What a half year it has been. With confidence, I can safely say these six months are some of the best I’ve ever experienced in almost twenty years of being a pro wrestling fanatic. Trust me when I say selecting just fifteen amazing matches to discuss from January to June was a huge undertaking, given how high the quality of matches are in promotions around the world today. If the next six months are anything like the last, 2018 is going to be historic – here are the Top 15 Matches of 2018 So Far.
15. Andrade “Cien” Almas vs. Aleister Black – NXT TakeOver: New Orleans
NXT TakeOver: New Orleans is without question one of the greatest wrestling events I have ever seen. Whilst the two five-star matches on the show got the most attention, an incredible title match hidden between those two epics was sadly overshadowed.
Black and Almas had one of the best NXT Championship matches ever, with each man hitting a variety of ridiculously impressive maneuvers. Zelina Vega played the perfect manager throughout, involving herself in the action whenever she could. The ending played out wonderfully with Zelina ultimately costing Almas the match, followed by the extremely rare sight of the happiest goth in the world.
It was far from match of the night, but that’s no criticism of this bout, as it just happened to be competing with two of the best matches we’ve seen this year so far.
14. Ringkampf vs. Violence Unlimited – PWG All Star Weekend Night 1
If you like seeing four intimidating hosses beating each other into oblivion, this is the match for you. At the final ever Reseda PWG show, big lads WALTER and Timothy Thatcher went to war with fellow absolute units Tyler Bateman and Brody King in one of the most physical matches of the year. One of the highlights of this clash was hearing that Reseda crowd react to every brutal WALTER chop, creating a sweet symphony of violence to accompany this punishingly good match.
13. Shuji Ishikawa vs. Mike Bailey – DDT Grand Prix Night 1
In my opinion, Mike Bailey is the most underrated wrestler in the world. Due to visa issues, Bailey can’t currently compete in the United States unfortunately, yet in Japan, Canada and Europe, he is winning over legions of fans with his insane in-ring efforts.
This DDT Grand Prix tournament match is one of the best examples of a David vs. Goliath showdown I’ve ever seen – a pure battle of speed vs. power. Bailey showed tenacity, unique offence, impressive agility, and a barrage of strikes fuelled by an underdog spirit. Bailey built up small sequences of successful moves, only to get cut down by the far bigger Ishikawa every time.
It’s impossible not to get behind Speedball when he’s consistently being rag-dolled around just as he’s building momentum. Every time Mike reversed Shuji’s offense, it felt like a major turning point, whereas every reversal by Shuji cut the fan’s hopes dead.
This match is more than worth your time, it is fantastic. If this bout was in front of a much bigger, more appreciative crowd in a more mainstream promotion, this would definitely be towards the top of everybody’s MOTY lists.
12. Undisputed Era vs. Lorcan and Burch – NXT TakeOver: Chicago
Oney Lorcan’s willingness to destroy himself and everyone else around them is a gift to us all. Thanks to a flurry of fantastic spots, double team moves, vicious strikes, and an insanely hot Chicago crowd, this instantly became one of the best tag team matches of the year so far. It’s just a shame Undisputed Era no longer hold those belts, a life without Kyle O’Reily’s air guitar isn’t anywhere near as fun.
11. Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream – NXT TakeOver: Chicago
In such a short time, Velveteen Dream has built up an almost cult-like following thanks to his captivating presence, brilliant character work, and incredible athleticism. After his feud of the year with Aleister Black, The Dream set his sights on the newly signed Ricochet, and instantly we all knew we were in for something special.
With Dream dressed in tribute to Hulk Hogan with a Prince Puma twist, and Ricochet acting as his hero The Rock, these two paid tribute to one classic match whilst putting on an instant classic of their own. It was a battle between two freak athletes with one hell of a build up, along with a red hot Chicago crowd, to help elevate it to an instant MOTY candidate. NXT is currently the best it’s ever been when it comes to in-ring talent, and both Ricochet and Dream are two major parts of that.
