Robert’s Top 5 (@BeMcCooley)
1. Hiromu Takahashi vs El Desperado — Best of the Super Juniors — 5/22
Korakuen Hall, December 23, 2011. That was the last time Desperado and Hiromu faced off in a singles match. The two were young lions and their debuts were only five months apart with Desperado, then known as Kyosuke Mikami, being the senior. In Hiromu’s debut match he was put up against Mikami and suffered twelve consecutive losses to his senior before finally scoring his first victory. Desperado spent all of 2012 and 2013 on excursion in Mexico wrestling for CMLL and returned just a month before Hiromu began his CMLL excursion. This is a long way of saying Desperado and Hiromu have history and you could feel that history in this match. There was extra fire lit under Hiromu. He wanted to prove that he’s surpassed his senior. This was a side of Hiromu that only Desperado can bring out. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Taichi and Jado all chose this as a match to watch, not knowing whether it’d be a masterpiece or a train wreck. Maybe it was a little bit of both but one this is for sure, there will be no forgetting this match.
2. Kazuchika Okada (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship — Wrestling Dontaku — 5/4
You can’t help but to feel as if this is the end of an era. The rivalry between Tanahashi and Okada can be credited as one of the most significant feuds in all of wrestling. Together they helped breathe new life back into New Japan. Without this feud, who knows where wrestling would be today and for something so significant to be coming to a close, you can’t help but to feel sad. You look back fondly at the battles between Tanahashi and Okada. From Okada needing to prove that his shocking win at New Beginning 2012 wasn’t a fluke, to then needing to prove he can defeat Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom and now Tanahashi being the one with something to prove. Everything has come full circle and the ‘Ace of the Universe’ moniker no longer feels fitting for the ‘Once in a Century Talent’.
3. Will Ospreay vs KUSHIDA for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship — Wrestling Dontaku — 5/4
KUSHIDA is a modern day’s wrestler’s wrestler. He’s spent his entire career traveling the world and learning to adapt his style to fit anybody he’s matched up against. Will Ospreay made his New Japan debut in 2016 against KUSHIDA and while the New Japan audience may not have been familiar with his style, this was nothing new for KUSHIDA. He had wrestled against the likes of Matt Sydal, he knew how to manage Ospreay. He defeated Ospreay four times in a row before Ospreay managed to pick up his first win but that wasn’t enough. After a match where he nearly killed himself against Marty Scurll, Ospreay challenged KUSHIDA. This wasn’t the typical challenger challenging champion, instead it was the opposite. Ospreay wanted to prove that his win over KUSHIDA wasn’t a fluke by pinning him again. He wanted to prove that like KUSHIDA, he can adapt.
4. Dragon Gate Hair vs Hair Steel Cage Survival Seven Way — Dead or Alive —5/6
Every year I have this match circled on my calendar. The annual wacky Dragon Gate cage match where the loser gets humiliated by either having their head shaved or being forced to unmask. Everyone attempts escaping the cage until only two remain. Those two are then given five minutes to pin their opponent and the loser is shaved or unmasked. If they fail to reach a decision in those five minutes, both lose and are humiliated. There were too many story arcs to explain here but if you’ve never experienced one of these matches you’ll be in for a treat.
5. KUSHIDA vs SHO — Best of the Super Juniors — 5/27
KUSHIDA comes from an MMA background where he competed in eight fights and ended his career undefeated. SHO is a collegiate Greco-Roman wrestler and trained in hopes of competing in MMA during his state-side excursion. It’d be a tough task to find two wrestlers more technically sound on the New Japan roster. In a tournament that has a reputation of being fast-paced, they slowed down, kept the entire match inside the ring and had one of the standout performances of this year’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament. Nobody else in the junior division would even dare to try to keep a crowd engaged by grappling for twenty minutes. The goal was lofty but when your technique is as sound as these two you shoot for the stars.
David’s Top 5 (@DW_Reno)
1. Toni Storm (c) vs. Jinny for the PROGRESS Women’s Championship— PROGRESS Chapter 69: Be Here Now — 5/20
Hi there. My name is David and I’m a sucker for pro wrestling as live theater. When I say that, I’m not talking about some “dope” pyro or a 70 foot jump off the top of the steel cage. Don’t get it twisted — those types of things are just fine. I suppose it’s all just a matter of preference.
I like a short succinct promo package before a match that really adds to said match. I like great walkouts that command your attention. I like when the wrestlers hit every single mark and the cameras do as well — like when you can tell a careful amount of time has been put into the editing process (or that it was just constructed to look that way live). NXT does this very well, e.g, that Velveteen-Ricochet .gif that has been going around this week, anything Velveteen does or basically every single TakeOver show. PROGRESS also does this extremely well.
