As 2019 comes to a close, the whole internet has been making year-end or decade-end lists. With Spandex has already published retrospectives on the year in WWE women’s wrestling and the decade in NXT. Now it’s time for the second annual roundup of matches worth watching from this year that happened in promotions Uproxx doesn’t regularly cover.
The fifteen matches on this list come from different companies and countries and showcase various wrestling styles, but all have in common that promotions uploaded them to YouTube for people to watch legally and for free.
Blue Demon Jr. vs. Dr. Wagner Jr., AAA Triplemanía XXVII
Anyone who didn’t watch any AAA this year missed a lot of amazing wrestling. One of the lucha libre promotion’s best matches this year was the main event of its biggest show of the year, Triplemanía: a mask vs. hair grudge match between Blue Demon Jr. and Dr. Wagner Jr. Whatever these two wrestlers have lost from being in their fifties they make up for with everything else about their performances. The hatred between the competitors is clear and blood and foreign objects are used perfectly. If you’re squeamish at all about blood in wrestling, this match will probably gross you out, but it’ll be worth it.
There’s a link to just the match above, but if you haven’t seen it before I recommend watching it with the big match entrances and post-match drama starting about forty-seven minutes into the video of the second half of Triplemanía, which is also on AAA’s YouTube channel.
Laredo Kid vs. El Hijo del Vikingo, AAA Conquista Total Gira
Another standout AAA match this year came from performers on the opposite end of the age and athleticism spectrums with Laredo Kid vs. El Hijo Del Vikingo. They start with some submission work and build to really impressive high flying. The way Hijo del Vikingo moves is especially unbelievable, almost superhuman. This match shows two of the top luchadors in the game at their best.
Rush vs. Bandido, ROH 17th Anniversary Show
Ring of Honor has gotten a lot of bad press this year and deservedly so, but the promotion hasn’t been without its upsides. One of its 2019 highlights was when it ran Rush vs. Bandido at the ROH 17th Anniversary Show this spring, bringing together two skilled wrestlers from different circles in the lucha libre world for the first time ever. The match is also a cool mix of wrestling styles, with Bandido’s high flying contrasting with Rush’s brawling. Plus, in the words of Dalton Castle on commentary, this is “two beefy men, great heads of hair, a whole lot of handsome including the new ring skirts here,” so however you approach wrestling, there’s really no good reason not to watch this match.
Joshua Bishop vs. Dominic Garrini, AIW Slumber Party Massacre
Getting back to the gross and bloody type of wrestling, Joshua Bishop and Dominic Garrini got creatively gross and bloody at Absolute Intense Wrestling’s Wrestlemania weekend show, AIW Slumber Party Massacre.
Their match was Submit or Surrender, which means basically a no disqualification match in which one party has to actually respond to the question “Do you submit or surrender?” The lengths to which Bishop and Garrini go to try and make each other surrender are what make the match exciting and possibly horrifying, depending on what type of deathmatch weapons make your insides squirm. This match is worth watching just to see what happens with Garrini’s ear.
Violence is Forever (Sadkampf) (Dominic Garrini and Kevin Ku) vs. The Work Horsemen (James Drake and Anthony Henry), Black Label Pro Unplugged
The second appearance of beloved jiu-jitsu everyman Dominic Garrini on this lift is this match from Black Label Pro in which he and Kevin Ku take on The Work Horsemen. This was the first match of a series between these teams in the Indiana indie and is a straight-up good, aggressive tag match.
Priscilla Kelly vs. Jake Atlas, RISE Regional Rising Stars Tournament
Priscilla Kelly and Jake Atlas were both rising stars on the independent scene this year, so it fits that they faced off (for a second time) in Rise’s Regional Rising Stars tournament. Kelly is known more for her gimmick and character work while Atlas, who is due to start with WWE in 2020, has broken out more because of his athleticism. Despite their differences, they have a level of in-ring chemistry one might not expect, and they show it off in this match.
