Retro Wrestle Respawn – Mike’s Top 10 Favourite Matches of 2008

Hey there all. Welcome back to what will be, for the time being at least, our last trek down wrestling memory lane whilst I look at my Top 10 Favourite Matches of 2008. I’ve done ten of these now and I think it’s probably time to start writing about Video Games again, so we’ll take a break for a while once I hand this one in. This was also the most difficulty I’ve had putting one of these lists together, with me struggling to find 10 matches I wanted to select. It wasn’t because there was no good wrestling in 2008, because there certainly was, but it was also a year where I struggled to emotionally connect with the matches to the level I had previously for whatever reason.

I’m happy enough with the ten matches listed when all is said and done, and as always this isn’t supposed to be an objective list of the “best” matches, but rather a collection of the ones I personally liked the most. Feel free to list your own favourite matches in the comments section.

Number 10
Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs Shinsuke Nakamura – Tokyo, Japan (4th January 2008)

Tanahashi and Nakamura seemed to have their careers linked together for the majority of the time they both worked in New Japan Pro Wrestling together. Whether as tag team partners or as opponents, Tanahashi and Nakamura always seemed to find their way to one another in big match settings, with them Main Eventing at the Tokyo Dome together on many occasions. Nakamura tended to get the better of Tanahashi a lot in their early wars, with New Japan seemingly always being more willing to push Nakamura as the bigger star of the two dating back to his says as the “Super Rookie” in 2003.

Things would eventually change in that regard, with New Japan making a clearer move to Tanahashi as the “Ace” of the company in 2009, but by the time this contest at the Tokyo Dome came along the company was still more in with Nakamura than they were with Tanahashi, with Nakamura being presented as the bigger star or the two when they locked horns. The resulting match really turned some heads, as both men stepped up to the Tokyo Dome stage with their A game on display and the resulting match was a battle that more than earned its place as the show closing contest on the biggest event of the New Japan calendar.

Both competitors set the tone for this contest right from the ring entrances onward, with Nakamura being serious and focused whilst Tanahashi was arrogant and cocky, something Tanahashi then rammed home by slapping Nakamura and smirking once the match began. It was clear that the story the two wrestlers were telling was that Tanahashi was an overconfident cocky jerk, with the intention being to make you want to see the more serious and dedicated Nakamura vanquish him in the biggest match of the year. Both wrestlers played their allotted roles well and the crowd responded, cheering for Nakamura whenever he was able to have Tanahashi on the back foot.

The wrestling itself was excellent, as Tanahashi was already one of the best wrestlers going by the time 2008 rolled around and, even though he hadn’t quite developed the charisma and dynamic character he would eventually become known for, Nakamura was no slouch in the ring either and was a very solid wrestler mechanically. Tanahashi spends a good chunk of the match targeting Nakamura’s legs, with his offence looking good and Nakamura doing a good job of selling it. Tanahashi even does some hair pulling at one stage in order to really lean into his role of being the bad guy. It’s kind of wild to watch it back knowing that the dynamic between these two wrestlers would be so different a few years after this match, with Nakamura normally being the cocky villain whilst Tanahashi was the gutsy babyface and top star of the company.

By the time the match hit the closing stages the two wrestlers were having one heck of a contest, with big moves being delivered and both battlers having their chances to pick up the victory. As someone who wasn’t following New Japan on a week to week basic back then, just because outside of YouTube or Daily Motion you had to pick up DVDs to keep up with the product as there was no such thing as New Japan World, I remember really enjoying this match and making a concerted effort to hunt down a bit more New Japan action because I was interested in seeing where things would go. This was not the peak of either wrestler’s career, but it was certainly an impressive chapter for both of them.

