In every other field of entertainment, whether it be music, television, film, etc., the determination of how good or bad something is isn’t down to one individual. Opinions from hundreds of critics are gathered to determine whether a piece of cinema or music is universally acclaimed, middle of the road, or panned by the world. Yet as it is in so many ways, wrestling is unique when it comes to critical opinion. Despite being enjoyed by millions of people around the world, there is only one opinion that truly determines how good a match is. Sure, there are hundreds of podcasters, YouTubers, journalists and fans out there that give their opinions on every match they’ve ever seen, and yes, you may be interested in what certain people have to say, yet in the wider context of the wrestling world, their opinion holds no real merit. No match is ever quoted as being 10/10 or absolutely perfect because somebody from WhatCulture said so, or because another wrestler is quoted as saying it is, no matter how admired they are by the community. However, if respected journalist Dave Meltzer says a match is five stars, then it’s known forever as a five-star match.
Initially starting out in college, Dave Meltzer has now been reviewing wrestling for over forty-five years. In 1983, he started the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, a respected, regular source of information for fans to learn more about the sport that they love. And with the birth of the WON, Meltzer’s now legendary star rating system was born. Ranging from minus-five to five stars, Dave ranks every match he covers like a critic of any other art form would. Based on his own subjective opinion, the quality of a match is determined by the standard of the wrestling, the in-match story told, the storylines and significance surrounding the match, the difficulty and variation of the techniques used, and the response of the audience in attendance.
Now, as many people ask on a daily basis – why does this man’s opinion matter so much?! For one single journalist who’s never competed in a match to hold such a dominating stronghold on the critical wrestling world seems ludicrous, and in a way, it is, but so is wrestling in general. Dave Meltzer has been consistently reviewing wrestling for the majority of his life with a worth-ethic only rivalled by the almighty owner of WWE. Even now in his 60s, the man barely sleeps because of how much he loves covering both wrestling and MMA. He has arguably watched more wrestling than any other person in the world whose last name isn’t McMahon. Anybody who does something at the highest level for over four decades is bound to garner a lot of respect over the years, which is why Meltzer’s opinion holds so much weight.
I’m not saying Dave Meltzer’s opinion is the be-all and end-all when it comes to the quality of a match because it isn’t. Most of my favourite matches of all time received less than a five-star rating from the Wrestling Observer founder, and some of Meltzer’s highest ranking bouts don’t appeal to me whatsoever – it’s all down to personal opinion. However, it is still interesting to hear what this veteran of wrestling journalism has to say, and like most of the wrestling community, whenever a fantastic match does happen, I’m always interested in seeing what star rating it receives, for better or worse.
Despite his years in the business and his incredible wealth of knowledge, there are obviously people who will discredit anything Meltzer has to say, yet a five-star or higher rating from this man still means a lot to fans and wrestlers alike. Although the stars are only the subjective opinion of one individual, wrestlers wear their WON five-star matches as badges of honour. Fans at times chant “five stars!” in appreciation of a great match, and now in 2017, they chant “six stars!” at Kenny Omega to honour the incredible matches he has had this year. Wrestlers, such as Bret Hart, have even written about how proud they were when their performances were praised in the WON as the five-star rating is an honour few receive.
So, with the at times controversial Meltzer rating system still talked about daily in the wrestling world, and five-star matches being given out regularly in the last couple of years, it got me thinking – out of all the bouts to receive the same prestigious honour, which are the best? They’re all at the same distinctive level in this individual’s eyes, but how many deserve to be there in mine? Well, I wanted to find out, and decided to pick out the cream of the crop for myself.
Since 1983 when Dynamite Kid and Tiger Mask competed in the first-ever five-star match, ninety-three contests have been awarded the honour from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (at the time of writing). This may sound like a lot, but when you consider that thousands-upon-thousands of wrestling matches take place every year in promotions across the globe, having only ninety-three in well over three decades makes them a real rarity. Obviously, trying to pick out the best of ninety-three great matches was quite the undertaking, so much so that what originally started as a top ten had to be turned into a top twenty because some matches were too good not to be mentioned, but I’ve put in the hours for this one to make sure it’s as accurate as possible. I had to channel my inner Meltzer for this one (especially since I unexpectedly lost four and a half hours’ worth of work whilst writing this list), but after a five-star effort from myself, I’ve finally picked out the best of the best in the WON galaxy.
