My Two Centsss - These are the Seven Best WWE Matches AND Wrestlers of 2016
By Super Chrisss
Dec 28, 2016 - 2:59:45 PM
Tom Jenner rocks!
Hello once again, wrestling world. I hope you’ve been following and enjoying the look back at WWE/NXT in 2016 with me, as it was a great year for the “smarter” fan base. We saw the likes of Dean Ambrose, AJ Styles and Kevin Owens all capture world titles. We witnessed the debuts of international stars like Shinsuke Nakamura, Gallows & Anderson and Bobby Roode. I, personally, was ecstatic to see the brand split come back into full effect for the first time in years. Coincidentally, about half of the matches on today’s list come from SmackDown-exclusive rivalries. Before we count them down, just a reminder that like I did for NXT, only ONE encounter between the same wrestlers will be included here (so don’t expect the top three to consist of nothing but Miz vs. Ziggler, for example). That cool? Cool.
BUT FIRST, here’s a look back at last year’s top seven WWE matches:
7. Open Challenge for the United States Championship: John Cena vs. Sami Zayn (Raw)
6. 2/3 Falls Match for the WWE Tag Team Championship: The New Day vs. Tyson Kidd & Cesaro (PayBack)
5. Hell in a Cell Match: Roman Reigns vs. Bray Wyatt (HIAC)
4. Open Challenge for the United States Championship: John Cena vs. Cesaro (Raw)
3. Ladder Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose (Money in the Bank)
2. John Cena vs. Kevin Owens (Battleground/Elimination Chamber/Money in the Bank)
1. Triple Threat for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship: John Cena vs. Seth Rollins vs. Brock Lesnar
Wow, I almost forgot how much Cena dominated the in-ring game back in 2015. While the leader of the Cenation won’t be as prominent on this year’s list – mainly because of inactivity – he did put on some great matches when he was around. The question is, how many of those matches made the top seven? Let’s find out…
7. Last Man Standing Match for the Intercontinental Championship: Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens (Royal Rumble)
We start off with an oldie but a goodie. For the second consecutive year, a match from the Royal Rumble Pay-Per-View makes the final cut. Unlike 2015, where Lesnar vs. Rollins vs. Cena was the runaway winner for many people, 2016 was a very strong in-ring year for WWE. I could realistically list fifteen MOTY candidates and probably still have a few more memorable encounters waiting on the sidelines. As a result, Ambrose vs. Owens – the first match on the first PPV of 2016 – set a very high standard for their peers to emulate. Hell, both men will make additional appearances by the time this column reaches its final sentence.
What made their Last Man Standing Match so special was a combination of many things. Dean Ambrose was on fire as one of the hottest babyfaces in the company; meanwhile, his adversary Kevin Owens was coming off an impressive Intercontinental Championship reign himself. Many fans – myself included – have given props to Dolph Ziggler and The Miz for restoring prestige to that very same championship in recent months. But the truth is, Ambrose and KO did a great job themselves of making that title matter during the first quarter of 2016. Their LMS was a great display of how both superstars were willing to do whatever it took to escape the Rumble as the IC Champion. After a very even, grueling match, Ambrose was able to capitalize at the very last second by sending Owens crashing off the top turnbuckle into TWO tables KO had earlier set up himself. It was the epitome of a clutch victory for The Lunatic Fringe and a good example of why both men were deserving of winning world titles as the year progressed.
6. Kota Ibushi vs. Cedric Alexander (Cruiserweight Classic – Second Round)
Our only non-Pay-Per-View match comes to us from the WWE Network’s summer hit, the Cruiserweight Classic. As someone who only follows WWE, I was unfamiliar with the majority of the thirty-two men participating in the tournament. With the exception of former and current stars like The Brian Kendrick, Tajiri and Johnny Gargano, this was my first time watching most of these guys compete (side note: I knew TJ Perkins as Manik/Suicide from TNA; I disliked him back then and hate him even more now that he dropped the mask). Despite my raw knowledge of these cruiserweights, the video team, the announce team of Mauro Ranallo & Daniel Bryan and the competitors themselves did an excellent job of making me care about these unknown entities which further allowed me to pick favourites.
