TheSPORTbible Selects The Top 25 WWE Matches Of 2016
2016 has been a splendid year for professional wrestling, particularly in WWE. While one can critique the product on a weekly basis, fans have been spoilt by the quality of wrestling matches at pay-per-views and there has been such a diverse range of matches in terms of styles, stipulations and outcomes.
While the results of professional wrestling matches are pre-determined, evoking a reaction out of people and creating magic in the squared circle is not something you're average Joe is capable of doing and fortunately there has been plenty of magic served up this year.
And having assembled our wrestling aficionados together, we've decided to have a stab at picking our top 25 matches of 2016. Admittedly, it has been an incredibly tough task to narrow it down and these things are bound to cause debate, but here are the matches we have picked.
Triple H vs Dean Ambrose (Roadblock), Kevin Owens vs Seth Rollins (Hell in a Cell), Kota Ibushi vs TJ Perkins (Cruiserweight Classic), Kota Ibushi vs Brian Kendrick (Cruiserweight Classic), Team Raw vs Team Smackdown 10-on-10 Survivor Series tag team match (Survivor Series), Baron Corbin vs Kalisto (TLC), DIY vs The Revival (NXT Takeover: Brooklyn), AJ Styles vs Dean Ambrose vs John Cena (No Mercy), Kevin Owens vs Chris Jericho vs AJ Styles vs Cesaro (Raw), AJ Styles vs Dolph Ziggler vs Baron Corbin(Smackdown).
25. Finn Balor vs Samoa Joe (NXT TakeOver: Dallas)
Even though a few NXT fans were narked that Joe didn't come away with the title from TakeOver: Dallas, that shouldn't take anything away from a match that was a great natural progression of their initial match at TakeOver: London.
Balor's takeaway from his first encounter with Joe was that he didn't win, he survived and he wasn't exactly sure how he did it. This time, the champ throws everything at the SoCal native from the bell, and slices his face open within seconds for good measure. The only problem with this is for many people was the constant ref stoppages to try and stem the flow of claret from Joe's mush but if anything, these breathers worked into the story of the match, as they constantly allowed Balor to catch his breath between onslaughts so he could hang in the match long enough to have his wits about him to score the flash pin and escape with the title once more.
24. Dean Ambrose vs AJ Styles (TLC)
The TLC gimmick has been so overplayed in WWE and it's incredibly hard to produce anything that comes anywhere close to what the likes of Edge and Christian, The Hardy Boyz and The Dudley Boyz conjured up back in the day.
However, AJ Styles vs Dean Ambrose's TLC match in the final Smackdown pay-per-view of the year was a very good match and it deserves a place on the list.
The moment that undoubtedly made the match was Styles' unbelievable 450 splash through the table.
James Ellsworth costing Ambrose at the end of the match was a creative finish/chinish (get it, because he doesn't have a chin?).
23.The New Day vs Chris Jericho and AJ Styles - Raw
Back in March 2016 on an edition of Raw, the brief alliance of Chris Jericho and AJ Styles took on the New Day for the Tag Team Championships infront of a rabid Chicago crowd.
The match was one of the best TV matches of the year due to the excellent in-ring action and the element of unpredictability. The fact that Y2AJ had just brought out a new T-shirt, coupled with fans being totally invested, meant that few foresaw Chris Jericho turning on Styles after he lost the match.
22. Roman Reigns vs AJ Styles (Payback)
The flow of this match was slightly hurt by the inclusion of the Stephanie and Shane McMahon storyline but the two matched up superbly in the main event of this pay-per view for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
That phenomenal forearm through the announce table was worth the network subscription fee alone.
21. Shinsuke Nakamura vs Samoa Joe (NXT Takeover: Toronto)
Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe main evented NXT's second Takeover show in Brooklyn, with The King of Strong Style breaking Joe's jaw and winning the NXT Championship.
I'm of the opinion that their next match at NXT Takeover: Toronto for the coveted strap was the better bout, with both men bringing more physicality and brutality to the table.
The monstrous Joe produced a shock win but Nakamura reclaimed the belt shortly after on a live show in his native Japan.
20. Sasha Banks vs Charlotte (Hell In A Cell)
Much was made of this 'history making' bout despite the fact Triple H had to apparently spend every waking hour convincing big Vince that it was the right idea to go on last. Opinion was split on the quality of the match, with a couple of spots being blown, but credit where it's due, Charlotte and Sasha didn't hold back and, Brock vs 'Taker at last year's event aside, managed to produced one of the most brutal cell matches in years that, most importantly, felt worthy of being inside the steel.
