With Wrestle Kingdom, WrestleMania, the Royal Rumble, Dominion and countless other big shows, the first half of the year has been jam-packed with memorable matches and moments.
Myself Benjamin Raven, Austin "Sweetwater" Brunner and Drew McCarthy decided to each pick our five favorite matches at the midway point of 2018. From Ring of Honor to WWE, NXT to New Japan Pro Wrestling, match quality has been impressive across the board as summer sinks in.
Let's get to it:
5. Aleister Black vs. Adam Cole, NXT: Takeover Philadelphia
My top 4 were fairly easy. This one was tough. I considered about 3 matches but I settled on this one. These two just entertained from start to finish in this one, and the extreme element made this all the more exciting. Sanity and Undisputed Era added to the chaos with chairs, tables, and a solid kendo stick spot or two. Black and Cole could brutalized each other and I absolutely loved it.
4. Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream, NXT: Takeover Chicago
The build-up to all of this was absolutely stellar. Velveteen’s mic skills are amazing. Ricochet front-flipping from the ring to the outside is the GIF of the year as far as I’m concerned. I was concerned the match wouldn’t live up to the hype, but it absolutely did. And being there live (we get it Sweetwater, you went to NXT: Takeover Chicago. Shut up) added another level of excitement. These two could have a series of matches and create magic every single time.
3. Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa, NXT: Takeover New Orleans
This match may have been better than the Chicago match, and frankly, I had a hard time choosing. The story-telling in this one was also absolutely stellar. The powerbomb on the concrete. Gargano threatening to use the crutch and pulling back. Using the knee-brace to get Ciampa to tap out. All of it was absolutely amazing. This was easily my MOTY after it happened… And then ya know… they outdid themselves.
2. Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa, NXT: Takeover Chicago
I would say I’m biased because I was there live, but this match was really that damn good watching it back. The wrestling was fantastic and brutal, but the story-telling was next level. Ciampa tossing Gargano’s ring. Gargano staring at the ring before attacking Ciampa. The tap-out. The pinfall. All of it was simply amazing. Being there live definitely added to the excitement, but I didn’t need to be there live to love this.
1. Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada, NJPW Dominion
This one is a gimme right? I hate to say it, because I absolutely loved my #2 match, but there’s no possible other #1 match of 2018. These two have some of the best chemistry I’ve ever seen in a wrestling ring, and they continue to elevate themselves. MOTY Factory is no joke when it comes to Omega and Okada.
5A. NXT TakeOver New Orleans ladder match for the NXT North American Championship
Every now and then, a ladder match will drop your jaw to the floor and require you to place both hands on top of your head for 20-plus minutes. This is one of those ladder matches. I was in disbelief at the incredibly creative spot after spot after spot between Adam Cole, EC3, Ricochet, Velveteen Dream, Killian Dain and Lars Sullivan and that night.
It was an incredible night, and this one kicked things off from New Orleans/WrestleMania weekend. Props to EC3 for coming in and just being the butt of high-spot after high-spot on day number one. Adam Cole winning won the crowd over big time, Meltzer gave it 5 Stars and I give it two thumbs up. Go out of your way to watch this one.
5B. Undisputed Era (Roderick Strong and Kyle O'Reilly) vs Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch at NXT TakeOver Chicago for the NXT Tag Team Championships
This match deserved a shout out on one of our lists, and that's why I'm doing a straight-up tie (none of this three-way stuff) because this match ruled. People slept on this match, other people on this podcast, and Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch proved a lot of doubters wrong.
These two teams meshed to an extremely impressive tune, and once Oney heals up, WWE would be remiss not to make these guys wrestle on TV more. Oney takes a nasty bump, and for those down on the state of tag team wrestling in 2018, just go watch that final 5 minutes of this match from Chicago as it is tag team wrestling at its best. Go out of your way and consume this match with your eyeholes.
4. Chris Jericho vs Kenny Omega in a No Disqualification Match at Wrestle Kingdom 12
I prefer Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega over Chris Jericho and Naito from Dominion just by an inch, but an important inch. The WK12 match goes over in my mind thanks to the element of surprise, and the unthinkable level of violence it maintained for the entire duration.
