My Favorite Matches: January 2018

I thought I’d start keeping a log of my favorite matches throughout the year.  However, because I don’t watch EVERYTHING and sometimes end up watching things late due to only getting them on blu-ray (looking at you PWG) or just not knowing about it until later there will probably be additions throughout the year.  There will also be spoilers since these are matches that have already happened.

New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 12 01/04/18 – Junior Heavyweight Title Match:  Marty Scurll © v Will Osprey v KUSHIDA v Hiromu Takahashi

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Screencap from NJPWWorld.com

This match was a great showcase for some of the best Junior Heavyweights in the world right now.  Each man had opportunities to shine.  It’s pretty clear to me that Hiromu is SUPER over at the moment since he got a huge pop when he went on offense.  KUSHIDA was pretty great too, but I’m almost at the point where I’d like to see him try out the Heavyweight division.  I thought the ending was perfect because Osprey always loses to Marty so it was nice for him to finally get a victory over him on such a large stage.

New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 12 01/04/18 – United States Heavyweight Title Match (No Disqualification): Kenny Omega © v Chris Jericho

I’ve already written at length about the build and the match and it was a great way to kick off 2018.  A much different match than what I’m used to seeing from Kenny and a very ruthless Jericho made for a very fun match.

NWA Empty Arena Match 01/15/18 – Tim Storm v Jocephus

I wasn’t sure what to make of this one when it was announced.  I’ve been reeled in by the NWA relaunch and how low key it has been so far.  This was a fun brawl in the empty Impact Zone and I think it helped re-establish a good gimmick match type the NWA can use going forward.  The bump that Storm takes at the end is very painful to watch.  I’m hoping that more talent gets brought on board since it’s largely just been Storm, Jocephus, and current champion Nick Aldis.

New Japan Pro Wrestling New Beginning in Sapporo Night 1 01/27/18 – Intercontinental Title Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi © v Minoru Suzuki

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Screencap from NJPWWorld.com

Tanahashi came into this match pretty banged up and accepting the challenge of a sadist like Suzuki was probably a bad idea.  The match told the story of a champion that would not quit even though he probably should have.  Suzuki worked on Tanahashi’s bandaged arm and battered knee to the point where the referee had to stop the match because Tanahashi couldn’t break free of the submission hold he was in.  Suzuki cut a chilling promo while the Forever Ace of New Japan was stretchered out of the ring made for a very powerful image.

NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia 01/27/18 – Extreme Rules: Adam Cole v Aleister Black

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Photo courtesy of WWE.com

In my opinion this match told two stories:  Adam Cole can take a beating and Aleister Black doesn’t need weapons since he is one.  This was a pretty good “hardcore” match and Cole and Black meshed together well.  It had some pretty decent spots that seemed to make the notoriously blood thirsty Philly crowd happy (see above photo).  I’m not going to lie, but I popped when Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish showed up and hit Black with the Total Elimination finisher that The Eliminators used to do.  A very small ECW chant may have broken out in my apartment.

NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia 01/27/18 – NXT Championship Title Match: Andrade Almas © v Johnny Gargano

This is another that I’ve written more about, but I loved this match.  It followed the Cole/Black match, which was going to be a tough act to follow, and surpassed it.  I think Gargano is the best babyface that the WWE has right now and I loved how Almas has been salvaged after a very rocky start in his NXT run.

WWE Monday Night Raw 01/30/18 – Sasha Banks v Asuka

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Photo courtesy of WWE.Com

This felt like it could be an opening chapter of their rivalry.  Sasha struggling to remain relevant even though Asuka won the first women’s Royal Rumble and the appearance of Ronda Rousey could make for a compelling story.  Sasha wrestled this match with a chip on her shoulder and wanted to prove more to herself that she is still relevant.  This was my favorite Asuka main roster match and I thought their chemistry was good.  If WWE decides to call an audible and put the Raw Women’s title on Sasha and we get a rematch at Wrestlemania I would definitely be on board.  You’d have the story of Sasha Banks, who has never successfully defended the Women’s title after winning it, against the unstoppable inevitability of Asuka.  I can’t think of a bigger stage to tell that story.

Keep It Simple

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Sometimes it’s the simple things in wrestling that make a match great.  Emotional investment in wrestling is so crucial to a successful match.  You might be invested in one of the competitors because you’ve been following their career for years.  The storyline building up to the match might also hook you and you want to see where things go.  The athleticism or brutality of a match will also keep you interested.  Last night Andrade “Cien” Almas and Johnny Gargano had one of the best main event matches in a WWE ring I’ve ever seen at NXT TakeOver:  Philadelphia because they adhered to keeping things simple.

Just within the framework of NXT the story was a pretty simple one to follow.  Both men had a rough 2017, but for totally different reasons.  Almas started it with a career that seemed to not be going anywhere.  He was well received in NXT, but didn’t take advantage of the opportunities to showcase his abilities.  This all turned around when Zelina Vega became his manager.  He developed more of a focus and with Vega’s help he set his sights on the NXT championship.  Almas would eventually get his opportunity and wrest the title from Drew McIntyre.  Johnny Gargano started his 2017 off as one half of the NXT tag team champions known as DIY with Tommaso Ciampa.  They would drop the titles early in the year to The Authors of Pain.  DIY would challenge for the titles a few more times and come up short.  After losing on their final attempt to recapture the tag team titles, Ciampa violently attacked Gargano effectively ending their partnership.  Ciampa was gone dealing with a knee injury for the rest of the year while Gargano attempted to carve out his own path.  Gargano would face Almas two other times prior to their championship encounter and came up short both times.

So the story for both men going into this match was a pretty simple one.  Almas’ story is that he needed to beat Gargano to show that his championship win wasn’t a fluke and to show doubters that he was a legitimate champion.  Gargano’s story was that could he beat Almas and recapture championship glory without a partner.

Now full disclosure from your author:  I’ve followed Gargano’s career for a while but was never that big of a fan.  I always enjoyed his work, but never fully invested in it.  I also haven’t seen Almas’ work in Mexico as La Sombra.  However, after watching their match last night I can safely say I may be a fan of theirs for life because this match completely hooked me.  The build was incredibly simple and well done.  The ringwork was top-notch with some great technical work from both men.  Their chemistry was off the charts as they strung together counter move after counter move.  I was on the edge of my seat and I bit on damn near every near-fall.  Toward the end when Almas’ assault shifted to slamming Gargano’s head into the ring apron repeatedly I just wanted it to end because he was selling the damage so well.  When the match was finally over, it wasn’t a completely clean victory for Almas since Zelina Vega did interject herself at numerous opportunities.  Even when Gargano’s wife, fellow wrestler Candice LaRae, ran Vega off it still wasn’t enough.  And to make matters worse, Ciampa showed up after the match to pour salt on the wounded Gargano by cracking him in the back with a crutch.

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Both men have interesting stories going forward as well.  Gargano has to sort out his business with Ciampa before he can move forward and capture the NXT championship.  Almas has now legitimized his title reign and will look to defend it by any means necessary with the assistance of Zelina Vega.  I could make the statement that’s been made so many times damning WWE for being overproduced and under-delivering on any emotional content, but I won’t (even though I sort of just did).  NXT, and pretty much all wrestling for that matter, excel when they keep things simple (but not stupid).

All images taken from WWE.com