Mat Madness: 21 Pro Wrestling Tournaments To Watch

With the recent news from WCPW of the first ever Pro Wrestling World Cup and the WWE’s announcement of a Women’s Tournament featuring 32 of the top independent women wrestlers around the world, the pro wrestling world was given the gift of two more wrestling tournaments to it’s pantheon. While there’s been small regional tournaments – usually to crown new champions in various territories – the first truly notable marquee tournament in pro wrestling was the World Big League tournament in Rikidozan‘s Japanese Wrestling Association (JWA), which ran from 1959 to 1972.  In North America, it was Vince McMahon Jr. in his early days of ownership, when he introduced the WWF’s Wrestling Classic in 1985. Sixteen WWF Superstars competed in a knockout tournament, with Junkyard Dog beating new signee Randy “Macho Man” Savage to win the tournament.

Photo: WWE

Since then, wrestling tournaments have exploded, with nearly every promotion holding one (or more) annual tournaments, featuring top level stars from within the promotion (and often from outside) and featured as world class spectacles.

Here’s a look at twenty one staple tournaments in the world of professional wrestling and a look at their legacies.

G-1 Climax, NJPW

Photo: NJPW

First Year Held: 1974
Antonio Inoki, 10; Masahiro Chono, 5; Hiroyoshi Tenzan, 3; Andre the Giant, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, Riki Choshu, Seiji Sakaguchi, Kensuke Sasaki, tied with 2; Kenny Omega, Tetsuya Naito, Shinsuke Nakamura, Satoshi Koijima, Togi Makabe, Hirooki Goto, Yuji Nagata, Keiji Mutoh, Tatsumi Fujinami, Hulk Hogan, tied with 1.
Last Winner: Kenny Omega, over Hirooki Goto, 2016
Next Installment: July 17 to August 13, 2017

Perhaps the oldest tournament still in existence is NJPW’s G-1 Climax tournament, although it’s undergone several name changes since it’s inception. It debuted in 1974 as the World League tournament (in homage to NJPW’s founder Antonio Inoki’s mentor’s tournament in JWA) before switching names to the MSG League for five years. In 1983, it was renamed the International Wrestling Grand Prix League (with AWA’s Hulk Hogan winning the first tournament under the IWGP banner) until 1989, where it was briefly called the World Cup Tournament. In 1991, with Inoki taking a back seat in NJPW, it was rebranded as the G-1 Climax, a name that has stuck ever since. It’s currently held round robin style with the winner of each blocks advancing on points, with the final two combatants facing off for a chance.

King of the Ring, WWE

Photo: WWE

First Year Held: 1985
Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart, 2; Wade Barrett, Sheamus, William Regal, Booker T, Brock Lesnar, Edge, Kurt Angle, Billy Gunn, Ken Shamrock, Triple H, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Mabel, Owen Hart, Tito Santana, “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Harley Race, Don Muraco, tied with 1.
Last Winner: Bad News Barrett, over Neville, 2015
Next Installment: 

Originally part of the WWE’s “Big Five” (alongside WrestleMania, SummerSlam, Survivor Series, and Royal Rumble), the King of the Ring was a staple on WWE programming from it’s inception in 1985 (the same year as the first WrestleMania) until 2002. Since then, it’s been held sporadically, with installments in 2006, 2008, 2010 and the last one in 2015. Word is it is returning to the WWE Universe this year as a WWE Network exclusive tournament. Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart is the only WWE Superstar to win this tournament more than once.

Battle of Los Angeles, PWG

Photo: PWG

First Year Held: 2005
Winners: Marty Scurll, Zack Sabre Jr., Ricochet, Kyle O’Reilly, Adam Cole, El Generico (Sami Zayn), Joey Ryan, Kenny Omega, Low Ki, Cima, Davey Richards, Chris Bosh, tied with 1
Last Winner: “The Villain” Marty Scurll, over Will Ospreay and Trevor Lee, 2016
Next Installment:
Labour Day Weekend, 2017

On the independent circuit in North America, perhaps no tournament holds the prestige that belongs to Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’s Labour Day weekend tournament, Battle of Los Angeles (BOLA). The tournament has changed formats several times over it’s 12-year history, but it’s currently a 24-man tournament ending in a Triple Threat match final, held over three nights. Currently, no man has ever won BOLA more than once.

