Welcome to my Top 200 Matches of 2022! This was not necessarily an endeavor I was planning to undertake, but I diligently rated and tracked all matches I had at 4+ stars, ending with a staggering 624 matches, up significantly from 283 in 2021 – the first year I tracked this with such intent. This is for a variety of reasons – first, not having a day job and working mostly evenings and freelance in 2022 certainly gave me the freedom to watch so much wrestling. Not to mention, I started watching even more promotions with consistency, including Stardom, NOAH, DDT, TJPW, Impact (the most consistent American wrestling television product in 2022) and even came back to WWE for the first time since 2018 because Vince left. PLEASE DON’T COME BACK – I actually enjoy the product again. I also dabbled more in indie wrestling. And obviously, my two favorites in New Japan and AEW were front and center. I firmly believe that 2022 is the best year in the history of wrestling, because of all the insane things that happened, and the sheer match quality occurring all over the world. What a time.
Without further ado, YOU JUST MADE THE LIST:
200. Yuki Ueno vs Cara Noir – DDT Who’s Gonna Top? (9/25), DDT National Championship
“The Black Swan” Cara Noir was probably my favorite men’s wrestler of 2022 that I had never seen prior to 2022. His gimmick is that of a ballet dancer with a beautiful, majestic entrance. But he was also trained by Zack Sabre Jr, so you know he can go in the ring, and he has the nastiest twisting sleeper hold you’ll ever see. He and Ueno – who I refer to as Baby Ibushi due to his striking resemblance to Kota Ibushi – had some fun and sensual moments together in a tag match before this battle for the DDT National Championship. This was a fast-paced, hard-hitting contest with great wrestling and athleticism that saw Ueno come out on top. Look for 2023 to be a breakout year for Cara Noir, in DDT and otherwise.
199. Austin Theory vs Seth Rollins vs BIG BOB Lashley – WWE Survivor Series War Games (11/26), WWE United States Championship Triple Threat
The match that solidified the current rise of Austin Theory. While some could see it as a fluke win, I give all the credit in the world to the young upstart for smartly falling on Rollins following a spear from Big Bob – what a finish! Rollins hit a huge frog splash and an outstanding springboard stomp, and all three men worked incredibly well together. Theory losing the Money in the Bank briefcase feels like a distant memory as he got his revenge here.
198. Jordynne Grace vs Masha Slamovich – Impact Over Drive (11/18), Last Knockout Standing for the Impact Knockouts Championship
The first of several matches on this list that I attended live in 2022 was a brutal Last Knockout Standing rematch from their awesome match at Bound For Glory between Jordynne Grace and Masha Slamovich. These two threw everything at each other – including the kitchen sink – and Grace got the W with a massive Muscle Buster through a door on the outside. Masha Slamovich for Impact Knockouts Champion in 2023? I think so.
197. MJF vs Wheeler Yuta – AEW Dynamite Anniversary (10/5)
A nice little mini feud where Wheeler showed a ton of fire and exhibited his best microphone work to that point. MJF matches are rare, but always good, and this was no exception. This had an old-school feel, with both men employing great mat work with a hot crowd to boot. MJF showed respect to Yuta by not hitting him with the Dynamite Diamond Ring, and the post-match saw Regal tease the use of brass knucks on MJF, and well, we all know how that went.
196. David Finlay vs Will Ospreay – NJPW G1 Climax Night 10 (8/2)
What a 2022 for David Finlay. After years of toiling in New Japan’s midcard, Finlay absolutely broke out in this year’s G1. Despite losing his first match to the Pimp Yujiro Takahashi, Finlay rattled off three consecutive wins against his former tag team partner Juice Robinson, Shingo Takagi (!), and Will Ospreay!! Shingo and Ospreay both are guys who do not lose much, so New Japan management must see something in Finlay, And it’s warranted. While their rematch for the IWGP United States Championship ranks very highly on this list (spoiler, I gave it five stars), this was still an excellent match capped by the shock finish.
195. Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi vs Fuminori Abe & Takuya Nomura – BJW Bloody Musou Tournament Opening Round (6/27), BJW Tag Team Championship
Big Japan is not a promotion I watch much, but seeing a high score for this match on cagematch.net, and it featuring two behemoths like Sekimoto and Okabayashi on the same team, I couldn’t pass it up. It took a bit to get going, but these two teams absolutely bludgeoned each other into oblivion before the 30-minute draw.
