The holiday season is supposed to be all about giving, even if it is really all about getting. In case you are bored of your family over the long weekend, or you didn't get what you wanted this season, here is a gift from me to you. In anticipation of next week's 2014 award show spectacular, here is my personal ranking of the Top Ten Wrestling Matches of 2014.
* John Cena vs Brock Lesnar (WWE Summerslam)
* AJ Styles vs Kazuchika Okada (NJPW G1 Climax Day 1)
* Kurt Angle vs Bobby Roode (TNA Impact January 23)
* Uhaa Nation and AR Fox vs Johnny Gargano (EVOLVE 26)
* Kota Ibushi vs Ricochet (NJPW Dominion)
* Adam Cole vs Zack Sabre Jr. (PWG Battle of Los Angeles Night)
* The Young Bucks vs reDRagon (ROH Raising the Bar)
* Eita, Flamita and T-Hawk vs Akira Tozawa, Shingo Takagi and Uhaa Nation (DG Rainbow Gate Korakuen)
* Kofi Kingston vs Dean Ambrose vs Rob Van Dam vs Seth Rollins vs Jack Swagger vs Dolph Ziggler (WWE Money in the Bank)
* Adrian Neville vs Sami Zayn (NXT R Evolution)
* ACH vs Cedric Alexander (PWG 10)
* Kenny Omega vs HARASHIMA vs Isami Kodaka-DDT Lives May Be Changed Team Dream Future vs Xceed (AJPW New Years War Tag 2)
* Sami Zayn vs Cesaro (NXT Takeover)
10. Evolution vs The Shield (WWE Extreme Rules)
Evolution's rebirth in WWE didn't last very long and all it did was give The Shield a boost before Seth Rollins would turn on his cohorts and align himself with Triple H and The Authority. Before Evolution would dissolve and Batista would leave to promote his blockbuster, they did leave one lasting impression on WWE in 2014 (well, besides Bluetista) and that was this match.
In recent weeks, the former members of The Shield haven't been doing so hot. Seth Rollins has been buried in a rather pointless feud with John Cena, Ambrose seems to be losing star power by the week thanks to a boring feud with Bray Wyatt, and Roman Reigns has begun to buckle under the burden of a push that he might not be ready for. But let us not forget how good The Shield really was when they were together. Wrestling wise, they never failed to have an entertaining match, and they worked well with Evolution. A classic matchup of the new school vs the old guard, Evolution practiced the typical, slow, grind it out style that Triple H has made a career out off. The Shield went in the complete opposite direction, working a frantic, balls-to-the-wall style that exploded all over the arena.
The match started out on Evolution's terms, with a standard tag match pace, but eventually things changed for The Shield, with the match breaking down into a three-on-three firefight that The Shield had made their calling card since their debut. Roman Reigns got the final pin on Triple H and clearly was the person WWE was pushing the most in this match, but the real MVP was Seth Rollins, who took a nasty bump on the guardrail and dived all over the match, risking everything to pick up the victory.
9. Team Cena vs Team Rollins (WWE Survivor Series)
The thing that made this match so enjoyable was that it shattered all of the perceived notions about this feud. For once, it wasn't John Cena who overcame the odds to vanquish The Authority, but the perennial scrapper Dolph Ziggler, who was utilized to the best of his abilities during the match. Nobody sells his opponents offense better than Ziggler, and he convincingly portrayed the beating that the three remaining members of Team Rollins were putting on him. Amazingly, he was able to even the odds, leaving only him and Rollins left. If this was John Cena, the course of the match would have been received as predictable and boring, but since it came from Ziggler, the last person anybody would expect, it worked out perfectly.
The much admired Attitude Era's calling card was finishes in which a bunch of crazy stuff took place in a short period of time leading up to the pinfall. After Ziggler evened the odds, Triple H, whose mannerisms were excellent throughout the entire match as he watched Rollins an company fight for his job, got involved and punished Ziggler even further. Then Sting came out, stared at Triple H for roughly 25 minutes, and then took out both Triple H and Rollins and allowing Ziggler to earn the victory. It was that kind of madness that made the Attitude Era was so memorable, and WWE did a sensational job in replicating it.
