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 of match from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, available in full for subscribers. Also, a big shoutout to Cagematch.net who makes research for this ridiculously easy. Please support them in any way you can.
And now, enjoy looking back at the first part 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.
Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega
NJPW U.S. Championship | No DQ
NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 12 | January 4, 2018
“Wrestle Kingdom 12, headlined by Kazuchika Okada’s retaining the IWGP title over Tetsuya Naito and Kenny Omega beating Chris Jericho in a U.S. title match was the biggest non-WWE pro wrestling event on a worldwide basis since the collapse of WCW.
The appearance of Jericho brought a new fan base that watched new Japan for the first time, either on New Japan World, AXS TV, or through other means. It wasn’t just the idea that a WWE star was facing a New Japan star in the “Alpha vs. Omega” match, but the brilliance in which the angle played out. You could have a bigger WWE star like Roman Reigns, John Cena, or Brock Lesnar face a New Japan star, and it’s extremely doubtful they’d have drawn the same money just because the angles and storylines wouldn’t have been as good. It wasn’t WWE vs. New Japan that was the main draw, although it was an underlying theme. It was more a newly-reinvented Jericho and the series of angles that built to the match, combined with Omega becoming such a strong underground draw in the U.S. It was also the work of serious hard promotion.
In many ways, it was a career climax for Jericho. He’s been in tons of big shows before, headlining many PPVs in WWE. He was a key part of several WrestleManias and in the main event position in one, in 2002, with HHH, although the real main event on that show was Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock. Nevertheless, with the show billed as a double main event, Jericho did join only Ric Flair and Brock Lesnar as men who have headlined both a New Japan Tokyo Dome show (Hulk Hogan headlined an SWS show in that building and was on a few New Japan shows, but never in the main event) and a WrestleMania.”
Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade Cien Almas
NXT TakeOver | January 27, 2018
“Several months ago, I saw Andrade Cien Almas and Johnny Gargano work the opening match at an NXT house show in San Jose and they had one of the best WWE house matches I’d seen in years. Reports of their matches from other cities was similar.
The idea that the two would get to work in a main event position on a TakeOver show was as close to a guarantee of a great match and the probable WWE match of the weekend if not the pro wrestling match of the weekend. But it delivered all of that and more in a classic that ended when Almas drove the back of Gargano’s head into the ring post with double knees on the apron, and followed with his second hammerlock DDT for the pin.
Gargano’s selling and ability to engage the crowd was really the story of the match. While Almas was outstanding, and has completely turned around his WWE fortunes since being put with Zelina Vega, it was Gargano’s crowd connection that made it special.
It becomes an interesting question of what is next for Gargano because Sami Zayn and Bayley were the last NXT stars to have that kind of a crowd reaction and both sputtered as babyfaces on the main roster. It was also notable that Gargano wasn’t put in the Royal Rumble, where he’d have torn the house down if he had come out.
This was really an incredible, almost flawless match.”
Golden Lovers (Omega/Ibushi) vs. Young Bucks (Nick and Matt Jackson)
NJPW Strong Style Evolved | March 25, 2018
“It was the main event that stole the show. It was a unique match, because from a storytelling standpoint, with the pained facial expressions and mixed feelings by Kenny Omega in particular, and Matt Jackson to a degree, it in that realm was the closest thing to that type of a match since the Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair match at the 2008 WrestleMania. But this match was athletically and technically in a different world from that one. The match story was that Matt Jackson refused to lose even taking incredible punishment on his injured back. Omega had mixed feelings about hurting his longtime friend. Reality also struck in the match as Ibushi may have suffered a concussion. He completely missed his spot on the double golden triangle moonsault off the middle rope. Omega hit his on Nick.
Then he tried to improvise doing it off the apron and Matt wasn’t there. He eventually just threw Matt down. Then came the “You can’t escape” spot, but Ibushi hit the moonsault off the middle rope after the double fireman’s carry. Omega then went for a moonsault but Ibushi didn’t get out of the way in time and they bonked heads. Omega ended up with swelling under his right eye and at first thought he broke his orbital bone. Ibushi may have gotten hurt on that spot as well, but ended with a busted lip. With Matt selling a very legit back injury (he also had a neck injury stemming from his last match in New York) it was up to Nick to carry the load when it comes to all the high flying spots the team is known for and while Omega and Matt were the emotional stars, Nick was the athletic star of the match.
