(by PHIL RIPPA)
This update is all about the year that just closed – 2015. If you are still complaining that wrestling doesn’t entertain you based on what you are seeing on Monday nights than wrestling really isn’t for you any more since there is plenty of wrestling out there that happened this year that is worth your eyeballs. (Including stuff from the E.)
My “rules” for these picks (to go along with the normal guidelines I use)
- I selected 5 matches from each month (so 60 total for those of you bad at math). This doesn’t mean that when this is all said and done more matches from 2015 won’t make the 1001. (Partly because I haven’t seen everything yet.) I just needed a gimmick.
- I really would have preferred to pick only things online but between New Japan, Sky TV and the US Indies desire to generate DVD sales that is virtually impossible (I mean I WOULD watch a list of just 60 lucha matches but I know you wouldn’t). Everything can be purchased (or found) somehow. Maybe make some friends to lend you log-ins/DVDs. I only linked to Youtube or Dailymotion.
- Notice that I have not used the word “best” so far. This is not to be taken as a “Best Of” list for this year. Especially when you want to scream at me that 209 New Japan matches should be on it.
- Everything SHOULD be in chronological order. I used (whenever possible) the taping date instead of the air date. Of course – that kinda dicked me over in a few months when matches happened two months earlier than they actually aired.
- Please wait till all 4 parts are up to scream about what matches I didn’t pick. I was very intentional in trying to provide a variety of matches (if not in style than at least from the promotions presented.)
This was a month that was severely hurt by using taping dates as there was plenty of Lucha Underground that AIRED this month but alas.
126) SPEEDBALL MIKE BAILEY VS. TREVOR LEE – PWG (April 3, 2015)
God – I really hope people aren’t only being exposed to Trevor Lee just on his recent TNA appearances. Anyway – Pro Wrestling Guerrilla is a real sticky wicket when I am trying to put together this project. Since they aren’t gonna run bigger venues and they aren’t gonna run IPPVs it is pretty much either cozy up to Sofia Vergara or shell out the money for the DVDs. And since I know y’all are cheap. Also – since the shows are reaching/have reached cult like status – it almost falls into the Mania category for me. You are going to pretty much hear every single person tell you to see it so do you really need me to do so too? *Shrug* I included this match (and it might be the only PWG that shows up for now) because of how high Schneider was on it. Plus – more people need to realize how awesome Trevor Lee is (not that Bailey is bad).
“One of the best turn the dial to 11 indy matches I have ever seen. I watched Mad Max Fury Road earlier today, and in many ways this was that kind of wrestling match, never has Speedball’s nickname been so apropos, cause I felt like I did a speedball before I watched it… Awesome stuff, that I can see both Segunda Caida people and people who don’t love us agreeing on.” – Phil Schneider
“The finish is logical, satisfying, and original. We were watching it together and I wouldn’t stop babbling about it… This match goes just the right amount of time, delivers some great, constant action (even the chinlocks had nice character stuff, as Lee undoes his hair so it hangs down in Bailey’s eyes and mouth) and was a real blast.” – Eric Ritz
“Lee and Bailey are two young guys rocketing up the Indy Name Power rankings in 2015 (Lee has carried over a breakthrough ‘14 nicely, Bailey has really become a player this year) and this match is a great introduction to both if you don’t know their work. Non-stop offense and some really wild stuff, and extremely smooth given the nature of what they’re doing in there. This isn’t Chris Daniels stuff, this is crazy “I don’t care about my health because I’m young and indestructible” stuff.”
127) A.J. STYLES VS. KOTA IBUSHI – NEW JAPAN (April 5, 2015)
(Fair warning – this version of the match has a random dude (Marcus Grant) providing his own commentary over it.)
