While World Wresting Entertainment may be the biggest wrestling company in town, there should be no reason pro wrestling fans should keep their eye on other companies. If some of them choose to only follow WWE, they will be missing an opportunity to expand their horizons by seeing some in-ring action they have never seen before. From a television program that takes wrestling to a cinematic level to tons of actions from the Land of the Rising Sun, here are the top ten non-WWE pro wrestling matches of the year thus far.
10) Matt Sydal vs. Ricochet – PWG From Out of Nowhere
Matt Sydal, once known as Evan Bourne during his tenure at WWE, returned to the independent wrestling scene after getting released from the company last year. Since then, he has been all over the place including Pro Wrestling Guerilla, Dragon Gate and his return to Ring of Honor. His third outing in PWG saw him facing off against another high-flying competitor, Ricochet. This is not the first time these men have face each other at EVOLVE 32 with Ricochet defended the Open the Freedom Gate Title against Sydal. Their second encounter at the American Legion Post #308 in Reseda, CA featured some breathtaking maneuvers as it looked like Sydal would him after hitting Ricochet with a Pumphandle Driver. However, Sydal wasn’t able to hit his opponent with his “Shooting Star Press” as Ricochet finished off Sydal by hitting a “Benadryller” and “Vertigo” to get the win.
9) Johnny Mundo vs. Prince Puma in an “All Night Long” match: Lucha Underground Championship – Lucha Underground 6/17/15
Mundo and Puma are quite familiar with one another as they faced each other in the first main event of Lucha Underground where Mundo picked up the win. They were also the last two competitors in the Aztec Warfare match (LU’s version of the Royal Rumble) where the winner would be crowned the inaugural Lucha Underground champion with Puma coming out on top. Since then, Mundo has transformed from a babyface to a cocky heel after assaulting Alberto El Patron and throwing him through the window of Dario Cueto’s office. For the first time ever, a whole episode of LU was dedicated to one match where the LU title will be on the line and anything goes (the equivalent of an Iron Man match). Mundo and Puma used everything in their disposal to put each other away as they fought all over the Temple including a spectacular spot where both men fell several feet from above onto a stack of tables. With the score in favor of Mundo at 4-3, he was on the grasp of capturing the championship until El Patron got his vengeance and interfered. This led to Puma getting the tying pinfall and making a big comeback where he hit the “630” to retain his title.
8) Fenix vs. Mil Muertes in a Grave Consequences match – Lucha Underground 3/18/15
This match between Fenix and Mil Muertes is basically LU’s version of a casket match complete with some pomp and circumstances before the match took place that is reminiscent of a “Day of the Dead” parade. A match like this is cartoonish and unrealistic, but it certainly belongs in this world that Lucha Underground has created since their debut last year in October. There is no organization that features an undead muscle-bound monster and a stone as the said monster’s power source in 2015 and takes it seriously like Lucha Underground. The bout itself featured a clash of styles as Mil Muertes used his power and strength to overwhelm Fenix, while Fenix utilized his quickness and speed to fight back. There were portions in the match where both competitors used the casket as a weapon. It was an overall brutal affair (even though the epitome of brutal is defined is another Lucha Underground match) as Mil Muertes dominated Fenix throughout the majority of the bout. He did everything from bloodying Fenix and tearing his mask nearly off to biting him on the forehead. Fenix soon mounted a comeback and was able to put Mil Muertes in the casket after nailing him with a top-rope stomp while his adversary was on the ring apron, which led to Mil Muertes then-former valet Catrina to slam the casket door.
7) Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tomoaki Honma: NEVER Openweight Championship – NJPW The New Beginning in Sendai 15’
Nothing epitomes the Strong Style type of wrestling then this match where Tomohiro Ishii and Tomoaki Honma beat the ever-living crap out of each other. These guys held nothing back as they legitimately pounded one another. Dressed in red and yellow just like Hulk Hogan and missing his patented headbutts (“Kokeshi” and “Ko-kokeshi”) like Shaquille O’Neal at a free throw line, Honma could be considered the Tommy Dreamer of New Japan Pro Wrestling. Honma is known to be a tenacious fighter and loveable babyface, but he usually loses in the end. Although he was pinned, Honma came out of this match overall as a winner. He was so close to winning the title and this caused the champion to get so frustrated that he had no choice but to hit some vital maneuvers to keep his championship.
6) AJ Styles vs. Kota Ibushi: IWGP Heavyweight Championship – NJPW Invasion Attack 15’
In the sold-out Sumo Hall, Kota Ibushi challenged the leader of the Bullet Club, AJ Styles, for a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship after winning the New Japan Cup this year. Styles’ match with Ibushi reaffirms that he is one of the best professional wrestlers in the world. It almost certain that no matter who he faces, whether the championship is on the line or not, that he will deliver a top-notch performance. There were moments in the match where Ibushi was put in precarious positions that would allow Styles to his dangerous finisher, the Styles Clash. However, Ibushi would eventually narrowly escape from it almost every time. One of the most amazing finishes to a match came about when Bullet Club member Kenny Omega distracted Ibushi, which allowed Styles to recover, catch his opponent as Ibushi flew for a Phoenix Splash attempt and hit him with a Styles Clash to become victorious. As the rest of the Bullet Club celebrated with Styles, Kazuchika Okada came out of nowhere, decimated the BC and hits the reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion with his finisher, “The Rainmaker.” This encounter would foreshadow their epic title match a few months later.
5) Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada: IWGP Heavyweight Championship – Wrestle Kingdom 9
The first major non-WWE pro wrestling event of the year, Wrestle Kingdom (which is held annually at the Tokyo Dome), featured two of the best matches of the year. The main event of the evening featured the defending champion Hiroshi Tanahashi going up against “The Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada as they renew their rivalry and have their eighth one-on-one encounter. Okada comes in as a man possessed after losing his title to AJ Styles, but his foe was prepared for anything “The Rainmaker” had to offer. Both competitors told a great story within the match as Tanahashi countered and survived each of Okada’s devastating offense even doing the unthinkable by kicking out of The Rainmaker (Okada’s finisher). Tanahashi’s game plan to attack the knee proved to fruitful in the end as he hit a couple of dragon screws and several “High Fly Flow’s” (Tanahashi’s finisher) to retain the belt.
4) Kushida vs. Kyle O’Reilly in the Best of the Super Juniors Finals – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors XXII Day 13
One-half of two amazing tag teams (The Time Splitters and reDRagon) took on one another in the final match to see who would walk away with the coveted trophy and a shot at Kenny Omega’s IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title at NJPW Dominion 7.5. While Alex Shelly was not there to cheer his partner on because of an injury, O’Reilly’ partner-in-crime Bobby Fish was there cheering his tag team colleague. There was a couple of dangerous spots that were devastating to look at including one where O’Reilly went for a wristlock sleeper on the apron, but Kushida reversed it into a suplex. O’Reilly did everything in his power to weaken the left arm of Kushida, but the Time Splitter overcame the pain to hit a combination of moves and made his opponent tap out to the “Hoverboard Lock.”
3) AJ Styles vs. Kazuchika Okada: IWGP Heavyweight Championship – NJPW Dominon 7.5
While Styles’ matchup with Ibushi in April was pretty spectacular, it does not hold a candle his title defense against Kazuchika Okada, the man he once beat for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship where Styles delivered another 5-star performance. Things soon took shape immediately during the championship bout when constant interference from his Bullet Club brethren got them kicked out From there, Styles slowly morphed from the cocky heel to the vulnerable yet dangerous champion. Some of the near-falls that took place could literally take your breath away as each destructive move these competitors hit each other with could have ended the contest. Despite all that, this match had THE best finishing wrestling sequences of the year as Okada and Styles countered one another’s finishers until Okada hit The Rainmaker, but missed hitting a second one, making one think that he screwed up his chances. Never count Okada out as he was able to hit a Dragon Suplex to weaken the champ and nailed Styles with another Rainmaker to become the new IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
2) Kota Ibushi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura: IWGP Intercontinental Championship – Wrestle Kingdom 9
The co-main event for NJPW’s biggest event of the year was the match that got this writer interested in and paying close attention. It also helped that Global Force Wrestling that worked with NJPW to Wrestle Kingdom 9 broadcasted on pay-per-view with Jim Ross and Matt Striker providing English commentary. This is not the first time Ibushi and Nakamura has faced each other as this is a rematch from the 2013 G1 Climax. They both have different fighting styles with Ibushi showcasing some proficient technical skills, while the charismatic Nakamura, who is known as the King of Strong Style, living up to his nickname. The latter threw everything except the kitchen sink at Ibushi and he even endured having the tables turn on him when Ibushi used Nakamura’s own moves against him. It culminated with both men hitting each in the other in the knee when they trying to deliver the Boma Ye, but Nakamura hit Ibushi with a Death Valley Driver followed by a final Boma Ye to retain the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.
1) Pentagon Jr. vs. Vampiro in a Ciero Miedo (“Zero Fear”) Match – Ultima Lucha: Lucha Underground 8/5/15
Never thought there would be a day where a “Deathmatch” (which most of time takes place in backyard wrestling or in a wrestling organization such as CZW) would be broadcasted on cable television. In the age where WWE is now currently in the PG-era and their idea of hardcore matches are non-bloody encounters, El Rey Network aired what could possible be the best hardcore match to be on television since Randy Orton took on Mick Foley in a No Holds Barred Falls Count Anywhere match at Backlash in 2004. Just like the lead-up to the Foley/Orton match, there was a good story to be told that culminated in the Ciero Miedo bout. Pentagon Jr. wanted to appease his unseen Master by breaking the arms of several LU competitors, but when LU commentator Vampiro prevented by from that despicable act to happen to LU’s announcer Melissa Santos and Sexy Star, Pentagon Jr. saw Vampiro as an obstacle he needs to overcame. After being provoked by the masked maniac and getting gasoline poured on him, Vampiro accepted the challenge of Pentagon Jr. to face him at Ulitma Lucha. What occurred was a barbaric, uncensored fight to the death between these men who were their bodies on the line to tell a fantastic story. They were used everything from light tubes to thumbtacks to destroy each other while Vampiro proved to crowd at the Temple that he still has a vicious mean stream. In the end, Vampiro was slammed through a flaming table as Pentagon Jr. picked up the win. To top it all off, a twist is unveiled that rivals the sort of plot twists you would see in this year’s film and television as the Master of Pentagon Jr. is revealed.