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It is that time of year again, time to break down the Top Ten Matches of 2016! Of course I have not seen every match from 2016; I have tried to see every major match in about the ten largest companies in world and have made a list to congratulate the ten very best. There are also some shows (ROH's Final Battle, PWG's Mystery Vortex, Roadblock, some Japan shows) that I haven't seen yet so keep in mind that I'm not insulting one of those matches by not putting them on the list. Anyway here we go:
Zack Sabre Jr. vs Will Ospreay: EVOLVE 58
Michael Elgin vs Kenny Omega: NJPW Dominion
Michael Elgin vs Tetsuya Naito: NJPW G1 Climax Day 4
Volador Jr. vs El Barbaro Cavernario: CMLL Super Viernes 9/30/16
Kenny Omega vs Hirooki Goto: NJPW G1 Climax Final
Kazuchika Okada vs Naomichi Marufuji: NJPW King of Pro Wrestling
Katsuyori Shibata vs Tomohiro Ishii: NJPW The New Beginning in Osaka
Kenny Omega vs Hiroshi Tanahashi: NJPW The New Beginning in Niigata
Shingo Takagi vs Jimmy Susumu: DG Champion Gate Day 2
Tetsuya Naito vs Tomohiro Ishii: NJPW Dontaku
Will Ospreay vs Ricochet: NJPW Best of the Super Juniors Day 6
YAMATO vs Shingo Takagi: DG Kobe Festival
Kota Ibushi vs Cedric Alexander: WWE CWC Day Five
Jay Lethal vs Adam Cole: ROH Death Before Dishonor
TJ Perkins vs Kota Ibushi: WWE CWC Day Ten
The Young Bucks vs Pentagon Jr. and Fenix: PWG Battle of Los Angeles Night 3
Daisuke Sekimoto vs Kento Miyahara: AJPW Super Power Series Day 4
AJ Styles vs John Cena: WWE SummerSlam
Go Shiozaki vs Takashi Sugiura: NOAH Great Voyage in Osaka
Will Ospreay vs Ryusuke Taguchi: NJPW Best of the Super Juniors Final
Special Honorable Mention:
The Young Bucks vs The Addiction vs The Motor City Machine Guns: ROH All Star Extravaganza
This was just an incredible match, perhaps the very best match of 2016 but I can't put it in the Top Ten because I attended the show it was on live and my experience with the match is different than almost everyone else who saw it for the first time on video. All three teams heading into this match said they wanted to top what The Hardys, Dudleys and Edge and Christian did at WrestleMania X-Seven and it is hard to say they didn't accomplish that. Obviously they didn't have the star power or the stage that the previous teams did, but the high-spots were just incredible and really they did some stuff that should never be attempted again. There was also a great storyline with Christopher Daniels heading into this match, with Daniels cutting a great promo about how this was likely his last chance to hold the tag team titles in his career.
10. The Miz vs Dolph Ziggler: WWE No Mercy
Kind of a sleeper match that I don't think anyone was expecting to be in the MOTY conversation heading into No Mercy. There were plenty of matches that had tighter wrestler and better high spots, but this was a classic WWE match that showcased the side of their style that doesn't exist in most other companies. The storyline that saw Dolph Ziggler put his career on the line for Miz's Intercontinental Championship added so much drama to the match and WWE expertly strung together numerous false finishes that had fans on the edge of their seats as The Miz used every dirty heel tactic in the book to try and cheat Ziggler out of the title and end his career; but Ziggler kicked out of some great near falls and won the match. WWE struggles to build both long-term meaningful feuds and establish an obvious heel/babyface dynamic—this was the rare match that highlighted the best of both.
9. Kazuchika Okada vs Hiroshi Tanahashi: NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 10
The main event of Wrestle Kingdom 10, this was the rematch from the previous year's event when Tanahashi successfully defended the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship against Okada and then spent the next year essentially taunting Okada for never being able to defeat him. The return match saw Okada finally defeat Tanahashi on the big stage, firmly planting the torch in his hand as the ace of NJPW. Okada and Tanahashi have been at the top of most MOTY lists for the last several years and this was another classic. The chemistry that they have in the ring is unmatched and because they are both clearly the two biggest stars in the company, the fan support for their matches is also unrivaled.
8. Dragon Lee vs Kamaitachi- NJPW/CMLL Fantastica Mania Day 6
This took place on the last day of the joint NJPW/CMLL tour. Kamaitachi is a Japanese wrestler who had left NJPW to find success in Mexico where junior heavyweights are allowed to main event shows regularly. Dragon Lee is a super-prospect; at 21 he is already one of the top high-flyers in wrestling although his wrestling style might be so high risk he might not make it to 30. Lee and Kamaitachi formed a rivalry in CMLL throughout 2015 by having outstanding matches that included numerous high-spots. In 2016 it became THE match to have on your show, and they worked both in NJPW, ROH and other promotions having the same type of match. Their match at Fantastica Mania might have been the best of the bunch, with Kamaitachi winning thanks to a crushing powerbomb countered into a flipping-piledriver.
7. AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura: NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 10
Styles' final major match in NJPW might have been his best performance for the company at Wrestle Kingdom 10. Styles is always a brilliant performer and when it comes to putting on a show Nakamura has few peers. The two had met a couple times in the past but this was their first singles matchup and in a lot of ways was a dream match for hardcore wrestling fans. They certainly didn't disappoint as they had one of the better matches in either man's career (which is REALLY saying something). Nakamura won, but the notoriety they received from hardcore fans would serve both men well later in the year when they would debut in NJPW.
6. AJ Styles vs Roman Reigns: WWE Extreme Rules
For a while, the number one complaint with Roman Reigns by a lot of fans was that he was poor in the ring. While it is likely true that Reigns will never be a true ace in the ring, he has improved greatly over the years and the result is that he has had some very, very good matches in 2016. Top among them was his match at Extreme Rules; and that was really because Styles had a superhuman night. Reigns is a good athlete and he hit all of his spots and he even won the match; but this was really a stage for Styles to be the star. He took several impressive bumps, sells extremely well and his offense looks tremendous, especially when you consider the degree of difficulty a lot of his signature moves take to deliver. The match was also aided by run-ins by both Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows and The Uso's which led to some great near-falls.
This match will likely top a lot of lists in 2016 as it received incredible critical acclaim and Dave Meltzer called it the best tag-team match he had seen in years. It was an amazing match, but I thought it was just a little bit below MOTY status. If you don't like spotfests and guys kicking out of crazy moves then this match is not for you. What it is is a collection of some of the best high-flying and double-team moves in wrestling in front of one of the hottest crowds in the industry. The Young Bucks are obviously one of if not the very top tag teams of the last 15 years, and Adam Cole is also great. The team of Ricochet, Ospreay and Sydal has to be one of the most athletic trios ever assembled. There are too many crazy moves to mention, you have to experience the match for yourself and the finish (a shooting-star-spike-tombstone-piledriver) is one of the most amazing things you will ever see in wrestling.
4. Marty Scurll vs Will Ospreay: RPW High Stakes
This was one of the earliest matches of the year to get MOTY buzz, taking place back in January at a Revolution Pro Wrestling show. Ospreay and Scurll mixed a divine clash of styles into one of the best matches to ever take place in England. Ospreay had many great matches in 2016 thanks to his incredible athleticism and his ability to pull high-spots seemingly out of thin air but I don't think he had a better one than what he did with Scurll, a wonderful technical wrestler who really emerged out of the shadow of his countryman Zack Sabre Jr. in 2016, winning PWG's Battle of Los Angeles tournament and finishing the year by signing a contract with Ring of Honor. Like a lot of the names in the Top Ten, these two have a lot of experience working together and they expertly go through their signature moves and pull of counter-after-counter in this British instant classic.
3. Kazuchika Okada vs Hiroshi Tanahashi: NJPW G1 Climax Day 18
Their G1 Climax battle was not as highly praised as their match at Wrestle Kingdom but I think this was actually the better match. The stakes were very real, either man needed to win the match or be eliminated from contention for the G1 crown. The result, a 30-minute draw that effectively eliminated both men was terrific drama. That drama, peaking with an exhausted Tanahashi unable to make the cover in time after hitting a last second Hi-Fly-Flo, was coupled with the usual great chain wrestling that Tanahashi and Okada employ and the result was yet another classic chapter in their epic rivalry.
2. Kazuchika Okada vs Tomohiro Ishii: NJPW G1 Climax Day 13
Technically speaking this was the highest-rated match of 2016 as it was the only five-star match I rated this year. It didn't have quite the last-second drama that Tanahashi and Okada had because it was earlier in the tournament, but that was made up by Ishii just going all-out to score the upset victory over Okada. The most wonderful thing about the G1 Climax is that it can take regular matches that just seem like part of the tournament and turn them into something really special. The crowd and the announcers react so well to the match that even if you know nothing about the wrestlers and don't speak Japanese, it still feels like the match is incredibly important just from the atmosphere. At the end of the match, Jushin Thunder Liger, who was doing commentary stands up and shouts "Sugoi!" which means amazing, or cool, in English. Liger has seen some s--t over the years so that should tell you how great the match was.
