Sunday, January 1, 2017

Top 135 Matches of 2016: #125-116

125. Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW G1 Climax 8/4/16

My favorite NJPW wrestler against my favorite Pro Wrestling NOAH wrestler. What’s not to love? I’ll mention it several times in this list most likely but the B Block for this year’s G1 Climax was an all-time great one. Tetsuya Naito and Katsuhiko Nakajima were two big reasons for that. Nakajima was in his hometown here but they were mostly subdued early on, which hurt things. Naito targeted the leg which made sense for two reasons. One, he had been using a knee bar in the tournament and two, it would take away Nakajima’s biggest weapon which are his kicks. Nakajima did the right thing selling wise. He would still kick but whenever he did, he’d slap at it or try to wake it up and shake off the pain. Little things like that go a long way. I loved how Nakajima had Naito scouted and countered his rebound attack with a brutal kick to the chest. Nakajima went for his ankle lock, while Naito tried the knee bar. The back half of this 19:13 match was awesome. There were hard strike exchanges, plenty of counters and they woke the crowd up. By the end of it, the once quiet fans were reacting to everything. When Nakajima hit the Penalty Kick, they totally bought it as the finish. Naito would counter a brainbuster into Destino and add a second one to earn a tie for first in his block at that point. The two MVPs for NOAH and NJPW competed in a great match but I got the feeling that they could do even better in a future rematch, especially in front of a hotter crowd. ****

124. Cesaro vs. Finn Balor vs. Kevin Owens vs. Rusev – 7/25/16

The first Raw of the post-draft era was not only the best of the year, it was one of the greatest episodes in history. To start with a bang, Mick Foley and Stephanie McMahon set up two fatal four way matches with the winners meeting in the main event and the winner of that facing Seth Rollins at SummerSlam for the Universal Title. This was the first of those matches and featured the main roster debut of Finn Balor. It got off to a hot start but soon saw Rusev and Owens take control of the faces. It was great to hear Owens shout instructions at Rusev since they’re both very entertaining personalities. Once their partnership ended, Finn got to run wild and hit his trademark dive outside. From then on we got a lot of great combinations of matches. Balor and Cesaro killed it, I always love Cesaro going at it with Rusev, the rekindling of the Owens/Balor feud from NXT and even some Balor/Rusev stuff, which is a rivalry I’d love to see in the future. As this 20:26 match came to a close, each guy had at least one great chance to win and the suspense built. Finn hit the Coup de Grace on Rusev to score a huge first win in a great match. He then bested it with an even bigger win by cleanly defeating Roman Reigns to end the show. He’d also beat Rollins at SummerSlam to become the first Universal Champion, only to be derailed by a very unfortunate injury. ****

123. ROH World Television Championship: Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. EVIL – NJPW Road to Invasion Attack 3/20/16

Usually, the “Road to” shows for NJPW are more like house shows. They set up the bigger shows down the line with multi-man tags and such. Every so often though, you are treated to pretty cool match that’s relatively a big deal. A month earlier, Tomohiro Ishii shocked many by dethroning Roderick Strong for the ROH Television Championship. He defended it here against EVIL, the brute of Los Ingobernables de Japon, who had a pretty great 2016 himself. That included a match with Ishii during the New Japan Cup that nearly made this list. There was one thing I wanted out of this match and I got it. HOSS FIGHT! They wrestled a stiff match, did a lot of brawling on the outside and went pretty hard for the entire 21:39. Ishii grew frustrated with EVIL and talked some smack while slapping him up at one point. EVIL came close to the biggest win of his career on several occasions but ultimately fell to a brainbuster. The last few minutes of this wee intense and featured a lot of well executed close calls. It was a breakout performance for EVIL and another in a long line of awesome showings by Ishii, who is a legitimate top three wrestler on the planet. ****

122. PWG Championship: Roderick Strong (c) vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – PWG All-Star Weekend 12 Night Two 3/5/16

