2016 has been an incredible year for wrestling. A fucking terrible year for literally everything else – Donald Trump was elected President, Britain left the EU, almost every celebrity on Earth died, and Toblerone changed shape, but forget about all of that evil, at least wrestling was great!
We saw so much unbelievable wrestling this year that whittling it all down to just 25 matches proved to be my most difficult list to date. After much deliberation, re-watching, and changing of opinion, I eventually came to a decision, and constructed my list of the highest quality in-ring action of the last twelve months. So here it is, part one of my Top 25 Best Matches of 2016.
WARNING: Most of these entries will contain spoilers, so read at your own risk.
The Elephant in the Room…
Before we get started, I must address one of the most shocking omissions from my list, the match that almost broke the internet: Ricochet vs. Will Ospreay from the BOSJ tournament. Although this was an incredible display of athleticism and ability, it felt more like an exhibition than an actual match. The way the two traded reversals, springboards, and over-the-top flashy displays was admittedly impressive, just not all that entertaining, in my personal opinion. Like The Final Deletion, this really is a match that divides opinion. I don’t think it quite destroyed the entire wrestling industry, but I did think the hype was a little overblown, hence why it won’t be appearing on my list.
Now, as 2016 has had an unbelievably high set of worthy matches to be on this list, there is a considerable collection of honourable mentions. I’ll give the slightest touch of insight into some of them, yet for most, I’ll just let the matches speak for themselves.
Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins – Money in the Bank
Adam Cole vs. Jay Lethal – ROH All Star Extravaganza
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Finn Balor – NXT 13/7/16
Rey Mysterio vs. Prince Puma – Lucha Underground: Ultima Lucha Dos
Wrestlemania Intercontinental Ladder Match
Universal Title Fatal Four Way – RAW August 29th
TJ Perkins vs. Kota Ibushi – CWC Final
Kushida vs Kenny Omega – Wrestle Kingdom 10
The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler: Ladder Match – TLC
Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte – RAW July 25th
Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte: Falls Count Anywhere – RAW November 28th
Kyle O’Reily vs. Kushida – BOSJ
Kevin Owens v Dean Ambrose: Last Man Standing Match – Royal Rumble
Bayley vs. Asuka – NXT Takeover Dallas
AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose: TLC Match – TLC
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kazuchika Okada – G1 Climax
Gran Metalik vs. Zack Sabre Jr – CWC Final
The Revival v DIY – Summerslam: Did The Revival even have one match that wasn’t a MOTY contender this year?
Shane Strickland vs. Will Ospreay – Progress Chapter 35: If you’ve never seen a Progress match, start with this one.
Pete Dunne vs. Mark Andrews – PWG BOLA: BOLA this year was filled to the brim with outstanding matches, and this first round battle involving the debuting Pete Dunne definitely stood out from the rest. With plenty of hard-hitting, strong style action, including a Tombstone Piledriver on the concrete floor (oh my!), this is definitely one to watch.
Apocalypto – Total Nonstop Deletion: It’s hard to classify this as a match, it’s more of a cinematic masterpiece. Utterly epic and entertaining, yet too removed from traditional in-ring action to make it into my top 25.
Brian Kendrick vs Kota Ibushi – CWC: We saw a fucking Burning Hammer in WWE on a man with a surgically reconstructed neck! I’m still not over that.
Pentagon Jr and Fenix vs. The Young Bucks – PWG BOLA: One of the best tag team matches of the year, and definitely would have gained a ranking in an average year, but this year was far from average.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Samoa Joe – NXT Takeover Toronto: This just missed out on a place on my list, but in all fairness, Shinsuke hasn’t exactly been short of great matches this year.
Dragon Lee vs. Kamaitachi – ROH All Star Extravaganza: A rivalry that’s been making waves in Mexico finally came to the United States, and if this was just a taste of what’s to come from Dragon Lee and Kamaitachi, I am more than excited for more installments from both of these great wrestlers.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchuka Okada – NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 10: When a match rated five stars by Dave Meltzer is only an honourable mention, you know it’s been a really good year.
Katsuyori Shibata vs. Kyle O’Reily – NJPW King of Pro-Wrestling: Before he captured the ROH World Championship, Kyle O’Reily had one of the stiffest matches of the year against Katsuyori Shibata. Painful to watch, but in the most wonderful of ways.
Marty Scurll vs. Will Ospreay vs. Dragon Lee – ROH Final Battle: Three of the best young talents in wrestling today all competing in one match. What more could you ask for?
Royal Rumble – The Royal Rumble match is a highlight every single year, and although this year’s edition was a solid effort, there were just too many standout matches in 2016 for it to earn a place on the list.
