15. Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – A Block: August 10th
Admittedly, I’m not as big of a fan of previous Tanahashi vs. Okada matches than most New Japan fans seem to be, yet their encounter during G1 had me on the edge of my seat throughout. As good as their follow-up match in September was, this time limit draw captivated me up until the final seconds.
Whether it was the atmosphere in the Budokan, the tension of deciding who would win the A Block, or the excitement from the crowd and the commentators, but by the end of this bout, my heart was pounding in my chest and my stomach was fluttering from anticipation.
Okada and Tanahashi are both two of the most relaxed competitors when it comes to displaying their emotions towards their opponents, however, when they face each other, they cannot hide the disdain between them. This match is filled with violence, emotion and high drama. Whilst I would have preferred a definitive finish to this one, it is still one of the best bouts we saw in the G1.
14. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kota Ibushi – B Block: July 28th
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kota Ibushi was a gift to us all.
Take Ibushi, a crazy athlete who’s willingness to land on his head is very concerning, take Ishii, a stone-hard fridge of a man known for pulling out amazing matches in G1’s, put them together and you have one of the greatest bouts of the year. You will be hard-pressed to find a match that fits in as much insanity and brutality in a short space of time as this one does.
From start to finish, these two go to town on each other without a single moment’s rest. Rather than a display of athleticism and speed which we saw with his tournament bout against SANADA, Ibushi channels his inner badass and goes toe-to-toe with Ishii’s punishing strikes. Despite that, there was one moment where the classic crazy Ibushi we know and have major concerns for made an appearance, as he dragged his opponent out passed the crowd, climbed up a balcony, and delivered an insane moonsault onto Ishii.
This wasn’t really a test of who was the better striker or the better wrestler, it was a test to see who had the most fighting spirit, who was tougher, and who had the most screws loose in their head. For them to craft a match that’s as captivating and wild as this is in just 16 minutes, that is incredible.
Watch this match. Make your friends watch this match. Make everyone watch this match. It’s just that good.
13. Aleister Black vs. Johnny Gargano – NXT TakeOver: WarGames
At a show as great as TakeOver WarGames, it’s a difficult task to be match of the night, yet Black vs. Gargano comfortably managed to do so. Johnny Gargano had one more opportunity to blow us away with yet another TakeOver masterpiece before the year was over, and he certainly delivered.
Gargano strolled to the ring emitting a cocky new confidence, intent on punishing his foe throughout, whilst Black conveyed emotion in every devastating strike he threw. A great blend of psychology and just good old fantastic pro wrestling, highlighted by a standout sequence where Gargano begged for mercy only to try and get one over on the former NXT Champion. A brilliantly played out brawl that left all of us wanting more.
12. Tetsuya Naito vs. Kenny Omega – B Block: July 15th
Some wrestlers have an undeniable chemistry with each other that allows them to put on outstanding matches regardless of how many times they stand across the ring from each other – case in point: Kenny Omega and Tetsuya Naito.
In the 2016 and 2017 G1’s, Naito and Omega’s matches against each other were arguably the best bouts in both tournaments. For the third year in a row, they have crafted a masterpiece which will be hard to beat. Filled with the ridiculous set of knee strikes, inhuman springboard leaps, and drops on the head that we’ve come to expect from these two, this is as every bit as good as you could expect it to be.
11. Zack Sabre Jr. vs. WALTER – PROGRESS Chapter 77
Some performers just have a certain chemistry with each other where whenever they lock up, magic happens. Regardless of where it takes place or under what circumstances, a match between ZSJ and WALTER is absolutely spectacular.
WALTER is possibly Zack’s toughest opponent. Due to WALTER’s overwhelming size and power advantage, Zack utilises his supreme technical ability to constantly try to ground the behemoth in order to disarm his cannon of an arm. Zack’s ability to repeatedly counter and look for new ways to adapt and transition his holds to prevent WALTER from unleashing a wave of powerful offence makes for absolutely fascinating viewing.
Tension builds throughout this bout as they constantly trade holds and strikes, with the anticipation of WALTER finally landing one of his signature chops throughout. If you watch just one PROGRESS match from 2018, please make it this one.
10. 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.
9. WALTER vs. Will Ospreay – Defiant Wrestling: Stacked
WALTER and Will Ospreay had never wrestled prior to this year, yet they clashed twice within the space of just a few weeks in 2018 – once for Defiant Wrestling and once for OTT. Although the OTT match is the one that got the most attention and praise, and is possibly the better of the two to watch through film (only by a slight margin, both are fantastic), what makes Defiant my choice for this list is purely personal.
I was there live for their match in Defiant. It was one of the most wild pro wrestling experiences I have ever been a part of, both in the ring and in the crowd. The terrifying sound of WALTER’s chops combined with Ospreay’s disregard for his own safety and the red-hot reactions from my fellow audience members all combined to make a thrilling time. What’s more, this match practically made my friend a fan of pro wrestling.
