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 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 if you missed it.
Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa
NXT TakeOver | April 7, 2018
“With two of the best matches in WWE history bookending the card, the 4/7 NXT Takeover show from New Orleans ended up as the best show over WrestleMania weekend, and one could argue the best from an in-ring standpoint in company history. It ended with a dramatic war where Johnny Gargano got his job back in beating Tommaso Ciampa in an unsanctioned match, a brutal and dramatic battle.
This was just a crazy match. Gargano did his spear into the ring, whipped Ciampa over the barricade, and followed with a running dive over the barricade. Ciampa suplexed Gargano off the table to the floor. Ciampa then back suplexed Gargano onto another table. Gargano powerbombed Ciampa off the apron onto the floor after the mats were removed. Fans chanted “you deserve it” at Ciampa who then brought in a crutch from a planted fan at ringside. They had a tug-of-war over the crutch that Gargano won, and he hit Ciampa’s stomach, back and head with it. Gargano tried another spear into the ring but got caught with a knee. Ciampa did a power bomb for a near fall. Gargano got the Gargano Escape on for the first time. Because this was a non-sanctioned match, apparently that meant no rope breaks. Ciampa escaped by raking the eyes.
Gargano came back with punch after punch until Ciampa hit a low blow, a crutch shot to the back, and a power bomb into double knees. Gargano came back with a lawn dart spot, throwing Ciampa’s head into an exposed turnbuckle. Gargano hit two superkicks but Ciampa kicked out. After several more near falls, Ciampa pulled off his brace and his sleeve to expose his knee. Gargano got the crutch and was about to hit him with it. Ciampa begged off and Gargano wouldn’t hit him. Ciampa’s right eye was all swollen by this point. Ciampa then tired to hit Gargano with the crutch, but Gargano put on the Gargano Escape and used Ciampa’s knee brace around his throat to give it more pressure and get the submission, the picture of which you can see above.”
The Undisputed Era (Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong) vs. Trent Seven and Tyler Bate
NXT Tag Team Titles
NXT TV Tapings | June 21, 2018 (airdate July 11, 2018)
“The show featured the best match in a long time, perhaps ever, on the NXT television show with Roderick Strong & Kyle O’Reilly regaining the tag titles over Trent Seven & Tyler Bate. I gave this match ***** as it was that great, the second best tag team match I’ve seen this year behind only Omega & Ibushi vs. Young Bucks. The full on seriousness of this match made every twist and turn mean something and nothing felt like it was done out of context. The basic format worked because of the story and while there were some cool moves, it was more about drama than moves or spots.
The crowd was electric by the end, the storytelling was excellent, and the finish of throwing in the towel because Bate was concerned for his partner who wouldn’t give up would often be used as a heel move but the announcers got it over as a face move, because the build to the finish made that the natural context ending and not a fake way out. The crowd kept chanting “Mustache Mountain/Undisputed” for minutes on end which was unique but also wasn’t reacting to what was going on. But once they stopped, they reacted to everything. This was classic storytelling.
O’Reilly & Strong kept working on Seven’s legit bad left knee, selling like he was Tanahashi, and went for a hot tag but O’Reilly pulled Bate off the apron. They kept working on Seven’s knee. The second time he went for a tag to Bate, O’Reilly kicked Bate off the apron and put him in a heel hook. Finally Bate got the hot tag and went crazy. He did a giant swing and airplane spin at the same time on both guys. It was great hot tag and he got some near falls. Seven was selling his knee but wanted to tag in. Bate wouldn’t tag him in, seeing his partner was hurt. Strong kept working over Bate, who wouldn’t tag out. Seven finally tagged himself in and got a lot of offense in on both guys. Seven was limping around, including giving Strong a lariat.
Seven tried a torture rack but his knee gave out. Strong then chop blocked him and put him in the Stronghold. Bate made the save. O’Reilly knee dropped onto Seven’s bad knee and put him in a heel hook. Seven wouldn’t quit and both ended up slapping each other back and forth on the ground. O’Reilly went for a double kneebar. Seven wasn’t going to quit. Bate picked up a towel. He kept hovering between throwing in the towel while O’Reilly kept the submission on Seven who wouldn’t submit. Finally Bate threw in the towel.
Very often a finish like that, particularly in a U.S. match, wouldn’t work since you need a legit feel to the match to do it. But, it worked here.”
Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito
NJPW G1 Climax | July 15, 2018
“The thing notable here was the conditioning of these guys going so fast for so long while it didn’t turn into a numbing sprint. The crowd was so into this because of both the personalities and the work. Omega gave Naito a back suplex on the apron. Omega gave him a Frankensteiner out of nowhere. Naito blocked a Terminator dive and used a tornado DDT. Omega used a sliding kick that sent Naito over the barricade and then did a springboard plancha several rows deep into the stands. It was really amazing. He went for a missile dropkick but Naito got up and crotched him on the top rope. Naito went for a Frankensteiner off the top but Omega reversed and hit a snap dragon and a doctor bomb.
Naito went for a German suplex, Omega landed on his feet and hit a V Trigger to the back. Omega went for the One Winged Angel and Naito escaped with a reverse huracanrana. Naito hit a Frankensteiner off the top an Gloria for a near fall. Omega was back with a spinning heel kick and a V trigger to the back fo the head. He teased a dragon superplex but Naito blocked. Naito used a power bomb off the top rope and a destino, but Omega kicked out. Omega finally won with a Jay driller, a V trigger and the One Winged Angel.”
Kenny Omega vs. Hirooki Goto
NJPW G1 Climax | July 19, 2018
“Omega hit a huracanrana out of nowhere. Goto blocked the Terminator dive. Omega set up a crazy springboard plancha with Goto a few rows deep. Goto grabbed a chair and threw it at Omega and hit him squarely, knocking him off the ropes. The timing to pull that off was incredible. Omega could only balance for a split second and Goto had to throw the chair at his head (Omega actually blocked it with his hands while still balancing) from a few rows deep to hit him in the head at that second. The crowd booed heavily as they wanted to see the move. Goto hit a GTR on the floor. They were fighting in the bleachers and Omega slammed Goto on the wooden permanent benches at Korakuen Hall. Omega then did a moonsault off the stair banister while Goto was in the wooden bleachers. Omega did sick chops and Goto was back with a Saito suplex and an ushigoroshi.
Goto went for a German suplex, Omega landed on his feet and hit the V trigger. Goto came back and went to the top rope, but Omega hit a running V trigger and Goto sold it like he was knocked out. This was tremendous. Omega went for a muscle buster top rope superplex but Goto reversed into a code red off the top rope. They traded hard elbows and Omega hit the snap dragon suplex but Goto back came with a lariat. Omega kicked out of shoten kai. There was molten heat at this point. Omega then won after a jumping V trigger, an ushigoroshi, another V trigger and the One Winged Angel. Just incredible.”
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Hirooki Goto
NJPW G1 Climax | July 21, 2018
“This was just all action and hard hitting from start-to-finish. Everything was hard and it was non-stop. They’d hit each other and stay up. They kept hitting super hard clotheslines and neither would go down. They did all their big spots like Ishii’s delayed superplex and Goto’s ushigoroshi. Goto clotheslined him out of his boots. Ishii got out of the GTR and put Goto in the dragon sleeper. Ishii hit a Saito suplex but as he went for the brainbuster, Goto hit the shoten kai and Ishii kicked out. They ran at each other with head-butts to the others’ shoulder until Ishii hit the sliding D and brainbuster for the pin.”
Keep watching for our Best of 2018 lookbacks all week.