- Survivor Series 5-on-5 Men’s Elimination Match
Survivor Series is usually the weakest of the four big WWE PPVs (the less said about the 2015 installment, the better), but this year, the November show certainly delivered beyond expectations, thanks in part to the traditional five-on-five men’s elimination tag team match.
This bout played out like an epic battle of Ben Hurr proportions. Fifty minutes in length, ten competitors, and a chinless man hiding under the ring – it really did have everything. Unlike the majority of these traditional Survivor Series matches, there was a plethora of storylines and rivalries intertwining and played out perfectly throughout its entirety. Every man had a reason to be in that match, every fighter had some kind of relationship or rivalry with somebody else involved, and everyone had a part to play and memorable moment regardless of how long they were involved in it:
Shane McMahon: The veteran general manager making a rare in-ring appearance to support his brand and attempt to topple the gigantic Braun Strowman. Highlights include his patented Leap of Faith elbow through an announce table, and the absolutely brutal mid-flight spear he took from Roman Reigns.
James Ellsworth: The comic relief in the midst of brutality. Held onto Strowman’s leg, causing the mountain of a man to be eliminated, which in turn lead to Ellsworth being destroyed in a devastating table spot.
AJ Styles: The champion of Smackdown, there to prove he’s the superior world champion, and why he’s called The Phenomenal One. Highlights include attacking his own teammate Ambrose, leading to his elimination, and being driven through an announce table.
Braun Strowman: Raw’s weapon of mass destruction. Highlights include a surprisingly impressive showing against more experienced wrestlers, and launching Ellsworth into a pit of broken wood.
Dean Ambrose: There to prove he’s the best member of The Shield, and to also show he’s superior to his rival and teammate, AJ Styles. Highlights include attacking Styles despite being on his side, and returning from elimination to form a Shield reunion by powerbombing his teammate through an announce table.
Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns: There to use their Shield chemistry to beat the Smackdown team, and earn privileges as a reward. Highlights include Roman’s aforementioned spear to Shane O’Mac, and the triple powerbomb to AJ Styles.
Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho: The co-captains of their team, and best friends in the whole wide world. Highlights include Owens using Jericho’s list on AJ Styles, and Jericho breaking down into hysterics at the sight of The List of Jericho scattered around the ring.
Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton: The New Wyatt Family, the unknown pairing in their first match as a team trying prove their dominance. Highlights include Randy’s perfectly timed RKO to a mid-air Seth Rollins, Orton sacrificing himself for Bray by taking a spear from Reigns, and Wyatt hitting the Sister Abigail to win the match for the Smackdown brand.
With all of those highlights in just one single match, how could this not be on the list?! Simply epic.
- Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte – Hell in a Cell
The Hell in a Cell match was constructed to be the most brutal, personal match possible – only the most bitter of rivals step into the cell in order to put a bloody end to their conflict once and for all. These days, Hell in a Cell matches are an annual occurrence simply because it just happens to be October, therefore it’s pretty rare when a match actually worthy of this demonic structure happens to come along in time for the HIAC PPV. Luckily though, 2016 saw one of the greatest female rivalries of all time evolve on the main roster, and for the first time in history, two women stepped inside the devil’s playground in the first all-female WWE pay-per-view main event.
The action started before the cage was even lowered in this groundbreaking spectacle. Charlotte blind-sided the champ, and slammed her through an announce table. Many thought that the match was over before it had even begun, yet as Sasha was being stretchered away, she valiantly leapt up and entered the cage. The two utilised the structure around them perfectly to construct a match filled with psychology and emotion. Charlotte acted as the perfect heel throughout, and brutalised Banks to the point that she could no longer carry on, and captured her third WWE Women’s Championship in the process. Not only was this match historic, it was also fantastic.
- Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins – Hell in a Cell
In the past nineteen years, we’ve witnessed a lot of Hell in a Cell matches, thirty four in fact prior to this Universal Championship bout, so we’ve pretty much seen the giant steel cage being utilised in every way possible. It’s very difficult for those who step into the structure these days to use the gimmick of the match to do something innovative or exciting, but Owens and Rollins managed to do just that.
Rather than going for the brutality and the “Good God almighty! That killed him!” approach, the cage was used in this match as a way to progress the storyline surrounding the match. Admittedly though, the cage was used at one point to suspend a table against the ring apron, which led to a painfully beautiful powerbomb spot that had everyone out of their seats, but the highlight of the match was definitely when Kevin Owens’ best friend in the whole wide world managed to make his way into the cell, lock the door, and transformed the contest into a Handicap match. For once, the focus wasn’t on how the cage could be used as weapon, it was on how the cell is supposed to keep other people from interfering. Jericho managed to infiltrate this metallic fortress, and then prevent anybody else from entering in order to help his best friend clinch the victory. A fantastically worked match from a surprisingly fantastic pay-per-view.
