2018 was a great year for professional wrestling if you ignore the industry giant. Everything but the WWE was remarkable this year, this was my first year watching New Japan Pro Wrestling, I started on January 4th, 2018 with Wrestle Kingdom because I watched the Showbuckle video on Naito, and ever since I’ve never looked back, I believe I watched every single event this year and that influence is definitely reflected on this list. So now let’s countdown the 10 best Pro Wrestling Matches of 2018 and reveal what my Match of the Year selection is:
- Zack Sabre Jr. vs Yano Toru – G1 Climax Day 4
Your favourite match might not be on this list, but Toru Yano is, and deservedly so. Who would have assumed that Yano would have maybe the most interesting and different story throughout the G1? Toru Yano is a notorious comedy character whose G1 matches are usually one to watch because every year he upsets at least one of the major players in his block, usually preventing them from going all the way. He’s beaten Kenny Omega and Minoru Suzuki is past tournaments and this year he even beat eventual block winner and G1 finalist Kota Ibushi. But the story going into the 2018 G1 is that Yano had sworn off cheating and underhanded tactics and was going to win his matches with his previously forgotten wrestling expertise. Kevin Kelly would commonly remind us about a story of Yano beating up a tree or something. In his first tournament match against Ishii he presented this forgotten knowledge and we were all collectively impressed but in his second match here with the pro wrestling master Zack Sabre Jr.
This match is more than anything else, incredibly fun. The Korakuen Hall crowd make this match, their like New Japan’s Full Sail without the pretension and they eat up everything in this match. From Zack Sabre Jr’s innovative use of the count out rule, where he tied Yano up and put a submission on him and making a run for the ring when the count was 18, something I’m sure we all thought of as kids to Yano’s counters to Zack’s pure wrestling. The crowd comes alive every time Yano successfully counters a move and especially when he comes close to winning after throwing Zack into an exposed turnbuckle multiple times. The uniqueness of this match is what granted it a slot on this list when your favourite match didn’t. Come matches end the correct decision was made and Zack Sabre Jr overcame Yano’s advances, getting the two points. But damn me if everyone watching wasn’t impressed with Yano’s standout performance.
- Woman’s Money in the Bank – Money in the Bank 2018
The second ever Women’s Money in the Bank ladder match stands out to me as the greatest main roster outing this year. The Chicago crowd was electric for this match and it’s interesting to go back and watch babyface Becky Lynch getting a massive crowd reaction and losing, with what we know will come later. The commentators mentioned an interesting fact about Ember Moon and that her being in this match makes her the quickest superstar to ever be in a Money in the Bank ladder match in relation to being called up to the main roster. The unpredictability of the match at the time is reflected in the crowd reactions for the different possibilities. Becky Lynch was the clear crowd favourite here, every time she would climb the ladder and especially the spot where she climbed up the side of a ladder that was held up by two girls on the ground, the crowd exploded with excitement. Ember Moon had a spot where it looked like her winning was possible and the crowd reciprocated wanting a fresh face in the title picture. Alternatively, when Charlotte and Sasha Banks looked to be winning the crowd was vocal about their disappointment, freshness was needed in the title picture. However, when Alexa Bliss who was only two months removed from her last title reign won the match the crowd exploded, because everyone likes Alexa Bliss. This match was creative in its spot’s, Sasha nearly killed herself multiple times and especially when Ember Moon cross-bodied her onto a ladder. Great match and for me be the best main roster match of the year.
