of the legendary Okada/Tanahashi series up against two young guys having the best match of their careers. I love everything about the Wrestle-1 encounter, the ambition and execution of it. But it’s not as good as the most recent match on the Classics list. Classics take the final round.
- Classics: 14
- Current: 17
- Draws: 6
My thesis was correct but your mileage may vary. Maybe you enjoy old school style matches more than me, or maybe you think Okada/Omega is overrated, or most likely you’re shocked I let a 2017 Suwama match beat a 2005 Kenta Kobashi match.
Either way, this definitely gave me an appreciation of how pro wrestling has evolved over the years, as well as an even greater appreciation of how good an in ring year 2017 was. As an added bonus, it let me rewatch all my 2017 favorites, and some old matches I’d never seen before.
Let’s hope 2018 is another great year.