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  • Connor Ewens

My Top 11 Matches of 2023...so far

The title is self-explanatory. We've crossed the half way threshold of the year and in the context of wrestling, it's been a pretty great year. We've been treated to a contender for top 5 Wrestlemania's ever, AEW continue their expansion announcing a show at FUCKING WEMBLEY of all places. New Japan carry on their scheduled programming of battering the puroresu piss out of each other, whilst the rest of the wrestling scene continues to display hidden gems of shows and matches for anyone to enjoy. Here are my favourites so far. Now, I've watched A LOT of wrestling but I can't watch it all, so I'm sure I've missed your favourite match. If I have missed your favourite match, sorry pal, write to me about it.


Honourable Mentions:

Kenny Omega vs Will Opsreay, Wrestle Kingdom 17 & MJF vs Bryan Danielson, AEW Revolution

I'm sorry wrestling fans but I still haven't seen either of these shows. I know, disgraceful. Truth is that I fell out of love a little with AEW late last year, with so much media attention due to backstage drama I felt the on screen product suffered for it. I've recently gotten back into watching the main shows and certain TV matches, as well as attending the All In show in London. With New Japan, I just never made the time to watch WK17 and struggled to find the time since whilst keeping up with the product going forward. I thought I'd at least give these matches a mention because people call MJF vs Danielson the best Iron Man match, maybe ever? Then Omega & Ospreay nearly tore down the Tokyo Dome with their expected classic in wrestling perfection. On with my top 11.


11) Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn vs Roman Reigns & Solo Sikoa, WWE Night of Champions / The Uso's vs Roman Reigns vs Solo Sikoa, WWE Money in the Bank

Look, whittling this list down to 11 was hard enough. I CANNOT choose between these two matches, so they're both going here at 11. Don't @ me hoe. These two matches are so similar yet so different at the same time. Similar because of a beautifully told narrative going in to the match that developed and blossomed into sheer storytelling perfection. Different because one was the final paragraph in a chapter all about revenge, whilst the other was deep in the depths of a new chapter all about pride and redemption. Similar AND different because both matches had high stakes in unique, personal ways. KO & Sami were not only defending their tag championships, but aiming to tie a nice little bow with a victory over the man who had caused them so much pain and anguish. The Uso's on the other hand, only recently FINALLY breaking out of the spell cast by their Tribal Chief, realising their worth and superkicking their week notice period right into Roman's jawline. Both are phenomenal tag team matches, filled with drama and poetic nuances with perfect pay offs. Sami & Kevin finally earning a victory over Roman Reigns when they vote tried on their own and failed. The Uso's not only proved their worth with a victory, but Main Event Jey Uso raised his stock by being to first person to pin Roman Reigns since December of 2019. Remember that? Baron Corbin & the dog food? Wrestling's weird. These matches are not though, they're masterpieces of narrative-driven entertainment.


10) Bishamon vs Aussie Open, NJPW Sakura Genesis

Accidents in wrestling are never good, they can usually derail a match or change things on the fly that have significantly bad ramifications. I'm looking at you Danielson and you're fake seizure. Sometimes though, an accident can be like lightning in a bottle that elevates the match or the wrestler involved. Case in point, this match between veteran champions Bishamon taking on arguably the hottest prospect in tag wrestling, Aussie Open. After only minutes of stiff action, Kyle Fletcher soars with a huge moonsault to the outside and cracks his head off the guard rail. You can hear it, you can bloody feel it. Ouch guardrail, you bit my fucking skull. His head gushes with blood temporarily leaving Mark Davis to fight alone. However Fletcher gets his head wrapped up and rejoins the fight. It was quite an evenly split crowd between the two teams, but the sheer resiliency and determination solidly put Aussie Open as the crowd favourite to overcome adversity and walk away with thr gold. They proceeded to put on a BANGER of a tag match, teasing a Bishamon victory over and over but alas our boys down under prevail with a hard fought victory. Unfortunately those titles would be vacated soon after due to Davis picking up an injury. Can't catch a break you Aussie's can ya?


9) Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Tomohiro Ishii vs Blackpool Combat Club, NJPW Dominion

We continue with ANOTHER tag team match on the list, which I think really speaks to how elevated tag team wrestling is compared to 5 year ago. AEW deserves a lot of credit for that. New Japan never neglected the tag division like WWE did, in fact the Jr Heavyweight tag titles used to be the best match on the show some years back. They never felt like a major part of the card though, almost something they HAD to include rather than wanted to. The Openweight has often felt like an afterthought, that's until Strong Style got a hold of them. They had a great match against the legend ensemble of Okada, Tanahashi & Ishii but this match is better for me. Shota Umino has been on a roll character wise as he has targeted Okada prior to this match, but after losing essentially called in his dad John and Uncle Tony to beat up the bullies for him. The match is great, because of course it is when 5 of the 6 wrestlers are among the best in the world today. Not only do we get old flames relit as Moxley clashed with Tanahashi & Ishii, but we got a clash that the wrestling world has been salivating for since Claudio stopped being Cesaro. Castagnoli, in his first New Japan match no less, standing across the ring from the Rainmaker himself. Holy shit. A corker of a match that is every thing you could possibly want out of this match, including Claudio swinging Okada around like a child. Great fun.