194. Tyler Bate vs Trent Seven – WWE NXT UK (9/1), NXT UK Championship
The battle of Mustache Mountain, and the final bout for the NXT UK Championship before it unified with the NXT Championship. This was great, hard-hitting, and as emotional as expected. A very fitting match to end the legacy of an awesome championship. Can we see more of Tyler Bate in 2023, please? Main roster perhaps? Wait, is Vince running things again? Shit, I don’t know. Did Trent Seven actually sign with AEW? I’m asking myself too many questions.
193. Takashi Sugiura vs Go Shiozaki – NOAH Higher Ground (1/27)
These two together are now must-see for me after their incredible 51-minute war for the GHC Heavyweight Championship in December 2020. Just over a year later these two tangle again, with Go Shiozaki in the midst of a losing streak during his comeback after nearly 10 months off. These two struck the hell out of each other in a much tighter match that saw The Killing Machine Sugiura pick up the dub.
192. CM Punk vs Jon Moxley – AEW All Out (9/4), AEW World Championship
A match that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, obviously, but it was still a very good match, with Moxley embracing the extreme heat from the Chicago crowd. My vitriol for Punk has calmed down in recent months, but we’ll just leave it at that for now.
191. Fenix vs Hijo Del Vikingo vs Bandido vs Laredo Kid vs Taurus – AAA Triplemania XXX: Tijuana, AAA Cruiserweight/Latin American Championship Five-Way
Just looking at the names in this match you can guess exactly how it went. Very fast and flippy with a million high spots. It was a blast to watch.
190. Shoko Nakajima vs Rika Tatsumi – TJPW Summer Sun Princess (7/9), Princess of Princess Championship
This was the first TJPW show I ever watched, and also the first show I watched from Japan that allowed cheering since the pandemic began. What a damn relief! This ended up being one of my favorite shows from 2022, and this was the main event for the biggest prize in TJPW. I was unfamiliar with Rika coming in, but she put on an excellent performance in just falling short to the Big Kaiju.
189. Baliyan Akki vs Minoru Fujita – Gatoh Move ChocoPro #200 Night 2 (2/13), Last Man Standing for the Super Asia Championships
During the pandemic, Emi Sakura’s ChocoPro ran shows in the most unique wrestling venue I’ve ever seen – it feels like a narrow one-room schoolhouse with a mat in the middle. I was more familiar with Akki as a ChocoPro ref or DDT commentator, but he absolutely brought the passion and emotion in this one, making me invested despite not knowing the story. Great stuff.
188. Kento Miyahara vs Yuma Aoyagi – AJPW 50th Anniversary Tour Sapporo Night 2 (5/15), AJPW Triple Crown Championship
Admittedly, I’ve fallen out of All Japan recently (five Japanese promotions in addition to everything is finally too much), but Kento is awesome and Yuma is being groomed to succeed Kento as the next Ace. If the company is still around…But yeah, this match is still tight.
187. Seth Rollins vs Matt Riddle – WWE Clash of the Champions (9/3)
I came back to WWE slowly after Vince’s exit (and who knows how long I’ll stay now…) and this was one of the first feuds I really got invested in. It was personal, real, and executed properly week after week. And the match absolutely lived up to the billing for me, with this being the strongest of their trilogy.
186. Konosuke Takeshita vs Daisuke Sasaki – DDT Konosuke Takeshita 10th Anniversary (9/10)
I couldn’t be happier that Takeshita is catching fire with American fans, and DDT paid tribute to the man with a 10th Anniversary show (and he’s still only 27!). Sasaki is a guy I only started seeing more of lately. He comes across as a prick, and I’m a fan. I didn’t realize the history these two had, especially over DDT’s top prize – the KO-D Championship – but you could feel it here.
185. Cara Noir vs Ilja Dragunov – Progress Chapter 131 (3/25)
Thanks to my boy Kyle from The Apron Bump for introducing me to Progress. I saw these two had a ton of previous history in Progress, but I decided to check out their 2022 match and it was everything I wanted – grace, brutal strikes, suplexes, and so much heart. I look forward to checking out their earlier Progress trilogy one day.
