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While 2017 was a tremendous year when it came to high-quality matches, 2018 has surpassed it and arguably we saw the best year of matches in history. A lot of that has to do with the access we now have to different promotions; if a match takes place in Japan, in most places fans can watch it live. If a match takes place on a smaller independent show, fans can pretty easily find it after the fact thanks to streaming and VOD services. In 2018, no match is that elusive.
I obviously haven’t seen every match that took place in 2018; and some matches have yet to take place that may end up being better than the matches listed below (I’m looking at you, Ladder War), but these are the best matches that I have seen so far in 2018. Obviously this is a very subjective list; so if your favorite match isn’t mentioned, just let me know how ignorant I am in the comments.
First, some honorable mentions.
Ricochet, Pete Dunne and The War Raiders vs The Undisputed Era at NXT TakeOver War Games II
Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong vs Mustache Mountain at NXT TakeOver Brooklyn IV
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kota Ibushi at NJPW G1 Climax Final
Marty Scurll vs Will Ospreay at NJPW Sakura Genesis
Kota Ibushi vs Kenny Omega at NJPW G1 Climax Day 18
Kenny Omega vs Chris Jericho at NJPW WrestleKingdom 12
Tomasso Ciampa vs The Velveteen Dream at NXT TakeOver War Games II
AJ Styles vs Samoa Joe at WWE SummerSlam 2018
BxB Hulk and YAMATO vs Ben-K and Big R Shimizu at Dragon Gate Kobe Festival
SoCal Uncensored vs The Young Bucks and Flip Gordon at ROH SuperCard of Honor XII
Takashi Sugiura vs Katsuhiko Nakajima at NOAH Global Jr. League Final
Becky Lynch vs Charlotte at WWE Evolution
10. Will Ospreay vs Marty Scurll at NJPW Fighting Spirit Unleashed
Ospreay and Scurll are perfect rivals; they’ve wrestled each other countless times, they are both from the UK, they have different, distinct styles and personalities, and they never fail to deliver when put on the big stage. In their first-round match in the tournament to crown a new IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, they delivered with a classic match full of clever tricks and reversals that paid homage to classic British wrestling, as well high-risks and big moves. Ospreay, due to his athleticism and natural talent, may always seem like the bigger star out of the two, but Scurll is just a perfect foil for Will, and the long-running storyline of Scurll consistently beating Ospreay is an interesting element that continues to pay dividends in their matches. No matter how big of a star Ospreay becomes, he somehow can never beat Scurll consistently, which adds an extra wrinkle to all of their matches.
9. Ricochet vs Adam Cole at NXT TakeOver Brooklyn IV
For people who didn’t watch Ricochet before he came to WWE, there may have been an assumption that Ricochet the wrestler was not cut out to be a star in the company. A small guy that does flips? Maybe that works in the bingo halls but not in the big leagues! Of course, the reality is that Ricochet works an incredibly fan-friendly style combining athleticism with an ridiculous smoothness, that makes him one of the most exciting wrestlers in the world. Cole for his part, was perfect in this match, showcasing his amazing timing and pacing to steal the show in front of a red-hot Brooklyn crowd, but it’s hard to watch this match and not think that Ricochet is a future star.
8. Will Ospreay vs WALTER at OTT Fourth Anniversary Show
Over the Top Wrestling out of Dublin, has cultivated a strong fanbase in Ireland by emphasizing a style that includes top independent names and raucous crowds. Ospreay and WALTER had perhaps the best match in company history with an incredible battle that pitted the high-flying, risk-taking Ospreay against the bruising, nasty WALTER. WALTER’s ability to project violence and a sinister, bully nature, is special and Ospreay was a wonderful opponent for WALTER to snatch out of the air and punish with sickening chops and strikes. The match also showcased Ospreay’s selling ability, which has gone from a weakness to a strength for him, and also included an excellent video package before the match to hype up the contest.
7. The Golden Lovers vs The Young Bucks at NJPW Strong Style Evolved
The fracturing of The Elite, with Cody Rhodes turning Kenny Omega away from The Young Bucks, was perhaps the biggest storyline in NJPW during the first half of 2018. The feud culminated in a major tag team match in Long Beach, CA with Omega teaming up with Kota Ibushi to reform The Golden Lovers to face The Young Bucks in a dramatic battle. The match was a psychological masterpiece, with Matt Jackson selling heavily throughout as Omega pushed himself to the limit in order to beat his former friends. In the end, everything worked out for The Elite and they’re friends again, but at the time this match was an absolute war.
