Like most crazy fans, I keep a mental note of every match of the year candidate I see throughout the calendar year. I then go back at the end of the year to see if they hold up. Almost all of them did this year. But instead of ranking them, I just list them chronologically. So here are my 12 favorite matches of the WWE in 2016.
The Royal Rumble Match
I recently wrote about how amazing AJ Styles’ debut was for me. That alone would put this match on my list. But there was more to it than that. Roman had to put his title on the line and enter at the number one spot. To me, this made it a lock that he was going to retain. And that made my blood boil. AJ’s debuted softened the blow to my blood pressure when Reigns left the match due to injuries, which is essentially another lock that he would return to the match and win; think Stone Cold in the Royal Rumble ’99. Then a miracle happened. Triple H eliminated Reigns cleanly, gave him repeated crotch chops while saying, “fuck you mother fucker,” read his lips, it’s as plain as day. The crowd was ecstatic. Easily the second biggest reaction of the night. You can literally see a guy in the front row jumping for joy. Ambrose was then left with H and got a great response. (Allegedly this was changed on the fly, from an original final two of Reigns vs. H) This was a really good night for Dean because he had a really good match with Owens (almost made this list) to kick off the show. The ending was exciting and looked to be Ambrose’s coming out party, but it was not to be as The Game won. People bitched, and normally I would have too, but come on! AJ Styles debuted (and lasted 30 minutes) AND Roman Reigns lost?!? Apparently Christmas was moved to January 24th!
One last note on Styles. Having Kevin Owens eliminate him was absolutely perfect booking. He was the only heel that could have eliminated Styles without the crowd completely turning on the match like what happened the previous year- and the year before that. It still got serious boo’s, but then was replaced with a very respectful “A-J STYLES!” chant. Owens was later eliminated by the debuting on the main roster Sami Zayn, in yet another beautiful booking move that would continue an angle that would last throughout most of the year, and contribute matches on this list.
Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch WrestleMania
This match marked the end of the “Divas” title, thank the heavens. And they sure ushered in the new era with bang. WrestleMania had some mixed reviews for sure. It definitely was too long, there is no debate about that. The first half of the show was without question the better portion of the show. And this was the best match of the bunch. I’ll go as far to say it was my favorite woman’s match ever. The really had some cool spots throughout the entire match. I also really liked the Eddie Guerrero-esque attire that Sasha wore. Then she proceeded to start the trend of nearly killing herself on a tope. Please stop doing that. Of the three girls, I thought Becky looked the most impressive. She has a scrappiness to her that I really enjoy.
AJ Styles vs. Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens vs. Chris Jericho Raw 4/4/16
This match featured Cesaro’s return from injury and he received a great reaction. Originally Sami Zayn was supposed to be in his spot, but due to that dastardly Owens’ pre-match attack, Zayn was incapacitated and Cesaro was a perfect substitute. As with most of these multi-man matches, there were bodies flying all over the place. Cesaro got plenty of spots to shine, and the post-WrestleMania crowd was eating it all up. I legitimately thought they were going to put Cesaro over here. And I would have been all for it. But then shockingly AJ got the win after just losing to Jericho the night before. It was strange but a wonderful end to a great match that rocketed AJ to the moon for the rest of the year.
Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles Payback
I’m in the minority here, but I think this match is better than the rematch. If nothing else because the Chicago crowd takes it to another level. There’s nothing quite like a Chicago crowd. Heading into this match I knew Roman would win, but towards the end of this classic I was totally sucked in and bought into all the AJ near-falls. Which is of course the whole point of a wrestling match. I should also point out that much like the main event of Summerslam ’96, the restarting of the match two different times didn’t bother me at all. Now how’s that for a reference?!? If Vince wasn’t a fan of AJ before this match, he was definitely one after the fact.
Miz vs. Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens Extreme Rules
I love multi-man matches as you can clearly see. You could say that they are “total nonstop action!” That was a terrible joke, I apologize. Cesaro was still on fire from his return and I think the crowd really wanted him to get the win. Miz winning really pissed me off, but the more I thought about it, it really made sense that that despicable bastard snuck out a win over three superior wrestlers. This really kick-started the forward momentum Miz had enjoyed this year.