Number 9
Alex Koslov, Doug Williams & Tyson Dux Vs. Masato Yoshino, Milano Collection AT & Puma Vs Averno, Rey Bucanero & Ultimo Guerrero Vs Alex Shelley, Chris Sabin & Curry Man – Houston, Texas (13th July 2008)

The X Division had always been one of the biggest selling points of the TNA promotion, especially when they would bring in great wrestlers from elsewhere in the world to compete in the “World X Cup” tournaments. TNA held the first of the X Cups in 2003 with Team Mexico coming in to surprisingly defeat the TNA home team pretty decisively and the concept remained in use on and off for resulting years afterwards. The 2008 World X Cup saw four teams going at it in the form of Team International, Team Japan, Team Mexico and Team TNA all going at it. Members of each team would wrestle in bouts on TNA’s weekly Impact show, with wins accruing points for their teams. It all came down to the Victory Road pay per view event in July, with two matches designed to close out the tournament, of which this match was the first.

With such an impressive collection of wrestlers here it would have almost been impossible for this match to be bad, and indeed the match ended up being a non-stop thrill ride of great wrestling and fun character moments. I think the only real downside was that the crowd didn’t really seem to care about the whole X Cup premise and didn’t really keep track of the points totals. However, the crowd did want to see some good wrestling and they were more than satisfied when all was said and done, with some of the better looking moves getting some great reactions. This match really was something that was fun to just sit back and enjoy, with something happening all the time and numerous fun combinations of wrestlers going at it that you perhaps wouldn’t always see.

I remember enjoying the X Cup back when it happened and then I got the X Cup DVD for Christmas in 2008 and I spent my evening on Christmas Day settling in after a big Christmas dinner to watch the matches on the tape, and I had a grand time! this match remained the most enjoyable of the lot for me, but it’s probably some of the most fun 2 hours you’ll have if you ever see that DVD knocking about and well worth a purchase as a result. TNA had as many misses as they did hits during this period in time, but when they got it right they were a very enjoyable company to watch, and this match represented an occasion where they got it right.

Number 8
Cody Rhodes and Ted Dibiase Jr. Vs John Cena and Batista – Knoxville, Tennessee (4th August 2008)

Rhodes had debuted on the WWE main roster during the summer of 2007 in order to defend his father Dusty’s honour against Randy Orton. Originally a fresh faced fan favourite, Cody would turn to the dark side in the summer of 2008 by betraying his tag team partner Hardcore Holly and aligning with another legacy member of the WWE roster in the form of Ted Dibiase Jr.  Rhodes and Dibiase quickly gelled into a decent tandem, which brought them into the path of top stars John Cena and Batista on an episode of WWE’s weekly Monday Night Raw show. Cena and Batista were actually embroiled in the beginnings of a rivalry that would lead to a match at the SummerSlam event where Cena would end up getting injured.

At the time of this contest though, Cena and Batista were able to function well enough as a team that they could give the regular unit of Rhodes and Dibiase a proper challenge. Some of the early exchanges had Cena and Batista almost trying to outdo one another, but when the match hit the business end the two wrestlers had one another’s backs and wrestled like they wanted to win, which led to the crowd getting invested in the action as they sensed that the belts might actually change hands. Rhodes and Dibiase were able to use their superior chemistry to eventually take control, and they looked really good on offence.

I remember raving about this match back at the time, even for months after, as I thought it was a great example of good tag team wrestling, from the work of Cena and Batista as a makeshift tag team coming together to provide an actual challenge to Rhodes and Dibiase being a well-oiled unit who were able to take the two big stars to the limit in a big match setting. Watching this again almost made me wish they’d stuck with Cena and Batista a bit longer as a team, as they had a fun dynamic in the same way that Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage had when they used to tag up, being that they were both Main Event calibre guys who always had an undercurrent of a struggle over who the top guy was, even when they were partners.

Cena and Batista did eventually have a bit of a squabble with one another, but they still managed to overcome it in order to focus on the match and WWE could have probably gotten a few months out of continuing the storyline until they eventually combusted after a long tease. Cena clearing the path for Batista at the end despite their earlier dispute was a very nice touch, as it showed that Cena was still interested in being professional and winning the match even though he wasn’t entirely on the same page with his partner.

