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NJPW: 20 Best Matches of 2023 (Part 1)

NJPW Best Matches Collage 1
(Credit: New Japan Pro Wrestling)

NJPW: 20 Best Matches of 2023 (Part 1)

If there was ever a company that prides itself on producing great wrestling matches on an annual basis, it’s NJPW. New Japan Pro Wrestling has been living in “clap-only” purgatory since 2020, but with fans back in full force in every building they went to, the extra atmosphere did wonders for the company in 2023.

Over the past 12 months, NJPW has produced over 170 events, which have contained over 1000 matches, but now it’s time to whittle it down to the best of the best. We’ve already counted down the 10 best events of the year, now it’s time to dig a little deeper by praising the best matches.

My name is Sam Palmer from Vendetta Sports Media, and this is part one of our countdown of the NJPW’s 20 best matches of the year!

20. Kazuchika Okada vs. Zack Sabre Jr. [G1 Climax 33 Quarter-Final] – G1 Climax 33 (Day 17):

The 2023 G1 Climax had a 32-man field that could have gone to a variety of participants, and the eight-man, knockout ending of the tournament threw up some interesting matches. The main event of Day 17’s event was the winner of Block B, The Rainmaker and Kazuchika Okada.

The former IWGP World Heavyweight Champion knew that the G1 was the best way to get back to the top, but in his way was a unique problem. The NJPWWorld Television Champion Zack Sabre Jr., a man who was built for this style of tournament, and his title reign made him a master of getting things done in a certain timeframe.

Zack has never beaten Okada in Japan, but 2023 seemed like it could be his year as his NJPWWorld TV Title reign has let him take a bit more time with opponents in these longer matches. The closing stretch of this bout showed off ZSJ’s counter-wrestling continuously getting the better of Okada, who has become more and more heelish throughout the year. However, it was a counter from The Rainmaker that ended up making the difference in what was one of the highlights of this year’s tournament.

19. Mercedes Mone vs KAIRI [IWGP Women’s Championship] – Battle in the Valley:

Mercedes Mone vs KAIRI
(Credit: New Japan Pro Wrestling)

If you had told someone two years ago that Kairi Sane and Sasha Banks would be the reason that a New Japan Pro Wrestling event sells out, despite having Okada vs Tanahashi in the main event, you would probably get told to get a job and stop taking drugs.

However, that’s exactly what happened at Battle in the Valley in San Jose, Calif. Mercedes made her NJPW debut a month prior at Wrestle Kingdom, challenging KAIRI to a title match, and this is the match we got.

It’s safe to say that people were not only excited to see Mercedes wrestle for the first time in nine months, but they wanted to see what she could do outside of the confines of WWE. While a little overbooked at points, this is a bout that felt like a big deal.

This match is a prime example of how good two of the best wrestlers in the world can be when they are allowed to just go out and have fun, and they don’t disappoint. It’s unclear, at the time of writing at least, whether Mercedes will be following KAIRI back to WWE, but if she doesn’t, let’s hope she produces more work like this.

18. El Desperado vs. Francesco Akira – Best of the Super Juniors 30 (Day 8):

El Desperado vs Francesco Akira
(Credit: New Japan Pro Wrestling)

The junior heavyweight version of the G1 Climax never fails to amaze audiences around the world. The speed of the performers, the insane moves that they manage to pull off, and being able to do it on a nightly basis makes the Best of the Super Juniors one of the most exciting periods of the year. The likes of “Speedball” Mike Bailey, Hiromu Takahashi and Lio Rush had some fantastic matches throughout the tournament, but the best of the block stages was this epic from Day 8.

For those who don’t know, Francesco Akira is an Italian with a big mouth and a lot of attitude despite his size, which results in El Desperado slapping him around for the first few minutes. But somehow, Akira ends up putting in one of the best babyface performances of the year, and arguably the greatest performance of his entire career. This bout also features one of the best uses of a towel all year and is easily one of the best junior heavyweight matches all year.

17. Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay – G1 Climax 33 (Day 9):

Kazuchika Okada vs Will Ospreay
(Credit: New Japan Pro Wrestling)

When the blocks for the G1 get announced every year, everyone tries to highlight what could potentially be the best matches of the blocks. There were many matches that a lot of people were looking forward to, but when it came to anticipation, it wasn’t even a competition. Kazuchika Okada and Will Ospreay have been developing a rivalry for the ages over the past few years thanks to their incredible series of matches, and this one…was the weakest they’ve had in New Japan.

But if it’s so weak, why is it on the list? Because even the weakest match between Okada and Ospreay is good enough to be on a list like this. The story up to this point was that the Aerial Assassin had been getting closer and closer to pinning The Rainmaker since the last time they met in the G1 in 2020.

Okada had been able to get the better of Will in big title matches outside of the confines of a match that has a 30-minute time limit, but this one had a 20-minute time limit. Smooth action that led to an important finish in the career of Ospreay, this one would have been much higher if it had been a little bit longer.

16. Jon Moxley vs. El Desperado [Final Death Match] – Independence Day (Day 2):

Jon Moxley vs El Desperado
(Credit: New Japan Pro Wrestling)

New Japan don’t really do bloody hardcore deathmatches like some other companies in Japan, but this was a deathmatch with a capital D. Jon Moxley, a man who once walked into a Starbucks and started bleeding because he sneezed too hard (that may or may not have happened), faced off against El Desperado in a match that was always going to be ugly thanks to their history. These two met in a No Disqualification match last year that had a lot of people begging for more, and the Japanese fans were the lucky ones to witness it.

While it wasn’t exactly the ‘deathmatch to end all deathmatches,’ this bout had the right mix of good psychology and traditional wrestling that eventually ramped up to a full-blown bloodbath. The Japanese table that is known for not breaking even under the most extreme circumstances made an appearance, there was barbed wire everywhere, and Moxley got a big ol’ handful of wooden skewers stuck in his head. This match isn’t for everyone, but if blood and violence are your bag, you might think this deserves a higher placement.

THAT’S THE END OF PART 1! Stay tuned to Vendetta Sports Media to find out what we think is the best NJPW match of 2023! See you then!

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