With 2016 officially done and in the past, it’s time to look back on the world of wrestling and see which matches were the best of the best. I’ve been fortunate enough to see excellent wrestling in WWE, NXT, TNA, Ring of Honor, NJPW, Lucha Underground, and various indy promotions throughout the world. Sorting the list down to only 10 was not an easy feat, but I think I’ve managed to pick out my favorite matches of the year.
As with all of my lists, your opinions will vary and differ from mine. This is simply how I saw wrestling in 2016. While there were thousands of matches to choose from, I selected the ten that most stuck out in my memory for being the best. Many of the people you will see below had various matches against the same opponent, but I selected only one of each of their encounters for variety purposes.
Without further delay, let’s look back on all of the grappling and pinfalls we witnessed in 2016, and count down:
MY TOP 10 FAVORITE MATCHES OF 2016
10. AJ Styles Vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, IWGP Intercontinental Championship, Wrestle Kingdom 10
It kind of sucks that Wrestle Kingdom always kicks off the year, because it can be hard to remember certain details about the matches that happened, even though I remember them being excellent. However, NJPW was able to bring us the incredible match-up of The Phenomenal One and the King of Strong Style, who would have a match that was both exciting and technically sound. Hard to believe that both of these guys would be in WWE less than three months after this incredible showing. Nakamura and Styles will meet again, and when they do, it will be seen by an even greater audience than last time.
9. Ricochet Vs. Will Ospreay, Best of the Super Juniors, NJPW 5/27/16
We all know that the Super Junior division of New Japan is exciting. So when a match that’s already expected to drop jaws gets EVERYONE talking – for better or worse, right Vader? – it’s hard to argue the appeal of the match. This is the match that made Will Ospreay and opened up countless doors for him. It also got even more eyes on Lucha Libre star Ricochet, who also plays the Prince Puma character in Lucha Underground. If you haven’t seen this match, look it up on YouTube. You won’t be disappointed.
8. Charlotte Vs. Sasha Banks Vs. Becky Lynch, WWE Women’s Championship, WrestleMania 32
WWE right now has the best women’s division they’ve ever had. With the amount of girls who can go and wrestle exciting and scientific styles, they’ve collectively surpassed the last great era of women’s wrestling, led by Trish Stratus and Lita. It was only fitting that WWE would showcase three of their best up-and-coming talents on the grandest stage of them all, and do so in a marquee match that absolutely tore the house down. In fact, pure wrestling wise, it may have been the best match of the night. While the lackluster roster split will prevent these three from being in the same ring again for a while, they can always look back on this triple threat encounter and be proud of what they did.
7. Shinsuke Nakamura Vs. Samoa Joe, NXT Championship, NXT TakeOver Brooklyn II
Nakamura is on the list again, and not for the last time either. The dominant Samoa Joe had already crushed Finn Balor and a slew of NXT talent, but would eventually be stopped by the King of Strong Style himself. Shinsuke Nakamura would enter the ring to an amazing violin solo playing his super-catchy theme song, and proceed to have an incredibly hard-hitting match with the Samoan wrecking machine. While these two would meet several other times during the year – all in great matches – the story of Nakamura’s first championship win over Joe would be the best story they would tell together, and that’s why it was my favorite out of all their matches.
6. AJ Styles Vs. John Cena, WWE Championship, SummerSlam
Despite being at the top of the cards for the past 10 years, and having countless jaded fans turn their nose up at him, John Cena proved in 2016 that he can still go and find new ways to re-invent himself. All he needed with a new opponent to motivate him and bring out the best in him. He’d get that with the Phenomenal AJ Styles, in an epic encounter at WWE’s biggest show of the summer that tore the house down. People weren’t happy that AJ’s previous victories had involved interference from his colleagues Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, and many fans were claiming that AJ couldn’t beat Cena clean. Well, AJ Styles did just that at SummerSlam, and John Cena had one of his best matches ever to boot. Even the biggest Cena hater had to admit that this was a damn good match.
5. Charlotte Vs. Sasha Banks, WWE Women’s Championship, Monday Night Raw 7/25/16
The very first Raw of the new era (the brand extension) saw Sasha Banks get her rematch against Charlotte for the WWE Women’s Championship, before it became a Raw exclusive title. Sasha had been chasing the big one all year, and she would finally get her moment by dethroning the queen in a fantastic match filled with emotion. The Charlotte and Sasha feud would get bigger, including a Hell in a Cell match and a Raw main event, but WWE was good to give us the great emotional first chapter of their new era by having fan favorite Sasha finally earn what she deserved. Sasha Banks is a Legit Boss!