Best of the Super Juniors, NJPW

Photo: NJPW

First Year Held: 1988
Jushin Thunder Liger, Koji Kanemoto, tied with 3; Wild Pegasus (Chris Benoit), Tiger Mask IV, Prince Devitt (Finn Balor), tied with 2; Shiro Koshinaka, Norio Honaga, Black Tiger II (Eddie Guerrero), El Samurai, Kendo Kashin, Tatsuhito Takaiwa, Masahito Kakihara, Minoru, Milano Collection AT, Wataru Inoue, Ryusuke Taguchi, Ricochet, KUSHIDA, tied with 1.
Last Winner: Will Ospreay, over Ryusuke Taguchi, 2016
Next Installment:
May 17 to June 3, 2017

Long before the WWE held it’s Cruiserweight Classic, NJPW held it’s own tournament for the best junior heavyweight (or “cruiserweight”) wrestlers. In it’s first four installments, it was called Top of the Super Juniors, until it was rebranded with it’s current moniker in 1994. Like all NJPW tournaments, this one spans several weeks, and often creates some of the most talked about matches of the year. Last year’s battle between Will Ospreay vs. Ricochet was considered by many to be 2016’s Match of the Year (and the one that sparked the Ospreay vs. Vader feud on Twitter).

King of Trios, CHIKARA

Photo: Chikaratopia

First Year Held: 2007
Sendai Girls (Cassandra Miyagi, Dash Chisako and Meiko Satomura); Team AAA (Aerostar, Drago, and Fenix); The Devastation Corporation (Blaster McMassive, Flex Rumblecrunch, and Max Smashmaster); The Spectral Envoy (UltraMantis Black, Hallowicked, and Frightmare); The Colony (Fire Ant, Green Ant, and Soldier Ant); Bruderschaft des Kreuzes (Ares, Claudio Castagnoli (Cesaro) and Tursas); F.I.S.T.
(Chuck Taylor, Gran Akuma and Icarus); Los Luchadores de Mexico (Incognito, Lince Dorado and El Pantera); Jigsaw, Mike Quackenbush, and Shane Storm, tied with 1.

Last Winner: Sendai Girls, over Team JWP, 2016
Next Installment:
Labour Day Weekend, 2017

Arguably the top tag team tournament in the world is the 6-man tag team tournament held annually by CHIKARA over Labour Day weekend known as King of Trios. Featuring trios teams of CHIKARA characters mixed with some of the world’s elite performers (past teams have included units from such promotions as ROH, PWG, Bullet Club/NJPW, AAA and former WWE Superstars), this three day tournament is fierce tag team competition. To date, no trios team has ever won more than once, and last years installment saw it’s first all female unit capture the tournament.

Survival of the Fittest, ROH

Photo: ROH

First Year Held: 2004
Bobby Fish, Michael Elgin, Adam Cole, Jay Lethal, Eddie Edwards, Tyler Black (Seth Rollins), Chris Hero (Kassius Ohno), Delirious, Roderick Strong, Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan), tied with 1.
Last Winner: Bobby Fish, over Lio Rush, Punisher Martinez, Jax Dane, Dalton Castle and The Panther, 2016
Next Installment:
November, 2017

Ring of Honor’s annual tournament of greatness began in 2004 after ROH ended it’s partnership with Maryland Championship Wrestling (MCW). Previously, it shared the Shane Shamrock Cup with MCW, but due to ownership controversies in ROH, MCW withdrew the tournament in 2004. ROH began their own annual tournament in 2004, with “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson claiming victory in the now annual classic.

Impact Wrestling, Bound for Glory Series

Photo: Impact Wrestling

First Year Held: 2011
Ethan Carter III, AJ Styles, Jeff Hardy, Bobby Roode, tied with 1.
Last Winner: Ethan Carter III, over Mike Bennett, 2016
Next Installment:
October, 2017

Impact Wrestling’s annual event is a series of tournament matches based on a point system over a series of match-ups spanning the months leading up to Impact’s Bound For Glory PPV event. It ran three years, from 2011 to 2013, until it was pulled, but last year it restarted with the intention to continue once again. The winner of the series is granted an Impact Wrestling World Heavyweight Championship match against the reigning Champion at that year’s Bound For Glory in the main event. So far two Series winners have won the title in their match-ups (Jeff Hardy over Austin Aries, 2012 and AJ Styles over Bully Ray, 2013).

Tournament of Death, CZW

Photo: CZW

First Year Held: 2002
Masada, 3; Danny Havoc, Nick Gage, Thumbtack Jack, “Wifebeater” Matt Prince, tied with 2; Rickey Shane Page, Matt Tremont, Jun Kasai, Scotty Vortekz, Brain Damage, Drake Younger, Necro Butcher, Nick “Madman” Mondo
Last Winner: Rickey Shane Page, over Matt Tremont, 2016
Next Installment:
June 10, 2017

It’s been a brutal institution since 2002, a one day round robin tournament of extreme hardcore psychopathery with blood, sweat and injury.

