AUTHOR’S NOTE: Let’s take one final look at the Best Matches of 2017 with the absolute best of the year with the top 25 matches ranked (we covered #50 through #26 yesterday). Many companies were included but obviously not as much as I would have liked because of the standout matches from the United Kingdom and Japan. This was probably the best year in New Japan Pro Wrestling history with Kazuchika Okada, Kenny Omega and many others in the prime of their careers with the company in a major growth period. There was no personal bias towards NJPW and there is lots more to offer in this 2-part article, NJPW just happened to feature the most epic and memorable matches for the most part. Some matches had to be excluded and I must mention the excellent women’s wrestling in 2017, Asuka Vs. Ember Moon for example. The 5 star matches couldn’t be forgotten to narrow it down so let’s break down the 25 best. I really wanted to include such matches as Walter Vs. Alex Dieter Jr. at wXw We Love Wrestling, Aleister Black Vs. Velveteen Dream at NXT Takeover: War Games and Will Ospreay Vs. KUSHIDA at NJPW Best of The Super Juniors finals but I genuinely feel this is the best 25 of the year that was 2017.
#25. Pete Dunne Vs. Donovan Dijak, PROGRESS Chapter 50
Dijak was on his way to WWE to but first he challenged the PROGRESS World champion in a non-title match in a very overlooked bout. This match had so much fire and inventiveness from both, Dijak dove over the top to the floor like he was a man half his size twice. Dunne somehow took Dijak’s forearms and delivered a massive one of his own into the corner and The Bitter End finished it.
#24. Ringkampf (Alex Dieter Jr., Walter and Timothy Thatcher) Vs. British Strong Style (Pete Dunne, Trent Seven and Tyler Bate), PROGRESS Chapter 47
On April 23rd, the UK faithful were treated to the best six man tag team match all year, Walter was the Heavyweight throwing British Strong Style while Dieter and Thatcher locked on numerous submissions. The action went on for 28 minutes until Seven pinned Walter, reversing a sleeper hold. Ringkamf teased breaking up in the finish but Walter won over the audience in a big way.
#23. Will Ospreay Vs. Jimmy Havoc, Fans Bring The Weapons, PROGRESS Chapter 46
Havoc and Ospreay had the best rivalry in PROGRESS Wrestling history only now the roles were reversed and Ospreay had to leave the company for a while as a result of this match. A grandfather clock among other unique weapons were used but the action got heated by the finishing stretch when Havoc kicked out of an inverted 450 Splash. Ospreay took an Acid Rainmaker flipping him out of his boots in the end.
#22. Eddie Edwards (C) Vs. Naomichi Marufuji, GHC heavyweight championship, NOAH Great Voyage In Yokohama Vol. 2/Impact Wrestling
Eddie Edwards became the first ever Gaijin GHC Heavyweight champion and had to be tested against the “Ace” of NOAH. Marufuji has some of the best kicks in pro wrestling and went to town on Edwards. There were no lulls in the match, featuring a suicide dive over the barricade by Edwards. Amazingly Marufuji was pinned by a version of Emerald Flowsion. While originally airing as part of the NOAH Great Voyage in Yokohama Vol.2 event, it aired several weeks later on an episode of Impact Wrestling.
#21. Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs. Kota Ibushi, IWGP Intercontinental Championship, NJPW Power Struggle
Tanahashi worked his veteran status perfectly into this match, making Ibushi earn his spot with palm strikes and constant leg work. While Ibushi didn’t win the title, he proved he’s the main event star NJPW always wanted if he can stick around. “The Golden Star” couldn’t hit the knee strike after his leg was torn apart and he was pinned by the High Fly Flow after 35 minutes.
