Pantoja’s Top 100 Matches Of 2022 (#20-11) | 411MANIA (2023)

20. IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship: Will Ospreay [c] vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW Battle Autumn in Osaka

Pantoja’s Top 100 Matches Of 2022 (#20-11) | 411MANIA (1)Image Credit: NJPW

Tetsuya Naito’s laid back attitude is a perfect foil to aggressive villain Will Ospreay. Ospreay tried to match him early, even stealing his signature pose but it takes more than that to get into Naito’s head. Naito also went after the neck, which made sense given Ospreay’s history there. It’s cool that Will can do his fancy, eye-catching moves but the simple whip he did into the guardrail was the kind of stuff I love. He did it with such aggression that it looked violent and felt worse for Naito than any Oscutter ever could. The segment with Ospreay in full control was fine, especially since he kept up the violent streak. I appreciated that a lot of big offensive chances for Ospreay were cut off because his neck would flare up. He did a really good job of selling. The neckbreaker onto the floor sounded sick and commentary’s “ewww” reaction was spot-on. The champ was out of it afterward and looked out on his feet several times. Will did the LAND ON MY FEET ON A RANA spot smoother than he often does. As usual, I didn’t love the closing stretch here because so many from New Japan feel so similar and Will’s neck didn’t both him as much here. He won with Stormbreaker in 30:17 in what was Will’s best singles match in a long time. Same for Naito who hasn’t been on his game over the past two years.[****½]

19. Best of the Super Juniors Finals: El Desperado vs. Hiromu Takahashi – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors Finals

Pantoja’s Top 100 Matches Of 2022 (#20-11) | 411MANIA (2)Image Credit: NJPW

Obviously, these guys deliver in the ring but my gripe with this tournament is that it’s another case of New Japan just going with the obvious route for the finale instead of trying something new. They had an out with Hiromu’s leg keeping him out of the finals but they still did it. With that out of the way, onto this match, which was the epic we all wanted and hoped for. The first 20 or so minutes here were all about Desperado having a game plan. He has worked legs throughout the tournament to set up the Stretch Muffler and with Hiromu’s bad leg, it was a clear target. The work done here wasn’t special but it made sense, was well done, and told a key part of this story. Hiromu sold it all well even on his comeback. That set the stage for a final third that was ridiculous. Their chemistry has been wildly good for years and it was evident here with the counters, strike exchanges, and more. It all just came off so well. Although Hiromu is beloved, the crowd has come to love Desperado lately and they were firmly behind him here. They wanted him to get the big win. When Hiromu kicked out of two Pinche Locos, Desperado looked at a loss. However, that was topped by Desperado becoming the first person I can think of to survive the Time Bomb 2. Neither man could figure out what would be enough to win this tournament. In the end, it took another Time Bomb capping a string of offense for Hiromu to win in 30:37. A hell of a match that I’d put behind their 2020 Finals and the 2018 BOSJ match.[****½]

18. AEW World Championship Tournament Quarterfinals: Bryan Danielson vs. Hangman Page – AEW Dynamite 9/7/22

Pantoja’s Top 100 Matches Of 2022 (#20-11) | 411MANIA (3)Image Credit: AEW

I liked that the start of this match saw them not trying to do too much because given their history, neither wanted to make the first mistake. It didn’t last too long either before Hangman was throwing chops and Danielson was reaching into his bag of tricks. Danielson kind of goaded Hangman into a dive outside that he missed and Danielson sent him shoulder first into the post for our first commercial break. Returning, Danielson put a target on that shoulder and got more aggressive. Hangman started a comeback that included him hitting the big avalanche Fallaway Slam but going into a second break, Danielson rolled outside to avoid the Buckshot Lariat. Obviously, things got taken up another notch in the final segment as fans could fell the ending coming and popped hard for close calls from Hangman’s signature moves to Danielson submission attempts. The strikes they traded late also had some great fire behind them and having it set up a Deadeye near fall was tremendous. Danielson hit the Busaiku Knee but Page rolled outside to avoid a pin. Page suckered him into an apron powerbomb before Danielson countered the Buckshot Lariat into a pinning combination to get his first win over Hangman in 22:50. These two DO NOT MISS together. Another incredible match between them, capping one of the best trilogies ever.[****½]