- Aleister Black vs Andrade “Cein” Almas – NXT Takeover New Orleans
The Women’s Money in the Bank ladder match was the best main roster WWE match of the year, but the best NXT match of the year was Aleister Black defeating Andrade ‘Cein’ Almas for the NXT Championship. This match narrowly edges out Andrade’s first Takeover outing against Johnny Gargano, which I believe will be an unpopular decision, but this match was far more enjoyable from start to finish. The Gargano match was great the first time but when I rewatched it, but when I rewatched it for this video its length really effected the overall enjoyment factor of the match. Long matches usually aren’t my favourite, despite the hour and 10-minute match further down on the list, usually the beginning isn’t engaging, and I find myself wanting to do something else, especially on rewatches. But on said rewatch of this match I found myself entirely engaged. Almas is so unbelievably good with move combinations, like his former tag team partner Tetsuya Naito, that watching him move alone is exciting. Black has the best looking striking in professional wrestling and his long build only highlights this. Additionally, the Zelina Vega element on the outside keeps the match fresh when it’s at its slower point, she’s a third performer the audience can watch. Her inclusion in the finish just brings the whole match full circle and the finish caught the fans in New Orleans entirely off guard because they exploded possibly louder than any other Takeover crowd ever when Black hit the kick and got the three-count. This was an excellent showing for all three of the people involved and now with the context that Aleister Black were likely dating at the time of the match, since they recently got married, adds another layer to this match.
If the opening sentence of this entry in the list didn’t register, from here on out we are exclusively talking New Japan Pro Wrestling.
- Will Ospreay vs Marty Scurll – Sakura Genesis 2018
Will Ospreay and Marty Scurll possibly put on the scariest match of 2018 at Sakura Genesis. This match was masterfully brutal, I think we all collectively thought Ospreay was dead after the bump on the apron. Besides the Psycho Sid botch that might be the scariest wrestling footage to watch in slow motion. But this match like our number 1 entry on this list owes its placement somewhat to a botched spot. Ospreay’s head was cut open and the imagery of the scarlet read patch in his hair was breathtaking. If Ospreay hadn’t become a superhero in the final NJPW match of 2018 this would have been my favourite image in New Japan this year. But the rest of the match following the spot continued the brutality with Scurll relentlessly pulverising Ospreay with stomps to the back of the head and moves making him land on his head. The Ryogoku audience also made this match, their sympathy with Ospreay and their surprise at his resilience made the match what it was. These two truly did a great job at convincing us that Ospreay was dead, and for him to them come back and win the match was the feel-good moment we needed to conclude the match. Ultimately, everything planned and unplanned came together brilliantly in this match resulting in one of the best matches of the entire year.
- Naito Tetsuya vs Kenny Omega – G1 Climax Day 2
Now this match may not have superseded their five star plus effort in last year’s G1 final, but whenever these two touch something magical happens. Kenny Omega and Tetsuya Naito are fantastic wrestler, I think we are all aware of that, but whenever they meet they are trying to show each other just how good they are. But Naito brings something to high intensity matches that his top 5 contemporaries lack and that’s personality in the spots, there is no one funner to watch fuck around in a match then Tetsuya Naito. This is made blatantly evident in the beginning of this match where they trade back and forth shots and they attempt to out-trick each other but will also be blatant on a match later down on the list. But the final 10 minutes of this match might be the best 10 minutes of NJPW this year, it was a tossup going in on who would win the match and they heavily played into the drama here, the crowd was clearly more Naito then Omega, but Omega wasn’t an out right heel and the crowd came alive during the final stretch. WWE crowds maybe livelier throughout big matches but the confused screaming from a New Japan crowd when they can tell the next big move might be the last is an unmatched atmosphere and this match capitalised on this factor entirely. Ultimately, Omega came out the victor but not ever I the biggest of big Naito fans could remain disappointed due to the performance I had just witnessed.