Sasha may have almost died about eight times and the call back to Mick Foley's King Of The Ring stretcher spot may have been about as subtle as a house brick but with so many modern cell matches merely being no holds barred affairs that barely use the mesh, Charlotte and Sasha deserve all the credit in the world for throwing caution to the wind and bludgeoning each other to within an inch of each other's lives. Well played, ladies. Here's to many more women's main events.
19. Wrestlemania 7-Man Ladder Match For The IC Title
Ordinarily I'm not a fan of the 'let's just stick a load of blokes who deserve to be on the WrestleMania card into one giant match because we've not got space for them in separate matches' but the Intercontinental Title match at this year's 'Mania was as enjoyable a multi-man ladder match the 'Grandest Stage Of All' has ever seen. Even if did mean we had to settle for Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn punching each other in the face at Payback and BattleGround rather than WrestleMania.
The pair still shortened each other's careers sufficiently enough, here with Owens doing his best 'Homer Simpson bent over a fire hydrant' impression when Zayn bodied him onto an upturned ladder. And, can we just say 'fucking well done, mate' to Sami Zayn for having the weekend of his fucking life in Dallas at the beginning of April? This effort came two nights after he'd been Kinshasa'd into oblivion by fucking Shinsuke Nakamura and he was still the match MVP. Also, kudos to Sin Cara for not completely ballsing up his 'ladder-top rope-somersault plancha' spot that he somehow made look stupendously effortless. Also, thumbs up to Zack Ryder for being rewarded with one of the most genuine and long overdue WrestleMania moments of all time.
18. American Alpha vs The Revival I - Joe
Now 2016 is over, it's glaringly obvious that this is The Revival's world and we're all just living in it. While The New Day were breaking records because half of Demolition was suing the WWE, Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder were fucking up everyone's faces in NXT. What was even better was the fact that Dash and Dawson had some pretty fucking great dance partners, too. While their 2/3 falls effort with DIY at TakeOver: Toronto caused the internet wrestling community to melt, their first TakeOver meeting with American Alpha, in Dallas laid the foundations for what would turn out to be a Hallmark year for your new favourite tag team.
Their clashes with Chad Gable and Jason Jordan would improve as their series developed but, with the good fortune of being in attendance for this little beauty over WrestleMania weekend, I've personally got to err towards the Dallas effort being my personal favourite. While Alpha's reign was short lived (not that they'll mind given their the SmackDown tag champs, now), the reaction inside the arena when they finally nailed Grand Amplitude and got the 1,2,3 is a moment that will remain with me forever.
17. Sheamus vs Cesaro (Clash Of Champions)
Sheamus and Cesaro had wrestled each other about 65 times leading up this pay-per-view match which was scheduled to be the absolute decider in the best of seven series between the two.
And though the match didn't have a definitive outcome and the series ended 3-3, it was a joy to watch such a hard-hitting, brutal encounter between two of the toughest competitors in the world.
Cesaro landing on his head after a dangerous dive was a heart-in-the mouth moment but really added to the drama of the match.
Sheamus told us that he felt the whole programme with Cesaro revitalised him and the two have since gone on to become Raw Tag Team Champions, so it all worked out nice and dandy in the end.
16. Kevin Owens vs Dean Ambrose (Royal Rumble)
In a year where both of these men achieved their greatest accomplishments, their finest moments came away from their respective world title reigns. This match was one of those moments and served as an indicator that big things were awaiting them both in 2016.
Being that Owens and Ambrose are at their best when they're destroying themselves and their opponents, a Last Man Standing match was the perfect way to cap their Intercontinental Title feud. Within seconds they're clubbing each other in the face and Ambrose is biting Owens' head. KO bumps like a maniac to make Ambrose's usually flimsy as fuck offense look like he's taking bombs from Vader while the Champ's sometimes wearisome wackiness lends itself perfectly to an over the top 20 minutes of utter chaos that culminates with a perfectly OTT double table spot. The pair's knackered appearances in the Rumble match later on lended even more credibility to their efforts in this bout, too.
15. Sasha Banks vs Charlotte (Raw)
There have been about 84 title changes between Sasha Banks and Charlotte in recent months as they had multiple matches and swapped the belt about.
The very first Raw Women's Title match they had was definitely the best in the series.
On the first Raw after the brand split, the flagship show marked its new era with a stunning match that saw Sasha Banks and Charlotte continue the meteoric rise of women's wrestling in the WWE.
The crowd were fully engaged in this one and the arena erupted when the Boss scored the win, via the Bank Statement.
14. Roman Reigns vs Seth Rollins (Money In The Bank)
There is a notion that Roman Reigns cannot wrestle and this match was further evidence that he is in fact a pretty ace wrestler.