184. Kazuchika Okada & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kaito Kiyomiya & Keji Muto – NJPW/NOAH Wrestle Kingdom in Yokohama Arena (1/8)
The two defining stars of New Japan’s modern area vs a New Japan star of old, and the current Ace (I guess) of NOAH in Kaito Kiyomiya. This was the main event, and it was quite hot, with Okada bullying Kaito at times. It ended with Kaito walking out in tears a la Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 9 after losing to Tanahashi. It’s not happening at this year’s NJPW/NOAH show, but hopefully, we can get a singles match between Okada and Kaito one day, and Okada shows him who’s boss again.
183. Jon Moxley vs Tom Lawlor – Defy Wild Ones (4/30)
This was one I watched several months after it happened, and holy shit was it bloody! To be expected with Mox, but Lawlor was dumping buckets. This match absolutely ruled as expected, and I’d love to see these two battle it out on a bigger stage in 2023 (G1 perhaps?).
182. AZM vs Mei Suruga – Stardom Cinderella Tournament Final (4/29), Stardom High Speed Championship
I’ve grown to love Mei Suruga from her early appearances in AEW from the Japan Bracket of the Women’s Championship Eliminator Tournament in early 2021 to seeing her in ChocoPro, and finally making appearances in both Stardom and TJPW in 2022. And AZM is 20 years old and already one of the best women’s wrestlers in the world. This was High Speed through and through, and a wonderful back-and-forth contest with about a million pin attempts that saw AZM come out on top. I’d love to see a rematch one day.
181. Blackpool Combat Club (Jon Moxley, Claudio Castagnoli & Wheeler Yuta), Eddie Kingston & Ortiz vs Jericho Appreciation Society – AEW Dynamite Blood & Guts (6/29), Blood and Guts match
While I did like this match better than the first Blood and Guts, it’s clear that these matches should be on PPV, because the 57 commercial breaks definitely hurt the flow. It’s just tough to really sink in with so many commercial breaks, and so much key action occurring during them. Also unfortunate, Santana was injured during the match, and hasn’t been seen in AEW since. The finish was great with Claudio getting the tap out before Kingston on the top of the cage and Kingston was pissed. Oh, and Sammy also got chucked off the cage. Fun stuff, but let’s do it on PPV to give it the shine it deserves.
180. Davey Richards vs Tom Lawlor – Warrior Wrestling 24 (6/26)
This was another match I saw live before attending Forbidden Door, a hop, skip, and a jump away from the United Center. Nothing much to say here, other than it was a technical masterclass by both men and an absolute treat to take in live. My first time seeing both guys in person. What an appetizer for Forbidden Door.
179. Tama Tonga vs Jay White – NJPW G1 Climax Night 18 (8/16)
In a G1 Climax riddled with upsets, this one took the cake as being the most impactful, as it cost Jay White a spot in the final four after being unbeaten in his first five matches. Tama Tonga got over like wildfire with the crowd after being turned on by Jay and Bullet Club, and they sure were happy to see this one. As was I – Tama deserves all the love – he’s been awesome. And this led to one of the best promos of the year from Jay:
178. Frankie Kazarian vs Speedball Mike Bailey – Impact Bound For Glory (10/7), Impact X-Divison Championship
The former “Elite Hunter” Frankie Kazarian had a heck of a run in his old home of Impact late in 2022, while Speedball was one of the best wrestlers in the world in 2022. This was a heck of an opener to an awesome Bound For Glory show, and Kaz proved he could still hang with a much younger, athletic wrestler in Bailey – and he got the surprise W. He would cash in Option C for a shot at the Impact World Championship in a match that’s much higher on this list.
177. Syuri vs ASUKA – Hana Kimura Produce Bagus! (5/23)
No, this is not Asuka from WWE, but they might be better! This ASUKA also goes by the name VENY, and like Mei Suruga, I also saw them for the first time in the Japan Bracket of the AEW Women’s Championship Eliminator tournament. Syuri dominated Stardom in 2022, holding the World of Stardom Championship for essentially the entire year. This was a dream match of sorts at a Hana Kimura tribute show. The action was excellent, and I’d love to see these two tangle again on a bigger stage.
176. Eddie Kingston vs Konosuke Takeshita – AEW Rampage (7/8)
There was a lot of “no selling” here, but I didn’t care – I loved it. These two beat each other pillar to post, and of course I’m always down to see Kingston fight Japanese guys – especially a stud like Takeshita. But yeah, nothing too glamorous here – just two warriors hammering each other.