The first thing I think of when I think of Kota Ibushi is how he got banned from Budokan Hall and that always makes me smile. So as seen in Part 1 – the Year of Ibushi is really great (sans the injury). I mean he has been beaten into our heart many a times. Of course – it would be super swell if he would stop taking every single move right on the top of his head. God Bless. A.J. Styles is someone I can enjoy when I don’t focus on his stupid hair or the fucking gloves or the hideous AJ tattoo. (I really need to do a terrible tattoos in wrestling piece). Granted both Ibushi and Styles are capable of working a New Japan style match that is infuriating (Your turn. My Turn. Fuck Your Finishers. Here are a trillion Bullet Club guys. Etc…) This is not that type of match as it is much more settled down (well settled down in that Ibushi only tried to die about four times). While I wasn’t thrilled with some of the nonsense at the finish that would be nit picky towards the match as a whole. And while some folks might prefer the July match between the two – I don’t know where exactly I fall there but I did use some Game Theory here if you will.
“AJ worked another awesome, classic heavyweight title defense. He got shown up early for his trash talking. He tried cheating, but Ibushi kept fighting. Ibushi got cute and AJ made him pay. In the same way, AJ got cocky and was not always following up his moves and Ibushi would make him pay. But every single time AJ was cut off, he immediately regrouped in a way to either apply the Calf-Killer or Styles Clash. The offense in this match was incredible.” – Superstar Sleaze
(Also Kevin Wilson wrote a long ass review of the match but I couldn’t really find a pull quote from it so just read the whole thing. Puroresu Central)
128) VIRUS VS. DRAGON LEE – CMLL 4/5/15 (Aired 4/11/15 – World Super Lightweight Championship)
Two of CMLL’s best of the last half decade or so hook it up one more time and it doesn’t disappoint… again. This match tends to get forgotten by folks when looking at Dragon Lee’s 2015 because… well… having a mind bending feud with Kamaitachi will do that do you. Virus is/was so awesome for Dragon Lee as he could work perfectly to make sure all his (Lee’s) high flying looked awesome all while taking it to the mat and beating the hell out of him. And here is the double foot stomp finisher before Del Rio ruined it. Stupid Del Rio.
“Virus held the CMLL World Lightweight Title for almost four years, and one of the highlights of the wrestling year was the four or so times he defended that title. I love Dragon Lee, he is super exciting and had a hell of a rookie year, but he isn’t Virus and I am a little bummed we are losing those Virus showcases. If Virus was going down, he was going down on his sword, this was another Virus title match classic, and Dragon Lee showed what makes him such a prodigy.” – Phil Schneider
“This is for Virus’s CMLL World Super Lightweight Championship which he has held for four years at this point. When I was first getting into lucha, the idea of a Virus title defense was a big deal. So, now in 2015, it is awesome to see him against one of the best young wrestlers alive in Dragon Lee.” – Sam DiMascio
129) RODERICK STRONG VS. TIMOTHY THATCHER – EVOLVE 41 (April 17, 2015 – 2 out of 3 Falls)
The might be the best match ever to be held in front of 45 people wearing Bullet Club shirts. Timothy Thatcher really was born in the wrong era and if I could have seen him work prime Regal and prime Finlay then that would have been the pinnacle of wrestling that I enjoy. I guess I understand when folks say that Thatcher isn’t their cup of tea. I also guess that they are just going to have to accept that I won’t respect their opinion about wrestling. (Similar to if you say you don’t “get” lucha.) Mind you I say all of this as I am about to say that I don’t “get” Roderick Strong. More – I don’t think he is as great as everyone claims he is. HOWEVER – I do concede that he has had a really good 2015 and that a match or two of his was always going to be showing up here. After a steady diet of CMLL in my life – it is unusual to watch a two out of three falls match where the first two falls aren’t over in a 120 seconds. Anyhoo – watch this and then never complain about a Full Sail crowd again.