Rey de Reyes, AAA

Photo: AAA

First Year Held: 1997
La Parka II, 5; Pentagon Jr, El Texano Jr., El Mesias (Mil Muertes), Perro Aguayo Jr., Extreme Tiger (Tigre Uno), Chessman, Electro Shock, El Zorro, Vampiro, Jeff Jarrett, El Canek, Abismo Negro, Cibernetico, Perro Aguayo, Latin Lover
Last Winner: Argenis, over Averna, Bengala, Chessman, El Elegido, Joe Lider, Niño Hamburguesa, La Parka and Pimpinela Escarlata, 2017
Next Installment: 
March, 2018

AAA’s annual tournament is held every year in March, and is similar to the WWE’s King of the Ring tournament. Although in a way cooler move, instead of a crown at the end of the tournament, the winner gets a sword.

Super Strong Style 16, Progress Wrestling

Photo: Progress

First Year Held: 2015
Tommy End, Will Ospreay
Last Winner: Tommy End (Aleister Black), over Mark Andrews, 2016
Next Installment: 
May 27 to May 29, 2017

Progress Wrestling recently started a new tournament a few years back called Super Strong Style 16, which is a several day tournament around the last weekend of May (around the Spring UK Bank holiday). Featuring many of the world’s top independent wrestlers, it’s close to the UK version of PWG’s BOLA.

New Japan Cup, NJPW

Photo: NJPW

First Year Held: 2005
Hirooki Goto, 3; Hiroshi Tanahashi, Yuji Nagata, tied with 2; Katsuyori Shibata, Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kazuchika Okada, Giant Bernard (Albert/Matt Bloom), tied with 1.
Last Winner: Katsuyori Shibata, over Bad Luck Fale, 2017
Next Installment:
March, 2018

NJPW loves its tournaments and this one is very similar to the G-1 Climax, but instead of round robin groups, the New Japan Cup is single elimination. The winner of the New Japan Cup gets to challenge for either the IWGP World Heavyweight or IWGP Intercontinental Championship at a date of their choosing.

Leyenda de Plata, CMLL

Photo: CMLL

First Year Held: 1998
Mistico I (Caristico, original Sin Cara), Negro Casas, tied with 3; La Máscara, Volador Jr., Atlantis, Perro Aguayo Jr., El Felino, Black Warrior, El Hijo del Santo, Scorpio Jr.
Last Winner: La Máscara, over Negro Casas, 2016
Next Installment: July, 2017

CMLL’s most prestigious annual tournament, it began as a tribute to famed Lucha star El Santo on the 15th anniversary of his death (Leyenda de Plata translates as ‘The Silver Legend’). It now features CMLL’s best workers in a tournament, with the winner receiving a plaque adorned with El Santo’s classic silver mask.

16 Carat Gold, wXw

Photo: wXw

First Year Held: 2006
Winners: Tommy End, 
Chris Hero, tied with 2; Ilja Dragunov, Zack Sabre Jr., El Generico, Sami Callihan, Walter, Shingo Takagi, Bad Bones, Baron Von Hagen, tied with 1.
Last Winner: Ilja Dragunov, over Walter, 2017
Next Installment:
March, 2017

Germany’s premier wrestling promotion, Westside Xtreme Wrestling (wXw), holds its annual tournament in March of every year and features a top array of European talent, with the odd North American star thrown into the mix.

World Tag League, NJPW

Photo: NJPW

First Year Held: 1980
Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma; Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan; Hiroshi Hase and Keiji Mutoh; Tatsumi Fujinami and Kengo Kimura; Antonio Inoki and Hulk Hogan, tied with 2; Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata; Bullet Club (Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows); Hirooki Goto and Karl Anderson; Lance Archer and Minoru Suzuki; Yuji Nagata and Wataru Inoue; Bad Influence (Karl Anderson and Giant Bernard); Giant Bernard and Travis Tomko; Masahiro Chono and Shinsuke Nakamura; Osamu Nishimura and Hiroyoshi Tenzan; Takashi Iizuka and Yuji Nagata; Keiji Mutoh and Scott Norton; Keiji Mutoh and Satoshi Kojima; nWo Japan (The Great Muta and Masahiro Chono); Shinya Hashimoto and Scott Norton; Masahiro Chono and Hiroyoshi Tenzan; Riki Choshu and Shinya Hashimoto; Tatsumi Fujinami and Vader; Antonio Inoki and Yoshiaki Fujiwara; Andre the Giant and Rene Goulet; Antonio Inoki and Bob Backlund.
Last Winner: Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma, over Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tonga Roa), 2016
Next Installment:
November to December, 2017

The world’s oldest running tag team tournament is, surprise surprise, held in NJPW. Like the G-1 Climax, it’s undergone several name changes, starting as MSG Tag League for it’s first five years, before a one year run as the IWGP Tag Title League. Two years as Japan Cup Tag League, before seven year stint as the Super Grade Tag League, from 1991 to 1998. It changed to G-1 Tag League from 1999 to 2011, before it settled on it’s current moniker, World Tag League.

