The Top Hundred Matches of the Year

American DragonThe Top Hundred Matches of the Year

By “Riren” John Wiswell of http://www.inyourheadonline.com

Section A: Introduction

This is probably the longest column in In Your Head history, and possibly the longest in the internet wrestling community in general. It weighs in at 19,700 words, so my recommendation is to print it out for bathroom reading this holiday season. It should keep you company while you use the can as an excuse to avoid your relatives.

This section is an explanation of my approach to listing these matches. If you just want the list, skip to Section B. Section C is a countdown from 100 to 1, with a review of each match. Most of those thoughts were written months apart as I watched the individual shows. Writing all this in one weekend would probably kill me, but taking a few minutes to write about a great match is a wonderful way to reflect on our collective hobby, especially in this period when so many people have mistaken “criticism” to mean “stuff I hated.” Each match in both Section B and C list the wrestlers, the date, the company and the show name, so if you’re interested or reminded of a good match, you can track down the episode or DVD it was on. More than any grade system, I’d like this to be a reminder of the highpoints of the year.

This list was inspired by In Your Head’s own One Inch Biceps. During my first call to the show in December 2006, he made a New Year’s wish: for wrestling to stop sucking. TNA may have had an abysmal year, and WWE’s programs have had their ups and downs, but wrestling has been pretty good. To prove this, I compiled the one hundred best matches I’ve seen. No top 5 or 10 could evidence that a year was good; even the worst year in wrestling saw five good matches happen somewhere on the planet. But triple digits ought to show our pastime hasn’t gone totally rotten.

Here I cover WWE, ROH, PWG, TNA and Pro Wrestling NOAH. I’ve seen some Dragon Gate, AJPW, NJPW, Chikara and IWA:MS, and each company has at least one match on here, but I haven’t had the time or money to follow these companies too closely – I’ve seen less than ten shows from each of these companies. Similarly, I’ve seen lamentably little Canadian, Mexican or European wrestling (perhaps my resolution will be to order a channel that carries lucha – and people with the Fight Network don’t know how good they have it).

One thing I need to make clear is that a wrestler not appearing on this list or not appearing often does not mean they aren’t good. Fit Finlay only has two matches on here, but I consider him one of the best in the world. Week-to-week, against some unenviable opponents, he puts on quality performances. A match doesn’t have to stand out as one of the best of the year to be good or to be appreciated, and during any given week Fit Finlay is a better bet for a good performance than some of the men who appear more frequently on this list. In an interview with Bryan Alvarez at f4wonline.com, Bryan Danielson (who has eleven matches on this list) said it wasn’t fair to compare him or other top indy guys to WWE talent – someone in WWE works more days per week on a harder road schedule. They may get more experience in a year, but they also have a greater toll on their body and an unknowable amount of imput from agents and writers. In truth, a fan can’t know whether an indy wrestler is better than a WWE guy – you can only compare one match to another. That’s what I’ve tried to do here.

There isn’t a rubric for all great matches. Not every tag match has to have a Ricky Morton character selling his way up to the hot tag under the oppression of the Midnight Express. Not every great singles match needs to be a Hart Dungeon technical clinic. The formula or story wrestlers try to tell is just as important as how they tell it, and a variety of things can succeed. For instance, not every match requires deep, sympathetic selling; if you watch real sports, you see competitors suck it up, hide and overcome injuries all the time. An Olympic swimmer with a pinched nerve isn’t going to show it in every backstroke. Shawn Michaels can make a match more compelling by showing an injured leg in every motion he makes, while Samoa Joe can make a match just as compelling in a different way by ignoring pain. The psychology of how and what to show in response to an opponent’s offense is just one of many factors that can make a match shine. The way moves are executed, the kinds that are used, how they’re pulled together, the characters that are established, the physical chemistry, how they play the audience, general audience participation, how sympathetic or convincing selling is, the tenacity shown by someone who fights against injury or physical limitations, the story that is told, how the performance resonates with the style of the company- everything is important, and nothing is always more important than everything else. Rather, it’s how things work, and what qualities come together that make a match, and they can come together in many different wildly entertaining ways. One match can be great for its characters and comedy, while another builds around brawling and death-defying highspots.

How are we supposed to compare matches without a rubric? Usually I hate comparing matches, and generally avoid the practice except in this annual column. How the Hell are you supposed to judge a Ladder Match against a technical wrestling clinic? A comedy tag against hardcore war? The truth is that one match is seldom truly better than another. One match does certain things that another doesn’t, or does those things better. Especially in comparing your favorite matches of a year, you’ll find one match does some things better than the other, but the other does other things better. One has more fluid technical wrestling and and a perfect ending, one has more passion and more amazing highspots. Usually the best match of the year is the one that did the best at the things you care for the most. And in that spirit, I admit that most of these rankings are intuitive and based on personal preferences. I’ll also accuse that every other list is, too. The goal really isn’t to determine #1, #2 and #3, but to gather a hundred matches I loved and hope it resonates with others.

Given that this is list has a hundred matches, I’m sure you’ll disagree with at least one being ahead of another. And even though there are a hundred, I’m sure there’s at least one match I didn’t include that you think is more worthy. If you have a gripe, or your own list (even just a Top 3), or if you have other matches you want to see praised, I encourage you to drop by the inyourheadonline.com forums. If this sparks a little discussion then it’s more than worth my time. I hope it helps you relive the greatest parts of 2007, and maybe gets you to rewatch a few things.
Section B: The List

1. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Alex Shelley & Chris Sabin (April 28) – ROH: Good Times, Great Memories

2. Bryan Danielson Vs. Nigel McGuinness (June 9) – Appearing on ROH: Driven, taped at ROH: Domination

3. CIMA, Susumu Yokosuka, Ryo Saito & Dragon Kid Vs. Austin Aries, Rocky Romero, Claudio Castagnoli & Delirious (March 30) – Dragon Gate Rules Match from ROH: All Star Extravaganza 3

4. Samoa Joe Vs. Takeshi Morishima (February 16) – ROH: Fifth Year Festival: New York

5. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Claudio Castagnoli (August 10) – ROH: Death Before Dishonor 5 Night 1

6. Mark Briscoe Vs. Jay Briscoe (March 4) – ROH: Fifth Year Festival: Finale

7. Naomichi Marufuji & Kota Iifushi Vs. KENTA & Taiji Ishimori (July 15) – Pro Wrestling NOAH: NTV Cup, Tokyo Nippon Budokan

8. Shawn Michaels Vs. John Cena (April 23) – WWE: Raw

9. The Royal Rumble Match (January 28) – WWE: Royal Rumble

10. Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs. Hirooki Goto (November 11) – NJPW: Destruction 2007

11. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico (August 10) – Boston Street Fight from ROH: Death Before Dishonor 5 Night 1

12. Shingo Takagi, BxB Hulk & Cyber Kong Vs. Magnitude Kishiwada, Masato Yoshino & Naruki Doi Vs. Susumu Yokosuka, Ryo Saito & Dragon Kid (June 5) Dragon Gate Infinity: TV 65

13. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. El Generico & Kevin Steen (September 15) – Ladder War from ROH: Man Up

14. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Bryan Danielson (November 3) – ROH: Glory By Honor 6 Night 2

15. Bryan Danielson Vs. El Generico (July 29) – PWG: Giant Size Annual #4

16. The Undertaker Vs. Dave Batista (April 1) – WWE: Wrestlemania 23

17. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Shingo Takagi (April 28) – ROH: Good Times, Great Memories

18. Yuji Nagata Vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (April 13) – NJPW: Circuit 2007 New Japan Brave Tour

19. Jack Evans Vs. Roderick Strong (March 30) – ROH: All Star Extravaganza 3

20. Mark Briscoe Vs. Roderick Strong Vs. Matt Cross Vs. Shingo Takagi Vs. Claudio Castagnoli Vs. Pelle Primeau (February 23) – ROH: Fifth Year Festival: Dayton

21. Shingo Takagi, CIMA & Susumu Yokosuka Vs. Dragon Kid, Ryo Saito & Masaaki Mochizuki (March 31) – Dragon Gate Rules Match from ROH: Supercard of Honor 2

22. Jimmy Jacobs Vs. BJ Whitmer (March 31) – Steel Cage Match from ROH: Supercard of Honor 2

23. Samoa Joe Vs. Davey Richards (February 23) – ROH: Fifth Year Festival: Dayton

24. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico (August 25) – 2/3 Falls Match from ROH: Manhattan Mayhem 2

25. Yuji Nagata Vs. Minoru Suzuki (April 1) – NJPW/AJPW Supershow

26. D-Lo Brown & Bull Buchanan Vs. Naomichi Marufuji & Takashi Sugiura (October 27) – Pro Wrestling NOAH: Autumn Navigation

27. Shawn Michaels Vs. Edge (January 22) – Street Fight from WWE: Raw

28. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Roderick Strong (June 9) – ROH: Domination

29. John Cena Vs. Umaga (January 28) – Last Man Standing Match from WWE: Royal Rumble

30. Rocky Romero Vs. Roderick Strong (April 7) – PWG: All Star Weekend 5 Night 1

31. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Austin Aries (April 27) – ROH: Battle of St. Paul

32. Yuji Nagata Vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (August 12) – NJPW G1 Climax, Day 6

33. Bryan Danielson Vs. CIMA (May 19) – PWG: Dynamite Duumvirate Tag Team Title Tournament Night 1

34. Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama Vs. Yoshihiro Takayama & Kenta Kobashi (December 2) – Pro Wrestling NOAH: Winter Navigation ’07

35. Davey Richards Vs. Low Ki (April 7) – PWG: All Star Weekend 5 Night 1

36. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Brent Albright (August 11) – ROH: Death Before Dishonor 5 Night 2

37. Jay Briscoe, Erick Stevens & Mark Briscoe Vs. El Generico & Kevin Steen (April 14) – ROH: Fighting Spirit

38. Bryan Danielson Vs. Takeshi Morishima (September 15) – ROH: Man Up

39. Jack Evans, Austin Aries & Roderick Strong Vs. Delirious, Davey Richards & Shingo Takagi (January 27) – ROH: Battle of the Icons

40. Bryan Danielson Vs. Takeshi Morishima (August 25) – ROH: Manhattan Mayhem 2

41. The Hardy Boys Vs. Shelton Benjamin & Charlie Haas (June 3) – Ladder Match from WWE: One Night Stand

42. El Generico Vs. CIMA (May 20) – PWG: Dynamite Duumverate Tag Team Title Tournament Night 2

43. Naomichi Marufuji Vs. Claudio Castagnoli (November 3) – ROH: Glory By Honor 6 Night 2

44. Colt Cabana Vs. Delirious (April 13) – ROH: This Means War 2

45. Brent Albright Vs. BJ Whitmer (February 16) – Tables Are Legal Match from ROH: Fifth Year Festival: New York

46. Christian Cage Vs. Samoa Joe (March 11) – TNA: Destination X

47. BJ Whitmer Vs. Jimmy Jacobs (March 4) – Falls Count Anywhere Match from ROH: Fifth Year Festival: Finale

48. Chris Harris Vs. James Storm (May 13) – Texas Death Match from TNA: Sacrifice

49. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Jun Akiyama (September 9) – Pro Wrestling NOAH at the Tokyo Nippon Budokan

50. Samoa Joe Vs. Christian Cage (October 14) – There Must Be a Winner Match from TNA: Bound For Glory

51. Jun Akiyama & Takeshi Rikio Vs. Takashi Sugiura & Yoshihiro Takayama (April 28) – Pro Wrestling NOAH: Spring Navigation (Tokyo Nippon Budokan)

52. MVP Vs. Chris Benoit (May 20) – 2/3 Falls from WWE: Judgment Day

53. Claudio Castagnoli Vs. Mike Quackenbush Vs. Chris Hero Vs. Nigel McGuinness (June 8) – ROH: A Fight at the Roxbury

54. Jay Briscoe, Mark Briscoe & Naomichi Marufuji Vs. Matt Sydal, Ricky Marvin & Atsushi Aoki (July 16) – ROH: Live in Tokyo

55. El Generico Vs. CIMA Vs. Roderick Strong (September 2) – Elimination Threeway from PWG: Battle of Los Angeles 2007 Night 3

56. Bryan Danielson Vs. Austin Aries (October 5) – ROH: Honor Nation

57. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Claudio Castagnoli & Matt Sydal (June 22) – 2 out of 3 Falls Match from ROH: United We Stand