While neither guy was my stand-out performer from the CWC (those honours go to Jack Gallagher and Brian Kendrick), I was amazed watching Kota Ibushi take on Cedric Alexander in the second round. Much like Zayn vs. Nakamura, there was little to no backstory going into their battle, but it was still one of the greatest exhibition matches I saw all year-long. The moves they hit were jaw-dropping, the action was exhilarating and the crowd was going ape-shit for both men. Despite being the heavy favourite, it seemed many times that Ibushi would fall to the lesser-known Alexander, but that didn’t take away from any of the near-falls’ drama. Ibushi would end up winning, but with the crowd chanting “Please Hire Cedric” after the match, prompting Triple H to come out and acknowledge the chants, was Alexander really a loser here? Great spectacle.
5. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn (Battleground)
As someone who has essentially eliminated Raw from his viewing schedule since early November, I can consider this match the final chapter in the Kevin Owens/Sami Zayn rivalry which dates all the way back to their time in NXT. It still baffles me how both men ended up on the exact same brand after the draft took place despite this being billed as their final encounter. With Owens going onto win the Universal Championship and Zayn floundering since Battleground, you have to wonder why Zayn wasn’t sent to SmackDown, who is hurting for top level babyfaces. That being said, all post-Battleground booking aside, Owens vs. Zayn had an amazing match back in July. In my opinion, they not only topped their PayBack match by a large margin, but also put their wars in NXT to shame as well.
Other than the insane spots they hit during the contest – both of which involved one or the other taking a nasty bump off the ring apron – it was the story they told that really hooked you in. Prior to Battleground, Zayn had scored a victory over his arch-nemesis on only one other occasion since both men joined WWE; therefore, many people wondered/doubted if Zayn could finally get one over on Owens. With a vocal crowd showing their support for both men, Zayn managed to survive a Pop-Up Powerbomb and hit not one, but TWO Helluva Kicks, putting KO down for the decisive victory. This match was a great example of how Zayn plays an awesome, sympathetic babyface and Owen the conniving heel. Their rivalry really should have concluded at Battleground – there was no need for two random rematches on Raw months later.
4. Fatal-4-Way Match for the Intercontinental Championship: The Miz vs. Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn (Extreme Rules)
Making his third and final appearance on this year’s countdown, Owens had the unfortunate task of trying to win back his Intercontinental Championship at Extreme Rules which also featured three other men: Miz, the new IC Champion; Cesaro, who had almost won the IC Championship a month earlier at PayBack; and Owens’ rival, Zayn. Going into Extreme Rules, I remember thinking the card felt a bit weak because WWE decided to merge two of their hotter midcard matches from PayBack (Owens/Zayn and Miz/Cesaro) into one match, thus creating a void for another marquee match on the card. However, the Fatal-4-Way we witnessed that night served as a stark reminder that quality > quantity. Neither Owens vs. Zayn or Cesaro vs. Miz was considered the match of the night at PayBack but all four men worked brilliantly well together at Extreme Rules to produce one of 2016’s greatest matches. Fatal-4-Ways are known to be redundant in structure, but Miz, Owens, Cesaro and Zayn worked their magic to create something unique, something awesome. There were so many near-falls and breath-taking sequences that one mere re-watch would prove to be insufficient. This is one of those matches that was not only amazing the night of, but I predict aging better over time. Fantastic stuff from everyone involved.
3. Career vs. Title Match: The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler (No Mercy)
2016 was a very good year for the Intercontinental Championship. As I mentioned about a week ago in my “Best Feuds of 2016” column, the rivalry between Miz and Ziggler for the IC Championship has helped elevate the title to top-tier status. I argued that the IC Championship – thanks to these two men – is actually more prestigious than the Universal Championship, whose champion (Kevin Owens) has been booked terribly and overshadowed by the over-ness of Chris Jericho.
