January kicked off the year with a bang with Wrestle Kingdom 12, NJPW New Year Dash, NJPW New Beginning In Sapporo, RevPro High Stakes and Royal Rumble weekend all taking place this month. The match quality was so good it was hard to rank the top twenty matches this month but there is a variety from the United States, United Kingdom and Japan. Let’s get to the most highly recommended matches of the month, the 20 Best Matches of January, with the top five being match of the year contenders.
#20. Austin Aries vs. Adam Brooks, World Series Wrestling/PCW: International Assault
The young, cocky heel against the veteran, cocky heel for the very first time in Australia’s Pro Championship Wrestling (PCW). Adam Brooks has gained a lot of steam lately reigniting a rivalry with Will Ospreay and he is easily become one of the best heels anywhere. Aries took it to Brooks with classic moves like Last Chancery but Brooks raked the eyes to escape. Both hit a suicide dive but the finish showed why Aries is still one of the world’s best: Brooks missed a Swanton and Aries hit three discus elbows in a row before winning with the Brainbuster.
#19. Aussie Open (Kyle Fletcher and Mark Davis) vs. EVIL and SANADA, RevPro High Stakes
Aussie Open have become the tag team to watch in the United Kingdom because they get better every match and have many teams they haven’t yet had the chance to wrestle that makes for fresh matches. Los Ingobernables De Japon were one of those teams and even if Kyle Fletcher and James Davis didn’t win, they looked like a million bucks coming out of the match. Davis hit his impressive one-armed powerbomb and Aussie Open hit The Fidget Spinner on SANADA but EVIL broke up the pin. EVIL hit the STO and won the Japan Vs United Kingdom tag team match for Los Ingobernables De Japon and the IWGP Heavyweight tag team champions.
#18. Zack Sabre Jr (c) vs. “Speedball” Mike Bailey, Defiant Internet Championship, Defiant Wrestling #7
“Speedball” Mike Bailey has some of the most lethal kicks in pro wrestling but Zack Sabre Jr is able to combat that with his submission-based offense and that’s exactly what happened here. The difference in styles made for a fast paced match with Bailey turning a crossbody into one of his own in mid-air. Sabre took a shooting star Kneedrop for two. Bailey faked out Sabre with rapid-fire kicks but got caught in a high-angle Boston Crab with stomps to the head. Sabre knows how to win a match in the most unique ways and it’s brutal to watch.
#17. Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr) (c) vs. EVIL & SANADA, IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships, NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 12
Lance Archer and Davey Boy Smith Jr went for the Killer Bomb on EVIL right away to show how badly they wanted to finish the match and dodge EVIL and SANADA. Killer Elite Squad took it to the World Tag League tournament winners and made this match a complete brawl. The Magic Killer almost put the champions away but the Muta Moonsault by SANADA granted EVIL and SANADA their first set of tag team championships.
#16. Will Ospreay vs. Jay Lethal, Ring Of Honor TV
Ospreay and Lethal had a match worthy of Pay Per View on ROH TV with counter after counter until the finish. Lethal proved to be the MVP of ROH by winning the match but Ospreay showed he could main event any time instead of being in the opening match at big shows. Both knew each other’s offense so well that when Lethal went for the Hail To The King elbow drop, Ospreay saw it coming and same for Ospreay’s high-flying. Ospreay went for the Os-Cutter but Lethal hit a Cutter of his own and The Lethal Injection finished one of the best ROH TV matches in many months.
#15. Cody Rhodes vs. Kota Ibushi, NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 12
Cody and Kota Ibushi over-delivered at the Tokyo Dome with a better match than the entire world was expecting. Ibushi is a big-match player but he didn’t get the ROH world title match he desired because Cody lost the ROH world championship at ROH Final Battle. Cody played to the crowd but got it done in the ring, coming close to winning the match a couple times. Ibushi took a nasty Crossrhodes off the apron to the floor, landing on his neck. Cody couldn’t finish the job and The Last Ride Powerbomb won “The Golden Star” the match.
#14. Will Ospreay vs. Mark Andrews, RevPro High Stakes
These two have been friends and rivals for years and it culminated at RevPro High Stakes. They have the ability to almost do the same high-risk moves but some of the reversals were spectacular. Ospreay started the match with a shotgun dropkick and Sasuke Special to the floor. Andrews would soon catch “The Aerial Assassin” off guard with Stundog Millionaire and a wild reverse hurricanrana. Andrews hit a springboard hurricanrana and a Vertebreaker for only two! The Revolution Kick and Os-Cutter put Mark Andrews away in another very memorable encounter between Ospreay and Andrews.