58. Low Ki Vs. Samoa Joe (April 8) – PWG: All Star Weekend 5 Night 2

59. Ken the Box Vs. Mecha Mummy (February 18) – Chikara Pro: Trios Tournament 2007

60. Yuji Nagata Vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (October 8) – NJPW: Explosion 2007

61. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico (August 24) – Steel Cage Match from ROH: Caged Rage

62. Claudio Castagnoli Vs. Matt Sydal (June 23) – ROH: Driven

63. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Naruki Doi & Shingo Takagi (March 3) – ROH: Fifth Year Festival: Liverpool

64. Bryan Danielson & Nigel McGuinness Vs. Takeshi Morishima & Naomichi Marufuji (June 22) – ROH: United We Stand

65. Naomichi Marufuji Vs. El Generico (September 14) – ROH: Motor City Madness 2007

66. Amazing Kong Vs. Ms. Chif (April 7) – SHIMMER: Volume 9

67. Christian Cage Vs. Kurt Angle Vs. AJ Styles Vs. Samoa Joe Vs. Chris Harris (June 17) – King of the Mountain Match from TNA: Slammiversary

68. Kevin Steen & El Generico Vs. Jigsaw & Mike Quackenbush (June 9) – ROH: Domination

69. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Ricky Marvin & Kotaro Suzuki (January 21) – Pro Wrestling NOAH: First Navigation 2007

70. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico (June 23) – ROH: Driven

71. Roderick Strong & Davey Richards Vs. Naruki Doi & Shingo Takagi (March 4) – ROH: Fifth Year Festival: Finale

72. Ric Flair Vs. Fit Finlay (July 6) – WWE: Smackdown

73. Shawn Michaels Vs. John Cena (April 1) – WWE: Wrestlemania 23

74. El Generico Vs. PAC (April 7) – PWG: All Star Weekend 5 Night 1

75. Bryan Danielson & Davey Richards Vs. Rocky Romero & Atsushi Aoki (June 1) Pro Wrestling NOAH: Tokyo Differ Ariake

76. Delirious Vs. KENTA (May 11) – ROH: Reborn Again

77. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Nigel McGuinness (April 14) – ROH: Fighting Spirit

78. Austin Aries Vs. Roderick Strong (March 31) – ROH: Supercard of Honor 2

79. Kaz Hayashi Vs. PAC (April 8) – PWG: All Star Weekend 5 Night 2

80. Delirious Vs. Matt Sydal (March 3) 2/3 Falls Match from ROH: Fifth Year Festival: Liverpool

81. Naomichi Marufuji Vs. Rocky Romero (May 12) – ROH: Respect is Earned

82. Naomichi Marufuji & Takeshi Morishima Vs. Mitsuharu Misawa & KENTA (November 2) – ROH: Glory By Honor 6 Night 1

83. Alex Shelley Vs. Roderick Strong (September 2) – PWG: Battle of Los Angeles Night 3

84. Kurt Angle Vs. Jay Lethal (September 9) – TNA: No Surrender

85. CM Punk Vs. John Morrison (September 4) – WWE: ECW on Sci Fi

86. Claudio Castagnoli Vs. Mike Quackenbush (July 28) – ROH: Race to the Top Tournament Night 2

87. Alex Shelley Vs. Tyler Black (August 31) – PWG: Battle of Los Angeles 2007 Night 1

88. Bryan Danielson Vs. Austin Aries (November 2) – ROH: Glory By Honor 6 Night 1

89. Samoa Joe Vs. Homicide (March 4) – ROH: Fifth Year Festival: Finale

90. CIMA Vs. PAC (September 2) – PWG: Battle of Los Angeles Night 3

91. Low Ki Vs. Roderick Strong (May 1) – IWA: MS: HURT 2007

92. Mike Quackenbush Vs. Matt Sydal (July 27) – ROH: Race to the Top Tournament Night 1

93. Austin Aries Vs. Davey Richards (September 15) – ROH: Man Up

94. Umaga Vs. Jeff Hardy (July 22) – WWE: Great American Bash

95. Matt Classic Vs. Kikutaro (March 4) – PWG: All Star Weekend 5 Night 1

96. Eddie Kingston Vs. Chris Hero (September 29) – Last Man Standing Match from IWA:MS Ted Petty Invitational Night 2

97. Shuji Kondo Vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima (February 17) – AJPW: Pro-Wrestling Love in Ryogoku

98. Claudio Castagnoli Vs. El Generico (July 28) – ROH: Race to the Top Tournament Night 2

99. HHH, Rey Mysterio Jr., Jeff Hardy & Kane Vs. Umaga, Ken Kennedy, MVP, Fit Finlay and Big Daddy V (November 18) – Survivor Series match from WWE: Survivor Series

100.Bryan Danielson Vs. Go Shiozaki (July 16) – ROH: Live in Tokyo
Section C: Countdown and Reviews

100. Bryan Danielson Vs. Go Shiozaki (July 16) – ROH: Live in Tokyo

Probably Go Shiozaki’s best singles match to date, and the best match he’s been in since his breakout tag quite some time ago. Everything he did was still very plain or simple, and he isn’t at a level of character where he can make that special – the way his opponent from that night can. But Danielson framed his offense very well, and the two held a very oldschool contest that would have fit perfectly into NJPW and probably would have gotten Shiozaki wild praise in a big NOAH show. Compared to his matches with KENTA and Takeshi Morishima from this same year, Shiozaki showed more aggression, but it was really Danielson’s framing of the offense that pulled it together.

99. HHH, Rey Mysterio Jr., Jeff Hardy & Kane Vs. Umaga, Ken Kennedy, MVP, Fit Finlay and Big Daddy V (November 18) Survivor Series match from WWE: Survivor Series

Say what you want about Big Daddy V, but people screamed in response to his Elbow Drop finisher. V and Umaga were great giants in this match, making things as little as a stomp meaningful. I can’t wait for the day we get an Umaga/Rey Mysterio Jr. feud (unless Umaga’s late 2007 streak of spending half of every match in nerve holds continues). No match with this many guys can go perfectly, and it was a little weird to see the good guy team stand on the apron rather than break up pinfall attempts as their four-man team was whittled down to two, but the atmosphere made things like that negligible. They made the 5-on-2 situation as interesting as possible in-between the heroes’ slow comeback, with somebody constantly in motion whenever the action in the ring was slow. If MVP had Jeff Hardy in a headlock, then HHH was jawing with the referee. That sort of thing kept the crowd hot for their inspired comebacks. The only shortcoming was that the end came too quickly and they didn’t get as much action out of the final stretch as you might have expected. But for what it was, even that was very entertaining.

98. Claudio Castagnoli Vs. El Generico (July 28) – ROH: Race to the Top Tournament Night 2

Similar in several ways to HHH and Orton’s Last Man Standing match at No Mercy, Generico and Castagnoli were two exhausted men looking for reliable, match-ending offense. Like the No Mercy match from WWE, this wasn’t just a self-contained match but the climax to the tournament, and it pulled out amazing fireworks, several of which could have been the conclusion. However Castagnoli and Generico timed a lot of this offense better than Orton and HHH, making their nearfalls more believable than the 9-counts of that WWE match, and with a much better sense of timing reversals and shifts in momentum. In particular, the counter to the Ricola Bomb and the kickout from the Super Alpamare Waterslide were amazing false finishes in context, and the final minutes were a testament to the entire tournament’s success and raising the stock of both men.

97. Shuji Kondo Vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima (February 17) – AJPW: Pro-Wrestling Love in Ryogoku

Shuji Kondo is one of AJPW’s shining lights, and had many memorable matches with the Junior Heavyweight title. Nakajima was a huge opponent for him, and while he was more flash than substance, Kondo managed to channel his flash into an exciting match.

96. Eddie Kingston Vs. Chris Hero (September 29) – Last Man Standing Match from IWA:MS Ted Petty Invitational Night 2

Kingston is one of those wrestlers who has such a firm character that he can’t help but talk during his matches, and his delivery on lines, even something as uninspiring as, “I’m going to choke you,” draws you in like most great wrestlers do with silence. They had to trash-talk in this match, and Kingston showed a good sense of when to give and take early on, while Hero took some really good spills on the outside. Everything from Hero’s chair-halo neckbreaker and on was very well done. Kingston made a couple of questionable motions before his adrenaline-rush comeback, but this was solid use of a neck injury without making it the focus of the attack. The control Hero exuded, particularly in using the guardrail, was despicable and warranted the final comeback like most matches don’t. What really separates this from a lot of indy grudge matches is that it only has seconds of overkill or questionable logic within a compelling brawl, whereas most are almost total nonsense.

95. Matt Classic Vs. Kikutaro (March 4) – PWG: All Star Weekend 5 Night 1

If WWE won’t let Colt Cabana play his normal wacky character in the big leagues, they should seriously consider letting him play Matt Classic. This old school comedy character was sorely underutilized in WSX, and if WWE liked the retarded wrestling savant this guy would be totally up their alley. Classic’s comments on Kikutaro, his old school parody offense and his default pause (rather than a wrestling stance) were perfect up against Kikutaro’s usual play-with-the-ref, yell-for-the-crowd and imitate-a-legend schtick.

94. Umaga Vs. Jeff Hardy (July 22) – WWE: Great American Bash

Few people can dominate a match like Umaga. He has two formulas that he can switch between, often at the drop of a hat – he can dominate in an almost face-like fashion that’s wildly entertaining in the vein of Vader or Goldberg, or he can play the monster losing control, constantly give his opponent just enough to keep the audience hoping and anticipating a shift. He worked both at the Great American Bash. Jeff Hardy’s almost uncanny popularity got the crowd into it all the more, and his amazing offense and ragdoll-like bumping and selling made him a prime underdog. Hardy seems to find specific opponents (Johnny Nitro at the end of 2006, Ken Kennedy in mid- and late-2007) and find ways to have amazing series with each of them. Umaga was simply the best opponent, the natural predator against Hardy’s style – and this was their best confrontation. After this no one could object to seeing them rematched over and over again on pay-per-views and Raws.

93. Austin Aries Vs. Davey Richards (September 15) – ROH: Man Up

Austin Aries brought more passion to this one match than he did in his entire TNA career. Both he and Richards were so technically sound that everything they did looked crisp, and they brought an athletic energy to everything from stock offense to reversals to innovations. It was particularly fun to see them catch or avoid each other’s trademark offense, leading to them thinking two steps ahead at the end. Aries’ soccer kick after the backslide was every bit as satisfying as the following 450 Splash.

92. Mike Quackenbush Vs. Matt Sydal (July 27) – ROH: Race to the Top Tournament Night 1

A mix of fluid technical wrestling and acrobatic athleticism that rarely boils down to jumping off of or over the top rope. A total delight to watch that made Quackenbush, who had only been with the company a few months and hadn’t gotten any substantive push, seem like he had just as good a chance of winning as Sydal, who had been with the company for years and had already held a title. Their exchanges were so crisp and effortless that I spent that morning re-watching this instead of progressing in the tournament.

91. Low Ki Vs. Roderick Strong (May 1) – IWA: MS: HURT 2007

You don’t usually see Low Ki (on the indies or as Senshi) looking this vulnerable for so long, and Strong doesn’t usually look this good while dominant when he’s not stretching Jack Evans. This was a dream match in ROH that never came to be, until IWA:MS pulled it out for the delight of its fans. The striking was frighteningly stiff, and the big moves had a greater sense of impact than either man usually produced. The two had an interesting chemistry that will hopefully be explored in the future, in whatever company Low Ki goes to now.

90. CIMA Vs. PAC (September 2) – PWG: Battle of Los Angeles Night 3

I don’t know why CIMA doesn’t wrestle this way in Dragon Gate. In America he tends to be a step faster and wrestle more aggressively. He doesn’t mug any less for the fans or display any less character, so it’s not that he’s holding back for the sake of showmanship. Perhaps he can’t keep this up on his regular schedule and cuts loose in PWG and ROH to make a good impression, but regardless, his showing at the Battle of Los Angeles put his Dragon Gate main events to shame. PAC brought his part, too, with fluidity, quickness, and a flexibility that is only rivaled by Jack Evans. They traded every kind of offense under the sun in the quintessential indy spectacle match, right down to the quintessential indy spectacle top rope version of a finisher at the end, but it was staggering in execution.