“This was a really really good match, my favorite on the show. Strong is a guy I kinda put in the same bucket as AJ Styles, as he’s a guy I like, who is also sometimes trapped in a bad promotional style which leads to matches I don’t care for. There always seem to be Strong matches that I dig, but also long stretches where he’s working a certain style or certain opponents that I don’t care for at all. But I think it’s safe to say that the last 6 months of Roderick have been the best of his career. All of his cute offense has been dropped and now he’s all about mat work struggle, nasty knees and elbows, and logical nearfalls.” – Eric Ritz
“Very good match, I am concurring with Eric about how good Strong has looked lately, he really puts weight into everything he throws, he just lands some crushing looking stomps, elbows and knees here… Still all over a great match and a nice addition to both guys resumes for 2015.” – Phil Schneider
130) BIG DAMO VS. DAVE MASTIFF – ICW (4/19/15 – #1 Contenders Match)
Dean and I might be the only two people who care about British Wrestling anymore (at least for those who don’t live in the UK). But Bloody Hell (see what I did there?) – Dave Mastiff and Big Damo (aka Damien O’Connor) have the super Hoss battle to end all super Hoss battles. This is the third match in a series that was destroying tiny rings all over Britannia. I am not sure what is in the British water that they suddenly have all these enormous men with agility who are good at the pro wrestling but I am not complaining. What is really scary is that this even each man’s best work in the year (more from both of them later) but this is a sight to behold.
I didn’t mean for this month to be so WWE heavy it just happened to turn out that the WWE had what might have been their best month in like a 2 year period. Also – I have seen nothing from Ring of Honor’s War of Worlds shows so there is that but if I kept delaying until I saw everything that I wanted I would be dead.
131) TITAN VS. BARBARO CAVERNARIO – CMLL (May 3, 2015 (taped), May 8, 2015 (aired) – Mexican National Welterweight Championship)
One of the best parts of the previous March Madness on the board was getting people to experience Bárbaro Cavernario for the first time. God Bless our beloved caveman. (Tangent – I am finishing this up on the day that Cavernario teamed with Shinsuke Nakamura. I can’t believe the world can ever make me happier than that.) Titan should not be forgotten too as he is hella fun. Maybe I am a terrible person because there really is nothing better than two luchadores who clearly have no regards for their own body. Actually – two luchadores with no regards for their own body who will also rock it on the mat is good too.
“Superb match between two well matched luchadors. Titan tried to out crazy Cavernario, went too far by trying to use the caveman’s own move, and got beat. Cavernario, on his fourth match in three days on a bad knee, only seemed to limp in between falls and after the match, but showed miraculous recuperative powers as soon as the whistle blew. This played out different than you’d expect, with Cavernario just dominating a big section and the third fall near falls being largely submission based.” – CubsFan
132) JOHN CENA VS. SAMI ZAYN – WWE RAW (May 4, 2015 – US Championship)
The US Open Challenge was the best thing done on the Main WWE roster all year. It was so simple yet so good. God – the Challenge even made Zack Ryder seem like a superstar for a week. This match wasn’t the best Open Challenge match of the year (that would be the first Neville one). Heck, it wasn’t even the best match of that RAW (if you remember that night was that once a year suddenly everything clicks and you see a vision of how fucking good RAW can be.) This, however, was the encapsulation of everything that was right about the Challenge. Cena working to elevate new guys. (Also playing subtle heel was awesome.) The perfect crowd to debut a new guy in front (not to mention the best use of Bret Hart ever). An “trending” moment the WWE is always desperate for that came naturally and without them forcing it down your throat. Zayn’s injury was the only negative and even then, he still gutted out a heck of a match that most likely won him some key allies in the office. Man – Indy Cena is the best Cena. If you still have a problem with John Cena after 2015 then either you don’t actually watch wrestling or you don’t want to be entertained.
“I’m not ashamed to admit that my eyes welled up a little bit when Sami made his entrance. I enjoy minor league baseball. I like watching prospects make their rise through the minors before their eventual MLB debut. I feel the same way about NXT. I take I some pride knowing I watched these guys struggle in the indies, shine in NXT, and then eventually make their WWE debut. I realize this wasn’t Sami’s actual Raw debut, but for all intents and purposes it was.
