Welcome to my annual best pro wrestling matches of the year list. My aim for these lists has always been to showcase the huge variety of what wrestling offers each year. I’ve never been a fan of the ideology that says a Match of the Year generally has to follow a specific formula, and my annual lists are curated to reflect the matches that excelled in their field. This isn’t really a hidden gems list, though, as I’m sure many readers will be familiar with plenty of the matches here. Rather, I hope to convince you to take a second look and consider that there isn’t one path to a great match in wrestling.

There’s no formula here besides a desire to cast the net relatively widely. I have a wrestling notebook to help me remember, but I was able to select most of these from memory. At the end of the day, the best matches are the ones that stick with you. There’s a real mix of stuff here, from the highly emotional to the sharply technical, from the classic to the innovative. Hope you find something that resonates with you.

I’ll save the agonizing task of putting these into order for the Voices of Wrestling Match of the Year 2023 countdown so, in no particular order, let’s get to the matches:

Rascalz vs Second Gear Crew
Pro Wrestling REVOLVER
February 2

Watch: TrillerTV/FITE TV

One of the matches where you can feel the anticipation dripping off the camera, there was an incredible atmosphere here at the start of this match, with the crowd leading dueling chants for SGC and the Rascalz for a good few minutes. I guess I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see what these two teams could have done in the ring, but holy hell, if you like hardcore matches, this was a total war featuring doors, chairs, scaffolds, and even fire. They really went all out on this and got multiple deserving standing ovations from the crowd. More than worthy of the main event spot. Do you like heavy spot fest hardcore brawls? You’ll love this.

Masahiro Chono vs Keiji Muto
Pro Wrestling NOAH
February 21

In a retirement year that saw a series of ‘final matches’, what better way for Muta to go out than with a bout that wasn’t scheduled on the card. In front of a packed Tokyo Dome, Muta had just lost his scheduled match to Tetsuya Naito. Yet, there was still time for a final curtain call, and it came in the form of Chono, who had been sitting at ringside as a commentator. Almost certainly planned from the start the two wrestled what was essentially an exhibition, but this was all about atmosphere. These moments come along maybe once a decade, and you don’t need to have followed either of these men’s careers in any detail to feel swept away by the ELECTRICITY in the Tokyo Dome that radiated through to our screens.

There are going to be some people who gained immense joy from this match, who smiled a mile wide when we realized what was going on, and they won’t put it on their Match of the Year list because they have been worked into thinking that a match of the year has to follow a certain formula. Cowards, I say!

Jonathan Gresham vs. Alex Shelley
Impact Wrestling
October 22

Impact’s big problem of late has been a glut of great matches but not much in the way of narrative to bind them together. This match is no exception, there was no blood feud leading into this or even time for a promo, but sometimes ‘cold matches’ are so good that you can’t help but root for them. For two wrestlers of this caliber, you pretty much set yourself a ‘good match’ floor, but this went way beyond expectations. Shelley is one of the most underrated wrestlers in the world. His work is unpretentious and rarely bombastic, instead its fluid storytelling that rewards those who pay attention.

Gresham is similar in style to Shelley and while his transition-based offence can often become too cutesy for its own good, when he’s at the top of his game, there’s no better wrestler from a purely in ring perspective. Gresham here, displayed a mastery of ‘ring character’: the ability to tell the audience who you are purely on your body language. It’s a playful heel character that emerges here, one that does not so much tear up the rules, but artfully rewrites them at each turn in order to gain the upper hand. There are maybe 20 things in this match you’ve never seen before.

Darby Allin & Sting vs. Christian Cage & Swerve Strickland
August 27

Leading up to the show, there was plenty of criticism of AEW All In that the build and the card failed to live up to what a show in Wembley should be. I had a good time watching it live, although my biggest criticism was that while most matches were good, nothing really seemed to rise to the occasion. That is, until this match. I’ll be honest: I’m sick of these AEW plunder brawls where everyone smacks each other with weapons and bleeds like stuck pigs. This was different, not least because of stars like Christian Cage, who have a knack for making everything they do feel meaningful. It was a proper stadium-wide stunt show that stepped up to meet the grandness of the occasion with just enough of that intangible insanity that makes wrestling unique.

Josh Alexander vs. Steve Maclin
Impact Wrestling
September 8

If Impact had a success story this year, it’s Steve Maclin. We all knew he was a good wrestler, but this year, he stepped up in a big way to carry the promotion’s main event scene through the middle of the year and became not just one of Impact’s top stars but one of the best wrestlers plying their craft right now. Alexander has had a mixed year, and sometimes his style becomes a bit formulaic, but this was him at his very best.

There’s a certain timeless quality to this match. This could be a 90s AJPW or a 2010s NJPW encounter. It’s heavy-hitting and technically sound but with an underlying psychology that elevates it from the pack. This is what a modern heavyweight style should look like, and booked well, a rematch between these two can headline one of Impact’s TNA’s big four PPVs.

Arisu Endo and Rika Tatsumi vs Mahiro Kiryu and Yuki Aino
May 25

Wrestling is a genre that often fails to really explore the boundaries of itself. This didn’t explore those boundaries so much but took a rocket ship through them. It’s somewhat disappointing that the record will not show Hyper Misao’s name in the credits here, because while not a named participant, she’s the architect of this madness.