AJ Styles vs. Roman Reigns Extreme Rules
The first thing I noticed about this match is possibly the crowd sign of the year:
“Reigns is Anoa’i-ing”
Simply brilliant. Kind of like this match. The aggression was amped up on this one due to it being an “extreme rules” match. Lots of chair shots, and AJ being thrown around like a crash test dummy. I believe it was after this match that Jim Ross said something to the effect of AJ being “on a Shawn Michaels-like level” as an in-ring competitor. Now whatever your opinion of HBK is, is irrelevant. Just know that J.R. thinks that Shawn is the greatest in-ring competitor ever, so a comparison to him is a huge compliment towards Styles. Another thing I noticed was that Reigns had a little bit more of a swagger to him, boarder lining on cockiness. Were they testing the waters for the heel turn? Probably not, but it was very noticeable.
Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens Battleground
In hindsight it’s a little surprising they let Zayn win this feud. Granted, to say this feud is officially over would be incorrect. There’s not a doubt in my mind that they will hook it up again many more times in the future. And why not? Every single time they start punching each other its magic, so why not ride it out as long as they can? As for the match it was really hard-hitting, but it’s a little strange there wasn’t some kind of stipulation for this grudge match. Like maybe a last man standing? In the end though, Zayn gets the win after numerous half and half suplexes, and two Helluva Kicks. Ole!
John Cena vs. AJ Styles Summerslam
I was really let down by their first big one on one encounter two months earlier. It was good, but considering the hype going in, and the roll that both men had been on the past two years, I expected the definitive match of the year… I just had to wait until Summerslam to get it. Summerslam got shit on a lot this year, mainly for its length. Much like WrestleMania I cannot deny that. But for me, this match made it all worthwhile. AJ again looked flawless in the match. The crowd was jacked. And I was one happy boy. There were no outside interference in this one (unlike their first match) and that made this great match, a phenomenal one. And did I mentioned AJ pinned Cena clean? Back in the day Summerslam had delivered a match of the year candidate(s) almost regularly. The past few years, with the exception of 2013, I feel that the Summerslam’s have been pretty mediocre. And 2015 was downright bad. Overall SS ’16 may not be the show of the year, but it has possibly the WWE match of the year.
Sheamus vs. Cesaro Clash of Champions
A Sheamus match that ends in a no-contest made the list? I still have a hard time believing it, but it’s true. The whole concept was stupid in reality. A best of 7 that ends with a no contest, so the two combatants get to form an unlikely tag team. (WWE sure loves to have the feuding tag partners don’t they?) We all say Cesaro deserves better, and this list has been proof of it. I’m sure Sheamus is also pissed because he has went from the penthouse to the outhouse so many times it makes my head spin. I look at this match as a statement from both guys, you don’t think we’re top guys? Watch this as we tear down the house! They went balls to the wall from bell to bell. This is easily my favorite Sheamus match ever. But I didn’t think they were going to make it to the end. If you have forgotten this is the match that Cesaro spiked himself into the floor off of a tope (seems to be a trend). I won’t soon forget the sickening feeling I had in my stomach. I thought I had just watched Cesaro become a paraplegic. The look in his eyes upon landing confirmed my fears. He looked extremely rattled to say the least. THEN THE BASTARD GOT UP! Further proving that Cesaro is a total freak he shook off potential death/paralysis and proceeded to slap around Rocksteady some more. Unbelievable.
The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler No Mercy
No Mercy was a really strange show. Had this went on last, knowing this in hindsight, it would have rectified the issue more or less. Regardless of my armchair booking, this whole program up to this point was extremely beneficial to both men. It pretty much put a capper on Miz’s comeback year, and made Ziggler relevant again. Remember during this year Ziggler had arguably the worst feud of his career against Baron Corbin, and although was in the title picture at Summerslam, was made to look the fool by the BABYFACE Dean Ambrose and was worse off for it. This match had the “if I lose I’ll retire” stipulation which I generally don’t care for, but for some reason I really thought that Ziggler was going to leave. The internet seemed to think so too, which may or may not have influenced my thoughts. The last few minutes of this bout really picked up steam, and Ziggler got the win with one boot on. Sort of like Eddie Guerrero at WrestleMania XX, but not nearly as clever. If only this would have been the end of the feud.