- Matt Sydal, Ricochet, and Will Ospreay vs. Bullet Club: 6-Man Tag – PWG BOLA
If I had to sum up this match in one word, it would definitely be “crazy”. There is so much ridiculous, fast-paced, unbelievably athletic action in this match that it is genuinely hard to keep up with it all. Just look at those involved; what more would you expect?
Although I don’t think it quite deserves the five stars that big Davey Meltzer awarded it, with so many jaw-dropping moves and moments, including triple tandem Shooting Star Presses to close it, this match is definitely one to watch again and again.
- Kenny Omega vs. Hirooki Goto – NJPW G1 Climax Finals
I must admit, the first half of this match isn’t anything too special; by no means bad, just not outstanding. But in the last ten minutes, the psychology used is absolutely perfect. Kenny Omega unleashed almost every single move he had against Hirooki Goto, and when it seemed as though nothing could put his foe away, The Cleaner decided to borrow from his rivals and friends of the past to claim the victory. Omega pulled out a Golden Star Powerbomb and a failed Phoenix Splash (borrowed from his former tag team partner, Kota Ibushi), then a Prince Devitt-esque Bloody Sunday, closely followed by a Styles Clash, and then finished off with a beautiful One-Winged Angel, to become the first ever non-Japanese winner of the G1 Climax tournament.
That succession of moves, teamed with Omega’s historic victory made for an amazing match, and one of the best moments of 2016.
- AJ Styles vs. John Cena – Summerslam
Before 2016, AJ Styles vs. John Cena was simply a dream match that looked unlikely to ever happen: a legend of WWE facing arguably the biggest star never to sign to the biggest company in the world. But in 2016, when The Phenomenal One finally signed on that dotted line, we finally witnessed the match we all dreamt of seeing, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
The two icons of wrestling traded signature moves back-and-forth throughout; almost every maneuver in their repertoire made an appearance, but neither man would succumb to the three count. We even saw Styles kick out of a Super AA from the top rope, something which really cemented how much faith WWE had in one of their newest and biggest signees. After a beautifully countered AA into a Styles Clash, followed by a Phenomenal Forearm, we all saw the unthinkable – AJ Styles pinned John Cena clean for the three count. No tricks, no interference, no gimmicks, he was simply the better man. At that moment, I knew that WWE had set aside all of AJ’s past reputations outside of WWE, and had really accepted him as one of their own, and the following month, he was holding their biggest prize. An amazing match, and an amazing moment.
- AJ Styles vs. Roman Reigns – Extreme Rules
These two grasped the concept of this PPV tightly in their hands like a trusty kendo stick. They battled all over the arena – in the ring, at ringside, through the crowd, even on the pre-show panel’s table! It was essentially one long highlight reel, with moments including a sky-high back drop through an announce table, a running powerbomb through another announce table, a failed spear through the barricades, a spear over a set of steel steps, interference from The Club and The Usos, a Styles Clash onto a chair, and a Phenomenal Forearm countered with precision timing into a spear.
Fast-paced, beautifully, violent, and definitely one to watch again.
- IC Title Fatal Four Way – Extreme Rules
Straight out of the gate, Sami Zayn launched across the ring, hit his long-time rival Kevin Owens with a Helluva Kick, and we all knew we were in for something special. These four men were clearly out to steal the show, and they certainly managed that by packing in an unbelievable amount of action and variety of moves into such a short period of time. Everyone involved was at the top of their game; Cesaro hit every move imaginable, Miz played the heel role perfectly, Owens snuck in and unleashed a barrage of strikes and throws at every opportunity he could, and Zayn deserves an award for his selling in this match. Not only that, the fatal four way gimmick was taken advantage of superbly, resulting in one of the most entertaining versions of this match type I’ve ever seen (rivalled only by the Four Horsewomen’s match in NXT).
When it came to main roster pay-per-view matches this year, the IC Title Fatal Four Way didn’t just steal the show, it stole the entire year.
- Ladder War VI – ROH All Star Extravaganza
The craziest match of 2016 has to go to Ladder War VI. Simply put, this is essentially the modern generation’s version of the Hardys vs Dudley Boyz vs Edge and Christian’s series of TLC matches.
