Finishing up with my (overdue) look back on my favorite matches from 2019. In addition to still wanting to highlight and share these great matches, positivity and happy memories seem to be in great need at the moment.
I’ve mentioned before that my top matches of 2019 reads a lot like a certain wrestler’s resume, and here’s where it really gets highlighted as she’s in 3 of my top 5. Sareee had a truly incredible year and would be all over this list even more if I wasn’t just considering matches I was able to see live.
One might notice that since my prelude this has become a top 25. Even with the latitude I took in spotlighting shows/groups of matches in the prelude I still had a monster of a time narrowing this down. Since there is no set reason to strictly restrict it to 20 (and to avoid delaying any further), I decided to stop sweating the minutia of what to include and expand the list a bit. Even so, there is plenty of excellent wrestling beyond what’s here / what I was able to see as 2019 was a phenomenal year.
Match reviews are copied/modified from my show specific blogs when appropriate, although there’s a fair bit of new writing this time around from shows I didn’t have the chance to write up. As always the ordering was a bunch of close calls and could’ve been different – everything here is great.
Also, I’ve indicated and linked to matches officially available online from the companies that held them for those who would like to check them out.
5. Wrestle-1 Grand Prix Opening Round: Seigo Tachibana vs Shotaro Ashino – Wrestle-1 6/2/19
I went to my first Wrestle-1 show ever in order to see Reika Saiki face Takako Inoue (in a match I enjoyed). The rest of the show was largely wrestlers I had no familiarity with, although the Grand Prix Tournament helped accessibility a bit with a clear structure to the show.
Among it all, the semi-main was particularly incredible. I went from having no knowledge or investment in either man to DESPERATELY wanting Tachibana to win by the end. Just top notch work from both wrestlers to tell a compelling story in the ring with excellent action and psychology that transcended language and familiarity.
Really hope I see more of both, particularly in the aftermath of W-1’s unfortunate closure earlier this year.
4. Diana World Championship: Aja Kong (c) vs Sareee – Diana 5/12/19
Sareee and Kong’s previous encounters had huge buzz and as mentioned I have become a huge fan of Sareee in general, so expectations were high for this one.
It was A LOT more lopsided than I expected at first, with Kong largely wiping the mat with Sareee for the first third to half of the match. Then Sareee found a weakness to capitalize on when Kong missed a charge and “injured” her arm, and Sareee showed she could give as good as she got.
The back and forth battle raged on, with Sareee weathering the storm long enough to shock the monster with a rollup for the win and the title. This built to a moment, and was pretty excellent along the way.
3. Sendai Girls World Championship: Chihiro Hashimoto (c) vs Sareee – Sendai Girls 1/6/19
Prior to this show I hadn’t had much opportunity to see Sareee wrestle for a long while, so was really excited for this main event against Sendai’s monster. Sareee was particularly fantastic here, going tooth and nail with the dominant Chihiro in a surprisingly visceral title match. Extremely impressed with the performances of both wrestlers here, which was no surprise. Chihiro is an incredible wrestler with equally incredible presence, and it’s a joy to hear her dedicated cheering section go wild for her during her matches. Sareee pushed the champs limits, but Chihiro persevered and kept her title.
I commented at the time that I’d love to see a rematch down the line, and in fact there were two more last year: one midyear where Sareee dethroned Chihiro to become a double champion and one late in which Chihiro took it back. From what I hear they were equally great.
2. Riho vs Masahito Takanashi- Gatoh Move 4/27/19
(Available for free on Gatoh Move’s YouTube Channel.)
While I love Gatoh Move in general and was excited about the entire show, this match in particular is primarily why I came rushing back from seeing a different show in Sendai earlier the same day.
Riho was a couple months out from leaving Gatoh Move to go freelance and this was one last big singles match against their most frequent male visitor.
Takanashi is an absolute master at working with smaller opponents in a believable way, and Riho of course is a expert in her own right (and usually faces larger opponents). The combined experience in this match was close to 29 years, and did it ever show.
The match built from careful counter-grappling to high impact offense naturally, telling an incredible story along the way. During the opening sequence of hold-for-hold struggles there was a particularly excellent exchange of stranglehold reversals.
Throughout the match there was realistic use of Takanashi’s size advantage (in certain counters, the way moves were applied/executed, etc), which is one of my favorite little touches. It adds so much to the match and forced Riho to get clever and make good use of her speed, etc to nullify that edge.
They made each other fight for EVERYTHING, which is so important to immersion and feeling like they’re both doing everything they can to win. The constant counters and back and forth in this are amazing, and it was all so smooth. Takanashi eventually had one counter too many in his bag of tricks and small packaged Riho out of a suplex attempt for the win.
1. Sareee vs DASH Chisako – Sendai Girls 4/27/19
(Available for free on Sendai Girls’ YouTube Channel.)
And to complete the story from the last entry, this is the match that prompted me to go out to Sendai in the first place. Arguably wrestling’s biggest rising star against my personal favorite. Also as spotlighted above Sareee challenged Sendai’s Champion in an incredible match at their 1/6/19 show in Tokyo, and while she came up just short there she defeated Meiko Satomura herself shortly before this match and seemed on course for another shot. Dash is another top veteran in Sendai Girls and was in position to play spoiler to those plans here.
This was everything I hoped for, and Sareee picked up another big singles victory on her way to another date with destiny against Chihiro in an awesome match. Sareee is on absolute FIRE lately, combining incredible in-ring work with real star presence, and it’s always something to behold when Dash gets the opportunity to go all out. They hit the hell out of each other here while build a logical, escalating flow to the match. Fantastic.
Later in the year Dash challenged Sareee for her newly won title in the main event of Sendai Girls’ Korakuen Hall show in yet another match I’m sure would have made this list if I’d been there.
That wraps things up for the look back on my favorite live matches of 2019. Again, everything I’ve mentioned is well worth seeking out if possible.