Number 7
Takeshi Morishima Vs Bryan Danielson – New York, New York (27th December 2008)

Morishima and Danielson had faced one another in a couple of heavy hitting bouts, with Morishima targeting Danielson’s eye in a vicious manner in one of them, leading to Danielson demanding revenge at ROH’s Final Battle event in a Fight Without Honour. The end result was a fantastic brawl between the two men, with Danielson making up for his comparative lack of size by brutally clobbering Morishima with anything not nailed down and even diving out from the ring onto Morishima. Morishima replied by busting Danielson open though, which caused Danielson to have to dig deep in order to fight back in the quest to attain his revenge.

This match was not only a suitable conclusion to a hate filled feud, but it also had great drama and atmosphere thanks to how amped up the New York crowd was. Indeed, the opening section reminded me of the good old days of ECW, as Danielson beat up Morishima whilst his “Final Countdown” entrance music played in the background and the crowd sung along with it. Danielson has always been excellent at fighting from underneath as good guy, and that was on full display in this contest, especially against a 300 pound brute such as Morishima. Morishima probably had the best run of his career in ROH, as the fans immediately bought into him as a monster villain and ROH protected him when it came to how he was presented, with him often winning and it taking a lot for the ROH guys to keep him down on the occasions that he did taste defeat.

Morishima even headed to the top rope at one stage in this contest, going for a wild missile dropkick that was especially impressive for a man of his size. Thankfully for Danielson he was able to dodge the attack and begin a comeback. Eventually the ante was upped even further in this one, with weapons like a chain getting introduced. As far as intense feud ending bouts go, this one not only satiated the blood lust of both wrestlers but it also left no doubt as to who was the true victor when all was said and done. Danielson has consistently been one of the best wrestlers on the planet and Morishima was very good in the right setting with the right opponent, which was definitely the case in this one.

Number 6
Villano V Vs Blue Panther – Mexico City, Mexico (19th September 2008)

If you have been reading these features from the beginning, you will have probably noticed that Lucha Libre hasn’t featured that often. This isn’t because I actively dislike Mexican Wrestling or anything like that, but more down to the fact that I just don’t watch a lot of it. There are always cultural differences when it comes to wrestling in different countries. Japanese Wrestling is quite different to American or European Wrestling for instance, but I find it easier to “vibe” with those differences than I do with the differences in Mexican Wrestling for whatever reason. It could just be that the more stop start nature of Lucha Libre sometimes makes it harder for me to engage, but for whatever the reason is I don’t tend to watch a lot of either CMLL or AAA (the two main promotions south of the border).

However, sometimes a match will come along that is so good and so entertaining that it will make me love it even though the actual style of wrestling isn’t something I would go out of my way to see. Villano V and Blue Panther’s battle from 2008 is definitely on that list, thanks to the great drama to be found within it and the brave performance of Villano to gut through a real life injury. Lucha Libre stars often wear masks, which is a reference to the Aztec history of Mexico where masks were sometimes worn in fights in honour of the Aztec God’s. As a result of the cultural heritage of mask wearing in combat, a luchadores mask is seen as almost a sacred artefact on par or even exceeding the value of a Championship. This means that putting up your mask in a Lucha de Apuestas (translated roughly to “betting match”) contest is a big deal and often a good way to draw a crowd to an event. Villano V and Blue Panther had both worn their masks for years, so the fact one of them could lose theirs made this match a historically important battle.

There was a genuine fear at the time that Villano V wasn’t going to be able to make the match due to suffering a broken collarbone that required surgery to fix. Villano’s shoulders and neck were taped up and he was in a lot of pain. Despite this he still managed to gut the match out and entered a very impressive performance under the circumstances. As with most of the big Lucha de Apuestas matches, this contest was fought under the best two of three falls rule, meaning a wrestler had to defeat the other twice in order to be declared the overall victor. In Mexico, to remove your opponents mask before a bouts conclusion is see as an offence worthy of disqualification, which is what happened in the first two falls of this contest. Villano was the first remove a mask and then Panther did the same in the second fall, although in Panther’s case it was implied that he didn’t actually mean to remove the mask but Villano’s second had deliberately poured water over Villano’s head in order to weaken the mask and make it more likely to come off.

