Sunday, January 8, 2017

Top 135 Matches of 2016: #75-66

75. GHC Heavyweight Championship: Katsuhiko Nakajima (c) vs. Masa Kitamiya – NOAH Winter Navigation 12/24/16

Following a stellar run in NJPW’s G1 Climax, Katsuhiko Nakajima would go on to capture the GHC Heavyweight Title in NOAH. These two are friends, so it was all about the title here. It began with simple exchanges. That quickly changed. Nakajima, the “Genius of the Kick”, delivered some brutal kicks to Masa Kitamiya’s back. You’d think he hated Kitamiya. In retaliation, Masa did what any smart competitor would. He targeted the leg to take away the champion’s biggest advantage. As things progressed, the match got more and more physical. Though they’re friends, they went to war. This was one of those matches where you knew the outcome going in. Nakajima had just won the title after overcoming Suzuki-Gun but they succeeded in making me believe Kitamiya might pull it off. He hung tough and gave his buddy a run for his money but it wasn’t to be. In the end, Nakajima delivered a knockout kick to the face that crumpled Kitamiya to the mat. The champion planted him with a brainbuster to retain at 26:28. This was my favorite GHC Heavyweight Title in a long time. It didn’t suffer from the typical NOAH main event issues (going overly long and having a ton of interference) and gave a glimmer of hope for the future of the company. ****¼

74. WWE Cruiserweight Classic Qualifying Match: Drew Gulak vs. Tracy Williams – Evolve 61 5/7/16

Again, I just love that the Catch Point guys can wrestle each other and still show respect afterwards. They’ve had several matches against one another and it has never become an issue within the unit. Right after TJ Perkins qualified against Fred Yehi, Drew Gulak and Tracy Williams competed for a spot in the Cruiserweight Classic. Not only stablemates, Gulak and Williams reigned as Evolve Tag Team Champions at the time of this match. Known for their mat wrestling, this began on the ground but Williams took to the air surprisingly early. It was as if he saw Perkins advance using that style and figured it was worth a shot. As things progressed and Tracy took more risks, Gulak seemed to get fired up by the split crowd and got more aggressive. He started to hit harder and survived Tracy’s crossface several times. He eventually got his dragon sleeper, complete with body scissors, to win at 17:54. Easily the best Gulak match I have ever seen. They played things evenly and highlighted their knowledge of each other as partners. Of course, things were all good with the team after this. ****¼

73. NXT Tag Team Championship: American Alpha (c) vs. The Revival – NXT TakeOver: The End 6/8/16

After winning the NXT Tag Team Titles at the previous TakeOver during WrestleMania weekend, American Alpha had their first televised defense in the Revival’s contracted rematch. The Revival just have this amazing chemistry with anybody put in front of them, but their work with American Alpha was some of their best. The pace of this was furious from bell to bell. American Alpha ran circles around the challengers at some points, so the Revival did what they do best and cut the ring in half. They played into their first match with similar spots but made sure to put a twist on them so it would be different. Chad Gable was a great face in peril, garnering sympathy and getting in great hope spots. Jason Jordan’s hot tag run was great as always. Since it was the first big defense for American Alpha, myself and a lot of others felt they would retain. As the match neared the conclusion at 15:51, the Revival got closer and closer. They went for a powerbomb/clothesline off the top spot but Gable caught Dawson with a massive belly to belly. The Revival cut off Grand Amplitude and hit the Shatter Machine to regain the titles in a surprising decision. I’m not done saying it on this list, but the Revival are the best tag team on the planet and they were just warming up here. AA did well and got drafted to the main roster about a month after this. ****¼

72. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Katsuyori Shibata, Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata vs. Go Shiozaki, Katsuhiko Nakajima, Masa Kitamiya & Maybach Taniguchi – NJPW G1 Climax 8/14/16