For this list, I must stress that this is for FIVE-STAR MATCHES ONLY. Anything above that, including the unbelievable Okada vs. Omega trilogy from this year will not be taken into account. What’s more, I am restricting my entries so that a wrestler may only appear twice in these twenty matches – this may not seem like a very strict limit, but when the likes of Kobashi and Misawa both have over twenty matches rated five-stars, it certainly limits the choices available. Also, I will only include one entry within a rivalry/series of matches.
Much like Meltzer’s own ratings, this list is ranked purely by my own subjective opinion, so my personal tastes in wrestling will certainly come into play. As match ratings are determined in part by storylines and feuds involved, I am obviously more inclined to enjoy recent matches that I experienced the build-up for, over entries from before my time that I have had to watch years after they originally took place, however I will try to appreciate the historical significance of each entry, and the events that led up to it. Also, wrestling is an ever-evolving entity that continues to change and improve (depending on your opinion) as the years go by, therefore what was considered good enough to be a five-star match back in 1983 will be completely different to what is worthy of the accolade in the modern wrestling landscape, making generational comparisons difficult. Despite this, I have tried to give every match a fair chance, regardless of age, and I believe I have selected the best this field has to offer.
With all of that being said, it’s time to finally get down to the list. Here are the Top 20 Dave Meltzer Five-Star Matches.
- Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Toshiaki Kawada – AJPW June 6th 1997
In 1994, Misawa and Kawada had the very first match in history to be rated six-stars by Dave Meltzer, a distinction that wasn’t given out again until 2017 (and has been given out three times this year). Six-star matches exist to honour those contests that are just so far ahead of the rest that they can’t be limited to just five-stars. Understandably, critics have condemned Meltzer for breaking his own system and going past the outlined limit, but it must be taken into account that five-star ratings were initially given to the matches that were the best of the best, but when a match comes along that is nothing like people have ever witnessed before, a match that surpasses everything that came before it, is it really fair to give it the same level of kudos as the other inferior matches? Meltzer believed that Misawa and Kawada from 1994 was in a league of its own, and the unprecedented six-star rating reflected that…..however, we’re not here to talk about that. This list is reserved for five stars only, no more, no less. But it just so happens that the two had another epic singles encounter in 1997.
Featuring a tiger bomb to the outside within the first couple of minutes, and a constant sense that they legitimately want to kill each other, this match is exactly what you would come to expect from these two five-star match machines in their prime years. You’re bound to wince at how dangerous some of the spots are, as well as at the stiffness of their strikes, but like a good horror film, you’ll enjoy it all the way. Without question, it’ll never be placed in the same regard as their 1994 classic, and it may get regularly looked over for that very reason, yet it’s still fantastic regardless of what came before it.
- Kyoko Inoue & Takako Inoue vs. Mayumi Ozaki & Cutie Suzuki – AJW April 2nd1993
It seems as though April 1993 was an incredible month for Japanese women’s tag team wrestling (try and say that ten times faster), as two matches from AJW earned five-star ratings from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, and one even went on to be declared the MOTY. Although this match wasn’t deemed the best of 1993, this bout between Kyoko and Takako Inoue, and Mayumi Ozaki and Cutie Suzuki is still absolutely incredible (fun fact: Cutie Suzuki had her own Japan-exclusive women’s wrestling video game named after her for the Sega Megadrive). Starting off with a forty second giant swing that would give Cesaro a run for his money, this match is fast-paced, non-stop action from start to finish.
- El Hijo Del Santo and Octagon vs. Eddie Guerrero and Art Barr – AAA When Worlds Collide November 6th 1994
If you ever want to experience heel heat and pure hatred from a crowd, just watch Eddie Guerrero and Art Barr’s run as Los Gringos Locos in AAA. These two pro-America, anti-Mexican athletes were absolutely despised. By the end of 1994, the two were feuding with Octagon, and El Hijo Del Santo, the son of El Santo, the most popular figure in all of lucha libre, and who had the biggest funeral in the history of Mexico. The two teams couldn’t have been more beloved and more hated respectfully.