The third and final fall was when things really picked up, with Panther doing a series of dives to the floor onto Villano, which led to the crowd feeling sympathy for the wrestler who would normally be the bad guy and thus get behind him in the hope that he would rally and pull off the upset. The crowd reactions for this match really were fantastic, with the audience losing their minds more than once at the action before them and it giving the bout an incredible atmosphere. Some of the wrestling wasn’t perfect here due to Villano struggling with his injury, but the crowd reactions more than offset any of those issues and the overall package here was excellent, with a great story being told in the ring and a superb atmosphere to compliment it. The closing exchanges were gripping stuff and the match remains possibly my favourite Lucha Libre bout of all-time

Number 5
Triple H Vs Jeff Hardy – Portland, Oregon (5th October 2008)

Jeff Hardy had a pretty eventful 2008, fraught with drama and near misses until he eventually assailed to the top of the WWE mountain to become WWE Champion. Hardy started in the year in a hot feud with Randy Orton, which led many fans to think that he might defeat Orton for the WWE Title at that year’s Royal Rumble event. The time wasn’t right in WWE’s mind though so they had Orton win, but they did have a plan to then have Hardy win the Money in the Bank Ladder Match at WrestleMania 24 on route to having Hardy win the Title later in the year. Unfortunately for Hardy though he failed a wellness test and ended up getting removed from the Mania match. He came back later in the year though and continued to be a very popular member of the roster.

This led to him finding his way into the WWE Title picture once again, a Title which was currently being held by long time top star in the company Triple H. Triple H was enjoying somewhat of a career renaissance in the ring during this period and was actually having some of his best matches. After suffering a second quad tear in early 2007, Triple H returned leaner and less swollen at Summer Slam 2007, and it was definitely for the better when it came to mobility and his general overall health. Triple H still looked physically impressive, but you could tell that his leaner body allowed him to move much better and it certainly lessened the chances of another similar injury. In some ways Triple H almost came back looking younger just because he was less puffy in the face and could move more like his younger self.

Triple H and Hardy regularly made for good opponents, as even though Hardy was pretty big compared to your average person on the street, Triple H was considerably bigger even in his leaner form and it made for a natural story of the smaller Hardy trying to find a way to get the better of his bigger opponent. Even though Hardy had been wrestling since the mid-90’s, his boyish good looks allowed for the more grizzled Triple H to play the role of wily veteran whilst Hardy had more of a feeling of youthful exuberance to him. Both men told the story well and the crowd was really into the action. Despite Hardy being the sentimental favourite, Triple H still had his fair share of fans in the arena and it made for an exhilarating atmosphere as the match continued to build.

Triple H wrestled the match in a similar vein to the “Touring NWA Champion” of yesteryear, which was when the World Champion (be it Ric Flair, Jack Brisco, Harley Race or others) would come into the local area to face that area’s top star and would play the role of a subtle villain without being an outright bad guy. In some ways it mirrored real sports, in that the away team might not be villainous or nefarious, but the home town crowd is always going to cheer on their team. Triple H never really stepped outside the realms of the rules, but he still was less heroic than Hardy was, with the idea being that Triple H was trying to make the crowd cheer for Hardy at his expense without actually coming across as a bad guy himself. This is a difficult balance to get right, but Triple H was a student of the game who idolised the likes of Flair and Race, so if anyone was cut out to play such a role then it was him.

