As the year of 2016 comes to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the best matches that took place this year, and there were a lot to choose from. Between the 15 pay-per-view events that the WWE has produced, Monday Night RAW and Smackdown Live, NXT, and other outside promotions like NJPW, Lucha Underground, WCPW, ROH, we were treated with many fantastic encounters. Whatever your interpretations as a fan for wrestling in 2016, you really have to thank the hard-working talent for putting on great performances for their respective promotion. Some of these picks that I’ve choose would be subjective, but it’s okay to have your own criteria on what makes a good match. My picks were based on the storytelling of the match, in-ring psychology, buildup, and crowd reaction. With that being said, here is my list of the best matches of 2016.
- Sami Zayn vs Kevin Owens – Battleground 2016
- Matt Hardy vs Jeff Hardy The Final Deletion – IMPACT Wrestling
- Will Ospreay vs Ricochet – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors
- Sasha Banks vs Becky Lynch vs Charlotte – WrestleMania 32
- Sexy Star vs Mariposa No Mas Match – Lucha Underground May 4th, 2016
- The Miz vs Cesaro vs Sami Zayn vs Kevin Owens – Extreme Rules 2016
10. Aztec Warfare II – Lucha Underground
Of course I have to give Lucha Underground some love here. To me, they are a very underrated promotion that does a unique job of telling good stories in the ring and developing intriguing characters that grabs your attention as a viewer. Aztec Warfare takes the Royal Rumble’s time-entrance concept and exchanges the over-the-top rope eliminations for pinfall and submissions. Overall, this match was certainly chaotic and felt like anything could happen and anyone could win.
There were a large number of spots that stood out. Jack Evens and Drago had several big moments where Evans and Drago fought near the bleachers where later Drago hitting Evans with a powerbomb on the wooden bleachers, which looked brutal. Prince Puma hitting a beautiful shooting star press to the outside. Johnny Mundo threw Cage through the office window, then later smashed a cinder block over his head. Dragon Azteca Jr. hitting the hurricanrana from the ring onto The Mack on the floor and a big somersault plancha over the turnbuckle on Mack again. There were many big moves and big events that made the match flow smoothly.
In this match we got three debuts. Rey Mysterio debuted at number 2 in the match to a huge reaction, which he eliminated 4 men from the match that made it a big deal. His protege, Dragon Azteca Jr., also debuted and showed a little promise with showcasing numerous dives in the match. Lastly, but definitely not least, we got the monstrous debut of the “The Monster Mantanza Cueto”. If you’ve been watching, it’s been a year that we have the opportunity to see what Mantaza looked like. I envision him to be this blood thirsty monster that was extremely tall. What we got instead was the size of Taz and Cage with a lot of serial killer mixed in. Matanza’s repertoire in the ring makes you feel like he is a Create-A-Wrestler with a cool move list in a WWE 2K game by giving him all of the coolest looking moves that come across. Anyways, he roughshod through the last 9 guys, including Prince Puma, Fenix, and Rey Mysterio Jr., which he comes across like a unstoppable monster, to become the Lucha Underground Champion.
All in all, this was a fun match. There were many directions of potential rivalries, old and new, that they booked in this match. Everything made sense and everyone acted like real people. This took up the entire episode and I recommend that you re-visit this match.
9. Roman Reigns (c) vs AJ Styles – Extreme Rules 2016
Following a lackluster main event at WrestleMania, Roman Reigns defended his newly-won WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Payback against AJ Styles. Styles came very close to winning the title and was granted a rematch at Extreme Rules, which the result was a high quality encounter that made both competitors look very good. AJ Styles took a lot of punishment in this match and endured some crazy bumps throughout, including going through two broadcast tables, one via backdrop and another via powerbomb. But that didn’t stop Styles from getting his own offense in, hitting Reigns with the Phenomenal Forearm from the pre-show table and a couple of Styles Clashes late in the match, including one onto the steel chair. Of course Anderson and Gallows and The Usos played a part in this match, but the outside interference may have actually strengthened this match.
This match was intense and hard-hitting, which it should have been since the PPV was called Extreme Rules. AJ Styles make anyone that he goes up against look better and brings out the best inside that competitor. There was definitely good chemistry between the two, despite what the crowd in the arena might of thought. Oh yeah, a returning Seth Rollins came out and attacked Roman Reigns post match.
8. Dolph Ziggler vs The Miz (c) – No Mercy 2016
This match to me gets this spot due to the buildup to the match and the amazing talent of The Miz this year. Sure, Dolph Ziggler held his own with his passionate promos and performance in the ring, but it was The Miz that stood out to me that made this feud work. Since the post draft, The Miz, alongside by his beautiful wife Maryse, he has been on fire as a talent as being this arrogant, self centered, cocky human being while holding the Intercontinental Championship. The story behind this match was Dolph Ziggler not being good enough and hitting a glass ceiling in his career. He questioned himself and his ability while The Miz rubbed it in his face, burying Ziggler at every turn and laughing at his failures throughout the years. Ziggler felt he had no choice but to put his career on the line.
