Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Top 135 Matches of 2016: #105-96

105. Aztec Warfare III – Lucha Underground 11/16/16

Lucha Underground does one match shows better than anyone. From the All Night Long match in season one to the Six to Survive match in season two, they just nail them. Hands down though, their bread and butter is Aztec Warfare. For those unaware, this is basically a twenty-man Royal Rumble, but eliminations only occur via pinfall or submission and anything goes. This was the third Aztec Warfare and saw the Lucha Underground Champion enter at #1 for the second straight time. Matanza Cueto dominated at times again. Dating back to Aztec Warfare II, Matanza had eleven straight eliminations. Each Aztec Warfare has had a fairly different roster with only Mil Muertes, Johnny Mundo and Drago competing in all three. Without commercials, this went for 36:53 and almost always had something of interest going on. Matanza took a flurry of offense before getting pinned for the first time in his career, guaranteeing a new champion. In the end, it came down to former Lucha Underground Champion Mil Muertes and Sexy Star. Sexy fought from behind in an thrilling final stretch. She managed to shove Mil off the top and through a table, following with a double stomp to capture the title. I’m not the biggest Sexy Star fan but this win had been built up for a while and the fans treated it like a huge deal. I prefer the first two Aztec Warfare matches but that doesn’t mean this wasn’t a complete blast. ****

104. Kyle O’Reilly vs. Marty Scurll – PWG All-Star Weekend 12 Night One 3/4/16

At All-Star Weekend 11, Kyle O’Reilly returned to PWG to a thunderous ovation. This was one of, if not the absolute most intriguing matchup on either night of All-Star Weekend. Not only was it Kyle’s first match back with the company, but Marty Scurll is one of the most interesting personalities in wrestling, and I had never seen them face off before. In the early stages, Kyle looked to have fun, even busting out SLEAZY KYLE. Normally, I much prefer serious O’Reilly, but I understood it here since PWG is a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously and Kyle was happy to be back in front of the Reseda crowd. As Scurll started doing his thing, O’Reilly had to get serious and, though known for his armbar, went after the leg furiously. They progressed into strikes and lariats, which sounded so stiff that it garnered a standing ovation. The final stretch was the best. Marty did his finger snap, which always makes me cringe in a good way, and they did a cool spot where Kyle had the Nigel blocked, so he had to try again but on the bottom rope instead of the middle rope. Kyle was able to put the leg work to good use by winning with the ankle lock at 18:49. There wasn’t any ongoing storyline or anything on the line here. Just two great performers having a great wrestling match. ****

103. 10 on 10 Elimination Match: Team Raw vs. Team Smackdown – WWE Survivor Series 11/20/16

Some of the most fun on the early Survivor Series Pay-Per-Views came in the giant tag matches involving all of the tag teams. This match was a nice throwback to those and though the quality of the tag division isn’t what it was in the late 80’s, this was still awesome. Breezango got to do a comedy bit before getting eliminated in the first minute or so. That wasn’t really surprising but then a real shocker came when the Raw Tag Team Champions of over 400 days, New Day, got eliminated instantly after. That left a wide open field for the remainder of the 18:55 match. As the match dwindled down, things got better. American Alpha had an especially great stretch that saw Chad Gable hit a Chaos Theory German suplex on Cesaro and a dive outside. Despite not lasting until the end, AA shined. It eventually came down to the Usos vs. Cesaro and Sheamus. They had a great little finishing stretch that honestly could have gotten a bit more time. Cesaro and Sheamus earned the win for Team Raw when Cesaro used a sharpshooter and Sheamus prevented it from being broken up with a Brogue Kick. A rare show of teamwork from the unlikely partners to cap off a great match. Chaotic at times but that finishing stretch was killer. ****

