Top Ten Wrestling Matches of 2009
Well, itís that time of year again. New Yearís Eve. 2009 is coming to a close and Iím at home in the midst of a snow storm, so what better time than to look back at my top matches of the year. I will start off by saying that the wrestler of the year is without a doubt Davey Richards. This guy was on a serious roll for the entire 12 months of 2009, having fantastic matches with a variety of opponents in numerous promotions. I would daresay that 9 out of 10 times, if Davey Richards was on a card, it was a show worth seeing and his match was the main attraction. So when you read my list, you will notice a lot of Richards.
I should also mention that the only matches of the year that I was unable to see that I wish I could have for consideration on this list are both Desmond Wolfe/Kurt Angle pay-per-view matches, and the recent AJ Styles/Christopher Daniels TNA World title match. Otherwise, I feel pretty satisfied with what I saw this year. I saw every WWE pay-per-view, save for Survivor Series and TLC. I did a better job keeping up with Ring of Honor thanks to some tremendous sales on their website. I got on board with the newly established Dragon Gate USA. And I occasionally watched some TNA. I hope this gives you an idea of what I did, or didnít watch this year, and will save any angry e-mails that might blast me for ignoring Kurt Angle or Desmond Wolfe.
10) Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards vs. Bryan Danielson and Tyler Black (ROH Double Feature II)
It would seem that tag team wrestling had a mild recovery in 2009. With WWE unifying their tag belts and featuring them heavily on television and pay-per-view (the recent TLC show was headlined by DX and Jerishow competing for the belts), TNA having such a hot division that they could maintain two championships with one roster, and the continued success of Ring of Honorís division, which has been a promotion staple for years. 2009 was the year of the American Wolves, featuring Richards and Edwards. They had a lot of great matches this year, but this one was the simply the most compelling. Danielson and Black were a thrown-together unit, but are both main event caliber performers and they pushed the Wolves to the limit. The result was a 45 minute classic. Long matches can be a bore at times, but when a match reaches this length but still feels like an intense 20 minute bout, it deserves some applause. Excellent match and might have been a MOTY in a weaker year, ****Ĺ.
9) Edge vs. John Cena (WWE: Backlash 2009)
There were a lot of groans when this match was signed due to the extensive history these two men have facing off against one another. It would appear that both Cena and Edge were aware of this and stepped up their collective game to put on a classic. They used the Last Man Standing Stipulation well but managed to avoid falling into the trap where the match is dragged down by slow referee counts. They turned up the heat with an impressive F-U spot where Edge landed in the crowd (well, FCW roster, but still cool to see). They brawled into the concession stand area and back to the arena. The match actually ended on the stage, not in the ring, when Big Show got involved. Show choke slammed Cena through one of the spot-lights on the stage, resulting in Cena being unable to meet the 10 count. This gave Edge yet another World title and set up an effective injury angle for Cena. I was hard on Cena a lot this year, as his later matches with Big Show were wretched and the later Orton feud didnít exactly set the world on fire, but on this night Cena reminded everyone why he belongs in his spot. ****Ĺ.
8) Bryan Danielson vs. Naruki Doi (DGUSA Untouchable/Open the Untouchable Gate)
Danielson signed a WWE contract late in the summer. During his last month on the independent scene, he really set out to leave a lasting impression. This included fantastic bouts in Ring of Honor, CHIKARA, Pro Wrestling Guerilla, and even a guest appearance on Dragon Gate USAís second pay-per-view, Untouchable (available on DVD as Open the Untouchable Gate). This match was billed as the North American indy ace (Danielson) squaring off with the Dragon Gate ace (Doi) to see who was really the ďbest in the world.Ē The result was an epic contest where both men left it all on the line. Thereís not much more to say about this one other than it featured great wrestling, professional selling, big spots, and a dramatic finish when Danielsonís MMA shoulders just werenít enough to keep Doi down. ****Ĺ.
7) Chris Jericho vs. Rey Mysterio (WWE: The Bash 2009)
2009 was a year when WWE suddenly seemed to care about their title belts again. The Intercontinental Championship became the centerpiece of a feud between Jericho and Mysterio. Things became more personal when Jericho unmasked Rey at Extreme Rules, which allowed him to claim the belt. The result was a rematch at The Bash where Reyís mask was on the line if he could not pick up the victory. They played off their earlier matches perfectly, with Jericho once again going for the mask. This time Rey had a second mask on underneath. Jericho was thrown off enough that Rey was able to pick up the win. Itís not often anymore in the WWE that two wrestlers who can really push each other go out to the ring and surprise the crowd with creative counters and actually have a storyline behind it worthy of a fantastic match. I would encourage the writers to step aside and just let Jericho write his own stories for now on, because this was a worthy successor to his excellent run with Shawn Michaels in 2008. ****Ĺ.
6) Bryan Danielson vs. Davey Richards (ROH Final Countdown Tour: Boston)
Earlier I spoke about how Danielson wanted to leave a lasting impression before he left the indy scene. Well, with this match, he set out to pass the torch to the man he hoped would succeed him as the ace of independent wrestling: Davey Richards. It was Danielsonís second to last night with ROH, so emotions were running high. They wrestled for close to 45 minutes, and there wasnít a dull moment. Others are going to cite that Danielsonís match with Nigel McGuinness the next night in New York City deserves more recognition, but while that was a fine match, it was a step below what they normally are capable of and was intended to cap off their ROH career on a sentimental note rather than to wow with an epic performance. When it comes to pure pro wrestling awesomeness, this Boston match is the true farewell card. It should be said that depending on how things develop for Richards, this bout could become even more meaningful in the coming years. ****Ĺ.