It’s obvious that when someone puts their career on the line, it pretty much gives away the finish. But somehow, WWE had people believing that this was truly Ziggler’s last match. Rumors floating on the internet and Ziggler’s performances and promos on Smackdown and Talking Smack really sold that this could be it for him.
Whenever they are in the ring together they have good chemistry, something that is very undervalued to me. Throughout the match, there was a real sense of urgency from both guys. Miz wanted to end the career of Dolph Ziggler to not only to put him out of his misery, but to gloat about it as well. Ziggler not only wanted the belt, but wanted the respect and self confidence. Both competitors had something to prove and that emotion came out during the match.
Honestly, The Miz shouldn’t have dropped the title at this show. I felt that The Miz should of won that would give Ziggler time to go away for a while, return at the Royal Rumble to cost Miz his shot to become the Royal Rumble winner, and they would have a blow off match at WrestleMania 33 for the title. However, that is all fantasy and the company had other plans. It’s still baffling that this wasn’t the last match on the card even though the world title match started the show off and what we got instead was a house show vibe main event between Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton. Either way, this match was the highlight of the night.
7. Kota Ibushi vs TJ Perkins – Cruiserweight Classic Finale 9/14/16
This match was the semi-finals of the Cruiserweight Classic Tournament that was hosted on the WWE Network. Ibushi was the fan favorite to not only win the semi-final against TJ Perkins, but win the entire tournament behind Zack Sabre Jr., who was also another popular favorite to win as well. Unfortunately, it was TJ Perkins, who got the upset victory over Ibushi to move on to the finals. Both competitors looked amazing and added great drama to the match. There were moments in the match where Ibushi was going to secure the victory, but TJP kept kicking out of everything that Ibushi had in his repertoire. In the end, TJP managed to submit Ibushi with the TJP Clutch to score the victory. It was unfortunate that Kota Ibushi choose not to sign with the WWE. I still thought he could ultimately win the tournament without the Cruiserweight Title being introduced later on in the night. However, he still put on an amazing performance throughout the CWC tournament and put over TJ Perkins.
6. #DIY vs The Revival (c) – NXT TakeOver Brooklyn 2
The battle between #DIY (Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa) versus The Revival (Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder) for the NXT Tag Team Titles was an instant tag team classic that deserves praise. The Revival is as close to an typical old-school wrestling tandem, their desire for punishment through fists and feet as opposed to flips and kicks. Whether they isolated their opponents, use trickery to manipulate the referee or show impeccable timing by breaking up near-falls, Dawson and Wilder have confirmed their place among the best tag teams in wrestling. Gargano and Ciampia had the fans on their feet and had sympathy about them that made fans want to see them succeed all thanks to The Revival.
In this match, The Revival worked hard on Gargano’s knee to the point that Gargano had no choice but to tap out after Dawson applied the reverse Figure Four. After the match, Gargano and Ciampa received a standing ovation from the crowd. Gargano and Ciampa showed a lot of heart and determination to win, while The Revival was being booked smart to win the match with trickery and belligerence. Well done.
5. Sami Zayn vs Shinsuke Nakamura – NXT TakeOver: Dallas
Sami Zayn was making his way to the main roster after being on NXT since 2013. On the other side is up-and-comer Shinsuke Nakamura is making his debut in the WWE after leaving New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) to solidify his spot on NXT. What could be better than to have these two go one-on-one at with each other to start NXT off in the right direction of 2016 just 48 hours from WrestleMania 32.
This was an instant classic between two of the brightest competitors in the WWE. From Nakamura’s captivating entrance, to false-finishes and dramatic near-falls, the entire match played out smoothly. This bout came across like a legitimate and credible sporting event in which both men were fighting for superiority.
The crowd was really into this match, chanting “Fight Forever” at both competitors during the match. When Nakamura exploded across the ring with Kinshasa and pinned Zayn’s shoulders to the mat, the fans were grateful for having to witness an all-time great match that just concluded.
This match definitely deserves to be on the top 5 in my opinion. I’ve probably re-watched this match a couple of times this year and it’s definitely one of my favorite matches.
The match was such a fast paced performance with a lot of stiff affair with the kicks, punches, and chops echoing throughout the Full Sail arena. These guys clearly wanted to show that they meant business.