#13. Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Minoru Suzuki, IWGP Intercontinental Championship, NJPW New Beginning In Sapporo Night 1
“The Ace” was able to get by “Switchblade” Jay White at Wrestle Kingdom but less than a month later the IWGP Intercontinental championship would be in the hands of the man with “The Worst Personality In The World.” Tanahashi is suffering from acute osteoarthritis in his right knee and Suzuki attacked the knee like a shark smelling blood in the water. Tanahashi was still able to hot trademark moves like the Sling Blade but he was visibly in pain making the cover. Tanahashi held on for as long as he could in the Kneebar but the referee called off the match after several minutes of Suzuki tearing apart the knee.
#12. Kenou (c) vs. Kaito Kiyomiya, GHC Heavyweight Championship, NOAH Navigation For The Future
Kenou has been the GHC Heavyweight champion that Pro Wrestling NOAH needs right now and his style is so stiff it made for a cringe-worthy match with rising star Kiyomiya. Kenou is also very smooth, leg-sweeping his opponent and hitting kicks to the back. A top rope inverted DDT to the champion and some brutal exchanges highlighted what NOAH is all about currently and has really always been about. Kiyomiya fought long and hard but succumbed to a headbutt and hard head kicks, getting knocked out. Kenou retained but Kiyomiya will be in that place at some point down the road.
#11. The Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson) (c) vs. Roppongi 3K (Sho & Yoh, w/ Rocky Romero), IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships, NJPW New Beginning In Sapporo Night 2
The Young Bucks have been the IWGP Junior Heavyweight tag team champions seven times but the matches they have for those belts are always show stealers. Sho and Yoh have grown at just the right time and are the perfect match for a rivalry with Bullet Club. Wrestle Kingdom was a great opening title match but the rematch at New Beginning In Sapporo was even better. The Young Bucks went to the well too many times with the Sharpshooter and Matt Jackson’s bad back suffered while Sho made the final three-count with a rollup. Matt Jackson took backcracker’s, a double Flapjack on the apron and a double Suplex off the top rope to wear him down.
#10. Adam Cole vs. Aleister Black, Extreme Rules Match, NXT Takeover: Philadelphia
Adam Cole and Aleister Black are both on the cusp of becoming special talents in the future for WWE and NXT is the proving ground. A No-DQ match was a violent way to settle the score with Cole taking a Death Valley Driver onto two up-right steel chairs. Black hit a knee strike into a steel chair the same way Cole won War Games. Black took a Superkick off the second rope through a table on the floor. Cole got too full of himself like he usually does and Black Mass gave Black another massive win.
#9. Travis Banks (c) Vs. Chris Brookes, PROGRESS World Championship, PROGRESS Chapter 61: Don’t Touch Me…..Don’t…..Don’t Touch Me
Banks and Brookes are both members of CCK with Kid Lykos but that didn’t stop them from tearing into each other and hitting big moves on each other on the floor. They stole each other’s moves since they know each other so well, Banks locked in the Octopus Stretch and Banks took his own Kiwi Crusher. Brookes took off the CCK armband to show his mind was on the championship and only the championship. Brookes had a chance to use the PROGRESS championship as a weapon when the referee went down but he couldn’t do it to his good friend and Banks capitalized retaining with the Lion’s Clutch Crossface submission.
#8. Kenny Omega (c) Vs. Jay White, IWGP United States Championship, NJPW New Beginning In Sapporo Night 2
Jay White doesn’t have the crowd support quite yet but he’s playing the fence, a member of CHAOS but only for the purpose of destroying Bullet Club. It was Omega’s match once White had some early offense with a Death Valley Driver. Omega would soon lay in a vicious attack on “Switchblade” with V-Trigger after V-Trigger even to a downed White. Instead Jay White just laughed in Omega’s face but he took snap Dragon Suplexes for it. Omega kicked out of the first Blade Runner but not the second, the look on Okada’s face on commentary says it all.
#7. Marty Scurll (c) Vs. Will Ospreay Vs. Hiromu Takahashi Vs. KUSHIDA, IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 12
One of the best Four-Way matches of all time and it’s not even the best of the month. The amount of near-falls was amazing, it looked like KUSHIDA had it won them the next moment Takahashi would hit The Time Bomb. “The Villain” lived up to his name but took it too far when he went for powder and it went back in his face literally. Ospreay finally pinned his nemesis Marty Scurll and won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom all in one match.