Not only is this match an exhibition of Barr and Guerrero’s world-class technical abilities, it also displays how perfect they are at portraying arrogant, disrespectful heels. Under AAA 2/3 falls rules, both members of a team have to be pinned or submitted for a fall to count, making for some interesting situations. In this classic, Guerrero and Barr score the first fall after Eddie hits a beautiful elevated diving hurricanrana on Santo (who is sat on Barr’s shoulders), quickly followed by a picture-perfect frog splash from the move’s innovator, Art, onto Octagon. After once again eliminating Santo from the match, Octagon surprises everyone by landing a fall on both members of the opposing team within the space of twenty seconds. After Barr eliminates Octagon from the match using a banned spinning tombstone piledriver, and then is subsequently taken out himself by another piledriver courtesy of an interfering Blue Panther, it’s down to Guerrero and Octagon to decide the match. After a back-and-forth display of technique, Santo rolled up Guerrero for a surprising victory, and the crowd exploded.
Only seventeen days later, Art Barr unfortunately died due to complications with drugs and alcohol, but thankfully his career ended on one of the greatest tag team matches of all time.
- Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat – NWA Chi-Town Rumble 1989
There’s a reason why these two men earned three five-star match ratings within the space of two months back in 1989, and this legendary encounter is what started it all. In all fairness, any of the three matches could have easily made this list, and while most would herald their 2/3 falls match as their best, I’ve gone with the match I would personally most like to sit down and watch. Worth the five-star rating for Flair’s wonderful hair alone, two of the best in history go back-and-forth in a display of athleticism and cardio unheard of for the time. The match was a technical masterpiece with absolutely superb commentary from WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross as a bonus. Even almost thirty years later, hardly anyone can come close to the ability these two men possessed.
- Sting’s Squadron vs. The Dangerous Alliance: War Games – WCW Wrestlewar May 17th 1992
War Games is one of the most unique matches in all of wrestling – two teams, a big steel cage, and two rings! TWO RINGS! When I watched an old WCW VHS tape for the first time as a kid, and saw two squared circles next to each other, it completely blew my under-developed mind. Now, War Games may have been something to bring in fans to house shows and give PPVs a bit of added excitement, some of these gimmick matches were absolute classics. In fact, three of the thirteen War Games matches that took place in the late 80s and throughout the 90s earned the coveted five-star rating from the WON, and it’s the final bout to receive that honour that I’ve chosen for this list. Featuring legends such as Steve Austin, Sting, Ricky Steamboat and Arn Anderson, as well as Paul Heyman on the outside of the cage strategizing with his team, it’s a brutal yet exciting affair. Everyone involved utilises the unique elements of the giant steel cage that encompassed two rings, and the staggered entry format perfectly. If there’s any War Games match you need to watch, it’s without question this classic.
- Manami Toyota vs. Kyoko Inoue: Hair vs. Hair – AJW 25thApril 1992
Back in 1995, these two women earned the prestigious honour of the Wrestling Observer’s Pro Wrestling Match of the Year award, but that wasn’t the first classic they both had together. Three years earlier, they earned a Meltzer five-star rating for a fantastic, hard-hitting bout. Although most claim the fifty minute match from 1995 as the superior, I personally prefer the shorter, faster-paced hair vs. hair bout from 1992. As I’ve stated multiple times, I believe Manami Toyota is the greatest female wrestler of all time, and one of my personal favourites in all of wrestling, and this match shows exactly how incredible she is.
- Kazuchika Okada vs. Tomohiro Ishii – G1 Climax 2016
This match shows exactly what the G1 Climax tournament is all about – two stablemates that would never normally be on opposing sides beating each other senseless in the name of glory. What’s more, it had no buildup, it’s a regular tournament match that unexpectedly blew so many people away. In the past few years, Tomohiro Ishii has seemed to improve more and more, despite being in his 40s. While I personally prefer his recent matches with Kenny Omega, this one certainly still blew me away. In a brawl that never slows down, Ishii brutalises Okada, forcing the champion to show rare signs of desperation. At one point, Okada goes for his signature Rainmaker pose, at which point Ishii leaps to his feet and unexpectedly chops his opponent right in the throat – it is wonderful. Although five stars seems like a bit of a low ranking for an Okada match these days, it’s amazing nonetheless.
- Matt Sydal, Ricochet, and Will Ospreay vs. Bullet Club: 6-Man Tag – PWG BOLA 2016
If I had to sum up this match in one word, it would definitely be “crazy”. There is so much ridiculous, fast-paced, unbelievably athletic action in this match that it is genuinely hard to keep up with it all. Just look at those involved; what more would you expect?