#20. Kazuchika Okada Vs. Michael Elgin, NJPW G1 Climax 27: Night 4
Okada refused to be beaten as champion in 2017 and even the massive test of Big Mike wasn’t enough but it was an unforgettable match. Elgin hasn’t gotten the chance in the main event too often in NJPW but he gave it his all here, clubbing Okada until the champion hit his trademark offense. A big dropkick, tombstone Pile-driver and Rainmaker put Elgin away but this showed how great of a title match this could be with even more time.
#19. Katsuhiko Nakajima (C) Vs. Brian Cage, GHC Heavyweight Championship, NOAH Summer Navigation
A match filled with mostly big bombs, to the point where you thought the match was over on a few occasions. Cage’s best match to date had Cage deadlifting Nakajima but also going at a fast pace for twenty minutes. Cage picked up Nakajima but took a Canadian Destroyer and Cage kicked out of a stiff head kick. Nakajima retained with a vertical Brainbuster in a match that had everyone talking about NOAH this summer.
#18. EVIL Vs. Kazuchika Okada, NJPW G1 Climax 27: Night 14
The elation from Milano on commentary when EVIL wins this G1 Climax match says it all. Okada took Darkness Falls on the floor and a steel chair to the head. Okada made a comeback but EVIL was the only man other than Omega to pin Okada in singles action all year when he countered The Rainmaker right into the STO. Terrific rematch at King Of Pro Wrestling as well but this G1 Climax match had it all, EVIL showed how much he has vastly improved.
#17. The Young Bucks (C) (Matt and Nick Jackson) Vs. The Lucha Bros (Penta El Zero M and Rey Fenix) Vs. Ricochet and Matt Sydal, PWG World Tag Team Championships, PWG Nice Boys (Don’t Play Rock N’ Roll)
The breakneck pace of this match is so breathtaking, Ricochet even hit the lights hanging from the ceiling. PWG tends to have a fast paced style but this match didn’t stop for a second with all six men. Penta El Zero M and Rey Fenix had crazy new tag team moves but also a Canadian Destroyer on the apron for good measure. A Frankensteiner off the top rope to the floor then a Package PileDriver combo to Ricochet earned The Lucha Bros their first PWG tag team championships.
#16. Kenny Omega Vs. Michael Elgin, NJPW G1 Climax 27: Night 8
The chemistry between Omega and Elgin has resulted in spectacular matches in the past, even a ladder match for the IWGP Intercontinental championship. Omega took a Buckle Bomb, Powerbomb on the apron and big Lariat’s. Both know what the other is going to do next seemingly and the hits are hard as cement. Omega hit a couple V-Trigger’s but before he could follow up, Elgin won with a Burning Hammer.
#15. EVIL Vs. Kenny Omega, NJPW G1 Climax 27: Night 12
EVIL was one of the MVP’s of the G1 Climax tournament this year and this match between Los Ingobernobles De Japon and Bullet Club members had the wrestling world buzzing. Omega took a Uranage through a table off the apron. EVIL was all over Okada until Omega hit Snap Dragon Suplexes. EVIL was legitimately knocked out by a second V-Trigger knee in the ropes. EVIL was in the ropes for the pinfall so Omega had no choice but to hit another V-Trigger and finish it with One Winged Angel. A real breakout performance by EVIL and one of Omega’s finest.
#14. Katsuyori Shibata (C) Vs. Hirooki Goto, NEVER Openweight Championship, NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11
Shibata will always be remembered for matches like this, a pure slug-fest and fighting spirit represented to it’s fullest. Both traded kicks to the back and stiff forearms until Goto found an extra reserve. Shibata thought he could bring his good friend Goto to his knees with brutal strikes but that wouldn’t happen on this night. Shibata took a reverse GTR to the face than the GTR to hand his NEVER Openweight title to Goto.
#13. Tomohiro Ishii Vs. Keith Lee, RevPro Global Wars
Powerhouses collided in one of the biggest matches of Lee’s career but also one of his best. Lee stood up to the chops and shots and unloaded himself, even hitting a top rope Doomsault to try to keep Ishii down. Lee would finally hit a couple Lariat’s but Lee wouldn’t go down until a third. Lee kicked out and Ishii kicked out of a Spirit Bomb in return. Keith Lee incredibly got lifted up by an Ishii Brainbuster for the finish.