8. Tomohiro Ishii vs Kota Ibushi (NJPW Back to the Yokohama Arena)
NEVER Openweight Title Match Tomohiro Ishii(c... by original_bonski
Simply put, it is two of the best guys at working their particular style matching up and going all out for a title. Ishii has long been one of the most underrated performers in the world, but it was nice to see him finally get some gold around his waist, even if the NEVER Openweight Championship is really a secondary title in NJPW at best. Despite Ishii's lack of tangible success, his reputation as a brawling pit bull has never been in question, and the bludgeoning veteran met Ibushi head on. Ishii's scorching 2014 was dampened by a below average second half, but he had as good of a first six months as everybody.
Ibushi on the other hand, is NJPW's version of Rey Mysterio circa 2005. He is clearly the best junior heavyweight in the division, and he has outgrown the title, appearing in singles matches against the top wrestlers in the company. He has the popularity to become a major player, but much like Mysterio, it is a question on whether the fans will believe that a light-heavyweight can contend for the World HEAVYWEIGHT Championship. Weight classes are taken much more seriously in Japan than they are in the United States, so Ibushi has a wall to climb.
The match they had at New Japan's annual Yokohama Arena PPV was fantastic. Ishii isn't really going to surprise anybody with his offense; he is going to pummel his opponent with stiff punches, forearms and headbutts. Ibushi is first and foremost, a divine aerialist, but he is also capable of throwing stiff shots of his own, nailing Ishii with a series of sickening kicks that opened up a laceration above Ishii's eye. Ibushi and Ishii both traded dramatic one-counts thanks to fighting spirit, a little trick that is only utilized in strong style, and Ibushi finally succumbed to Ishii after a brainbuster in a match that symbolized why NJPW was the top major wrestling promotion of 2014.
7. Seth Rollins vs Dean Ambrose (WWE Hell in a Cell)
WWE building an entire PPV around the Hell in a Cell concept has had a very negative effect on the match stipulation. Instead of building the Cell up as a marketable brand, the match that was once known as being reserved only for top flight feuds has been home to way too many lackluster matches and feuds in recent years. Because the match takes place on a PPV, a set date every year, the matches that typically take place inside the Cell are just matches that also happen to be taking place during October. Instead of heated feuds being the indicator that it is time for a Cell match, a calendar decides it.
But WWE did stumble upon a feud that was worthy of the Cell, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. The two brightest spots in an otherwise bleak year for WWE worked together for their long awaited match and it didn't disappoint. Aside from a very awkward finish that knocked it out of MOTY consideration, the match had nearly everything that someone could want out of a WWE match in 2014. There were two young guys, battling it out after an exciting and heated rivalry in WWE's baddest structure in the main event of a PPV. Both guys were excellent bump takers and were willing to take a lot of risks in the match, a must for any HIAC participant.
Earlier in the evening, Randy Orton took on John Cena in a HIAC match as well. The biggest difference between the first match and the main event was that while Orton and Cena had a match that might as well have been any kind of stipulation, Rollins and Ambrose had a match that could have only taken place inside the Cell. They bumped all around, inside, and on top of the cage and the announcers sold it as such. Hell in a Cell used to be the most exciting match in the WWE cannon, but after years of oversaturation and watered down matches, it doesn't feel nearly as special as it once did. If they can have more matches like Ambrose vs Rollins however, they could spark a return to the matches glory days.
6. Adam Cole vs Michael Elgin (ROH Best in the World)
As perfect as a big-time match can be from a booking standpoint. Michael Elgin's run as ROH Champion turned into a flop, but he couldn't have asked for a better start to his championship reign than in the match that he won the world title from Cole. Cole went from being a question mark as ROH champion, to a pillar of the company, and his impressive title reign ended in grand fashion at Ring of Honor's first ever PPV event.