So what is this all about? Essentially, this is a story about Mahiro Kiryu, a wrestler at TJPW who has always struggled to find her spot due to a lack of self-confidence. Like a sort of grappling Christmas Carol, this match takes her to alternative dimensions, where she must battle alter-egos of her tag opponents and win, or else the world ends. It all ends with Mahiro sharing a heartfelt story of how she overcame her life as a recluse to become a pro wrestler while her mother’s health was failing. I can’t really do it justice here, but if you like to explore wrestling’s avant-garde, then, immerse yourself in this STORY. The always great Dramatic DDT has a good summary to follow along with.

Gabriel Kidd vs. Kaito Kiyomiya
July 27

I watched a bit of NJPW’s G1 Climax this year; this was the only thing I remembered. You can keep your 30 minute epics of false finishes, this was the match that had me pumping my fists in pure excitement. It’s two ‘lads’ brawling through the crowd, something you’ve probably seen a million times before, but I doubt you’ve seen it with this much ENERGY.

Chris Brookes vs. Kazusada Higuchi
May 21

There are two levels here. Firstly, for those who have followed Brookes’ journey in DDT from his 2019 run where he got stuck in wrestling in an elephant camp, this title win was a wonderful climax, one that proved he could wrestle a main event style at the top of the industry. Brookes is a versatile wrestler, one who has always looked more comfortable wrestling with a bit of levity, but this was him at his most serious and hard-hitting. Indeed, this was the kind of match that I don’t want to see again because the headbutts were absolutely disgusting (maybe I’m getting worked here). That’s the other level, an outstanding match with great workrate (in the proper sense of the word) that started at a pace. Higuchi is becoming DDT’s MVP; his strikes and power moves never look any less phenomenal the more you see them. An awesome match that meant something. Just don’t do it every week, guys!

Shuichiro Katsumura & Takuya Wada vs Hentai Punch Drunkers (Hikaru Sato & Tyson Maeguchi)
July 9

The story here is that everyone has a connection to the Hard Hit promotion. Suitably this began with some tentative grappling which eventually gave way to more open strikes. With a clear weight advantage, Sato gets the best of Katsumura, and Wada gets the best of the pitbull-like Maeguchi. This leads nicely to a Wada vs. Sato showdown, with Wada almost, but not quite, getting the armbar applied. It’s all relatively simple stuff but executed with an enthralling realistic intensity that makes you wonder what a real MMA tag match would be like.

As the match progresses, more standard pro wrestling tropes like dropkicks, clotheslines, and Irish whips begin to pepper the performance, giving the middle section a sense of forward momentum. The final stretch reverts to pseudo-MMA with Wada, Sato, Katsumura, and Maeguchi pairing off to exchange hard-hitting strikes and kicks. At one point, Tyson is flailing his arms and missing Katsumura completely, but unlike a regular pro wrestling match, this just adds to the realism factor, and the sense of desperation. It all ends with Katsumura mounting a huge comeback to win with a submission hold.

This was very good, and if you’re a fan of realism in pro wrestling, then I’d urge you to check this out. What elevated this was the story it told, with the opening exchanges clearly showing that the lighter Katsumura was no match for Sato and likewise with Maeguchi and Wada. These opening grapples then, were not perfunctory, but a process of two teams feeling each other out and finding a worthy fighting partner in the other team, which played into the finish.

If you’re new to Ganbare, you can check out my full review of the full show here.

Mizuki vs. Sawyer Wreck
May 5

Sometimes, the old stories are the best ones. This was a classic David and Goliath. There was a clear visual mismatch here, with the towering Wreck standing tall against the petite Mizuki as they came face to face (or rather, face to chest) in the ring. As the bell rang, Wreck threw Mizuki around the ring like a ragdoll, but in true babyface fashion, it was Mizuki who persevered and came back to win the day. TJPW often brings in outsiders for title shots where the result is a foregone conclusion, and while no one ever really thought Wreck was walking away with the belt, this was a spectacle that was well worth the title opportunity.

Honourable Mentions

  • Kenny Omega vs Will Ospreay. NJPW January 4
  • Mizuki Watase vs Tyson Maeguchi. Ganbare January 5
  • MJF vs Bryan Danielson. AEW March 5
  • Chris Brookes vs Maya Yukihi. Baka Gaijin and Friends. March 7
  • Hyper Misao, Mizuki, Shoko Nakajima, Yuki Aino & Yuki Kamifuku vs Free WiFi (Hikari Noa & Nao Kakuta), Hakuchumu (Miu Watanabe & Rika Tatsumi) & Raku. Mark Hitchcock Memorial Show March 30
  • East West Express vs Motor City Machine Guns. GCW March 3
  • ABC vs Subculture. Impact May 25
  • Miyu Yamashita vs Yuki Kamifuku. TJPW August 13
  • Eddie Edwards vs Frankie Kazarian. Impact October 12

So there it is, my top ten matches of the year! Maybe you’ve seen some of these matches, maybe you haven’t. I’m sure some will be to your taste while others might not be.

Let me know what you think!