102. No Holds Barred Match: Hangman Page vs. Jay Briscoe – ROH Death Before Dishonor XIV 8/19/16

Last year, these two surprised me and cracked my list with a pretty great brawl. This year, they managed to top that performance. Hangman Page had recently joined the Bullet Club and was looking to do what he couldn’t do before. He wanted to beat Jay Briscoe. This is a Jay Briscoe who had only been pinned twice (I believe) in the past 1,000 or so days, which is insane. From the opening bell until this ended at the 17:39 mark, they worked this like two guys who hate one another. They only used chairs, tables and Page’s noose, but made it all work in creative and violent ways. You honestly won’t find many more violent spectacles around. Everything they did was brutal and had an intensity to it that you don’t see often enough. One sick spot saw Page get tied to a chair in the corner by his noose and Jay just ran into him time after time. Another came when Page hit the Rite of Passage off the apron and through a table. Another Rite of Passage inside gave Page the biggest win of his career in his best match ever. Violent brawls aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but if you like them, you’ll love this. ****

101. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: KUSHIDA (c) vs. ACH – ROH Conquest Tour 3/12/16

It’s been the case for a while now, but ROH’s non-PPV shows are consistently better than their PPVs. This event, on March 12th from Philadelphia, fit that bill. The best match on the show was a battle for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship between champion and ace of the juniors, KUSHIDA, and challenger ACH. ACH had never worked for NJPW, so the thought of him winning was kind of out of the question, but a few weeks earlier, Tomohiro Ishii won the ROH Television Title despite never working ROH, so the possibility was there. They had some fun as KUSHIDA did the “you can’t see me” taunt and nailed a Stunner, compete with the double bird. KUSHIDA is the superior mat technician, so ACH used his incredible athleticism, including an awesome somersault off the guardrail, to combat that. KUSHIDA got serious and went after the left arm, which ACH sold very well, especially down the stretch. The fans chanted “better than Roadblock” (WWE Roadblock took place on the same night) as things reached their peak down the stretch. ACH went for his 450 splash, the Midnight Star, but missed and landed on the bad arm. KUSHIDA kicked it and applied his Hoverboard Lock to make ACH tap out at 18:47. It was the best ACH performance I’ve ever seen and another feather in the cap of KUSHIDA, who has been having fantastic matches with almost everyone he faces. ****

100. WWE Cruiserweight Classic Qualifying Match: Fred Yehi vs. TJ Perkins – Evolve 61 5/7/16

Evolve easily had the best set of Cruiserweight Classic qualifiers. Fred Yehi and TJ Perkins were both members of the Catch Point faction, but had no problems squaring off for a shot at the WWE CWC. There was a respect shown between the two all throughout this. Perkins didn’t bring his manager out and the guys mostly gave out clean breaks when there was a chance. I really liked the contrasting styles here. While both men do a lot of mat work, Perkins does it with some flair and arrogance, while Yehi is angrier and his offense is very unique. Seriously, his angry stomps are always a highlight. For all of the 13:49 runtime, they played this so evenly. Neither man could gain a clear upper hand. At one point, TJ missed a frog splash and Yehi locked in a Koji Clutch. A bell rang, confusing the fans, but it was just a mistake and TJ reached the ropes to break it. The action built to a great ending where TJ got the win with a 450 splash. There were a few moments that didn’t feel as crisp as they should have, but this was still a great match. Though TJ won (and would go on to win the entire tournament), I think this was a bit of a star making performance for Yehi. Watch him in 2017. ****

99. Cedric Alexander vs. Michael Elgin – AAW Cero Miedo 9/1/16

Ever since his run in the 2015 G1 Climax, Michael Elgin has been on the best run of his career. Once he left ROH, Cedric Alexander embarked on his own best run. In the midst of those two stretches, they met on this night in Berwyn, Illinois. They’ve wrestled in the past and have a history, so it was fitting that Elgin faced Alexander in Cedric’s last AAW match before heading to the WWE. There wasn’t an underlying story to this. Just two guys trying to see who the better man is and sometimes that’s all you need. They had some fun at the start when both guys did pushups and tried to see who was in better shape. Alexander showed off his abs, so Elgin responded by telling the crowd to check out his “dumper”. Yes, that got a “dumper” chant started. Once they got going, the action was nuts. Elgin used his power advantage for impressive moves like the best stalling suplex since the British Bulldog, while Alexander utilized his superb athleticism for things like a springboard tornado DDT. The finishing stretch of this 15:53 battle is awesome. Cedric survived lariats and hit a Brainbuster into his patented Lumbar Check for two. Elgin countered a super rana into a super bomb, followed by a buckle bomb and his spinning Elgin Bomb, yet Cedric still kicked out. Elgin finally kept him down with a burning hammer. After the match, Elgin put over Cedric on the mic as an underutilized guy and said the cream was now rising to the crop. ****

