I’ve done my Top 10 Film of 2016, so it would be remiss of me not to do my Top 10 WWE Matches of 2016 (and by that I include all of WWE programming, from WWE to NXT to CWC)! Let me preface this by saying I rarely watch Raw or Smackdown, so I may have missed some stunning TV matches (I don’t have/want to pay for Sky, and don’t have enough time for three hours of Raw and two hours of Smackdown!). So my experience is limited to PPV/Special matches and other things available on the WWE Network (yes, I know that Raw and Smackdown are available on the WWE Network, but like I said before, I don’t have enough time for them!).
- Roman Reigns (c) vs AJ Styles (Extreme Rules match for the WWE Championship, WWE Extreme Rules)
Roman Reign has been underappreciated (and hated) by the WWE Universe. However, he’s consistently put on good to great matches. His match against HHH at ‘Mania 32 may have bored the pants off everyone, but his actual title reign was full of great matches. His second match against Styles was the highlight of his reign, however. Merely four months into his WWE career, Styles had been shoved into the main event. And boy, did he prove he deserved it. Their first match was great, this Extreme Rules match was a Match of the Year contender. The two wrestlers used the match gimmick to great effect, even in the PG Era. Chairs, tables, steel stairs…they all came into play. Even though Reigns was the ostensible babyface, he played more of a heel in this bout. He used his strength to continually overpower Styles. Styles took some hellacious bumps, obviously having something to prove in the main event. But Styles shouldn’t take all the credit for this bout. Reigns did his fair share to make it something special.
- American Alpha vs The Revival (NXT Takeover: The End)
If it wasn’t for The Revival’s feud against DIY, this would have been the tag team feud of the year, in NXT or WWE. Their first match at Takeover: Dallas was superb, but the final few minutes let both teams down, being full of botches and rushed sequences. Here, however, there were no botches or rushed sequences. The amateur wrestling of Chad Gable and Jason Jordan should have clashed with The Revival’s old school wrestling, but it didn’t. From the beginning, the match had a frantic pace. An early sequence that ended with Gable and Jordan slapping on duel ankle locks earned a well-deserved ovation. One spot involved Dash lifting up Gable for a powerbomb, in aid of Dawson jumping off the top rope for a tag-team manoeuvre. However, Gable reversed it and hit Dawson with a mid-air belly to back suplex! Before seeing The Revival fight DIY, I thought this was the epitome of tag team wrestling. It still is something special.
- Charlotte vs Sasha Banks vs Becky Lynch (Triple Threat Match for the Women’s Championship, WrestleMania 32)
Let me say this right now: I think splitting up the Women’s division for the Brand Split was a mistake. Both divisions on Smackdown and Raw are shallow. It’s why we have Sasha Banks and Charlotte feuding for forever. Smackdown have used their talent more efficiently, but with such shallow rosters there’s only so many matches there can possible be. However, the Women’s division looked set to boom before this Triple Threat Match. For me, it’s the height of women’s wrestling this year. It stole the show at ‘Mania with ease. The women outshone the men. Charlotte’s moonsault on to Banks and Lynch from the top rope to the outside of the ring was one of many highlights in this superlative bout.
- John Cena vs AJ Styles (Summerslam 2016)
Their first match at Money in the Bank 2016 did nothing for me. Yes, it was alright, but for a dream match I expected so much more. All it seemed to be was a sequence of “big move, kick out, bigger move, kick out, now the opponent does the same.” John Cena looked less of a superman and more of an aging man during the bout. Everything seemed that much harder for him to do. However, in their rematch, I was more than satisfied. It may have been a bigger and better version of their MITB match, but it seemed so much more. Yes, there were big moves and kick-outs aplenty, but there seemed so much more to the match. It felt as if the old lion was fighting against the young lion to be leader of the pride. The (relatively) young and agile Styles brought everything he had against the aging, slower Cena. Of course, in the past few years, there’s been no one like ‘BIG MATCH CENA’ to steal the show. But Styles wanted it more. A simply impressive bout that was one of many Styles would have this year alone. The clean finish was the icing on the cake.
- Dolph Ziggler vs The Miz (Intercontinental Championship vs Career, WWE No Mercy)
This was a triumph of storytelling in an era of WWE that isn’t renowned for storytelling. Yes, the feud between The Miz and Ziggler should have ended here, but the nature of the brand split means that no feud will ever end, due to the lack of depth in each roster. But this was surely one of the feuds of the year. Ziggler put up his career against The Miz for one last shot at the IC title. Ziggler always been a great wrestler, but The Miz has always been a dependable, average worker. This year, he’s transformed himself into a wonder worker. His improved talent is nowhere more apparent than in this match. His heel routine and wrestling is second only to, say, Kevin Owens. His incorporation of Daniel Bryan’s move into his repertoire only increased his heel heat. Ziggler was fighting an uphill battle, playing the never-say-die babyface. The two put on a masterclass of in-ring psychology that feeds on the emotions of the match stipulation. Yes, it should have been the main event. But that’s okay. You need a terrible main event every now and again.