Man, was he booked strong. First was his ring intro by Bret. Then they gave him the shoulder injury early on to show his heart. He fought his way to the ropes while in the STF and he kicked out of the AA. He also got to perform his ring post dive DDT that appeared to legit spike Cena on his head. After the match Cena raised Sami’s hand and exited the ring allowing Sami to soak in the adulation. The commentary remained nearly 100% focused on calling the action too.” – A Guy Named Tracy
133) SASHA BANKS VS. BECKY LYNCH – NXT TAKEOVER: UNSTOPPABLE (May, 20, 2015 – NXT Women’s Championship)
This match will get lost to the pile of forgotten great matches due to Bayley/Sasha I & II (and somewhat to the magic shows that was all the time Sasha made Charlotte look amazing). It has been been interesting to see how already in the span of say… seven months… shuffled off to the “Oh that’s right – they had that match too” narrative too but all but a select few. (Their average at best RAW match didn’t help matters either.) But what this match has that shouldn’t be forgotten is it’s importance to the history of both NXT and the WWE’s version of women’s wrestling. A women’s match treated as an important contest with an actual multi-week build. A women’s match build on limb work that actually meant something. And maybe most importantly… a women’s match without Bayley.
“This match wasn’t just about the high level of work inside the ring, but the years of work put in by Sasha Banks and the decade plus of Becky Lynch. Banks in NXT has been as much of a game changer as possible, and in five years, we may be looking back on this period in a whole new light if Banks can do even half of what she’s done here on the main roster of WWE. This match is a must see. Not just for women’s wrestling fans, not just for NXT fans, but for all pro wrestling fans.” -Rob McCarron (@ShakeThemRopes)
134) RUSH VS. HECHICERO – CARA LUCHA (May 30, 2015)
Mmm…. dreamy dreamy Rush. Dreamy dreamy dickish Rush. Remember that period of time when Eddie Guerrero was going around working random indy dates in tiny buildings and you were all “FUCK YES! I get to see Eddie Guerrero with 100 other people wrestle in an Armory.”? And during that time instead of Eddie just coasting along and being all “I am Eddie God Damn Guerrero and I don’t have to do shit!” Eddie was fucking bringing it night after night in front of said 100 people. This is Rush doing the poor man’s version of that. That being said Hechicero is no slouch too so they go out and have a fucking fun match that is even easy for the non-lucha folks to understand. It doesn’t take much to go “God Damn – that one guy in the mask just kicked that dreamy guy right in the fucking face!” Watch this and romanticize about the throwback questionable lucha handheld (I honestly wouldn’t have been shocked if the ring apron had said Promo Azteca instead of Cara Lucha.)
“This is the Hechicero we got a lot of in 2014, and haven’t seen as often in 2015. He breaks out all of his tricks and damn does this guy have some awesome tricks. He was so damn on point during this and while I love Rush’s Arena Mexico antics, it was super satisfying to see him just going move for move and strike for strike and bump for bump with a guy.” – Eric Ritz
“This was super intense, Rush is in full crazy brawler mode, and this is worked at an intense frantic pace. Really felt like watching a Perro Aguyao Sr. match from the 80’s with crazier spots. Hechicero felt every bit as big a star as Rush who is one of the biggest stars in wrestling.” – Phil Schneider
135) JOHN CENA VS. KEVIN OWENS – WWE ELIMINATION CHAMBER (May 31, 2015 – Champion (US) vs. Champion (NXT))
I have already spoken how amazing the US Open Challenge. It also had it’s problems – Owens not winning the title being possibly it’s biggest (or anyone for that matter before wasting it on Alberto Del Rio.) That being said – this is what the Challenge was designed to do – elevating a new talent. It was easy to see how much Cena enjoyed working this period. Lord – imagine if their was this weird talent share EVOVLE then. Cena might be main event an IPPV with Timothy Thatcher. The was a PPV saving match and one that I never ever thought I would be writing about 365 days ago.
