Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top 135 Matches of 2016: #135-126

Due to the positive response that this list received last year, I brought it back for 2016. Last year’s list was a “Top 100” but I saw more wrestling than ever before in 2016. With that, I saw more great matches. I originally planned for this list to only feature 100 matches, but I ended up giving 135 matches a **** rating, so I expanded the list. I don’t think anyone will complain about more match reviews. This last spans over a dozen promotions. Some will love the rankings, some will hate them and leaving them open for debate is always fun.

135. AJ Styles vs. Dolph Ziggler – WWE Smackdown 8/23/16

One of the very best things about the brand split was us getting a Dolph Ziggler that actually gave a damn. After a good 2014, he put on poor performances and seemed to lack interest in a horrible 2015. He delivered great promos in his feud with Dean Ambrose but the match disappointed. It was here, on the first Smackdown after SummerSlam, that we got the first real glimpse of a rejuvenated Dolph in the ring. The stakes were high here. If AJ Styles won, he’d get a one on one title match with Dean Ambrose but a win by Ziggler would make it a triple threat match. Dolph started strong by taking things to the mat. Styles took over and continued to shine as a cocky heel. His trash talk to Dolph and even Dean on commentary was on point. AJ cut off all of Ziggler’s attempts to rally. Of course Dolph eventually made the comeback and came close after a DDT following Styles missing the springboard 450 splash. The final third of this match is excellent and some of the best work done by either guy this year. Styles used a well-timed cheap shot and the Styles Clash to win at 21:28. A great match that got a lot of time in front of a crowd that was into it. The right guy went over, they planted more seeds in the Ziggler redemption story and set the brand’s next major title program up. ****

134. Go Shiozaki vs. Katsuyori Shibata – NOAH Great Voyage in Yokohama Vol. 2 10/23/16

The war between NJPW and Pro Wrestling NOAH was one of the most fun things about 2016. During the G1 Climax finals, the two companies competed in a big multi-man tag that you’ll see later on this list. Go Shiozaki and Katsuyori Shibata represented their respective companies on that night and in future tags. It led to Shiozaki challenging Shibata at King of Pro Wrestling, setting up this non-title contest in NOAH. We got the best kind of Shibata in this match and that’s smug Shibata. He showed little to no care about Shiozaki or his ability. With this match taking place in NOAH, the crowd was split unlike in NJPW where NOAH are the heels for the most part. Shibata is known as one of the hardest hitters around but people forget that Go gives some of the most violent chops in the world. Still, you could tell Shibata took joy in coming into Go’s house and beating him, which he did with a Penalty Kick at 18:01. Shibata was portrayed as the superior guy with Shiozaki having to fight from behind and do whatever he could to even the score. Go had some counters prepared but Shibata was just simply better and beat him cleanly. While this was a great match, it felt like they were holding back for a potential bigger match down the line. ****

133. Alpha-1 Zero Gravity Championship: Kobe Durst (c) vs. Heidi Lovelace – Alpha 1 Watch the Throne 4 4/10/16

Earlier this year, I got the opportunity to talk with Ethan Page and started reviewing shows for the promotion that he runs up in Canada. Alpha 1 Wrestling is a fun time and their shows have featured guys like Carlito, Michael Elgin, Kevin Owens, Ricochet, Kyle O’Reilly and many more. On the shows I’ve watched, two of the people that stood out were Kobe Durst and Heidi Lovelace. Here, Durst defended his Zero Gravity Title in an absolute war with Lovelace. During the 14:51 that this match lasted, it saw several weapons used and we even got to see Durst do a sidewalk slam on a picnic table outside of the arena. Needless to say, this is not your typical match. Heidi tried to put Durst through a table several times, but was too small to break it. It actually helped things out because the senton, Meteora and double stomps that she did all looked like they hurt more. She finally broke the table with a powerbomb for a near fall. The brawl took them to the bar area where Durst retained by using a piledriver off the bar and through a table. I know intergender matches, or even hardcore matches, aren’t for everyone but this delivered and was awesome. Both competitors would go on to win the company’s top title before the year ended. ****