Last year, Zack Sabre Jr. came oh so close to dethroning Roderick Strong for this title at PWG Don’t Sweat the Technique in a match that cracked my top 25. Sabre then beat Strong in Evolve (in a match ranked even higher) before winning PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles to earn another shot at the PWG Championship. Needless to say, it was one of the matches I looked forward to the most in PWG all year long. Strong stalled in the early goings to get in Sabre’s head, so the challenger responded by taking the title and posing with it. Two can play those mind games. They called back to their previous match on a few occasions. Sabre went after both the leg and arm, which made sense since his attack on the arm alone wasn’t enough to best Roddy last time. Strong sold both well throughout and at one point, landed horribly on the shoulder on a suplex spot. As they got near the finish of the 33:36 match, it became more of a war, evolving from technical wrestling to something more vicious. A pissed Roddy removed his shitty little boot and just threw it at Sabre like an Austin Power villain. Eventually, Sabre and Roddy battled up top and Sabre took them down into an armbar. He transitioned that to include a stretch muffler, working both the arm and leg to make Strong tap. It never reached the levels of their previous matches but was still great and had the added bonus of the emotional big title win for Sabre. ****

121. NEVER Openweight Championship: Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Bobby Fish – NJPW Destruction in Tokyo 9/17/16

I’ve made it clear that I love Katsuyori Shibata. I also love reDRagon. While the prospect of Shibata vs. Kyle O’Reilly was higher on my list of matches I wanted to see, Bobby Fish getting a crack at Shibata sounded interesting too. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear good things about their ROH Television Title match on ROH TV before this one. Luckily, this match delivered. We got treated to some good old fashioned Shibata violence. Fish started by going after the leg, but also targeted the neck and shoulder. ROH commentary did a good job explaining (on a different show) that Fish and O’Reilly don’t only focus on one part of the body. They train to attack any part that is available to them, which I actually like. Like all good Shibata matches, this was a manly, violent battle. Fish was great, yelling for the official to stop the match when he was kicking Shibata’s ass. I loved him shouting “FUCK YOU” when Shibata had him in the abdominal stretch. Shibata survived the Fish Hook and, being the absolute madman that he is, delivered a headbutt so severe that he instantly busted himself open the hard way. He won with the Penalty Kick at 16:48 to add another successful defense and great match to his 2016. Fish succeeded in his first test as a heavyweight in NJPW as well. ****

120. WWE Intercontinental Championship: The Miz (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler – WWE Backlash 9/11/16

Talking Smack has become a weekly highlight on the WWE Network and the biggest buzz from it came when the Miz cut a scathing promo on Daniel Bryan. That thrust the Miz and the Intercontinental Title into the spotlight and made this match feel like a big deal. We’ve seen Miz and Ziggler wrestle a ton, even for this title a few years ago. This was different though. Dolph was rejuvenated after the draft (outside of a lackluster match with Dean Ambrose) and Miz had the best year of his career in terms of performances. Miz did everything right here as they told a great story. He took time to mock Daniel Bryan’s taunts and even did some of his submissions. He expertly nailed all the little things, like asking “WHO’S THE COWARD?” while stomping on Dolph. Dolph brought his best too, playing up the desperation of not wanting to lose yet again very well. He came close on several occasions and they had the crowd in the palm of their hands. Maryse would play a major factor in the end, spraying Dolph in the eyes with a substance. Miz hit the Skull Crushing Finale and retained in 18:17. Up to this point, this was the best match of Miz’s career and one of Dolph’s best. It wasn’t the best finish, but it made sense and continued the idea of him using every trick to keep his title. ****
119. Dia.HEARTS vs. Monster Express vs. VerserK – Dragon Gate Open the Truth Gate 2/4/16

