The Top Ten Wrestling Tournaments Of All Time
We have gone tournament crazy in professional wrestling lately with AEW currently putting on the AEW World Title Eliminator Tournament and the TBS Title tourney and the Owen Hart Trophy coming soon and WWE doing their once in a blue moon King Of The Ring and the inaugural Queen's Crown which total match time lasted as long as a Nuno Espirito Santo managerial reign.
While the last month has shown how to do and not to do a wrestling tournament, the last 30 years have seen promotions all over the world put on competitions which have helped make stars and and given us moments which fans will never forget. So, in this edition of my Top Ten, with the help of various criteria, we are looking at the Top Ten Tournaments in Wrestling history.
The criteria for this is the following-
Cagematch ratings for the tournament in question
Dave Meltzer's star rating and Cagematch ratings for particular matches
Star quality of the field of the tournament in question ranging from Hall of Famers to former/current major World Champions at the time of the tournament to future world champions after the tourney takes place
Impact on the promotion hosting the tournament and historical relevance.
Also, in the interest of fairness, just one edition of a tournament will be included in this list. Otherwise we would have had six G1 Climax's in all probability.
#1- G1 Climax 2017 (NJPW)
It wasn't a question of whether a G1 was going to get top spot but which G1 Climax was going to finish No.1. Five G1's make the top 10 of Cagematch's list of best tournaments with four of the top 5 spots filled by NJPW's annual heavyweight singles tournament.
G1 Climax 2016 9.90
G1 Climax 2017 9.86
16 Carat Gold 2007 9.84
G1 Climax 2015 9.82
G1 Climax 2013 9.75
16 Carat Gold 2008 9.72
BOLA 2015 9.69
G1 Climax 2019 9.67
Cruiserweight Classic 9.65
King Of Indies 2001 9.64
The 2017 edition gets the nod from the others for its quality of field and also finishing second in the star rating list to 2019.
The 2019 edition of the G1 would tally up eight matches that got the 5+ star rating treatment from Meltzer while 2017 got two. Did Dave go overboard with his ratings for the 2019 G1? Does Dave overrate modern stuff? That's a thesis for another time. What is undeniable is that the 2017 field was one of the strongest in G1 history with 3 of the field of 20 already in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame (Tanahashi, Omega and Suzuki) with a cast iron for the 2021 class in Okada and potential HoF's in Kota Ibushi and Tomohiro Ishii included with 6 IWGP Champions and three future champions (Omega, Ibushi and EVIL) in the 20 man field.
What puts this over the top is the moments that were created in the 2017 G1. Kenny Omega would get his first victory over Kazuchika Okada on his third attempt. The final would see Tetsuya Naito get a career defining victory against Omega two nights after beating Hiroshi Tanahashi, gaining revenge for his loss to Tana for the IC Title two months before.
Whether Naito should have beaten IWGP champ Okada at Wrestle Kingdom five months later is a debate for another time but Naito would leave Ryogoku Kokugikan with not just the G1 flag but also with the standing of one of wrestling's biggest stars.
#2- Battle of Los Angeles 2014 (PWG)
The Los-Angeles based promotion PWG holds an annual tournament which sees 24 of the best independent wrestlers face off in a single elimination tournament until the final which sees the final three face off in an elimination match. The 2014 edition would see all of the 24 combatants end up on either WWE, NXT, AEW or NJPW in the seven years after. Future Hall of Famers Kenny Omega and AJ Styles competed but neither got to the final with Ricochet, Johnny Gargano and Roderick Strong in the final three with Ricochet winning the final.
PWG is famous for being Dave Meltzer's local-ish promotion with matches from the promotion getting high ratings from a ringside seated Dave but BOLA 2014 would be before Dave started attending PWG and therefore we have to rely on Cagematch for match ratings with Kyle O'Reilly and Zack Sabre Jr's 1/4 Final rated 9.32 the best match among the 7 matches rated above 7.75.
#3- IWGP US Title Tournament (NJPW)
When New Japan Pro Wrestling created the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship, an two night event was set up to crown an inaugural champion in Long Beach, California. The eight-man field would see former IWGP Heavyweight champ Tetsuya Naito heading a field that included some of the biggest names in NJPW including future IWGP Champ Kenny Omega as well as his now rival Hangman Page.