1. Kenny Omega vs Tetsuya Naito: NJPW G1 Climax Day 18
Originally I had this match rated at ****1/2 but in hindsight, I think it is the MOTY. This was effectively the semi-final for the G1 Climax and Omega unseating Naito was the first step in launching him to superstardom in NJPW. Omega would win the tournament the following night and cement his status as the premier villain in NJPW. The G1 is a lot like WrestleMania in that if someone emerges from it looking strong, they are likely going to be a huge star for the company. This match had all the drama you would want in a tournament semi-final and had two of the best technical wrestlers going back and forth. One of the thing that separates NJPW from other companies is that they utilize their high spots so well. They don't spam them like a lot of indie companies and they are not easily predictable like WWE often is. My favorite part of this match is when Omega lifts Naito up for what appears to be a powerbomb on the outside of the ring, but at the last second he turns and dumps Naito over the guardrail and through the announcers table. Table spots are usually very transparent, because they have to set up the table before they do it, but this was so sudden, so unpredictable that it made the table spot feel like something that could happen in a legitimate fight. Omega followed it up with a crazy suicide flip dive over the guardrail and into the crowd and the rest of the match was history.
Roman Reigns vs Kevin Owens- Haven't been a huge fan of this feud so far; as good as Owens and Jericho are the constant teasing of their break-up is becoming tedious. I think Reigns can realistically win the Universal Championship here. WWE is still very serious about making Reigns the babyface that everyone loves, and as fruitless as that seems to an outside observer, the plan is to make him a hero at WrestleMania. Although they've tried and failed with this in the past, having Reigns enter WrestleMania as the champion would be a different look so they might as well try it. I don't think the feud has been beneficial to Reigns; after working with Rusev he was getting some babyface pops but working with Owens (and Jericho) contrasts against Reigns' weaknesses on the mic and in the ring so the fans begin to turn on him once more. Any progress that was made during the Rusev feud has been mostly spoiled by having him work with Owens.
Chris Jericho vs Seth Rollins- Mostly the same thing as the Reigns/Owens match in that the break-up between Owens and Jericho is the real story and Rollins is here as a part-time player. If Owens screws Jericho or vice-versa, how does that help Rollins as a babyface? This is just another chapter in Rollins fledgling babyface run as WWE struggles to position him as someone of great value, even while keeping him in the main event. A perfect example of this is on Monday when Rollins called out Owens and Jericho, insulted them with some bad comedy, and then got his ass kicked until Reigns, the real babyface, came down and made the save. It's really, really hard to get over as a babyface when you are booked like that on a frequent basis.
Charlotte vs Sasha Banks- WWE made a point on Monday to assure us that this was the final match between these two; so that likely means they are going to have at least five PPV matches in 2017. The build for this match has had its hiccups but the fact of the matter is that the feud is over and fans are genuinely excited for the 30 minute Iron Man match. Unfortunately, I don't see that great of a path for whoever loses this match (which I think will be Charlotte). As the trials of Bayley have highlighted, RAW's women's division is very shallow and if either Charlotte or Banks can't feud over the Women's Championship, they are going to struggle to remain relevant. The winner of the match can work with Bayley, but the loser will get put in the Bayley position where you are having short matches with Alicia Fox that the crowd doesn't care about.
TJ Perkins vs Brian Kendrick vs Rich Swnan- I think the best thing for the cruiserweight division right now is to have multi-man matches where the guys can do high-spots frequently without having to worry about selling as much. The cruiserweight matches that tend to get reactions are the six man tags where they do that; while the singles matches are met with apathy. One more thing they should do is make this the first or second match on the show when the crowd is ready to see some wrestling as opposed to putting it in-between the Women's Championship and Universal Championship matches when the fans don't really care.
Braun Strowman vs Sami Zayn- Mick Foley did a great job on Monday pretending to trade Zayn to SmackDown because he was too obsessed with getting a match with Strowman, only to end up working him and getting Zayn fired up and showing a side of his personality that fans haven't seen. With the ten minute time limit they can book the match two ways; Strowman is close to killing Zayn but Zayn is saved by the bell OR Zayn gets beaten but comes back and is close to actually beating Strowman but Strowman is saved by the bell. I think that second scenario is clearly the way to go; we always figured they were building Strowman up to lose to a babyface, but it never really occurred to most people that the babyface could be Zayn. I think this could really boost Zayn's profile if he eventually knocks of Strowman. On the flip side if Zayn is squashed by Strowman in this feud he is pretty much dead on RAW.
Big Cass vs Rusev- I think the talent level of everyone involved with this feud is too high for them to be this bad. Enzo has come across like the biggest idiot in wrestling by taunting Rusev and getting killed by the man. I also don't care for the consistent storyline that involves babyfaces making fun of a heel's wife and the heel defending her honor and beating up the offenders. It makes Rusev look like a babyface and whatever babyface he beats up look like a heel that got what he deserved. Rusev is one of the few guys in the company that gets real, traditional heat and they should avoid messing with that.