Although I wouldn’t personally give it the full five stars, with so many jaw-dropping moves and moments, including triple tandem Shooting Star Presses to close it, this match is definitely one to watch again and again.
- Michael Elgin vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW The New Beginning in Osaka February 11th 2017
New Japan Pro Wrestling is a match of the year factory right now – no other promotion in the world can touch it when it comes to producing unbelievable matches on a regular basis. In fact, despite how incredible this match is, I glossed over it initially when I first watched it, not realising just how great it was until I re-watched it for this list. Sure, I knew it was fantastic when I saw it back in February (how could I not with two incredible talents such as Naito and Elgin involved?), yet I clearly didn’t appreciate it as much as this five-star rated IWGP Intercontinental Championship match deserved.
Michael Elgin is one of the most diverse performers in wrestling today – he can fit in pretty much any role he’s required to be in. World-class wrestler facing off against Kenny Omega? Check. Baby-face best friend to Tanahashi? Check. Violent, unbreakable monster that’s almost impossible to defeat? Check. For this fight, we get unbelievably powerful BIG MIIIIIIIKKEEE as these two men tell the story of how Naito has to overcome the far stronger Elgin throughout the entire match using his speed and technique. The LIJ leader, full of personality and confidence, quickly abandons his signature tranquillo attitude when he realises just how much of a behemoth Elgin really is after he catches Naito mid-suicide dive, and transitions into a vertical suplex without letting the 225 pound Tetsuya’s feet hit the ground once. Naito begins to show rare signs of desperation and concern as he tries to calculate how he can defeat the former Ring of Honor champion. What follows is one hell of match filled with painful strikes, beautiful moves and world-class storytelling.
The amazing thing about this match is that even though it was awarded five stars, it’s arguably not even in the top five NJPW matches of 2017. Four matches have received higher ratings than five stars in this Japanese promotion during this year alone, which just goes to show that inside those ropes, nobody does it better than New Japan Pro Wrestling right now.
- Rey Misterio, Jr. vs. Juventud Guerrera: 2/3 Falls – ECW Big Ass Extreme Bash 1996
In 1996, a small group of Mexican grapplers changed Western wrestling forever by putting on a series of incredibly athletic, hardcore-inspired lucha libre matches in ECW, the likes of which had never been seen, especially on American soil. Although Rey Misterio Jr. and Juventud Guerrera both had a wealth of success in their careers, and are still going strong to this day, they first caught the world’s attention in a small bingo hall in Philadelphia.
In this truly incredible match, these two luchadores blew minds across the wrestling world with their fast-paced, countering style that paved the way for the likes of Ospreay vs. Ricochet twenty years later. For 1996, the holds and dives these two men were pulling off were beyond belief. As you would expect from Extreme Championship Wrestling, the match eventually ends up outside the arena, at which point Guerrera powerbombs Misterio onto a fan’s car, which is followed by Rey diving off the hood and delivering a gorgeous hurricanrana (thankfully Heyman’s father was a lawyer, otherwise they would have never been able to get away with shenanigans like this). Just as it looks like Juventud is going to put the match away with a cross powerbomb from the top rope, Misterio counters with a perfect frankensteiner for the win.
Although the rivalry between Misterio (the spelling of his surname was changed later) and Psicosis was far more celebrated, this match is the only to receive a five-star rating in the history of ECW, and it’s easy to see why. Despite being the shortest match to receive this honour, it’s so packed full of memorable action that it easily earns its place on this list.
- Samoa Joe vs. Kenta Kobashi – ROH October 1st 2005
There aren’t many matches in wrestling that I would say you NEED to experience for yourself. The Undertaker vs. Mankind, and Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Omega from Wrestle Kingdom 11 come to mind because they are unlike anything else in wrestling, at least for their times. Certain matches just have an aura surrounding them that nobody can replicate, and Samoa Joe vs. Kenta Kobashi is among those distinct few. It’s truly a unique experience – arguably the greatest wrestler in Japanese history facing off against an independent standout on the brink of stardom that at this point was unknown to most of the world, facing off in front of less than a thousand people without any commentary whatsoever. Yes, that’s right, NO COMMENTARY. And it’s not because Ring of Honor couldn’t afford it, all of their shows had play-by-play, but the crowd in attendance that night were so ridiculously loud all the way through, they provided their own soundtrack. Less than a thousand people sound more like ten-thousand, and they don’t die down at any point. To put commentary over that choir of noise and excitement would be an insult.
