10 Best Wrestling Moments of 2016

As Wrestledelphia reflects on 2016, John Corrigan counts down the ten greatest moments of the year.

Oh, what a year it has been: Donald Trump elected president, the Cubs ending their 108-year championship drought, Fidel Castro finally dying, Brexit.

Pro wrestling had a momentous year as well with surprising returns, major debuts and a slew of changes for the betterment of the industry.

Here are the Top 10 Moments of 2016:

10) Funk Bids Farewell

Desperado finally came to his senses.

Although he was scheduled to be Tommy Dreamer’s corner man in the main event of House of Hardcore 18, Terry Funk walked to the ring after the second match to reveal his health prevented him. The 72-year-old wrestling icon, who recently underwent heart surgery according to Dreamer, told the raucous Philly crowd that he never wanted to leave the ring because he probably would never return. As Dreamer’s eyes welled up, his mentor thanked the ECW fans for all their support over the years and told them they’re the greatest in the world.

Funk’s retirements have become a running joke in the wrestling world, but there’s nothing funny about Father Time’s undefeated streak. If this was truly the last time The Funker appeared in a ring, then it was the perfect swansong for the hardcore Texan.

9) Brock Massacres Orton

Sunday Bloody Sunday took on new meaning after the Beast Incarnate mauled the Viper at SummerSlam. Fresh off a successful yet controversial return to the Octagon, Brock Lesnar set his sights on new prey: the fully healed, mentally rejuvenated Randy Orton. These two legends graduated from the same OVW training class, and debuted on the main roster in the same year, yet had never grappled on a pay-per-view. Fans thought it would be an intriguing battle with a possible RKO outta nowhere to upset Lesnar. But Brock victimized and brutalized Orton until the referee had no choice but to stop the match.

8) Shane Leaps Off Cell

It was the selling point of WrestleMania 32: Shane O’Mac. Hell in a Cell. Grandest stage of em all.

Even though he was older, a bit rusty and a father of three, Shane McMahon knew the fans expected a death-defying stunt, just like in the glory days of the Attitude Era. As always, the Boy Wonder did not disappoint. It will never top Undertaker throwing Mankind off the cell, but for those lucky fans in attendance (myself included) it will suffice.

7) Ambrose Cashes In

I swore that Dean Ambrose would never be WWE Champion. He doesn’t fit the mold. He’s a perennial chaser. But sure enough, he scratched and clawed and gnawed and somehow, someway, won the Money in the Bank contract and on that same night, cashed in to defeat Seth Rollins for the title.

Perhaps 2016 was the year of the underdog.

6) Daniel Bryan Retires

Seeing him every week in the mind-numbing general manager role has diminished his popularity, but when you think back to that heartwarming night in February, when his hometown chanted “Thank You Daniel” and the entire roster saluted him on stage, and tears welled up in his eyes as he bid farewell to his first love – the squared circle – you remember how bittersweet it was for Daniel Bryan to announce his retirement from WWE.

I’m one of those skeptics that believe he’ll return to action someday, most likely outside WWE, and we’ll enjoy one more night of Cattle Mutilation while simultaneously fearing for his health. As “Rowdy” Roddy Piper said, it’s the sickness of pro wrestling.

5) Brock Returns to UFC…And Wins

Rumors swirled during UFC 199 that Brock Lesnar would be returning to the Octagon at the next event. It was unfathomable because the last everybody checked, the Beast Incarnate was still under contract to WWE. Vince McMahon would never let one of his top stars compete somewhere else, let alone in the legitimately dangerous environment of UFC.

Then this aired.

Good Gawd Almighty, Lesnar was coming back! He hadn’t been seen since destroying Dean Ambrose at WrestleMania 32, and he hadn’t fought professionally since 2011. Critics worried that Brock had bitten off more than he could chew, but intelligent folks (aka Brock supporters) knew that the former UFC champion would unleash hell on his unlucky foe, Mark Hunt.

Of course, Lesnar won albeit in controversial fashion as the USADA revealed that he had tested positive for a banned substance, which MMA Fighting later reported was hydroxy-clomiphene.

4) Goldberg Returns

In the greatest comeback of the year, Goldberg returned to pro wrestling in grand fashion: marching through the backstage area, surrounded by cheering WWE Superstars who grew up idolizing him, showered in pyro and breathing fire, inhaling smoke and the adoration of a raucous Denver crowd.

Although his goatee aged, his presence was effervescent—Da Man slapping hands and hugging kids, cussing up a storm, genuinely thrilled to be back in the ring. Before he even grabbed the mic, the fans chanted “This Is Awesome” and “Holy Shit” because holy shit, Goldberg was back! He left a dozen years ago, at the height of Fahrenheit 9/11 and Smarty Jones and Ashlee Simpson’s lip-synch fiasco, disgruntled at his disappointing run in McMahonland.

Thanks to video game developer 2K Sports, who has influenced the return of Ultimate Warrior and the debut of Sting, now Goldberg has resurrected in the hearts and minds of wrasslin’ fans.

“Brock Lesnar, not only does that mean You’re Next, but most importantly, it means, Brock Lesnar…YOU’RE LAST!”

3) AJ Styles Debuts

No name change. No seasoning in NXT. No banning the Styles Clash.

The Phenomenal One arrived in WWE just as the fans wanted. Although there were some close calls where we didn’t think he’d make it (losing his WrestleMania debut, being fed to Roman Reigns), AJ Styles has made one helluva impact in McMahonland. As Evan “The Boss” Cross suggested back in the summer, Styles could arguably have had the best rookie year in company history. And it all started at No. 3 in the Royal Rumble…

2) Final Deletion

When considering all the comebacks this year, it’s important to recognize all the progress made for the industry’s future. The Cruiserweight Classic shone a spotlight on hungry, young talent from around the world. Sasha and Charlotte catapulted women’s wrestling from traditional bathroom breaks to anticipated main events. Final Deletion, well, it changed everything.

The Hardy brothers took Lucha Underground’s cinematic approach to pro wrestling and applied it to a single match, turning an innovative angle into a viral sensation. TNA sent advance copies of the spectacle to several wrestling personalities, who all promoted it on social media, drawing up interest in the promotion in a positive manner for the first time in ages. The buzz led to lapsed fans tuning in to IMPACT, spiking ratings and inspiring a cheap knockoff from WWE.

Maybe TNA went back to the well too soon with Delete or Decay and The Great War, but the company deserves credit for taking a chance. Final Deletion revolutionized what a pro wrestling match can be.

1) Goldberg Squashes Lesnar

Holy shit.

Nobody saw it coming. After two and a half years of Brock Lesnar demolishing WWE – ending The Streak, destroying John Cena, gutting Randy Orton, holding the WWE Championship hostage and even successfully going back to UFC – the Beast Incarnate succumbed to the returning Goldberg in less than two minutes.

Some people hated it, some people loved it, but everybody talked about it. It was the first watercooler moment pro wrestling has had since The Streak died.

It felt real, unpredictable and satisfying: everything we want out of pro wrestling.

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