At Money in the Bank, Reigns and former shield ally Seth Rollins, who had returned from a lengthy spell on the sidelines after tearing his ACL, MCL and meniscus back in November, squared off for the world title in the main event.
Rollins looked like he had never been anyway and though Reigns was loudly booed, his in-ring performance was not shabby at all.
The spear into a Pedigree spot was sublime.
And there were two huge shocks in the main event: first Rollins beat Reigns clean in his first match before drama followed when Dean Ambrose, who had won the Money in the Bank briefcase earlier in the night, attacked Rollins after the match and successfully cashed in his briefcase - meaning all three former Shield members held the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in the same night.
13. American Alpha vs The Revival II (NXT Takeover: The End)
2016 has been a great year for tag-team wrestling, particularly in NXT.
One of the very best tag-team matches of the year took place in at Full Sail University, where American Alpha and The Revival continued their epic rivalry.
Like the previous encounter where Chad Gable and Jason Jordan tore the roof when they hit the pinfall, the styles of the two teams meshed wonderfully in this 2 out of 3 falls match and The Revival becoming two-time NXT Tag Team Champions was a genuine shock.
12. Shinsuke Nakamura vs Finn Balor (NXT)
Easily the best match to take place on NXT TV this year, two men who made their name in Japan squared off and made magic in the ring.
The match was Balor's final televised appearance in NXT and saw him give the rub to Nakamura, who then went on to become a two-time NXT Champion.
11. Kota Ibushi vs Cedric Alexander (Cruiserweight Classic)
One of the very best matches in the Cruiserweight Classic, two of the most naturally gifted performers in the world today displayed their unbelievable athleticism in the round of 16.
The match was back and forth, so much so that the outcome of the match was not predictable and that is not always an easy achievement in professional wrestling. Full Sail university came unglued on several occasions when the two busted out all sorts of crazy moves.
The Japanese sensation Ibushi was the victor but both men looked like a million bucks.
Triple H acknowledging the "Please sign Cedric" chants and coming through the curtain to congratulate the unsigned high-flyer was absolutely brilliant.
10. Roman Reigns vs AJ Styles (Extreme Rules)
All that 'You can't wrestle' gubbins Roman Reigns has had to deal with over the past two years was well and truly laid to rest this year, wasn't it? As if the big Samoan's exploits in The Shield and subsequent matches with the likes of Brock Lesnar, Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose and Sheamus weren't proof enough, 'The Guy' has spent 2016 working his bollocks off and tearing the house down on a regular basis.
Of course, when your opponent is the best wrestler in the world, it's always going to be rather easy to produce magic, but Reigns more than held his own in his matches with AJ Styles, and the three time WWE Champion was at his monstrous best against 'The Phenomenal One' who bounced all over the Prudential Centre in New Jersey like Zebedee on a line of cheap whizz.
The extreme rules rematch between the pair had a real wild Attitude Era main event feel to it, with both men pasting each other with everything and anything and of course, the return of Seth Rollins after Reigns had retained was a most welcome bonus.
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9. The Miz vs Kevin Owens vs Sami Zayn vs Cesaro (Extreme Rules)
There's a belief by some fans that there is a 'WWE style' whereby outside performers have to tone down their style and work safer and less impactful.
This match did not follow that trend. The fatal four-way was basically an independent wrestling match with a WWE gloss on it. It helped that three of the best wrestlers to come from the independents were involved, but The Miz, who would win the match, more than played his part.
Zayn hitting his Helluva Kick finisher from the off on arch-rival Owens was absolutely incredible.
They moved at a rapid pace, did some crazy spots and all four men had a realistic chance of winning.
Having these four superstars slug it out really helped elevate the Intercontinental Championship.
8. Charlotte vs Sasha Banks vs Becky Lynch (Wrestlemania 32)
The WWE's so called 'Women's Revolution' may be a convenient way to airbrush a history of questionably presenting the majority of female talent as little more than sex objects, but credit where it's due, the past year, Vinnie Mac and co have shone a light on the women's division to such a degree it's the best part of the WWE that's not named The Revival or Shinsuke Nakamura.
Given how the last two matches at this year's WrestleMania were (Shane McMahon's bonkers Hell In A Cell freefall excluded) such drab affairs, the triple threat for the newly reestablished Women's Title (now the Raw Women's Title, post brand-split) effectively served as the main event the biggest event of the year deserved. Charlotte, Sasha and Becky established what has now become the strongest division on the main roster and did so in style, even if more than a few people were pissed off with Sasha not taking the title. However, given how The Boss barely escapes with her life in every major match she's in, keeping the faith with the terrifyingly talented Charlotte has proved to be best for business in the long run.