Man Cena may be the best indy dream match worker ever. He is really great at putting over the ROH roster… Cena is a master of working his formula, like Flair or Santo or Choshu he can plug someone in, and let them provide the flourishes. I thought there was a decent chance of Owens going over, but clean as a sheet in the middle of ring was a bit of a surprise.” – Phil Schneider
I really love matches where Cena works from under, as he’s really great at taking moves (that DDT with him bumping it the way Christian used to bump DDTs??) and selling. So him vs. modern indie workers is a pretty satisfying match up since many of these guys have large movesets. It’s a trip seeing Cena take all these big indie moves and it’s so obvious he would be colossally over in PWG or Evolve. – Eric Ritz
This was something totally fresh and new; it was surreal for many, and most importantly it was a match that had real consequences. There are matches that are memorable for awesome, impressive in-ring skill, and then there are matches which capture the hearts of the fans because there’s a very real feeling that a victory for one participant will mean that nothing will ever be the same again. -Ru Gunn (@doctordala)
This might be my favorite month because outside of KUSHIDA/O’REILLY – there are four matches that I could count on less than two hands of people liking until I started babbling about them. Let’s be honest – Volador/Flamita might be the other “known” match of the month and only about four of you don’t hate lucha enough to watch it.
136) KUSHIDA VS. KYLE O’REILLY – NEW JAPAN (June 7, 2015 – Best of Super Juniors Finals)
This isn’t my match of the year. This isn’t in my Top 5. Heck it isn’t in my T0p 10. It’s not even my favorite KUSHIDA match from the year. Come on people – any match that has dueling rebound lariats has no shot of claiming those lofty heights for me. HOWEVER! This is a damn fine match that everyone needs to watch and then pass judgement on themselves. I didn’t have super super hopes before the match but I acknowledge that I am in the minority in viewing a lot of current New Japan. KUSHIDA is much much better away from Alex Shelley (of course – everyone is better away from Alex Shelley). I am indifferent towards reDRagon – I don’t know why it is just the way it is – but O’Reilly really fucking impressed me here. (So did fucking Bobby Fish who was fucking PHENOMENAL as a second. Wrestling needs more seconds.) There was enough good things going on that I wasn’t as bothered by some of the other nonsense that occurred. Watch it and call me an idiot. You are going to anyway.
Going in, I had high expectations. Those expectations were met and then some by the time the dust cleared. KUSHIDA and O’Reilly had a hell of a match, doing everything possible to have the best match they possibly could, and it showed in spades. The arm work by O’Reilly was incredible, KUSHIDA’s selling was remarkable and some of the spots in the match were just crazy, like when KUSHIDA went for the moonsault but in one swift motion O’Reilly countered into an armbar. Things like that made this match stand out. It was a match no one was expecting, but when it was all over, it definitely ended up in my top 5 best matches of the year. Just incredible work by these two amazing talents. -Bryan Rose (@br26)
“What a match. It almost goes without saying that it was a great match but I guess since this is a review I should list the ways. The arm work by both men was constant and through all 30 minutes neither forgot about it. While it was a mostly grounded match they still had a few high spots to get the crowd into it, including some hellacious bumps by both of them. It really did feel epic, between Fish yelling at ringside to the crowd reactions to both busting out all the moves they had to win. Simply fantastic and a must-watch match, likely a Top 5 candidate for all of 2015 when all is said and done.” – Kevin Wilson
137) KAIRI HOJO VS. MEIKO SATOMURA – STARDOM (June 14, 2015)
(Link goes to Kevin Wilson’s Joshi City page which has the video)
- Pack a lunch. This is longer than most folks are willing to sit through. The entire video runs 45 minutes and there aren’t any Undertaker entrances filling time.
- You know all those times Sting would wrestle Vader when he was young and spunky and Vader would beat the shit out of Sting and Sting would attempt to beat the shit out of Vader just to survive? Yeah… Hojo is the cutest Sting ever and Meiko might be the tiniest, scariest Vader you can imagine. I don’t remember when Meiko transitioned into her destroyer of souls phase but she is currently one of my favorite wrestlers while doing it.
