Independent wrestling promotions have been reaping the benefits of a boom period in the past year. Up and coming companies such as OTT, AAA and WXW have all put on incredible programmes with some of the biggest stars in indie wrestling, while emerging superpowers NJPW and AEW have been breaking down barriers at home and overseas. Independent wrestling has never been as exciting and enticing as it is right now, with so many budding brands of sports entertainment cropping up across the world to challenge the status quo of mainstream products.
We’ve had a crack at running down the top ten WWE matches of 2019, but let’s shed some light on some of those instant classics that slipped under the radar, or those that deserve to be included in the same conversations as Gargano/Cole, Bate/WALTER and Kofi/Bryan.
Make sure you leave your own personal favourite indie matches in the comments below. Here’s to another successful year on the independent scene, without them, wrestling wouldn’t quite be as diverse as it has become.
10. Ilja Dragunov vs Cara Noir – PROGRESS: Chapter 96
‘The Black Swan’ Cara Noir has always been considered one of the unsung heroes of the British wrestling scene. Noir has been stringing together alluring performances in the ring through his eclectic persona and in-ring abilities. It was only a matter of time before one of the bigger promotions decided to take advantage of his growing fanbase and reputation as a solid worker. Enter PROGRESS and the 2019 Natural Progression Series.
All weekend long, Noir was having a breakout performance. Being greeted by one of the loudest receptions of the night, then going on to be the surprise opponent of ‘The Bruiserweight’ Pete Dunne at Alexandra Palance, there was no way that Cara wouldn’t be destined for great things in the punk-rock promotion.
Just under a month later, Noir was booked to compete against Ilja Dragunov at Chapter 96 in Manchester. Dragunov is of course best known for his work in WXW against WALTER and his developing presence in NXT UK, but this match in particular brought the best out of both he and Cara Noir in an instant classic performance. This match was so amazing that PROGRESS decided to schedule a series of rematches on the next three chapters, all building to a huge two out of three falls match that is taking place this Sunday in Sheffield.
Noir and Dragunov are two very hungry, young competitors that are looking to grab the proverbial brass ring. This sort of match is what makes indie wrestling so damn fun to watch, you never know when you’re going to get a match akin to a Steamboat/Savage; two wrestlers who you’d never match together that just happen to have bundles of chemistry in the squared circle.
9. David Starr vs Jordan Devlin – OTT Fifth Year Anniversary
Irish-based promotions OTT has had some of the biggest indie stars stop-by on their road to superstardom. Many of NXT UK’s roster have flirted with OTT on a few occasions, but none quite as much as OTT’s shining star – Jordan Devlin. ‘The Irish Ace’ has been putting together an incredibly emotional and visceral feud with former partner David Starr over the OTT World Championship. Having defeated WALTER to capture the title after many failed attempts, Devlin felt obliged to put the belt on the line against his thorn in the side, ‘Mr. Independent’ himself, David Starr.
Starr has been a huge name on the BritWres scene; having ridiculously fun feuds with the likes of Will Ospreay, El Phantasmo and WALTER across the global scene. Starr has gone out of his way to ensure better working standards for independent workers, making him quite the favourable name backstage as well as with the fans. Wrestling fans respect hard workers, Starr is just that.
OTT has always been a tight-knit community of grap-nuts, so getting to see these two rising titans collide in yet another brutal feels-fest take place in front of a very invested audience was a pleasure to see. There wasn’t a single person who wasn’t hanging on every move, especially in the final few moments which you really need to just sit back and enjoy unfold in the highlight reels.
Starr and Devlin should certainly meet again down the line, credit to both men for not holding back during their promos and of course the in-ring action. This was a perfect end to a very intense feud.
8. Kenny Omega vs Jon Moxley – AEW Full Gear
A match which split the wrestling world right down the centre. A true callback to the gore and violence of OG ECW and the former glory of CZW, Jon Moxley took his heated feud with Kenny Omega to a whole new level in a lights out match at AEW’s Full Gear pay-per-view. You can imagine that Moxley was having the time of his life getting back in touch with his hardcore roots; executing some of the most cringe-worthy spots we’ve seen in wrestling in quite some time.
There were chairs, chains, broken glass and a shed-load of barbed wire. Omega and Mox threw everything but the kitchen sink at one another in an attempt at making one of the most memorable grudge matches of recent memory. That it was, but perhaps for the wrong reasons.
Of course, fans of the bloody violence that wrestling sometimes brings to the table were right at home with this match, but for those that prefer the less graphic content were definitely left feeling a tad uncomfortable for the 40 minute spectacle. Credit to AEW for testing the waters with this genre of wrestling, and to both Moxley and Omega for putting their bodies on the line in such a brutal manner. It might not be for everyone but when it’s executed to perfection like it was at Full Gear, it’s hard to say it wasn’t one of the better matches of the year from the infant promotion.