These two Canucks beat the ever-loving shit out of each other, and Chris Jericho made the world his bitch by reinventing himself to another whole new level. Unreal match, and I still can't believe how hard these guys went. Meltzer gave it 5 Stars, and there's no debating that.
This is most likely Chris Jericho's best match of his career ... let that sink in.
3. Andrade Cien Almas vs. Johnny Gargano at NXT TakeOver Philadelphia for the NXT Championship
The NXT Championship match holds a special place in my heart, as it is the match that cemented Adrade Cien Almas as an up and coming superstar that can go with anyone and it exposed more of the mainstream world to Johnny Wrestling. These two weren't in the main event, it was a rematch of a match from a recent TakeOver and there wasn't much of a story, but that didn't stop these two magicians from telling a brilliant one in the ring.
There are some of the top spots of the year in this match, and Almas and Gargano are so smooth and effortless on their own that when they come together it's really special. I need to go back and watch this one again. Meltzer gave it 5 Stars, I give it everything.
2. Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa in an Unsanctioned Match at NXT TakeOver New Orleans
The first TakeOver encounter between Gargano and Ciampa is head and shoulders the matchup between these two, so far, for me. The second one was a blast, don't get me wrong, but this was a thing of wrestling storytelling beauty. The accidental long-burn feud thanks to injuries and missed timing, and the absolutely brutal but logical Unsanctioned Match. This is about as good as a WWE/NXT feud/match payoff can get, and everyone involved in this one should feel very proud.
An absolute thing of beauty, and it's a shame this isn't even No. 1 on the midyear Top 5 matches list(!).
1. Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega at NJPW Dominion in a 2 out of 3 falls no time limit match for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Shit, you wanna talk about wrestling storytelling, look no further than this one. Meltzer gave it 7 motherfucking Stars, and I'm not even mad at it in the least bit. These two told a different story every time they stepped into the ring, and this one brought it all together.
Omega-Okada IV feels like the payoff from "Avengers: Infinity War." This long-winding story is finally meeting at its hotly-anticipated payoff point and when it hits ... *kissess fingers*. Go out of your way for this one, just make sure to block off 90 minutes. Omega and Okada are the two best performers on the face of the Earth, and this is the example as to why and how.
5. 3-WAY TIE
Young Bucks vs Golden Lovers, NJPW Strong Style Evolved
The story is what matters most here. But also, seeing 2 of the best tag teams of all time head to head is incredible.
Will Ospreay vs Flip Gordon, NJPW BOSJ
The styles just worked so well together. Ospreay is a new favorite for me and he and Flip really go here. Well worth the watch and one of the true standouts from BOSJ. A big leap forward for Flip. Arguably his best match of the year.
Cody vs Kenny Omega, ROH Supercard of Honor
A confrontation we all waited on for so long that delivered the goods. A great piece of a very big story.
4. North American Championship Ladder Match, NXT Takeover NOLA
This match had everything and everyone you wanted. Dream with that giant elbow. Ricochet flipping everywhere. EC3 taking massive bumps. 2 monsters monstering. And ADAM COLE BAYBAY! A perfectly executed ladder match where everyone looked strong and you crowned the right guy.
3. Gauntlet Match, Monday Night Raw Feb 12, 2018
This is the year of Seth Rollins on RAW. I could have picked any of his matches this year at any of the PPVs he has saved. But this has been my favorite. This match really cemented Rollins as the workhorse of the brand. The finish of the match may not have been great but a record-setting performance deserves recognition. And pulling off a 2-hour long gauntlet match on live TV gets props.
2. Ciampa/Gargano, Unsanctioned, NXT Takeover NOLA
Fuck you if you don't love this match.
1. Omega/Okada, NJPW Dominion.
What can you even say about this match?!? It was poetry. It was art. The build. The finish. The match itself. This is why you love wrestling. This is why you watch. This is the kind of match that just lives in your bones. 2 of the best in the world at their absolute best.