Monday, January 2, 2017

Top 135 Matches of 2016: #115-106

115. AJ Styles vs. Sami Zayn – WWE Raw 4/11/16

Standing alone, this would be an indy fan’s dream match on WWE television. Though they met twelve years earlier, this was the first ever one on one match between AJ Styles and Sami Zayn. Just putting them together would be enough but this had an added edge. Styles had an upcoming one on one WWE Championship match, but if he lost here, Sami would be added and it would become a triple threat match. It started as a respectful battle but a big chop from Sami and vicious dropkick from AJ kicked it into next gear. Sami takes a beating better than anyone in wrestling, which was perfect here. AJ and his offense came off looking great and it had to for the casual audience to buy him as a threat to Roman Reigns in a few weeks. Each one of Sami’s hope spots were done well and I bought into him pulling off the upset more than once. Sami tried landing on his feet on a big sunset flip but ended up hitting his head. He still went for the Helluva Kick, only to miss and lose to the Phenomenal Forearm at the 16:52 mark. A great match between two of my favorites for the first time ever and, considering their post-draft spots, it may not happen again. ****

114. WWE Women’s Championship: Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks – WWE WrestleMania 4/3/16

For the first time since Trish Stratus vs. Mickie James a decade prior, a women’s match felt like it actually belonged on the biggest show of the year. This wasn’t just the company throwing women on the card for the sake of it, it was actually one of the more hyped and promoted matches of the show. Charlotte entered as Divas Champion, but earlier in the night it was revealed that the Women’s Title would be returning to replace it, so nobody entered with the gold. Add in Charlotte wearing a robe made from her dad’s last WWE match and Sasha Banks coming out with Snoop Dogg and you’ve got the ingredients for something special. Once the bell rang, these women went all out for the entire 16:01 duration. It’s as if they knew the success of the future of the division hinged on their performances. There were some sloppy moments that kept this match from reaching the heights of their NXT stuff, though I give them credit for doing their best to cover them up. WrestleMania jitters and all. Sasha paid tribute to Eddie Guerrero more than once, giving this some emotional impact. Even Ric Flair got in on the action, taking a bump for Becky. Charlotte would go on to win with help from her dad in the worst booking decision of the year, on the worst booked show of the year. This was Sasha or Becky’s night. Still, it is the best women’s match in WrestleMania history. ****

113. GHC Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Momo No Seishun Tag (c) vs. Hajime Ohara and Kenoh – NOAH Great Voyage in Osaka – 5/28/16

People can talk all they want about the Young Bucks or the revolving door of teams in NJPW’s poorly booked Jr. Heavyweight tag team division but they don’t compare to Momo No Seishun. For my money, Atsushi Kotoge and Daisuke Harada are an easy pick for the best junior tag team in the world. Kotoge is up there with KUSHIDA and Taiji Ishimori as the best juniors around, while Harada’s thick frame allows him to bring something different to the table. Honestly, since I don’t follow NOAH that much, I hadn’t seen much of Hajime Ohara and Kenoh coming into this. They came off like the clear heels though, using cheap tactics and even putting the champions through a table with a diving double stomp. They held serve for a while but Harada started tossing dudes around and made the hot tag to Kotoge. Kenoh and Kotoge went at it for a while and then Ohara and Harada did. All interactions were great. After 19:47 of action, Ohara fell to a German suplex from Harada. This is what I want from a junior tag division, not the same stale stuff NJPW gives us. Unfortunately, they ruined all goodwill by having Momo No Seishun drop the tiles to the booking team of Gedo and Jado. ****