8) Bad Bunny vs Damien Priest, Backlash

Poor celebrity wrestlers pre-2021. Some of them have wrestling the good college try and were really proud of the effort they put in, even if the end product was often mediocre at best. Then global musical sensation Bad Bunny appeared, told all previous celebrity wrestlers to hold his microphone whilst he nails John Morrison with bloody Canadian Destroyer! I mean, fucking hell Mr Bunny! Bad Bunny, and Logan Paul too to be fair, have reinvented what it means for a celebrity to come in and take part in the wrestling product. They really care, they really try and oh boy can they really go! Perfect example is this match, taking place in front of his home country of Puerto Rico, Bad Bunny not only put on a great match but the Best match of the entire night. He and Damien Priest tore the house down in front of one of the loudest crowds for a WWE match in recent history. An excitingly excellent showdown with plenty of fun spots and use of weapons. Credit goes to both men for their efforts. On top of that, the recently reformed LWO even the odds against the Judgment Day by bringing out the spitter of fruits Carlito and the legendary Savio Vega, to a rapturous response. Was this match overbooked nonsense? Yes, but it was fucking excellent and I loved every minute of it.


7) Ilja Dragunov vs Dijak, NXT Battleground

Ilja Dragunov is one of my favourite wrestlers. I met him once and he was very nice, and scary but a delightful guy. Also, he's fucking excellent in ring. One of the best performers in WWE and has one of the best uses of body language I've ever seen. His facial expressions and non-verbal communication really sells the war he's enduring or the emotions he's feeling. Dragunov & Dijak had been feuding for some time, culminating with this blow off match, a Last Man Standing match. This was brutal as Ilja and the artist formerly known as T-Bar tore each other apart with anything the could find. This match probably makes the most use out of steel steps successfully over any other match I've seen. This just has so many wincing moments that make you literally say "Holy shit". The CLUNK of Dragunov as he is spiked on the steel steps. Dijak hold a table and Ilja just YEETING himself like a cannonball through it and him in a hilarious spot I've never seen before. They truly punish each other, with Ilja landing the killing blow with a super diving forearm smash to the skull. This is the best NXT match I've seen in quite some time.


6) Mercedes Mone vs AZM vs Hazuki, NJPW Sakura Genesis

Ever since Mercedes and Trinity stuck up proverbial middle fingers at Vince and his shoddy plans for them and the Women's division, speculation was high on where they would go and what they would do. AEW was the obvious rumour, Trinity surprisingly ended up in Impact which is a huge get for the promotion that never dies. But perhaps even more surprisingly was Mercedes Mone appearing in the crowd for Wrestle Kingdom 17 and issuing a challenge to KAIRI for the IWGP Women's Championship. New Japan only recently put a spotlight on women's wrestling after Bushiroad purchased Stardom in 2019, giving them a slot on some of their major shows. Acquiring Mercedes Mone is a huge get to inject some star power into the division to help gain more popularity with the Western audience. Mercedes' match against KAIRI is critically acclaimed, but I haven't watched it. I did however watch the triple threat match at this show, and it slaps! My first time watching AZM & Hazuki and I was not disappointed, two of the best Stardom have to offer putting in a tremendous effort as these three clobber each other to death for our entertainment. It's far from the cleanest match ever but the work rate is insanely high. Plenty of nearfalls, plenty of submissions and double submissions. Close to being my favourite women's match of the year so far, if it wasn't for a certain Queen and a certain "Mami". We'll talk about that later.


5) MJF vs Jungle Boy vs Sammy Guevara vs Darby Allin, AEW Double or Nothing

If you've read my review of AEW Double or Nothing, you'll know that I was overall a little disappointed with the show from top to bottom. Some questionable booking decisions and disappointing matches brought down the show on average. However, the show was saved by the final two matches on the show. While the main event saw a thrilling clusterfuck between the Elite & the BCC, the Pillars Four-way for the prized jewel of AEW was the best match on the show. The build up was bad and unnecessarily convoluted, but all of that was forgiven as four of wrestling's brightest stars proved why they are the future of wrestling. Near 30 minutes of liquid sequences and interesting character development. MJF being the best heel and best performer on the scene today, as expected. Sammy Guevara being on of the most agile performers on the roster, as per usual. Darby Allin continues to be AEW's most resilient fighter taking heaves of punishment yet always coming back for more. Then Jungle Boy, not only a fantastic performance but also questioning his moral compass, which ultimately cost him his biggest opportunity to win the match. This match is ridiculous levels of fun, that 4-way submission spot as well as everyone taking turns to hit the same moves on each other, just marvelous.