10. WALTER vs. Bad Bones vs. Ilja Dragunov – wXw 16 Carat Gold
As is the case with any WALTER match, there were a lot of chops in this one. Within five minutes, Dragunov’s chest was bleeding – that’s how violent this one was. With Ilja acting as the underdog everyone in that building demanded to see as champion, Bad Bones playing the cowardly heel role perfectly, and WALTER being the unstoppable, destructive force that he is, this WxW match became the triple threat of the year.
Raw energy emanated from this extremely emotional crowd throughout, which was the key to this violent war’s appeal. Whilst not the best match from a technical standpoint compared to others on this list, the story and passion from fans make this a spectacle that’s hard to forget.
9. Tetsuya Naito vs. Chris Jericho – NJPW Dominion
Chris Jericho in New Japan is such a delight to watch. As entertaining as his WWE antics are, seeing this GOAT show a completely different side of his personality without the shackles of a PG rating is absolutely fascinating.
Simply put, this Dominion match is a desperate brawl from start to finish. Nothing flash, no sign of good sportsmanship, just a bloody bombardment of physicality throughout. Jericho was certainly not tranquilo as he annihilated Naito into defeat.
8. The Golden Lovers vs. The Young Bucks – NJPW Strong Style Evolved
Despite what Cody may say, Bullet Club has not been fine this year. In fact, things got so bad within the BC ranks that long-time best friends Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks broke apart on different sides of a civil war. The bad blood between these former allies came to a head when Matt and Nick moved up to the heavyweight division in order to face Omega and his partner, Kota Ibushi, to decide which duo really is the best in the world.
At Strong Style Evolved, these four bonded by both love and hatred battled in an emotional and brutal war. Full of dangerous spots, moments of inner conflict, a string of incredible counters, and a stunningly painful table spot, it will be a gigantic task for another tag team match to come close to the quality of this one in 2018.
CLICK HERE FOR MY POEM ABOUT THE GOLDEN LOVERS
7. Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho – Wrestle Kingdom 12
On November 5th 2017, after an insanely good match against Beretta, Kenny Omega stood in the ring and proclaimed that nobody would challenge him to a match at Wrestle Kingdom (the company’s biggest show of the year) because he had beaten everybody in New Japan. Just as his promo came to an end, the arena went black, and a dark figure appeared on the screen.
At first, fans thought we were finally going to discover the identity of Switchblade, a mysterious character that had been airing vignettes since this year’s G1 Climax Finals back in August (who’s identity you can read about here), but then, a familiar sound blasted through our speakers. It was the fantastic song Judas by Fozzy, a band who’s lead singer is none other than one of the greatest of all time, Chris Jericho.
Fans around the globe instantly gasped as the former six-time world champion appeared on screen, sporting a much darker, far more serious persona than we have seen him adopt in the last eighteen months. The Sixty-one Minute Man held up a photo of Kenny Omega, his fellow Winnipeg brethren, tore it in half, and issued a challenge to him on January 4th. With a look of wild excitement on his face, the IWGP US Champion accepted, and the biggest match in New Japan Pro Wrestling history was made official.
The entire wrestling world exploded with excitement – one of the most shocking announcements in New Japan history had just been made. And the anticipation only got greater from there, as these two Winnipeg natives crafted a violent and personal rivalry, filled with physical and verbal abuse. When January 4th finally came along, many worried that Jericho and Omega would not be able to live up to the insane levels of hype that this dream match inevitably produced – but that just made it all the more sweeter when they proved the doubters wrong.
6. Taiji Ishimori vs. Hiromu Takahashi – Best Of The Super Juniors Finals
Taiji Ishimori was brought in as a full-time member of NJPW at the beginning of May with great fanfare. As the newest member of Bullet Club, Ishimori was instantly given a huge spotlight to display what he could do, and what value he could bring to both New Japan and his new stable – and damn, did he deliver.
In the finals of the Best of Super Juniors tournament, two of the best junior wrestlers in the world engaged in one of the most dangerous yet captivating clashes you will see this year. With Hiromu being sent tumbling down concrete stairs thanks to a hurricarana, and several drops on the head and neck (as you would expect from a Takahashi match), the amount of punishment these two both absorbED is almost as impressive as Taiji’s abs.