5) Kurt Angle vs. Jeff Jarrett (TNA Genesis)
Iíve got to admit, a few years ago I had predicted that Angle would have been either forced into retirement or killed in the ring prior to 2009. Instead, he carried TNA on his back, with a series of great in-ring performances and another world title reign. Jeff Jarrett was a guy I did not care for at all a few years ago. He was perpetually the NWA champion even though he did not have the crowd heat to justify it nor was he turning in great performances. Basically, from about 2004-2006, I felt that Jarrett was shoved down my throat and was hindering the advancement of TNA. With that said, it was remarkable that a Jarrett/Angle feud was as excellent as it turned out to be. Their Bound for Glory match was a classic in of itself, but this grudge rematch at Genesis was off the charts. There were a few mess-ups along the way, but not the type that took away from my enjoyment of the match (Jarrett caught his leg on the rope during a dive, and later on the guitar weapon fell apart). They were able to integrate the botches in such a way that it added to the story, for example the broken guitar led to a nastier spot with Jarrett cracking a chair at Angle. Considering the real life turmoil between these men (Kurtís wife splitting for Jeff) itís a tad more impressive that they were professional enough to still work together. Easily the best TNA match of the year, ****Ĺ.
4) Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker (WWE: Wrestlemania XXV)
This match has received almost universal praise from all corners of the internet. From blogs, to forums. The Youtube, everyone loved this match. Itís not hard to see why, because itís two of the longest tenured and most recognizable WWE stars going toe to toe for 30 minutes without a single slow spot. They were firing away at each other from the second the opening bell rang to the bitter end when Undertaker reversed a moonsault into a Tombstone piledriver. Some were critical of the build to this match, as they only really spent a few weeks prior to the show developing a conflict between the competitors, but in this day and age itís not surprising that the key Wrestlemania matches arenít getting six months worth of build. What they accomplished was setting up doubt that Undertaker was definitely going over. By this point, Undertakerís streak is worth more to the fans than the World titles, so there was overwhelming vested interest in the outcome. Itís actually a shame that this bout didnít main event the show, as the Orton/Triple H match bombed, but with a rematch apparently in the works for Wrestlemania 26 (and potential retirement looming for both men) it could steal the show again. ****Ĺ.
3) Davey Richards vs. Shingo (DGUSA Untouchable/Open the Untouchable Gate)
You might be tired of me talking about Davey Richards by this point, but thatís okay. Richards vs. Shingo was billed as a battle between two of the hardest strikers in the business and it lived up to the hype. However, it wasnít just a strike-fest, but featured a lot of great selling, counters, and near falls. This immediately followed the previously mentioned Danielson/Doi match and they set out to top it. The post-match happenings were interesting, as Danielson came down to the ring to congratulate Richards on his victory (a huge upset in the Dragon Gate universe) and to put him over verbally as his replacement on the indy scene. Richards responded by doing what very few indy wrestlers can do these days: he got legitimate heel heat by attacking Danielson! I should also note the remarkable progress made by Shingo over the last two years. In 2006-2007 he toured the U.S. and was featured on numerous ROH shows. He was a solid performer then, but not one I would go out of my way to watch perform. How the times have changed. Shingo impressed the hell out of me not only with this bout, but with his match against Naruki Doi on the Enter the Dragon pay-per-view. DGUSA could become a force to reckon with in the coming years, ****ĺ.
2) John Cena vs. Edge vs. Rey Mysterio vs. Kane vs. Mike Knox vs. Chris Jericho (WWE: No Way Out 2009)
I love being surprised. In recent years, that hasnít happened enough in my wrestling watching. Prior to this elimination chamber match, Edge had lost his WWE title in the opener. He attacked Kofi Kingston during his entrance and took his place in this World Heavyweight title match. John Cena was the defending champion and was eliminated about five minutes after being let out of his cell. The shock value of that set the tone for the rest of the match, especially when it came down to just Edge and Mysterio. For years, Rey Mysterio has been one of my favorite performers, but in 2008 he seemed to be on a quality decline as the injuries kept piling up. What I loved most about this match was the rebirth of Mysterio as a top level performer. He took Edge to the limit and seemed to have the World title secured at numerous points, and the crowd was well behind him! I guess it was also something of a relief that the stink of Reyís 2006 title reign has been shed. Ultimately, Edge drove Rey into a pod and hit the spear to pick up the World title (just hours removed from losing the WWE title) but what I remember most about this contest was Rey Mysterioís performance, ****ĺ.
1) Davey Richards vs. KENTA (ROH Supercard of Honor IV)
Yep, Iím going to write another love letter to Davey Richards. This was an important match on one of ROHís biggest shows of the year (held in Houston on the Friday before Wrestlemania). KENTAís GHC Junior-Heavyweight title was on the line, and itís a special occasion for that belt to be defended in North America. There was the added backstory that when KENTA had toured the U.S. in 2006, Richards had been booked as his protťgť, as at that time Gabe and company were really trying to establish a relatively green Richards as the future of the promotion. The result was a brutal match, they turned up the intensity and played off their past relationship as they both clearly had scouted the other. KENTA ultimately picked up the win after reversing a handspring kick into a modified Go To Sleep. 2009 quietly became a great year for the pro wrestling art form even as guest hosts and bad comedy ran supreme on television.
I look forward to coming back to this writing in two years and shaking my head due to the increased self-awareness Iíll have by then.