5 Best Wrestling Matches of 1997
By 1997, wrestling was becoming an even bigger phenomenon around the world. In WWE, the Austin Era was in full swing, yet the man himself was not yet at the top of the company. He had to overcome one of his biggest rivals ever, which led to one of the best matches in both WWE and WrestleMania history.
But Austin wasn’t the only person in WWE to have a legendary match in 1997. The Undertaker took part in his first and only 5-star match, which is remembered as much for a surprise entrant as it is for its sheer brutality.
Meanwhile, Japan was still the global hub of great in-ring workers. Both All Japan and New Japan had some great matches, most of which were filled with those trademark elements of puroresu: extremely stiff strikes, chain grappling, and signature moves being built on top of one another in an intelligent fashion.
In 1997, five matches were rated 5-stars by the Wrestling Observer, three were rated 4.75-stars and eight were rated 4.5-stars. Yet of these critically-acclaimed matches, only five will be showcased on this list. However, just because a match is rated 5-stars by the WON doesn’t mean that it’s just as great for everyone.
So which of these legendary matches stand as the five best of 1997? Read on…
5. El Samurai vs. Koji Kanemoto - June 5, 1997
The only thing you need to know about both these guys is that they’re both junior heavyweight wrestlers participating in a tournament called ‘Best of Super Juniors’, which is basically a cruiserweights-only G1 Climax-style tournament.
This was another one of those classic Japanese matches that was all about the in-ring action and technical precision. Kanemoto was a technical wizard, reversing his way out of every single hold and big move like he’s Kurt Angle’s long lost brother.
Samurai, meanwhile, more than held his own, locking in some painful submission holds and hit Kanemoto with some truly powerful slaps right to the face. By the halfway point, however, the match evolved into something else.
We started seeing the signature elements that make a great NJPW match: insane dives outside the ring, stiff lariats, and painful-looking and believable submission holds.
The crowd, which had been watching quietly and studiously beforehand, got really loud really fast. It only got better and better as the match progressed, with Kanemoto at one point unleashing a top-rope Poisoned Frankensteiner, two decades before it became a ‘regular’ move on the independent scene.
By the time it was over, Samurai had hit the biggest moves in his arsenal and the crowd became unglued as he scored the pinfall. Although it wasn’t on the same level of ‘lightning speed’ as some lucha libre wrestlers, it was still a spectacular back-and-forth contest between two great wrestlers.