If you have yet to watch this 5.5 star match, you are missing out on arguably the greatest junior heavyweight match in history.
5. Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa – NXT TakeOver: New Orleans
Ciampa vs. Gargano is more of a piece of theatre than it is a wrestling match – it’s the final chapter in a long-running series, which builds with a slideshow of moments and callbacks to previous moments in their history. Whilst some didn’t enjoy it because it wasn’t all fast-paced, epic action like we had seen in their Cruiserweight Classic match, or in the Gargano vs. Almas epic, however it was one of the best examples of storytelling displayed in WWE.
Every single movement in this match meant something. There was a reason behind everything they did, and because of that, their actions really made you feel something. A detail I personally loved was towards the end, Gargano hesitated to hit Ciampa with part of his crutch, and proceeded to sit down next to his rival, calling back to their CWC match. What I adored about this was it was a call-back to a tiny detail in their feud from almost two years ago, before DIY was ever really a solid team, and before their popularity explosion. It showed how much faith they had in the fans’ knowledge of their history, and how closely we had followed their feud.
The symbolism throughout was impeccable, and whilst I know these two could have an incredible, faster-paced slug-fest of a match, they tried something rarely seen in WWE, and it certainly paid off.
4. North American Championship Ladder Match – NXT TakeOver: New Orleans
The best multi-man ladder match of the decade, possibly even of all time. In simple terms, this was a display of six men all working together, completely killing themselves, in order to put on the best display possible. Nobody was selfish, nobody held back, everyone involved themselves in as many life-threatening spots as possible with the aim of trying to steal the show.
Every man played their part:
- Ricochet was obviously the ridiculously talented high-flyer, hitting an insane springboard shooting star press to the outside, and doing a ridiculous moonsault off off a falling ladder.
- Dain and Sullivan provided a little rivalry within this match, attempting to out-do each other with their spots and moves, as the two big men in the match fighting for supremacy.
- EC3 came in trying to show that he’s fully dedicated to his new venture in NXT, and was clearly wanting to win over the fans. Rather than being conservative and interjecting himself when necessary, EC3 seemed intent on actually killing himself in this one as he seemed to take more unbelievable spots than anyone else in the match.
- Velveteen Dream was his usual charismatic self, blessing the world with the work of art that was his tights. He also hit an insane Purple Rainmaker from atop the ladder, and was just generally very entertaining.
- Despite having to pull double duty that night, Adam Cole did not hold back whatsoever. He had the most valid excuse of all to not get involved in the more dangerous moments in the bout, yet that didn’t stop him from getting involved. Plus, as always, his facial expressions were unrivalled.
As far as psychology goes, you can just forget about that with this one, but if you want an extremely entertaining, fast-pace, car crash spectacle of theatre, this is all you need.
3. Andrade “Cien” Almas vs. Johnny Gargano – NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia
The year got off to a pretty incredible start for NXT when Gargano and Almas gifted WWE with their first five-star match in seven years.
Johnny Gargano, the perfect underdog, had fought back from a eventful yet disappointing 2017 to earn his first NXT Championship opportunity. The man he would face was Andrade Almas, who had waves of momentum after a fantastic end to 2017, and also held multiple victories over Gargano during that previous year. All logic told you that Almas would be holding onto that belt for a little longer, but the action in this bout was so captivating, you couldn’t help but get lost in the story.
After dominating initially, Gargano clawed his way back into contention, leading Almas to obliterate his opponent with a series of devastating moves, yet Johnny Wrestling refused to quit. Each near-fall pushed me closer and closer to the edge of my seat. With some help from an insanely hot crowd and world-class commentary from Mauro Ranallo, the excitement leading into the final moments of the match was undeniable. When Almas pinned Gargano for the three, it was hard to feel upset over Johnny’s losing efforts as after a match that epic, everybody felt like they had won.
2. Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa – NXT TakeOver: Chicago
Johnny Gargano is a MOTY machine in 2018. Just when we thought the Gargano vs. Ciampa feud couldn’t get any better, these two bitter rivals pull out the best street fight I have ever seen, which was an almost complete contrast to their previous encounter.
