A barrage of beloved celebrity deaths. A never ending political circus. A championship win by a Cleveland sports team. Many factors contribute to the notion that 2016 just wasn’t the best of years, however in the world of professional wrestling it was one of the best on record. Heated rivalries, historic firsts and game-changing debuts kept fans on the edge of their seats across promotions. The sheer amount of high quality matches across the likes of New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor, Lucha Underground and the WWE make compiling a list of the “best” matches a nearly impossible and completely subjective task. With that in mind, crack open a cold one, smoke em’ if you got em’ and enjoy some quality wrestling. These are some of my favorite matches from 2016.
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16. Prince Puma vs. Rey Mysterio – Ultima Lucha Dos 7-20-16
The culmination of Lucha Underground’s second season would attempt to answer the question: “Who is the King of Lucha Libre?” In a dream match up for fans, Rey Mysterio and Prince Puma would deliver an intense and exciting close to Ultima Lucha Dos. Rey Mysterio would prove he can still hang with the best in the game and that the veteran performer still has a lot left in the tank.
Video Credit:GreatWrestlingMatches Channel; DailyMotion.com
15. Kyle O’Reilly vs. Jay Lethal (ROH World Title)- ROH TV Episode 253 -7-23-16
Enraged that Kyle O’Reilly was receiving a title shot, Adam Cole and his Bullet Club brothers, the Young Bucks, would attack O’Reilly at the beginning of the show. Unleashing a vicious assault of relentless chair shots they would leave O’Reilly with a shoulder injury, putting his championship opportunity in jeopardy. Jay Lethal offered to postpone the match out of respect for his opponent who he had spent over a year fighting to draws and suffering defeats in non title bouts, but O’Reilly would have none of it. In my favorite piece of story-telling from Ring of Honor in 2016, Kyle O’Reilly would push Jay Lethal to the limit in his attempt to capture the Ring Of Honor World Title. The pain on O’Reilly’s face, the hesitation by the “bad guy” Lethal to take advantage of his injury and the heart of O’Reilly as he gutted it out to try and win the gold all combined to make this an excellent match. O’Reilly would rally with a variety of submissions coming so close to winning the championship, but in the end Jay Lethal would do what was necessary, target the injured shoulder of O’Reilly to retain his title. The facial expressions, the selling, the back and forth and the turn of Lethal from ROH’s top bad guy to respectful crowd favorite all made this a must-see match from 2016.
Video Credit: Ring of Honor Wrestling Channel; Youtube.com
14. Ishii vs Shibata (Never-Openweight Title) – Wrestle Kingdom 10
This was the stiffest, most brutal and hard hitting match of 2016 and blurred the line between reality and performance. Shibata and Ishii beat the hell out of each other for nearly 20 minutes for the Never Openweight Title at Wrestle Kingdom 10. Complete with kicks and forearm shots that would shatter bone these guys put on a unique and gutsy performance that has to be seen to be believed. The disturbing sound of their heads clanging together again and again echoing across the Tokyo Dome will stay with you.
Video Credit: Keese Channel; DailyMotion.com
13. Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte (RAW Women’s Championship) Falls Count Anywhere Match – Monday Night Raw 11-28-16
Taking the personal nature of their feud to the next level, Sasha Banks challenged for the RAW Women’s Title in Charlotte’s hometown of Charlotte North Carolina. This time the two would do battle in a Falls Count Anywhere Match as they main-evented Monday Night RAW once again. They held nothing back in this one, cracking each other with kendo sticks and brawling through the crowd. Charlotte would execute an amazing moonsault off the announce table onto Sasha as the drama would continue to heighten. Ultimately Banks, surrounded by fans, would force Charlotte between the bars of a steel railing and make her tap out with the Bank Statement. Delivering the receipt from her own hometown loss the month before, Banks captured her third championship. To top it off Banks would celebrate with Charlotte’s father Nature Boy Ric Flair after dedicating the match to him. These two would continue 2016’s fiercest rivalry for another month but the “Shocker in Charlotte” remains the best bout between the two.
Video Credit: WWE Channel; YouTube
12. Prince Puma vs. Mil Muertes in Grave Consequences – Lucha Underground “Ready for War” 11-9-16
Lucha Underground’s version of a Casket Match, Grave Consequences sought to close the lid on this feud once and for all. Mil Muertes had taken the Lucha Underground Title from Puma and laid waste to his friend and mentor Konnan. Pushed by Vampiro to take his retribution to the next level, Puma stepped up and challenged Muertes to his own match displaying a new level of viciousness from the onset of the bout. In the most complete showcase of what Lucha Underground is all about, these two displayed their ridiculous athleticism, brutalized each other with weapons and threw caution to the wind before the awe inspired screams of the “believers” in the Lucha Underground Temple in my favorite match from LU this year.
Video Credit: Lucha Underground Channel; YouTube
11. Will Ospreay vs. Ricochet – Best of the Super Juniors 5-27-16
In what might be the most divisive and controversial match of 2016, Will Ospreay and Ricochet aka Prince Puma took to the ring in New Japan’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament and went all out. The aerial artistry, agility, timing and balls of these guys to pull off some of the moves they do in this match is flat out insane. While the match rubbed many wrestling veterans from years past the wrong way…*cough Vader…cough, cough*…most agree that it is a unique and entertaining performance from two of the best high fliers in the world. Some of the counter and aerial sequences are so stunning that they were discussed on an episode of ESPN’s “Highly Questionable” hosted by Dan Le Batard shortly after the match aired. Watching it you’ll find yourself saying “Wow” and “Holy s%#@ that was cool” on more than a few occasions.
Video Credit: Jester Channel; DailyMotion
10. Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens vs. The Miz (Intercontinental Championship) WWE Extreme Rules 5-22-16
Four of WWE’s best did battle in a thrilling show stealer for the Intercontinental Championship. Kevin Owens sought to reclaim the title he was never beaten for while keeping his hated former friend under his thumb. Sami Zayn looked to keep the title from Owens’ grasp and claim it for himself. Cesaro was striving to put a stamp on his return from injury with championship gold and The Miz endeavored to keep his title by any means necessary with the odds firmly stacked against him. Near fall after near fall and counter after counter, this match was a four man highlight reel that elevated each performer and the prestige of the Intercontinental Title. Ultimately the animosity between Owens and Zayn would cost each the title, as the dastardly brilliance of the Miz overcame his three challengers and led to a successful defense of his title, a title he would hold for some time as he put together a career year in 2016.
Video Credit: WWE Channel; YouTube
9. The Motor City Machine Guns vs. The Young Bucks vs. The Addiction (ROH Tag Team Championship) Ladder War 6 -All-Star Extravaganza 9-30-16
Three of the world’s best tag teams shortened each others careers in this high octane, hyper-violent spectacle for the ROH Tag Team Titles. The wily veterans Christopher Daniels and Kazarian would attempt to fend off the relentless onslaught from the newly reformed Motor City Machine Guns: Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin, as well as one of the world’s most exciting teams the Young Bucks, and not only retain their titles but cement their place as one of the greatest tag teams in ROH history. Tables, ladders, chairs, blood and of course…super-kicks were all potent ingredients that when mixed together by these 6 men made Ladder War 6 one of 2016’s most memorable matches. Full of “holy s!$%” moments, it was a testament to the greatness of ROH’s tag team division and following one hellacious “Meltzer Driver” the Young Bucks would dethrone the champs and outlast the MCMG regaining the tag team titles.
Video Credit: Thanasis2299 Channel; DailyMotion.com
Stay tuned for the rest of my favorite matches from 2016 plus a nod to a few Honorable Mentions that are well worth a look as well.