2015’s must-see matches (so far)

NXT 3-18-15 - Finn Balor and Kevin Owens face offOk, we’re at the halfway point of 2015 — where is the time going? — and I decided I’d revisit some of my favorite matches midway through the year. These are the the ones that left me most exhilarated and ecstatic to be a wrestling fan.

Since I don’t want to ruin the experience for you in case you haven’t seen them, I’m not saying who won/lost, but these are the ones I’d strongly recommend you see before the end of the year. My cut off date was June 30 and there’s already been a couple of matches in the last few days that will likely make the list by the end of the year.

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi (Jan. 4 Wrestle Kingdom 9)

Nakamura vs Ibushi WrestleKingdom 9 2015Nakamura defended his NJPW Intercontinental Title against the young upstart Ibushi, who was ready to enter the main event ranks after a strong reign as the IWGP Jr. champion. Nakamura may be the best wrestler on the planet (or is no further than No. 4 on the list), but Ibushi gave every bit as good as he got leading to a brilliant matchup that has held up as one of the year’s best matches.

As an added bonus, this was part of the Wrestle Kingdom 9 Global Force Wrestling Collaboration, so Jim Ross (and Matt Striker) would be calling the action. This is one of those hard hitting matches you can happily show to any of your family and friends who sneer at you and say wrestling is fake.

Fenix vs. Mil Muertes (Jan. 25 Grave Consequences – Lucha Underground)

Lucha Underground - Fenix vs Mil MuertesMil Muertes is a bad, bad man. Fenix is a luchadore who won’t be defeated easily even when staring death in the face. Lucha Underground’s first take on a coffin match lived up to the ever-increase expectations of fans and became the go-to match for newcomers seeking to learn exactly what this new promotion was all about.

Finn Balor vs. Adrian Neville (Feb. 11 – NXT TakeOver: Rival)

NXT TakeOver Rival - Finn Balor vs Adrian NevilleArriving in NXT with a ton of fanfare, Balor (the former Prince Devitt in NJPW) was in line to get his first shot at the NXT title. The only thing standing in his way? The former record-setting NXT champ Adrian Neville who was eager to recapture his No. 1 contender status. This battle featured two of wrestling’s smoothest performers as Balor again proved why he’s going to be a major star when he is called to the main roster while Neville reminded everyone his best days are yet to come.

Tomoaki Honma vs Tomohiro Ishii (Feb. 14 – The New Beginning in Sendai)

Honma vs Ishii five star match 2015All that stuff I said about Nakamura/Ibushi? Multiply it by a thousand for this one. Honma/Ishii is what it would look like if wrestling were 100% real. Every move is a struggle and conflict as neither man wants to let up even for a second. From the countless forearm exchanges to that crazy series of 58 chops (!), this is a contest that could go nearly the full year distance as 2015’s best match.

Trios Tournament Finale (April 22 – Lucha Underground TV)

The unlikely unit of Angelico, Ivelisse and Son of Havoc qualified for a spot in the three-way tournament finale for the newly created Trios title, but the winning team would find that Lucha Underground owner Dario Cueto still had one more surprise up his sleeve resulting in the year’s most death-defying spot.

Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch (May 20 – NXT TakeOver Unstoppable)

Sasha-Banks-Becky-Lynch-NXT-Takeover-UnstoppableAfter finally decisively winning her rivalry with Charlotte, NXT Divas Champion Sasha Banks was preparing for a lengthy title reign, but her former ally, Becky Lynch, was ready to take over as the top boss of the division.

One of the big issues with modern wrestling is the lack of selling, which restricts how empathetic you can be for the competitors. Both Sasha and Becky showed why that remains such a vital part of telling a great story within the ring. By the end of the match, which could have easily main-evented most shows this year, the stock of both wrestlers soared and the fans honored Lynch by singing her song in appreciation.

Kevin Owens vs. John Cena (May 31 – Elimination Chamber)

WWE Elimination Chamber 2015 - Owens taunts John CenaThis was more a matter of which Kevin Owens match best exemplified his first half of 2015. The guy has been on a serious do no wrong roll since his arrival in NXT. He’s been a cunning, vicious champion battling back the challenges of strong contenders like Sami Zayn, Finn Balor and Adrian Neville. But it was his answering John Cena’s U.S. Title open challenge and their first match-up at Elimination Chamber that gets the honors here.

Owens shocked those who hadn’t been paying attention to the happenings in NXT by going toe-to-toe with the WWE franchise and not backing down. The finish was unexpected and signaled the arrival of WWE’s NXT Big Thing.

Prince Puma vs. Johnny Mundo (June 17 All Night Long, Lucha Underground)

Lucha Underground - Prince Puma vs Johnny MundoUnlike Raw, which has three-hours to mess around with and can be more experimental with gimmick matches, Lucha Underground has one hour each week to showcase its stars. On this night though, the LU champion Prince Puma had the entire show to hold off the challenge of Johnny Mundo in an All Night Long (Iron Man) match. Thankfully, this wasn’t a one fall Iron Man match and the two traded pinfalls with Mundo using smarter than average heel tactics for the battle, which ended with a pin in the final seconds. This is how you do an Iron Man match.

Jay Lethal vs. Jay Briscoe (June 19 ROH Best in the World)

Lethal vs Briscoe ROH Best in the World 2015ROH bookers understand how to make a big money match meaningful. Jay Lethal had gone undefeated as the ROH TV champion for 450+ days while ROH champion Jay Briscoe hadn’t been pinned in over two years. Something had to break and one of the most impressive title reigns in ROH history would be coming to an end.

Bullet Club (AJ Styles and The Young Bucks) vs. Okada & Roppongi Vice (June 24 ROH TV)

Bullet Club vs Okada and RPG ViceThe pairing of AJ and the Young Bucks has led to a number of outstanding matches in 2015 and this clash of Bullet Club vs CHAOS was just as much fun as their encounter with The Kingdom. The finale of this match featuring a Pele/Superkick combo and Meltzer Driver into a Styles Clash was crazy in its video game-esque execution.

Alright so those are my picks. Tell me what you would add or if you like these 10!

You can catch some of these matches on the WWE Network:
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