98 . NXT Tag Team Championship: #DIY (c) vs. Akira Tozawa and Tajiri – WWE NXT 12/28/16

The final episode of NXT in 2016 featured matches from their show in Osaka, Japan. When I originally read the results, the match that stood out to me was this one. #DIY was one of the three best tag teams I saw in 2016 and the combination of Akira Tozawa and Tajiri intrigued me. Akira shows flashes of greatness, while Tajiri looked rejuvenated during the CWC. This bested my expectations. For 17:21, these four men went hard. Gargano and Tozawa worked at such a quick pace, it was hard for me to keep up with my typing when I originally reported on the match. Tajiri and Ciampa brought the hard hitting aspect to the match. Both teams showed off strong chemistry, which was impressive for the challengers since they aren’t a regular team. They built to some great close calls. Tozawa took Project Ciampa but somehow survived. He also busted out some excellent snap German suplexes for near falls of his own. Tajiri turned back the clock and busted out the old handspring back elbow. Though everyone knew the titles wouldn’t change hands, they did a great job of sucking the viewers in and making us believe they could pull it off. Tozawa fell to the running knee/superkick combo as #DIY added another win and great match to their resume. ****

97. Lucha Underground Championship: Matanza Cueto (c) vs. Cage – Lucha Underground 6/1/16

THE UNOFFICIAL HOSSWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP! Matanza reigned as a dominant Lucha Underground Champion but Cage brought something that nobody but Mil Muertes was able to against him. He was just as big and possibly even stronger. Since they were about even there, Cage decided to use his freakish athleticism to cause problems for the champion. The action throughout this 13:29 main event was non-stop. They made sure to keep it going and be hard hitting the whole way. They traded getting up instantly after German suplexes until Matanza hit a swinging variation to keep Cage down for a bit. Cage impressed with a dead lift superplex on the large champion. One of the best things about this was Dario Cueto at ringside. He nailed every reaction perfectly. He remains the best non-wrestler in all of wrestling. To close it out, Cage went for a barrage of strikes only to get caught in the Wrath of the Gods slam. Cage is not always booked like a top Lucha Underground star, yet this match was handled in a way where the viewers bought him as a guy who might actually be able to dethrone Matanza. ****

96. IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Kazuchika Okada – NJPW Dominion 6/19/16

Tetsuya Naito winning the IWGP Heavyweight Title at Invasion Attack was my favorite NJPW moment of the year. It showed that the company was willing to try something new. Since 2011, only Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada and AJ Styles held the top title. Naito, with his excellent heel character, was a breath of fresh air. Naturally, that couldn’t last. Okada got his rematch at Dominion and wanted a one on one affair. No Gedo in his corner and no LIDJ in Naito’s. Okada is always cocky and he was here as well, but there was an underlying sense of desperation or urgency. He seemed to be taking his role as the “ace” seriously. Their fight spilled outside, where Naito hit an awesome running dropkick on the ramp. Once back inside, the match went to the next level and featured plenty of close calls and near falls. They were ready to counter the big moves of the other one at each turn. I believe Naito became only the second man to kick out of Okada’s signature Rainmaker, joining Tanahashi. Okada countered Destino twice, including once into a tombstone before adding three more Rainmakers to win back the title at 29:03. I 1000% disagree with the title switch here as Gedo just went back to status quo. We should have gotten a rubber match at WK11, but it was not meant to be. This was typical Okada main event stuff with a relatively slow start and a really hot finish. ****