- The Miz (c) vs Sami Zayn vs Kevin Owens vs Cesaro (Fatal Four Way Match for the Intercontinental Championship, WWE Extreme Rules)
This time last year, I’d have said that The Miz was the odd one out in this bout. The other three are stellar workers; The Miz was an average worker. However, as evidenced in his general in-ring prowess this year, he was more than capable of delivering an equal amount of entertainment as the other three wrestlers. He’s brought prestige to the Intercontinental Championship, though he rarely wins cleanly. This match shot off to a roaring start as Zayn hit Owens with the Helluva Kick in a continuation of their feud. Their chemistry was a given, as was that between Zayn and Cesaro (see their NXT feud for evidence of that). However, The Miz was the final piece of a thrilling puzzle. It delivered on an emotional level by giving extra juice to the Owens/Zayn feud. It also delivered many believable multi-man high spots. The best Fatal Four Way match I’ve seen this year. No one looked out of place and every man had a chance to shine brightly. It also featured one of the best commentary put-downs of the year when JBL told Byron Saxton “if you were on life support I’d pull the plug and charge my I-Phone.”
- DIY vs The Revival (2/3 Falls for the NXT Tag Team Championships, NXT Takeover: Toronto)
Just think, last year The Revival seemed to be just another NXT tag team doomed to lose to the big tag teams. Their first NXT tag title victory came out of nowhere. But they quickly proved that they were worthy of the belts. Their feud with American Alpha was a tag team highlight of the year. However, their feud with DIY was even better. DIY’s first shot at the Tag Team Champions came at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II, was another contender for Match of the Year. However, the two teams outdid themselves at Takeover: Toronto. A perfectly executed 2/3 Falls match, it utilised the old-school wrestling of The Revival and the high-flying, fast-paced antics of DIY to their zenith. It’s the best tag team match on WWE programming this year, if not for a long time. A bout that had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. Not only that, but it had the perfect ending.
- Johnny Gargano vs Tomasso Ciampa (First Round Match, CWC)
This Top 10 List could be littered with matches from the CWC, one of WWE’s best productions in year (click here for an overview of it). Pretty much every match after the First Round rid the tournament of the mediocre wrestlers was outstanding…but there’s one match that really sticks in my mind. And that’s this first round match, pitting tag team partner against tag team partner. True, they didn’t even have a proper tag team name at the time. But they already proved themselves to be an exciting team to watch. Any friend vs friend match has that extra edge in terms of emotion, but the small video package before the bout started added layers to the emotion. The match itself was spectacular; big spots, hard strikes, awesome reversals. There’s a point in the match where Ciampa rolls down his knee pad and looks to smash his bare knee into Gargano’s face. But he hesitates, not wanting to seriously injure his best buddy. That put a big grin on my face. But the post-match display of friendship was the moment that brought a tear to my eye. Two friends, one loser, one victor. The loser embracing the victor to retain their friendship. The most heart-warming scene on the WWE Network this year. Of course, the match itself is awe-inspiring, but the post-match scene really stamped the whole thing on my memory.
- Kevin Owens vs Sami Zayn (WWE Battleground)
From Ring of Honor to NXT to WWE, this feud has never delivered a mediocre match. Owens and Zayn are among the best wrestlers of today. Just watch this match for proof. It was signposted as the last match of their feud (which I doubt), but the heat and emotion in the air was palpable. Would Zayn finally get a victory over Owens? Or would Owens once again defeat Zayn and prove Sami wasn’t fit to step in the ring with him? Zayn, even more so than Daniel Bryan, is the ultimate underdog. He loses more than he wins, but he always puts up a fight. Kevin Owens is his ultimate foil, a bully who enjoys putting people down. Well, at least the NXT version of Owens did. However, Owens and Zayn put everything into this match. A slow methodical match was turned on its head when Zayn botched an Asai Moonsault and nearly landed on his head. Purposeful or not, that botch propelled this match into overdrive. It evolved into a finale that is one of the most emotional and pointed moments of storytelling in WWE this year. From a wrestling, storytelling, or psychological perspective, this match could not be bettered…well, if only one other match hadn’t happened…
- Sami Zayn vs Shinsuke Nakamura (NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II)
And that match pitted debuting Shinsuke Nakamura vs Sami Zayn. From Nakamura’s spellbinding entrance, I was hooked. Merely the sight of Nakamura had me thrilled, but what followed was unbelievable. When the crowd chants ‘Fight Forever’ in the middle of the match, you know you’re watching something special. Seeing Nakamura wrestle was enough for me, but Nakamura and Zayn put on a match for the ages. It’s brutal, brilliant and beautiful. Zayn sells like no-one else, and Nakamura strikes like no one else. It’s a match made in heaven. I could write endlessly about the greatness of this match, but suffice to say: If you haven’t watched it, watch it right now. It went straight into my Top 10 Matches of All time!