Before we get too far into this, let’s call this exactly what it is. These are my 10 favorite matches of the year. I don’t believe objectivity is really possible or even ideal when ranking pro wrestling matches because human beings as individuals are going to value some aspects or styles of matches over others. There will be folks that are mad about how little WWE factors into my list, and I get it. You’ve enjoyed those matches more than I have, and that’s fine.
The goal of these lists shouldn’t be to have your tastes in, or beliefs about wrestling confirmed. They should be about finding out what other people liked; discovering a match you didn’t watch and enjoying it, or maybe looking at a match from a different point of view and finding new things to like about a match you like too.
All of this is to say don’t get mad at me if you think any of these matches suck, or that you think your list is better. Of course you do: it’s your list! This is mine.
#10: Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate
NXT Takeover: Chicago, May 20th (WWE Network)
An excellent showing by two of the UK’s finest. This one has some great back-and-forth action throughout, with creative exchanges generating highlight after highlight. Having largely given up on WWE not too long after this match aired, I can’t really get a sense of what WWE’s plans are for the UK, beyond just having a presence in a strong market. But whatever those plans may be, both Dunne and Bate are great at what they do and deserve to have a key role wherever they wrestle.
#9: Masashi Takeda vs. Masaya Takahashi
BJW Death Vegas, December 12th (BJWCore.com)
An utter bloodbath. The polar opposite of the sort of depressing display I wrote about in my Adventures in NicoPro column (RIP NicoPro). This is the kind of mixture of blood-soaked barbarism and drama I hope for when watching a death match. This match is built on a continual escalation of violence and tests of willpower and fortitude. While certainly not for everyone, anyone who finds themselves comfortable enough with the gruesome spectacle of matches like this should find it a cathartic, rewarding experience.
#8: Hiromu Takahashi vs. KUSHIDA
NJPW Dominion, June 11th (njpwworld.com)
My favorite Junior Heavyweight match of the year. All of the spectacular moves and flying you’d want, but with the added aggression and nastiness that comes from being the conclusion of a bitter feud. That Takahashi had defeated KUSHIDA in only two minutes in their previous match made things all the more tense in the opening minutes.
#7: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Keith Lee
RevPro Global Wars UK Night 1, November 9th (RevPro On Demand)
There is no greater tough underdog wrestler than Tomohiro Ishii in 2017. Capable of defeating anyone at any time, able to take unreal amounts of punishment, and brimming with fire and fury. Keith Lee, on the other hand, is a supremely confident monolith of a man, capable of amazing things for a man of his size. This is a short, stout, fearless warrior attempting to cut down a mountain with his hands. It’s a great story, and an even better match.
#6: AJ Styles vs. John Cena
WWE Royal Rumble, January 29th (WWE Network)
The best WWE match of the year. Putting the overstated dynamic of “hardcore fan” favorite vs. “casual fan” favorite aside; this match is, in reality, the current-day WWE main event-style match presented at its highest level. The days of pretending like Cena isn’t an all-time great WWE-style wrestler should be years behind us by now, and AJ has shown himself capable of wrestling at an elite level wherever he goes.
David Starr vs. WALTER
wXw 16 Carat Gold Night 1, March 10th (wxwnow.de)
The dynamic here is similar to that of Ishii vs. Lee, but helps this match edge out the other is David Starr’s versatility and range, which gives this match a bit more depth. WALTER is an unrelenting force of nature, chopping everyone and everything into oblivion, and David Starr has to find a way to stop him. Starr begins the match confidently, perhaps too confidently. When WALTER sends him crashing back down to earth, Starr finds himself in a fight to survive.
#4: Kento Miyahara vs. Suwama
AJPW Raising An Army Memorial Series, October 9th (Watch)
What a joy this match is! The crowd is on fire, screaming and deeply invested in every moment of what unfolds before them. This match is all about will power, with Miyahara fighting through some nasty knee work from Suwama in the early stages of the match to turn this one into a back-and-forth war of attrition. The selling is tremendous here from both men, and what it might lack in flash, it more than makes up for in drama.
#3: Chihiro Hashimoto vs. Meiko Satomura
Sendai Girls Women’s Wrestling Big Show, September 24th (Watch)
Being honest, I knew nothing about either wrestler before watching this match, and now I want to know everything about them both. Like the previous match, this is less about moves or flashy sequences and more about the incredible willpower and drive of both Satomura and Hashimoto. There’s some great grappling in the early minutes, and things escalate brilliantly from there. This was a match wrestled like it was for a giant stadium crowd, and in a just world, it would have been.
#2: Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega
NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11, January 4th (njpwworld.com)
Generally, we think of “Match of the Year” as simply meaning “the best match”, and understandably so. But, if we were to take a different view of that phrase, it could also mean the match that was the most significant, for one reason or another. Obviously there were plenty of matches watched by more people, but I also can’t think of a match that garnered more praise, debate, or just talk in general than this match. This is an instant-classic, and it’s a match of the year by either measurement.
#1: Kazuchika Okada vs. Katsuyori Shibata
NJPW Sakura Genesis, April 9th (njpwworld.com)
I don’t know how many people will rank this match higher than Okada/Omega, but I’m going to. And I almost didn’t include it at all. As a match, it’s everything I love about pro wrestling all at once. It’s dramatic in the most pitch-perfect of ways. It’s violent, it’s furious, and it’s beautiful. But it’s also very likely to be the end of Katsuyori Shibata’s career. Ed Blair’s article for Paste about this match sums up my feelings about this more eloquently than I’m ever going to be capable of. Their article does fantastic job of explaining how the very thing we love about Shibata is what put both his career and his life at unnecessary risk. Shibata was incredible because he held nothing back. Now I wish he’d held back just a little, so that he wouldn’t have to endure what he’s enduring now. I’ll end with a quote from Ed’s article:
At a recent NJPW show, fans hung a banner that read “Katsuyori Shibata—We Will Wait for You.” I hope we wait forever.