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Once again, we will close out the year here at Views From The Turnbuckle with a ranking of my ten favorite matches of 2019. Overall, I’m not sure how this year compares to last year’s splendid match quality. This year, I rated 527 matches, 152 of which I rated at least four stars. In 2018, I rated 502 matches, 160 of which I rated at least four stars. At the top, 2018 was clearly better, there were 17 matches rated 4.75 or better, including five different five star matches. This year only 10 matches rated 4.75 or better, with two different five star matches.
The overall average rating dipped from 3.4 stars to 3.2 stars in 2019. That could be chalked up to a number of reasons, the first probably being a significant downward trend in WWE matches. Not counting NXT, WWE only produced five matches in 2019 that I rated four stars or better, down from 18 in 2018. Another downward trend was outside of a few matches, Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks almost went completely dark from January to October, which hurts the top-end of the list quite a bit. Promotions like ROH, PWG and some of the UK independents being weakened by WWE/AEW expansion also didn’t help matters.
I have all of this data in a spreadsheet that I will publish at the end of the year on Twitter, if you are as big of a nerd as I am it may interest you.
Still, there were plenty of great matches in 2019, and it was hard to make a list of the ten best. I of course haven’t seen every match to take place in 2019, and some of the bigger shows (the last two major Dragon Gate shows, this year’s Battle of Los Angeles, etc.) are still on my to-do list. That being said, if your favorite match isn’t represented on this list, chances are I probably really liked it but it just didn’t make the cut for my list. This is one man’s opinion on what I thought were the best matches of the year.
First, a way-too-long list of honorable mentions:
* Kazuchika Okada vs SANADA at NJPW New Japan Cup Final
* Jay White vs Kazuchika Okada at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 13
* Chris Jericho vs Tetsuya Naito at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 13
* PAC vs Kzy at Dragon Gate Open the Truth Gate Tag 5
* PAC vs Will Ospreay at RPW High Stakes
* Matt Taven vs Jay Lethal at ROH 17th Anniversary Show
* Kazuchika Okada vs Tomohiro Ishii at NJPW New Japan Cup Night 11
* A-Kid vs Will Ospreay at White Wolf Wrestling Total Rumble 9
* Matt Taven vs Marty Scurll vs Jay Lethal at NJPW/ROH G1 Supercard
* Kota Ibushi vs Zack Sabre Jr. at NJPW Sengoku Lord
* Kento Miyahara vs Jake Lee at AJPW Champion’s Carnival Final
* Dragon Lee vs Taiji Ishimori at NJPW Wrestling Dontaku Night 1
* AJ Styles vs Seth Rollins at WWE Money in the Bank
* El Phantasmo vs Will Ospreay at NJPW Best of the Super Juniors XXVI Tag 7
* El Phantasmo vs Rocky Romero at NJPW Best of the Super Juniors XXVI Tag 9
* Will Ospreay vs Robbie Eagles at NJPW Southern Showdown
* Jon Moxley vs Tomohiro Ishii at NJPW G1 Climax 29 Tag 6
* Kazuchika Okada vs Will Opsreay at NJPW G1 Climax 29 Tag 5
* Michael Elgin vs Daisuke Sekimoto at BJW 8/24
* Kenny Omega vs PAC at AEW ALL OUT
* PAC vs Dragon Kid at Dragon Gate Dead or Alive
* Candice LeRae vs Io Shirai at NXT TakeOver Toronto
* David Starr vs Jordan Devlin at OTT Fifth Anniversary Show
10. WALTER vs Tyler Bate at NXT UK TakeOver: Cardiff
Just a perfect matchup for a great match. WALTER’s offense is so basic but it works because of his intensity and pacing; and an undersized babyface like Bate is the perfect opponent for it. Bate has one of the best performances of the year as the never-say-die babyface and the cool dynamic of having the little guy hoist the big guy up for moves, which is always a crowd favorite. It’s a shame NXT: UK doesn’t have that much of a following and Bate has kind of been lost in the shuffle, because he really is one of the best wrestlers in the world.
9. Will Ospreay vs Jay White at NJPW 47th Anniversary Show
Jay White’s run as IWGP Heavyweight Champion had mixed results; he put a lot of effort into his performances but it never really felt like he was a big enough star to hold the title. This was evident when he faced Jr. Heavyweight Champion Will Ospreay in the annual clash of champions match at NJPW’s Anniversary Show, and Ospreay was arguably a bigger star than White. That being said, White really brought it in this match and Ospreay was equally up to the task in a great match. White may not ever get enough to justify a long title reign, but he showed that he had the capacity to hang with the best and have really good matches in the main event.
