There is not one definitive trait that makes a great wrestling show. The quality of the matches certainly plays a large part but if those matches were to take place in front of a dead crowd the experience would definitely be dulled somewhat. In addition to this the matches have to feel different enough from each other that they don’t feel repetitive. Variety is the spice of life after all.
Every great wrestling show has, for want of a better term, a unique ‘feel’ about it. WrestleMania X-Seven feels like a glorious swansong for the Attitude Era, ECW Barely Legal feels like a turning point in the American wrestling scene and WCW Great American Bash ’89 feels like the epitome of 80s Southern wrestling.
Let’s take a look at which shows we thought were the most enjoyable so far this year.
1. NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11
New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom show has been a standout card every year since 2013 and this year’s was certainly no different. The Kazuchika Okada vs Kenny Omega main event is so good that even if the rest of the card was average I would still put the show in the top 5. It just so happens that there are 4 or 5 more matches that range from very good to outstanding, and every match on the main card is, at the very least, entertaining.
The pick of the undercard are the three matches that lead up to the main event. First off there is the excellent IWGP Jr Heavyweight Title match between KUSHIDA and Hiromu Takahashi, a match that set up Takahashi as one of the standout wrestlers of 2017. It’s an excellent example of how to create a star. Secondly, the match between Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata is an absolute war, in the best possible way. Finally there is the superb Intercontinental Title match pitting Tetsuya Naito against Hiroshi Tanahashi. This match pairs great ring work with excellent storytelling, which is something that New Japan does expertly.
2. NXT TakeOver: Chicago
Since the inception of the TakeOver format in May 2014 there have been 15 shows that have carried that name and a high standard has been maintained throughout. Part of the reason for this is the tight five match format which doesn’t allow for unnecessary filler, even if that means some of the bigger stars miss out, which is something the WWE main roster shows would benefit from.
This show featured an absolute classic between Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne, which I believe is the best match to take place in a WWE affiliated ring this year. It also featured a fantastic tag team ladder match between the Authors of Pain and #DIY and the perfectly executed Tommaso Ciampa heel turn that followed. The other three matches (Roderick Strong vs Eric Young, Asuka vs Nikki Cross vs Ruby Riot, Bobby Roode vs Hideo Itami) round out the show nicely. This is a great way to spend 2 ½ hours of your time.
3. PROGRESS Chapter 45: Galvanize
The consistent quality of PROGRESS shows is such that if I extended this list to a top 10 they would probably take up half of it. They have a roster that consists of the best of the red hot UK scene and carefully selected imports that feel as much a part of the roster as the locals. They also have a rabid, loyal fanbase, the PROGRESS Ultras, that makes every single show feel special.
The show starts off on the right foot with British Strong Style defending their PROGRESS Tag Titles against South Pacific Power Trip in an excellent match and keeps that momentum going. There is also Mark Andrews vs Will Ospreay, which is predictably great, and Ringkampf vs Hunter Bros, which highlights how great Ringkampf are and why the WWE have signed Axel Dieter Jr. The best match on the card, though, is a No DQ match for the PROGRESS Title between Pete Dunne and Jimmy Havoc. It’s absolutely bat shit crazy and is a great compliment to the talents of both men.
4. NJPW Dominion
NJPW Dominion would probably be higher on this list if it weren’t for the fact that a number of its high profile matches were rematches from Wrestle Kingdom. Having said that, all of those matches still deliver to a very high standard and they feel distinctly different from the ones that took place in January.
The main event is once again Okada vs Omega and, despite the pressure on them to follow their classic at Wrestle Kingdom, they managed to have a match that was the perfect second act to their story. On the undercard Tanahashi and Naito have a match that is every bit as good as their previous match but one which tells a different story. The other two rematches, Takahashi vs KUSHIDA and Young Bucks vs Roppongi Vice, are matches that arguably surpass the earlier encounters.
5. PROGRESS Chapter 49: Super Strong Style 16 Day 3
The list is rounded out by day 3 of the Super Strong Style 16 tournament. If I was to include the whole tournament as a single pick it would slot in nicely at the number 2 spot but if I did that I would have to include every tournament as a single pick and that would be madness with the G1 on the horizon.
This is the best single elimination tournament I have seen in a long time. The storytelling throughout the tournament is only surpassed by the standard of wrestling. This day features the semifinals, which are both great, and the final, which is fantastic. It also has an really fun PROGRESS title match between Pete Dunne and Jeff Cobb. A great show all round.
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