175. Tomohiro Ishii vs Clark Connors – NJPW New Japan Road Night 5 (6/21), AEW All-Atlantic Championship tournament final
This match was to determine who would be the final entrant in the four-way match at Forbidden Door to determine the inaugural AEW All-Atlantic Champion. Ishii won the match, but suffered a knee injury and was pulled just days before and replaced by Connors. However, this was probably the best singles match of Clark’s career, and he also put on a very worthy performance at Forbidden Door (more on that later). But this ruled. Ishii doesn’t have bad matches.
174. Dax Harwood vs Cash Wheeler – AEW Dynamite (4/27), Owen Hart Cup qualifier
Remember the Owen Hart Cup? Yeah, I don’t either. But I do remember the battle of FTR! What an unbelievable year these guys had, and what a nice feather in their caps to have an awesome singles match. Dax had many in 2022, but Cash didn’t get as many singles opportunities. He certainly proved himself worthy here. This had a very old school face vs face feel and the crowd loved it. And we may never see it again.
173. Eddie Kingston vs Chris Jericho – AEW Revolution (3/6)
This is the match that kicked off what turned out to be a pretty excellent in-ring year for Chris Jericho. His and Kingston’s feud was a bit up and down, but this match definitely banged to kick off Revolution. This was a brutal brawl from the get-go, and Kingston surprisingly tapped out Jericho.
172. Kaito Kiyomiya vs Hideki Suzuki – NOAH N-1 Victory Grand Final (9/3), N-1 Victory Final
Hideki Suzuki – who was the criminally underused Hachiman in WWE – most definitely caught my eye in his run to the final of NOAH’s N-1 Victory. I had never seen him wrestle, and damn he’s a heck of a grappler who’s not afraid to stand and strike, and rarely shows emotion. I was pulling for him BIG TIME in this, but I figured the young ace Kaito would get the victory as he did. But Suzuki certainly made him work for it.
171. El Hijo del Vikingo vs Rey Fenix – AAA Triplemania XXX: Mexico City (10/15), AAA Mega Championship
This match was given 5 stars from Dave Meltzer, and while I don’t agree, it certainly was one heck of a spotfest, and Vikingo is always good to break out something wild, wacky and flippy that you’ve never seen. Easily two of the best high flyers in the world doing their thing. I preferred Vikingo’s next defense of the Mega Championship but this was great fun.
170. Will Ospreay vs El Phantasmo – New Japan Cup Night 6 (3/12)
Ospreay and ELP had a great feud in 2019 over the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship, and the IWGP Jr. Tag Team Championship, along with their partners Robbie Eagles, and Taiji Ishimori, respectively. This was their first singles match since October 2019, and they picked up right where they left off with great chemistry, counters, and nearfalls. I’d preferred this slightly to their G1 match later in the year.
169. Will Ospreay vs Nick Wayne – GCW I Never Liked You (6/19)
Current Will Ospreay vs a young Will Ospreay cosplay. Nick Wayne is one of the brightest young prospects on the indie scene, and he signed an AEW contract at 16, although he can’t perform for them until he turns 18 and graduates high school (which I believe is later this year). But he looks and wrestles much like a young Will Ospreay, and Ospreay had to feel like he was looking in a mirror during this match. Incredibly fun stuff between two amazing athletes. I’m sure you’ll be hearing the name Nick Wayne for many years to come.
168. Kazuchika Okada vs Lance Archer – NJPW G1 Climax Night 18 (8/16)
Why isn’t Lance Archer used better in AEW!? Damnit, he was so great in this match largely dominating Okada. He busted out a big dropkick and a Rainmaker of his own to an audible pop from the crowd. Okada played the rare underdog role perfectly, as he was able to sneak away with the victory and secure his place in the G1 final four, en route to winning his 2nd consecutive. More of this Archer, please.
167. Shingo Takagi vs YOSHI-HASHI – NJPW G1 Climax Night 4 (7/23)
My boy YOSHI-HASHI has continued to impress in each of the past few G1 Climaxes, and damnit he came so incredibly close to slaying the dragon that is Shingo Takagi. YOSHI-HASHI hung right with him with striking, and got many believable nearfalls, only for Shingo to squeak by with the victory. YOSHI-HASHI is so tight – so happy for his improvement and usage over the past 2-3 years.
166. Daniel Garcia vs Wheeler Yuta – AEW Dynamite (9/7), ROH Pure Championship
Ahhh, the crowning Daniel Garcia babyface moment! Uhh wait, not really. For one night, Daniel Garcia was one of the biggest babyfaces in all of AEW in his hometown of Buffalo. While he was teasing a face turn and an exit from the Jericho Appreciation Society, Garcia got the biggest win of his career. Great emotion all around here, but unfortunately everything returned to status quo shortly after.