Kota Ibushi is known for being one of the best international wrestlers in the word, but Cedric matched him in every category from start to finish. Highlight reel moments from Cedric doing a suicide senton dive, a springboard clothesline, and a standing brainbuster were things that can be included on any WWE content. The crowd was definitely insane over Cedric’s performance, especially a moment in the match were Cedric was facially shocked that he couldn’t pin Ibushi’s shoulders on the mat. Even though Ibushi won the round, it was Cedric that shined throughout the match. This match was clearly the biggest moment of his young career in the WWE.
After the match, we see the crowd give a standing ovation to an emotional Cedric and chanting “please sign Cedric”. All of the sudden Triple H comes out and shakes Alexander’s hand and gives the crowd a thumbs up, letting the fan’s know that he deserves a contract after that performance. As a fan, if you appreciate the athleticism of professional wrestling like I do, I seriously recommend that you go on the WWE Network or YouTube to re-watch this match. Great job.
3. AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura (c) – Wrestle Kingdom 10
Even though Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles were both leaving New Japan Pro Wrestling to sign with the WWE, NJPW booked a match between the two as a final send-off for both competitors at their biggest show of the year, Wrestle Kingdom 10. This match was for the IWGP Intercontinental Title and was being billed as a dream match, and it lived up to every bit of that hype. When two high-profile names square off in the middle of the ring, you want them to bring out the best of each other, and that is exactly what we got here.
The match itself was a terrific back and forth, and they did a great job of building up the drama with each move that they did. AJ appeared to have the match won after reversing a triangle into a Styles Clash, but Nakamura kicked out. AJ went to finish him with another Styles Clash, but Nakamura reversed that into an Avalanche Landslide. Finally, Nakamura then finishes him off with the Bome Ye to the back of Styles and another one in the face to win the match.
Overall, this was a fun match and both competitor did an excellent job of putting on a wrestling clinic in their final run in NJPW.
2. #DIY vs The Revival (c) 2 out of 3 Falls Match – NXT TakeOver: Toronto
I cannot tell you how incredible this tag team match for the NXT Tag Team Titles was from beginning to end. Even though Zayn versus Nakamura had the best technical match, this was one of those matches that had me glued to my seat the way these two teams did that November night in Toronto.
You had two of the hottest teams the NXT Universe had ever seen in Gargano & Ciampa taking on the heel duo of Dawson and Wilder who have tremendous heat with the fans. Add in the fact that DIY was SO DESPERATELY close to winning the tag titles at TakeOver: Brooklyn 2 and the intervening months have been impaired by verbal and physical assaults by The Revival that had the NXT fans whipped into a frenzy. Twenty-two minutes had 13,000 fans in attendance cheering at every move and groaned at every near count. It was truly a great sight to see.
The in-ring psychology and the urgency for offense and defense from both teams was simply amazing. Everything about this match was perfect; the emotions of this match that was bringing wrestling fans back to the drama of the old days in the business, the build-up, the story, the despair, and triumph of 2 independent wrestling scene sweethearts who finally made it on the big stage. Like I said before about The Revival in the 2016 Pro Wrestling Awards article, they are a very underrated tag team that deserves a lot of praise as their in-ring style helped elevate this match to being a match worthy contestant.
Overall, this was the best tag match that I’ve seen as a wrestling fan.
1. AJ Styles vs John Cena – Summerslam 2016
To be perfectly honest, it was hard to choose between this match and the number 2 spot. Either one could of got this, but I choose this match instead.
When AJ Styles debuted in WWE at the Royal Rumble, we knew it was only a matter of time before the former face of TNA would go up against the face of the WWE, John Cena. Their first encounter happened at Money in the Bank, which felt a bit to desire for since Anderson and Gallows interfered that allowed Styles to pick up the win. However, their second encounter at Summerslam truly was a match to consider being a classic.
Cena gave everything that he had to beat Styles, but AJ kept kicking out time after time after time. Watching Cena’s reaction while he was sitting at the corner with a look on his face that said “What is it gonna take to beat this man” makes this match even more perfect. And of course, AJ Styles had all of the arsenal to defeat Cena CLEAN. All it took was AJ Styles to hit the Phenomenal Forearm for the second time to get the 1-2-3 victory. No shenanigans, no outside interference. Just a straight up, significant victory for Styles to add to his resume.
After the match, Cena placed one of his armbands right in the center of the ring before heading to the back. As he walked out, he received a standing ovation from the crowd. Both competitors did an amazing job of putting on a great match. I’ll give John Cena credit for putting over AJ Styles clean in the match that gives him a reason to go after Styles to avenge his loss towards him. Also you have give credit to AJ Styles for being an amazing performer that can finally say that he has beaten the face of the company not only once, but twice. We will expect them to face off again in 2017, just hopefully that their third match would be better than the two matches that they’ve had before in 2016.
What do you think? Was I fair with my picks? Feel free to comment down below to me your thoughts or reach me on Twitter: @Fitchett_is_Law