Raw Men’s vs. Smackdown Men’s Survivor Series
Truthfully all the survivor matches were pretty good. Raw won the first two, and was looking for the clean sweep here. Before I get into the match itself, I need to rant about the participants really quick. ENOUGH WITH SHANE MCMAHON WRESTLING!! I’m not even factoring in him being knocked loopy during the match either. I hate that Shane is perceived as an equal to a full-time wrestler, let alone main event guys. Now I wasn’t real thrilled about Baron Corbin being in the match initially, but I at least can justify it. When he was removed, I was thrilled for one, and two I thought it made perfect sense to have Luke Harper be the fifth guy. Harper is without a doubt, in my mind, the most talented and interesting of any of those bearded fuckers. He just needs to do those crazy eyes, and BAM I’m hooked. (Yes I realize he interfered to give his Wyatt brothers the win, but I’m still not having it)
I don’t want to say the match felt “epic,” but they did a really nice job of making it feel important. Which is impressive since survivor matches haven’t felt important in about two decades. They did a nice tease of Rollins vs. Styles at the beginning, and they touched very little after that. The Jericho and Owens storyline was progressed nicely, which one can only assume will lead to a WrestleMania match. Roman got booed mercilessly throughout, and when it was down to him versus the Wyatt’s, a very hefty “Let’s go Smackdown” cheer rang out. I’m sure that’s a first (probably not the last) and also made Vince think, “Dammit why are these Canadians cheering for Smackdown? It’s not the flagship!” In a fairly shocking twist, Orton and Bray won the match (with the help of the aforementioned Harper) and Smackdown reigned supreme. It should also be pointed out that Dean Ambrose looked like a total idiot here. I understand the team dissension between himself and Styles, but a babyface shouldn’t run back in after he is eliminated and help the other team eliminate his enemy. Stone Cold would have jumped Styles in the aisle way after Styles had been eliminated. Not “coincidentally” helping his Shield “brothers” powerbomb him. (I think my hatred for Roman is rubbing off on anyone who aligns with him.) But since I’m THANKFUL now, I will leave this match by saying it was a whole hour of awesome, which it pretty much was overall. The most awesome part? Honestly Ellsworth grabbing Strowman’s leg from underneath the ring to force a count out was simply amazing. I did a “lol” as the kids say. That’s how you use Ellsworth!
Dean Ambrose vs. AJ Styles TLC
With Elsworthmania running high, would it be enough to help Dean Ambrose win the championship? When he made his “triumphant” return during this match (you did hear some boo’s, which is something I recently wrote about) it seemed all too certain that Ambrose would get the extra boost to topple his nemesis Styles. But wait what’s this? Ellsworth turned on Ambrose and helped AJ get the win? His rationale being that he is owed a title shot and knows he can beat Styles even though he is still a babyface, but helped the heel win so he can then beat that heel yet again, but the only reason he beat that heel in the first place is because of the babyface he just screwed over!
Reread that paragraph in a David Otunga voice and it might be funny. Keep in mind I said “might.” Despite all that nonsense this was a really good match. It will always be infamous for the giant rip on AJ’s tights, but that release suplex through the chairs that gave him that rip (and bloody ass) was nuts. It’s hard to create new things in TLC matches these days, but I’m fairly certain that was a new one. And that wasn’t even the best part of the match! AJ’s 450 to the floor through the table on Ambrose (reread that sentence in a J.R. voice and it becomes way better, granted I would need to write it all in caps) was spectacular. I can’t imagine the degree of difficulty that must have taken. This is probably my favorite Ambrose match, but it’s just another day at the office for Styles. Which speaks to the other-worldly level he has been performing at this year. An absolute great way to cap off Smackdown’s PPV’s for the year 2016.
You may have noticed no NXT matches. That is no coincidence because next column I will be listing my favorite NXT/CWC matches. NXT was a lot of fun this year and the CWC made it that much more awesome. I have a feeling my overall favorite match of the year will be listed on that column, but I’ll do a re-watch and give my opinions accordingly. For now here are some quick stats about this list:
Most matches listed:
AJ Styles – 7 (If you can’t do math, that’s over half of the matches)
Kevin Owens – 5
Roman Reigns – 4
Sami Zayn – 3
Dean Ambrose – 3
Chris Jericho – 3
Cesaro – 3
The Miz – 3 (If you would have told me last year Miz would be in any match of the year contenders, I would have laughed in your face.)
Victor Parenza (@ParenzaBooks)