The following is my list of the best professional wrestling matches of 2018. Each match is given a star rating between 4 and 5 in quarter steps. One match – between Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada – earned 5.5 stars (go figure). Their series of 4 matches starting with the Wrestle Kingdom 11 main event is almost certainly the great quartet of 1-on-1 matches in the history of wrestling. Omega’s crowning achievment at Dominion is an absolute can’t-miss.
If Okada/Omega was the feud of 2017, then Johnny Gargano/Tomasso Ciampa was the fued of 2018. Starting with Ciampa’s heel turn on Johnny at last year’s NXT TakeOver: Chicago, the conflict between these two has been a masterclass in storytelling. The interjection of Aleister Black later in the year goes to show how a conflict between 3 main players can be so nuanced and captivating. Their series of matches was easily the best of the year between any pair of opponents, though I will give an honorable mention to Cody and Kenny Omega, the former of whom turned into probably the top heel in the business for a hot minute. As usual, NXT TakeOver specials just absolutely killed it literally every time out. Roderick Strong’s turn on Pete Dunn to join Undisputed Era was such a great jolt to make the faction one of the most popular in wrestling.
Daniel Bryan made a triumphant return to a WWE ring (we knew he was going to wrestle again one way or another), but really only started clicking after his end-of-the year heel turn. His dream match with Brock Lesnar was compelling stuff, and the best either has had in quite some time. Shinsuke Nakamura won the Royal Rumble (awesome), and then followed it up with a series of disappointing (though not exactly bad) matches with AJ Styles. AJ held onto that WWE Championship for most of the year, and Brock did the same for the Universal Championship, making stasis the way of things for WWE. Raw held a gauntlet match that went well over an hour. Roman Reigns won the championship in less than convincing fashion, then had to relinquish it to battle leukemia.
Women’s wrestling had a great year. Rounda Rousey made her WWE debut and in pure Kurt Angle fashion, proved that she is a prodigy. She had one of the top 3 WWE matches this year (teaming with Kurt Angle against HHH and Stephanie) at Wrestlemania, tying with the Men’s Royal Rumble and HHH vs. Undertaker Last Time Ever. (The fact that HHH was in two of the three top WWE matches in 2018 tells you all you need to know about how guys are allowed to work in that company.) Charlotte was a standout, particularly in her matches against Becky Lynch who caught hot fire later in the year to become one of WWE’s biggest stars.
Life was busy on the indies. The Elite took Dave Meltzer’s comment that an independent promotion couldn’t sell out 10,000 seats any time soon to heart by selling out Chicago’s Sears Center in a half hour for All In. The event would prove pivotal as its success led to the subsequent formation of All Elite Wrestling in early 2019. ROH and NJPW collectively sold out Madison Square Garden for Wrestlemania 2019 weekend in minutes. I can’t wait to attend that one in person! Chris Jericho returned to the ring in a Clockwork Organge-inspired gimmick complete with Judas as his entrance theme. He then proceeded to have some of the best matches of his career and successfully ran his own wrestling cruise at sea! If there was ever an appropriate venue for Smooth Sailin’ Ashley Remington, this was it. Speaking of Dalton Castle, he became ROH Champion, essentially broke his back, took time off, came back, and still looks like he’s in a tremendous amount of pain. Here’s hoping he pulls his body back together. And Ring of Honor has its own streaming service, Honor Club! It’s about time.
Here’s my list of wrestlers of the year bucketed into tiers:
Platimum: Kenny Omega
Gold: Kota Ibushi, Johnny Gargano
Silver: Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, Will Ospreay, Adam Cole, Tomasso Ciampa
Bronze: Kyle O’Reilly, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Ricochet, Roderick Strong, Tetsuya Naito
I have limited my focus this year’s best matches largely to WWE, NXT, New Japan, and ROH. Impact was not on my radar, and I haven’t gotten into MLW yet. I started adding notes to highly ranked matches starting near the end of the year, both to jog my future memory and to capture the most salient elements.