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March 2018: Top 5 Matches

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Join @phitingspirit as he goes solo for our top five matches of the month piece as we close out another very eventful month while gearing up for the biggest one of the year.

If you’d like to see what matches we picked for previous months – visit our ongoing 2018 ‘Top 5 Matches’ archive

1. Golden Lovers vs Young Bucks – Strong Style Evolved – 3/25

The two most popular and beloved tag teams were pitted against one another in the main event of New Japan’s ‘Strong Style Evolved’. This was by far everyone’s most anticipated match this month and boy did they deliver. This is the baby of The Elite (Kenny Omega & The Young Bucks)and they’ve managed to make their story the forefront of the wrestling world. These three are the biggest success stories in wrestling. Each of them showing that you can make it without the help of the WWE. The match displayed next level athleticism, as we’ve all come to expect from these four, the surprise was the amount of genuine storytelling. A knock on each of these men, especially The Young Bucks, is their inability to tell a story beyond just doing moves. The entire forty minutes of the match they sustained an easy to follow, logical story that answered some questions but left the door open for others to emerge. The true test of a classic wrestling match is to both put on a show which will satisfy those engaged in the story while also not excluding those who don’t have any back story. No matter what your knowledge on The Elite story, this is a satisfying match from beginning to end and deserves all the praise it receives.

2. Zack Sabre Jr. vs Hiroshi Tanahashi – New Japan Cup Final – 3/21

New Japan used this year’s New Japan Cup as a showcase on how to create a new star. Yes, Zack Sabre Jr. was already a star in the UK and US but he hadn’t felt like too big of a deal in Japan. He was a part of NOAH’s roster for four years, between 2012 and 2015, but only had two short-lived runs with the junior tag titles. On his debut with NJPW, he defeated fan favorite, Katsuyori Shibata, albeit with the help of Minoru Suzuki. It was another four months before Sabre received a second notable win, this time a clean win against Tanahashi. While it seemed obvious New Japan liked Sabre, he wasn’t staying around long enough for them to use him a significant piece. He was already known as someone capable of beating the likes of Tanahashi and Shibata but where was his ceiling? The New Japan Cup answered that question. Sabre ran through some of the company’s most popular wrestlers, Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi, SANADA and Hiroshi Tanahashi. March was the Zack Sabre Jr. show and his month-long winning streak culminated with a win over the ace of New Japan, Hiroshi Tanahashi. This was a huge moment that got the attention of the entire wrestling world. Zack Sabre Jr. is now officially cemented as a main event player in the second largest wrestling promotion.

3. Michael Elgin vs Tomohiro Ishii – New Japan Cup Night One – 3/9

Unlike the other two matches, there isn’t some grand story to tell here. Instead, this was just a complete barnburner of a match. Those who enjoy watching big dudes do big dudes moves to other big dudes should kick back and enjoy themselves. Neither man wanted to give an inch and it nearly wound up killing one of them in the process. I cannot overstate how physically impressive this match came off. A true car wreck in every sense of the word in both good ways and bad. Nobody in their right minds expected them to go this hard and the range of emotions, from excitement to fear, were all present. For the sake of a wrestler’s health, I never want them to feel as if they must perform at this level, but when I see a match like this I’m very grateful for the punishment they put themselves through in order to entertain us fans.

4. Zack Sabre Jr. vs Kota Ibushi – New Japan Cup Night Six – 3/15

The epitome of a style clash. The submission game of Sabre up against the striking power of Ibushi. The last time they met, Ibushi was able to capitalize on his power advantage and that looked to be the case again here. Every time Sabre looked to ground Ibushi, he managed out hoist Sabre off the mat for a devastating slam. The downfall came when Ibushi started to get arrogant. He attempted a Moonsault from the second rope but got caught and was unable to sustain any offense afterwards. Sabre was able to take a few hits and wait for his opportunity to strike. The chemistry between these two is off the charts, both matches have been highlights over the last nine months and with their record now tied, I cannot wait for the next installment.

5. Daisuke Harada vs HAYATA – Great Voyage 2018 in Yokohama – 3/11

After going four straight NJPW matches, I though I’d change it up with a match I’m not seeing many talk about. That’s this junior heavyweight title match which took place in NOAH. This is one of only a handful of matches I’ve watched four times this year. Each time I found myself enjoying it more than the last. You have HAYATA wanting to keep a fast pace against the bruising champion, Harada. Once Harada slows you down, he’s going to break your body apart so it was up to HAYATA to keep things moving. This was very exciting, many jaw-dropping sequences that came out of nowhere and never got dull. NOAH deserves a little bit of love when they do things right and I think Harada’s reign with the junior title has been something deserving of praise.

image credit – NJPW1972

Robert McCauley hasn't miss an NJPW show since the launch of NJPW World. Always be on the look out for his reviews where he shares results and gives his honest opinions on the goings-on of New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

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