89. Samoa Joe Vs. Homicide (March 4) – ROH: Fifth Year Festival: Finale

Joe’s last match in Ring of Honor was also his best match against Homicide in a long time, thankfully outstripping their match from Battle of the Icons. The hot English crowd definitely helped, showing emotion and appreciation for both men – much better than a couple of noisy old ladies. They worked within the aura of a farewell match, summoning some of the best moments from their long feud, and executing some of their personal spots far better than usual – Homicide’s Tope Con Hilo was certifiably crazy. A big problem with the Battle of the Icons match is that they actually were hitting each other as hard as they could (Joe’s post-match interview showed off some grotesque welts to prove it), but it didn’t look like they were, so people mistakenly called them lazy. In this match they emphasized the impact more, so that every hard blow registered with the audience. It provided the necessary final touches to a memorable last match in a promotion that Joe helped build and keep alive.

88. Bryan Danielson Vs. Austin Aries (November 2) – ROH: Glory By Honor 6 Night 1

The opening segment is little dry even for my tastes, less creative than their Honor Nation bout. It didn’t feel like they were playing it safe in a Match-3 situation, either. However, it was good technical wrestling, and the match really took off after Aries’ amazing counter and escape from the Tree of Woe. Once again most of the big things in this match were little things, like Danielson setting Aries up for a Tiger Suplex, but only rolling him back onto his shoulders rather than throwing him, knowing that a throw at this point in the match would guarantee Aries overshooting and escaping. I love their sense of counter-throwing and counter-striking within grappling; it’s complex wrestling that’s beautiful to watch and easy to follow. It could have gone a lot longer, and never hit the emotional top gear that a lot of ROH matches do for a finishing stretch, but it was a great match regardless.

87. Alex Shelley Vs. Tyler Black (August 31) – PWG: Battle of Los Angeles 2007 Night 1

My problem with Alex Shelley in PWG was that too often he was a step too slow for the moves and reversals he went for. For some reason his opponents fell to the same problems, and while he was never bad, that awkwardness made the matches feel cloyingly artificial. That was not the case at the Battle of Los Angeles. Every noticeable pause was the dramatic kind that gave you a split-second to wonder if Black was going to pull off a reversal or if Shelley was really going to drop him on his head. They had a very well-paced opening section, and everything built to a great rolling finish that left me guessing when it would end without ever feeling like overkill. Post-match, Shelley said this was his favorite place to wrestle. Well, he put on some great farewell performances to show.

86. Claudio Castagnoli Vs. Mike Quackenbush (July 28) – ROH: Race to the Top Tournament Night 2

Quackenbush was just big enough and just strong enough to stand up to Castagnoli, while at the same time, was small and agile enough to perform some amazing feats, like a somersault escape from a Tombstone Piledriver. Meanwhile, Castagnoli has phenomenal speed for a man his size, and so he kept up admirably with Quackenbush’s pace, keeping the match from lapsing into the syndrome of tiny awkward pauses that hinder a lot of other athletically competitive inter-weightclass matches. While it couldn’t be as spectacular as their Ted Petty Invitational 2006 bout, it was studded with amazing moments, threaded together with an entertaining fluidity that didn’t require the usual heel/face dynamic. You could sympathize with either man, and even in later viewings, I’ve found myself rooting for both guys in their comebacks. Its ending is abrupt (particularly considering the big offense they kicked out of beforehand), but up until then it is a simple pleasure to watch.

85. CM Punk Vs. John Morrison (September 4) – WWE: ECW on Sci Fi

The most dramatic of all their encounters, this really belonged on Summerslam. That show ended a half an hour early, so I don’t understand why the PPV match had to be a seven-minute spotfest. However, that crowd wasn’t like this crowd. This was the most excited crowd I can remember at any WWE-ECW event outside of the early One Night Stand shows. Punk and Morrison took advantage of that energy, pulling out some amazing moves, some great exchanges, and a really exciting final stretch. I don’t know what keeps WWE from getting these kinds of matches to represent ECW on PPV (though it’s obvious live PPV audiences sit on their hands for ECW matches because most of them don’t watch ECW on Sci F in the first place), but the company should seriously start pushing for this sort of drama.

84. Kurt Angle Vs. Jay Lethal (September 9) – TNA: No Surrender

Much better than the usual underdog match, Lethal looked very strong early on and made overused spots like the enziguri and big reversal DDT seem fresh. Angle used the excuse of this being his second match of the night to even the odds rather than playing his usual superman role, allowing for an athletically competitive match that weekly TNA viewers couldn’t have expected. The multiple flash pins from Lethal and brutal moves from Angle in the final minutes teased perfectly for the shocking finish.

83. Alex Shelley Vs. Roderick Strong (September 2) – PWG: Battle of Los Angeles Night 3

Methodically-paced with explosive moments, Alex Shelley and Roderick Strong structured a very logical and entertaining match. The opening segment teased a dozen different moves, promising what we might see later, displaying how well they knew each other, and how darned talented they were at countering. The slower holds and simpler strikes in the middle were totally logical when you consider how difficult it was for either man to land big offense. Essentially they were both so advanced at their craft that they forced each other to go back to basics. That same difficulty of landing big offense led to some interesting, intuitive innovations, like Strong’s Tower-of-London-style gutbuster. Going to the top rope when they did was a very bold move, with Strong teasing a super-version of his finisher before he’d hitten the regular version, but it made the final moments much less predictable and much more exciting. The two release Tiger Drivers were brutal and a totally believable way to close out a match that meant everything to these guys, putting over the importance of the tournament rather than throwing stuff out there for the sake of looking cool.

82. Naomichi Marufuji & Takeshi Morishima Vs. Mitsuharu Misawa & KENTA (November 2) – ROH: Glory By Honor 6 Night 1

I don’t know how ten minutes can be slow and still not feel like ten minutes, but that’s the case for the first ten of this match (the passage of time was announced over a house microphone). I don’t know how a half hour draw can feel too short or not even feel like thirty minutes. My DVD player definitely reported thirty minutes passing. I guess there was something special about this Pro Wrestling NOAH tag in Ring of Honor that warped time in both directions. Outside of the NOAH environment, Misawa felt special again. Considering he’s one of the great wrestlers of all time, that was refreshing. He’s far from peek condition, but in this match he could seem special, especially with Marufuji playing the borderline-humorous heel and Morishima playing hungry contender against him. As anticipated, KENTA handled the big action, packing in exciting little exchanges of strikes with Morishima and holds with Marufuji. All Misawa had to do was throw elbows, and boy did he ever. His performance was on par with most of his big matches in NOAH this year, without so many high spots to blow, while KENTA, Marufuji and Morishima stepped up their game with more passion (and feeding into the passion of the crowd) to make the most of a half-hour tag with a highly-anticipated guest. It was still an imperfect match. Like a lot of long NOAH tags, this had phases of boring holds that aren’t even disguised as technical wrestling, and the crowd couldn’t have been happy to see most of them occuring while Misawa stood idly on the apron. There was at least one time when Misawa tagged out for no good reason. It didn’t have a long, death-defying sprint finish. But it didn’t need one. It was what it was, which was one of the best special appearance matches of the year.

81. Naomichi Marufuji Vs. Rocky Romero (May 12) – ROH: Respect is Earned

These guys were so impressive that they made a lot of people forget that BJ Whitmer Vs. Takeshi Morishima actually kicked off Ring of Honor’s first pay per view offering. Romero and Marufuji put on a heck of an exhibition, fast-paced and full of little series of moves that were sometimes stilted, but mostly beautiful and furious – a couple of kicks really looked like they would have taken Marufuji’s head off if he hadn’t dodged. It harkened back to the exhibitions in ECW and WCW’s cruiserweight division, with flashy submission holds, quick exchanges and some eye-popping original highspots, like Marufuji’s great little springboard dropkick to Romero while Romero was on the apron.

80. Delirious Vs. Matt Sydal (March 3) 2/3 Falls Match from ROH: Fifth Year Festival: Liverpool

Their best encounter since Suffocation in 2006 saw Sydal embrace his heelish aspects without sacrificing his amazing athletic ability. It wasn’t insanely fast or full of flying, but based on sound fundamental wrestling and building emotion from appreciative crowd, with more competitive spirit in the little things than usual for either man. When they got to their big spots it paid off in spades.

79. Kaz Hayashi Vs. PAC (April 8) – PWG: All Star Weekend 5 Night 2

A small California indy was home to a match between a British high flyer and a Japanese technician. Why the heck not? Hayashi was one of the best possible opponents for PAC, able to frame his amazing aerial moves with an offbeat style that left both men looking very impressive.

78. Austin Aries Vs. Roderick Strong (March 31) – ROH: Supercard of Honor 2

For something so well-paced, this match went by really fast. I had to re-watch it twice just to grasp everything they fit into it, yet it was miles from the anathema “indy spotfest.” Live it only felt ten minutes long. They worked a logical pace for two men who hate each other, going for little things, bitterly trying to show each other up in the trademark offense, until the big guns come out. Aries’ fall through the table is scary, and the finish is as sickening as a non-hardcore match can get.

77. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Nigel McGuinness (April 14) – ROH: Fighting Spirit

Lariats are fun. Nigel McGuinness loves fun. Therefore, he lariats people. A bunch. Then he’ll get the heck beaten of him, rebound with lariats, and either win or lose the match. It’s a simple formula that people love, especially fans of crazy stiffness that probably ought not to be encouraged. This match had that kind of crazy stiffness in spades – not just from McGuinness, but from Morishima. When it’s this bad on the wrestlers, even a concerned smark fan can mark out. The crowd sure did. This was the first real example of Morishima’s viciousness as a champion, making up for disappointing outings against Homicide, Rave and Whitmer.

76. Delirious Vs. KENTA (May 11) – ROH: Reborn Again – Delirious showed once again how his lovable, bizarre character can adapt to serious matches, creating some great sympathy against KENTA. A lot of KENTA’s showcase matches boil down to entertaining spots, but Delirious threw variety into the mix. Probably KENTA’s best performance on a pure entertainment level (as opposed to purely athletic level) in ROH this year.

75. Bryan Danielson & Davey Richards Vs. Rocky Romero & Atsushi Aoki (June 1) Pro Wrestling NOAH: Tokyo Differ Ariake

One of the best technical tag team matches of the year, almost curiously grounded for a Japanese Juniors match. It was Davey Richards’ dream to make it to NOAH, and while he wouldn’t be booked for success, he clearly gave it his all. Danielson made Aoki look the best he’s looked all year with what looked like minimal effort. Danielson and Richards made a formidable team that should be put together more often in at least one of the companies they both work for.

74. El Generico Vs. PAC (April 7) – PWG: All Star Weekend 5 Night 1

PAC rules in PWG. PAC rules against El Generico. When PAC wrestles El Generico in Pro Wrestling Guerilla, you might as well buy the DVD. As expected, they did insane things to each other. Their match from 2006 might have raised expectations beyond a healthy level, but this was still a balls-out crazy match that fans of innovative flying should seek out.

73. Shawn Michaels Vs. John Cena (April 1) – WWE: Wrestlemania 23

This benefited from an exceptional storyline. Shawn Michaels loudly told Cena to calm down mid-match, which was kind of silly considering that the story going into this should have made Cena go buck-wild on him. Similarly, it was probably a mistake for Michaels to go after the leg in a big-time match like this where his opponent’s offense was based entirely around power and being able to spring across the ring when, as it turned out, they obviously didn’t have anything planned for Cena to do offensively once he started to sell the leg. It was no surprise to anyone around me in the stadium that Cena disregarded the legwork later on. But drawing on the story coming into the match, they built a really passionate second half that was worthy of Wrestlemania. Everyone in my area wanted to get up and leave to beat the traffic, but no one would leave their row because they wanted to see who was going to come out on top.

72. Ric Flair Vs. Fit Finlay (July 6) – WWE: Smackdown

Maybe JBL went too far in calling this a clash of “legends,” but considering how good Finlay has been since his return to the ring, I didn’t mind it. This was an especially interesting match for those people who knew Flair had avoided wrestling Finlay in WCW. This was not a ridiculously stiff match like Flair might have feared years ago, but then again, Flair relies more on stiff chops and punches these days than he used to. This was a match based on great technical wrestling with both men going after the legs, telling a good story. People may have hated the finish, having Flair submit to a hold that Matt Hardy had gotten out of, but given Flair’s age and the use of an illegal weapon, this made sense. It would have been better if they’d had a rematch or (preferably) and outright feud as a result. Then we’d have enjoyed more quality wrestling from these two ring veterans, and that unpopular ending could have served a greater purpose. Instead, Finlay went on to be slapped around by Kane and Batista, and Flair gave the company his notice.

