MY TOP 10 NJPW MATCHES OF 2015
1, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada (Jan 4th, *****)
2, Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi (Jan 4th, *****)
3, Tomoaki Honma vs. Tomohiro Ishii (Feb 14th, ****¾+)
4, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (Aug 16th, ****¾)
5, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs AJ Styles (Aug 14th, ****¾)
6, KUSHIDA vs. Kyle O'Reilly (Jun 7th, ****¾)
7, Kazuchika Okada vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (Aug 15th, ****¾)
8, Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tomoaki Honma (Nov 7th, ****¾)
9, AJ Styles vs. Kazuchika Okada (Jul 5th, ****¾)
10, Katsuyori Shibata vs. Kota Ibushi (Jul 29th, ****¾)
Honourable mentions: Goto vs. Ishii (Aug 9th), Tanahashi vs. Ibushi (Jul 20th), Ishii vs. Elgin (Aug 15th), Okada vs. AJ (Oct 12th), AJ vs. Ibushi (Apr 6th)
There has been some seriously good quality wrestling bouts in New Japan this year. Whilst audience figures seem to decrease and the over-all quality of the shows seems to have diminished since the peaks of, say, 2013, the individual outstanding match count is as high as it has ever been in the promotion.
They hit the ground running in January with Wrestle Kingdom 9, which was one of the greatest wrestling cards ever and gave us the two best matches of the year straight off the bat. I’ve been tied up in knots ever since, trying to decide which of the top two matches I thought was better, with both being ***** classics. It didn’t matter how many times I watched them, I just couldn't decide, with both being very different, but both equally outstanding contests. In the end, I’ve gone with the Tanahashi/Okada main event, based purely on the emotion and meaning behind it. These guys made that match seem like the most important in a generation, and Okada breaking down in tears at having failed at his quest to become company ace was incredible to see and the whole thing is just something you don’t see anywhere these days. They also have a gift of going out there and having a 30 minute plus wrestling match, but making it feel half that long, which is quite the talent.
The superb Ishii/Honma war from February 14th is another match I’ve long toyed with giving the full ***** Whilst as brilliant as it was, there were a couple reasons I just couldn’t give it full marks. Firstly, it ultimately went on too long for my liking, to the point it felt like overkill at times (their epic and almost as good rematch on November 7th was as lean as this could have been) and secondly, had Honma gone over, it would have been truly perfect. Tanahashi and Shinsuke’s fantastic G1 final was without doubt the greatest match they’ve ever had against each other and Tanahashi’s G1 clash with AJ on August 14th was quite possibly the best performance of AJ’s career. Both were drama filled and exceptional pieces of professional wrestling.
KUSHIDA’S BOSJ final victory over Kyle O’reilly was outstanding and probably the best junior heavyweight match in NJPW since Koji Kanemoto and El Samurai’s classic BOSJ final in 1997. AJ Styles proved himself a top draw and true top tier talent in 2015. His tremendous title defence against Okada from a sold out Osaka-Jo Hall was particularly exceptional, and the Rainmaker himself proved his worth too, with both men being strong wrestler of the year candidates. Okada’s battle in the G1 with Shinsuke (a rematch of my favourite bout from 2014) was almost as good as last years final, and is such a well protected match-up, that it feels really fresh and vital. Which brings us to Ibushi vs. Shibata, again in the G1, which was a legitimate first time offering and it more than delivered on its potential.
2015 was a tremendous year, from an in-ring standpoint, for New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Here’s hoping this quality continues into 2016. With WK10 shaping up the way it is, theres no reason to think otherwise.