#6. Will Ospreay vs. Adam Brooks, PROGRESS Chapter 61: Don’t Touch Me…..Don’t….Don’t Touch Me
This is a must-see match for fans of fast and agile pro wrestling with chemistry and a story behind it. Brooks met Ospreay in MCW in Australia and they had tremendous matches but this PROGRESS Wrestling match was on another level. Ospreay took a hurricanrana landing on his face off the top rope, a Canadian Destroyer on the apron and a Swanton for only two! Brooks put the referee in the way of Ospreay and hit the world’s first ever ripcord low-blow. An inside cradle got only two and Ospreay fired back with a decapitator elbow for a two-count. Somehow Brooks kicked out of a reverse 450 Splash but the Os-Cutter finished a classic match in this rivalry.
#5. Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito, IWGP Heavyweight Championship, NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 12
The story of the match is as incredible as the match itself. Naito clawed his way back to Okada and the IWGP Heavyweight Championship only to get caught up in the moment and have the confident champion take everything away. Naito had the match in his favor after a neckbreaker right on the guardrail. Naito then went back to his “Stardust Genius” roots and went for the top rope Stardust Press instead of just winning the gold with Destino. Okada hit a corkscrew tombstone piledriver and The Rainmaker sealed the deal.
#4. Kenny Omega (c) vs. Chris Jericho, IWGP United States Championship, No DQ Match, NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 12
Chris Jericho didn’t have anything left to prove but he went to NJPW anyways for a dream match against fellow Canadian Kenny Omega and it didn’t disappoint in the slightest. The No-DQ rules allowed for a more wild match, even referee Tiger Hattori and his son were abused. Jericho tried to avoid the full-brunt of the V-Trigger knee strikes but he couldn’t. Jericho kept up with Omega and nearly won the match with Walls Of Jericho and The Codebreaker. Great moment when Jericho countered the One-Winged-Angel into Walls Of Jericho. Omega would retain with One-Winged-Angel on a steel chair in an unforgettable Wrestle Kingdom match.
#3. Minoru Suzuki (c) vs. Hirooki Goto, NEVER Openweight Championship, NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 12
Suzuki gave Goto a beating in this match unlike any match seen in recent memory but the triumph of Goto was a moment that reminds us why we watch wrestling. Goto received about fifty palm strikes in a row and forearm after forearm. Goto came back with a devastating Avalanche Ushigoroshi. Don Callis did a fantastic job on the English commentary pointing out that Suzuki kept going to the sleeper but letting it go in favor of the Gotch Piledriver. Goto countered that twice and hit the GTR to reclaim the NEVER Openweight championship.
#2. Andrade “Cien” Almas (c) vs. Johnny Gargano, NXT Championship, NXT Takeover: Philadelphia
Gargano and Almas have faced twice already in NXT but not with the stakes this high and with a thirty minute main event to impress. Almas landed on his feet from a moonsault and hit a standing moonsault. Almas countered the spear through the ropes and hit a DDT over the knee and Destino. Gargano couldn’t win with the Gargano Escape and he took a hurricanrana on the floor by Zelina Vega, Almas’ manager. This five-star bout ended when Gargano took double-knees into the ring post and the Hammerlock DDT off the top rope. Even Candice LaRae, Gargano’s wife, couldn’t help even the odds and Tomasso Ciampa poured salt into the wounds after the match.
#1. Walter (c) Vs. Timothy Thatcher, PROGRESS Atlas Championship, PROGRESS Chapter 62: Fear No More, Come To Dust
Walter and Timothy Thatcher are both members of the Ringkampf faction in wXw im Germany but they went to war in this match for the PROGRESS Atlas Championship and there was no handshake to start. Stiff, snug, hard-hitting. Whichever of those words you want to use to describe the action here is fitting, Walter hit Thatcher with a short-arm lariat so hard the sound echoed and the sweat went flying. Both traded Suplexes on the hardwood floor then Thatcher got dropped on his head with backdrop Suplexes in the ring. Walter had the sleeper in but Thatcher turned it into the Fujiwara armbar. Walter countered and stomped on Thatcher’s head several times! Thatcher covered up on another chop because his chest was bleeding but he took a chop to the forehead instead. Thatched kicked out of a sit-out Piledriver! Another Lariat and a tiger bomb finally put Timothy Thatcher away. Unbelievable how these men treat pro wrestling like a sport and lay it absolutely all out there with a match like this.