7. The Miz vs Dolph Ziggler (No Mercy)
The Miz and Dolph Ziggler have wrestled a number of times and no-one has really cared.
That's something that Dolph Ziggler admitted to us when we spoke over the phone in November.
But this bout at No Mercy, for the Intercontinental Championship, had a different feel to it. Ziggler had been embarrassed in the build-up to the match, with The Miz bringing all of the dark days of Dolph's career to light.
And so The Show-Off felt obliged to put his career on the line at the second Smackdown exclusive pay-per-view. He revealed that he was genuinely considering leaving and had been for some time.
All of this build-up led to an epic encounter between the two, where Ziggler stepped up to the park and produced a performance and a win that that appeared to breathe new life into him as a performer.
However, Ziggler would then lose the belt just a few weeks later, with Miz reclaiming the Intercontinental Title on the 900th episode of Smackdown.
6. Sami Zayn vs Kevin Owens (Battleground)
This match is a classic.
Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens have a long and storied history that spans over 14 years. They are former best friends, who travelled the independent scene in the hope of eventually getting a shot at the big-time.
Their epic rivalry took place in promotions like Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and Ring Of Honor, before they renewed their feud in NXT - when Owens brutally attacked Zayn after he won the NXT Championship.
It continued on the WWE main roster, with so many pull-apart brawls and a plethora of instances where one person cost the other huge opportunities.
So it was decided that they would settle their differences in a match at Battleground, where 14 years of history was rolled into one pay-per-view match.
When they got going, the match was magical and gave call-backs to their previous bouts in other companies - such as the brutal brainbuster Zayn delivered to Owens on the apron.
The ending sequence, where Zayn hit Owens with one Helluva Kick, caught him in his arms and then put in position for another was first-class storytelling.
5. Johnny Gargano vs Tommaso Ciampa (Cruiserweight Classic)
If I wanted a non-fan to understand what professional wrestling is all about, then this one would be one of the matches I would show them. It's a simple but effective story that is easy to follow.
It came as a major shock when Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa, who had competed as a tag-team on NXT, were pitted against one another in the first round of the Cruiserweight Classic tournament, when both looked nailed on to reach the latter stages. Yet nobody was complaining when the two served up an absolute barnstormer.
The in-ring action was so crisp and despite being partners, they absolutely battered each other with brutal strikes, knees and kicks. It is 10 minutes of two mates beating the shit of each other and it's really great viewing.
In what I felt was the best match of the tournament, Gargano picked up the win via roll-up.
The two mates, who had travelled around the globe honing their craft, sitting down and embracing in a WWE ring after a match like that was absolutely magical.
4. AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, Shane McMahon, and Bray Wyatt vs Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Braun Strowman
Going into Survivor Series, not too many fans were eagerly anticipating the five-on-five traditional Survivor Series match between Team Smackdown and Team Raw.
It was hard for fans to get behind the whole story between the two brands just months after the brand split, accompanied by the fact that the whole 'battle for brand supremacy' thing didn't really have much of a stipulation; there wasn't too much at stake in all truth.
Yet despite of all of that, the match totally delivered and it was one the very best matches of the year.
The match lasted a staggering 52 minutes but it didn't drag by any stretch of the imagination. Everything flowed well and every performer in the match got their chance to shine - including Braun Strowman, who was absolutely fantastic and played his role perfectly.
There were combustial elements, with Dean Ambrose costing his team by attacking Styles and so many mindblowing spots such as Shane McMahon being legitimately knocked out by a Roman Reigns spear, Randy Orton producing an RKO that really was 'Outta Nowhere' and then Orton taking a bullet, in the form of a Reigns spear, for his master Bray Wyatt to score the win.
There were combustial elements, with Dean Ambrose costing his team by attacking Styles and so many mindblowing spots such as Shane McMahon being legitimately knocked out by a Roman Reigns spear, Randy Orton producing an RKO that really was 'Outta Nowhere' and then Orton taking a bullet for his master Bray Wyatt to score the win.
3. AJ Styles vs John Cena (Summerslam)
You put John Cena, the face of WWE and a 15-time world champion, against some of the greatest wrestlers to ever emerge from the independent wrestling scene and you have a mouthwatering match.
Cena had unbelievable chemistry with CM Punk, and had wonderful battles with both Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins at Summerslam in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
At this year's Summerslam, Cena had another stellar bout against AJ Styles, a man who we never thought we would see in WWE despite his incredible talents.
Styles had debuted in the Royal Rumble, appeared at Wrestlemania and though he was in some splendid matches, he still wasn't being used to his full potential.
