Greatest Matches Ever: 2017 (Q1)

Greatest Matches Ever: 2017 (Q1)

Welcome to our Greatest Matches Ever series for Q1 of 2017, where we’ll cover the greatest wrestling matches from January, February, and March.

What else can you say about a quarter in which we had perhaps the greatest wrestling match of all-time?  This quarter was simply phenomenal when it came to great wrestling matches, and there appears to be plenty more on the horizon.

The only disappointing thing of Q1 is that there’s zero suspense when it comes to who got the top spot.  In fact, it’s a safe bet Okada vs Omega will be the #1 match for all of 2017.  But we’ll have a great time watching and documenting all the matches trying to claim those honors from them.  It was a strong quarter for all the major promotions, with the UK scene rightfully gaining more notice and exposure for all the great matches they’re churning out on a regular basis.


**NOTE: Matches from PWG are not included yet because the DVD of their March show has not been released.

Without further ado, let’s get on with the list.  Matches are listed in chronological order.  First up is the top 5:

Top 5 Matches of 2017 (Q1)

1. Kazuchika Okada vs Kenny Omega ****** (NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11) – January 4 
2. Tetsuya Naito vs Michael Elgin ***** (NJPW New Beginning in Osaka) – February 11
3. AJ Styles vs John Cena ****3/4 (WWE Royal Rumble) – January 29
4. Kenny Omega vs Tomohiro Ishii ****3/4 (NJPW New Japan Cup – Day 2) – March 12
5. Kazuchika Okada vs Minoru Suzuki ****3/4 (NJPW New Beginning in Sapporo) – February 5

Honorable mention: Tatsuya Naito vs Hiroshi Tanahashi ****1/2 (NJPW WrestleKingdom 11) – January 4


January 2017

Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi vs Kohei Sato & Shuji Ishikawa
****1/4

January 2, 2016
Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan
Big Japan Pro Wrestling
TV Taping
Big Japan Tag Team Championship

Sekimoto is a powerhouse, with a neck and traps that bring to mind Don Muraco and Bill Goldberg. Unfortunately he’s got the height of Kevin Sullivan, but he’s still a sight to behold. Okabayashi isn’t too far behind.

Sato, however, has the physique of James Ellsworth. And shikawa has a back so scarred up that it could pass for Dusty Rhodes’s forehead. But they’re all smooth workers and this was a great match.

The only problem was the sick headbutts delivered by Ishikawa. He delivered two sets that looked brutal and it’s amazing Sekimoto didn’t bleed immediately. But then a little bit later he DID bleed immediately from a nasty headbutt, just before they went right to the finish.

Hiromu Takahashi vs Kushida
****1/2

January 4, 2017
Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan
New Japan Pro Wrestling
WrestleKingdom 11
Stipulations: IWGP Junior Championship

Since WrestleKingdom is New Japan’s WrestleMania, the guys on the card pull out all the stops just like they do in WWE. In this case that included some very dangerous, and outright stupid, spots. The match was excellent, and in particular Kushida was in top form to go along with Kamaitachi’s new persona as Hiromu Takahashi. Still, the bumps they took are guaranteed to shorten their careers.

“Highlights” were Kushida taking a sunset flip off the apron and onto the floor, nearly concussing himself in the process. Later Takahashi came off the top rope to the floor and landed right on his tailbone. There was one botched spot, the Frankensteiner off the top rope that spills onto the outside floor, which TJ Perkins uses in almost every match but they couldn’t make it work here. Aside from that, what they did was spectacular.

One positive of the match was they allowed time to let fans breathe and soak in each spot, with plenty of very good selling so that the spots meant something and were memorable. Usually in these matches you see guys rush from spot to spot to where you want to enjoy each one, but can’t because just as it sinks in, they’re onto the next one with no selling. That didn’t happen here, and let’s hope it’s a sign of things to come, at least in New Japan.

Takahashi is an effective member of LIJ, and Kushida, even losing the title here, got over pretty well. He’s really just a shade below some of the best in the world.