What made this match so impeccable was the use of story line to fuel and justify all of the absolutely brutal weapon strikes and dangerous spots throughout. With every swing of an object, or every time a head or back was driven into concrete or steel, you could feel every single ounce of emotion radiating from both men. This wasn’t senseless violence or simply doing anything to win, this was a mission to permanently end the other. In my opinion, when it comes to storytelling, no match has ever used weapons as effectively as this.
This was one of the most violent, passionate, dramatic, emotional, theatric, and best use of a stipulation I’ve ever seen in a WWE match. Gargano and Ciampa must never stop feuding, they are utterly incredible.
Honourable Mentions (Only Half Way Through the Year, and There are Already This Many)
Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – NJPW Wrestling Dontaku
Will Ospreay vs. ACH – NJPW Best of Super Juniors Day 3
No Regrets Rumble – Defiant: No Regrets
Dragon Lee vs. Hiromu Takahashi – NJPW Best Of The Super Juniors Day 6
Will Ospreay vs. Flip Gordon – NJPW Best Of The Super Juniors Day 13
Buddy Murphy vs. Kalisto – 205 Live
Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian and Scorpio Sky vs. Flip Gordon, Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson – ROH Supercard Of Honor XII
Hirooki Goto vs. Minoru Suzuki – Wrestle Kingdom 12
Hiromu Takahashi vs. El Desperado – NJPW Kizuna Road
Charlotte vs. Asuka – WrestleMania 34
Hangman Page vs. Kota Ibushi – ROH Supercard of Honor XII
WALTER vs. PCO – Joey Janela’s Spring Break 2
Gauntlet Match – WWE Raw
Takashi Sugiura vs Naomichi Marufuji – NOAH Navigation With Breeze 2018 Day 10
Hiromu Takahashi vs. Will Ospreay – NJPW Dominion
The Miz vs. Seth Rollins – WWE Backlash
Squad Goals vs. The Deserving – Pro Wrestling EV: Wrestle Queendom
Buddy Murphy vs. Cedric Alexander – 205 Live
KUSHIDA vs. SHO – NJPW Best of Super Juniors
Will Ospreay vs. Marty Scurll – NJPW Sakura Genesis
Kenny Omega vs. Cody – ROH Supercard of Honor XII
Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle vs. Triple H and Stephanie McMahon – WrestleMania 34
Women’s Money in the Bank Match
Buddy Murphy vs. Mustafa Ali – 205 Live
Will Ospreay vs. Marty Scurll vs. KUSHIDA vs. Hiromu Takahashi – Wrestle Kingdom 12
Men’s and Women’s Royal Rumble Matches
- Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada – NJPW Dominion
This isn’t just match of the year, it’s the match of a generation. 2018 will be defined by how amazing this match is.
I can’t even begin to describe what makes this piece of theatre so brilliant. In simple terms, Omega vs. Okada IV just had a special energy to it. It had this indescribable feeling attached to it, similar to HBK vs. Undertaker, Cena vs. Punk, or any of the other three matches these two had in 2017. As you witness two of the best in the world battle it out to decide finally who is superior, you’re filled with a sensation unlike any other you can experience when watching wrestling – it’s that special.
If you’ve seen this match, or any of their historic clashes, you don’t need me to relay to you why this is the best match of 2018 so far, as you will undoubtedly have been moved by that unique experience for yourself. It’s rare you go into a match expecting to be one of the greatest of all time, and it’s even rarer that the bout in question goes on to deliver in every aspect possible, yet Omega and Okada somehow managed it.
If you’ve never seen this match, I won’t try and go through all the best moves or the most dangerous spots or invade you with a barrage of lengthy explanations, I will just say this – you owe it to yourself as a professional wrestling fan to watch this, to watch all of the Okada vs. Omega matches in fact. Nobody should miss out on four of the greatest, most unique, and quite frankly industry-changing matches there has ever been.
If all of this can happen in the first six months of 2018 alone, and with potential the greatest G1 in history on the horizon, this will without doubt go down in pro wrestling history as a truly landmark year. Personally, I’ve never felt luckier to be a fan of this wonderful sport.
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