- Will Ospreay vs Marty Scurll – Fighting Spirit Unleashed
Marty Scurll may have been the most slept on wrestler in all of 2018, not only did he have repeat match of the year contenders with long-time rival Will Ospreay, landing these two the only repeat match on this list but also with outstanding outings against Okada at All In and the match with Kushida at King of Pro Wrestling, its robbery that he isn’t being mentioned in the wrestler of the year conversation. On an earlier draft of this script the two entries of Ospreay and Scurll were swapped but evidently, I opted to switch the two of the them for one reason, this match doesn’t waste time. Immediately the match starts off hot with Ospreay attempting and successfully catching everyone off guard by his instantaneous attack. It brought the live crowd immediately back into the show after the unnecessary intermission and nearly had me believing he beat Marty in seconds. It was reminiscent of the Shibata and Ishii opening from their classic G1 match. The match never really slowed down they continued to go as hard as possible, doing all their grandeurs spots and eventually had a surprising winner, and a feel-good moment for us Marty Scurll fans. Maybe the only reason this match is ranked better than the Sakura Genesis match is because my guy one, but that doesn’t matter because bias is inherit in these lists. Additionally, I really liked the commentary performance here, Kevin Kelly and Jim Ross’ combination shun most brightly during this match. Kevin Kelly gave the necessarily background and history for uninformed fans and Ross gave the match an unmatchable big fight feel. And all this was crammed into a concise 15-minute package whereas the Sakura Genesis match went double that time.
- Kenny Omega vs Kazuchika Okada – Dominion 6.9
Say what you want about the lack of build to this match storyline wise, this match was inevitable, and this was the right time. Dominion a year later and I think everyone understood that Omega was winning this match, but a New Japan without Okada on top is something we hadn’t seen in years, and some of us may have even forgotten is that was possible. But the matches 1 hour and 10-minute length was all building to the moment that everyone anticipated seeing and that was Omega holding up the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. This match was grand in scale, the crowd was clearly on Kenny’s side they understood what they were about to see and only added to the festivities, and props to Osaka for the AJ Styles chant after Omega broke out the Styles Clash. Don Callis was another outside factor that only added to my enjoyment of the match, it was a Bobby Heenan watching Ric Flair in the Rumble esk performance from him. His freak-out at the conclusion when Omega one was a vicarious one for many us I’m sure. But the match itself stood out to me on the rewatch. I mentioned previously that long matches usually aren’t my favourite because they are slow and hard to rewatch, but this match told a progressing story for an hour and 10-minutes that had me engaged the entire time, everything built perfectly to the grand Omega victory. This was the climactic moment of over a year and a half of booking and it all paid off excellently for New Japan and the fans through this match.
- Hiromu Takahashi vs Taiji Ishimori – Best of the Super Juniors Final
This match was the most surprising to me, I was 100% sure that Ishimori was going all the way in the Best of the Super Juniors Tournament. He’d just returned to New Japan Pro Wrestling with a new character and a new look, in a new faction and he had destroyed everyone in his block including the current IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, Will Ospreay, he seemed destined to travel all the way to Dominion and collect his prize and this very well may have been New Japan’s initial plan, but Hiromu Takahashi stood in his way. Now that Hiromu is injured I think everyone has forgotten just how over Hiromu was for the first half of the year, he wasn’t only seconded to Naito in L.I.J but second to Naito is overall popularity. If you go back and watch the Bushi and Hiromu vs Suzuki Gun match the crowd chants Hiromu like he’s their God, and this popularity was only made clearer throughout the Best of the Super Junior’s tournament and that’s why it was imperative that he went over in this match, which thankfully and against all odds, he did. Not only was the match great because the right man won but because it was chaotic. From the infamous hurracarrana down the flight of stairs, to the area length running drop kick to the dualistic spike-rrana’s, this match has everything. Ultimately, Hiromu proved why he has the undying respect from the audience and proved why it was he that deserved to go on to Dominion to dethrone Ospreay, even more than the up-and-coming hot, new prospect Taiji Ishimori. But as we contemporarily look forward to Wrestle Kingdom 13, it seems Ishimori will be getting the last laugh and that IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.
- Naito Tetsuya vs Tomohiro Ishii – G1 Climax Day 4
There are no two men I enjoy watching wrestle then Tetsuya Naito and Tomohiro Ishii, and in this match, they proved why they deserve this stop on the list. The action is great, and the clash of personalities is even better. Watching these two stubbornly smack each other for 20 minutes is so enjoyable. These two have an intertwined past and in Kayfabe hate each other, Ishii was the only person Naito ever successfully defended the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against in his short title reign and Ishii has beaten Naito for other championships in the past. The rivalry is there for every match these two have to be an anticipated event. The counters to each other’s moves throughout the match are so inventive and subversive, just everything about this match is everything I want from a professional wrestling match. This match and its inclusion so far up on this list just reflects the inherit bias in these lists, I doubt this is many people’s second favourite match of the year, when the match first happened everyone loved it, but for many this was overshadowed by other matches in the G1, but for me this match remained the uncompromised benchmark for the tournament and I loved it. Plus, in this one Naito actually won.