112. NXT Tag Team Championship 2 Out of 3 Falls: The Revival (c) vs. American Alpha – WWE NXT 7/6/16

For my money, these are the two best tag teams on planet Earth. In April, American Alpha won the titles from the Revival but the Revival won them back two months later. This was the rubber match. The two out of three falls stipulation takes us back to good old school tag matches from the late 80’s, which is right up the Revival’s alley. The teams played off their previous two encounters while throwing twists into the action. They did a great job in showcasing how evenly matched they were and neither team could even gain a fall after fifteen minutes. Alpha had great babyface fire and the Revival, as always, nailed every single heel tactic they could. Both teams shined before stereo ankle locks led to Dawson tapping at 17:13, giving AA a 1-0 lead. The Revival were quick to tie it with an inverted figure four at 18:33. Tied at one in their match and the series, the stakes were never higher. They both teased successful submissions and had counters ready for everything. Gable tried a German suplex off the apron but it was blocked and he took a Shatter Machine on the apron to end things at 22:08. The Revival retained and moved into an even better rivalry but people shouldn’t forget how great their trilogy with American Alpha was. ****

111. No Mas Match: Mariposa vs. Sexy Star – Lucha Underground 5/4/16

A “No Mas” match is an I Quit match. To provide backstory, Marty Martinez kidnapped Sexy Star and held her captive between seasons one and two of Lucha Underground. During that time, Sexy was mentally tortured by Marty and his sister, Mariposa. Sexy escaped but Mariposa found her way to the Temple. Sexy showed fear each time she saw her but this was her night to end it. To add to the stakes, the winner would receive an Aztec Medallion and a shot to become Gift of the Gods Champion. For those who don’t know, Mariposa is played by Cheerleader Melissa. This felt like a Melissa match because it was brutal. I didn’t like how this started since two people who hate each other, in this kind of match, shouldn’t try to grapple. Just fight. After that though, this was pure violence. They used chairs, fought up the steps and Mariposa ripped away at Sexy’s mask. They even climbed higher up to the top of the Temple where nobody had been before. Sexy got busted open and her blood dripped over the fans far below her. The sight of her with blood and the ripped mask made for a great visual. Marty showed up but was equalized by Sexy’s friend the Mack, which led to a turning point. Sexy declined quitting with a “FUCK YOU MARIPOSA” before winning with an armbar at 15:25. An anti-climactic finish and slow start kept this from being higher but still a violent war worthy of this list. ****

110. Chris Hero vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – WWN Mercury Rising 4/2/16

Last year at Evolve 48, these two had a match that made my list. Zack Sabre Jr. is usually in control when he wrestles, but not when Chris Hero is pummeling him. Sabre went on a “Best in the World Series” this year against five of the top guys in Evolve. He started 3-0, lost the fourth match and this was the final one. He faced the one guy that he just can’t seem to beat. Hero takes offense to Sabre thinking he’s the best, when Hero calls himself the GOAT and beat Sabre twice coming into this. Knowing he had the mental advantage, Hero stalled a bit early to get even more in Sabre’s head. Sabre combated Hero’s strikes by twisting Hero’s hands and feet in disgusting ways. They played off previous battles and had counters for a lot of what the other one does. The confident Hero gave Sabre free shots but would retaliate with huge strikes. Sabre takes a good beating for most of the 26:51. He fired up and demanded more strikes, which proved to be a bad move. He survived a fair amount, including a short piledriver, before a great finishing stretch saw both guys come close. A barrage of elbows finally kept Sabre down to cap a great start to a big super show. ****

109. WWE Women’s Championship: Charlotte (c) vs. Sasha Banks – WWE Raw 7/25/16

There have been a lot of Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte matches. They’re almost always good, some great, but they never really got to the level of Sasha/Becky or Sasha/Bayley. Anyway, the first Raw of the new brand split era was one of the best in the 23 year history of the program. The best match of that night saw Charlotte defend the Women’s Championship against Sasha. Including her reign as Divas Champion, Charlotte was at the helm of the division since the previous September. During that time though, Sasha never got a one on one title shot until this night. Unlike all of the other times that the WWE bashes how important their matches are over our heads (especially during this feud), this naturally felt like a big deal and was treated as such. For 16:51, they had possibly their best match ever. As with most Charlotte title defenses, she had help at ringside, and Dana got involved quickly. To get rid of Dana, Sasha pulled a page of her idol Eddie Guerrero’s book and made it look like Dana went after her with the title. That just added a little something extra to this. The rest of the match saw them do the spots they’re known for and the fans thought it was over when Charlotte hit her finisher, but Sasha survived by grabbing the ropes. Charlotte survived one Bank Statement, but tapped to a second after straight up telling Sasha that she would never beat her. The crowd reacted perfectly and the moment of Sasha realizing her dream was one of the best of the entire year. Sasha’s 2016 wasn’t nearly as good as her 2015, but this was an amazing sight. The feud would be run way into the ground for the rest of the year and never reached this level again. ****