17. David Finlay vs. Juice Robinson – NJPW G1 Climax 7/26/22

Pantoja’s Top 100 Matches Of 2022 (#20-11) | 411MANIA (4)Image Credit: NJPW

I really liked these two as a babyface. New Japan should’ve kept them together to help their awful tag division. Juice holds a 3-0 record over Finlay, all coming in 2016. We got our story of the match pretty early as Juice was frustrated in the opening exchanges and resorted to targeting Finlay’s historically damaged shoulder. Juice went after it relentlessly, doing Divorce Courts and some submission work. I loved that when Finlay turned things around and threw Juice into the guardrail a bunch, Juice whined and begged for mercy. That’s great heel stuff. Finlay showed a killer instinct by then going after Juice’s previously broken hand. Every “I’M SORRY” from Juice made it all better. Finlay’s momentum was stopped when he missed a charge and his shoulder banged into the exposed corner. Both guys sold the injuries well and had it play into the match with Finlay’s shoulder giving out and Juice having to use his other hand for offense. The desperation on Finlay’s face as Juice rolled outside to avoid a pin was great. The Pulp Friction near fall was great since it wasn’t overdone and Juice surviving Prima Nocta with his foot on the bottom rope. A ref bump led to a piledriver outside and Juice trying to use the US Title as a weapon only for Finlay to hit him with the shillelagh instead. He pulled up Juice on a pin and then hit Trash Panda to win after 24:01. I’m likely the high man on this but this is so my shit. A smartly worked match with callbacks, great selling, logical limb work, defined roles, and two wrestlers nailing it all. Best match of the tournament by a considerable margin.[****½]

16. IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW Wrestling Dontaku

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Two of the best in the world and they haven’t met in singles action in several years if I’m right. Ishii gave this an instant spark by slapping Tanahashi on a break and the Ace did it right back to him. Tanahashi chose to taunt after offense, so Ishii kicked him and that triggered a long forearm strike exchange. Tanahashi grounded Ishii and worked the Cloverleaf before firing off some really stiff shots. He added a sick suplex that Ishii somehow stood up on, only for Tanahashi to do the same back to him. This was a case of two guys who weren’t going to be denied in their quest for gold. It managed to be an epic without ever feeling like two guys were trying to put on an epic. That’s so important because so many guys fall into that trap these days. Tanahashi kicked out of the Vertical Drop Brainbuster and that felt like a big deal since it rarely happens. Protecting finishers is important *coughDestinocough*. Tanahashi finally outlasted Ishii and won with High Fly Flow in 23:30. An absolute classic between two of the greatest to ever do it.[****½]

15. Two Out of Three Falls Match: Bryan Danielson vs. Daniel Garcia – AEW Dynamite 8/17/22

Pantoja’s Top 100 Matches Of 2022 (#20-11) | 411MANIA (6)Image Credit: AEW

Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat was the timekeeper for this bout between the American Dragon and the Dragon Slayer. Right off the bat they looked to trade submission attempts and we headed to an early commercial break. Upon returning, the pace picked up as they started in with aggressive strikes, beating the hell out of each other. A piledriver spike the hell out of Danielson and he got choked out with the Dragon Tamer to take the first fall. Danielson barely got up before the count of 10 and Garcia immediately pounced, keeping up the pace. That led us into our second commercial break. During that break, Garcia hit a DDT on the concrete that busted Danielson open. Garcia kicked at his head and went for the Dragon Tamer again but Danielson turned it over into a pin that tied the score after about 15 minutes. That gave Danielson a second wind as he laid into Garcia with elbows and the missile dropkick. I loved that they paid homage to the iconic Danielson/McGuinness Unified spot where they pulled Nigel’s head into the ring post but did it to the shoulder because we aren’t trying to give dudes concussions. A third break saw the two trade chops and strikes in the center of the ring. Returning, they were simply beating the shit out of each other. Danielson started kicking Garcia’s head in and added some headbutts for good measure. A series of submissions led to the Lebelle Lock for the win in 25:52. Spectacular pro wrestling. I said it three weeks ago but this is SO MY SHIT. Danielson constantly leaves for a time and then comes back to remind everyone that he’s the GOAT. Garcia looked like a star and this was masterful storytelling between these two.[****½]