Although it really is the crowd that makes this match stand out so much, that doesn’t mean the action inside the ring isn’t fantastic as well. Joe vs. Kobashi is just as hard-hitting as you would expect. Intensity exudes from both warriors throughout as they destroy each other in this exhibition of puroresu punishment. This match took place right before Kobashi had to step away from wrestling for a while to recover from various injuries, and endure a two-year long battle with cancer, and understandably never made a full-time return from wrestling afterwards, except for in tag matches and some comedy matches. Any earlier and Joe may not have had the believability and star-power with the Ring of Honor audience to make this encounter with an AJPW legend so exciting, any later and Kobashi certainly wouldn’t have been physically able to put on the world-class performance that he did – it took place within the perfect window, and it made for something truly special.
- KUSHIDA vs. Will Ospreay – NJPW BOSJ Finals
And now for the most recent entry on my list, and one of my favourite matches of 2017 so far. KUSHIDA is somebody that has consistently brilliant matches, but it seems as though whenever he has one of these in-ring epics, somebody else later on in the show overshadows his brilliance. We saw it at Wrestle Kingdom 10, Wrestle Kingdom 11, and this year’s NJPW Dominion, but in the Best of the Super Junior Finals, KUSHIDA was given the main-event spotlight to show what he could do, and he certainly delivered. The Time Splitter and the 2016 winner of this prestigious tournament, Will Ospreay, began the match slowly, trading technical holds, but then built to the crazy, high-flying, ridiculously fast brawl they are well-known for. The athleticism, stamina and mental and physical toughness shown throughout is outstanding – it’s the type of brawl where even you’ll be in pain just from watching because of how relentless it is. By the end of the night, KUSHIDA stood tall, and the two men earned themselves a prestigious Meltzer five-star rating. At only 24 years old, Ospreay continues to wow audiences around the world, whilst KUSHIDA, at 34 years old, is quickly becoming one of the best junior competitors New Japan has ever seen.
- Stan Hansen vs. Kenta Kobashi – AJPW July 29th 1993
At this point, it may be obvious that AJPW is not my preferred wrestling promotion. Given that they have received the most five-star ratings out of any wrestling promotion over the years, and only two have managed to make this list, that should give you an indication of how much I tend to disagree with Meltzer on this particular brand of puroresu. However, this match is certainly the exception. If I had to recommend an AJPW match for someone who had never seen the promotion before, or to someone like myself that isn’t typically a fan, it would definitely be this. Stan Hansen vs. Kenta Kobashi is as punishingly stiff as it sounds. Simply put, these two men beat the living crap out of each other.
Despite the fact I wasn’t around to witness him first-hand during his peak, I am a big fan of Stan Hansen’s brand of brutality. There’s just something about the way he completely destroys people that I thoroughly enjoy. Stan’s lariats are legendary, which is why they’re some of my favourites in the whole history of wrestling. All throughout his career in Japan, Hansen was portrayed as a bullying, dominating, unstoppable monster, and it shows with the sense of desperation shown by Kobashi throughout. Two years prior, Hansen had decimated an already established Kobashi in a one-sided brawl. Now with an abundance of main event experience under his belt, Kobashi looked to make an example of Hansen as soon as the bell rung as he charged towards his foe immediately, sending him flying out of the ring. Kobashi’s thirst for revenge showed all the way to the end, but despite his efforts, Hansen prevailed after a destructive powerbomb on the outside, and then the final finishing blow – possibly the stiffest standing lariat I have ever seen which sent Kobashi falling from the top rope and crashing down on his head. AJPW purists may not even place this in their top ten matches from the promotion, yet for me, it’s without question my favourite.
- AJ Styles vs. Christopher Daniels vs. Samoa Joe – TNA Unbreakable September 11th 2005
Here we have without question the greatest match in TNA history – three men clearly on a mission to get the world talking about them, and that’s exactly what they did. This triple threat match is being talked about to this day, and all three men involved are still impressing the world twelve years later.