The feud itself was one of the best parts of 2019 on the independent circuit. Kenny Omega and Jon Moxley are two of the hottest names on the indie scene, and seeing them two come together for several dream matches this year was nothing short of an absolute pleasure. I wouldn’t say no to seeing a lot more from these two as AEW grows in 2020.
I personally sit on the side of those that loved a bit of a classic gore-fest. If this match proved anything to Tony Khan, it’s that blood sells and he definitely has an audience awaiting more lights-out matches in the near future.
7. Jordan Devlin vs Kyle Fletcher – PROGRESS Super Strong Style 16 (Night 2)
The annual Super Strong Style 16 tournament always brings its fair share of incredible wrestling matches to Alexandra Palace. This year was no exception when ‘The Irish Ace’ met Aussie Open’s Kyle Fletcher in a quarter-finals contest. Looking at the years that both respective performers have had in and around PROGRESS, there’s no surprise that they were matched up against one another and expected to deliver one of the most technically-sound matches of the night. However I don’t think anyone expected their match to become the most talked about contest of the entire weekend.
Devlin and Fletcher left it all in the ring in a match that allowed both men to shine as plausible future PROGRESS champs. Fletcher and Devlin put together something that was difficult to follow, even by storied veterans of the indie scene like Kyle O’Reilly and Travis Banks, not even WALTER could touch these two.
This will go down as a hidden gem of 2019, which hopefully more and more people will be drawn to as the stars of Devlin and Kyle Fletcher evolve over the coming years. Super Strong Style 16 is something that all wrestling fans should check out, there isn’t a single match that would receive a bad rating.
6. WALTER vs David Starr – WXW 16 Carat Gold (Night 1)
Heading overseas to Germany for another tournament match, this time between WALTER and David Starr. The feud between these two has become widely talked about across Europe as one of the most intense series of battles across all independent wrestling. Most recently colliding at PROGRESS’ Chapter 95, Starr has been on a mission to defeat WALTER after 14 straight losses to the current UK Champion. David’s unionisation movement has almost been in response to this growing resentment of WALTER and his recent signing with NXT UK, which only goes to show how deep this rivalry has become in BritWres and beyond.
If you’re looking for a single match to define their feud this far, then look no further than their battle as part of WXW’s 16 Carat Gold tournament towards the start of 2019. WXW is slowly developing a very loyal fanbase that touts the German brand as one of the, if not the, best promotions in Europe. Starr and WALTER is certainly their top programme that’s currently simmering in the background of a title feud between David and Tim Thatcher. Hopefully we’ll see them compete once more in the new year, perhaps even to finally award David Starr his big victory over WALTER for the WXW Unified Championship.
Despite what many might think, WXW is where this feud began and should end. Starr and WALTER’s feud has transcended global barriers, but there’d be nothing sweeter for the Oberhausen crowd to see Starr finally pin WALTER to the mat. Go and check this match out though, it’s a lot of fun and a diversion from the norm of westernised wrestling.
5. Kota Ibushi vs Jay White – G1 Climax Finals
New Japan’s G1 Climax tournament opens up a selection box of delicious, nutritious instant classics. Naturally the tournament final turned out to be an absolute cracker; Kota Ibushi and ‘Switchblade’ Jay White delivered respective career performances. This match could have gone either way, with the crowd fully behind both athletes despite the clear face/heel dynamic ingrained throughout the tournament. It delivered on everything New Japan has become well-known for, and will definitely go down as one of the best matches from an independent promotion (if you can call NJPW that) of the year.
Ibushi walked away as this year’s G1 Climax winner, earning himself a shot at both the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion and potentially the Intercontinental Champion the next night, with the chance to unify both championships for the first time in years. An ideal reward for having to battle Jay White in this spectacular marathon, showing off a bit of everything that makes them two of the best wrestlers on the planet today.
‘The Golden Star’ is undoubtedly one of the most underrated performers on the scene today. After fighting through several adversities to prove himself loyal to NJPW, following his brief defection to WWE in 2016, Ibushi has found himself on the top of the card, filling in for his Golden Lover partner as Okada’s new arch-nemesis. Nothing taken away from ‘Switchblade’ with his loss to Kota here, White won over a large portion of the NJPW audience and started a new wave of momentum for The Bullet Club. White has since gone on to defeat Tetsuya Naito to capture the IWGP IC title, setting himself up for a huge rematch at next month’s Wrestle Kingdom 14.
4. The Young Bucks vs The Lucha Brothers – AEW All Out
One of AEW’s biggest feuds during their earliest of days was between The Young Bucks and The Lucha Bros. Two of arguably the best tag teams in the world today were finally brought together as part of AEW’s press events, setting up their trilogy of matches that crossed promotions and wowed audiences worldwide. For AAA to allow their tag titles to be included as part of this simmering tags feud was nothing less of a huge gesture to AEW and their faith in these two teams to put on an incredible match.
