WWE has had a fairly dull month, delivering two PPV’s that underwhelmed overall. Though both shows featured gems in the middle, and particularly in one surprising case that few of us could have predicted at the start of the month. Lucha Underground has held a series of shows over the month with things starting to pick up the pace in the various storylines. No Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, unfortunately. Ring of Honor has had some steady weeks of television coming off the big All Star Extravaganza PPV last month. But the real spotlight this month goes to New Japan Pro Wrestling, which delivered a Show of the Year contender. As the months go by, we keep getting reminded that NJPW has genuine rights to being considered the best wrestling promotion in the world, despite coming off one of its worst talent losses at the very beginning of this year that many suspected would be greatly impactful in a negative way.
Let us bring you the top five wrestling matches that took place in October:
5. War Machine (Raymond Rowe & Hanson) vs. Shane Taylor and Keith Lee
Where: Ring of Honor
As far as mid-card feuds and rivalries go, these four men might just have the cake for the best one going today. These two teams have been tearing each other up in ROH for what must be months now. There’s a personal feud between Rowe and Taylor that dates back in their earlier pro wrestling careers and seems to be the foundation for their teams feuding with each other, but really its the in-ring that makes this so spectacular.
You want to talk about big hoss battles; these guys are epitomizing it present day. Of all four men, one of them might be under 300 pounds. And their matches reflect it. They are just brawling wars. And the matches seem to get better with each passing. Now, when most wrestling fans think about big-man matches, they think about slow, sloppy matches between guys with limited movesets. Not in this case though. Rowe, Hanson, Taylor and Lee are bringing prestige back to big-man pro wrestling. They are part of a new generation. Yes, they are massive men. But they are also athletic and agile; way more than men their size have any right to be. So you get the best of both worlds, with heavy powerhouse moves that look like the ring is going to collapse, and high-flying moves that men half their size made popular.
The best part though is we have not even seen the best. They are going out on ROH weekly television and stealing the show. Just wait until they get a marquee match on a PPV card. The best has yet to come.
4. Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz
Where: WWE No Mercy
If you had told me Dolph Ziggler and The Miz would have the best match of the show when on that same card there was a triple threat match between Dean Ambrose, John Cena, and AJ Styles, I would have gotten a nice little chuckle and lost a nice chunk of change at your ridiculous claim. Boy, was I wrong though. What actually happened was the three main event guys actually opened the show and underwhelmed, and then Ziggler and Miz went on in the middle of the show and tore the place down in a match that should have gone on last instead of a snoozefest between Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton.
This was the title vs. career match. Many reservations were held in the buildup to this match, but it was most certainly a quality build. Miz had hit his stride in the last month or so after all these years, taking things to the next level as a character and a promo. Ziggler had seemed to follow suit and too was really hitting his stride as a character after being at an all-time low in the months prior before the brand split. The buildup to this match made you almost believe Ziggler’s rock-bottom fall was a planned scenario just to set up a match like this in the future where he would risk it all for a last chance shot at glory. On the surface, it should not have worked between these two. But, as noted, they were hitting on all cylinders at this point and they met at just the right time. On the entire No Mercy card, no match came close to how much the fans were invested.
Not only was the buildup done incredibly well, but the match delivered, which was even more shocking. Miz has never been known as anything more than a plain vanilla WWE wrestler. And while Ziggler had shown spurts of excellence in the past, he seemed to have plateaued long ago. But, again, they tore the place down. The interference completely played into the match, which is a very rare occurrence as most interference does just that — it gets in the way of the match. The near-falls were all done great and the crowd was going wild. And Ziggler winning felt big, and the match was so good that you completely forgot Ziggler winning was the predictable finish. From the buildup to the match itself, this could have been a career-high for both men in terms of quality.
3. Katsuyori Shibata vs. Kyle O’Reilly
Where: NJPW King of Pro-Wrestling
This is not the last of New Japan you will see on this list. King of Pro-Wrestling was a bona fide Show of the Year contender built excellently from the bottom of the card to the main event. This match is where things started entering into that best-of-the-year realm.
Shibata-O’Reilly was a dream match. From the moment of its announcement, fans in the know were well aware this match was going to be a great one. Sometimes in wrestling, two guys seem to be fantastic puzzle-piece matchups, with styles that blend in the imagination before you even see them in action together. That’s these two.