4) Sheamus vs Drew McIntyre vs Gunther, Wrestlemania 39

3 of the next 4 matches happened at Wrestlemania 39, which speaks volumes to how good that show was even with a disappointing ending to night 2. Honestly it's a toss up between these next 4 matches for what is my favourite, they're all really good. We'll start here, with possibly the greatest Intercontinental Championship match of all time. When this match was announced, every bloodthirsty fan got excited at the prospect of an Austrian, a Scotsman and an Irish man walking into the a ring and buffing each other right in their European chops. This match is proof that wrestling doesn't have to be all that complicated. Yes a compelling narrative driven match can generate loud reactions, but sometimes all you need is a group of wrestlers with uncanny levels of chemistry and uncanny levels of beef to hit other beef with. A 15+ minute fight for the workhorse championship, and I loved it so very much. Sheamus clobbering Drew with not 10 beats of the Bodhran, not 20 beats of the Bodhran, but 29 bloody beats to Drew's poor Scottish chest. The crowd chanting along for every beat. A sensational by all 3 men getting us to bite at every nearfall, even if Gunther retaining felt like a certainty, which is credit to Gunther for being able to maintain that. The IC title has never felt this elevated since the 90s. If you like fighty fighty men, this one's for you.


3) Rhea Ripley vs Charlotte Flair, Wrestlemania 39

From one of the best IC title matches of all time, to one of the best Women's matches in WWE history. There was a little essence of hesitation when this match was confirmed. These two fought at Wrestlemania a few years ago and although the match was good, the result was wrong and it seemingly derailed Rhea's momentum for sometime. You can't hold a Mami down however, as she would explode with popularity as a part of the Judgement Day. This match is the fucking tits. Charlotte gets a lot of stick from wrestling fans, but how she's been booked isn't largely her fault. We cannot forget how amazing of a performer she is. She is though, seriously the best female in-ring performer in WWE history. This match went beyond face and heel dynamics, this was about finally cementing Rhea is a top woman in the company and they did so perfectly. The reversals, the nearfalls, all fantastic displays of how good these two are. With Charlotte involved you're never sure if she's going to lose, which only added to the excitement of Rhea eventually winning. You can see on Charlotte's face after the match when she's sat outside smiling to herself, how damn proud she is of the clinic those two put on. Chef kisses all round.


2) Kenny Omega vs Will Ospreay, AEW x NJPW Forbidden Door

CHRIST this match is good, probably the best match of the year so far from an in-ring perspective. Hype was extremely high for this match because of how critical acclaimed their first encounter was and this did not fail to meet and exceed those expectations. This was pure greatness in front of our very eyes. This match is seconds shy from the 40 minute mark, and it doesn't drag for a second. Transitioning from a wrestling match, to a violent fight and right back to a contest of who is the better wrestler. The false finishes in this are AMAZING. Don Callis being able to come out and help Ospreay cheat even though he was barred was a little iffy, but the kickout after the use of a screwdriver sent the Canadian crowd insane. Then the kickout at one by Omega after Ospreay used the one-winged angel, a brilliant moment of sheer defiance by Omega to not be disrespected. This is a roller-coaster of violence with little callbacks to their previous encounter and it was amazing. If they do Omega vs Ospreay III, especially in Wembley Stadium, that's going to be another classic I'm sure. However, whilst this maybe the BEST match of the year so far, have 1 match that is narrowly a sentimental favourite...



1) Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn vs The Uso's, Wrestlemania 39

The first ever time tag team Championships had headlined a Wrestlemania, a historic moment. One of the final entries in a chapter of WWE most well told, compelling long-term storyline in decades. A beautiful new chapter, in friends turned enemies turned friends story that has been told for YEARS. There is so much to this match that I love. There's just so much fan investment, WWE investment and wrestler investment involved that this is one of the most emotional matches of all time. The first time someone kicks out of the 1D in this match. Then there is the stunner kick out, the double splash kick out and finally the poetic closing sequence as Zayn helluva kicks former friend Jey and holds him up, a spot he did with his best friend KO when they were feuding, before nailing him again for the win. There isn't much I can say to give this justice. If you haven't seen it, go see it. This is soap opera wrestling at its finest.


Well that's my rankings for the best of the year so far, what are your favourite matches? I'm interested to hear. Impact have Slammiversary this weekend so expect a review article next week. Until then, see ya!

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