6. Kzy vs Masaaki Mochizuki at Dragon Gate Road to Kotoka Final
Dragon Gate is a company known for two things; comedy with big, distinctive personalities, and fast, aggressive junior heavyweight wrestling. When Kzy, a comedic, somewhat R-Truth-like character, was pitted against Masaaki Mochizuki, who is like the Minoru Suzuki of Dragon Gate, for Dragon Gate’s version of the world championship, it seemed like a lop-sided matchup. But the story that unfolded was one of a comedy wrestler attempting to crossover into strong-style, and Kzy blew away expectations by taking part in the best match the company had all year. Kzy didn’t win, but in going toe-to-toe with Mochizuki, he established himself as a future main event star in the company.
5. Kazuchika Okada vs Testuya Naito at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 12
Despite the fact that he has largely taken a backseat to Omega and Tanahashi during the second half of 2018; it’s hard to think of NJPW as being anything but Kazuchika Okada’s company. Okada had cemented himself as an all-time great during a legendary 2017, which paved the way for one of his greatest career achievements at the start of 2018. Before Okada and Naito took the ring, Omega and Chris Jericho tore the house down with an amazing match in the semi-main event. Despite the quality of that match, there was never a doubt that Okada and Naito would be able to follow it. Okada (and Naito) had earned that respect and they delivered another Tokyo Dome classic and sent the word out that nobody was ever going to outshine Okada as long as he was in the main event.
4. Kenny Omega vs Tetsuya Naito at NJPW G1 Climax Day 2
With the possible exception of the tag team match against The Young Bucks, this was Omega’s most spectacular match of 2018, and established his role as the unbeatable champion of NJPW. Naito hit Omega with everything he had, but like a true champion, Omega preserved and defeated one of the best NJPW had to offer in a sensational display of innovation and risk. The true charm of this match would actually come later in the G1, where Omega’s invicinability would be used as an emotional prop to emphasize the importance of Tomohiro Ishii’s victory over him later in the tournament. The only negative I can say about this match was that it did put the final nail in what ended up being a regressive 2018 for Naito, who failed at Wrestle Kingdom, dropped the Intercontinental Championship to Chris Jericho and was beaten here in the G1.
3. Andrade Cien Almas vs Johnny Gargano at NXT TakeOver Philadelphia
NXT in 2018 belonged to Johnny Gargano, who despite never capturing the elusive NXT Championship, emerged as the most popular and dependable star on the brand. His match with Andrade Cien Almas, which feels like a lifetime ago, set the tone for 2018. Heading into the match Almas was still shedding the bust label he had acquired since debuting in NXT to much fanfare, and Gargano was still establishing himself after splitting with Tomasso Ciampa. The two proceeded to have the best WWE match in years, a thrilling back-and-forth that blew away expectations. For Gargano, it established himself as the top act in NXT and for Almas, it justified the hype that had surrounded him since his debut. Since then he has once again be subjected to poor booking that stifled his potential, but it was not that long ago tha Almas tore the house down in the best match NXT had ever seen.
2. Kenny Omega vs Tomohiro Ishii at NJPW G1 Climax Day 14
While the main storyline for the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 13 seems to be the philosophical differences between Omega and Hiroshi Tanahashi; no wrestler differs more from Omega when it comes to philosophy than Tomohiro Ishii. While Omega relies on his athleticism, flashy moves and a general sense of unpredictability, Ishii relies on a simple style, really he just punches, chops, headbutts and clotheslines his way through his opponent. During their meeting at the G1, Omega tried in vain to psyche Ishii out, and pulled out every high-risk move he could conceive of, but he still fell victim to the Stone Pitbull, who ended Omega with one of the great lariats in history and his brainbuster finish.
Kenny Omega vs Kazuchika Okada at NJPW Dominion
Professional wrestling, just like television, film and the theater, is just a medium for human emotions to be presented and exposed for our entertainment. Most professional wrestling matches, even very good ones, fail at generating a deeply emotional response from the viewer, that is why wrestling matches don’t tend to resonate with us the same way your favorite movie, or episode of television, does. The very best of professional wrestling, and Omega vs Okada is the very best, does however reach that emotional plateau and draws emotion from even the most cynical fans.
Wrestling matches are not supposed to exceed 60 minutes, but Omega and Okada blasted past that mark and never felt stale because they constantly called-back to their previous, legendary encounters and teased the fans with anticipated moments and finishes. If you had never seen any of there previous matches, the match might not seem like an instant classic, but what made the match special was that it rewarded the viewer who had seen their previous encounters, and like any great movie, it took the viewer on emotional journey of anticipation, disappointment and finally triumph and joy. Omega and Okada was not only the best wrestling match of 2018, it was the best hour of entertainment I watched in 2018. I don’t think wrestling is a particularly enlightened form of art, but Omega vs Okada is a universal masterpiece.