Orange Cassidy vs. Kylie Rae, Beyond Uncharted Territory
Over on the East Coast, Beyond Wrestling‘s weekly internet TV show, Uncharted Territory, showcased some of the best wrestling on the American indies this year. The April 17 episode included one of the show’s most memorable and adorable matches, Orange Cassidy vs. Kylie Rae.
These two both have very specific wrestling gimmicks, one the most laidback cool guy in the world and one hyper positive, but these gimmicks aren’t to compensate for lack of in-ring skill. This match, filmed while Rae was still with AEW and before OC signed with the Jacksonville office, starts off very silly and cute, but leads to both wrestlers displaying their more straightforward wrestling skills as it gets more heated.
Kris Statlander vs. Chris Dickinson, Beyond Treasure Hunt
There were many other standout matches in Beyond this year, several of which were part of the impressive rise of Kris Statlander, who quickly became one of the hottest indie stars in the U.S. before she started working with AEW. One of her biggest moments this year was winning the Beyond Treasure Hunter Tournament after taking on one of the best wrestlers still on the indies, Chris Dickinson, in the final.
There are significant size and experience differences between these two, but they play off their differences in wrestling styles and the injury Dickinson sustained earlier in the one-night tournament to deliver a competitive, compelling match. Statlander’s semi-final match against another powerhouse, Jordynne Grace, is also worth watching and on Beyond’s YouTube channel.
Tony Deppen vs. Dustin Thomas, GCW Joey Janela’s Spring Break 3
Like Joey Janela’s Spreak Breaks past, the two night JJSB3 was balls to the wall crazy and introduced some wrestlers to a wider audience. One such wrestler was Dustin Thomas, who later appeared in All Elite Wrestling’s Casino Battle Royal.
Thomas’s introduction to the Game Changer Wrestling audience is very different from how he was later presented in AEW. He’s introduced to the audience when Tony Deppen, who will definitely be one of the top U.S. indie guys in 2020, is enraged he doesn’t have a match at Spring Break and challenges a fan to fight him. When a fan in a wheelchair responds to this by calling Deppen a pussy, the GCW regular starts beating him up and carrying him to the ring, at which point everyone can see the quote-unquote fan’s legs end at the knee.
Deppen gets on his knees and starts mocking the man and the crowd starts chanting “Let’s go, No Legs!” because this is GCW and this is their whole vibe. But though one could easily take issue with the crowd’s decision to immediately start calling Dustin Thomas “No Legs,” their support is clearly sincere, and Thomas quickly lives up to it and more. As a bilateral amputee, he executes impressive high-flying wrestling moves in a way few people had seen before this match. The mix of Thomas’s unique athleticism, Deppen’s sleazy character work, and the anything-could-happen Spring Break environment makes this match one in which even the most jaded wrestling fan can’t anticipate what’s going to happen next.
The Invisible Man vs. Invisible Stan, GCW Joey Janela’s Spring Break 3
Another standout match from Spring Break 3 that’s free to watch on YouTube only borderline qualifies as a wrestling match: The Invisible Man vs. Invisible Stan.
The Invisible Man character has been in GCW since the first Clusterf*ck battle royal on Joey Janela’s first Spring Break and he won the Clusterf*ck at JJSB 2. At Spring Break 3, he was booked for a grudge match against his brother Invisible Stan, who had previously attempted to murder him. But what is a grudge match between two invisible wrestlers, two wrestlers that don’t actually exist?
In practice, it’s a showcase for everything that makes wrestling work besides the wrestlers. As referee Bryce Remsburg illustrates to the audience what’s happening in this match, he demonstrates how much goes into a top-notch referee performance. The audience going along with all of this weirdness and having a great time is a reminder (just like every time Orange Cassidy is the most over person on an AEW show) that the crowd choosing to engage with wrestling and have fun, to live in the kayfabe world for a few hours, is a crucially important part of what makes successful pro wrestling companies and shows successful.