Hirooki Goto vs Katsuyori Shibata
****1/2

January 4, 2017
Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan
New Japan Pro Wrestling
WrestleKingdom 11
Stipulations: Never Openweight Championship

I wonder if anyone told Shibata that pro wrestling is a work, because he sure wrestles like anything but. Is it any wonder his body is all banged up.

This was your typical Shibata big show match, which means it was awesome, stiff, brutal, hard hitting, and heated. Goto was a great opponent for him for this style and gave it right back to him with pleasure. And he went over here, winning the Never title. Crowd loved the match, but again you have to question the longevity these two are going to have in working matches like this, even sporadically.

Tetsuya Naito vs Hiroshi Tanahashi
****1/2

January 4, 2017
Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan
New Japan Pro Wrestling
WrestleKingdom 11
Stipulations: IWGP Intercontinental Championship

When you pit two top-ten workers against each other on the biggest Japanese show of the year, in the semi main event, this is what you get. Tremendous title match with tons of heat, textbook psychology and all around excellence.

This match was so good that Okada and Omega had to slow down their own match in the beginning to bring the crowd down (before building them up again). Whereas the IWGP Jr title match was cruiserweight style, and the Shibata-Goto match was stiff potato-fest, this was more in line with your classic Tokyo Dome main event style. It’s the style these two worked perfectly, and if it had been the main event with nothing following it, people still would’ve gone home happy.

It has been said before, but the real tragedy of WrestleKingdom 11 is that this match was criminally overlooked in favor of the now-legendary Okada-Omega match that followed it. And that’s certainly understandable, but it’s a shame because these two busted their asses. At least here on The Armpit, we’ll make sure it gets the attention it deserves.

Kazuchika Okada vs Kenny Omega
******

January 4, 2017
Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan
New Japan Pro Wrestling
WrestleKingdom 11
Stipulations: IWGP Heavyweight Championship

This isn’t just the greatest match of all-time, but it’s not even close.

On the first viewing, I didn’t see it live but also hadn’t read any reviews yet or knew who won. When it was over I knew it was an easy five stars, and while I needed to watch it again before making any conclusive statement, I didn’t recall any particular match that topped i

On second viewing, there was simply no doubt. Whether you watch it in Japanese commentary, the Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino commentary, or the Jim Ross and Josh Barnett commentary, it doesn’t affect the quality of the match. There’s simply no other match in history that can match this one as an all-around classic that has every element a perfect match could possibly have.

It received six stars from Dave Meltzer; the first match ever to have done so. Watching it, you can sense when it hits the five-star mark. After that, they keep going for several more minutes and they just crush the star rating system altogether. Just when you think it can’t get any better or more heated, Omega delivers these sick knees and snap dragon suplexes that will leave your jaw on the floor.

The two started at an average pace, to pick the audience up from the ****1/2 match they had just seen (Naito vs Tanahashi). From then on, they selected a small group of very memorable, incredible spots. Omega’s somersault dive over the top rope, Omega’s brutal dropkick off the top rope, Okada backdropping him on a table outside the ring, Okada’s flying body press over the barricade, Omega’s unbelievable Ibushi moonsault outside the ring over the barricade, Omega’s double stop on the table, the dragon superplex (in slow motion you can see both mens’ heads crushing to the mat), and some more like the multiple Rainmakers with spin bumps, the spinning tombstone, the draping DDT on the outside floor, and two textbook Okada dropkicks.

Omega had put on Shawn Michaels-like performances all throughout 2016, but this time he kicked up a notch and put on a Kenny Omega performance. He bumped all around perfectly, and Okada was the perfect opponent because he knows how to sell and get the crowd into his matches, and he both took and delivered moves impeccably.

Words cannot do this match justice. We may never see it topped in our lifetimes. Omega became the hottest wrestler in the world on the heels of this match, even in defeat. His contract expired not long after, and for awhile he was banking on becoming the hottest free agent in years.

Not to ruin the suspense, but this will easily win Match of Q1, Match of the Year, Match of the Decade, and probably Match of the Century.

Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma & Katsuyori Shibata & Yuji Nagata & Juice Robinson vs Kazuchika Okada & Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii & Will Ospreay & Hirooki Goto
****

January 5, 2017
Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan
New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Year’s Dash

While this was very good, it’s far more memorable for the angle that followed it. Robinson got the surprise pin, and just as you thought they might be giving him a push in 2017, the old stable of Suzuki-Gun showed up to obliterate everyone.

Suzuki-Gun features veteran Minoru Suzuki as the leader, and others in the group include Lance Archer (Lance Hoyt aka Dallas from TNA), Davey Boy Smith Jr, Taka Michinoku, Taichi, Takashi Iizuka, Desperado, and Yoshinobu Kanemura. They idea is for Suzuki to be part of the IWGP Heavyweight title program in 2017, with his group feuding with Okada’s group.

The angle was very well done, and the crowd was buzzing moments before they hit the ring. It was a surprise that few expected, as Suzuki-Gun had been in NOAH for most of 2016. It does leave Omegas the odd man out after his career-making performance the night before, and it will be interesting to see how this all plays out. NJPW did need something fresh, and we’ll know in six months or so if this was the right booking move.

Match starts at the 47:00 mark of this video (and continues in the video after it):

Volador Jr vs Mephisto
****1/4

January 6, 2017
Arena Mexico in Mexico City, Mexico
CMLL
Arena Mexico Show

This was your typical Volador match, which is high praise. He did his usual spots, getting in the majority of offense in on Mephisto. While he does the same moves all the time, they are still spectacular, the crowd still loves seeing them, and women still love screaming for him.

Oh, the crowd. This match was so incredibly annoying with all the crowd shots. Seriously, it’s one thing to show fans for two seconds, but some of the shots were ten seconds. And that was fine when they panned in on beautiful women, but they didn’t always do that. It took away from the match quite a bit.

Valiente vs Ultimo Guerrero
****

January 6, 2017
Arena Mexico in Mexico City, Mexico
CMLL
Arena Mexico Show

Good match, very typical Friday night main event from CMLL. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but no complaints. Very heated and the guys moved around great. Even though fans in the match before treated Volador as a face, they cheered Guerrero here even though he wasn’t the face.

Marty Scurll & Pete Dunne & Travis Banks vs Will Ospreay & Shane Strickland & Ryan Smile
****1/4

January 8, 2017
Cockpit Theater in London, England
Revolution Pro
Live at the Cockpit 12

This was a perfect display of the kind of top tier talent on the UK indie scene right now. What shocked me most is that Ospreay was nowhere near the standout performer here. Instead it was Strickland and Smile who really stepped up and showed incredible grace and execution, along with the usual greatness from both Dunne and especially Scurll.

This turned into a super match, although they did way too much for what was needed. Tons of superkicks and multiple tombstones, that sort of thing. Cramming in all the spots without enough time to breathe, but what else is new. Still, this match really stood out as something special as it wore on, with several Holy Sh*t moments and highlight reel maneuvers.

This match is only available on RevPro’s streaming service, so you’ll need to sample that if you want to see it.

Pete Dunne vs Mark Andrews
****

January 15, 2017
Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, Lancashire, England
World Wrestling Entertainment
UK Championship Semifinal

This was the first of two great matches in the UK tournament, largely because they were allowed to do what they wanted. Dunne had some great matches last year, including one with Andrews that was in our Greatest Matches Ever Series. He was great here, as was Andrews with some cool moves you almost never see in WWE. These two have a lot of talent, but unfortunately are trapped in bodies that will never allow them to see their true potential. However they’re both benefitting from great timing, peaking as the UK wrestling scene is on fire.

Match is only available on the WWE Network, but here’s a clip:

Tyler Bate vs Pete Dunne
****1/2

January 15, 2017
Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, Lancashire, England
World Wrestling Entertainment
UK Championship Tournament
UK Championship Finals

This was the final match of the UK tournament, and it couldn’t have gone any better. The storyline was Bate’s shoulder was a mess, all taped up for the added realism effect.

