Best WWE Matches of 2016
John Cena vs AJ Styles- Summerslam
I have two criteria for choosing Match of the Year candidates- the wrestling skill and the magnitude/stakes involved. Considering that John Cena has been the face of WWE for the better part of the last 15 years, AJ Styles is the biggest signing WWE has had in years, and the match happened at Summerslam, which WWE has worked hard to posiition as a PPV second only to Wrestlemania, the stakes were there. In addition, they dedicated a segment to emphasising that The Bullet Club- sorry, The Club, we can't say Bullet on WWE programming- would not be at ringside, thus minimising the chances of fuckery.
Then the bell rang. Both men brought their working boots (or sneakers, in Cena's case) and it was thrilling. AJ especially dazzled with his athleticism, and say what you want about Mr Hustle, Loyalty and Respect, he really knows how to sell that main event level drama. One of my favourite parts of the match was Cena selling disbelief that Styles would not stay down for 3, and JBL remarked, "John's feeling what all his opponents have felt for the last 15 years!" Then, possibly the most important part, a super rare clean heel victory over John Cena. That solidified AJ Styles as a main event WWE Superstar.
Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura- NXT Takeover Dallas
I'm not a fan of Japanese wrestling. Not to say I don't like it, but I've never really kept up with their scene, and worries about the language barrier prevented me from trying. A couple of years ago, I decided to give it a shot when I found out they were doing English commentary on these big Tokyo Dome shows, Wrestle Kingdom. So I watched Wrestle Kingdom 9. Asides from the WWE alumni I was pleasantly surprised to see again, the one that really stood out to me was Shinsuke Nakamura. In amongst the stoic badasses, this Michael Jackson esque character was a huge change of pace, and once inside the ring, he could fight as well as any of the others, if not better. So, when he was signed to NXT, to face one of my favourites in Sami Zayn, I was excited.
Wrestlemania weekend in Dallas, the atmosphere was electric. "Fight forever" was the chant, and it was appropriate, because it truly felt like a fight. Nakamura brought his strong style and MMA influences, while Zayn unlocked a vicious side of himself that I hadn't seen before. Ties with Cena vs. AJ for MOTY for me- it's greater in wrestling artistry, but the magnitude of stars colliding at Summerslam gives the main roster match a boost in prestige.
DIY vs Revival- Takeover Brooklyn II
As far as big stages, NXT Takeover Brooklyn in 2015 was NXT's Wrestlemania. Fast forward a year, and the NXT brand had been built up with international tours, more Takeovers, appearances on other Network specials... and quietly, steadily, The Revival had helped build the tag division to be the crown jewel of NXT.
Then you had Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano, who, moments before this match, branded themselves DIY, complete with a t-shirt and hashtag. It didn't click with me at the time, but like most kinda silly WWE names, it's grown on me since (Dolph Ziggler, anyone?). Anyway, Gargano and Ciampa were prominent names on the US indy scene, first appearing on NXT as freelancers during the first Dusty Tag Classic, but I believe they signed full time NXT contracts not long before this Takeover match. This was the first time Gargano and Ciampa were given proper prominent roles on NXT.
So, all factors considered, the stakes were as high as RVD after he won the WWE title. They then went out there and tore the Barclays Center down. And even though I dedicated a paragraph to going through the backgrounds of DIY, I love The Revival. The "no flips, just fists" mantra really stands out in the current environment, and they have a great blend of tag wrestling skill and heel tactics. One of the few heel acts in all of WWE not afraid to get actual heat. Revival's old school heel style meshed perfectly with the indy cruiserweights. Near falls galore, great build to the hot tag and a rabid crowd of smart fans begging for Gargano and Ciampa to get it done. It wasn't DIY's night, but it was maybe the best tag match I've seen since Edge & Rey Mysterio vs. Kurt Angle & Chris Benoit at No Mercy 2002.
AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose- TLC
As far as the setting, TLC is the definition of a B PPV. Sandwiched between Survivor Series and the Royal Rumble, it's definitely not the grandest stage of all. However, this was for the WWE title, and it was the end of the Styles/Ambrose feud in a dangerous gimmick match. Here we go!