Getting a match featuring three groups and twelve men to come together seems like an incredibly tough task. Dragon Gate succeeded with this match. A lot was on the line as the losing unit in this match had to disband. I admittedly didn’t know everyone involved but here’s a rundown of the teams. Monster Express consists of Masato Yoshino, Akira Tozawa (who you saw in the CWC later in the year), T-Hawk and Sachihoko BOY, Dia.HEARTS has Masaaki Mochizuki, Dragon Kid, Kzy and Big R Shimizu, while VerserK includes Shingo Takagi, YAMATO, Naruki Doit and Kotoka. For the entire 27:39, this match just goes at an insane pace and, like good Survivor Series style matches, there are enough moving parts to keep you interested throughout. You got the stuff you’ve come to expect from Dragon Gate like stiff strikes and high flying spots, but there was the added drama of the impended breakup. Shingo, the top champion in Dragon Gate, got eliminated near the end to a fantastic pop from the crowd. Dia.HEARTS would take the loss and split. I honestly feel that if I followed Dragon Gate more closely, I’d have been more invested and would have enjoyed this more. ****

118. NEVER Openweight Championship: EVIL (c) vs. Katsuyori Shibata – NJPW Wrestling World 11/15/16

Ten days earlier, EVIL captured the first singles title of his career when he defeated Katsuyori Shibata to become NEVER Openweight Champion at Power Struggle. This rematch main evented Wrestling World in Singapore, a show that featured a relatively different look and feel from most NJPW events. EVIL also beat Shibata back in the G1 Climax. With that in mind, even though he was only champion for a little over a week, I expected EVIL to drop the title here. 3-0 against Shibata for the year would have been a bit much. This was exactly the kind of hard hitting match you’d expect from these two. Shibata entered as the RPW British Heavyweight Champion, having won that title a few days earlier and he showed some traits of the guy he took the title from, Zack Sabre Jr., in the early stages. He stomped on and twisted the champion’s arm. EVIL targeted Shibata’s heavily taped shoulder and they played into their past by bringing steel chairs into play. It led to a really good false finish but Shibata survived and used EVIL’s own STO on him. He then used the sleeper and penalty kick to regain the title at 16:28, picking up another accolade and great match to a series of them in 2016. ****

117. Gran Metalik vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – WWE Cruiserweight Classic 9/14/16

Zack Sabre Jr. was someone that I touted highly in 2015. He wasn’t as good in 2106 but still appears on this list several times. Anyway, his run through the Cruiserweight Classic left a lot to be desired and he was outshined by a lot of people. He found himself in the semi-finals, kicking off the best show of the year against Gran Metalik. Metalik was someone I saw in NJPW as Mascara Dorada and I always thought he was good but he wowed during this tournament. Metalik came out firing by taking to the skies. Sabre weathered that storm and took it to the groundwhere he is at his most comfortable. However, Metalik showed that he could hang on the mat, which only frustrated Sabre. Sabre got more vicious in his offense as things progressed. He struck with his best PK of the tournament, complete with a Shibata reference from Mauro Ranallo. Metalik survived and scored on an awesome rana but then springboarded right into a triangle submission! Metalik got free and hit the Metalik Driver from out of nowhere to advance at 13:12. The best work of Sabre’s tournament run and nearly the best for Metalik. It got the show off to the perfect start with a match that featured great counter wrestling and told the story of Sabre getting more upset as time went on that Metalik seemed to have his number. ****

116. Grave Consequences: Mil Muertes vs. Prince Puma – Lucha Underground 11/9/16

In the main event of Ultima Lucha in season one, Prince Puma’s lengthy reign as Lucha Underground Champion ended at the hands of Mil Muertes. They stayed away for the most part in season two, but after some struggles, Puma was directed (by Vampiro) to focus on Muertes. Puma evened the score with Muertes with a win a few weeks before this. Twice in LU, a Grave Consequences match was held, both involving Muertes. Puma attacked from behind during Mil’s entrance to start 16:26 of war. Puma dove into the crowd on Muertes and they battled throughout the Temple. The coffins came into play several times as weapons. There were several great spots throughout this including a tremendous springboard 630 splash from Puma. Vampiro kept making comments about Puma going to the dark side, hinting at their behind the scenes interactions. To start the show, Mil’s manager Catrina warned him that if he lost another Grave Consequences match, she wouldn’t bring him back again. Mil dug deep and chokeslammed Puma through a table outside. In a fitting end, he brought out the coffin that was used to kill Puma’s old manager (Konnan) back in season one. A Flatliner later and Puma was locked away to end a great rivalry. As of this writing, Puma has yet to return. ****