Throughout the week leading into December 31st, we’ll take you back to some of Dave Meltzer’s top-rated matches of the past year, starting with the five star matches and ending up with a seven star classic.
We kick off with our floor: five star ratings. In 2018, 15 matches got that honor, a mix of New Japan Pro Wrestling, NXT, and even an indie group out of Spain.
What follows are edited versions of Dave’s writeups from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, available in full for subscribers. Also, a big shoutout to Cagematch.net who makes research for this ridiculously easy.
And now, enjoy looking back at part two of three of Dave’s five star matches from 2018 in the order in which they happened. Based on this list alone, it was a hell of a year. Here’s part 1 and part 2 if you missed it.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada
NJPW G1 Climax finals | August 10, 2018
“Tanahashi went to a 30:00 draw with Okada in the A block final. Because Tanahashi came in with a 7-1 record and Okada at 6-2, Tanahashi only needed a draw to win. Tanahashi vs. Okada at this point has to be considered among the greatest long-term programs in wrestling history. Nearly every match has been a match of the year candidate, ironically, perhaps except this one because of what a freaky year this has been. Still, this was a tremendous match with the story that Tanahashi hit the high fly flow to the back, but Okada kicked out, just as time expired.
Tanahashi needed the visual of being strong to go to the final and, in theory, if he goes all the way to the Tokyo Dome main event. You could argue for the win to make it more clear, but it appears the plan now, based on Tanahashi at the press conference, is to do Tanahashi vs. Okada for the briefcase sometime this fall with the idea of a longer time limit match and thus the draw and not doing the pin makes long-term sense.
So the draw accomplished two things. The first is it leaves an opening for Okada to still be in the title match at the Tokyo Dome, as he’s been every year since 2013. Okada is coming off his record-setting title run, and since losing the title, he has not gotten a rematch. The draw was a surprise if only because Tanahashi and Okada had draws in their last two G-1 matches, in 2013 and 2016 and you just wouldn’t think they’d do it again. But the key is that in the Tanahashi vs. Okada program, Tanahashi hasn’t beaten Okada since January 4, 2015, and given that pretty much every match that has had a finish has been past the 30:00 mark there is a story there as well.
There was the belief earlier this year that maybe, with Okada becoming the clear major star, that he never would never lose to Tanahashi again. But very clearly, this will be the biggest briefcase match in history.
I would not say this was the best match of G-1, although some would. In some ways it was my favorite, because as far as a match where every single move meant something, this was pretty much textbook. It was paced perfectly and while hard hitting and very physical, it was never scary at any time. But as big as this seemed, the next two nights rocked the crowd more.”
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada
IWGP Title Shot Contract On The Line
NJPW Destruction In Kobe | September 23, 2018
“The story behind the match is that this was their 13th career singles match, and Okada came in with a 5-4 edge in wins with three of the matches being 30 minute draws in G-1 competition. But Tanahashi hadn’t beaten Okada since January 4, 2015, nearly four years ago. Also, every match the two have had in at least six years has gone either to a 30 minute draw or longer.
With three high-profile big show classics in one year, this feud is very much like Okada vs. Omega in 2017 and Flair vs. Steamboat in 1989. It’s all a matter of opinion, but I’d rate the May match the best because of the story elements which I think is the best of the 13 matches the two have had. This was a different match, but similar in quality to the G-1 match. It would be among the best of the series, but not top three.
The crowd was pro-Tanahashi in a big way. Tanahashi dropkicked Okada off the apron and hit a pescado, but in doing so, started selling the left knee. His ability to sell the left knee with his facial expressions is as good as anyone. Okada started doing some Negro Navarro style knee submissions. Okada dropkicked the knee as Tanahashi hung upside down in the corner, and used a kneebreaker and a figure four. Tanahashi reversed the figure four and the two rolled into the ropes. They were fighting on the floor, when, out of nowhere, Tanahashi gave Okada a tombstone piledriver on the floor. The story is Tanahashi could have won via count out, but instead did a high fly flow to the floor, and of course, his knee went out, leading to him selling the knee like crazy. As far as the ability to produce a long dramatic match where every move means something, Tanahashi is one of the greatest of all-time.