The match took off when referee Todd Sinclair was crushed by an errant Cole superkick, leading to run-in by Cole's friends, Michael Bennett (with Maria Kanellis) and Matt Hardy. Elgin got smoked by the world title thanks to Hardy, but was rescued by two young guys, Raymond Rowe and Hanson (collectively known as War Machine) who chased them away. That is a great way to work a big match, by adding drama to the competition while also creating important moments for up and coming talent. A lot can be learned by other companies from that run-in.
While Sinclair was still rolling around on the mat, Elgin's real life spouse, MsChef, came down to the ring, sprayed green mist into the eyes of Maria, sending her out of the match. With all of that behind them, Elgin and Cole worked into the final act of their match. Elgin blocked Cole from running him over with the belt for the second time and connected with the Elgin bomb for a two count. Fans started to throw streamers into the ring because the count was so close, but Cole got out and would then hit a brutal Panama Sunrise, but Elgin kicked out at two. Cole would go for it again, but Elgin caught him and unloaded three brutal powerbombs to finally put Cole away.
Ring of Honor needed to hit a homerun in their PPV debut, and they succeeded in doing what they do best, presenting smartly booked, hard hitting action. It hasn't always been easy for ROH or Elgin in 2014, but they both put on an extremely good wrestling match at Best in the World.
5. Tomoaki Honma vs Tomohiro Ishii (NJPW Dontaku)
Ishii was his typical robust self in this match, but this one is notable for being the real coming out party for Honma. Ishii is typically recognized as the underrated guy in New Japan, but he has become so much of a cult hero that he isn't really underrated anymore, similar to Dolph Ziggler in WWE. Honma however, came over to NJPW after being a company stalwart for the blood-and-guts organization, Big Japan Pro Wrestling and has proven any of his critics wrong, making the change from unleashing diving headbutts with barbed wire crowns (a move that got him the nickname "Hardcore Jesus") to working a clean match without any bloodshed or weapons.
Honma's body bares the scars from his bloody days, but he has all of the tools to succeed in NJPW. He has fantastic charisma and understands what moves to do and when to do him. He worked seamlessly with Ishii, as both men traded heavy blows and high impact moves. Like many of his matches in NJPW, Honma came up short, but he came up as a winner in defeat. One of things NJPW manages to do that WWE could really learn from is building guys up in defeat. Honma came up through the G1 Climax and lost nearly every match, but somehow came out from the tournament and better shape than ever. Because the announcers put over his heart, and the crowd can naturally get behind him (his delayed diving headbutt is a sensational move that shows off his charisma), he still improves his standing in the company with losses. He is really like Mick Foley, circa 1996.
4. KUSHIDA vs Ricochet (NJPW Best of Super Juniors Final)
One of the top breakout stars in 2014 was Ricochet, who strung together a great season of matches and big moments that make him one of the hottest unsigned talents in the world right now. His biggest breakthrough was defeating the veteran KUSHIDA in the finals of NJPW's annual "Best of Super Juniors" tournament earlier this spring. Ricochet wasn't signed to NJPW at the time of his victory, and he also became only one out of a handful of gaijin workers to ever claim the prestigious prize. He has come a long way from being a skinny jobber in IWA-Mid-South, and is now the total package in the ring, combining technical skills with solid strikes and simply the most athletic high-flying around.
His opponent that night was KUSHIDA, a veteran worker in NJPW and best known for being one-half of the popular tag team Time Splitters with Alex Shelley. KUSHIDA used a lot of mat based maneuvers and submissions to combat the speedy Ricochet and the two men crafted an elegant and fast paced match that had plenty of drama and false finishes. It broke down into a battle of who could utilize their finisher, with KUSHIDA desperately trying to get Ricochet to submit to his armbar, while Ricochet tried to connect with his finisher, a crazy hyprid of the F-5 and the Go to Sleep. Eventually Ricochet was able to cave the side of KUSHIDA's head in and claim victory, and it was the best match of 2014 on Japanese soil.