108. Akira Tozawa, Masato Yoshino and Naruki Doi vs. BxB Hulk, Shingo Takagi and YAMATO – DG Gate of Destiny 11/3/16

Though I haven’t seen a ton of Dragon Gate, I am quite familiar with all six men involved in this match. Most of them were due to appearances in ROH or the CWC in Akira’s case. This was the big farewell match for Tozawa as he was leaving Dragon Gate. He was emotional before the bell but on his game once things began. The interactions throughout this ruled. It’s been nearly ten years since I first saw Yoshino compete and he’s still arguably the fastest guy in the ring. He and Hulk were great together. Tozawa got his shine, but also took a fair amount of the heat for his team. The pace of this match is bonkers. It’s pretty much the Dragon Gate specialty were everyone moves in and out of the match, doing insane things at a breakneck pace and it all looks smooth. As one would expect, the final third or so of this 27:49 match is ridiculous. Tozawa and Shingo have some especially great moments. I also liked the back story of the affiliations these men have had over time (Shingo held the ROH Tag Titles with Doi and teamed with Hulk, while Yoshino and Doi were a formidable team in their own right). Tozawa took the fall in the end, going out on his back. Most of the roster came out for the big post-match send off, capping an emotional match that was action packed. ****

107. WWE World Championship TLC Match: AJ Styles (c) vs. Dean Ambrose – WWE TLC 12/4/16

The James Ellsworth saga went on for too long in the eyes of many. He was a major part of the Dean Ambrose/AJ Styles rivalry and played into this match. After an incredible encounter at Backlash and a fantastic triple threat match at No Mercy, AJ’s string of great title defenses continued in his first TLC match. For most of the 31:01 runtime, this was bordering on being their best match. It started with Dean going right after AJ, which made sense given the angle. They used all the weapons creatively and though it went half an hour, it didn’t feel long. Dean’s massive elbow off a ladder through a table was insane but was topped by Styles’ springboard 450 splash to the outside and through at able. AJ had it won when Ellsworth showed up. That distraction allowed Dean to hit Dirty Deeds on steel steps. AJ got up (too quickly) but Dean still fought him off. It wasn’t until Ellsworth turned heel and knocked the ladder over, sending Dean through tables outside, that AJ retained. I would’ve liked a better finish though it made sense within the story. Delusional Ellsworth on Talking Smack right after was great too. Anyway, this was another great match for Styles and Ambrose with some wild moments but they both did better this year. ****

106. Kenny Omega vs. YOSHI-HASHI – NJPW G1 Climax 7/22/16

Like I said, the B Block in this year’s G1 Climax was honestly an all-time great block. Though Kenny Omega was probably my least favorite performer of the block, he came out of the gates firing in this surprisingly awesome encounter with YOSHI-HASHI. YOSHI has been around for a while but only just started getting a sustained pushed. This was the first G1 Climax match in the career of either man. Omega looked into the camera during his entrance and said “I hate this schedule, I hate this tournament; just give me the title and the money.” While this started slowly, by the end of the 12:25, they blew away my expectations. They built up to some really dramatic near falls and all of it made sense. YOSHI had the One Winged Angel well scouted, countering it twice. Omega escaped YOSHI’s trademark butterfly lock submission more than once, leaving both men looking to use something else. YOSHI reached deep down and busted out Boma Ye, which worked on multiple levels because it was the finisher of his old buddy Shinsuke Nakamura, who Omega beat on his way out. Omega had also been using the move since then. YOSHI eventually pulled out the upset win with Karma, starting his G1 run off on the right foot. A surprisingly standout match from a damn good tournament. ****