- Decay vs. The Hardys – Bound for Glory
At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of The Final Deletion; personally, I just felt as though Matt Hardy had actually had a breakdown, which we were witnessing before our eyes. It took me some time to come around to his broken brilliance, but eventually, I understood why the reinvented Hardy was one of the most entertaining characters in 2016. Still, I don’t really count The Final Deletion as an actual match – it’s more of a spectacle, plus it is a little too choreographed for my liking. Then we witnessed Delete or Decay when Crazzy Steve, Abyss, and Rosemary invaded the Hardy compound – a highly entertaining tag team encounter, yet still not quite enough to break into my favourites of the year. However, at Bound for Glory, we witnessed The Great War, a mix of regular in-ring action with Final Deletion-esque segments and antics, and it was TANTALISING.
Sure, some will argue that this is possibly the weakest match of the trio, but this is my list so I’ll do what I want. Admittedly, I do love a bit of ridiculousness in my wrestling, but only a hint, just a taster of the strange; I still need some actual wrestling thrown in there for good measure, something which this tag team bout certainly had. By no means a technical classic, but purely for entertainment value, this match could not be denied a spot on my WONDERFUL top 25.
- Women’s Wrestlemania Triple Threat
It may possibly be controversial that this match is so low down on the list considering it stole the show at the biggest Wrestlemania of all time, yet there have just been so many classic matches in 2016, it was hard to place it any higher.
In an average year, this triple threat would be worthy of a top ten ranking, no question, but unfortunately for three of the Four Horsewomen, their historic showing at Wrestlemania only earned the 24th spot on my list.
Filled with action, tributes to fallen heroes, the most beautiful moonsault in WWE, a gorgeous new red and white belt, and even a little bit of Snoop Dogg, this match ended the Divas Division, and ushered in the Women’s Revolution in WWE.
- Sexy Star vs. Mariposa: No Mas – Lucha Underground
An extremely personal rivalry culminated with one of the most wondrously physical, violent matches on the year. The feud had been built to the point where no regular match would be sufficient to end it, it had to be an all-out war, hence No Mas: a match that can only be stopped when one competitor utters those two words.
The epic was filled to the brim with vicious strikes, chair shots, environmental attacks, brawling all around the temple including up in the rafters, blood, interference from Marty the Moth and The Mack, and world-class storytelling. In the end, fan favourite Sexy Star finally managed to defeat the woman who had been tormenting her for so long, much to the delight of the believers present. Unfortunately for us all, Sexy Star said “no mas” to wrestling this year, trading it all in for a career in boxing, and considering she can put on a match as good as this, boxing’s gain is wrestling’s monumental loss.
- The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler – No Mercy
The Miz had a standout year in 2016, so much so that it inspired me to write an entire article about it. Prior to this year, I wouldn’t have been able to name even one good quality match involving the A-Lister, but this year, he put on some absolute classics, including this epic encounter with Dolph Ziggler at No Mercy in October.
With Ziggler’s career on the line, the build-up to this match was completely gripping. Considering the roll that Miz had been on at that point, it really felt as though we were about to see the showoff’’s career come to an abrupt end, however after a masterful back-and-forth battle, Ziggler came out on top to the rejoice of everyone.
I’d be hard pressed to find a match this year that had me so interested in the outcome and the storyline surrounding it than this one in 2016; here’s hoping we see both Ziggler and Miz on next year’s MOTY list.
- AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose – Backlash
Before 2016, AJ Styles wasn’t even signed to WWE, but by the end of the year, he was holding their biggest prize.
The Phenomenal One makes his first appearance on this list, but considering the fact he can have a great match with anyone on the roster, it certainly won’t be his last. The match in which he won his first WWE title was a memorable back-and-forth battle, with both grapplers trading almost every move in their arsenal. Although there were no real standout moments within the match, there were plenty of exciting moves and high spots. The momentum alternated between each man at a great pace for the entire 25 minute match, until AJ managed to pick up the win and the WWE title, at which point I jumped out of my seat, and began screaming with joy at almost 4am. If I’m willing to wake up everyone else in my household because of a match, you know it must be good.
- Kenny Omega vs. Michael Elgin: Ladder Match – NJPW Dominion
It’s hard to believe that considering the history and prestige of New Japan Pro Wrestling that its first ever Ladder Match only happened this year. This particular gimmick is quite an unknown in Japanese promotions, thus it’s only fitting that the first ever Ladder Match in NJPW featured two Westerners, and these two wrestlers certainly did not disappoint.
At this point in 2016, Kenny Omega seemed unstoppable with the rest of the Bullet Club clan supporting him; the group had even managed to side-line Japanese legend Hiroshi Tanahashi. But clearly they weren’t ready for the behemoth Michael Elgin when he challenged Omega to a title match in honour of his fallen tag team partner, Tanahashi.