The noun ‘war’ is more than appropriate when it comes to this match: a non-stop barrage of weapon attacks, aerial moves, the best double team moves on the planet, and the most ridiculously dangerous high spots seen this year, all within the ROH battlefield. Although three teams were involved, The Young Bucks and The Addiction certainly stole the show, and wore the wounds of war proudly post-match.
You will be shocked, you will be in complete and utter awe, you will wince regularly in pain, and you will love every single minute of it.
- Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW G1 Climax Semi-Finals
Another match rated five stars by Mr Meltzer, Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito was the talk of the G1 Climax. It featured two of the company’s biggest stars that broke through in 2016, and two of the best wrestlers in the world today.
Let’s face it, this match deserves a ranking based on Naito’s all white suit alone, but luckily for us, this match was outstanding on its own merit, regardless of the items of clothing involved. Both stars were oozing charisma throughout, displaying their heelish characters at all times, by posing and even trading saliva spitting. But don’t let their showmanship fool you, their brutally hard-hitting ways were fully on display, trading stiff shots and environmental attacks all throughout the match. Possibly the most memorable highlight of the match was when Omega powerbombed Naito over the barracades and onto an announce table with authority, and then hit one of the most insane springboard moves of the year. This match is worth watching just to witness how high and how far The Cleaner manages to soar through the air during this breath-taking sequence of moves.
After a hard-fought war from both men, Omega managed to come out on top after a beautiful One-Winged Angel, and would go on to win the whole tournament, earning a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 11. FIVE STARS! FIVE STARS! FIVE STARS!
- Cedric Alexander vs. Kota Ibushi – CWC
There’s a reason why the CWC placed so highly on my list of the Best Things that Happened in Wrestling in 2016, and why I wrote an entire article about how great it was; it brought together so many incredibly talented, unsigned wrestlers that were using the opportunity they had at hand to show the world just how good they are. Out of all of the talents involved in the tournament, none made a more memorable attempt to capture the world’s attention than Cedric Alexander. Even after losing to one of the best wrestlers in the world, Kota Ibushi, Cedric showed so much passion, so much resolve, and fought so valiantly that fans began to chant, “Please sign Cedric!” as a sign of huge respect. This match is so full of emotion that you can’t help but be gripped by it, and this stream of emotion carried on flowing as Alexander was making a slow walk to the back, Triple H emerged from the curtain to hold up the future star’s arm to show that he’d acknowledge how amazing and how hard he had fought that night.
- AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – Wrestle Kingdom 10
This IWGP Intercontinental Championship marked the last singles appearance in New Japan for both of these men, and after witnessing how good it was, it was clear that NJPW had lost two incredibly talented wrestlers.
This match is simply a masterclass in every aspect of wrestling – the way both men are able to trade holds and reversals effortlessly at such a fast pace; Shinsuke’s undeniable charisma, catching AJ’s imaginary bullet and proceeding to eat it; the stiff strikes; and the beautiful back-and-forth throughout. Many walked away from Wrestle Kingdom 10 talking about the main event, but all I could think about was Styles vs. Nakamura, and if you watch it for yourself, you’ll see exactly why. We may have only been four days into the year when this match happened, but I knew there and then that everyone else in the world would have a very hard time beating it.
- Pentagon Dark vs. Hitokiri; Doku; Yurei; and Black Lotus: Gauntlet Match – Lucha Underground 30/11/12
I may be cheating slightly given the fact this is actually three matches in one, but as it is a Gauntlet Match, it is still technically one whole contest, although if I did separate these matches, each one of them would make this list. This match excited me so much, I had to start writing about it as soon as I watched it; that’s how amazing it is.
Traditionally, Gauntlet matches are boring, predictable affairs – the first two or three competitors are henchmen from the lower card, and job to the one lone warrior until the final wrestler comes out to either take advantage of the damage done to their opponent in order to get the win, or the lone fighter defeats every opponent, making them look strong and resilient. However, this is unlike any gauntlet match you have ever seen, in that it’s actually good. In fact, it’s one of the best pieces of wrestling I have witnessed in years.
The most amazing thing about this match is that it’s the debut of three competitors (Hitokiri, Doku, and Yurei), and given that their team, the Black Lotus Triad, is named after the final competitor in the gauntlet, you’re made to think that Pentagon will just blaze through this trio of jobbers with ease, but no. In contrary to typical gauntlet match booking, every single member of this match is booked as a legitimate contender. All three Triad members push Pentagon to the limit in the best example of intergender wrestling I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. The match further breaks tradition by having Pentagon pinned before he even got a chance to face Black Lotus. Hitokiri is the one to gain the victory over the breaker of arms, after she bombards him with chair shots, stiff strikes, impressive athleticism, and a terrifying dive from the top of Dario Cueto’s office. Then, as he lies prone from the mass beating he has suffered, Pentagon has to suffer his arm being broken by both Black Lotus and Dragon Azteca Jr.