Both AJ and Dean are able to wrestle proficiently. When they are in the mood and in the right environment, they could go hold for hold. Considering TLC is literally billed as a "human demolition derby", this was not the place for it. Ambrose assumed the role of brawler, Styles opted for the more high flying aspects of his arsenal to deliver a stunt show for the fans. Some bigger spots than we've seen from the TLC matches of the last decade, with the best one being AJ performing a springboard 450 splash to the outside through a prone Dean Ambrose on a table. Lifted straight out of a video game, that one!
I wasn't a huge fan of the finish involving James Ellsworth. But... there was a freaking springboard 450 through a table!
2016 Royal Rumble Match
The Royal Rumble PPV and Rumble match itself hasn't done well the last couple of years. Lots of fan disappointment, mostly surrounding Daniel Bryan- in 2014 he wasn't even in it, despite being one of the most popular stars on the roster, and 2015, he made his big return only to be dumped out unceremoniously after a few minutes. But more than the Bryan factor, the Rumble match has been poorly booked in general. Whichever year it was, where the uber stale and older Kane and Big Show went on a rampage dumping out promising young stars like Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler, I couldn't help but cringe heavily. But, the Rumble is still one of the bigger events of the year, and they got their shit together and delivered.
First of all, the WWE title was on the line, where Roman Reigns was defending in what was being billed as "One Versus All". It looked like they were creating a scenario for Reigns to go the entire roster in one night, which given the crowd's frosty reception to him as a main eventer, would have been a terrible idea, especially at the Rumble. Luckily, they didn't go that route.
Surprises make the Rumble match, and it was the debuting AJ Styles and the return of Triple H that made it for me. I also enjoyed the curveball of having Reigns eliminated second last, it created some intrigue as to whether they were going to use this Rumble as a vehicle to push another Shield member (Ambrose) to the top. Ambrose's time would come a few months later, but it did lead to the excellent HHH vs. Ambrose Roadblock match. Very well booked all around.
Goldberg vs Brock Lesnar- Survivor Series
More of an angle/moment than a match, but technically, a bell rang and there was a pinfall, so here we are. 1 minute and 26 seconds. In that amount of time, the original wrecking ball returned and demolished Suplex City. Nobody could touch Brock, and it took Goldberg two Spears and a Jackhammer. The most genuinely shocking moment in WWE since, well, The Streak ending, where Brock was cemented as the modern day unstoppable force. It didn't really answer the question of how 50 year old Goldberg would fare inside the squared circle, but the upcoming Royal Rumble (and perhaps Wrestlemania?) should go some way towards answering that.
The Miz vs. Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn- Extreme Rules
Any time we get a combination of Cesaro, Owens and Zayn, we know magic is going to happen, then you have the Miz and Maryse enhancing the workrate heavy match with their character work, and you have the hidden gem of 2016.
Team Raw vs Team Smackdown- Survivor Series
One match basically encompassing the best and biggest stars of 2016. An hour long epic featuring stars from AJ Styles, to Chris Jericho, to Shane McMahon, to Braun Strowman, to James Ellsworth, and everyone in between. Plus, Bray Wyatt picked up a major PPV victory, which is worth the inclusion on its own.
DIY vs. Revival- NXT Takeover Toronto
Everything I said about the Brooklyn match could apply here, plus we finally had the big babyface victory for DIY. I just felt like the Brooklyn match was a shade more exciting.
Kota Ibushi vs. TJ Perkins- WWE Cruiserweight Classic
Personal preference here, but I enjoyed this way more than the much hyped Ibushi vs. Alexander from the previous round. Both very close in terms of wrestling execution, but it was in the presentation- the commentators presented Perkins as a threat, whereas in the Cedric Alexander match they barely paid attention to him and gushed over Ibushi, making it hard to buy the nearfalls.
Charlotte Flair vs. Sasha Banks- WWE Raw in Los Angeles
I preferred the Raw matches to the PPV matches by miles, it was night and day. I was split between this and the Falls Count Anywhere, which meant it was a battle of big spots. Charlotte's corkscrew moonsault beat Sasha's Banks Statement in the handrail.
Until next time, take care,