10 Greatest Matches of 2016

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

There was gluttony of pro wrestling this year and luckily for us fans, most of it was good to great to heart-stopping awesomeness (Golberg/Lesnar).

I realize the lack of New Japan matches and Will Ospreay/Ricochet, but I stand by these ten matches as the best combination of action and storytelling, the two main ingredients in wrasslin’. The only match I would have added is Brian Kendrick vs. Kota Ibushi in the Cruiserweight Classic, but Kendrick getting a WWE contract and then winning the Cruiserweight Championship takes away from the heart wrenching yet satisfying conclusion of him losing to Ibsuhi.

10. Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz, No Mercy

Arguably the top feud of the year, Dolph Ziggler and The Miz let it all hang out in this dramatic conclusion (or so we thought) to their story. After failing to win the World Title at SummerSlam, and failing to beat Miz for the Intercontinental Championship at Backlash, Ziggler put his career on the line for one last chance against the Hollywood-obsessed media egomaniac. Undoubtedly their best match together (due to the emotional investment), Ziggler and Miz traded near falls and finishers to the oohs and ahhs of the Sacramento crowd.

Toward the end of the match, Maryse sprayed Ziggler in the face, allowing Miz to hit the Skull Crushing Finale. Ziggler gets his foot on the ropes before the three count, so Miz yanks his boot off, and Ziggler hits a superkick. Then the Spirit Squad interfered, hoping to screw the only successful member of their crew. Miz hits the Skull Crushing Finale again, but Ziggler kicks out…again! Then, in one last act of desperation, Ziggler hits the superkick to save his career and win the Intercontinental Championship.

9. Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks, RAW 11/28

They main evented Raw and Hell in a Cell – now the top rivals in WWE went to war once again to close the show, this time in a No Holds Barred match. The women didn’t stay in the ring long, trading chops on the apron until Charlotte knocked Sasha down with a big boot. Sasha recovered by grabbing a kendo stick and whacking Charlotte repeatedly. Charlotte then grabbed Sasha’s leg, locking her in the Figure Eight as Sasha whacked Charlotte again to break the hold.

The made their way up the ramp so Charlotte could hit a moonsault off the announce table, blowing everybody’s minds. Sasha replied by hitting a double knee press off the barricade. Neither woman would stay down for the three count, as the Carolina crowd rallied behind both warriors. They fought into the crowd and up the stairs, where Sasha wedged Charlotte’s head inside the rail and locked in the Bank Statement, forcing Charlotte to tap out in one of the coolest finishes ever.

Ric Flair appeared afterward to raise Sasha’s hand as the victor. It was poetic revenge for Sasha, who submitted Charlotte amongst her friends and family, just as Sasha tasted defeat in her hometown of Boston a month prior.

8. Miz vs. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro, Extreme Rules

Roosh and I made the road trip to witness this match and it was so great that even Chris Jericho and Dean Ambrose couldn’t follow it. As soon as the bell rings, Zayn hit the Helluva Kick on Owens, knocking him out of the ring. What made this match special was the combination maneuvers spliced throughout one-on-one sessions between Zayn and Owens, Miz and Cesaro and Cesaro and Zayn. Owens later broke up a Tower of Doom spot, and then ended up on the receiving end as Cesaro brought everybody crashing to the mat. Miz captured Zayn for an exploder suplex, but Cesaro hit Miz with a German. Zayn then hit a half nelson/over hook suplex onto Owens, but Cesaro sent Zayn flying with an uppercut, and then Miz hit the Skull Crushing Finale onto Cesaro for the near fall.

Owens superkicked Zayn and Pop-Up Powerbombed Cesaro for another near fall as Miz dragged Owens out of the ring and Skull Crushed him on the floor. Zayn hit Cesaro with a Helluva Kick, but Owens yanked him to the outside. Instead of going back in for another cover, Zayn chose to attack Owens, allowing Miz to crawl on top of Cesaro for the victory.

7. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens, Battleground

In what was supposed to be their final battle, the best friends turned arch enemies went balls to the wall. Owens attempted to powerbomb Zayn onto the apron, reminiscent of his initial NXT attack, but Zayn countered and botched a springboard moonsault, collapsing onto his shoulder. Owens then targeted the shoulder, locking in a crossface. Zayn fought out and then suplexed Owens onto the apron, drawing a huge thud and subsequent pop.

After readjusting Owens’ spine, Zayn showed remorse for his former buddy, but still realized this was his chance to finally vanquish his foe. As they exchanged right hands, the crowd split into “Sami Zayn”/”Let’s Go Owens” chants. Similar to his match with Nakamura, the happy go lucky world traveler embraced his inner anger, attempting a DDT through the turnbuckle, but Owens stopped him with a superkick.

Then Zayn went for the Helluva Kick, but Owens halted him with another Superkick, tossed him into the ropes for the Pop Up Powerbomb, but Zayn flipped over to hit two half nelson/over hook suplexs for the unbelievable two count. A successful Pop Up Powerbomb led to another breathless two count.

Owens slapped Zayn repeatedly, telling him to stay down, begging with his one-time friend to not force him to end his career. But Zayn smiled and told Owens to keep it coming. Then he hit a Helluva Kick and caught the fallen Owens, staring into his glazed eyes, contemplating his next step, before ignoring compassion and delivering a second Helluva Kick to put Owens out for good.

6. AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, Wrestle Kingdom 10

Three weeks before Styles shocked the world by entering WWE, he challenged the King of Strong Style for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. It was a dream match that, in hindsight, could happen again under the WWE banner, preferably at WrestleMania where both these amazing talents belong. The Phenomenal One headed into this match with an injured back, but you sure wouldn’t know it from his performance. They felt each other out early on, and then picked up the momentum with stinging strikes and high impact maneuvers. Luckily, you can watch the whole thing on Youtube.

5. AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose, TLC

After a year of stealing every show, AJ Styles set out to prove he could adapt to a hardcore environment. He had no better opponent than the former CZW stalwart Dean Ambrose. The Lunatic Fringe brawled with the champ up the entrance way, sending Styles into ladders and chairs and tables, even dumping a trash can on top of Styles. As they made it back to the ring, Styles shifted the momentum, utilizing a ladder against Ambrose’s body like an instrument of torture.

Setting up a bunch of chairs, Styles attempted to suplex Ambrose through them, but the Lunatic countered and slammed the Phenomenal One into all the chairs. In another sick spot, Ambrose tossed Styles into the leg of the table, snapping it in half. Ambrose then dropped an elbow off a ladder, crashing into Styles’ heart through the announce table. Styles returned the favor by hitting a 450 splash off the top rope onto Ambrose through a table on the outside.

Of course, all good things must come to an end (thankfully, for the health of the competitors), prompting James Ellsworth to stumble out and push Ambrose off a ladder into a table, allowing Styles to ascend for the championship.

4. Kota Ibushi vs. Cedric Alexander, Cruiserweight Classic

Cedric Alexander dropped more than 20 pounds to qualify for the tournament, which is probably the best motivation imaginable to eat kale. Although Kota Ibushi entered the tourney as the odds-on favorite, Alexander emerged as the breakout star, primarily due to this match. It started off with Alexander dominating the chain-wrestling, but Ibsuhi fired back with hard kicks. Both men flew out of the ring, hitting a moonsault and swanton to the awe of Full Sail University.

When all hope seemed lost, Alexander escaped the Golden Star Powerbomb and hit a brainbuster for two, then immediately hit a sidekick for another two count. Desperation splashed across Alexander’s face as the crowd gasped at each move and unbelievable kickout. Ibushi recovered with a snap German suplex, followed by a devastating roundhouse kick of his own, and finally a successful Golden Star. The crowd embraced Alexander with a standing ovation afterward and Triple H even came out to raise his hand for a curtain call.

3. AJ Styles vs. John Cena, SummerSlam

The match that made AJ Styles the face that runs the place: Mr. WWE looked to even the score against Mr. TNA from their first encounter a couple months prior. JBL precisely compared the action to two boxers forgoing wear-down jabs in favor of knockout punches. Styles countered the AA into a Pele kick and a Styles Clash. Cena recovered, snatching Styles up for an AA. Torture rack into a powerbomb by Styles, a version of Big E’s finisher by Cena, big move after big move, near fall after near fall.

Cena trapped Styles in the STFU, but Styles reversed it into a crossface. Cena then powered out into an AA, but Styles rolled it into a Calf Crusher which Cena reversed into the STFU!

Seemingly ending with #LOLCENAWINS, the 15-time world heavyweight champion hit the AA off the top rope, but Styles shockingly kicked out. Cena’s face showed disbelief, frustration, and for the first time, acceptance of the inevitable. He attempted yet another AA, but Styles reversed it into a Styles Clash, followed by the flying forearm for the star-making victory.

2. Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, NXT TakeOver: Dallas

A welcome and farewell, all wrapped into one: Shinsuke Nakamura made his highly anticipated debut against Sami Zayn in the latter’s last match in NXT before competing in a ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship two nights later at WrestleMania 32. The third participant in this match was not the ref, rather it was the raucous crowd who chanted “Holy Shit” just for Nakamura’s entrance.

The world travelers emptied their repertoires, hitting each other with every signature move while trying to counter their opponent’s. Both men staggered, exhausted exchanging forearms like in a hockey fight, Nakamura’s nose being bloodied in the process, but refusing to go down. Then the happy-go-lucky underdog from the underground adopted his own strong style, viciously attacking Nakamura with fists and kicks, stomping his head into the mat. Zayn went for the exploder suplex, but Nakamura pounded his head with dozens of elbows and then hit two Kinshasas for the win.

1. #DIY vs. The Revival, NXT TakeOver: Toronto

Hyperbole be damned – this is the greatest tag team match ever.

Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano had come very close to winning the NXT Tag Team Titles at TakeOver: Brooklyn, but Dash and Dawson managed to squeak out the victory after targeting Gargano’s knee. So this was #DIY’s last chance for glory, and they had two falls to achieve it.

The first fall ended surprisingly quickly as The Revival hit Shatter Machine on Gargano. The champs continued to work him over during the second fall until he made the hot tag to Ciampa, who cleaned house and along with Gargano nailed Dawson with the double knee to head into the third fall.

After several near falls, excellent double team maneuvers and retargeting of the knee, the instant classic ended when Gargano hooked Dash in a crossface while Ciampa locked Dawson in a Fujiwara armbar, and the Revival held onto each other’s hands, begging the other not to submit, until they couldn’t hang on any longer and both tapped out.

It’s one of those masterful storytelling moments ala Michaels’ “I’m sorry, I love you” that stays in your mind forever.

John Corrigan
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John Corrigan

Columnist / Assistant Editor at Wrestledelphia.com
John Corrigan
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