After 39:21, Omega & Ibushi both pinned Matt after the Golden trigger, a double knee strike. Cody then came out and yelled at the Young Bucks for losing. He threw down Nick. Omega & Ibushi ran in and chased Cody away. Omega shook hands with Nick, but Matt refused to shake Omega’s hand. Omega then closed the show, saying that this wasn’t a happy world, but the Golden Lovers are back to stay. He said that he would make sure both he and Ibushi were in a big match when they return (the Cow Palace show), and said people like Cody are only good at talking and that he would beat the ever loving poop out of him.”
Marty Scurll vs. Will Ospreay
NJPW Junior Heavyweight Championship
NJPW Sakura Genesis | April 1, 2018
“Will Ospreay and Marty Scurll have had one of the best in-ring rivalries in wrestling over the past several years. It was their series in the U.K., where Scurll won every time in some of the best bouts seen in that country, that, along with Ospreay’s loss to Kazuchika Okada, really put him on the map as one of the best young talents.
On 4/1, the two had what would be their biggest singles match to date, a battle for Ospreay’s IWGP jr. title at Sumo Hall, in one of the key matches of the Sakura Genesis show.
The match in many ways was not just a match of the year candidate, but the first match this year to in some ways rival with Okada-Kenny Omega level of 2017.
On the flip side, in going more than 30:00 of a match where the story was Scurll working over Ospreay’s neck, Ospreay took some dangerous looking falls that were concerning. It seemed to continue the narrative that Ospreay is headed to be this generation’s Dynamite Kid, an incredible talent whose style of giving so much of himself in the ring led to his body turning on him at a young age, and a short career.
Late in the match, Ospreay went for a Spanish fly off the apron. In doing so, instead of landing on the floor, his head hit the apron at a bad angle. It was more than just concerning. In the locker room, the talent, those who had seen Yoshitatsu’s career nearly end with a broken neck a few years back when he took an A.J. Styles Styles clash wrong, got flashbacks of that. At press time, it appears Ospreay’s injuries weren’t serious, since he sent word that he’s going to do his complete WrestleMania week schedule.
Ospreay continued the match and didn’t feel badly in the ring, continuing to sell the neck as part of the match story, and working with his head all bloody. If anything, the concern over the injury and visual of the blood created more drama to many, and scared many others. I’m not sure being scared for someone’s safety and long-term is the kind of emotion one is looking for, but it’s the one he’s getting and it’s the same feeling I had when Ospreay faced Hiromu Takahashi in a title defense. You have the conflict because the matches are incredible, but if you say they’re incredible it feels like it’s encouraging those type of risks.
The reality is if you took the really dangerous spots out of Ospreay’s matches with Takahashi and Scurll, they would still be two of this year’s best matches. Yet, on the flip side, what will make people remember Ospreay vs. Scurll more than the plethora of incredible matches pro wrestling now produces on a weekly basis is that Spanish fly spot, and Ospreay continuing while being bloodied up.”
Adam Cole vs. EC3 vs. Killian Dain vs. Lars Sullivan vs. Ricochet vs. Velveteen Dream
NXT North American Championship Ladder Match
NXT TakeOver | April 7, 2018
“The storyline on EC 3 is that he comes from a family that owns a number of restaurants and other commercial properties, so he’s doing the same rich kid character as in TNA. They tried to initially put him over strong to the audience as a heel, particularly since they knew this crowd would never boo him. The place went nuts when Ricochet was introduced last. The crowd was jacked before the match ever started, and they stayed hot throughout.
I won’t go so far to say it was the best ladder match period. There were risky spots for sure, and it was very physical, but previous ladder matches that had more dangerous stunts. But this topped it with the athletic big men in Sullivan and Dain, the ridiculous athleticism of Ricochet, and Cole came across as a real superstar personality wise with this crowd.”
A-Kid vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
White Wolf Wrestling | April 14, 2018
Outside putting over the match on Wrestling Observer Radio and briefly in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave didn’t do a full review as he saw the match months after it happened. You can watch the match free on YouTube.
Watch for more Best of 2018 on the website all week long.