Happy New Year everyone. Whether you’re suffering from a celebratory hangover or feeling the pain of rooting for a football team that won’t be playing for a championship, let part two of my favorite matches from 2016 cure what ails you. If you missed part one you can check it out here.
I want to start out with a few honorable mentions that just narrowly missed making my favorites list but are certainly worth acknowledging.
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Killshot vs. Dante Fox–Lucha Underground 11-23-16
An interesting back story and no expectations allowed these guys to blow away the “believers” in the LU Temple in this bad-ass, action packed hidden gem.
Video Credit: WWEShowOFF channel; YouTube
American Alpha vs The Revival(NXT Tag Team Titles) 2 out of 3 Falls Match- NXT 7-6-16
Somehow managing to raise the bar from their wrestling clinics at Takeover: Dallas and Takeover: The End, these two teams clashed again in another instant classic that would see the “Top Guys” of NXT narrowly escape with their titles.
Video Credit: WWE channel; YouTube
Cedric Alexander vs. Kota Ibushi – WWE Cruiserweight Classic 8-10-16
Big fan of both guys and was pleased they had THE match of a highly entertaining Cruiserweight Classic tournament. WWE hiring Cedric afterward was also a very cool moment.
Video Credit: WWE channel; YouTube
Kyle O’Reilly vs. Adam Cole (ROH World Title) No DQ Match –ROH Final Battle 12-2-16
ROH’s biggest show of the year would close with a wild match between bitter rivals for the world title as Kyle O’Reilly would finally capture the ROH World Championship.
Video Credit: StingerHighlightsHD channel; YouTube
Hirooki Goto vs Kenny Omega- G1 Climax Final 8-14-16
Kenny Omega would summon the spirits of some of New Japan’s most notable departures to become the first foreigner to ever win the G1 climax tournament.
Video Credit: Jester channel; DailyMotion
A methodical masterpiece by two of the best, the Samoan Submission Machine and Sami Zayn went at it for an entire episode of NXT to determine the number one contender to the NXT Title. These two emptied their arsenals transitioning from technical counter and submission wrestling, to high flying and strike based violence seamlessly as they traded falls in this near hour contest. After a grueling match it was Samoa Joe who would earn the victory propelling him back to an NXT Title main event at Takeover: Dallas, and sending Sami Zayn to a clash with the King of Strong Style.
Video Credit: HTWsHighlights channel; YouTube
7. Okada vs. Tanahashi – G1 Climax Tournament 8-12-16
A variety of story-lines converged to up the ante for what was already expected to be another match of the year candidate from New Japan’s top hands. Following their match in January at Wrestle Kingdom which saw Okada finally defeat Tanahashi in the Tokyo Dome, seven months later the last two winners of the vaunted G1 Climax tournament would meet again in the finals of Block A. A win by either man would send them to the finals, but a draw would clinch a spot for Hirooki Goto. Okada sought to win the tournament as IWGP Heavyweight Champion and Tanahashi looked to put an exclamation point on a successful return from injury; both attempting to prove to the other once again that they were the best in New Japan. An intense, must-see contest, this match personified the excitement and high match quality the G1 tournament is known for. In a 30 minute time limit draw, each man would keep the other from achieving his goal and blur the answer to the question: Who really is “The Man” in New Japan Pro Wrestling?
Video Credit: Jester channel; DailyMotion. Match starts around 15 minute mark
6. The Young Bucks vs. The Kingdom vs. ReDragon Philly Street Fight – ROH TV Episode 226 1-16-16
Ring announcers…commentators…valets…no one was safe in this one. One of the most fun matches of the year to watch, these three teams would compete with nothing on the line but the desire to win and entertain the raucous Philly crowd in the former ECW arena. They succeeded. Non-stop bad-ass action, exciting weapon shots, table spots and a Fatality Finish that is just too sweet to miss secure this match’s place on this list in an illustration of just how fun and entertaining professional wrestling can be.
Video credit: Brutuske Jay channel; YouTube
5. AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (IWGP Intercontinental Title) – Wrestle Kingdom 10 1-4-16
I suffered through the headache of deciphering the Japanese language order page for New Japan World, the streaming service of NJPW (luckily now there is an English language page) and then stayed up until 6 A.M. for the sole purpose of seeing this dream match between the two best performers in the world. Kept apart for two years, the Phenomenal One and the King of Strong Style would finally do battle in the Tokyo Dome in each man’s final singles competition as a part of New Japan Pro Wrestling, in a fantastic match that more than exceeded the hype. No interference. No controversy. Just awesomeness from the onset of their entrances. This back and forth battle would see Nakamura retain his title and in a sign of respect, fist bump Styles after the match. While 2016 was undoubtedly the “year of the Phenomenal One” it began with this match. Little did we all know that their fist bump would be a sign both men were coming for the best of WWE, with Styles and Nakamura finishing 2016 as WWE and NXT champion respectively.