71. Roderick Strong & Davey Richards Vs. Naruki Doi & Shingo Takagi (March 4) – ROH: Fifth Year Festival: Finale

Strong and Richards briefly poked their heads into the tag title picture for a great impromptu clash with the champions. Doi and Takagi came in with unexpected momentum, and Shingo really seemed to carry that momentum into the ring with him. Very fast and engaging for an ROH tag that didn’t have the Briscoes in it.

70. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico (June 23) – ROH: Driven

On my first viewing, I thought this match was total overkill. The second time I watched the clock, and was surprised to find the first ten minutes just flew by. They built the overkill of the finish, and had several highly passionate moments on the way, but time really gets away from this match. On my initial viewing the final five minutes were a breakneck pace; it was funny to see Steen tease the Package Piledriver, or Generico psych up the crowd for the Yakuza Kick on a second time through. Some of the stuff (like the table spot) does come out of nowhere, but overall this is a very intelligently worked out match for two incredibly competitive teams. They worked in all of the touchstones of the feud, with Steen deriding Generico, Mark looking for revenge for them targeting his concussion previously, both Briscoes wanting to make a point as soon as possible, and their overall competition carrying them away until each man was risking his neck to take out another. It still lacked a certain something, but considering they had at least three more matches ahead of them, anything lacking was probably held back for later performances.

69. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Ricky Marvin & Kotaro Suzuki (January 21) – NOAH: First Navigation 2007

This set the bar for the year of Juniors Tag matches in Japan. Some of the exchanges, particularly Marvin and Suzuki’s mid-air counter to a Briscoes Doomsday move, were eye-popping. Marvin was at the top of his game, as though he was auditioning for every American company, and Suzuki kept up better than usual. The Briscoes weren’t as charismatic as usual, and several parts of the match were uneasily slow or awkward, but the general energy and physicality earned it all those “Early Match of the Year” accolades tape traders lavished on it.

68. Kevin Steen & El Generico Vs. Jigsaw & Mike Quackenbush (June 9) – ROH: Domination

ROH did not have much planed for Jigsaw and Quackenbush in the early part of 2007 (or the mid-part, for that matter). But what might have been pitched as a squash match to help Steen and Generico rise as title contenders became a phenomenal fifteen minutes of back-and-forth where even the least important piece of the puzzle looked like a blue-chipper (pun intended, dammit). Generico is a great babyface, Steen is a great heel, and they are an amazing act as a tag team. Something about their dynamic stands out more in ROH than any other company, and I can’t put my finger on it. Perhaps it’s the shades of Punk and Cabana, or perhaps it’s just that pairing a miserable excuse for a human being with a goofy good guy was the way to truly to get a heel over in ROH where all the great heel/heel teams couldn’t draw the proper reaction as often as they needed. Steen still got wild cheers (and deserved them), but particularly on this night, against two exciting Chikara guys, it all clicked.

67. Samoa Joe Vs. Christian Cage Vs. Kurt Angle Vs. AJ Styles Vs. Chris Harris (June 17) – King of the Mountain Match from TNA: Slammiversary

This match gets blasted every year for its contrived rules, but they’re really not that bad. You pin somebody, then go play with the ladder. Anybody who can’t play with the ladder yet will try to stop you. This instance of the King of the Mountain Match was easy enough to follow. Chris Harris wrestled admirably as a substitution, and really went at it with those guys, leading to a crazy spear off the cell. Harries, along with Joe and Styles, really carried a very entertaining spotty gimmick match. The wrong guy won (as Angle was neither the most deserving hero in the match, nor the most dastardly badguy upon his turn a short while later), but it was still a fun match.

66. Amazing Kong Vs. Ms. Chif (April 7) – SHIMMER: Volume 9

Ms. Chif’s line before the match, “Do you doubt me, Bayless?!!” is better than most entire interviews by male wrestlers. Kong is an amazing power wrestler, better at bumping and exuding attitude than many of her male counterparts. Ms. Chif was the perfect opponent, able to sell sympathetically and contort for submission holds, while also slithering around her bigger opponent for some cool spots I’ve never seen anywhere else. Lex Luger damn sure never made anyone kick themselves in the head while stretching them in the Torture Rack.

65. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Naruki Doi & Shingo Takagi (March 3) – ROH: Fifth Year Festival: Liverpool

On each of Ring of Honor’s four shows in England, the Briscoes have always gone nuts. ROH’s roster works harder than usual for England in ways they didn’t in Japan, and the four English shows (two in 2006, two in 2007) are all absolutely worth the money – the Briscoes just contributed the most value for your dollars. At Unified they gave Aries and Strong their best tag team title defense, at Anarchy in the U.K. they had the best match Sydal and Richards had all year, they went insane against each other in singles competition at Fifth Year Festival: Finale, and on this show they picked up the slack against competition from Dragon Gate. With the singles World Champion away, they tried to be as physical and fast-paced as possible, creating an exciting match that Shingo could sink his teeth into. In 2006 and 2007 Shingo really developed as a brilliant big man for tag matches, picking his spots and showing surprising speed, and he picked that role right back up here. Doi wasn’t at his sharpest, but still brought a strange charisma and agility that complimented his partner. The final minutes built great suspense even though no one thought the Dragon Gate guys could win – and when they did, the only disappointment was that the rematch couldn’t be this good (though Mark Briscoe almost killed himself trying).

64. Naomichi Marufuji Vs. El Generico (September 14) – ROH: Motor City Madness 2007

This was the match when Marufuji started to treat Ring of Honor like a playground. He tried to steal hats from the fans, imitated Generico’s poses and “Olay” chant, and worked a headlock in some of the wackiest and most unexpected ways this side of Colt Cabana. Generico worked his butt off, largely following Marufuji’s aggressive lead with some very sympathetic selling and good babyface comebacks. In particular the way Generico sagged or fell to his knees in the headlocks really showed the toll it was taking. The number of blows Generico took to the head might be too much for some people’s suspension of belief, but if he could overcome those frightening welts, he might be able to suck anything up. After Generico got his foot on the ropes following a Shiranui, they made it seem like anything was possible in this match.

63. Bryan Danielson & Nigel McGuinness Vs. Takeshi Morishima & Naomichi Marufuji (June 22) – ROH: United We Stand

Any time Marufuji and Danielson are in the ring against each other you’re guaranteed something worth watching. This match got the added benefit of containing one of the hottest interactions between McGuinness and Morishima from their entire feud, and drawing the rest of their work into a story that was essentially a refined version of the Respect is Earned main event.

62. Claudio Castagnoli Vs. Matt Sydal (June 23) – ROH: Driven

Castagnoli was so agile for a man at 6’4″ that he could bump and move like a cruiserweight, but everything he did would be that much more impressive. At one point he was charging near the ropes and had his legs kicked out from under him, causing him to sail out of the ring in a fall that was both beautiful and scary – and twice as impressive for someone of his size. He is also a magnificent foundation for smaller flyers to work off of, and just like in the Dethroned tag match from 2006, Matt Sydal made the most of him, pulling out innovative offense and breathtaking acrobatics that didn’t only rely on the ropes or dives, but on working with his opponent. This created state-of-the-art highspots that are only really comparable to Castagnoli’s match with Mike Quackenbush at last year’s IWA:MS Ted Petty Invitational tournament. The inventions never felt forced or gimmicky, just pulse-pounding action that amazed to the last insane reversal.

61. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico (August 24) – Steel Cage Match from ROH: Caged Rage

The brawl outside the cage to open the match captured the creativity and intensity of their Death Before Dishonor Street Fight before bringing it into the steel confines and slowing things down a bit. This feud needed to slow down, so that was fine, especially since the new pacing made the repeated teases of the finish all the more meaningful. The only real weak point is that they had a habit of pairing off and ignoring what the other two were doing, when in a real fight you’d expect them to watch each other’s backs more. While ROH is inconsistent with cage matches having or not having escape rules, not having the escape rule this time definitely helped as they played with keeping one guy out of the cage effectively at least twice.

60. Yuji Nagata Vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (October 8) – NJPW: Explosion 2007

Not quite up to the standard of their April title match, but this was still one of the better Japanese big spectacle matches of the year. Nagata worked more offense and dominance than the G1 Climax bout, with the wildly entertaining (and often, downright sick) suplexes and reliable arm-work you expect from a good Nagata match. People complain that Tanahashi “forgot” to sell his shoulder, but that Superman attitude was absolutely necessary here. The story of the match was all about the birth of a new top star. Some may consider all the Frogsplashes at the end to be overkill, but the final sequence was poetry in physicality.

59. Ken the Box Vs. Mecha Mummy (February 18) – Chikara Pro: Trios Tournament 2007

Ken the Box is a tree. Don’t let anyone tell you different. His best friend is a bird, who lives on his shoulder. He has a unique disability for a pro-wrestling – he cannot climb in the ring. Mecha Mummy is a diabolical cyborg zombie with a drill for an arm, which he can fire like a projectile. One embodies naturalism, while the other is a perversion of science. They collided in a battle between good and evil, the likes of which mankind has never known. You heard me. Anyone who has ever been a fan of Kaiju Big Battle, Chikara, Power Rangers or rubber-suit anime needs to see this match. It will save your soul.

58. Low Ki Vs. Samoa Joe (April 8) – PWG: All Star Weekend 5 Night 2 – Quite possibly their best encounter since Ring of Honor’s first Glory by Honor event, but very different. That was more realistic, ending on a clubbing blow to the back of the head. Here the two men drew on the offense they’d made famous on TNA television, even in Joe’s traditional setup for the Muscle Buster, something you never would have seen then. The roles were also reversed; Low Ki was once the invincible warrior that Joe set out to test, but here Joe was the mountain that Low Ki had to try to move. Very physical but never over the top, with some very impressive feats of athleticism and some of the most satisfying strike battles you’ll find in any 2007 match, this was a worthy cap to PWG’s All Star Weekend. Anybody watching TNA who is interested in PWG should pick up this DVD to see Joe and Ki in a great match that would certainly fit in the X-Division (and would easily be the match of the year for that division in 2007), while also getting a look at all of PWG’s home talent on the undercard.

57. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Claudio Castagnoli & Matt Sydal (June 22) – 2 out of 3 Falls Match from ROH: United We Stand

While lacking the drama of a match that would actually go to three falls, the two falls of this match were still packed with action and excitement. It was essentially two shorter versions of the Respect is Earned match, which was a very good thing.

56. Bryan Danielson Vs. Austin Aries (October 5) – ROH: Honor Nation

Since 2004 I’ve said that if I could only watch two wrestlers face each other for the rest of my life, I’d pick Bryan Danielson and Austin Aries. These guys have wrestled so often and created so many great matches. They know each other well enough to experiment with the little things like very few opponents are comfortable doing. For instance, they saw how slow they could go, a welcome change from the failed attempt at a blitz and sprint at ROH: Motor City Madness in 2006. They paced themselves, knowing that this match could go very long and they would need to be as rested and aware as possible to reverse each other’s plethora of dangerous holds and knock-out strikes. Danielson also played with weight and sandbagging, which is a really logical response to Aries’ power offense that nobody has used quite this well outside of monster opponents, like Takeshi Morishima. They were never boring and never succumbed to the insipid fake-hatred others use to spark crowd reaction. Instead they told a heck of a story about two guys going through technical wrestling to break each other down to the point where high-octane offense might land. It culminated in an absolutely killer finish, with Aries’ flurry of kicks leading perfectly into the visual logic of the rapid knees in his new Horns of Aries submission hold, which is itself the coolest new finisher since Danielson’s markedly similar MMA Elbows.

55. El Generico Vs. CIMA Vs. Roderick Strong (September 2) – Elimination Threeway from PWG: Battle of Los Angeles 2007 Night 3

I’m not sure why I didn’t hear more about the finals of this tournament, considering all the hype earlier matches received. Maybe people overlooked it as a generic finals bout, but it was far from that – it was the best finals to a tournament I’ve seen in years. They went for the big offense early and often because it had to end soon. Everything fed into the importance of winning this, of picking up an elimination and the toll of the road to the finals. The repetition of moves in a desperate attempt to win with whatever worked between Strong and CIMA was particularly good, building to an exciting and totally followable finishing stretch. It was simply too fun to be overkill; the guys put such emotion into it that they had the crowd buying a sunset flip as a potential end to the tournament. Until he was put down, Generico was completely on and I was deeply disappointed to see him go, as he was crisper and more sympathetic than ever. But even without PWG’s 2007 MVP, the match roared to the final pinfall attempt.