Triple H eventually managed to catch Hardy with a last gasp pinning hold to retain his Title, which not only made Triple H look resourceful but it also made Hardy look strong in that he so nearly managed to wrest the Title away from the dominant Champion. Hardy’s time would come in December 2008, where he defeated Triple H and Edge in a three way dance to finally claim the Title in a great feel-good moment. This battle at the No Mercy pay per view though remains one of the best matches that either Triple H or Hardy ever had, as they wrestled pretty much the perfect match and won the crowd over in the process. It was a match with almost 70’s storytelling combined with modern wrestling, and it worked extraordinarily well.

Number 4
Mitsuharu Misawa and Naomichi Marufuji Vs Kenta Kobashi and Go Shiozaki – Coventry, England (21st June 2008)

I had been a fan of Pro Wrestling NOAH since discovering it in 2004 when it appeared on The Wrestling Channel here in the UK, so when I heard that NOAH would be holding an event in England I knew I had to be there in order to see it. My buddy Adam Yates and I piled into my Nissan Micra and made the drive down to Coventry to see the show, excited at the prospect of seeing two of our favourite wrestlers in person, those being Mitsuharu Misawa and Kenta Kobashi. By the time 2008 rolled around both wrestlers were past their peaks physically, but the lure of seeing them wrestle in the flesh was still a big selling point for us and we were incredibly excited to see them enter the ring for their Main Event tag team bout.

What followed was a memorable bout, although I will concede that if they had this match in Japan and I watched a tape of it back in England it probably wouldn’t have made this list. However, to be there in person for this contest made it incredibly special for me, as the atmosphere was electric and I will always treasure the memory of seeing two men I respected so much doing battle in the ring. Driving out of the Coventry Sky Dome I actually spied Misawa at the back exit having a post-show cigarette. I wound down the window and simply yelled “MISAWAAAAAA” in appreciation for his years of service to the wrestling world before focusing back on the road. Adam assured me though that Misawa cracked a smile and seemed to appreciate the gesture, so I’ll always be thankful for having the opportunity to send some love his way before his tragic passing in 2009.

Number 3
Kurt Angle Vs Samoa Joe – Lowell, Massachusetts (13th April 2008)

This match represented a rare occasion where the TNA promotion actually decided to present a more serious wrestling based product as opposed to the usual soap opera gaga that head writer Vince Russo swore by. Rather than film a bunch of silly skits, TNA instead decided to build for this contest like it would be an actual fight, with footage of both men training and talking about how important it was for them to win so that they could be the World Champion. Samoa Joe even agreed to put his career on the line to get across how important it was for him to defeat Angle and become the Champion. The result was an engrossing build that led to an excellent match at the Lockdown pay per view event.

The event even drew a better than usual buy rate, which led to Russo refusing to allow any such build again due to the fear that it showed his outdated storytelling techniques weren’t as effective as the more serious build TNA used here. It was a shame as the build-up and execution of this match was some of the best stuff TNA ever did during this period and they succeeded in bringing quite a few fans back, as well as attracting new ones, before promptly sending all of them away again when this match didn’t lead to a general change in the way stories were told and matches were hyped up in the promotion.

The match itself was excellent, as both Angle and Joe tried to present a more realistic and legitimate in-ring style, with a focus on mat wrestling. In a lot of ways the match felt more like an MMA fight than a traditional pro wrestling match, both in the way it was presented and executed. It still had a pro wrestling flavour to it of course, such as when Angle used a Figure Four Leg Lock and Joe used his Muscle Buster finishing move, both things you were highly unlikely to see in a real MMA fight. Angle and Joe were able to combine the best elements of both disciplines in order to craft an exciting and dramatic contest.

At the time part of me thought that TNA had finally found a niche that could work for it by presenting a more serious sports based approach to it’s big Title matches in order to go with a more varied selection of styles in the mid-card, but both Angle and Joe were back to the usual lazy melodrama and “Crash TV” that Russo loved following this and TNA missed their window to do something that would make them a genuine alternative to the product WWE was presenting. Instead they want back to what they always were under Russo, “Discount WWE” with less star power and worse production.