Cruiserweight Classic, WWE

Photo: WWE

First Year Held: 2016
Winners: TJ Perkins, 1

Last Winner: TJ Perkins, over Kota Ibushi, 2016
Next Installment:

The WWE jumped on the global tournament phenomena in 2016 with the Cruiserweight Classic, a 32-man tournament featuring many of the world’s top independent wrestlers under 205 lbs (most would end up signing with the WWE for their revamped Cruiserweight Division). Prior to the tournaments start in July, the WWE held qualifying matches in indie promotions Progress, RevPro, EVOLVE and American Combat Wrestling. While a 2017 edition is heavily rumoured, no official announcement has been made.

5★Star Grand Prix, World Wonder Ring Stardom

Photo: Stardom

First Year Held: 2012
Yuzuki Aikawa, Nanae Takahashi, Io Shirai, Kairi Hojo, Yoko Bito, tied with 1.
Last Winner:
Yoko Bito, over Tessa Blanchard, 2016
Next Installment:
September, 2017

Japan’s World Wonder Ring Stardom is fast becoming the best women’s promotion in the world and every fall they have their own tournament featuring the best homegrown joshi with many of the world’s top talent.

Best of the Best, CZW

Photo: CZW

First Year Held: 2001
Dave Crist, Jonathan Gresham, “Speedball” Mike Bailey, Drake Younger, Alex Colon, Sami Callihan, Adam Cole, Egotistico Fantastico, Sabian, Joker, Ruckus, Mike Quackenbush, Sonjay Dutt, B-Boy, Trent Acid, The Winger 
Last Winner: Dave Crist, over Shane Strickland, 2017
Next Installment:
April, 2018

While most associate CZW with extreme hardcore wrestling, they’ve also nurtured an incredible junior heavyweight division over the years. For much of their tenure, CZW showcased these athletes in their annual Best of the Best tournament, which features Triple Threats in the opening round, before pairing off into singles matches for the final rounds. Over the past few years, the tournament has been held in April, with this year’s taking place over WrestleMania weekend in Orlando.

PWX, X16

Photo: PWX

First Year Held: 2015
Most Wins: 
Anthony Henry, Ethan Case, tied with 1.
Last Winner: Anthony Henry, over Ethan Case, 2016
Next Installment:
November, 2017

Charlotte, North Carolina’s Premier Wrestling Xperience (PWX) joined the tournament circuit in 2015 with the launch of the X16, pitting 16 of the best young up and coming indie wrestlers in a two night tournament.

King of the Deathmatch, IWA Mid-South

First Year Held: 1997
Matt Tremont, Corporal Robinson, Ian Rotten, tied with 2; John Wayne Murdoch, Drake Younger, J.C. Bailey, Masada, Devon Moore, “Mean” Mitch Page, Toby Klein, Mad Man Pondo, Necro Butcher, Rollin’ Hard, tied with 1.
Last Winner: John Wayne Murdoch, over Matt Tremont, 2016
Next Installment:
May 20, 2017

While CZW gets all the credit for hardcore wrestling these days, IWA Mid South’s King of the Deathmatch is North America’s longest running hardcore tournament, predating CZW’s Tournament of Death by five years.

Gold, Smash Wrestling

First Year Held: 2014
Tarik, Candice LaRae, Matt Cross, tied with 1.
Last Winner: Tarik, over Courtney Rush (Rosemary), Kevin Bennett, Frankie The Mobster and Tyson Dux, 2016 
Next Installment:
June 11, 2017

Canada’s premier wrestling promotion, Smash Wrestling (often dubbed PWG North due to it’s influx of top North American indie talent), holds it’s annual tournament every summer, featuring top stars – both male and female – competing in a 10-person tournament, starting with singles matches. The winners of those five opening round matches then compete in a five-way match, with the winner gaining a shot at the Smash Championship.

Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, NXT

Photo: WWE

First Year Held: 2015
Authors of Pain (Akem and Rezar), Finn Balor and Samoa Joe
Last Winner: Authors of Pain, over TM61 (Nick Miller and Shane Thorne), 2016
Next Installment:
August to November, 2017

The WWE began an annual tag team tournament in 2015 on it’s NXT brand in tribute to one of NXT’s driving forces, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, who sadly passed away several months prior. The tournament is held over several weeks of NXT television, with the finals taking place at the fall NXT: Takeover event.

What tournament is your favourite? What other tournaments from other promotions do you enjoy that aren’t listed? Let us know in the comments!