“Man what a match. To call this hard hitting would be an understatement, everything they did was brutal. Even something simple like a kick breakout or a spear was made to look extra violent, there was no holding back here at all. The time went quickly for a 30 minute match as they did a good job mixing in strikes, submissions, and big moves to pop the crowd. I didn’t mind the slight overkill since it was a title match, overall it was just great stuff. MOTYC right here. Highly Recommended” – Kevin Wilson (@purocentral)
“This was an absolute nail biter of a match and the true definition of the word war. Hojo has been the Ace of Stardom for 2015 putting on solid matches against all comers. However, this battle for supremacy between her and Joshi veteran legend Meiko Satomura might just be Hojo’s crowning achievement for 2015. Incredibly stiff with wicked submissions and a passionate crowd make this a must see match. Come for Hojo’s patented top rope elbow drop and then stay for a 30 minute classic. This is a MOTYC and anyone who says that it isn’t needs to get their eyes checked.” -Rob Barry (@RobsBrutalWorld)
138) VOLADOR JR VS. FLAMITA – CARALUCHA (June 14, 2016)
Good Lord – did Flamita sleep with Volador’s sister or something? Because Volador sure beats the hell out of Flamita like he did. This is so so good. Beating a guy with rows of chairs is always a winner in my book. People need to never ever stop providing sketchy handhelds over Cara Lucha. Side note – I’m sorry but Flamita being Fireball is really fucking stupid. Stupid AAA.
“Man oh man. One of my favorite matches this year! Just two guys throwing BOMBS at each other. Flamita trying to forearm the snot out of Volador while Volador tries to decapitate Flamita over and over with superkicks. So many fast creative exchanges and big dives from Flamita… They did the new trend of doing one big move after another and then again until they both collapse which seems to be over with this type of crowd. Lots of awesome nearfalls. The somersault into a sunset flip into a missed kick into a missed knee into a superkick for a nearfall sequence was ridiculously awesome. At the end it turns into a war of the Flame Fly vs the Backcracker and the Flame Fly gets the shocking win. Crowd was super into the entire match but the finish didn’t get a huge reaction because nobody saw Flamita as having a chance in hell of a winning.” – Robert
139) JAMES MASON VS. OLIVER GREY – ALL STAR WRESTLING (June 19, 2015 – World of Sport Rules Match)
This is James Mason and Oliver Grey having a match with rounds rules in front of what appears to be an all ages audience in a gym that is as tiny as my bathroom and looking like they are having a grand fucking time in the process. Mason most folks remember from his brief stints in Michinoku Pro and the early TNA. Grey had probably the worst time for an injury as he was just getting his break winning the NXT tag titles with Adrian Neville when he tore his ACL, was out for over a year, made it back to TV and then was immediately released. He really shows what the WWE (and pretty much anyone else would) saw in him between his dreamy body and ability to motherfucking take it to the mat like a king. God – I can’t believe how much I enjoyed this match (wonky finish aside). There are some times when wrestling really doesn’t need to be so complicated and this shows that it can be amazing in its simplicity.
140) AKEBONO VS. KENTO MIYAHARA – ALL JAPAN WRESTLING (June 21, 2015 – Triple Crown)
(Since it shows up with a simple Google search – I don’t feel as guilty linking to this one.)
I might be the only person who has ever watched this – both in the states and in Japan. All Japan has absolutely crated as a promotion so there is something to watching this just for the visual alone of Akebono defending the Triple Crown in what appears to be the loading dock of a cannery. Fortunately – this has a lot more going for it. Bono has adapted his style as his body continues to breakdown and he is firmly in the angry old fat guy territory – this could also be known as awesome territory. He wrestles this match like a Mama Bear protecting her cubs (with the Triple Crown being his young’in). Miyahara takes a grade A beating in this wonderful version of a big guy version normal guy who looks tiny next the big guy match. Miyahara also does the smart thing of working over Bono’s arm instead of his leg which allows A) Bono to sell more credibly (since his agility is all but gone – saved for the key moments of the match) and B) allow him to apply deadlier submissions. There is also fun teases of Miyahara hit… well pretty much any of his big moves. This flew under everyone’s radar probably due to the state of a once great promotion which is a shame.