Four of the seven matches in the tournament would get higher than four stars with Omega getting ****3/4 in his quarter final match against Michael Elgin and the final against Tomohiro Ishii.
Percentages of matches in tournament rated four stars or higher
G1 Climax 2017 36/90 40%
BOLA 2014 N/A N/A
IWGP US Title 4/7 57%
BOSJ 2019 16/90 17%
16 Carat 2007 N/A N/A
AJPW WSTDL 93 4/28*
Super J Cup 94 3/13*
King of Indies 2001 5/15 33%
AEW Eliminator 3/7 42%
Cruiser Classic 4/31 12%
*It is apparent from reading the Observer from this time that Dave Meltzer didn't have access to watch the whole tournament
The event would be launch of the expansion of NJPW into the United States and the US title is now arguably the second biggest in the hierarchy of NJPW after the merger of the IWGP Title and the Intercontinental Title and this is all thanks to the title match between the winner of the Long Beach Tournament and inaugural champion Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho at Wrestle Kingdom 12 which ended up being one of the factors that gave birth to AEW after the match brought eyeballs from North Americans to the NJPW product.
#4- Best of the Super Juniors 2019 (NJPW)
NJPW's annual junior heavyweight tournament hit its highest point in the wrestling sphere's acclaim in its 2019 edition which saw Will Ospreay winning for the second time outlasting Shingo Takagi in the final with both topping their blocks finishing ahead of ROH World Champion Bandido and former Pure Champion Jonathan Gresham with 5 former IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champs and two future champs also in the field.
Two matches (Ospreay vs Takagi, Ospreay vs Bandido) got five or more stars with three others getting ****3/4 in an event which would be Will Ospreay's entrance into the top tier of wrestlers worldwide.
Amount of matches in tournament rated 8.00 or higher
G1 2017 22/90
BOLA 2014 3/22*
IWGP Title 4/7
BOSJ 2019 12/90
16 Carat Gold 2007 9/15
AJPW WSTDL 93 1/28*
Super J Cup 94 1/13*
King of Indies 2001 1/15*
AEW Eliminator 20 3/7
Crusier Classic 7/31
*Some matches in this tournament not rated on Cagematch.
#5- 16 Carat Gold 2007 (WXW)
The annual tournament of Germany's WXW promotion sees some of the biggest names all over the world take part in a 16-man elimination tournament. In 2007, Chris Hero would win the competition that included Claudio Castagnoli, El Generico, future GHC Champion Go Shiozaki, Matt Sydal, PAC and Tommy End.
The high Cagematch rating(9.84) could be put down to regionak bias due to the German homebase of the Cagematch website but if you are using statistical analysis and compare the match ratings of the tourney (9 of the 15 matches were rated higher than 8.00) the 2007 edition of the 16 Cara Gold deserves to be included on this list.
#6- World's Strongest Tag Determination League 1993 (AJPW)
It was so hard to split the pair of tournaments that All Japan Pro Wrestling put on in the year of 1993 but what separates the annual tag tourney from the Champion Carnival from this year was the classic final match between the team of Mitsuharu Misawa/Kenta Kobashi and Toshiaki Kawada/Akira Taue (this match is on my Rushmore of the best final 5 minutes of a match ever).
What also puts this tournament high on this list is the eclectic field that All Japan put out in the year end tournament with longtime rivals Stan Hansen and Giant Baba teaming after Stan's original partner Ted Dibiase suffered a career ending injury on the first night of the league. Other teams saw Tracy Smothers team with Richard Slinger, The Patriot/The Eagle, Johnny Ace/Dan Spivey and Steve Williams team with Bubba Rogers who was in his 1988-1993 WWE Big Boss Man attire and show a workrate that we didn't see before or after the 93 Tag league.
In all, the 1993 WSTDL saw six Observer Hall of Famers and seven World Champs with Akira Taue the seventh guy that hasn't got a HoF honour to his name (Taue for the 2021 WON Hall of Fame please) compete for the honours
Hall of Famers and World Champions in tournament
HoFers Former/Current World Champs Future World Champs
G1 2017 4/20 6 3
BOLA 2014 2/24 0 2
IWGP US Title 1/8 1 1
BOSJ 2019 2/20 0 2
16 Carat 2007 0/16 0 0
AJPW WSTDL 93 6/16 5 2
Super J Cup 94 3/14 0 2
King of Indies 01 2/16 0 2
AEW Eliminator 20 1/8 1 0
Cruiser Classic 0/32 0 1
The legacy that this tournament should hold after 28 years is the template of how you can get heavyweight singles wrestlers and insert them into a tag scene and make it thrive.