54. Jay Briscoe, Mark Briscoe & Naomichi Marufuji Vs. Matt Sydal, Ricky Marvin & Atsushi Aoki (July 16) – ROH: Live in Tokyo

Since mid-2006 Marufuji has greatly improved in exuding character, and in this match he showed a strange mixture of superiority to his partners and enthusiasm to be among them. The simple idea of Naomichi Marufuji wanting to be a Briscoe makes this one of the great experiences of the year, and he should absolutely team with them in future trios matches if ROH starts to run dry on singles matches for him. Mavin and Sydal kept up the action for their part of the bargain, and you can always rely on the Briscoes to deliver.

53. Claudio Castagnoli Vs. Mike Quackenbush Vs. Chris Hero Vs. Nigel McGuinness (June 8) – ROH: A Fight at the Roxbury

A much more dynamic multi-man match than usual, and what more four- and six-ways should aim at. Nigel McGuinness was the one main-eventer who made Hero and Castagnoli more credible by selling for them. Hero and Castagnoli got into conflict, leaving them open to be picked apart by Quackenbush. Well-paced and creative, never disintegrating into mindless spots, this was one of the fresher matches from Hero and McGuinness in a while.

52. MVP Vs. Chris Benoit (May 20) – 2/3 Falls from WWE: Judgment Day

I thought long and hard before including this match. Whether he was severely brain damaged, insane, or just evil, I’m not comfortable celebrating Chris Benoit. However, this match deserves to be included for MVP. If not for the Benoit tragedy, this would be the match that MVP’s fans could look back on in years to come and remember as the night he broke out. Head and shoulders above both the Wrestlemania and Backlash matches, not only was MVP put over by the story, but he showed a great sense of the little things, his execution was tighter, and he showed a there-before unknown versatility in his offense, on top of his usual solid heel character work. This was where his huge push began, allowing his impressive stuff with Ric Flair and Matt Hardy later in the year, and was also when he showed the confidence and ability to deserve his chance.

51. Jun Akiyama & Takeshi Rikio Vs. Takashi Sugiura & Yoshihiro Takayama (April 28) – Pro Wrestling NOAH: Spring Navigation (Tokyo Nippon Budokan)

Newcomers to NOAH probably wouldn’t guess that Sugiura was a junior heavyweight from the way he carried himself and the way his opponents treated him. He fit in perfectly, and it paid off with the biggest win of his career. The match surrounding that momentous finish was one of the best heavyweight tags NOAH has seen in a long time, with Rikio picking up his game and Takayama showing signs of life.

50. Samoa Joe Vs. Christian Cage (October 14) – There Must Be a Winner Match from TNA: Bound For Glory

This was the catharsis match of the year. Christian went undefeated for about two years in TNA, even losing titles in protected fashion. He’d been bounced around and brutalized, but always found away around losing, causing both kayfabe and smark frustration. But this time he couldn’t bridge out of the Kokina Clutch, or be saved by a disqualification, or have someone steal the title in a ladder match. Joe pulled out all of his big offense, including two dives to the outside that were simply perfect; the first immaculately executed, the second unbelievable even though he’d pulled it out before. It told a story of retribution, and of Joe’s last chance to break Christian’s unbeaten run and beat his smarmy ass. And he did. Even the timing of the Unprettier so close to the run-in made it instinctively feel like Christian might win this one too. This was the kind of climactic loss Christian’s character was built to deliver, and boy did it ever. As a result the guys in the next match used broken glass and shopping carts and fell off a balcony, and still couldn’t match the emotion these guys did.

49. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Jun Akiyama (September 9) – Pro Wrestling NOAH at the Tokyo Nippon Budokan

This semi-final match would have been an acceptable finale anywhere else in the world, though the finale was very good in its own way. Here Akiyama and Morishima went full-bore, using slightly more realistic tactics (resisting moves at almost every chance) while still bringing a lot of energy and unleashing the heavy stuff whenever there was an opening (from the opening minutes to the knockout-blow finish). They created a level of emotion we don’t see often in Akiyama’s these days, and should have reminded audiences of how fun it can be. It also generated at least half the emotion in the (immediately proceeding) finals, which was a darned fun match, but couldn’t touch this.

48. Chris Harris Vs. James Storm (May 13) – Texas Death Match from TNA: Sacrifice

Harris and Storm had a lot to make up for after their awful blindfold cage match at Lockdown, and they did at Sacrifice. Unlike most hardcore matches, they didn’t just knock each other out with weapons. They built a bloody, hate-filled match that epitomized what their feud should have been. It wasn’t about goofy fake blindness, but about athleticism, Storm’s flourishing selfish persona, and retribution for betrayal. It just about erased the disappointing build-up.

47. BJ Whitmer Vs. Jimmy Jacobs (March 4) – Falls Count Anywhere Match from ROH: Fifth Year Festival: Finale

A wild brawl that was never too contrived and kept up the excitement not just with offense and ferocious fighting, but threats of high offense like throwing each other off the balcony. Just the threat of it lent energy to the flow of the brawl, which was compulsively, almost guiltily watchable. By the time they fought to the ring they’d sold their hatred better than in any other skirmish of the feud, including their infamous cage match. The in-ring portion was solid and carried through on the emotion so well that bad run-ins couldn’t hurt it, and the finish delivered an emotional release that could have feasibly ended the feud, and was different enough from the conclusion of the later cage match that if anyone was dissatisfied with that, this should have done it for them.

46. Samoa Joe Vs. Christian Cage (March 11) – TNA: Destination X

They had the perfect atmosphere for this match, following the weekend when Joe was finally pulled from ROH and PWG, bringing speculation to its highest that he would become champion. Cage busted his ass on offense and defense, and ate up the beating his character so richly deserved. A great dynamic, though also destined to be overlooked by the droves of people who will forget any quality work Joe did in TNA this year because of his gross misuse. If only they could have recaptured this magic for more of their feud later this same year, instead of pulling out a couple of good skits and one more great match from a multi-month program.

45. Brent Albright Vs. BJ Whitmer (February 16) – Tables Are Legal Match from ROH: Fifth Year Festival: NY

Accusations that any hardcore wrestlers could have done this are baseless; this wrought emotion out of overkill. This brought the awe of one highspot from Final Battle 2006 and made it into a full match, a throwback to the wild Tanaka/Awesome matches in ECW. Albright showed more charisma destroying a defective table here than he has in some entire matches. Whitmer can be very entertaining in ROH’s hardcore environment, where it’s not too common and explosiveness is usually a positive. The loser walked out of this match looking more powerful and important than ever. Having watched this match with three different groups of people, and seeing all of them lose their minds over it, I stand by this as a glorious hardcore match.

44. Colt Cabana Vs. Delirious (April 13) – ROH: This Means War 2

Comedy is sorely underappreciated in wrestling, but I’ll take this over most of the pro-graps drama out there. This was completely different from their match in England, with less references to Big Daddy and more zany antics between their two characters. Seldom do we see someone work the ass in a wrestling match – and never (in my recollection) have we seen anyone blatantly no-sell the ass as was done in this match. The only flaw was not coming up with a humorous climax instead of the roll-up that ended things. Everything up until that was a joy.

43. Naomichi Marufuji Vs. Claudio Castagnoli (November 3) – ROH: Glory By Honor 6 Night 2

I think this may be the first instance of a top rope claw hold in ROH history. Marufuji and Castagnoli wrestling a looser, more jovial style allowed them to mix humor or generally unacceptable moves into ROH along with their high octane stuff, creating a very entertaining atmosphere in which acrobatics and antics were equally acceptable. At the same time they managed to trade a dozen jumping dodges and counters without ever coming off as choreographed, something that trips up a lot of Chikara Pro matches. They also used this to be unpredictable moment-to-moment; there’s a Dragon Screw that I’m sure no one saw coming, and it immediately changed the course of the match. Even when they took to the mat with slower holds, they kept the holds novel, using things the audience hasn’t seen often or at all, giving them something distinct to watch even in the slowest parts of the match. I expect the big negative criticism of the match to be “spotty selling” for Castagnoli’s leg. He’s no Shawn Michaels and kept gutting through it to the point of seeming to forget it hurt or disregarding it to hit big things like the Bicycle Kick. In truth, Castagnoli sold his knee through timing more than incapacity, giving Marufuji several openings to take over. It also came across in his desperation; he pulled out a huge throw later in the match that, again, I don’t think anybody saw coming, but that totally made sense as Marufuji couldn’t have scouted it and it would hurt Marufuji enough to give him the advantage despite any lingering pain in his leg. I prefer consistency in selling for its simplicity, but this worked and doesn’t deserve the typical accusation of an American indy guy forgetting to sell. At very least, heck, he’s Swiss.

42. El Generico Vs. CIMA (May 20) – PWG: Dynamite Duumverate Tag Team Title Tournament Night 2

Starting off by riffing on Stalker Ichikawa at the concession table was a great way to diffuse the tension and expectations on this match. Once they escaped the live crowd’s preconceived notions of a classic, they were able to work at their own pace, playing with comedy in a way that only these guys (and Delirious) really can, letting it feed into drama. Generico snapping over the loss of his tastle (and proceeding to whip CIMA mercilessly with that same one-foot-long piece of cloth) was hilarious, but they were just as capable of getting into great athletic drama. The finish was perfect, with some of the best Brainbusters in the world. Considering both guys use a lot of goofy comedy selling, they really toned it down here, with CIMA in particular showing off how dazed and barely conscious he was in the final stretch.

41. Jeff & Matt Hardy Vs. Shelton Benjamin & Charlie Haas (June 3) – Ladder Match from WWE: One Night Stand

Shelton Benjamin died for your sins. Goodness gracious, not only was he on top of his flying that night, but he bumped like a man possessed, managing to steal a ladder match from Jeff and Matt Hardy. Not that the other three guys didn’t tie together something really special for that lackluster show.

40. Bryan Danielson Vs. Takeshi Morishima (August 25) – ROH: Manhattan Mayhem 2

Two guys with amazing auras just going to town on each other. Danielson worked the leg, Morishima went for the knockout, and somebody was going to have to go down and stay down. That’s all there really was to this. The crowd was nuclear-hot, augmenting all the physicality and enmity between the two guys. Danielson once again displayed amazing tenacity, fighting through a serious eye injury. Even though I’m a fan of his, I really wish he’d take better care of himself.

39. Jack Evans, Austin Aries & Roderick Strong Vs. Delirious, Davey Richards & Shingo Takagi (January 27) – ROH: Battle of the Icons

This was the first of many ROH matches in 2007 where you wondered why certain people were together. Richards, Takagi and Delirious? They had nothing in common and didn’t seem to have complimentary styles. But when the match got going they gelled like brothers. By the time they did a group pose (from which Richards was unceremoniously ejected, possibly for not being manly enough), I was enjoying them more than Generation Next. Of course, Evans, Strong and Aries probably structured the match and set the pace. Being higher-tier stars they could pretty much do what they wanted, but their opponents really shined, as eccentric characters and as very credible challengers. It’s a shame they’ll probably never team up again.

38. Bryan Danielson Vs. Takeshi Morishima (September 15) – ROH: Man Up

While they couldn’t reach the passion of their first encounter, they damn sure tried. Like their first match, everything was simple or logical. They didn’t merely lock up, but grabbed at each other’s bodies, trying to choke or batter the other guy to the point where they could keep an advantage. It was almost disturbingly physical at some points, especially with the blows to the eye of Danielson, but always with purpose. It was a little silly to pretend Morishima was hitting the head but not the eye early on (the live audience didn’t see it that way, so I’m not sure why the commentators pretended otherwise), but the finish was glorious. It might have felt contrived to people only watching their third ROH show via PPV, but in the long run this gave Morishima the win while protecting Danielson to challenge him again once he recovered.