But I digress. It was never a question whether one of Miz and Ziggler’s matches from this past fall would end up on this year’s countdown. The question is which one would receive the nod over the others. In the end, I settled with the Career vs. Title match from No Mercy because much like Charlotte vs. Sasha at Hell in a Cell, this felt like the peak of their rivalry and the one I was the most emotionally invested in. That being said, I would have had zero issue with anyone preferring their initial encounter from Backlash or their Ladder Match from TLC instead; each time these guys locked up in 2016, something special happened. The brand split and ending up on SmackDown have been the best things to happen to both men’s respective careers, as they went from being borderline irrelevant to being one of the featured matches/programs on every card they wrestled on for the remainder of 2016. Who knows what 2017 has in store for The Awesome One and The Showoff, but I will never forget the amazing matches they wrestled these past few months, and neither should you.
2. John Cena vs. AJ Styles (SummerSlam)
John Cena came THIS close to being a back-to-back winner of MOTY. Nonetheless, Styles and Cena tore the motherf’n house down at SummerSlam. In fact, some people might argue that Cena vs. Styles saved SummerSlam this year. With every other match on the card unfortunately failing to deliver (Lesnar/Orton, Ambrose/Ziggler, Rollins/Balor), AJ Styles and John Cena worked their butts off to ensure the Brooklyn audience got their money’s worth. Seriously, as much as I enjoyed TakeOver: Brooklyn II the night before, nothing on that card or SummerSlam came close to matching the quality of Styles/Cena II. I know some people aren’t a fan of the epic match style they wrestled (as some prefer the Styles/Ambrose style from Backlash, where a finisher ends the match), but how can any fan of sports entertainment honestly say they didn’t enjoy Cena vs. Styles in some fashion? Even if – for whatever reason – you didn’t like the action, you have to at least appreciate the IMPORTANCE of the match and outcome: Cena lost two straight singles matches to AJ Styles, with AJ’s second victory taking place on a major stage like SummerSlam. Furthermore, AJ would use the momentum from his shocking, and decisive, victory over Cena to capture the WWE Championship less than a month later and become the new “Face That Runs The Place”. While there’s no denying the awesomeness that is AJ Styles, one has to give a major assist to Cena for helping AJ successfully transition into a major WWE superstar.
1. Tables, Ladders and Chairs Match for the WWE Championship: AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose (TLC)
It’s only fitting that the two best wrestlers of 2016 end up having the best match of the year. Styles and Ambrose fought over the WWE Championship at all three SmackDown-exclusive Pay-Per-Views and all three were great matches (I would have placed their Backlash match at number one had the rematch at TLC never occurred). I know a lot of people were lukewarm about their feud – mainly due to the involvement of one James Ellsworth and said jobber’s win/loss record against AJ Styles – but I thought they had a unique rivalry. Any shortcomings they were met with outside the ring they more than made up for by banging out one 4+ star match after another several times from September-December. As for the TLC match itself, I’ve seen many people call it the best 1-on-1 version of that gimmick they’ve ever seen: I agree. While there were several high-risk and holy shit moments sprinkled throughout the action, I loved the story they told about simply trying to prove who was the best wrestler among them. Remember: the first quarter of 2016 belonged to Ambrose, while Styles owned the final quarter. In many ways, this match had more than the WWE Championship on the line – it was also about determining who would carry the new era of SmackDown into the new year. Styles may have emerged victorious thanks to an assist from Ellsworth, but don’t be surprised if this feud is revisited in Spring or Summer 2017.
As an Ambrose fan, I find it quite interesting that he had one of the best matches of the year competing for the Intercontinental Championship at the first PPV (Royal Rumble), only to end 2016 competing for the world title in an even better match in the main-event of the last PPV for his respective brand. Funny how that works sometimes.
5-on-5 Men’s Elimination Tag Team Match (Survivor Series)
WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles (Extreme Rules)
WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Dean Ambrose vs. Triple H (Roadblock)
Finally, based on what I thought were the best NXT/WWE matches AND feuds of the year, here are my top seven wrestlers/tag teams of the year:
7. Shinsuke Nakamura
6. Sami Zayn
5. The Miz
4. The Revival
3. Kevin Owens
2. Dean Ambrose
1. AJ Styles
And for those interested, here's how last year's top seven rounded out:
6. Kevin Owens
5. Finn Balor
4. The New Day
3. Roman Reigns
2. John Cena
1. Seth Rollins
YOUR Two Centsss: Do you agree or disagree with most of my picks?
UP NEXT: I make my predictions for 2017 - available on New Year's Eve!
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