Unlike most triple threat matches, the action is constantly high-octane between all three participants without any long rest periods. It could simply be passed off as a conveyer belt of constant high spots (all of which are absolutely incredible), yet it really is so much more than that. It shows the desperation and determination in all of these three men’s minds to not only be the victor, but to make this X-Division title match which would normally be reserved for the midcard into something so good, it couldn’t be denied that precious main-event spot – which is exactly what they did. It’s the type of match where you’ll need a little break yourself afterwards just from watching it.
What I love most about this match is if you came into it with no previous knowledge of who any of the three participants were and the history they had between them, you’d have no clue whatsoever who was bad and who was good. The concept of heels and faces went completely out of the window for this one, it was all about their ability and showing off just how fantastic they all were inside that squared circle. Fast-forward twelve years later, these three men are still doing just that, showing off why all three are still some of the best in the world.
- CM Punk vs. Samoa Joe 2 – Ring of Honor October 16th 2004
CM Punk and Samoa Joe were doing one-hour time limit draws before Okada and Omega made it cool. At this point, Joe was still undefeated in ROH after an almost 600 day title run. CM Punk had faced Joe before in a match that went the full one-hour time limit without a decisive fall, so Ring of Honor fans were understandably eager to see the rematch. Once again, the two future global stars pushed each other to the limit without one man getting the better of the other, but this time, they received a five-star rating from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter for their troubles, in what many called, “the best match to ever take place on American soil.”
Interestingly, this match originally wasn’t even supposed to happen. Steve Corino was scheduled to challenge for the title at this event, however just days before, Japanese promotion Zero-1 pulled the former ECW Champion out. With their backs against the wall, ROH had no chance but to set-up this championship rematch prematurely in Punk’s hometown of Chicago. In hindsight though, the fans in attendance that night in Illinois certainly got the best possible main event.
Starting off slow, the match builds and builds until both men have unleashed every weapon in their arsenal, even moves they haven’t used in years. Both are desperate to put away the man they couldn’t defeat previously, but nothing seems to keep either warrior down. In their first encounter, Punk destroyed Joe with a nasty Spike DDT, however he ran out of time just as he tried to cover him, whereas in the second match, the tables were turned as Joe failed to get the pin in time after hitting a muscle buster from the top. These finishes were clearly the inspiration for the aforementioned Okada vs. Omega one-hour time limit draw epic we witnessed this year, and also inspired a whole generation of fans to start watching ROH. Both men involved went on to achieve incredible success, and it’s easy to see why after witnessing this sixty-minute classic.
For a match that took place in an independent American promotion that at the time had only been running for two years, featuring two wrestlers unknown to the majority of the world, to receive the five-star distinction, it had to be something very special. If you have an hour to spare, watch it for yourself and you will understand why it’s celebrated to such a high degree.
- Manami Toyota and Toshiyo Yamada vs. Dynamite Kansai and Mayumi Ozaki – AJW 11/04/93
Only two women’s matches have won the Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s prestigious Match of the Year Award, and both of them feature Manami Toyota. For any loyal readers of my blog, you will know how much I adore this woman’s work. In my opinion, Toyota is the best female to ever step between the ropes, and one of my personal favourite wrestlers of all time. In fact, I could easily make a top ten of just Toyota’s five-star matches – she has seventeen of them after all, two of which happened on the same night.
The first in a trilogy of all-time classic tag team bouts, everything about this match is fantastic: it’s probably the best display of athleticism in a women’s match I have ever witnessed, especially by Toyota, with brilliant heel work from both Kansai and Ozaki throughout, stellar teamwork and double team moves displayed by both teams, world-class selling of moves from everybody involved, possibly the best series of dropkicks I’ve ever seen, and Toyota’s ring gear looks like something straight out of a Winter Olympics’ figure skating final, it’s wonderful. Choose not to watch this, and you will be missing out on perhaps one of the greatest tag team matches in history.
- Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW G1 Climax Semi-Finals 2016
Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito was the talk of the G1 Climax tournament both last year and this year. Although this year’s bout which took place in the finals was definitely superior, it got a 5.75 rated from Mr Meltzer, therefore it isn’t eligible for this list, but thankfully their encounter in last year’s semi-finals was still absolutely fantastic. It featured two of the company’s biggest stars that broke through in 2016, and two of the best wrestlers in the world today.
