The Wrestling 101 is something I’ve always wanted but never knew who to ask for.

I’ve been watching wrestling for more than two decades, but there’s always been more great wrestling than I’ve had time to watch. And while there are certainly plenty of “best of” lists I could find online to help me separate the all-time classics from the matches that are merely great, many of these lists are centered around WWE and very few of them provide the sort of context I’d need to really appreciate what I’m watching—particularly when a match has commentary is in a language I don’t speak.

So when I saw that the most trusted name in pro wrestling discourse was putting together a list of the absolute canonical wrestling matches from across time and space, and they were going to provide additional information to help me understand the relevant backstory and historical import of each match, I was thrilled. So thrilled, in fact, that I decided to watch every single one and write my own little review—first inside a Google Doc that I shared on my locked Twitter account and now right here under the bright lights of the Voices of Wrestling website.

I like to think of this project as a sort of travelogue of my journey through the 101 essential pro wrestling matches, as selected by the experts at Voices of Wrestling. This is my first entry, and I hope you’ll get something out of it.

The Wrestling 101 – Match #1
Kenta Kobashi vs. Kensuke Sasaki 
July 18, 2005
Pro Wrestling NOAH
Tokyo Dome

The Wrestling 101 Write-Up

I haven’t seen much of the golden age mid-aughts NOAH stuff, but I’ve loved everything I’ve seen, I think even more than what I’ve seen of the golden age 90s All Japan period that preceded it. So I guess it makes sense that I thought this match fucking ripped.

I think what I loved most about it was the pacing. It was a lot of big bursts of high-impact offense followed by well-earned pauses for recovery or struggles for control, which gives you the best of both worlds. You get some “holyshitohmygod!!!!” sequences followed by the processing time your brain needs to integrate these rapid-fire events into a narrative about the match you’re watching. Most of the pauses were accompanied by waves of increasingly apeshit hooting and hollering from the molten-hot Tokyo Dome crowd, which kept my attention throughout all the recovery sections.

The second best thing about the match was Kenta Kobashi’s facial expressions. When Sasaki has him hooked for a tiger suplex or in some kind of arm submission late in the match, my man looks like he is just absolutely fighting for his life. How can you not feel this guy’s feelings when he’s making these kinds of faces? When a bloody Kobashi gained an advantage late in the match and started pumping the crowd up to help him finish the job, I got a second-hand adrenaline rush that made me want to…idk whatever you do when you get a big adrenaline rush. Lift a car? Run through a wall? Fire off a really mean tweet? I don’t know, but I was HYPE.

The third best thing about the match was the immensely satisfying sensory experience of two big, beefy men repeatedly ramming their bodies into each other with great force. The thwack of forearm against chest! The sweat ricocheting through the air! The expressions of agony and ecstasy flashing across each man’s face with each successive chop! It’s primal and violent and unavoidably erotic, and you really just can’t beat it.

All of this combined to create a match that just totally, completely sucked me into its drama.

At one point late in the match, it looked like one of the wrestlers was about to get counted out for being outside the ring too long, and I really did believe that it might be the finish—and a satisfying one, at that. When you forget that you’re watching a 17-year-old, scripted performance with a predetermined finish and just totally believe everything you’re seeing, hearing, and feeling in the moment? That, right there, is the primo, top-shelf, good shit that makes you wake up the next morning and think, “Damn, pro wrestling is fucking sick.”

Follow The Wrestling 101 Project at Voices of Wrestling