165. Kazuchika Okada vs Taichi, New Japan Cup Night 8 (3/14)
Taichi always brings out his best against Okada (and Ishii), and their New Japan Cup contest was no different. This match went 24+ minutes and could’ve been cut down slightly, but Taichi came to play, Okada was his normal great self, and they pummeled each other down the stretch. Taichi fell just short, but he’s getting closer against the stalwart Okada.
164. Tomohiro Ishii vs Yota Tsuji – NJPW Royal Quest II Night 2 (10/2)
Yota Tsuji is a former New Japan young lion currently on excursion in England’s Revolution Pro Wrestling. I had not seen him since he went on excursion, and damn was he impressive here! He had a new look, new offense (the big man flipped out of the ring!) and stood toe-to-toe with Ishii, similar to the Clark Connors match earlier on this list. This definitely made me excited for Tsuji’s return to Japan to join his fellow young lions Shota Umino and Ren Narita in the near future.
163. Jun Kasai & Tomoaki Honma vs El Desperado & DOUKI – JTO TakaTaichi Mania 2.5 (5/6), Tag Team Death
I caught portions of all of the TakaTaichi Mania shows in Taka Michinoku’s Just Tap Out promotion in 2022, and they were always great. The crowds were always raucous (as much as they could be), and they often featured at least one “death” match for lack of a better term. And they also introduced me to deathmatch legend Jun Kasai, and wow that guy is an absolute treat. Not to mention, these shows brought out a side of Tomoaki Honma that I’ve never seen. And of course, I absolutely love El Desperado and DOUKI, so this was just great beautiful violence.
162. MJF vs Ricky Starks – AEW Dynamite Winter Is Coming (12/14), AEW World Championship
MJF’s first defense of the AEW World Championship was excellent and built well in a short period of time. You’ve got two of the best talkers in all of AEW, and they proved they could equally go in the ring, delivering a very old-school heel vs face championship match with the crowd on the edge of their seat. While nobody bought Ricky actually winning, he had some compelling nearfalls, and his push has fortunately continued after this match. It’s going to be a big 2023 for Ricky Starks.
161. Ilja Dragunov vs Jordan Devlin – WWE NXT UK (1/27), NXT Championship Empty Arena match
Before transforming into JD McDonagh, the former Jordan Devlin had a great rivalry with former NXT UK Champ Ilja Dragunov. I’ll admit, I did not watch their Loser Leaves Town match a few months later, but the empty arena version was incredibly brutal and intense. They used the stipulation to their advantage, really showcasing the vitriol between the two. The ending was unique with Dragunov getting the win with the Torpedo Moscow with his hands tied behind his back.
160. Masato Tanaka vs Go Shiozaki – NOAH Step Forward Night 1 (2/9)
Another match in the Go Shiozaki losing streak to start the year, and this was the best one in my opinion. The last two years may be the strongest of the 49-year-old Tanaka’s career, as he still continues to amaze me, long after he burst upon the scene with his matches against Mike Awesome in ECW in the late 90’s. This was the first singles match between the two in nearly 10 years and it did not disappoint one bit with Tanaka coming out on top.
159. Tomohiro Ishii vs Eddie Kingston – NJPW Capital Collision (5/14)
This was a first-time match between these two warriors, and the first of two singles matches they had in 2022. It’s always a treat to see Kingston fight with Japanese wrestlers, and these two gave us exactly what we wanted – an incredibly hard-hitting brawl featuring Strong Style vs King’s Road. Ishii got the victory here at New Japan’s show in Washington D.C., but Kingston would get his revenge back on AEW turf later in the year.
158. Naomi Yoshimura & Kazusada Higuchi vs Tetsuya Endo & Jun Akiyama – DDT Road To Peter Pan (8/14)
This was building towards the Higuchi/Endo match for the KO-D Championship, but damn we got one heck of a tag match with these four. The Higuchi/Endo sequences were outstanding, and despite Yoshimura getting bludgeoned by Akiyama and Endo, he wound up scoring the pin over the legend Akiyama in one of the biggest moments of his career. Yoshimura is one of the most unique looking wrestlers out there, and I’m guessing he’s a future KO-D champion.