4. Kevin Owens Vs. Sami Zayn, WWE Payback
“You and I are destined to do this forever.” These immortal words sum up the history that Owens and Zayn have with each other, dating back to their vicious matches in Ring of Honor as Kevin Steen and El Generico, respectively. Owens and Zayn would meet tons of times in 2016, at various Raws and PPVs, but it was their match at Payback that turned all the heads. A purely story and emotion driven match that was executed with perfect pacing and psychology, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn proved that they not only deserve to be in WWE, but they will be at the top of WWE for a very long time. Some people have even said that Owens and Zayn could be the modern-day Bret Hart Vs. Shawn Michaels feud, and it’s hard to argue against that. At least they won’t screw each other over in real life. We hope.
3. Sexy Star Vs. Mariposa, No Mas Match, Lucha Underground 5/4/16
In Lucha Underground, the girls are booked to be on par with the guys at all levels. Because of this, it’s hard to find a true women’s match in the Temple, let alone one that puts all the fans of the edge of their seats. Leave it to Sexy Star and Mariposa (Cheerleader Melissa) to have not only the best women’s match of 2016 but also one of the best overall matches of the year in their showdown from season two in May. A No Mas match is the same as an I Quit match, except for the words that are spoken to end the battle. Sexy and Mariposa beat the living hell out of each other, in a match that would make hardcore ECW fans sit up and take notice. Their bloody and violent brawl culminated with Sexy Star quite literally telling Mariposa to go fuck herself. Sexy Star would later win the Lucha Underground Championship at Aztec Warfare, becoming only the second female in history to win a major American promotion’s top championship.
2. #DIY (Johnny Gargano & Tomosso Ciampa) Vs. The Revival (Dash Wilder & Scott Dawson), 2 Out Of 3 Falls Match, NXT Tag Team Championship, NXT TakeOver Toronto
Professional wrestling matches are rarely ever perfect. So when you get a match that’s as perfect as perfect can be, it can shock you, amaze you, and exhaust you all at the same time. An extremely simple story: Gargano and Ciampa simply can’t defeat the Revival, and this is their final shot to get the tag team titles. Driven by determination to be the best and make up for their past failures, #DIY would put the boots to the southern brawlers and perform the ultimate redemption storyline in WWE. For such a simple concept, it was executed beyond anyone’s expectations, and became WWE.com’s personal pick for Match of the Year. It’s not hard to see why. Go watch this epic 2 out of 3 falls match, and you’ll understand. You may also get emotional, so keep the Kleenex handy.
Before we announce number one, here are a few honorable mentions.
-Kazuchika Okada Vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, IWGP Heavyweight Championship, Wrestle Kingdom 10
-TJ Perkins Vs. Kota Ibushi, WWE Cruiserweight Classic Semi-Finals, 9/14/16
-Dolph Ziggler Vs. The Miz, Career Vs. Intercontinental Title, No Mercy
-Rey Mysterio Jr. Vs. Chavo Guerrero Jr., Loser Leaves Lucha Underground, 11/2/16
-Finn Balor Vs. Samoa Joe, NXT Championship, NXT TakeOver Dallas
-Bayley Vs. Asuka, NXT Women’s Championship, NXT TakeOver Dallas
-Jay Lethal Vs. Jay Briscoe, ROH World Championship, Ring of Honor Best in the World
And now, for #1:
1. Shinsuke Nakamura Vs. Sami Zayn, NXT TakeOver Dallas
Easily my favorite match of all of 2016 happened at the TakeOver Dallas show right before WrestleMania 32. Sami Zayn was having his swan song in NXT, and was moving up to the main roster full-time. Before he left, he had one last opponent – the debuting King of Strong Style, Shinsuke Nakamura. As incredible as the match was, it was even more amazing to know that it was called entirely in the ring. Zayn and Nakamura, true blue professionals at their craft, only needed to know the finish to go out there and have a five-star classic match. The WWE Universe was introduced to Shinsuke Nakamura that evening, and gave both men a standing ovation when the match was done. Not only was this my favorite match of 2016, but it’s up there as one of my favorite matches of all time. There’s a reason both of these guys are among my favorite acts to watch in WWE right now.
What were your favorite matches in 2016? Leave them in the comments, and let’s look forward to what 2017 will bring us in the world of professional wrestling!
I just hope the matches we get in 2017 will be as good as the matches I listed above!