Dunne was superb and it’s hard to believe he’s only 23. Well, it’s easy to believe if you look at his young face, acne and all. But in terms of in-ring proficiency, he’s good well beyond his years. That goes double for Bate, who’s still a teenager.

They worked a solid psychological match, building to the big spot where Bate, with his bad shoulder, lifted Dunne for a power bomb. People popped for that spot because of all they had done to build to it. The Fosbury flop dive was the other big spot, and they traded some big moves towards the end before Bate got the win. The drama over who would win really made the match more exciting, as the stakes were high. Big success for the company on this night, and judging by the crowd reaction, Bate was the right guy to win. Now let’s hope his height (about 5’-5” in real life) doesn’t stop him, or better yet, let’s hope he eeks out a couple more inches before he stops growing altogether.

Match is only available on the WWE Network, but here’s a clip:

Katsuyori Shibata vs Matt Riddle
****1/2

January 21, 2017
York Hall in London, England
Revolution Pro
High Stakes

To me the great thing about this wasn’t the match quality (it was great but I wouldn’t go ****1/2), but just the pure awe I was in of Riddle being this good this soon in his career. With his looks, body, and talent, he’s seemingly a can’t-miss star.

Riddle has the ability to appeal to women (so does Shibata, for that matter), which pro wrestling so badly needs right now because these indie shows are sausage fests. His shooter style is believable and works perfectly in a worked pro wrestling environment. If it were anybody else, he’d be called a pretty boy. But since he has the UFC background, everyone knows he’s a badass.

His style works perfectly with Shibata as well, so it’s not a surprise this was a great match. And the British crowd loved it, as Riddle has shown the ability to get over anywhere he goes. If he could just lay off the weed, he’d be a guaranteed WWE superstar if he wants to be.

This match is only available through Revolution Pro, so you’ll have to pay to see this one unfortunately.

Ultimo Guerrero & Euforia vs Mistico & Volador Jr
****

January 21, 2017
Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan
New Japan Pro Wrestling
Fantastica Mania Tour

Very much like your typical great Arena Mexico main event, but in front of an appreciative Japanese crowd. Volador is among the best fliers in the world, and Guerrero was terrific here as the veteran who can still hang with the younger guys. Some crazy huracanranas left and right, a few of which were awfully scary and had the crowd ooh’ing and ahh’ing the whole time. Very enjoyable match.

We couldn’t find this match online, so you’ll need to watch it on New Japan World.

Mistico vs Euforia
****

January 22, 2017
Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan
New Japan Pro Wrestling
Fantastica Mania Tour

This was an aerial display from Mistico, with Euforia as the other guy in the ring to set up the spots and take them like a man. Very little selling to speak of, but that’s not what this crowd wanted. They wanted huracanranas, and by God, they got them. Lots of them. Including one where Mistico walked into the stands and jumped off the bleacher onto Euforia. If you like spot after spot with no selling in between, this is for you.

We couldn’t find this match online, so you’ll need to watch it on New Japan World.

Volador Jr vs Ultimo Guerrero
****1/2

January 22, 2017
Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan
New Japan Pro Wrestling
Fantastica Mania Tour

Guerrero is such an amazing worker at his age, or any age for that matter. Volador is so criminally underrated as both a worker and seller, and his high spots are world class. These two work together so often that they have it down to a science, and the Japanese crowd was eating it up.

If anything, Guerrero got more cheers, probably because he’s such a legend and these fans are smart enough to know it and respect him for it. If ECW was still around, I could see these guys having a program there and it getting over huge. Volador kind of reminds me of Shaun Simpson, which is an obscure 80s reference, but with the agility and spectacular flying of a revved up Rey Mysterio if Mysterio didn’t have any knee injuries. He’s THE guy right now in Mexico and doesn’t get enough credit for it.

Tons of huracanranas and dives, and if you’ve never seen these men before, they do this every single month at Arena Mexico. It played well here and you really need to see this.