#7- Super J Cup 1994 (NJPW)
A one night tournament held in Tokyo saw the best junior heavyweights in Japan duke it out in a one night single elimination tournament with the prize for the winner being the WWWF Junior Heavyweight Championship belt, a title from the days of the co-operation between Vincent K. McMahon's WWWF and NJPW. The 14-man bracket included Eddie Guerrero in the Black Tiger gimmick, Chris Benoit, Hayabusa, Jushin Liger and Great Sasuke with Benoit under the name Wild Pegasus beating Great Sasuke in the final in a five-star match. But it was Sasuke's semi-final win over Jushin Liger that made him a huge star winning in a fantastic finale. The event would win the award for Best Event in the 1994 Wrestling Observer Awards beating a stacked field including When Worlds Collide, AJW's Big Egg Universe and WrestleMania X.
The legacy of the night would be seeing many of the night's combatants go on and win titles all over the world and cruiserweight/junior heavyweight wrestling becoming an attraction in promotions worldwide.
#8- King of the Indies 2001 (APW)
The second King of the Indies in October 2001 would end up being one of the most important events in wrestling in the five years after WCW was bought by WWE in Spring 2001. Paul Heyman protegee Gabe Sapolsky watched a tape of the two night tournament and went to Rob Feinstein, the founder of RF Video, one of the main video sellers in the wrestling universe in the late 90's, who was looking to start up a wrestling promotion, with the idea of using the talent that made up the King of the Indies bracket with a high work rate philosophy and therefore Ring Of Honor was born.
Ten of the 16 wrestlers that entered the tournament would wrestle in the first two years of ROH with eight ending up in either WWE or AEW and two future Hall of Famers in Bryan Danielson (the eventual winner of the competition) and AJ Styles in the field.
Five of the matches were given four or more stars with Bryan Danielson vs Spanky getting the highest score of 4 and half stars with the final between Danielson vs Low Ki getting the highest Cagematch rating of 8.27.
The legacy of this event goes beyond ratings with a company being born from this event and stars finding their footing in front of 275-375 fans.
Also in a Did You Know piece of trivia, the weekend of this event was the first time that Dave Meltzer and Bryan Alvarez would meet.
#9- AEW Eliminator Tournament 2019 (AEW)
Set up to find a No.1 Contender for Jon Moxley's AEW World Title, the 8-man bracket would see Kenny Omega and Hangman Page face off in the final. Omega's path would see him blaze through Sonny Kiss (replacing Joey Janela) in less than 30 seconds and then Penta El Zero while Page beat Colt Cabana and Wardlow on his road to the final.
The final at Full Gear 2020 would get ****1/2 from Meltzer with the Omega/Penta semi getting the same rating. The quarter final between Fenix and his Lucha Brother Penta would get four stars as well.
It's the story of the tournament that gets the Eliminator into the top ten with Omega's heel turn starting out and with the final playing into the story of Hangman Page's journey that could be paid off at Full Gear 2021 with Page possibly winning Pretty Platinum.
#10- Cruiserweight Classic (WWE)
Yes folks, WWE did do a tournament right. Ok, you could include the WWE Championship tournament at Survivor Series 1998 which was a rollercoaster ride with Vince Russo at the wheel, but for in-ring action this is the greatest tournament WWE ever put on. The WWE Cruiserweight Classic held at Full Sail saw 32 Cruiserweights from 10 countries compete at the WWE Network exclusive event.
The final four consisted of Gran Metalik, Zack Sabre Jr, TJ Perkins and Kota Ibushi. Yes, we could have seen Kota Ibushi chasing R-Truth round the WWE ThunderDome had things gone Ibushi's way. TJ Perkins would go on to win the final become the first champion of the rebooted Cruiserweight division.
The tournament itself was at odds to the thought process of the decision makers at WWE with twelve of the fifteen matches from the Last 16 onwards going more than 10 minutes. Four matches from the tournament got four or above stars with Ibushi's matches against Cedric Alexander and TJ Perkins getting ****1/2.
The main legacy of this tournament would end up being the first round match between Tomasso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano, which would kick off the rivalry between the pair which would dominate NXT television for the next four years.