- Juice Robinson vs Jay White – G1 Special
This match was somehow more chaotic than the Best of the Super Juniors final, had a better feel good moment than the Dominion main event and was more fun to watch then Ishii vs Naito. Who would have predicted Jay White and Juice Robinson to have the match of the year, at the beginning of 2018? They have improved experientially over this calendar year to becoming easily to me the best heel and best babyface in wrestling. Jay White has revolutionised Bullet Club and was recently officially made leader and Juice continues to prove through his incredibly speaking ability that he is the best talker in the wrestling business today. All this potential and all this excellence as well as an incredibly timed botch was fully on display in this roller-coaster ride of a wrestling match.
The crowd is another element this match had going for it, the Cow Palace was electric for this match, they were entirely behind Juice and despised Jay White. This build up would pay off in the eventual 3-count wherein the crowd exploded when Juice beat Jay. But the unforeseen and possibly most engaging element in the match was apparently not planned like I had assumed upon seeing how perfectly it seemed to fit in the story of the match. Jay and Juice where throwing each other into the guardrails so hard they were making Suzuki jealous, the guardrails were flying off everywhere literally creating sparks because of the impact, this created some incredible visuals. Eventually Jay White would suplex Juice into the announce desk and sent Jim Ross flying and prompted a run-in from Josh Barnett, that was apparently a shoot. This bump from JR and subsequent run-in from Barnett heightened the already rampant drama of this match and this all culminated in Juice’s victory and subsequent celebration. This match was an experience and easily was my favourite match in professional wrestling this year.
– Kazuchika Okada vs Tetsuya Naito – Wrestle Kingdom 12
– Chris Jericho vs Kenny Omega – Wrestle Kingdom 12
– Andrade “Cein” Almas vs Johnny Gargano – NXT Takeover Philadelphia
– Adam Cole vs Aleister Black – NXT Takeover Philadelphia
– Men’s Royal Rumble – Royal Rumble 2018
– Women’s Royal Rumble – Royal Rumble 2018
– Asuka vs Sasha Banks – Raw, Jan 29, 2018
– Kazuchika Okada vs Sanada – New Beginning in Osaka 2018
– 6 Man Ladder Match – NXT Takeover New Orleans
– Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle vs Triple H and Stephanie McMahon – WrestleMania 34
– Kazuchika Okada vs Zack Sabre Jr. – Sakura Genesis 2018
– Juice Robison vs Hiroki Goto – Road to Wrestling Dontaku
– Ronda Rousey vs Nia Jax – Money in the Bank 2018
– Young Bucks vs Sanada and Evil – G1 Special
– Kota Ibushi vs Hiroshi Tanahashi – G1 Climax Final
– Kairi Sane vs Shayna Baszler – NXT Takeover Brooklyn 4
– Marty Scurll vs Kazuchika Okada – All In
– Guerrillas of Destiny vs The Young Bucks – Fighting Spirit Unleashed
– Kenny Omega vs Kota Ibushi vs Cody – King of Pro Wrestling 2018
– Shayna Baszler vs Kairi Sane – NXT Takeover WarGames 2018
– Aleister Black vs Johnny Gargano – NXT Takeover WarGames 2018
– Tommaso Ciampa vs Velveteen Dream – NXT Takeover WarGames 2018
– Pete Dunne, Ricochet and War Raider vs The Undisputed Era – NXT Takeover WarGames 2018
– Becky Lynch vs Charlotte – WWE Evolution
– Becky Lynch vs Charlotte vs Asuka – TLC 2018