When Cena returned after a lengthy lay-off having undergone shoulder surgery, Styles made a real statement when he viciously attacked the WWE's main man - turning heel in the process.
Their match at Money in the Bank was fine and saw Styles win via outside interference, but their Summerslam match at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York was sensational and was easily the best match on the show.
The feud had been so well-built on Smackdown, with both men, who have totally different backgrounds, taking shots at one another.
It all fed in beautifully to their 23 minute match at the second biggest WWE event. An electric crowd and a great mesh of styles in the ring (pun intended) was the recipe for one of the best matches of the year.
For me personally, I watched this match in a hotel lobby in Ibiza on the WWE Network using naff Wifi - partially because I have no life but also because I could not contain my excitement for what these two could potentially produce.
They delivered and then some. So many near-falls had me thinking the match was over, in particular Cena's super Attitude Adjustment from the top rope, which Styles kicked out of.
AJ Styles beating John Cena clean as a whistle in the middle of the ring, after a Styles Clash and Phenomenal Forearm was pure shock value and gave myself and fellow WWE fans the impression that Vince McMahon and WWE now realised what a phenomenal (couldn't resist) talent they had in Styles.
He would then go on to win the WWE Championship just a month later and end 2016 as the WWE Champion, the top guy on Smackdown and the very best wrestler in the world.
2. Shinsuke Nakamura vs Sami Zayn (NXT Takeover: Dallas)
Honestly, I should be able to write roughly 10,000 words on Nakamura's entrance alone, never mind the match itself. Two nights later I'd gawp at Shane McMahon plummeting 25 feet off the top of Hell In A Cell through an announce table and it still didn't come close to bearing witness to the former IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental champion making his WWE debut. It was surreal just seeing the self proclaimed 'King of Strong Style' swagger his way to the ring as if he was having some sort of sexy seizure while the 10,000 in attendance promptly lost their shit.
Watched a lot of the graps this year and absolutely nothing comes close to @ShinsukeN 's debut entrance at @WWENXT Dallas... pic.twitter.com/2AczqfnHKF
- Joe Baiamonte (@JoeBaia) December 31, 2016
Words can't really do the match justice. Sami Zayn deserves a medal larger than the sun for his effort and fair fucking play to Triple H for allowing this to be the NXT send off Sami deserved. The bloke was the heart and soul of NXT and without him, quite frankly, Triple H's Orlando territory doesn't explode in the way it has done over the past two years. Thank you, Sami.
The fans in attendance put it better than any drawn out review ever could - "Fight Forever! Fight Forever!" If they were still going at it now, I doubt any of us could have any complaints.
1. DIY vs The Revival( NXT Takeover: Toronto)
It wasn't an easy choice by any stretch of the imagination but we reckon we've got it about bang on here.
Like WWE's official list, DIY (aka to the team of Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa) vs The Revival is officially our WWE match of the year.
The two teams had a fantastic match at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn but DIY could not oust the two-time champions Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson.
And somehow, in a two out of three falls match at NXT Takeover: Toronto, the night before Survivor Series, they reached a whole new level. The stipulation was so well done, with The Revival scoring the first fall and DIY, the underdogs in the match, mounting the comeback after equalising through the superkick and knee strike combination and then a double submission to close out the classic contest.
There was so much creativity in the way the match was constructed and the way they cut off the ring and built to the hot tags. It's very difficult in tag-team wrestling to have a match that doesn't follow the typical format where one man takes the beating and eventually makes it to his partner, who cleans house.
But The Revival's old school vibe, mixed with the modern fast-paced, hard-hitting independent style that DIY bring, produced what was arguably the greatest tag-team match to ever take place. I can't claim to have seen a load of NWA in the 80's or All Japan in the early 90's but from the many hours of wrestling I have taken in, this is the greatest tag-team match I have ever laid eyes on.
The timing, pacing and psychology and working of the crowd was perfect and some of the spots conjured up were sensational - in particular the Shatter Machine from Gargano's attempted slingshot spear through the ropes, the teams stealing each other's finishers and the final spot where both Dash and Dawson held hands to stop tapping out but then proceeded to submit simultaneously.
DIY winning the NXT Tag Team Championship after a long and hard journey to get into WWE was a great moment and there was plenty of emotion in their post-match celebrations.
This was a match that even non-fans could understand and enjoy and it's a match I could watch on repeat - that's how good it is. We salute all four men for the performance they produced.
The chemistry between the two teams was exceptional and I'm already salivating at the prospect of DIY and The Revival mixing it up again at a Wrestlemania down the line.
Well there you have it. Our top 25 matches of 2016.
Here's to many more great bouts in 2017.