This gauntlet match took up an entire episode of Lucha Underground, and without hyperbole, it was the best episode of any wrestling show I have ever witnessed. Forty solid minutes of unbelievably physical action, breath-taking high spots, fantastic booking, and world-class storytelling from start to finish. It manages to be a technical masterpiece, a perfectly booked story, and a hardcore wrestling fan’s dream all at the same time. I couldn’t take my eyes away from the action for one single second. At one point, a diving Swanton Bomb was countered into a Package Piledriver, and I leant forward in my seat and completely lost my shit.
It may lose a few points for being a series of matches in one incredible bundle, but this is honestly one of the most excitingly gripping pieces of television made in years, and I implore you to watch this if you already haven’t.
- Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa – CWC
Gargano vs. Ciampa is the best piece of storytelling I have seen in 2016, and that includes films and TV shows.
Prior to this match, Gargano and Ciampa had teamed on a few occasions on NXT, but rarely resulting in winning efforts. They didn’t even have a team name at the time, but WWE still played on their friendship when they faced each other in the first round of the CWC. An extremely personal vignette aired prior to the match that showed how close the two had become since they came to WWE, and although both seemed willing to fight, they were both still filled with respect for their opponent. Keeping that in mind, what came next was certainly a big surprise.
In his indie days as the Psycho Killer, Ciampa was known for his vicious streak; he would unleash a constant assault of strong knees, elbows, and dangerous throws on his opponents to the delight of fans. Yet when he came to NXT, the intensity was certainly turned down. Ciampa adapted more to the WWE style, trading holds and wrestling more like a generic indie star. And that’s exactly how this match started off: the tag team partners traded typical wrestling holds and reversals, that is until out of nowhere, a switch seemed to turn in Ciampa’s head. Tomasso threw his elbow back ferociously into the face of Gargano, creating a sound so loud it silenced the crowd. Suddenly, Ciampa unchained his Psycho Killer persona, and released a cannonade of pain onto Gargano. Various full force running knees to the head, savage chops to the chest, and a barrage of elbows reigned down upon Johnny Wrestling, but he continued to fight.
After a barbaric Air Raid Siren onto the ring apron by Ciampa (that’s the hardest part of the ring you know), it seemed that a victory was certainly in his future. He shoved his dazed opponent back into the ring, and pulled down his pad, exposing his kneecap in order to cause maximum damage. Just as he was about to hit the killer blow, Ciampa hesitated. His friendship with Gargano overshadowed his determination to win the match, so he pulled his kneepad up, allowing Gargano to hit a superkick to Ciampa. This attack after his momentary lapse of violence forced Ciampa back into his psychotic ways, and he continued to destroy Gargano, but he refused to die. After countering Ciampa’s signature Bridging Fujiwara Armbar, Johnny Wrestling managed to pick up the win, and ultimately, survive. But the gripping action wasn’t over just because the bell had rung. Ciampa was clearly frustrated; when his tag team partner, too weak to even stand, offered out his hand, Ciampa walked away. He made it as far as the ring ropes, turned back, joined Gargano on the floor, and put his arm around him. The two instantly became stars, and within months were NXT Tag Team Champions.
Storytelling in wrestling doesn’t get any more perfect than that.
- Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – NXT Takeover Dallas
Seriously, what else could it have been? As one star was set to leave NXT, another one was entering, and they collided in this masterpiece of a match.
As soon as Shinsuke made his epic entrance fit for a global superstar, you knew this was going to be something special. You knew that this would steal the show. Neither man had a problem with the other, they were simply both there to prove they were the best, and they did that without question.
This is a match that needs to be watched. I can understand why every other match featured on this list may not be to some people’s tastes, but this, this is essential viewing for any wrestling fan. It’s joined that prestigious list of must-watch matches for fans around the world. In the years to come, this will be the match that inspires others, that ranks high on the greatest of all time lists, that is mentioned in hall of fame speeches. It really is that good.
Trying to describe Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura would be doing it an injustice; it’s something that just needs to be witnessed to be appreciated. In my opinion, it really doesn’t get much more perfect than this. Not only is it my best match of 2016, it’s also now one of my favourite matches of all time.
And that’s my list! Think I’ve overlooked a masterpiece from this year, or you’ve got an opinion on my rankings? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @HairyWrestling.