Both were fighting over a tombstone piledriver but couldn’t get it until Okada dropkicked Tanahashi in the left knee. They each kept reversing out of big moves. Okada chop blocked the knee, but Tanahashi hit a sling blade as Okada went for the rainmaker. Tanahashi went for a high fly flow but Okada got up and dropkicked him and hit the tombstone. But Okada’s left knee went out. Tanahashi ducked two rainmakers but Okada finally hit a spinning rainmaker. He went for another rainmaker but Tanahashi hit the dragon suplex for a near fall. Tanahashi went to the top rope but Okada dropkicked him. Okada teased a tombstone piledriver off the middle rope, and then a gut wrench superplex but Tanahashi blocked. Okada fell off the ropes and as he was falling, Tanahashi jumped off and crushed him with a high fly flow. Tanahashi went to the top, but Okada got to his knees, not standing, and was hit with another high fly flow. Tanahashi did a third one on the prone Okada for the pin.”
Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi
NJPW Fighting Spirit Unleashed | September 30, 2018
“The tag team main event where Omega & Ibushi beat Okada & Ishii had four of maybe the six best wrestlers in the world right now, and it was perhaps the best tag team match of the year. Really, the Omega & Ibushi vs. Young Bucks match in the same building would be its challenger. They were very different. This past week’s match was crisper and reached more of a fever pitch in the New Japan realistic style and had the great explosive moves at the right time. The prior match had a unique emotional element, was built with a most in-depth story going in and was longer and told more of a story. It’s really a matter of taste.
This was a great match. The story was to keep Omega and Okada apart for most of the match as this was the first time the two were in the same match in the U.S. So a lot of early action was Ibushi vs. Ishii. The one thing about this match is that every combination, Omega vs Okada, Omega vs. Ishii, Ishii vs. Ibushi and Ibushi vs. Okada, give you constant match of the year level action and intensity. Omega did an ugly DDT on Ishii and got up limping but that didn’t play a part in the match. Omega & Ibushi did the golden triangle, which was Omega giving Okada a moonsault off the middle rope to the floor and Ibushi doing the same to Ishii. At 13:00, Omega and Okada finally squared off and started throwing the elbows. They did a series of reversals until Omega hit the snap dragon suplex. Okada hit a dropkick on Omega and went for the rainmaker, but Ibushi saved.
Omega used a V trigger and Ibushi a moonsault on Okada. Ibushi did a plancha on Ishii. After a series of reversals, Okada hit the tombstone on Omega and Ishii followed with a sliding lariat on Omega, but Ibushi saved. Okada went for the rainmaker but Omega ducked and hit a uranage. Ishii and Ibushi started trading elbows. Ibushi did a standing double knees moonsault on Ishii. Omega picked up Ishii and power bombed him into a moonsault by Ibushi for a near fall. Okada went for a dropkick and Omega stepped back, caught him and power bombed him, and Ibushi followed with a Pele kick. Ibushi and Ishii did another crazy exchange and blows that was ridiculous. Ibushi was bleeding from the mouth.
Ibushi went for the Kamagoye but Ishii ducked and went for a German suplex, but Ibushi landed on his feet and clotheslined him back. It ended when Omega hit a high kick on Ishii and Omega & Ibushi did the double golden trigger for the pin. Omega then did an interview with The Young Bucks in the ring and talked about wrestling Ibushi when Cody came out to set up the three-way and then Omega ended the show.”
Hiroshi Tanahashi and Will Ospreay vs. Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi
NJPW Road To The Tokyo Dome | December 15, 2018
“The 12/15 show featured the annual dream tag team match, and this year’s version may have been the best tag team match of the year. The best tag match of the year to me was Young Bucks vs. Omega & Ibushi, largely due to the storytelling. But as far as crisp action and excitement, Omega & Ibushi’s win over Tanahashi & Ospreay was better. Ospreay, who was pinned by Omega’s One Winged Angel in 28:46, was the star of the match with his fire, facial expressions, and intensity. The big spot was Ibushi doing a ropewalk super Frankensteiner off the top and Ospreay flew over and landed on his feet. The camera work captured this amazingly as Ibushi made his face that seemed to say, “I hear the crowd but as long as I don’t turn around I can pretend he didn’t do that.” So, Omega opened 2018 with a ***** match and ended it with a ***** match. The show ended with Omega & Ibushi doing a promo which included Omega singing and snow coming down from the ceiling.”
Starting Saturday and twice a day, we begin our dive into Dave’s top six rated matches of the year, all above the ***** mark.