I’ll admit that I didn’t watch the G1 Climax Finals show. I had little interest in what was being done. However, this match absolutely caught my eye. NOAH vs. NJPW. It also always warms my heart to see Katsuyori Shibata teaming with the New Japan Dads. The crowd was invested for the entire match, which went only 10:54, but was packed with action. They came unglued when Hiroyoshi Tenzan got tagged in, even though this was right after Gedo royally blew Tenzan’s last G1 storyline. On the flipside, Go Shiozaki got booed mercilessly and seemed to love it. His interactions with Shibata were awesome. The intensity level of this match was off the charts and that is never more clear than when Shibata and Nakajima go at it. Shibata delivers a headbutt that sounds absolutely disgusting and he immediately gets busted open the hard way because of it. Nakajima hit Nakanishi with a brainbuster to win but it didn’t stop there. Shibata went savage after the bell and attacked the NOAH guys, leading to an intense pull-apart brawl that had the fans going nuts. Four-star match but closer to five stars if we’re talking about angle work. A seemingly unimportant midcard tag turned into a big turning point for a NOAH/NJPW feud that was also fueled by NOAH guys beating key NJPW guys during the G1 Climax. Too bad nothing really came of the feud. ****¼

71. Weapons of Mass Destruction Match: Killshot vs. Marty Martinez – Lucha Underground 9/14/16

During the first two seasons of Lucha Underground, Killshot and Marty Martinez were two guys that had been underutilized. Killshot showed loads of potential in small doses, while Martinez absolutely nails his insane creeper character. Given a main event opportunity in season three, they more than delivered. Marty stole Killshot’s dog tags (important to him due to his time at war) and their feud led to this. A “Weapons of Mass Destruction” match is basically a military themed weapons match. Like any good brawl, this felt personal. Killshot attacked during Marty’s entrance and busted him open with a gun. They used their environment well, with most of the weapons coming into play and Marty taking ring announcer Melissa Santos (who he always creeps on) hostage. There was a death valley driver on a ladder, a superplex onto a crate and a powerbomb from the ring through two tables outside. Nothing was off limits. Marty’s sister, Mariposa, tried to interfere but got put through a table for her efforts. When Killshot’s double stomp failed to win things, he knew he had to up the ante. Killshot snatched his dog tags back from Marty as they fought atop a ladder. Standing atop it with Marty standing on a rung below, Killshot jumped off with a double stomp that sent Marty through a table to win an insane match at 22:21. Star making performances for two guys that deserved the chance. ****¼

70. Chris Hero vs. Matt Riddle – Evolve 71 10/16/16

Evolve tends to book matches that I look forward to. This was one of them. Matt Riddle has not been wrestling for long (barely over a year) but is already one of the most exciting people to watch. He isn’t on this list often but had several matches that came close to appearing against the likes of Zack Sabre Jr., Roderick Strong and Cedric Alexander. This match main evented Evolve 71 as Chris Hero was looking for payback after losing to Riddle back at Evolve 57. Hero is known as a knockout artist, while Riddle has one of the best UFC knockouts I’ve ever seen. Seriously, look it up. Knowing that, I just wanted these two to just beat the hell out of each other and that’s exactly what I got. For the entire 17:33, they just went to war. Riddle got to kind of play the underdog babyface role, which he doesn’t do often but did well here. Meanwhile, Hero was the bully and he does that better than anyone else in wrestling. Hero’s offense, timing and everything just works so well. Riddle came close on several occasions, but Hero obliterated him with several elbows and piledrivers to win. Almost as soon as this ended, Evolve signed a rematch for the following month. ****¼