#12. KUSHIDA (C) Vs. Hiromu Takahashi, IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11
KUSHIDA and Hiromu stole the show in the Junior division for months, with a redemption story for KUSHIDA but the real ranked match is the first from Wrestle Kingdom 11. KUSHIDA tried the Hoverboard Lock to no avail and both went to the floor a couple times, Hiromu’s sunset bomb is devastating. KUSHIDA got reversed into a Death Valley Bomb in the apron and The Time Bomb made Takahashi the new champion.
#11. Tetsuya Naito (C) Vs. Michael Elgin, IWGP Intercontinental Championship, NJPW New Beginning In Osaka
This IWGP Intercontinental championship match in February was remarkable, capable of being a main event for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Naito was far too cocky early and paid for it with a powerbomb into the guardrail. After both went for everything in their arsenals, Naito hit Destino but Elgin kicked out. Naito had to hit another Destino to retain.
#10. Kota Ibushi Vs. Tetsuya Naito, NJPW G1 Climax: Night 1
Kota Ibushi returned to the G1 Climax in a big way and almost beat Naito in a classic. The Golden Triangle Moonsault and Last Ride Powerbomb couldn’t end Naito’s night. Not even a PileDriver from the middle rope could. Naito went for Gloria but Ibushi tuned it into a Snap Dragon Suplex, just like his former tag partner Kenny Omega. Naito hit a top rope reverse hurricanrana and put Ibushi away with Destino.
#9. Hiromu Takahashi (C) Vs. Dragon Lee, IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, NJPW New Beginning In Osaka
Dragon Lee Vs. Hiromu Takahashi was the best Junior division or Cruiserweight division match all year in my opinion and the rematch in Best Of The Super Juniors was amazing as well. Both went all-out with speed that needs to be seen to be believed, Dragon Lee running on the apron for a hurricanrana to the floor for example. Dragon Lee did just about everything except win the Junior Heavyweight Championship. This has been a rivalry lasting years with Hiromu previously having to get his head shaved but Takahashi got the last laugh with The Time Bomb this time.
#8. Kenny Omega Vs. Tomohiro Ishii, IWGP United States Championship Tournament Final, NJPW G1 In USA: Night 2
Omega and Ishii had a series from the New Japan Cup to the IWGP United States title finals. Ishii won the first and Omega won the second so these two had a 35 minute war to end the feud with gold on the line. Omega sent Ishii off the apron through a table with a Dragon Suplex. Ishii took sick blows to the head from the V-Trigger. Ishii fought back with a Lariat but Omega made history with the One Winged Angel.
#7. Matt Riddle (C) Vs. WALTER, PROGRESS Atlas Championship, PROGRESS Chapter 51
Matt Riddle and WALTER looked like they were made to wrestle each other with Riddle’s MMA background and WALTER’s unbelievably stiff style. WALTER took it to Riddle with chops and Powerbombs in this match for the big lads title (205 pounds plus.) Riddle took the most brutal leg kick you may ever see. Riddle’s leg got worn out some more but he fired back with gutwrench suplexes. It was too much for Riddle though as the Austrian put Riddle away with a Sleeper Chokehold. Fantastic rematches too but this is the one I would really recommend.
#6. Zack Sabre Jr. Vs. Marty Scurll, RevPro High Stakes
Scurll and Sabre are good friends and tag team partners in the United Kingdom but Scurll had a chance at besting Sabre at his own game and he didn’t care if he broke Sabre to do so. That’s what made this match must-see besides the scientific pro wrestling mat game. Sabre escaped The Chicken Wing and everything else so “The Villain” grabbed a bungee cord and tried to break Sabre’s fingers. Sabre’s hand also went into the steel post but after all the remarkable counters and Marty’s relentless, Sabre rolled out of The Chicken Wing into a bridging victory roll after forty minutes. British wrestling at it’s finest.
