Top Ten Matches in Professional Wrestling: January – April 2017

Good matches happen weekly, and great matches happen monthly.  Whether it’s due to execution, storytelling, high spots, and so on, some matches stick out more than others and live in everyone’s minds after seeing them.  These are a list of those memorable matches from the first third of the 2017 year.

10. Bill Goldberg (c) versus Brock Lesnar – Wrestlemania 33

In terms of purpose and effect, this was the best overall match on the Wrestlemania card this year.  It fulfilled its, albeit simplistic story, in the most satisfying way possible.  The match consisted of both men spamming their signatures and finishers like a video game match, but it has one memorable spot in Brock unexpectedly leapfrogging Goldberg’s Spear – a reference to their Survivor Series match – before grabbing the victory.  It was short, but effective, and it left both men looking like legends.

9. The Hardys (c) versus The Young Bucks – Supercard of Honor XI

This match was a potentially final showdown between the biggest “spot monkey” teams of two distinctive generations, and the action in the ladder match didn’t disappoint.  At least for now, this was the final appearance of “Broken” Matt Hardy and Brother Nero, both who let themselves off the leash and reverted to their former spot monkey maneuvers. The Young Bucks finally go over to reclaim their tag team titles, and afterwards, the Hardys put them over on the mic, passing the guard, and Brother Nero makes he and Matt “obsolete.”

8. Pete Dunne versus Tyler Bate – WWE United Kingdom Championship Finals

Dunne, given his great heelish look, promos, and segments of brutality was a lock for the finals, but it was completely unexpected for the smallest competitor in the UK Title tournament, Tyler Bate, to be in the finals.  This match worked perfectly, as evidenced by the crowd reaction, with Dunne working over the already-injured babyface throughout the match, but Bate showing just as much fighting spirit and perseverance before pulling out the victory.

7. Tomohiro Ishii versus Kenny Omega – New Japan Cup

This match wasn’t for a title and didn’t have a lot on the line, but that didn’t stop either man from going out and putting on an epic match.  Omega was a bit more reserved in this match, not doing quite as much work as in his last match against Okada, but his psychology was, as Ishii’s, sound the entire time.  Omega spend most of the match trying to weaken Ishii enough to hit his finisher, The One-Winged Angel, but without success.  Ishii used his brutish, hard-hitting style to eventually conquer Omega – a huge win for him and a devastating loss for Omega who was trying to reestablish himself after his loss to Okada.

6. Tetsuya Naito (c) versus Michael Elgin – New Beginning in Osaka

While Naito might have had better matches in his career, this is certainly the best match Elgin has ever been in.  This was an intense and interesting match-up of the athletic powerhouse in Elgin against the trickster-technician in Naito, and both men did a beautiful job of making those characters interact in a realistic and satisfying way.  The last ten minutes of this match had the crowd feverish awaiting the outcome and rightfully so.

5. Katsuyori Shibata (c) versus Matt Riddle – RevPro High Stakes 2017

This match was about as strong style as one can find.  Shibata, the reigning British Heavyweight Championship, returned to the UK to defend against 2015 Rookie of the Year, Matt Riddle.  Both men delivered furious, cringe-inducing strikes throughout mixed with strong catch wrestling and suplexes.  The crowd, as usual in Britain, helped make this match even more special as the crowd was split between the Japanese icon and the RevPro mainstay.  The victory felt earned, and both men showed respect and stayed classy throughout.

4. AJ Styles (c) versus John Cena – Royal Rumble

This match-up between Styles and Cena was easily the best of their three matches, and it’s probably not surprising that Styles called this match in the wrong rather than Cena.  The match had a more distinct New Japan feel although still mixed with the WWE style.  It created most certainly the best WWE main roster match of the year so far with both men anticipating and countering each other, scoring countless near falls, and pulling out all the moves in their arsenals to attempt to put the other away.  This was deserving of a Wrestlemania main event in any other year.

3. Kazuchiki Okada (c) versus Katsuyori Shibata – Sakura Genesis

This match begins the reign of Kazuchiki Okada on this list.  While this match is ranked third, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a masterclass of strong style New Japan wrestling.  In fact, this might have been the furthest anyone has taken Okada this year in terms of physical punishment.  There is a constant sense that Shibata could win at any point as he reigns strike against strike toward every body part of Okada.  Sadly, this match will be remembered more for the hematoma Shibata suffered in the match due to dehydration which has left him still partially paralyzed and his career in doubt.  Hopefully, he will recover fully and be able to delight fans for years to come – in a safer way – but if this his is last match, it is an incredible one.

2. Kazuchika Okada (c) versus Kenny Omega – Wrestle Kingdom XI

Four days into the year, many were claiming the match of the year conversation was already locked up, and others were even calling it the greatest match ever.  Dave Meltzer gave it six stars.  Few things can live up to that hype, but this match tries and comes close.  It is a little more spot-y than many New Japan matches, and in essence, it blends the storytelling and drama of New Japan with some of the best elements of the American indy scene.  Some of the spots in this match – including the dragon suplex off the top rope and the backdrop over the top to the outside through a table – were dangerous but breathtaking at the same time.  By the end of this match, Okada’s victory feels earned more than almost any victory he’s had.  To deliver this type of match in the main event of the biggest show of their year is simply astounding.

1. Kazuchiki Okada (c) versus Minoru Suzuki – New Beginning in Sapporo

As good as Okada and Omega’s Wrestle Kingdom match was, Okada’s match against the rugged, ruthless, and diabolical veteran shoot fighter Minoru Suzuki was the masterpiece of this first four months of the year.  Suzuki is like the crazed Yakuza assassin in a Takashi Miike film.  He mocks Okada by sticking his tongue out.  grins maniacally as he slowly and methodically as he tries to break Okada’s leg, and tilts his head sadistically as he admires his handy work.  The psychology of this match was some of the best in years as the babyface Okada tries to find ways to win despite Suzuki systematically use catch wrestling and submission holds to destroy his knee.  This match is the modern day version of the 1989 five-star “I Quit” match between the crazed and brutal Terry Funk trying to do the same to face-of-the-company, Ric Flair.  With this match, Okada has now had a succession of main event matches that is nearing unparalleled in any year, and it’s only the end of April.

 

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