This match between Jinny and Toni was an example of two characters in a story that has been built up over a long period of time being given the main event spot and absolutely nailing it. I haven’t gotten feels like this during a PROGRESS feud since the Dunne versus Havoc matches at Chapters 43 and 45.
The opening promo: “There’s a little Princess currently sitting on top of the PROGRESS women’s division and unfortunately she’s been sitting there a little too long,” Jinny tells us from the big screen as we focus on the glimpses of Toni within her eye. Jinny has been studying every chink in her armor. She knows about weaknesses Toni has that even she isn’t aware of. And of course, she has a back up plan for anything Toni throws at her. I believe her.
The Entrances: The challenger comes out first with her House of Couture mates. Swag activated. Jinny’s face game is out of this world. She comes equipped with a heel glare that will cut right through you and it continues to progress over time — it’s the little things. She’s mean. She’s cocky. She’s believable. She’s on another level. She’s invested. I’m invested. Toni’s out next.
“I’ve got empires to lead.
She’s got vampires to feed.
You don’t miss me any more than I miss you.”
Well, I don’t think I’m alone when I say I’m not going to miss anything more than I miss this walkout via Dana Fowler and The from Toni if she ever signs full-time somewhere that has, say, a much more generic walkout for her in their library.
The silence as the camera directs its way toward the curtain before she comes through. Every fan turning in anticipation. The eruption from the fans after the pause in the music when we get our first glimpse — PROGRESS at its best is like seeing your favorite band in concert. They are as advertised — PUNK ROCK PRO WRESTLING. You can listen to your favorite song over and over and you still get goosebumps every time. You can watch your favorite film until that one scene comes up that makes the hairs on the back of your neck nearly explode. You can get that same feeling when you’re watching a pro wrestling match. You know it. I know it.
The Match: Storm and Jinny started off strong, brawling all over Victoria Warehouse, magnifying the importance of this feud. House of Couture applies lipstick to Toni, the words “she looks like a female Joker,” are aptly stated during the show. Jinny is dead to rights twice with no referee in sight but it’s Toni that ends up being beaten via a roll up. Jinny is your second Women’s Champion in PROGRESS history, stopping Toni’s reign just short of reaching a full year. The now former champ grabs the mic before darting off to the back, “You know I’m not going fu*king anywhere because that belt was mine.”
Hi there. My name is David and I’m a sucker for pro wrestling as live theater. Toni Storm versus Jinny at Chapter 69 was an example of pro wrestling as live theater at its best.
2. Will Ospreay (c) vs. KUSHIDA for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship — Wrestling Dontaku Night 2 — 5/4
This was Ospreay and KUSHIDA being given over 20 minutes in the co-main of a very top heavy show for NJPW. You pretty much had a ton of multi-man matches and then two extremely important matches with this one being followed by Okada’s record-breaking title defense against Tanahashi. And you’d think Ospreay and KUSHIDA would maybe save a little something for BOSJ. Instead, they go all out giving us an instant classic in only ways that they can. For the record, they’ve both been killing it during BOSJ and we wouldn’t expect anything less. Tons of insane stuff in this match that far exceeds any choreographed fight scene from your favorite action movie. I don’t know if you could find any match this clean with the degree of difficulty to go along with it.
3. AR FOX vs. Myron Reed — Evolve 105 — 5/20
This was part of a series of “The Present vs. The Future” matches on this card and it was easily the best match on a card that featured a few home runs as far as singles matches go. The Zack Sabre Jr era for Evolve was fun (I’m one of those folks that could watch ZSJ wrestle all day) but I feel like this is a promotion that is better suited for the type of wrestling I saw on this show. Guys likes Reed, Wentz and Miguel are officially the “Present” for Evolve after watching this card.
4. Fatal 4-Way: Marty Scurll vs. SANADA vs. Matt Taven vs. Kenny King — ROH/NJPW War of the Worlds 2018 Night 3 — 5/12
Four way wrestling at it’s finest — this match had it all. From comedy, to high-flying spots to some technical stuff, there were absolutely zero dull spots in this one. Scurll was an absolute rock star in Royal Oak (as I’m sure he is wherever he visits), Taven does his job by becoming the most hated guy in the building, King is clearly on the rise and SANADA is a guy who will be headlining the Tokyo Dome within five years. Also, leave it to Taven to turn a botch into a positive by acquiring some major heat.
5. Hiromu Takahashi vs. Marty Scurll — Best of Super Juniors — 5/19
Honorable mention to Takahashi versus Desperado and Takahashi versus Dragon Lee. Hiromu has been on fire during this tournament — his matches were the most must see thing going in pro wrestling during the month of May and I don’t expect that to change as we crossover into June. A Hiromu-less BOSJ final would be a major disappointment.
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