8. Shingo Takagi vs Will Ospreay at NJPW Best of the Super Juniors XXVI Final
Perhaps the most well-booked tournament in wrestling history, Best of the Super Junior’s XXVI had a lot of great matches, but it all led to the final matchup between Takagi and Ospreay. Ospreay was the ace of the division and Takagi the new monster who had rampaged through the tournament, going undefeated during the block stage and primed to run over the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion in the finals. Alas, in classic babyface fashion, Ospreay rose to the challenge and beat Takagi in a match that played on Takagi’s dominance up until that point.
7. Johnny Gargano vs Ricochet at NXT TakeOver Phoenix
I liked this match a lot more than some of Gargano’s later matches with Adam Cole. While those matches may have been more spectacular, I liked that this match was more practical. It was not just finisher/kick-out/finisher/kick-out. The match had plenty of near falls but it never felt dumb or overbooked, which I did feel happened a bit in his matches with Cole. The level of execution was tremendous in this match; I think the best part was when Gargano caught Ricochet mid-back-hand-spring and put him in the Gargano Escape. To me, this was the exact style of match that NXT was built-on; just great in-ring execution.
6. Kota Ibushi vs Kazuchika Okada at NJPW G1 Climax 29 Tag 17
Probably the best match to use an example of Ibushi’s slow-but-steady rise to the top of NJPW. His victory over Okada would send him to the G1 Finals, and was highlighted by Ibushi using the lessons he learned from his previous foes, including stopping the Rainmaker with a will timed knee to the face (like Shinsuke Nakamura) or catching the dropkick out of mid-air and turning it into a powerbomb (like Kenny Omega). Okada isn’t playing a supporting character in most matches, but this was all about Ibushi’s journey to the top.
5. Kenny Omega vs John Moxley at AEW Full Gear
This match divided a lot of fans, with some enthralled by the spectacle and physical violence put forth in the match, and others dismissing it as an unnecessary sideshow act that has no place in wrestling. Obviously, I felt like it was the former; and I liked the storyline of Omega willing to do anything to get his revenge on Moxley. I understand why some people didn’t like it, it isn’t for everyone, but there was no denying it was a tremendous viewing spectacle.
4. Kazuchika Okada vs SANADA at NJPW G1 Climax 29 Tag 13
Okada and SANADA had arguably the best in-ring rivalry of 2019, meeting four times in the year. The storyline heading into their third match of the year, a date in the G1, was basic but effective. They were close in age, size and experience, yet Okada had reached the summit of the industry and SANADA hadn’t won any major singles title, and he had never beaten Okada. The dramatic story of SANADA scoring his first pinfall over Okada in the G1, with SANADA finally able to choke out Okada with the Skull End and then finishing him off with the moonsault was my personal favorite moment of a G1 that was full of career defining matches.
3. Bandido, Rey Horus and Flamita vs Black Taurus, Laredo Kid and Puma King at PWG Sixteen
This match did not have a strong storyline going into it, really it was just a bunch of elite luchadores doing crazy and innovative moves at a frantic pace in front of an extremely appreciative PWG audience. If you are looking for great storytelling, dramatic near-falls and matches with real stakes, look elsewhere. However, if you are looking for a match to show non-fans why you think wrestling is cool, this would be the match you should show them. After the match was over, with all six men in the ring holding up the Mexican flag while the fans through money into the ring (a tradition in lucha libre) was a sweet moment and worked as a tribute to the major influence lucha libre has had on independent wrestling this decade.
2. The Young Bucks vs The Lucha Brothers at AEW ALL OUT
2019 may have been the year of the ladder matches as there were a boatload of good ones, but the best was The Young Bucks vs The Lucha Brothers from ALL OUT. You could argue that the ladder match has been watered down over the years, but this match had it all. Obviously, there was some terrific spots and high-risk moments, and putting Nick Jackson and Fenix in a ladder match is like high-spot pornography and there was a lot of innovation. Even something like Matt Jackson unmasking Pentagon while they were brawling at the top of the ladder, was something different than what you would see in another ladder match. The post-match introduction of Santana and Ortiz was the cherry on top of the sundae.
1. Kenny Omega vs Hiroshi Tanahashi at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 13
I think this match will go under appreciated, but it represents the best of professional wrestling. The story heading into the match was that Tanahashi didn’t respect Omega as a wrestler, and said that he was just an athletic guy that does high-spots and didn’t know how to put on a real show. Sound familiar? So they meet in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom and tell that story.
This isn’t a match full of crazy moves; there is a lengthy exchange early in the match where both men just trade forearms to the lower back, but it works because of the story they are telling. The match is wrestled at Tanahashi’s pace and Omega is trying to prove something to Tanahashi. On the contrary, Tanahashi attempts one major high spot, a frog splash to the outside through a table and he fails spectacularly. In the end, Tanahashi wills himself to probably his last IWGP Heavyweight Championship win of his career and Omega is vanquished from NJPW, perhaps forever.