Video Credit: TD Factor channel; DailyMotion
4. DIY vs. The Revival – 2 out of 3 Falls for the NXT Tag Team Championship Takeover: Toronto 11-19-16
In one of the greatest tag team matches I’ve ever seen these four men brought the house down in Toronto. The Revival’s in-ring psychology is unparalleled in the world of professional wrestling and this match with Ciampa and Gargano served as a master class on the art of tag team wrestling. With innovative moves, dramatic moments and the crowd in the palm of their hands throughout, these two teams stole the show and even in defeat, the Revival cemented their place as the greatest tag team in NXT history.
Video Credit: WWE Channel; YouTube
3. AJ Styles vs. John Cena – WWE SummerSlam 8-21-16
In a match that should have main-evented the summer’s biggest show, AJ Styles and John Cena pushed each other to their breaking points in front of a sold out Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. With each man surviving the other’s best finishing and submission moves, the raucous crowd would be brought to their feet following a shocking kick out by Styles. The expression of disbelief, bewilderment and uncertainty on the face of Cena made for one of the most unforgettable moments of the year. Defiantly Styles would rise to his feet and in a stunning turn of events beat John Cena clean on WWE’s second biggest show of the year supplanting Cena as “the face that runs the place” in a marquee victory that would propel him to his first WWE Championship only a month later.
Video Credit: WWE Channel; YouTube
2. Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – Takeover: Dallas 4-2-16
It didn’t just steal the show. It didn’t just steal WrestleMania weekend. Sami Zayn’s NXT swan song and Shinsuke Nakamura’s debut stole the entire year from every other performer in WWE. Regardless of what pro wrestling style you fancy, this match has something for you. If you like technical catch wrestling, they do it. If you’re a fan of unique submission offense, they do it. A fan of high risk? Its in there. If you like it when guys just smash each other in the face as hard as they can with fists, feet, knees and over two minutes of straight forearm shots, they do it. Eliciting chants of “fight forever” from the energetic Texas crowd, the story-telling, psychology and execution displayed by these world class performers will have you watching this match again and again.
Video Credit: WWE Channel; YouTube
1. Tetsuya Naito vs. Kenny Omega – G1 Climax Tournament 8-13-16
The two villainous leaders of New Japan’s most popular factions would meet with a berth in the finals of the G1 Climax Tournament on the line. The outlandish “Don” of the Bullet Club would seek to join Rick Rude and Karl Anderson as the only foreigners to compete in the finals, while the head of Los Ingobernables was on a mission to claim his second G1 title and take his place in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom that he felt he was robbed of in 2014. While I’m not the biggest fan of either guy, the heel vs heel dynamic added to the intrigue of the match and the crispness and smoothness of their performance is impossible to deny. Featuring some outside elements and spots that did not appear in Nakamura vs. Zayn, and having watched it back several times, I feel this was the most complete match from start to finish that 2016 had to offer. Emerging victorious in this match Kenny Omega would go on to win the G1 Climax Tournament putting the cherry on top of a career year that saw him transition from a junior to a true heavyweight, assume the leadership role of the Bullet Club by taking out AJ Styles, earn victories over Nakamura and Tanahashi and capture the IWGP Intercontinental and newly minted 6-Man Tag Team Titles. He heads into Wrestle Kingdom 11 this week to face Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Title in a match that I’m sure will more than earn its place as the main event of New Japan’s biggest show of the year.
Video Credit: WrestlingVideos channel; DailyMotion
2016 was a banner year in the world of professional wrestling and if you haven’t seen some of these matches or even some of these companies I hope you take the time to check them out. There is so much quality pro wrestling out there and so many different entertaining styles to enjoy.
I want to close this out with an awesome quote from Stone Cold Steve Austin he used when sharing his thoughts on Will Ospreay vs. Ricochet: “If you love this match, more power to you. If you hate this match, more power to you. Its like I always say, professional wrestling is purely subjective. So whatever I like and you hate or vice versa, as long as you have an opinion, nobody’s right and nobody’s wrong.”