The action between the Bucks and Pentagon & Fenix just seemed to get better and better with each passing match, culminating with the ladder match at AEW’s All Out in Chicago. This truly was the quintessential ladder match; innovative and dramatic. If anything, I believe this should surpass all ladder matches prior to become the greatest of all time.
It’s obvious that these four guys went out there to put the AEW tag division on the map. This match, along with the entire AEW Tag Title tournament, gave way to a huge wave of momentum for all tag teams in the new promotion. Private Party, Jurassic Express and The Dark Order have all benefited from the work put in by The Bucks and The Lucha Bros.
There’s a chance this could have been The Young Bucks’ last epic performance. With the insane spots and sequences both Matt and Nick Jackson put together, there’s no surprise that they’re winding down within AEW. Props to both Fenix and Pentagon Jr, who truly sold themselves to the few that aren’t already aware of how talented these two luchadores are in both tags and singles competition. Future AEW Tag champs on both sides of the playing field in this contest.
3. Will Ospreay vs Shingo Takagi – BOSJ (Night 15)
2019 was a massive year for ‘The Aerial Assassin’ Will Ospreay. Not only did he walk away with his second BOSJ trophy, he stole the show on several occasions, proving himself to be one of the most exciting performers on the planet, wherever he competes. Ospreay’s first shockwave in the wrestling world this year came from the finals of the aforementioned tournament against Shingo Takagi, who is also on the road to superstardom.
Ospreay and Takagi had an insane amount of chemistry in their instant classic bout. Both men took the other to the limit with some intense fast-paced exchanges, enough to keep even the most casual of wrestling fans entertained for the strong 40 minute performance. Shingo matched Ospreay move-for-move and kept the action true to the style of the Junior Heavyweights, making the likes of Jushin Liger and Hiromu Takahashi proud.
Ospreay should undoubtedly go on to bigger things over the next year, perhaps even breaking out of the Juniors division, presuming he drops the title to ‘The Ticking Time Bomb’ at Wrestle Kingdom. Takagi should also be on everyone’s radar for next year, perhaps even a BOSJ winner in his own right. If you’re a fan of the cruiserweight style, then make sure you give this one a peek.
2. Kazuchika Okada vs Will Ospreay – G1 Climax (Night 7)
Another entry from NJPW’s G1 Climax tournament, and another entry from Will Ospreay. This time, the IWGP Junior Heavyweight champ battled his Chaos BFF, Kazuchika Okada, in another match that only goes to show how damn talented both he and Will Ospreay are in the ring. NJPW is the place to go to see wrestling at its very best, between the very best performers on the planet today. ‘Rainmaker’ Okada has been touted as the ‘Ric Flair’ of our generation, consistently exceeding expectations and delivering MOTY candidates all year round. This one in particular should go down as one of his best of all time.
Okada’s 2019 has been somewhat low-key in comparison to recent years, but his matches with the likes of Jay White, Minoru Suzuki and Chris Jericho should stand out as some of the year’s best, even if they haven’t all made it onto this list. His G1 run only went to support his dominance, as he made it all the way to the semi-finals in a losing effort to the eventual winner Kota Ibushi. Before that however, he did battle with Will Osperay in a fantastic bout.
Both Okada and Ospreay gave it their all for the sake of reminding everyone how amazing the Chaos faction is. This match could have easily slotted itself into the number one spot, technically it was sound in every way, but story-wise it was nudged one spot down by one particular sibling feud.
1. Cody vs Dustin Rhodes – AEW Double or Nothing
A match that wrestling fans have been dying to see for years, in it’s true form, far removed from the Stardust gimmick. The two Rhodes boys were finally pitted against one another in a surprise match scheduled for AEW’s first flagship pay-per-view, Double or Nothing. Dustin announced his departure from WWE and immediately jumped on board with his siblings new and exciting independent promotion. Considering this might have been Dustin’s last hurrah in a wrestling ring, they immediately began to lay the foundations for a grudge match in some emotionally-charged vignettes.
Fans bought into this without much of a build, and the match paid off and then some. Cody and Dustin proved to the world that they should have been matched up with each other years ago, with one of the best told in-ring stories that we’ve seen in quite some time. Just to add an extra layer of flavour to the sibling rivalry, buckets of blood were spilled on the canvas, causing many fans to shy away from the brutality, yet keeping one eye on the high-octane action because it was that damn good.
To add the cherry on top, the match concluded with a tearful embrace that had most of the world welling up with the two brothers. The words “I don’t need a friend, I need my big brother” will go down in history as one of AEW’s, and independent wrestling’s, defining moments.
There was no better match to kick-start AEW, giving the world a good idea of the themes that the new promotion were aiming for. It was visceral, emotional and beautifully violent. It was wrestling at its absolute best, and I highly doubt WWE will be able to touch that anytime soon.
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