Emi Sakura vs. Jamie Hayter, Pro Wrestling EVE Bigger Than Shesus
Before Emi Sakura and Jamie Hayter teamed up as heels in AEW, they had their first singles match at Pro Wrestling EVE’s Bigger Than Shesus event in April. It’s a young, cocky heel against a respected babyface veteran who still has a lot of fire. In addition to a quality match, this is a good look at Sakura not in full Freddie Mercury tribute mode, but looking and wrestling like she typically does in Gatoh Move, the promotion she founded and currently runs.
Mei Suruga vs. Lulupencil, Gatoh Move
Over in Gatoh Move, 2019 gave us young ace-type Mei Suruga vs. Lulupencil, a real-life freelance writer who also plays a wrestling character who is a freelance writer. Lulupencil is incredibly weak and awkward (commentator Pumi sums up her situation at one point with “Everything is too difficult for Lulupencil. I don’t know why”) while Suruga is a more normal athlete, and their battle takes place on a mat in the tiny venue that is Tokyo’s Ichigaya Chocolate Square.
This match was my introduction to Gatoh Move earlier this year, and I think for those who aren’t familiar with the setting or the wrestlers, it’s one that you get more into as it goes along. If it piques your interest, Gatoh Move has a ton of matches on its YouTube channel that are worth checking out.
Yuka Sakazaki and Mizuki vs. Shoko Nakajima and Riho, TJPW Tokyo Joshi Pro ’19
All of the women involved in this Tokyo Princess of Princess Tag Team Championship match have since been introduced to a wider audience through AEW except for Mizuki, a freelancer who regularly works in Tokyo Joshi Pro. Yuka Sakazaki (half of the champions with Mizuki) and Shoko Nakajima (half of the challengers with Riho) have a long relationship of partnership and rivalry and some of the best parts of this match are when they’re in the ring together. There’s also strong tag teamwork throughout as both duos get increasingly aggressive. As far as tag team wrestling goes, this January 4, 2019, match shows some of the best Tokyo Joshi Pro has to offer and showcases some of its top singles stars.
Chihiro Hashimoto, Dash Chisako, and Meiko Satomura vs. ALL OUT (Yuki Iino, Akito, and Konosuke Takeshita), DDT Into The Fight
In DDT this year, wrestlers from babyface faction All Out feuded with wrestlers from Meiko Satomura‘s Sendai Girls promotion, producing some kickass matches and, in June, an entire Sendai Girls vs. All Out show. Their story began with a match for the trios titles in March, featuring some Iino vs. Hashimoto hoss battle action, Satomura vs. Takeshita ace battle action, and overall just quality wrestling. DDT is better known for its creative comedy matches than its more straightforward ones, but this is an example of how good it can be at regular wrestling too.
Kenoh vs. Masaaki Mochizuki, Pro Wrestling NOAH N-1 Victory
Pro Wrestling NOAH streamed several full shows on its YouTube channel this year, including one from the N-1 Victory tournament (the renamed Global League) that featured Kenoh and Masaaki Mochizuki in the semi-main event.
Kenoh has been a NOAH regular since 2015 (coming from Michinoku Pro) and is a major player in the promotion. Mochizuki is a longtime Dragon Gate wrestler participating in the tournament, and is still extremely at this stuff at almost fifty years old. Both of these guys go hard in this match, especially with their kicks, and the crowd is hot for it. Kenoh vs. Mochizuki is an entertaining twenty minutes or so of ass-kicking and an opportunity to enjoy Mochi’s extremely good theme song that he sings himself, so it’s definitely worth checking out.
This list is far from a comprehensive breakdown of all the quality wrestling that Uproxx didn’t cover in-depth in 2019, or even all the good stuff that you can watch legally and for free (notable absences here include anything from MLW or CMLL) but it’s some of the best of rest of what happened in the wide world of pro wrestling this year.