We couldn’t find this match online, so you’ll need to watch it on New Japan World.

Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma & Katsuyori Shibata & Juice Robinson vs Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii & Hirooki Goto & Will Ospreay
****

January 27, 2017
Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan
New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to New Beginning

Hot open with Ospreay and Shibata trading rapid fire punches. Unfortunately there wasn’t much to see of Ospreay after that. This was very much like a 1990s 8-man tag, all action but no daredevil high spots (which is a good thing). Ishii was more like his usual self here, sticking to the hard chops. I watched this match after Honma broke his neck and it’s even sadder in hindsight.

Match begins at the 28:00 mark of this video:

Bobby Roode vs Shinsuke Nakamura
****1/4

January 28, 2017
Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, TX
NXT
Takeover: San Antonio
NXT Heavyweight Championship

This was the main event of the Takeover show over Royal Rumble weekend. These two had been accused of holding back and taking it easy in recent months, choosing to instead get by on their charisma and persona. Of course, that’s what they SHOULD be doing, so that they save their bumps and bruises for the main roster instead of destroying their bodies for the much smaller NXT audience. Both of these men aren’t spring chickens, so they should absolutely nurture and preserve their banged up bodies as much as possible until it’s their time in the big leagues.

With that said, they had an excellent match that shut up their critics. However, it was also a very safe match that relied on, get this, selling and psychology. You know, the two things veterans have taught for decades but the younger generation ignores them and then proceeds to destroy their bodies and shorten their careers.

Nakamura did such a great sell job that several “smart” fans at home questioned whether he really did destroy his knee. Roode was very good as well, and without question he’s a main event player and should make a big ‘impact’ when he comes to the main roster. If I’m booking this program, I rematch the two at Takeover in Orlando and then debut Nakamura on the Raw after WrestleMania.

This match is only available on the WWE Network.

Kevin Owens vs Roman Reigns
****1/2

January 29, 2017
Alamo Dome in San Antonio, TX
World Wrestling Entertainment
Royal Rumble
WWE Universal Championship

Tremendous brawl with judicious use of chairs, tables, and out of the ring action. Chris Jericho was above the ring but didn’t play a big role in the match. Both were really good and it was very physical with Reigns getting a cut above his nose. Strowman interfered for the finish, leading to a feud between the two of them before Mania.

Match is only available on the WWE Network, but here are highlights:

John Cena vs AJ Styles
****3/4

January 29, 2017
Alamo Dome in San Antonio, TX
World Wrestling Entertainment
Royal Rumble
WWE World Championship

This was the best match in WWE in several years, even topping their SummerSlam classic. Styles was outstanding as expected, but even Cena surprised us with some cool reversals and transitions that sent this match over the top. He also sold effectively and his facial expressions really put over AJ with those “Nothing I do seems to beat this guy” looks he kept giving. Tremendous.

Their SummerSlam match had some great near falls, but the problem is they went straight to the near falls almost immediately. In this match, they built it much better before going to the near falls. Also the heat was deafening, as it always is with these two and it makes the match seem even better than it is. They’ve not yet had a bad match, but at the same time, I hope this is the end of the program for them.

Match is only available on the WWE Network, but here are highlights:

Dean Ambrose vs AJ Styles
****1/4

January 31, 2017
American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, TX
World Wrestling Entertainment
SmackDown Live
Non-title

This was the main event on the SmackDown following the Royal Rumble, where AJ had just come off the best WWE match in years. He and Kenny Omega were the best workers of 2016, and both are seemingly on a tear to be even better in 2017. Crowd was into this and it was great. My only fear is that AJ will get lost in the shuffle now that WWE is clearly going in a new direction with Wyatt as the champ. I don’t see why AJ had to lose the title so soon, but when you realize Vince simply doesn’t like “small” guys, it was just a matter of time before AJ’s time was over no matter how many great matches he had.

Match is only available on the WWE Network and Hulu, but here are highlights:

Go to Page 2 for the greatest matches of February 2017
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