Let’s face it, this match deserves a ranking based on Naito’s all-white suit alone, but luckily for us, this match was outstanding on its own merit, regardless of the items of clothing involved. Both stars were oozing charisma throughout, displaying their heelish characters at all times, by posing and even trading saliva spitting. But don’t let their showmanship fool you, their brutally hard-hitting ways were fully on display, trading stiff shots and environmental attacks all throughout the match. Possibly the most memorable highlight of the match was when Omega powerbombed Naito over the barricades and onto an announce table with authority, and then hit one of the most insane springboard moves of the year. This match is worth watching just to witness how high and how far The Cleaner manages to soar through the air during this breath-taking sequence of moves.
After a hard-fought war from both men, Omega managed to come out on top after a beautiful One-Winged Angel, and would go on to win the whole tournament, earning a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 11, which would lead to three matches ranked six stars or higher.
- Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – G1 Climax 2015 Finals
What do you get when you take two of New Japan’s biggest stars of all time, and place them in the finals of their most prestigious tournament? Pure magic, that’s what. In this fifty-minute, five-star epic, Tanahashi and Nakamura bring the big fight feel throughout, starting slow, and building throughout until they unleash every weapon in their arsenal in an exhilarating final ten minutes. It really is an example of two of the best in the world at their very pique, and since New Japan recently released the entire match for free on YouTube, you have no excuse not to watch it.
- Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi – Wrestle Kingdom 9 January 4th 2015
The Wrestling Observer Newsletter not only awarded this a five-star rating, it also declared it their match of the year in 2015, so you know it has to be pretty good.
If I had to sum up this match in simple terms, I’d say it’s a mix of strikes, heaps of charisma, more strikes, crazy high spots, even more strikes, a pinch of move-stealing, an extra helping of strikes, Kota Ibushi’s craziness, a few more strikes, Nakamura’s captivating weirdness, and a couple more strikes for good measure. This truly is two of the best wrestlers in the world showing off exactly why they’re held in such high regard, and they do so by near-enough destroying each other.
Going into this match, Ibushi had recently moved into the heavyweight division from the junior-heavyweight division, something which few wrestlers have the honour of doing. In the eyes of Nakamura, he sees this man as a joke – a junior wrestler from DDT, a Japanese promotion known for its ridiculous antics and for having objects such as ladders and blow-up dolls as their champions. The five-star bout starts off with Nakamura showing his cockiness as the confident veteran, but quickly roles are reversed when Ibushi begins to give his own rendition of Shinsuke’s signature moves. Nakamura’s response to this disrespect? Strike him as many times with his knee in one match as humanly possible. If you love stiff strikes, crazy high-flying maneuvers, and a whole lot of character, this is the match for you.
Kenta Kobashi & Mitsuharu Misawa vs. The Holy Demon Army (Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue) – AJPW July 9, 1995 – Now, I fully understand that there will be some that are howling at their screens right now because I haven’t ranked what many consider to be the best tag team match in history in my top twenty (it only just missed out, I promise), but the truth is, it just isn’t quite to my taste. Under my rules, Kobashi has already placed twice on my list, so I had no choice but to leave this one off when compared to his matches with Samoa Joe and Stan Hansen. I fully appreciate the amazing selling all through this match by both Kobashi and Misawa, and the piece of genius that is Kobashi laying on top of Misawa to protect his partner from the barrage of punishment inflicted by The Holy Demon Army (coolest tag team name ever), but I wasn’t enthralled as much as the five stars would suggest.
Wild Pegasus vs. The Great Sasuke – Super J Cup 1994: Here we have the match that blew many tape traders’ minds back in the 90s. It’s been referenced multiple times as the inspiration for starting many ‘undersized’ wrestlers’ desire to get into this business. With plenty of fast-paced trading reversals that would be welcome at any PWG or ROH show these days, this match truly blew everyone away when it first happened.
Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart – Wrestlemania 13: Widely considered as one of the best Wrestlemania matches in history, this brawl features an amazing switch between face and heel, and the image of Austin’s screaming face covered in crimson is etched into every adult pro wrestling fan’s memory for life.
Kazuchika Okada vs. Katsuyori Shibata: NJPW Sakura Genesis 2017 – Compared to the other unbelievable matches Okada has been a part of this year, this bout just cannot compare, but it is still brilliant nonetheless.
Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker: Hell in a Cell Bad Blood 1997 – Whilst it was incredible and groundbreaking for the time, and still a fantastic match to this day, in my opinion, there have been better HIAC matches since, and the two Wrestlemania matches these legends had together are far superior.
Manami Toyota Vs. Aja Kong: AJPW 26/03/95 – This match is worth watching for the pure brutality alone. Although I don’t think it quite deserves the five stars that Dave Meltzer gave it, it is still a wonderfully physical match featuring a barrage of some of the stiffest strikes, piledrivers, slams, and submissions I have ever witnessed in a wrestling match.
- CM Punk vs. John Cena – Money in the Bank July 17th 2011
This isn’t a match – it’s a piece of theatre.
Since 1983, when the WON star-rating system was first established, only five WWE matches have ever been given five stars by Dave Meltzer. The first four were all gimmick/stipulation matches, the latest, and in my opinion the greatest, is the only one-on-one traditional singles match to receive this honour, and for very good reason.
If you examined all of these excellent matches objectively, without any previous knowledge of the storylines and feuds that preceded them, this would not be the best match. Sure, it would be close, the in-ring action is superb, yet it’s the build-up and the excellent storytelling that turn this great match into a pure masterpiece.
On June 27th 2011, CM Punk sat atop of the Raw stage, and gave a vitriolic address to the world straight from the heart. The fourth wall was broken, boundaries were crossed – we had never seen anything like it on the PG-rated Monday Night Raw that was usually so closely protected by everyone backstage. The entire world was talking. With just the few weeks they had at their disposal, CM Punk and John Cena created the best build-up to a main event I have ever seen in my life. It’s one of the few times in the last decade that an entire show has been built around just the main event – even the PPV’s namesake matches didn’t seem to matter, it was all about Punk vs. Cena.
When the Chicago native walked out in front of his hometown faithful crowd, the reaction was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. On that July evening, CM Punk was a god. After addressing his masses, Punk sat cross-legged in the ring, an image now etched in the history books of wrestling, awaiting the face of WWE. Out walked John Cena, and thus ensued a torrent of boos onto Mr Hustle, Loyalty, Respect. On that night, to be a Cena fan was sacrilege. With one of the most passionate and one-sided crowds in history providing the soundtrack, you knew you were about to witness something incredible.
Back-and-forth they went, neither man putting a foot out of place. Each actor’s role was played perfectly as the world sat on the edge of their seats to see how this work of art was going to play out. In order to protect his precious championship he had spent decades building up prestige for, Vince McMahon made his way slowly down the ramp, accompanied by John Laurinaitis. When Cena locked in the STF, Vince called for Laurinaitis to ring the bell, attempting to screw Punk out of the match, but Cena, sticking to his honourable ways, pounced out of the ring and sent Laurinaitis to the floor. When he slid back under the ropes, Punk hoisted his foe onto his shoulders, threw him down, and sent him crashing onto his knee for the win. Vince had inadvertently costs Cena the match, and in turn, lost the title he held so dear.
As a last attempt to salvage his plan, Vince grabbed a headset and called for Alberto Del Rio, who had won a Money in the Bank contract earlier in the night, to cash in against the renegade champion. The Mexican aristocrat sprinted to the ring right into a perfectly placed roundhouse kick by Punk to the side of ADR’s head. And with that, Punk hopped over the barrier, blew one last kiss of death to his boss, and escaped into his Chicago congregation with no regard for the consequences. It was perfect.
I talked earlier in the Joe vs. Kobashi entry about certain matches being special – so unique that nothing else compares and they have to be witnessed by every fan in the world. This is one of those matches. This match, the feud, and obviously the infamous pipe bomb promo marked a monumental shift in wrestling. This is the match that was responsible for getting thousands of former fans back into wrestling. Without this match, many of you reading this right now may not even have any interest in the wonderful sport of professional wrestling. Without this match, I may not have some of the friends I attend live independent shows with. Without this match, guys like CM Punk, deemed as ‘undersized’, ‘internet/indie darlings’ may not have been given the chance to show just how popular they can be.
The reason why this is easily the greatest five-star rated match of all time is because it’s so much more than just a bell-to-bell contest. It achieved more than a rating not given to a WWE match in fourteen years, and hasn’t been awarded since. This match changed wrestling for the better. CM Punk vs. John Cena is one of the most important matches in WWE history, and just like Meltzer himself, it will have the wrestling world talking for years to come.
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