Number 2
Edge Vs The Undertaker – Orlando, Florida (30th March 2008)

I decided to go with this WrestleMania 24 bout over the match between Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair on the same show for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the impact of the Michaels and Flair match has been lessened somewhat in recent years due to Flair returning to the ring for the TNA promotion after losing the supposed “retirement” match to Michaels. At the time it really felt like this match could actually be it for Ric Flair, which really added to drama and emotion the bout was able to project. With the historical nature of the bout removed, it also loses some of that emotional impact. Edge Vs Undertaker however remains one of the better show closing bouts in WrestleMania history and it’s still a match I enjoy going back to watch.

This match was a payoff to a long storyline that had started in the spring of 2007, when Edge had contrived to steal the World Title from The Undertaker. Along the way both Edge and Undertaker had suffered injuries, but by the time WrestleMania rolled around the jigsaw pieces had finally fallen into place for Undertaker to get a shot at revenge, with his famed WrestleMania streak being put up against Edge’s World Title. What followed was a dramatic contest, where both wrestlers traded attempts at victory in a truly epic battle. What impressed me a lot at the time and still does now is that both wrestlers had an uphill battle due to the crowd being tired after a long event, but they rose to the challenge and by the end the crowd was engrossed by the action.

I will always have strong nostalgic memories of WrestleMania 24 as I was living in my own place for the first time ever and was also at university, so my housemate Luc and I invited a number of our friends to come round and watch the show, including a dearly departed friend of mine known as Adam Turek who sadly passed away this year. The group atmosphere inside our house was fantastic, especially as this match was the match everyone decided to come into the living room to watch. Both fans and non-fans alike watched this match and everyone got into it. Whereas previously some of the non-fans had been in other rooms of the house or had been half paying attention, all eyes were on the Main Event.

Whereas earlier in the night the room had been somewhat split when Michaels and Flair had wrestled, everyone to a person was on Team Undertaker for this battle, and we lustily cheered along whenever it looked like he was going to win. Isolated on its own, this contest between Edge and Undertaker was a fantastic piece of business. The group atmosphere in which I enjoyed watching it in only elevated it ever higher and I think I will always have a positive memory of it as a result.

Number 1
Bryan Danielson and Eddie Edwards Vs KENTA and Taiji Ishimori – Coventry, England (21st June 2008)

Danielson was the undisputed star of the show in this one, as he leaned fully into his role as the villain of the piece and was exceedingly entertaining in doing so, refusing to allow the fans to sing along with his entrance music and then spitting at his opponents before the match even started. Edwards was still in the process of making a name for himself at this stage, but he was already showing glimpses of the great wrestler he would go on to be, whilst KENTA was in his element as a surly dude looking to kick the salt and vinegar out of people. At the time I hadn’t really seen much of Ishimori but I was instantly impressed and he remains a wrestler I enjoy watching to this day.

This was a match that everyone who attended this show was raving about once it was over, with the crowd almost being burnt out once it was over due to how exciting it was, which kind of led to the Jay Briscoe match that followed it getting a bit of a tepid reaction. Thankfully the crowd was back to their best when the Main Event came along. The four wrestlers in this match wrestled extremely well and the match also told a good story, with it building up anticipation for the fans to see KENTA finally putting a big whupping on Danielson. This is one of those matches where watching it back on DVD almost doesn’t do it justice because it can’t quite convey how amazing the atmosphere was.

I’ve been very lucky to see a number of great matches in person, but I think this one may still be the best match I’ve ever seen live. It was bordering on being an out of body experience at times when I saw this, as the wrestling was so good and the finishing stretch in particular was so well structured and executed. When done right, professional wrestling can be one of the most blood pumping and exciting things you can experience in a live setting, and this match is a true example of that. Danielson in particular was just so good here, to the point that it was almost awe inspiring. The way he manipulated the crowd to turn them against him even though they so clearly wanted to cheer him was fantastic. He really is one of the best to ever do this.

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