157. Jungle Boy Jack Perry vs Luchasaurus – AEW Full Gear (11/19), Steel Cage match
This was an excellent opener that really set the tone for Full Gear – my 2nd-favorite show of the year behind Forbidden Door. This match was exactly what the feud between the two former AEW Tag Team Champions needed. Luchasaurus looked like the monster he is, and Jack Perry continues to show flashes of being a star, highlighted by his huge diving elbow drop off the cage through a table.
156. Saya Kamitani vs MIRAI – Stardom Flashing Champions (5/28), Wonder of Stardom Championship
MIRAI joined Stardom in early 2022, initially as part of Donna Del Mondo, but she migrated to God’s Eye with Syuri, which was key for her development. Other than her match with Syuri in January, this was probably the biggest match of MIRAI’s career and I came away impressed. This was a bit different for Saya, who more often than not works underneath as the underdog, but she worked on top largely and looked great in doing so en route to victory.
155. Gunther vs Ricochet – WWE Smackdown (12/16), WWE Intercontinental Championship
Gunther and Ricochet are two guys who have benefited tremendously since HHH took over (please let it continue), and this match was certainly evidence of that. Ricochet won the Smackdown World Cup to get a shot at the man he lost the belt to in Gunther, who just so happens to be having one of the best and most dominant intercontinental title reigns in decades. Naturally, Ricochet bumped his ass off for Gunther, but also showed that he absolutely can hang with the big boys. Easily one of the best WWE television matches of 2022.
154. Hangman Adam Page vs Lance Archer – AEW Dynamite (2/9), AEW World Championship Texas Death Match
This was Hangman’s first title defense after the two incredible matches against Bryan Danielson, and for some reason, the first of two Texas Death matches he had during his reign. The stipulation definitely made sense here, and the match started with a bang as they began fighting backstage. Archer came across as a total monster (WHERE IS HE!!??), and Hangman expertly took the beating and bled buckets. It was brutal and hard-hitting with a fun finish as Hangman used the ref to hit the Buckshot Lariat on Archer through a table.
153. The Bloodline vs Kevin Owens, Drew McIntyre, Sheamus, Butch & Ridge Holland – WWE Survivor Series War Games (11/26), War Games
Survivor Series 2022 was the first time WWE brought the War Games concept to the main roster, and it was a smashing success. This match was all about the story going in of whether the Bloodline could trust Sami Zayn, or if he would turn his back on them to join forces with his best friend Kevin Owens. The match was executed to perfection as Sami Zayn crushed Owens with a low blow, followed by a Helluva Kick, and catching Owens as he fell, just like he did in their amazing match at Battleground 2016. This is one of the best stories WWE has told in years, and I am eagerly awaiting the conclusion, assuming Vincent Kennedy McMahon doesn’t get his grubby paws on it.
152. Mayu Iwatani vs Starlight Kid – Stardom 5Star Grand Prix Night 20: Championship Battle (10/1)
The 21-year-old Starlight Kid is already one of the best women’s wrestlers in the world, and here she was going up against her former mentor and the icon of Stardom Mayu Iwatani. Starlight Kid absolutely took off after turning heel, and this was a classic heel vs babyface dynamic with so much history riddled throughout. Starlight Kid wants to reach the level of Mayu, but she must beat her to do so, throwing everything at Mayu in the process. Mayu realized how much SLK has improved since her departure from Stars to the nefarious Odeo Tai, and was pushed to her limit before grinding out the win. Whenever this match happens again it’s going to be absolutely fantastic, and hopefully, SLK gets that elusive win over the icon.
151. Katsuyori Shibata vs Ren Narita – NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16 Night 1 (1/4)
Shibata made his shocking return to a New Japan ring in a 5-minute exhibition match against Zack Sabre Jr in October 2021. This match was initially billed as Shibata vs a mystery partner in another exhibition match. Enter Ren Narita, Shibata’s star pupil and The Son of Strong Style, and then Shibata does the unthinkable and changes the rules to an actual match featuring strikes – the first time we’d see that from Shibata since his then-career brain injury against Okada in April 2017. I was just getting into Shibata at that point, and I was so sad to not be able to see him wrestle as he was seemingly still in his prime. But that made this match even more of a treat, because it’s something we never thought we’d see again. And what a moment for Narita, who was still a young lion here, and completely held his own and looked strong against his mentor. This brought out all of the emotions in me, and Shibata will do that again a couple more times on this list.