The two traded blows, holds, aerial assaults, and ladder shots in a fast-paced exchange, until members of Omega’ stable inevitably made an appearance. Despite an initial beating, Big Mike dominated everyone around him in a convincing barrage of offense, utilising the ladder as an effective weapon. The two men would go on to trade incredible moves and breath-taking reversals throughout the remainder of the match, until Big Mike picked up a surprising victory, and one of the biggest victories of his career.
Not only was this bout the first Ladder Match in NJPW, it was also one of the best of its kind that I have ever witnessed, and one of the best matches overall in 2016.
- American Alpha v The Revival – NXT Takeover Dallas
You’d be hard-pressed to find a traditional tag team match in anybody’s list of favourite wrestling matches, yet this year, tag team wrestling made a significant comeback in terms of quality. The technical mastery of American Alpha pitted against the best tag team wrestlers on the planet, The Revival, to create one of the best two-on-two bouts in the last decade.
These four men put on a technical masterpiece, trading a variety of holds and double team moves. As they always do, The Revival utilised the mechanics of the tag team match better than anybody in the world by preventing pinfalls, tags, and saving each other from succumbing to American Alpha’s painful offense. Each part of this match flowed so seamlessly that it felt as though every single aspect of it had been choreographed perfectly. These two teams have endless amounts of chemistry; here’s hoping that in 2017 we are lucky enough to see them collide again, this time though on the main roster.
- Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens – Battleground
Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens is one of the best rivalries in modern wrestling, and will no doubt go down as one of the greatest of all time in years to come. The two friends turned bitter enemies have such an undeniable chemistry that they’re guaranteed to create magic whenever they both step between the ropes, and this match was no exception.
Built as the final collision between the two, both Owens and Zayn delivered such a passionate performance in this bout to demonstrate how personal this conflict had become. Every strike was stiff and packed full of force, every move was pulled out of each man’s arsenal, and every single movement meant something in this beautiful piece of storytelling.
After always coming up short against his former best friend, Sami Zayn managed to hit a perfectly placed Helluva Kick, and then proceed to shove Owens back against the turnbuckle, and hit his finisher once again for good measure, allowing him to pick up the victory. It was one of the best match finishes in 2016, and a fitting temporary end to one of the best feuds in wrestling.
- Aztec Warfare 2 – Lucha Underground
If you’ve never seen Lucha Underground, this match is a pretty good place to start. There were two Aztec Warfare matches in 2016, but the first of the two was definitely superior.
The Aztec Warfare match is essentially a Royal Rumble, yet eliminations are contested under submission and pinfall rules, meaning that wrestlers are free to battle in and out of the ring, and being thrown over the top rope will not result in elimination. Twenty wrestlers enter; one walks out with the Lucha Underground Championship.
The epic battle royal began with a debut, the biggest debut in Lucha Underground history. Without any build-up or hint at his arrival, lucha legend Rey Mysterio walked out at number 2, accompanied by a roar of shock and excitement from the believers inside the temple. With such a strong start, the action managed to maintain a constantly high level of action and exhilaration throughout. Highlights include Joey Ryan handcuffing himself to a railing so he couldn’t be pinned, a beautiful exchange between Mysterio and Fenix, Cage’s head being smashed into Dario Cueto’s office window, and Pentagon Jr attacking former champion Mil Muertes, causing him to be eliminated within a minute.
After all twenty contestants had entered, we all waited to see which of the remaining competitors was going to be crowned champion, but then suddenly, Dario Cueto announced another surprise entrant to the match: his brother Matanza. This complete unknown used his monstrous size and unbelievable athleticism to completely destroy every single wrestler left in the ring, including the legendary Mysterio, to claim the Lucha Underground championship in his first match. An unexpected end to an unbelievable match.
- The Revival vs. DIY: 2/3 Falls – NXT Takeover Toronto
As stated previously, The Revival have perfected the art of professional wrestling. Unfortunately for them though, their best outings seem to be when they’re on the losing end. Don’t get me wrong, their Takeover Brooklyn bout against DIY seemed to be a masterpiece that couldn’t be topped, that is until Takeover Toronto where the two teams managed to somehow top their previous efforts in a 2/3 Falls Match.
An incredible, back-and-forth match culminated in a double tapout, and a well-deserved, emotional victory for DIY. It may not have deserved my top spot, or even a spot in the top 15, yet this memorable classic has got to be the best two-on-two tag team match of 2016.
So that’s the end of part one. Click here to read part two.
Let me know what you think about my choices in a comment below or on Twitter @HairyWrestling.