132. No Holds Barred: Adam Cole vs. Kyle O’Reilly – ROH Supercard of Honor X Night Two – 4/2/16

I love Kyle O’Reilly. While I think Adam Cole’s good, I’ve never quite seen the huge deal with him. Together, they usually produce really good stuff. The former Future Shock partners met at Final Battle four months earlier in a match that made this list last year but this was the blow off to their rivalry and it felt like the grudge match it needed to be. Cole attacked O’Reilly during his entrance and set the tone for a pretty brutal match. He slammed chairs into Kyle’s leg and even poor Mandy Leon got hit with an accidental superkick at ringside that Cole shrugged off with an “oh well” flair. They traded big spots throughout this one, including one where Kyle had a guillotine choke on the apron and Cole escaped by sending both of them through a table. As the match progressed, it got more and more violent. A superplex through a table was a big moment and then a chain got brought into play. It was used wisely, from a clothesline with it to the finishing moment where O’Reilly used an armbar that transitioned into a triangle choke with the chain to win at 27:21. Though they ended up back in a feud, this was a fitting end to this particular chapter. ****

131. NXT Tag Team Championship: The Revival (c) vs. American Alpha – NXT TakeOver: Dallas 4/1/16

NXT missed the boat by never putting the Tag Team Titles on their most popular team, Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady. There was worry coming into this show that American Alpha, the new popular duo, would suffer the same fate. Honestly though, even if you weren’t heavily invested in the outcome, one could still appreciate great tag team wrestling, which is just what we got here. The Revival are a real old school style team that just gets it. They do the traditional stuff, like cutting the ring in half and working a body part, but here they really nailed the little things. Dash crawling under the ring to sneak up on Jason Jordan and prevent a hot tag was just expert stuff. They played the crowd perfectly and worked a throwback style tag team match while sprinkling in some cool newer age spots. I loved the finish too, with Jordan blind tagging in, hitting a running shoulder thrust and tagging Gable for the Grand Amplitude and the title win at 15:11. It was great to see a classic tag move, like a blind tag, used against a team that does it so well. This had a few botches that kept it from being on the level of their later matches, but none of those matched this one in terms of emotion and atmosphere. ****

130. Trios Tournament: Cage, Johnny Mundo and Taya vs. Dragon Azteca Jr., Prince Puma and Rey Mysterio Jr. – Lucha Underground 4/13/16

If you know anything about Lucha Underground, you’ll know that owner Dario Cueto loves his unique oddball teams. In that vein, he set up Cage to team with his rival Johnny Mundo, and Mundo’s girlfriend, Taya. Cage had actually faced Taya in a surprisingly brutal match that saw him superplex her through two tables a few episodes earlier. The masked trio opposite from them was something of a Lucha Underground dream team. Azteca plays a big part in the overall lore of the series, Puma was the first champion and Mysterio is a lucha legend. This match allowed us to relive the great season one rivalries that Puma had with both Cage and Mundo. Puma played the face in peril and made the hot tag to Mysterio, though some of the biggest spots were still reserved for Puma and Dragon. That included Dragon hitting a mega rana on Mundo, who was sitting on Puma’s shoulders on the top rope. That was followed by a Puma 450 splash and Mundo somehow kicked out. The final few minutes of this 12:51 match just go at a breakneck pace. Miscommunication by the uneasy team led to Rey hitting 619, Azteca nailing a gorgeous tornado DDT and Puma winning it with a 630 splash. Puma, Rey and Dragon looked fantastic as a team and the Cage/Mundo rivalry was furthered in one of the most fun matches all year long. ****

