My Seventh Shameless Professional Wrestling Post In Years: Best Matches 2016 (WWE) Edition

Although 2016 is not quite over, I present — to the 5 or 6 of you dear readers who care — my top 10 matches of 2016 which aired through one of World Wrestling Entertainment’s numerous outlets, including the mainline RAW and Smackdown brands, NXT, and the Cruiserweight Classic (CWC) that aired on the WWE Network this summer. I have opted to forego star rankings for the matches and, to diversify the list a tad, I have not included multiple matches from the same competitors. In other words, even though every meet-up between the teams DIY and The Revival in NXT are is pure gold, I have only included what I believe is their best bout. Also, I have intentionally left women’s wrestling off of the list.

  1. DIY v. The Revival (2 out of 3 Falls, NXT Takeover Toronto) – As a friend pointed out, this may be the greatest tag team match to occur in North America in decades. To fully appreciate the beauty of this incredible blend of athleticism, mat skill, and psychology, it is worth watching their bout from NXT Takeover Brooklyn in August.
  2. Brian Kendrick v. Kota Ibushi (CWC Quarterfinal) – The CWC was a stage for some of the best pro-wrestling this year that it’s almost impossible to rank the top matches. The reason I picked this match is because it represents that cruiser wrestling is more than just high spots. Instead, you get one of the best flyers in the business (Ibushi) taking on a man desperate for redemption in Kendrick — and willing to do everything it takes to win.
  3. Kota Ibushi v. TJ Perkins (CWC Semi-Finals) – If you disagree with #2, there’s a good chance it’s because you think this should be there. This match was pure intensity with both men unwilling to yield until Perkins raised the stakes at the end with one of the nastiest submission combinations I have ever seen.
  4. John Cena v. AJ Styles (WWE SummerSlam) – Let me be clear: AJ Styles is one of the greatest wrestlers of this generation and is closing out his third consecutive year as literally the best in the world. While some might disapprove of this bout degenerating a tad into an indie-wrestling spot fest with insane move/kickout after insane move/kickout, it worked brilliantly in this context. Both men, in their own way, are the best the business have to offer, and this was their chance to prove it.
  5. Shinsuke Nakamura v. Sami Zayn (NXT Takeover Dallas) – When news broke in January that Nakamura and AJ Styles were coming to WWE, I didn’t believe it. I worried that WWE wouldn’t know what to do with Nakamura, or that American fans wouldn’t respond well to him. I was wrong. In his final NXT match before going up to the main WWE roster, Zayn put on a career-making performance against Japan’s “King of Strong Style.” During the closing minutes of the match, the crowd chanted, “Fight forever!” I wish they had.
  6. Johnny Gargano v. Tommaso Ciampa (CWC First Round) – Hey, look, another CWC match — and it won’t be the last. Before the two men who comprise DIY made a five-star match rating seem like a joke against The Revival, they squared off in one of the most stiff and intense contests seen in pro-graps this year. Ciampa entered the match telling the audience he wrestles to hurt, not to injure — and that in-ring code of ethics plays beautifully into the finish.
  7. Kota Ibushi v. Cedric Alexander (CWC First Round) – If you want to know how good this match is, consider this. Going in, Alexander did not have a contract with WWE; by the end of it, HHH — WWE’s real-life Chief Operating Officer — was literally embracing Alexander and made sure he was signed ASAP. Oh, and Kota Ibushi is really good, too.
  8. Sami Zayn v. Kevin Owens (WWE Battleground) – Although these two-real life best friends have probably squared off hundreds of times between the indies to NXT to WWE, this apparent “culmination” of their feud was one of the best indie-style matches WWE has ever put on. However, instead of sliding into a pure spot fest, both competitors let the passion of their feud fill-in the psychological gaps as they destroyed each other in the ring. This match also had one of my favorite finishes of any match this year.
  9. AJ Styles v. Roman Reigns (WWE Extreme Rules) – Yes, there are some flaws with this match, just as there were in their initial meet-up a month earlier, but if you need proof of how great Styles is, here you go. Reigns, who isn’t entirely terrible, gets carried to one of the two best matches of his career in this one. Not since Shawn Michaels bumped his way around the ring throughout the 90s and 00s has there been a competitor so well-versed in the art of carrying.
  10. Shinsuke Nakamura v. Samoa Joe (NXT Takeover Brooklyn) – Some claim this match fell below their expectations, but really what you get here is two hardened competitors doing everything they can to beat each other into submission. Sure, maybe this match is “boosted” slightly by their name-value, but it’s just a fun time when they start hitting their big moves toward the end.
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