69. AJ Styles vs. John Cena – WWE Money in the Bank 6/19/16

The moment AJ Styles walked through the curtain at the Royal Rumble, dream match ideas started pouring in now that they were a possibility. For a lot of people, this was number one with a bullet. Styles and John Cena had electricity from the crowd the second they shared the ring and though Styles turned heel that night, things still felt like a huge deal once the bell rang on this night. For most of this 24:11 match, Styles was out to prove that he was better than WWE’s golden boy and he outwrestled him at several moments, pausing to make sure and brag. Styles was always one step ahead, even cutting off Cena’s “five moves of doom” multiple times, hammering home that he just might be better than Cena. The brilliance of Styles was clear though, because for all his early dominance, he still bumped like a madman to make Cena’s offense look great. Even when AJ messed up to give Cena an opening, he was still mostly in control. The match eventually became a back and forth battle and it was great. Unfortunately, we got a ref bump and Club interference, as a Magic Killer put Cena down and got AJ a tainted win. A shit finish to an otherwise excellent match that they would top two months later. ****¼

68. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. SANADA – NJPW Power Struggle 11/5/16

On a good, but mostly uninteresting Power Struggle card, Hiroshi Tanahashi and SANADA managed to best their great G1 Climax performance. In their first outing, SANADA went after Tanahashi’s injured shoulder. He had no target like that this time. Tanahashi was one step ahead of his younger foe, frustrating him. SANADA chose to combat Tanahashi’s veteran skill with his athleticism, diving outside and snapping off a rana on the ramp. SANADA would apply his patented dragon sleeper but Tanahashi survived. Both men would go on to miss top rope moves, with SANADA missing two moonsaults. On the second, he landed on his feet and tweaked it thanks to some dragon screws by Tanahashi earlier. The former seven time IWGP Heavyweight Champion wore him down more with a cloverleaf to help cut off the athleticism edge. Still, SANADA knew that he beat Tanahashi with a dragon sleeper a few months prior and kept going to it. Tanahashi managed to counter it a whopping five times in a row before a flurry of offense led to him winning with two High Fly Flows at 21:33. ****¼

67. Eita vs. Jimmy Susumu – Dragon Gate King of Gate 6/2/16

Wow. Towards the end of the year I took the time to watch more Dragon Gate thanks to the awesome Real Hero Archive. After watching him have a really good match with Jushin Thunder Liger in the Super J-Cup, I wanted to check out some more Eita. I was very pleased with what I saw. This was part of Dragon Gate’s annual King of Gate tournament. It was a battle of two guys picking a body part and working it. Jimmy Susumu relentlessly attacked Eita’s back with some brutal backbreakers that Eita sold extremely well. Eita targeted the arm for two reasons. One, Susumu’s finisher is a big lariat and two, Eita is known for an arm scissors submission. Everything they did in this match was just so incredibly smooth. That’s enough to consider it a damn good match but then you get the dramatic stuff as time went on. Eita got his submission on once but Susumu got to the ropes. The second time, he wrenched harder and Susumu desperately reached for the ropes with his feet. You think it’s over but he again survives. Finally, Eita was able to take the big lariat and roll into his submission. Susumu refused to quit until Eita pulled the legs into the hold and he had no choice, giving up at 17:37. ****¼

66. WWE World Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs. Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler – WWE Smackdown 12/27/16

Smackdown loaded up their final show of the year and provided one of the best WWE Title matches of 2016. Originally scheduled to be AJ Styles vs. Dolph Ziggler, Baron Corbin got thrust into the match after battling Ziggler to a double countout a week earlier. While AJ/Ziggler would have been good again, Corbin brought an added dimension to this match that greatly helped it. One thing that absolutely had to be done here was to make Corbin look legitimate. Thankfully, Ziggler and Styles brought it and bumped like mad men for his offense. He was a monster at times and it took both opponents to stop him. Ziggler and AJ worked together on a diving elbow and leg drop that put Baron through the announce table. Baron returned but missed his cue to break up a pin. Luckily, AJ managed to kick out or it would have been a disaster. As this neared the conclusion, it got taken to the next level. The highlight of the match was a Zig Zag/End of Days combination. Dolph and Baron went at it until Corbin hit the End of Days. AJ took him out with the Phenomenal Forearm before pinning Dolph to retain at 21:15. They worked the right kind of match with the right guy getting pinned, the right guy winning and Baron looking like he belonged in the main event scene. ****¼