Both men utilize a MMA-pro wrestling hybrid style. It mixes good old fashioned grappling and submissions with fairly basic wrestling moves. They cement it together with hard-hitting strikes of the eight points — hands, elbows, kicks, and knees. Needless to say, the synergy played out just as well as wrestling fans had hoped.
It was a bruising match that saw a fine mixture of everything the two have to offer. Just as the grappling was smooth and dynamic, the striking between these two was stiff as hell; just as you would expect. In classic New Japan style, the match grew and grew to its vicious climax and ended at just the right time, sparing any notion of “too much” as some great matches are prone to reach. And the greatness did not end there, as at the conclusion of the match it appeared as if we should expect these two, along with O’Reilly’s tag team partner Bobby Fish, to be teaming up in the near future.
I’m a buyer.
2. Kenny Omega vs. Hirooki Goto
Where: NJPW King of Pro-Wrestling
Your rematch to the G1 Climax 26 Finals. And what a worthy successor this was. It is tough to say whether this match was better, or not quite on par with the first meeting but what can be said is the G1 match benefited from a month-long storyline that is the G1, with Omega doing a brilliant job in bringing it to its climax in said match. This match, on the other hand, simply benefits from the first match in a vacuum, as a rematch to it. With that said, you can easily say it is just as impressive a match.
Not to mention, 2016 has a small handful of wrestlers who have a genuine case at being in consideration for Wrestler of the Year, and Omega truly is one of them. The man has conquered a significant portion of pro wrestling within the span of a single calendar year, and stands as one of the hottest acts in the business presently. His matches are a major reason for that. Every time Omega has found himself on a major stage, he has hit it out of the park — from his performance with Hiroshi Tanahashi, to Michael Elgin, to Tetsuya Naito, and the man opposite here: Goto.
Goto has been a great wrestler for years; often overshadowed by even greater guys at the peak of NJPW. Nonetheless, Goto has done plenty in his two matches with Omega to remind us he’s still a top player after a somewhat lackluster 2016 for him prior.
The match was in high gear immediately, before the bell even rang, and it never slowed down to take a breather. They went all over the place and pulled out all the stops once again without mirroring their G1 match — a highly important factor to consider which makes this match’s quality that much more impressive. These two have a chemistry; it’s undeniable. It’s odd too though, as it seemed to just come out of nowhere given Omega and Goto have no prior experience with one another before the G1, as far as I know. I don’t know what it is between these two, but the intensity level is so high throughout. That, plus the great action, keeps the viewer locked in and reacting to everything from start to finish — and what a finish it is.
You are almost sure to see Omega and Goto on Match of the Year lists for 2016, but after this you might just see them make two appearances as opponents.
1. Kazuchika Okada vs. Naomichi Marufuji
Where: NJPW King of Pro-Wrestling
This was incredible; absolutely incredible. It was your quintessential NJPW epic main event match. Okada and Marufuji built the in-ring equivalent of an approaching storm — starting the match with little moves and sequences previewing what’s to come, slowly growing in intensity as the end approaches, everything continuing the storyline of the match, and finally reaching the epic end as the everyone is dead-center in the storm.
This is not a match one watches in a vacuum. Context is of absolute importance. This is champion vs. champion, as Okada represents NJPW and Marufuji represents Pro-Wrestling NOAH. Understanding both men’s movesets is of importance too, as Marufuji deliberately tries to cripple Okada from using his devastating finisher. Even understanding a ghastly insult Okada utilizes towards the end in using a signature move of Pro-Wrestling NOAH’s founder, Mitsuharu Misawa, against Marufuji himself. Most often, the greatest wrestling matches excel in subtlety which can only be picked up upon when the viewer has in-depth knowledge of the product or the performers — this applies double to Japanese wrestling.
Here we had another G1 Climax rematch. On the very first night of the tournament, Marufuji picked up the upset victory over Okada. The first match was a fantastic one, and the fact the pair managed to exceed it by such a noticeable degree was both surprising and incredibly impressive. They took what was one of the top 10 standout matches of the tournament and in the rematch put forth a legitimate Match of the Year contender. It probably won’t win that honor because, somehow, another couple matches this year overshadow it, but it is going to be tough to knock this one out of the year-end top 10.
If you have a knowledge of Japanese wrestling that you can articulate to another person and the means to explain and describe it within this match, this really is a marquee match to highlight everything great about Japanese wrestling to a newcomer of the genre.