3. Zack Sabre Jr. vs Kyle O'Reilly (PWG Battle of Los Angeles Night 3)
There were a couple better matches in 2014, but there wasn't any more of a technical display then when Kyle O'Reilly met Zack Sabre Jr. in the quarterfinals of Pro Wrestling Guerrillas "Battle of Los Angeles" tournament. O'Reilly had his coming out party in 2013 when he won the BOLA, and he put together a tremendous 2014 campaign, especially as one half of reDRagon. Sabre, just the latest in the long line of technically superior British wrestlers, was relatively unknown in the United States, but had spent significant time across the Pacific, working for Pro Wrestling NOAH. Both men had very similar builds and wrestling styles, and they took the sometimes comedic PWG atmosphere and turned it into a canvas of wrestling art.
Sabre and O'Reilly squared off going hold for hold, strike for strike, and got the PWG crowd into a frenzy with technical wrestling to the point that they were reacting to submissions moves with the same gusto that they would react to high spots and chair spots. O'Reilly eventually picked up the victory, but it was Sabre who was the real winner, going from an unknown British guy to one of the most exciting young wrestlers who pushed the great Kyle O'Reilly to the absolute limit.
The excitement didn't end after the bell rang either. After O'Reilly got his hand raised, his hated rival Roderick Strong came down and unleashed a hellacious beatdown that had the fans shocked and left O'Reilly laying and knocked him out of the tournament. It was an excellent way to finish off a nearly perfect match.
2. The Young Bucks vs reDRagon (ROH/NJPW War of the Worlds)
In 2014, I ranked every single PPV/Special Event match I watched on a scale from 0-5 stars. Out of the more than 500 matches I ranked, two of them earned the full five stars. The Young Bucks vs reDRagon highlighted the best of tag team wrestling in 2014, as they had a string of excellent matches during the year, and none was better when they collided at NJPW and ROH's joint iPPV in May. It was a classic collision of two teams with contrasting styles duking it out. reDRagon is two guys with MMA tendencies and work with strikes and submissions, with a tough as nails demeanor. The Young Bucks are the polar opposite, a flashy team of pretty boys who fly around the ring and cheat at every opportunity. They are two of the best teams around, and they each had a terrific 2014.
Earlier in the year the two teams met at ROH's Raising the Bar, and had an instant classic match. About a month or so later, they met again in NYC at War of the Worlds and took it a step further. The Young Bucks do at least one mind bending move of athleticism and skill per match, and in this one it was Nick Jackson using a 450 splash to break up a cross-armbreaker that O'Reilly had locked in on his brother. There were plenty of dives to the outside, heavy strikes, and even O'Reilly catching one of the Bucks mid-450 splash and locking in a triangle choke. Just a great, exciting match between two teams with a lot of history together.
1. The Young Bucks vs ACH and AR Fox (PWG Untitled II)
Unlike reDRagon, ACH and AR Fox are very similar to the Bucks. They are both charismatic showman who take a lot of risks in the ring. Also unlike reDRagon, AR Fox and ACH is not a fine and polished team with years of experience teaming with each other, they were really just two guys with similar styles who were thrown together because it was believed they could have an exciting match. They were right.
ACH and AR Fox started off the match by doling out superkicks to the Bucks and then AR Fox took an Asai 450 splash dive onto both the Bucks on the outside and landed on his feet, and things just got crazier from there. AR Fox has to have a deathwish, and for a guy that was recovering from a broken wrist, he sure didn't seem to slow down his pace or risks in the ring. ACH had fantastic charisma, and he worked extremely well with the crowd getting behind him and contrasting the sneering Bucks.
Both the reDRagon match, and the O'Reilly/Sabre match had better technical moves and more drama, but if the purpose is to have a match that entertains the fans, no other match succeeded in doing that as well. No match was more fun than ACH and AR Fox vs The Young Bucks, and it doesn't get any better than Excalibur and Chuck Taylor on commentary.