37. Jay Briscoe, Erick Stevens & Mark Briscoe Vs. El Generico & Kevin Steen (April 14) – ROH: Fighting Spirit

An unusually overbooked match for Ring of Honor, but the men involved made everything work. Even Davey Richards’ cameo during the run-in had flair to it. For once overbooking something built emotion – and man, what emotion. ROH enjoys playing with the line between kayfabe and reality, especially when it comes to injuries. Its fans (at least for now) fear for the worst whenever someone gets hurt, and having Steen and Generico go after Mark Briscoe’s head when he was originally announced as unavailable on account of a concussion was just plain scary.

36. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Brent Albright (August 11) – ROH: Death Before Dishonor 5 Night 2

Brent Albright belongs in ROH. Morishima started off the match with a majority of the audience cheering for him and cheering more passionately than Albright’s fans, and damned if Albright didn’t turn them around. The third quarter of the match was the turning point, where Albright’s strategy shifted between submissions and jaw-dropping power. For his part, Morishima sure knows how to get an audience involved and turn them around. It’s downright deceptive, because he plays everything so plain-faced most of the time. His unstoppable character met a lot of great little tests in this match, with Albright taking advantage of Morishima’s signature taunting. Normally Morishima will stand still or even roar at his opponent to get them to come at him and counter from there, able to absorb a clothesline or a kick, or stop a suplex attempt with his weight strength. Not so against Albright. From the first body slam to the very end, they drew on that “immovable” trait Morishima has built to drive the crowd into a fever pitch, when they could have just as easily kept going to the Crowbar and had an easier match. The execution on things was also better here; one of Morishima’s trademark spots, having his Hip Attack reversed into a German Suplex, worked better here than it ever has NOAH, possibly because Albright has such strength and experience with the move. But that same quality of execution and nuance was threaded throughout the match, right down to how deeply Albright to cinch in an armbar. The ending was a little anticlimactic, as the energy the last kickout generated created the wrong emotion (at least in me and the crowd) for the decisive finish that came seconds later. It’s funny, really, because up until then anything could have been ended it, but that last kickout created the expectation of more than they had planned.

35. Davey Richards Vs. Low Ki (April 7) – PWG: All Star Weekend 5 Night 1 – The best Ki Vs. Richards match to date, with Richards using his heel persona to prove he isn’t a “clone” of the American indy’s favorite kicker. Richards was just about the perfect foil for the tireless fighter, able to both engage in athletic contests and beg off.

34. Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama Vs. Yoshihiro Takayama & Kenta Kobashi (December 2) – Pro Wrestling NOAH: Winter Navigation ’07

If there was anything uplifting in the world of wrestling this year, it was the return of Kenta Kobashi. One of Japan’s all-time greatest professional wrestlers announced that cancer wouldn’t stop him and that he would return to us “without fail.” In December, he made good on the promise. The people were living and dying with Kobashi that night – he got a hot tag pop after only being out of the ring for a minute. Jun Akiyama looked particularly excited to test his old rival again. Every move Kobashi hit was a surprise, just like Shawn Michaels’ return many Summerslams ago in the Street Fight with HHH. We didn’t know how much to expect from him. We got a guy who still looked younger and in better shape than the champion. Kobashi went back to his roots with some of the most sympathetic selling in the world, especially early on when he worked bumps to make you wonder if he’d aggravated some part of his body or if he was really up to this. Most other Japanese matches would be lucky to summon the emotion of the opening minutes of this contest at their climaxes; and the final minutes of this tag were out of this world. Just how much Kobashi could take?

33. Bryan Danielson Vs. CIMA (May 19) – PWG: Dynamite Duumvirate Tag Team Title Tournament Night 1

If you watched a hundred PWG matches, this one would still produce holds you’d never seen. Danielson brought out the best technical wrestling in CIMA in years. When it came to striking or flashy offense, CIMA was a wellspring of variety against Danielson’s reliable minimalism. More than that, CIMA never went into overkill, and Danielson never did too little – they seemed to pull each other to a healthy midpoint. Very few wrestlers could have done this in their first match against each other. Unfortunately injuries prevented what would have been an amazing rematch. That’s something to look forward to in 2008.

32. Yuji Nagata Vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (August 12) – NJPW G1 Climax, Day 6

They have tiny pauses in-between motions, like the space between a knucklelock takedown and a dropkick, or in-between Nagata’s two kicks in the Mexican Standoff. Every has pauses like this; they’re intuitive beats. But Nagata and Nakamura’s pauses are so brief that you can’t look ahead or properly predict what they’ll do – very fun for the crowd, perfect for match psychology. This also ratchets up the live crowd’s response to reversals; Nakamura gets a pop off of a simple kick-takedown that’s so resoundingly they make the takedown a spot. I know that the internet wrestling fans think of moonsaults or powerbombs through tables as spots these days, but a spot is a moment in a match that draws attention and emotion – and because of the way these guys approached each other, this was a spot. It’s not all quick exchanges; they work holds and have domination periods, but there’s something a little different in those, too. Yuji Nagata is particularly smart at moving in a hold. Nothing against Jay and Mark Briscoe, but they have a tendency to sit still once they’ve applied or get caught in a submission hold, unless they’re going for the ropes. Nagata will try to get breathing room on the left, grab a leg to see if he can pry himself loose, test whether he can roll out in this direction – little stuff that it makes it much more fun to watch guys trade holds (or escape a hold and kick somebody’s chest in). And before I forget, it is so damn fun to watch Nagata kick Nakamura. Nagata could just kick people in a limb and randomly grab holds on said-bodypart for the rest of his life and I would love him. Nakamura took everything like a champ, and expressed exhaustion with everything from his face to how limp a part of his body was. The ending was disappointing, but you cannot possibly hold it against them when Nakamura dislocated his shoulder so badly that he was out of action for months afterwards. This was too good to write off for the absence of a climactic finish.

31. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Austin Aries (April 27) – ROH: Battle of St. Paul

It played brilliantly off of Aries’ famous title victory over Samoa Joe at Final Battle 2004, particularly in the finishing stretch. I think half the fans predicted just that sort of thing going into the building, but sometimes a thing is easy to predict because it’s the right thing to do. Aries looked particularly physically weak for an ROH match, leading to some truly emotional spots in an excellent big man/little man story.

30. Rocky Romero Vs. Roderick Strong (April 7) – PWG: All Star Weekend 5 Night 1

Everything was quick and snug – not needlessly stiff, but packed with emotional content, as though this match was personal despite the lack of backstory. A lot of Fit Finlay and Samoa Joe matches are fun for their snugness, but you don’t get a sense of rivalry or anger like these two guys pulled out that night. Romero and Strong pulled it off in such a way that the match felt like it could have ended halfway through with just one successful jujigatame or following up with one more big backbreaker. When they were hurt or exhausted they didn’t just lie there, but kept moving or trying to move, and in holds they (Strong in particular) fought to find relief or escape. Particular props go to the cameramen of PWG whose angle on the Diablo Armbar made it look like Strong’s arm came out of the socket. Their first match at 2006’s BOLA was the best match of that night, but this was a world ahead of it. Its lowest points were generic indy one-upsmanship, except in fastforward. Indeed, most of the match seemed a full step faster than everything else on the card without ever feeling like a pointless sprint.

29. John Cena Vs. Umaga (January 28) – Last Man Standing Match from WWE: Royal Rumble

The culmination of one of the best monster challenger storylines this decade, coming off Cena’s roll-up victory in a previous match that didn’t settle the matter in anyone’s mind, not even Cena’s. Umaga not only looked like a beast and got plenty of offense here, but took it to a new level, particularly with his flying headbutt off the announcer’s table. The ending was brutal and creative, and lent a lot of credible toughness to Cena, at least until the Khali storyline seemed to reset his character and tried to do this all over again. Umaga is an excellent foil for talented babyfaces, and this was really a stage for Cena to show how much he could draw from the crowd. Boy, did he ever succeed.

28. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Roderick Strong (June 9) – ROH: Domination

For one night, against all reason, Roderick Strong was a babyface again. There was no way any of his jockish, bullyish badguy schtick was going to work against this monster. When he began outmaneuvering Morishima, and when he hoisted him up for those amazing power moves, he channeled the best energy he’s had in a singles performance since his bout with James Gibson in November 2005. Not just physical strength, but an energy in the crowd, for which he never had to pose or jawjack. Instead, Morishima and Strong engaged in a match so intense that the crowd had to follow. Strong usually bugs me, and I resisted liking this match on the first viewing because of nitpicking, but even I gave in by the end.

27. Shawn Michaels Vs. Edge (January 22) – Street Fight from WWE Raw

Destined to be overlooked (and to pleasantly surprise people on Youtube), this was a scary ten-minute street fight between a guy with a surgically repaired spine and a guy with a surgically repaired neck. Banged up and frustrated, they just went out there and wailed on each other with every weapon in sight. What separated this from typical hardcore fare is that Edge and Michaels knew how to pull things together in a flow, even when they were unusually stiff or raw. It couldn’t even be ruined by the run-in at the end (which was brilliantly filmed).

26. D-Lo Brown & Bull Buchanan Vs. Naomichi Marufuji & Takashi Sugiura (October 27) – Pro Wrestling NOAH: Autumn Navigation

This was another of those matches that was sound and simple, but shined in the little things, like Marufuji’s posture and expression when he was trying to sneak into the ring, or Brown taunting Marufuji to make it back in before the 20-count. All four guys worked some of Japan’s staples really well, like a powerbomb onto the stage where they had photographers placed perfectly to swarm in concern, and the dominant team basking in the potential countout. Almost every match has openings for character or drama like this, but these guys made sure to fit character or varied offense into more of those opportunities than wrestlers normally even try. You’d have to do something special to make a match this exciting when Sugiura and Marufuji were defense for 2/3’s of the time. Buchanan can really dominate a match in an entertaining way, even when he’s throwing simple things like elbow drops and abdominal stretches. Somehow he extended his domination portions without needing to tag his more charismatic partner and kept the match very cohesive. And it wasn’t just that he was an unstoppable force; when Sugiura came in with Yakuza Kicks or Marufuji fired back with slaps, they looked really good against him in ways they couldn’t with, say, Bison Smith. Every big spot Brown was related to was teased for at least a moment so that you’d want to see it more, or wouldn’t quite know what they’d pull off – something Marufuji took to like a fish to water. As a whole Brown and Buchanan have become a great team that WWE would be wise to resign, and that NOAH would be wise to keep around (I was stunned to read that they weren’t gaijins for the following NOAH tour). With performances like this D-Lo Brown shouldn’t be a road agent for TNA; he should be a main eventer. This was perhaps Buchanan and Brown’s best showing together, epitomizing how good they can be as a force, picking on Junior Heavyweight who have great talent, but who have mostly shown on offense for most of their careers.

25. Yuji Nagata Vs. Minoru Suzuki (April 1) – NJPW/AJPW Supershow

Possibly the perfect Minoru Suzuki match, from the opening chairshot to weaken Nagata to all the shortcuts and holds later on, to his diabolical facial expressions and mannerisms, to Suzuki getting fired up and emotionally invested in the match when he’d been trying so hard to control the pace. Nagata brought classic sportsmanship and tried to quicken the pace, or at least subject Suzuki the punishment he so richly deserved (not necessarily from an NJPW wrestler, but from anyone – his character is a jerk). Even the finish was a work of art.

24. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico (August 25) – 2/3 Falls Match from ROH: Manhattan Mayhem 2

There is a moment in this match where Jay and Mark incapacitate El Generico and corner Steen that better expresses the comeuppance for all his sneak attacks than anything they did in the gimmick matches. That was the strength of this match: nailing the characters as well as the workrate. More than any other match in their feud, this embodied their unique dynamic: the Briscoes were faces, but dominant, while Steen was the polar heel and El Generico could actually out-babyface them. It’s a testament to the Briscoes’ abilities that they could simultaneously setup for one villainous opponent and one heroic opponent. Certainly having multiple falls have the guys more room to play, and wisely they chose to slow it down a bit – there were still the insane highspots you expect from these teams, but they weren’t as rushed as the Driven PPV match. My only gripe with this was the booking decision to only go to two falls when everyone wanted three, and one team getting shut out really hurt the feud given all the losses they’d already accumulated.