129. ROH World Television Championship: Roderick Strong (c) vs. Tomohiro Ishii – ROH/NJPW Honor Rising 2/19/16

I’m admittedly not a big fan of the ROH/NJPW partnership and much prefer the old ROH/NOAH deal. However, the best thing about it has probably been Roderick Strong’s matches with the NJPW guys, though that’s over with him in NXT now. Last year, he made this list three times against KUSHIDA, Shinsuke Nakamura and Kazuchika Okada. One of the guys I badly wanted him to face was Tomohiro Ishii and I got my wish in the main event of this show. The previous October, Strong ended Jay Lethal’s 400+ day reign with the TV Title and put it on the line against one of the best in the world here. Strong entered as the cocky champion but quickly realized that Tomohiro Ishii was a problem. He managed to find some openings, like pulling Ishii off the apron and into a backbreaker, which he then one upped later with a backbreaker off the apron. They got into the battle of chops that I was hoping for the second this match was announced and it delivered. Strong seemed to be on the verge of a win until Ishii began to lean into shots and fire up. They went into a great back and forth battle that saw Ishii win the title at 20:07. While it wasn’t an upset, the result was surprising since Ishii didn’t work ROH and Strong was in the middle of a feud with Bobby Fish, giving this match an added bonus of shock value. ****

128. WWE Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match: Kevin Owens (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz vs. Sami Zayn vs. Sin Cara vs. Stardust vs. Zack Ryder – WWE WrestleMania 4/3/16

For the second straight year, the Intercontinental Title got thrown into a clusterfuck ladder match at WrestleMania, even though the Sami Zayn/Kevin Owens rivalry was what everyone wanted to see. Sure enough, shortly after this began, the crowd erupted for their faceoff and hockey style fight. Sin Cara, Stardust and Zack Ryder did nothing of note leading into this show and were seemingly added to fill out the match. The true brilliance of this match is that everyone, no matter your position on the card coming in, was given ample time to shine, while still making sure a good focus was spent on the Sami/Owens rivalry. All sorts of great spots in this one, including a somersault dive by Sami through an open ladder onto everyone outside, instantly followed by his signature tornado DDT on the opposite side of the ring on Owens. There was a touching moment where Stardust pulled out a polka dotted ladder in honor of his father. We also got a sick Owens frog splash onto a ladder ridden Sami as well as Zayn hitting a half nelson suplex on Owens onto a ladder. Miz spoiled a Sami win and everyone though he’d steal it. Ryder appeared, pushed him off and took down the title at 15:23. It was a feel good moment (though it only lasted a night) before giving the fans a night of bad booking decisions ****

127. Style Battle Round Robin Tournament: Fred Yehi vs. Tracy Williams – Evolve 53 1/22/16

Entering the year, I knew next to nothing about Fred Yehi and Tracy Williams. On the first Evolve show of the year, they instantly caught my eye with this match. The Style Battle Round Robin Tournament was a short series of matches involving these two, Pete Kaasa and Matt Riddle. This was right up my alley, as the matches, especially this one, blended mat wrestling with hard strikes. For 14:51, these two had one of the most competitive matches all year long. They started with ground based work, before building to bigger things. That’s when it got way physical. Some of the chops in this would make even Roderick Strong cringe. They just went to war and you got the feeling that they were willing to do anything to one another to win. Yehi connected on some brutal roaring elbows but it wasn’t enough. Williams reached down deep and hit a high angle DDT and spike piledriver before choking Yehi out. Williams and Yehi would team up down the line after Yehi was accepted as a member of the Catch Point stable. I probably scored this higher than most, but I love this kind of match. ****

126. ROH World Tag Team Championship: War Machine (c) vs. The Briscoes – ROH Global Wars 5/8/16

Ring of Honor boasts about having the best tag team division in all of wrestling, though it is an arguable point for sure. A lot of their teams are of the fast paced, spotty variety (Machine Guns, Young Bucks, ANX, etc.). These two teams don’t quite fit that mold. War Machine won the Tag Team Titles and were on a roll, but the one team they had never beaten was the Briscoes. Jay and Mark are THE tag team in ROH history. This match started out with standard stuff, but once it picked up, it pretty much never let up for the rest of the 15:26. Just four guys wailing on each other and having a good old fashioned fight. There were several great moments, but one stood out above them all. Knowing they had to do something different to finally beat the Briscoes, Hanson took a big risk and tried a top rope moonsault. It didn’t pay off as he missed, but then he kicked out of the Jay Driller. A move that has won Jay several World Title matches. War Machine used that to set up a finishing stretch where they retained by hitting Mark with Fallout. They got the monkey off their backs, though the win ultimately didn’t mean much since they unceremoniously dropped the titles shortly after. ****