#5. Hiroshi Tanahashi (C) Vs. Tetsuya Naito, IWGP Intercontinental Championship, NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11
Three sensational matches. One “Ace” defending NJPW’s honor. One “Ungovernable” heel trying to take what he feels is his. It was all for the IWGP Intercontinental championship but it was more about respect. G1 Climax and Dominion were great rematches but Wrestle Kingdom told the best story, even though Tanahashi’s tougher side came out a bit more in the other matches. A sling-blade on the apron and a few dragonscrew leg whips couldn’t stop Naito as Tanahashi was put down by 2 Destino’s. Both smacked each other in the beginning but earned each other’s respect by the end, Naito fist-bumped Tanahashi’s heart after winning at Wrestle Kingdom 11.
#4. Keith Lee Vs. Donovan Dijak, PWG Battle Of Los Angeles: Night 3
Lee and Dijak were called ambitious by many fans and critics for their series in 2017 and it payed off. By the time PWG Battle Of Los Angeles rolles around, fans couldn’t wait to see them meet for the third time. The EVOLVE Wrestling and AAW Pro matches displayed dives into the crowd and both doing Cruiserweight-style action for both being heavyweights. At PWG BOLA they traded finishers with both kicking out at one. Dijak showed tremendous agility with springboards but Lee matched him with a Doomsault. Both teamed as MONstars the previous night so Dijak gave Lee their Jersey to put on, only for Dijak to boot Lee in the face and hit Feast Your Eyes. Lee powers up instead of going down and wins with Ground Zero. The crowd was understandably crazy for this trilogy all year long.
#3. Kenny Omega Vs. Tetsuya Naito, NJPW G1 Climax Final
Omega and Naito made it to the Finals for a rematch from last year’s Semi-Finals in the G1 Climax tournament. This match was just as long as the first and with a different result. We saw things we haven’t really seen before like a DDT into the top of the ring post. Omega brought back Coyt’s Wrath but it wasn’t enough. Naito hit two Destino’s and Omega still kicked out so a third one finished it.
#2. Kazuchika Okada (C) Vs. Kenny Omega, IWGP Heavyweight Championship, NJPW Dominion
Wrestle Kingdom, Dominion and G1 Climax matches had everyone talking about Omega vs Okada and it raised things to a new level in both men’s careers. Dominion’s one hour draw was my favorite but they all made for unbelievable viewing live or not. It took Omega almost 90 minutes in the ring with Okada this year until he finally hit the One Winged Angel and Okada got to the ropes on the pinfall. Bullet Club’s Cody tried to save Omega and throw the towel in after a couple rainmakers and over 45 minutes of action at Dominion. The added drama was on a grand scale as Omega fired back with V-Triggers but then got caught in another Rainmaker but collapsed and both went crashing to the mat. The shots were so hard hitting and the chemistry between both men was something every fan must see.
#1. Kazuchika Okada (C) Vs. Katsuyori Shibata, IWGP Heavyweight Championship, NJPW Sakura Genesis
The way the match was structured was all in Shibata’s favor: brutal strikes causing concern and anticipation until the very end. Many debates have since been made about whether or not Shibata went too far, suffering a brain aneurysm from too many headbutts and hits to the head. Okada got kicked in the back, the chest and the face as hard as he could be hit. That’s what makes the match. Can Okada take all of this? What does it take to be champion? A match like this shows the world who is the best and Okada took everything on route to retaining with a Rainmaker. The finishing stretch was beautiful with Shibata setting up the Penalty Kick the whole match but Okada turning it into a Rainmaker and keeping the wrist clutch until he finished the war. I didn’t pick this as the best of the year because it’s Katsuyori Shibata’s final match ever, I chose it because I really don’t think it gets any better.