One day in July, my best friend of eight years asked me if I was free after work, to which I replied I was attending a wrestling show (the finals of Defiant’s Ringmaster tournament). Despite not having any bit of interest in pro wrestling during the entire time I’ve known him, he unexpectedly asked, “Can I come?” As long as there was alcohol and people chanting, he was up for it. So I booked him a ticket, picked him straight up from work, and off we went.
That night, his eyes were opened to what a pro wrestling show actually is. It’s a variety show, a theatrical display of all types of entertainment, a place to shout things really loudly, and he fucking loved it. Even though he didn’t really take in much of the actual wrestling, other than being completely in awe of El Phantasmo, he was certainly hooked and willing to try again.
So the following month, him and his fiancee came along to another show with me, where I advised him to drink a little less and take a little more in of the actual wrestling. Main-event time rolls around, and like everyone else in the room that night, his mind was blown. When the final bell rung, he stood with his hands cupping the back of his head completely awestruck by the brutality he had just witnessed, and with that, he’s been coming to wrestling shows with me ever since, and was even a regular viewer of World of Pro Wrestling on FreeSports.
Putting my personal reasons aside, this really is a phenomenal, heart-pounding brawl, but for playing a huge part in helping me convert a non-fan into a regular show attender, Ospreay vs. WALTER will always have a place in my heart.
8. 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 and completely killing themselves, all 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 of 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 appeared to be 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 stuck in. 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.
7. 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 we saw 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 never caught this championship epic in the first half of this year, you are missing out on arguably the greatest junior heavyweight match of 2018.
6. Kota Ibushi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – Finals: August 12th
This was the match that four whole weeks and nineteen shows lead up to, and boy, it was well worth it. With Kenny by Kota’s side, and a rare appearance by Katsuyori Shibata accompanying Tanahashi, it was obvious this was going to be emotional before the bell had rung. We got to see Kota pull out his arsenal of punishing strikes, and Tanahashi flaunt his god-like hair and legendary moveset.
The image of their slap exchange may never leave my mind, and the final sequence was perfect in making both men come out looking greater than they entered. Brimming with emotion, excitement, and plenty of tension, it was the culmination of ninety tournament matches with fantastic results.
5. Kenny Omega vs. Kota Ibushi – B Block: August 11th
Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi have ten years of history together. In fact, Kota is basically the reason Kenny came to Japan in the first place.
When Omega saw footage of Ibushi for the first time, he became obsessed by him, and knew he had to travel to Japan to face him. So in 2008, Kenny had his first ever singles match in the country against Kota Ibushi for DDT Pro Wrestling. The 2/3 Falls Match changed his career forever.
Kota and Kenny instantly gained respect for each other, became a team, moved to New Japan together, put on arguably the greatest match in DDT history against each other, separated for years without crossing paths, and reunited this year in a truly emotional display. Ten years of history lead to this bout.
Six years after their last match against each other, Kota and Kenny were forced to face each other once more inside the very same arena. Judging by this brawl though, you’d have no idea that these two had any sort of positive relationship with each other.
Simply put, these two near enough murdered each other. Knowing how difficult it would be to put away their fellow lover, both men put everything they had into every shot, and took serious risks from start to finish. Featuring some of the most brutal moves you will see all year, combined with true emotion and impeccable storytelling, this is a match no wrestling fan should miss.
4. Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa – NXT TakeOver: Chicago
Johnny Gargano was 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.
Sure, there will be some who prefer their first brawl, maybe even some that enjoyed their third match the most, yet for me, this was one of the most violent, passionate, dramatic, emotional, theatric, and had the best use of a stipulation I’ve ever seen in a WWE match.
3. Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii – B Block: August 4th
If you like physicality, you will adore this match. The amount of punishment both of these men took in this war is truly astonishing. It was bloody, it was brutal, and it was beautiful.
Starting off slow, Omega was beaming with arrogance as he boded Ishii, yet after a good ten minutes or so of build, they turned up the intensity to maximum and did not turn it back down until the bell rung. Kenny was clearly on a mission to prove that the V Trigger is one of the most effective and re-watchable moves on the planet, whilst Ishii was clearly on a mission to prove that he genuinely is made of stone as he absorbed blow after blow from his opponent. By the end of it, they were left bloody and brutalised, thanks to this absolutely incredible match.
2. 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.
- Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada – NJPW Dominion
This isn’t just match of the year, it’s the match of a generation.
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, 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.
Just a few years ago, any one of these thirty matches I have listed would be pretty much guaranteed a spot in the top three matches of the year. With so many mind-blowing bouts in one year, too many worthy contenders to rank, and no doubt plenty of amazing content I didn’t get chance to watch, it’s fair to say these last twelve months have been something special.
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