14. New Japan Cup Second Round: Hiromu Takahashi vs. Minoru Suzuki – NJPW New Japan Cup 3/13/22

Pantoja’s Top 100 Matches Of 2022 (#20-11) | 411MANIA (7)Image Credit: NJPW

I avoided the undercards on these shows but apparently, Suzuki had been dishing out punishment on Hiromu non-stop and the madman that Hiromu is kept coming back for more. That was the idea here again as Hiromu was more than willing to trade strikes with Suzuki, even managing to split him open with some chops. They proceeded to beat the shit out of each other with chops for ten minutes. Literally, it’s all they did and it was great. It reminded me of that sick ass Taichi/Ibushi match from the G1 a few years ago where they just kicked the shit out of each other. It was almost like a tennis match in that they just kept trading stuff. They did so while telling a story though as Minoru seemed to relish in Hiromu’s attempts to be tough and Hiromu was dying to prove he could hang with someone like Minoru. I went through a roller coaster of emotions here too as I loved it, found it a bit boring for a few, and then came back around to loving it and appreciating the part I thought was dull. After all of that, Hiromu pulled Minoru into an intriguing rollup to win at the 19:33 mark. What a fantastic and unique match. I loved all of that violence. Now why isn’t Hiromu a heavyweight officially?[****½

13. Eddie Kingston vs. Tomohiro Ishii – AEW All Out

Pantoja’s Top 100 Matches Of 2022 (#20-11) | 411MANIA (8)Image Credit: AEW

This was first thing on the All Out card that I was genuinely excited for. These two just chopped the hell out of each other to start. Like, they did that for like three minutes. They just slapped titties for a while and I respect the hell out of that kind of match. They popped up after big moves, slapped each other in the face, and gave me just what I wanted out of a match between these two. They botched a move but Eddie is a pro who covered it up by selling. Smart move. They traded big blows late like a back fist, lariats, and more. Kingston won with the Northern Lights Bomb in 13:27. Tremendous pro wrestling and 100% my kind of wrestling. I loved every second of this. It’s a short write up but a match everyone needs to see.[****½]

12. Bryan Danielson vs. Daniel Garcia – AEW Fight for the Fallen

Pantoja’s Top 100 Matches Of 2022 (#20-11) | 411MANIA (9)Image Credit: AEW

Chris Jericho joined commentary for this and suggested that Danielson is back too soon from injury. Danielson started with a running knee before the bell and the crowd was PUMPED. He got “welcome back” chants after a tope suicida. Garcia turned things around when he wailed on Danielson as he entered the ring and was vicious throughout, including exposing the concrete outside. That would come into play later. Danielson rallied but on a missile dropkick, he stayed down, ringing his own bell and furthering what Jericho said on commentary. Danielson was again knocked out with forearms and looked out of it. Garcia pounced, throwing him into steel steps and nailing a DDT on the concrete going into the break. That got exactly the reaction it needed. Garcia didn’t let up and we got a busted open Danielson fighting back despite barely being able to stand. Danielson’s back suplex off the top further damaged him. The closing stretch was fantastic as they threw suplexes, traded elbows, and both went for various submissions. Danielson standing up while taking a bunch of elbows was great. As we neared the end of the show, both men came close to winning and you got the sense it might reach a draw. Garcia got to the ropes on the Yes Lock and took a knee outside. As Danielson went back in, he got his foot grabbed from under the ring. That allowed Garcia to slap on a Sharpshooter and Danielson passed out after 17:04. A tremendously told story built around Garcia’s aggressive nature and Danielson not being ready to return. Filled with violence, great wrestling, and marks a HUGE win for Garcia.[****½]

11. AAA & ROH World Tag Team Championships: FTR [c] vs. The Young Bucks – AEW Dynamite 4/6/22

Pantoja’s Top 100 Matches Of 2022 (#20-11) | 411MANIA (10)Image Credit: AEW

ROH announcer Bobby Cruise handled announcing duties, which was a nice touch. This started well with the teams trading solo stuff and being dicks to each other until they each tripped up an opponent and we got a hockey-style fight. The Bucks took control, putting the focus on Wheeler going into a commercial break. They did a great job of building the deprivation as the hot tag was cut off a few times until Wheeler found an opening with some luck and a huge uppercut. Dax’s hot tag was highly entertaining and babyface FTR is just as good as heel FTR. The way the Bucks cut off the Powerplex was pretty fantastic. The same goes for FTR cutting off the Bucks doing their signature stuff in the best way possible. The Bucks hit Big Rig (I remember DIY doing it and the Briscoes as well) before More Bang for Your Buck failed due to some showboating. The Bucks’ cheating attempts kept failing and even when they had this won with the BTE Trigger, Cash got his foot on the bottom rope. FTR interrupted the Meltzer Driver in awesome fashion, hitting a slingshot powerbomb and Tombstone. They then hit Matt with their own BTE Trigger, kissed him on the cheek, and won with the Big Rig in a wild 20:05. What an incredible pro wrestling match. The atmosphere was special, the action was fantastic, they told a hell of a story, and this was a reined-in, superior version of the Bucks. FTR is indeed the best team in the world.[****½]

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