23. Samoa Joe Vs. Davey Richards (February 23) – ROH: Fifth Year Festival: Dayton

After the dream match with Morishima, this was the match that had to happen before Joe left. Teased from Richards’ first month in the company back in 2006, ROH probably banked on this coming far down the line, but had to put it out there after TNA gave Joe his marching orders. It was unfortunate because Richards was transitioning from a babyface, straight-laced fighter character (who would have been blissfully to watch against Joe) into the creepier underhanded character he is now (who would be fun to watch get thrashed by Joe). This was in the middle of it, so there were stretches of great striking and simple technical wrestling, with occasions of underhandedness. Richards wasn’t the wrestling machine in this match, frequently reacting to Joe’s offense, or trying to overcome him with speed while always remaining an obviously strong striker and technical wrestler. He innovated and countered with beautiful big stuff like the Tornado DDT onto the apron, and when he still couldn’t pin the legend, he went to the low blows. Normally these cheap shots are cloying, but Joe’s presence and status pulled them into the story, not only validating him destroying Richards at the end, but adding that much pleasure to seeing it happen. Joe controlled and defined the match, testing him at first, then taking out his aggression and showing how much Richards could withstand. Essentially both men had their strikes built up to a certain level of destructiveness, but had to use them to stun each other in order to win purchase for a bigger throw or dive, making everything that much more hard-fought and meaningful, and certainly setting up why Richards, who was already growing a mean streak, would stoop to cheat. Understatedly dynamic, this remains one of the overlooked great matches of the Fifth Year Festival.

22. Jimmy Jacobs Vs. BJ Whitmer (March 31) – Steel Cage Match from ROH: Supercard of Honor 2

One of the scariest matches of the year in any company, and scarier than any death match because unlike a pure hardcore brawl, there was no way to predict how far these guys were going to take things. From his entrance, Jimmy Jacobs teased doing something stupid off the top of the cage. In the match, they were just reckless enough that you worried they’d have an accident, and so gutsy that their real injuries didn’t slow them down. A magnificent blowoff to one of 2007’s best feuds that couldn’t be hindered, even by the timed release of weapons into the cage.

21. Shingo Takagi, CIMA & Susumu Yokosuka Vs. Dragon Kid, Ryo Saito & Masaaki Mochizuki (March 31) – Dragon Gate Rules Match from Supercard of Honor 2

While the ROH Vs. DG match from All Star Extravaganza pitted four cohesive Japanese wrestlers against four distinct American characters, this match let the Dragon Gate guys define their own roles and character. Dragon Kid fell into his classic underdog role, Mochizuki was the new face and a brutal kicker, CIMA was his perfect wacky and capable self, and Shingo shone as a real star, a powerhouse that his side was lucky to have. Rather than try to recreate or one-up last year’s groundbreaking tag match, these six guys took main event billing in this host company and created their own match, full of amazing moves and chains of events, but a little slower than last time, taking the time to establish their roles. As fun as the original Supercard of Honor trios tag was, only Dragon Kid and Genki Horiguchi really stood out as a characters -the underdogs, the whipping boys, selling sympathetically, with Dragon Kid as the next-generation Rey Mysterio Jr. fighting back against brutal and inventive opponents, and Genki dying for the hot tag. This time more players stood out, rather than blending together as forces of really cool offense. The real success of the match was that they could establish personas and still create a breakneck match that had the crowd chanting, “Please don’t stop! Please don’t stop!”

20. Mark Briscoe Vs. Roderick Strong Vs. Matt Cross Vs. Shingo Takagi Vs. Claudio Castagnoli Vs. Pelle Primeau (February 23) – ROH: Fifth Year Festival: Dayton

The last match anyone would expect to steal a show would be this. Six guys with no angles between them to base heat on, a potential huge clash of styles and some real inexperience – many of these guys had never wrestled each other in ROH before, and Takagi and Primeau had only been wrestling for a couple of years. Yet it became the immaculate reception of wrestling, as everything clicked, everyone found a niche and they worked a little bit of every style into the perfect melting pot of a multi-man match. Cross and Primeau brought the highspots, Castagnoli and Takagi brought the powerspots, while Briscoe and Strong brought experience and just enough character to grease everything. Guys who totally lacked chemistry against each other in later months gelled here. This might just be what ROH wanted every other six-man to be.

19. Jack Evans Vs. Roderick Strong (March 30) – ROH: All Star Extravaganza 3

Evans had an unusual amount of fight in him, with much more offense and more variety to it than usual, and pulled some moves that no other human on the planet could do or take. Strong’s savage punishment on Evans was outrageous, from the stretches in submission holds to the brutality of the throws. Best of all the two worked the crowd’s chants into the match, using them alone to build to one very believable false finish. Far better than their later outings, this is one of the best examples of pure savagery in wrestling.

18. Yuji Nagata Vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (April 13) – NJPW: Circuit 2007 New Japan Brave Tour

The clash between a young lion that could go and a veteran that could go couldn’t have come off any better, and you can’t fault NJPW for building up money rematches down the line. Nagata seemed to control more of the pace, but Tanahashi brought such heart and vigor that his talents couldn’t be caged. We went in expecting a definitive winner, and even though we got one, both men exited feeling like the best in the world.

17. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Shingo Takagi (April 28) – ROH: Good Times, Great Memories

Funny to find some of the best heavyweight wrestling in the world in a cruiser-centric company like Ring of Honor, but Shingo and Morishima delivered. Shingo Takagi improved dramatically over his tour in ROH in 2006 and early 2007, and this was his last chance to show his gratitude. On the flipside, this was one of Morishima’s first great performances in the company, showing what a compelling champion he could be. They matched power-for-power extremely well, with blunt physicality and a Japanese intensity kicked up to an American brawl pace. It’s a shame they’ll probably never wrestle in singles competition again, but they’ve certainly gone to tear it up in their home promotions (Shingo in Dragon Gate, Morishima in NOAH).

16. The Undertaker Vs. Dave Batista (April 1) – WWE: Wrestlemania 23

Upfront, the finishing sequence is up there with Akiyama/Kobashi for the GHC title in 2004. I can’t think of a finishing sequence I’ve enjoyed more in WWE this decade. But from the opening bell these guys went at it, clearly trying to prove something to whoever booked their title match in the middle of the show. In particular, Undertaker’s dive towards the ramp and Batista’s powerslam through the table were uncanny highspots for two guys of their size and all the injuries they’ve sustained. I haven’t flipped out so hard in a long time. It definitely benefited from WWE’s long history of awful booking decisions; of course Undertaker should have won, but you couldn’t trust WWE to make the right decision. If you don’t let a dispassionate current viewing cloud your judgment over how important everything was as it unfolded that night, this remains one of WWE’s best of the year, and possibly Undertaker’s best Wrestlemania match. At the very least for what they did, this rivals the HHH and Flair matches from past Wrestlemanias, which says a lot for Dave Batista.

15. Bryan Danielson Vs. El Generico (July 29) – PWG: Giant Size Annual #4

Bryan Danielson was bloodied from an earlier brawl with the Necro Butcher. El Generico was worn out from just fighting for the PWG tag titles. They took every ounce of emotional energy from those matches and bid them against a twelve-minute main event, winning the gamble and banking in the emotion of a half-hour match. Everything was on, from the stare-down as the belt was presented to the crowd, to Generico have the best execution of his trademark moves I’ve ever seen (especially snapping off the Blue Thunder Bomb and Knucklelock Tornado DDT), to Danielson’s logical and vicious repetition of elbow strikes and the Cattle Mutilation. Generico channeled Danielson’s insulting promo into a very good serious performance, not becoming a generic indy hero, but going through his own semi-goofy character to prove he deserved to be champion. Usually a dive to the outside within a minute of the match starting is terrible, but it made so much sense in the context of two guys trying to make points at each other’s expenses.

14. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Bryan Danielson (November 3) – ROH: Glory By Honor 6 Night 2

It seems like everyone else praised the emotion of the Manhattan Mayhem 2 match, but it just didn’t register for me. It had emotion, but not that much. Not this much. This is the match where it all clicked, where it all felt hateful. This exuded an aura right into my living room, and came the closest of anything to matching the physicality and aura of the Morishima Vs. Joe match from February. If they didn’t get the impact they wanted on one move, they’d grab each other and make sure to get it on the second. More so than in the other two matches, both guys paid exquisite attention to coming off as angry in their offense and coming off as vulnerable in selling. It created perfect moments, like Morishima running full tilt into Danielson on the apron, and Danielson flying off into the barricade with frightening speed. Things as small as the first time Danielson cried out in reaction to being hit in the eye had meaning. Just because it was a passionate brawl didn’t mean they went to total meaninglessness; Danielson purposefully hit a sunset flip just to do it, as it’s a move Morishima has countered in almost every match of his ROH tenure. They referenced their ROH careers, their feud, Danielson’s injury, Morishima’s weaknesses, tying it up in quite possibly the best disqualification finish I’ve ever seen. You knew exactly why Danielson did what he did. I’ve got to admit that a lot of the “stomps” to Morishima’s crotch looked really weak, but the way Danielson tossed the referee completely redeemed it. Besides at least five of those kicks definitely looking like they could pop a testicle. The disqualification made more sense and meant more than most pinfalls. While I wasn’t as enchanted with these three matches as some people, I have no doubt the fourth singles match could be a classic climax.

13. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. El Generico & Kevin Steen (September 15) – Ladder War from ROH: Man Up

Thank God this feud ended. It was my favorite feud of the year, but it couldn’t go any further, and we’re lucky no one was seriously injured. As it was El Generico limped away and had to take time off for his hamstring. For the toll they took on their bodies, though, these men got every ounce of passion they could from the crowd. The increasing ladder sizes was brilliant, building to the “NO WAY!” moment when they commandeered a maintenance ladder that the guys could barely lift. In terms of innovation, they took the most memorable elements of the Death Before Dishonor 5 streetfight and exploded them. They had beautiful stuff, like a dive through the gap of a ladder. They had absolutely brutal stuff, like Steen’s Cradle Piledriver through a ladder balanced on the ropes and yet another ladder. But most importantly, they paced things so you had the moments of and anticipation and doubt that magnified the importance of their big spots. It was never slow enough to break the spell, but never fast enough to go into overkill. And that’s the happiest ending I could get to this feud, regardless of which team reached the belts (which was good, because that had a goofily hard time getting the belts off the rig). Criticism of unprotected headshots is comical when you stack that up against all the bumps they took on their backs. They risked slipped disks way more than they did concussions, but in either case, I’ll be happy if the level of violence lowers in coming months.

12. Shingo Takagi, BxB Hulk & Cyber Kong Vs. Magnitude Kishiwada, Masato Yoshino & Naruki Doi Vs. Susumu Yokosuka, Ryo Saito & Dragon Kid (June 5) Dragon Gate Infinity: TV 65

If you’ve never seen Dragon Gate before, this match would probably baffle you. Imagine a threeway dance where each guy has two partners to tag out to – a threeway trios tag. And this wasn’t oldschool NWA wrestling; these nine guys started at a reasonable pace and tried to break the speed limit as quickly as they could. The wrestlers got lost more often than the audience, and when a wrestler slowed down it only meant someone else had the advantage over him. Even for Dragon Gate the multi-man segments were stellar, with things like a six-man submission hold, three-man pile-up in the corner, and of course, the billion consecutive clotheslines to the corner. You see a lot of things telegraphed on the American indies; for instance, you can usually tell when a big series of dives to the outside is coming. With an unusual kinetic energy, those sorts of things don’t feel as forced or predictable here, especially not when the dives are this fast or the stereo submission holds are executed so slickly. The only real flaws are that the opening is a little too slow and clunky, and that Dragon Kid, Masato Yoshino and Shingo Takagi aren’t featured even more, as they are the stars of this match, executing everything, even things they’ve been doing for over a year, with fluidity and freshness. It’s not often that a Dragon Gate trios match makes me stop and say, “Wow, that was a really good DDT.” Yoshino being such a small part of the match particularly hurts the second fall, as exciting as the action is.

11. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Kevin Steen & El Generico (August 10) – Death Before Dishonor 5 Night 1

This is a hard match to write about because it isn’t as logical an experience like most matches; it’s a tsunami of experience, which builds and crashes waves, but there isn’t much more to talk about after you express that the waves roll really high and crash really hard. Like all crazy brawls, this one had its awful moments, like Generico bouncing around to sell a crippling move or a Briscoe standing in position for a full second longer than was logically believable so that he could get nailed with a chair or an Ace Crusher. But like all great crazy brawls, the emotion it elicited far outweighed moments of disbelief, with amazing instances like Kevin Steen ripping the barricade apart to use as a weapon, or Mark Briscoe running and jumping onto the barricade, catching Kevin Steen in mid-air and mid-pose, and driving him into the floor. The one that struck me the hardest was Mark Briscoe trying to climb a broken ladder. The first half was so relentless with so much action scattered between the four men that it felt like it would never slow down, managing to outpace a lot of trios tag matches I’ve seen this year – so that even if it bothered me from a kayfabe standpoint, it was truly awe-inspiring that these guys could really absorb so much punishment. The brutality worked because it was still special; Ring of Honor has never featured too many insane hardcore brawls, so when something like this or the 100th Show trios tag brawl occurs they can mean a lot, so long as guys like these structure and build the crescendos of the match. Despite all the fun, though, this match worried me for the future of ROH. These guys wrestled each other twice the next night, and had a cage and ladder match in the not-too-distant future, none of which were even released yet. They’d done enough that this would have been an amazing end to an amazing feud; but if they kept this up they could have overexposed and ruined brawls and hardcore elements in the company. If this pace and level of physicality is ever expected instead of just appreciated, you’ll know they went too far.

10. Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs. Hirooki Goto (November 11) – NJPW: Destruction 2007

Goto’s face is so expressive, and he has such a distinct look. He’s stocky, but not huge. He’s tough, but relatable. He can become anything a match needs him to be, and this match saw him play every role. Meanwhile Tanahashi expanded his cockier role, taking advantage of the animosity in the opening ten minutes to almost become the heel of the match. And what animosity! They worked at a blistering clip for much more of the opening segment than you’d expect, especially considering how long the match went. They gave the audience something new to watch at least every five minutes, be it strike battles, grappling or even Goto taking flight. They earned the exhaustion by midway into the match, outdoing NOAH’s usual formula of making you wonder what would finish one of these guys off. All along the way they played into some great dramatic moments, the slap-battle that degenerated into Goto throwing straight fists as Tanahashi’s face that changed the tone of the match. The crowd was receptive up to that point, but it was louder from then on. They kicked it up another notch after the scary roll-up headdrop, which both guys exploited perfectly. Tanahashi bumped as great as always, but he sold injuries – really sold them, not just showing they hurt, but took moments to clutch his head and display the injury to the audience. Things like that fit perfectly into the big-match formula. Especially on repeat viewings it strikes me that Goto could have helped the finish by displaying more weakness in his leg, but this is another case of a match absorbing and overcoming its own shortcomings in the process of a live performance.

9. The Royal Rumble Match (January 28) – WWE: Royal Rumble

The Royal Rumble is usually the best match featuring more than four wrestlers in any given year, even though it’s often overlooked. It really shouldn’t be, considering how many Royal Rumbles were better than the Wrestlemania main events they spawned. This year’s in particular had a phenomenal finish between the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, with simply great teases on the elimination that no mere battle royale has summoned. And like all good Rumbles, the winner wasn’t certain. When there were only five guys left, it wasn’t a lock on who the last two would be. The Great Khali, who no fan in his proper mind would believe the WWE would put in a Wrestlemania main event, had an effective and convincing entry (and a relieving elimination). From the ground floor with Flair and Finlay starting things off and Edge entering the mix in the early going, it built and drew on the classic tools of the formula (like Kane’s dominant entrance, and Sandman bringing his cane in) to create a great ride.

8. Shawn Michaels Vs. John Cena (April 23) – WWE: Raw

Sometimes WWE is insane with what it gives away on free TV. Michaels and Cena’s Wrestlemania match couldn’t even be this good – this used Raw’s dynamic and booking history to shock viewers. This went 55 minutes, unheard of in single-fall matches on or off WWE pay-per-view. Fans were conditioned to expect run-ins and non-finishes to these kinds of matches. We were promised Edge Vs. Orton later that night, and even people who didn’t think that match was coming could have expected a run-in by Rated RKO and an impromptu tag match to ensue in its wake. But nobody ran in. And Michaels and Cena continued to work at a fast pace- a pace that would have been quick in Ring of Honor. Michaels led the match but Cena kept up his part excellently, working on the outside, near the tables, with the steps, near the ropes, on the top rope and in the middle of the ring – they used every part of the setting to tell an amazing story that you wouldn’t have even expected if you’d paid $39.95 for it. It went against everything you’re conditioned to expect on Raw, and thus came out better than anything on WWE PPV.

7. Naomichi Marufuji & Kota Iifushi Vs. KENTA & Taiji Ishimori (July 15) – NOAH: NTV Cup, Tokyo Nippon Budokan

Insane Japanese junior heavyweight tag match that divided Marufuji and KENTA, once NOAH’s best tag team, and giving them new, hungry, extremely capable partners. Iifushi put on a career-making performance, and Ishimori stepped up his game. I’m pretty sure this won Iifushi a few thousand new American fans who had never even heard of him before the NTV cup. Through 2006 and 2007, tags featuring KENTA had a staleness about them, but this completely busted out of it, in part because of his chemistry with Marufuji, and in part because Iifushi came with so much stuff prepared to do with him. From the kick exchanges to the top rope madness, this match stole the entire NTV Cup.

6. Mark Briscoe Vs. Jay Briscoe (March 4) – ROH: Fifth Year Festival: Finale

This match had all the little touches of a great brother Vs. brother fight, keeping it sporting instead of trying to create some overblown bloodfeud, building to a distinct and satisfying finish that spoke volumes on why they gel so well as a team. Jay wore black, Mark wore white. Jay looked for more of the basic queues and caught his brother in routines or high-risk stuff, while Mark relied more on recklessness and risks – and yet Jay could still fly, and Mark could brawl just, and each just as well as his brother. If nothing else, this singles match illustrated how they differ for all the people who couldn’t tell the difference between them in tags. But this isn’t an “if nothing else” situation – because both were so driven by disappointment from the previous night and in a rivalry that would always run between them, it got so intense that one refused to stay down unless the other did, even if it killed him.

5. Takeshi Morishima Vs. Claudio Castagnoli (August 10) – ROH: Death Before Dishonor 5 Night 1

This was an inspired match. Things meant so much – even things that are habitual for most matches had a reason here. For instance, the Mexican standoff (where two wrestlers go through a series of moves and then freeze – enormously popular in the old ECW) is usually just thrown out there. Any two guys can do it. Quackenbush and Danielson. Marufuji and Ishimori. Mysterio Jr. and Super Crazy. They usually do it for fun and the sake of doing it. But here Claudio stepped up and showed he could go nose-to-nose with Morishima, started to show off his own strength while out-pacing him, and Morishima came back with a fast shoulderblock, instantly turning around prepared for another very simple counter, knowing he couldn’t charge on offense while forcing Claudio to pause because he couldn’t rush back and get the upperhand either. Ba’am – standoff. It had been so long I’d actually forgotten you could have a purpose in one of those things. And they managed to bring meaning to so many parts of the match that could have just been hollow and fun, even a false finish off of a Giant Swing three minutes in that the crowd completely bought. Later they built on Castagnoli’s Ricola Bomb with more variety and simple creativity than I’d ever even imagined somebody would put into such a thing – and pulled it off at every turn so it built rather than appeared contrived. A lot of people go full-bore in everything they do, but here putting everything they had into moments, like Claudio’s suicide dive that destroyed the barricade, gave the match flare and perpetuated this aura that the live audience completely felt and shared. This match features the best-shot false finish I’ve seen all year, where everyone is on their feet and looking at each other in mingled excitement and confusion, half thinking the match is over, half blown away that he kicked out.

4. Samoa Joe Vs. Takeshi Morishima (February 16) – ROH: Fifth Year Festival: New York

How things change in a year. At the beginning of 2007, Samoa Joe was still the god of ROH, and Morishima was a dream visitor for the company. Now Joe is lost in the abyss of TNA booking and Morishima is a strong runner for the most valuable performer of Ring of Honor. It’s hard to even appreciate the dream match atmosphere of this clash, but the amazing passion of that New York City crowd helps a bit in conveying it. Like 2005’s Joe Vs. Kobashi, every stare and strike was pregnant with meaning. They didn’t ride the audience’s appreciation, though; Joe bumped like he barely ever bumps, and Morishima absorbed more shots than he typically takes from a Japanese legend in NOAH. They were so rough and their faces were so expressive that everything felt personal. It was a matter of reputation. This was the clash everyone wanted between two of the most agile heavyweights in the world. Both defied the definition of a “heavyweight” or a “fat wrestler.” They were monsters, and the only bad thing I can say about this match is that ROH couldn’t book the rematch.

3. CIMA, Susumu Yokosuka, Ryo Saito & Dragon Kid Vs. Austin Aries, Rocky Romero, Claudio Castagnoli & Delirious (March 30) – Dragon Gate Rules Match from ROH: All Star Extravaganza 3

Everyone looked past this match in anticipation of the Dragon Gate Trios bout the next night. That’s saddening, because the story of four cohesive Dragon Gate team wrestlers going against four incredibly capable ROH singles wrestlers was compelling and interesting, making all four ROH guys distinct and engaging, while the four DG guys could overwhelm any one of them given time. So ROH’s guys could go toe-to-toe or get the advantage on their own, but when they needed teamwork, it backfired on them. Some of these guys paired off miraculously well, too. Claudio Castagnoli is a great base for little flyers, and Dragon Kid is a great little flyer. Delirious and CIMA’s interactions were solid gold, going from comedy to drama without anyone noticing. And some of the false finishes, such as Romero’s Diablo Armbar on CIMA, were remarkably effective even if they came out of nowhere. Romero hadn’t been much of a factor in the match, but even on DVD it would be easy to buy him taking it right there. This was great live and great on DVD. If you skipped ASE3 and went straight to Supercard of Honor 2, I highly recommend giving it a chance now (or the next time ROH has a sale).

2. Bryan Danielson Vs. Nigel McGuinness (June 9) – Appearing on ROH: Driven, taped at ROH: Domination

Absolutely amazing, cutting everything I’ve ever disliked about any of their previous matches. Nothing was too long, no advantage felt too cheap, the technical and chain wrestling was snug and had variety, the striking was scary but never overdone, and to top it all off the audience poured cheers onto these guys, almost matching the atmosphere England gave them at ROH: Unified in 2006. People who are sick of McGuinness should know that he doesn’t bust out a dozen lariats or no-sell ridiculously; here they sell with the emotion of the crowd, and it is mesmerizing. People who are sick of Danielson should know that he doesn’t waste time on the mat, but works holds with nuance and venom, and is more than happy to change it up with striking, brawling and big throws. This also has the best final minute of any wrestling match this year. It summoned what every chop battle, forearm battle, kick contest and contest of strength in the last decade aimed to summon, and made it believable that even though these guys were exhausted, they would still fight to another thirty minutes if they could just throw one more forearm or one more headbutt. Everything from the moment Danielson was busted open could have ended the match and none of it was overkill. I burned my dinner because I was waiting to see how this ended, and I’d read the spoilers two months before ordering the show. It was that damn good.

1. Jay & Mark Briscoe Vs. Alex Shelley & Chris Sabin (April 28) – ROH: Good Times, Great Memories

The Briscoes will probably not have this many matches on the Riren 100 in 2008. All year they’ve pushed the envelope, and they can only do so much more before they succumb to injury or grow stale in their own excess. But in this year of stunning performances that constantly raised the bar, this match didn’t only clear the bar, but hit the roof. Shelley and Sabin were originally slated for a long program, but when it was cut to one match, these guys put everything into a breakneck half-hour. Unlike the Briscoes’ feud with Kevin Steen and El Generico, where they had breakneck matches over and over, the length and depth of this match came from nowhere, blowing past any expectations ROH or TNA fans could have had. Playing on those same shattered expectations, the false finishes with both teams’ plethora of finishing moves made it unpredictable and exhilarating, even for people who knew the winners in advance. In a year when I wished wrestlers would slow things down, this match removed “slow” from my vocabulary. And it wasn’t all excess – Alex Shelley made sure of that. His shenanigans in the beginning helped set the unpredictable tone. His unexpected water mist attack was hilarious, established character, and prevented the audience from expecting an all-out sprint. The Murder City Machine Guns and Briscoes are quite possibly the two best teams at sprinting in America, so when it came to flat-out going, they put on one of the greatest spectacles in terms of complication and energy that I’ve ever seen.

Courtesy of “Riren” John Wiswell and http://www.inyourheadonline.com

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