Monday, January 9, 2017

Top 135 Matches of 2016: #65-56

65. New Japan Cup Quarterfinals: Tetsuya Naito vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW New Japan Cup 3/4/16

It doesn’t get talked about enough, but there is magical chemistry between Tetsuya Naito and Tomohiro Ishii. The annual New Japan Cup tournament awards the winner a shot at any title that they want. Up until this point, the tournament was full of good matches, but was missing that one great one. It happened here in the main event of night two. Naito’s carefree attitude got under Ishii’s skin early on. Naito taunted him and dared him to hit harder, even though Ishii was already laying in the shots. Ishii just got frustrated as Naito disrespectfully slapped him in his giant head. One of the slaps sounded unexpectedly brutal too. They built some good drama down the stretch of this 16:21 encounter. The back half of this match is where things hit their stride and included some great exchanges. Ishii reversed Destino into Emerald Flowsion in one of the coolest moments of the match. Naito returned the favorite by countering the Brainbuster into Destino and advancing in a tournament that he would eventually go on to win. A great match between two guys that would go on to best this performance two months later. ****¼

64. WWE Intercontinental Championship Last Man Standing Match: Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Kevin Owens – WWE Royal Rumble 1/24/16

Usually, a stipulation like Last Man Standing is left for main event and top title rivalries, avoiding the midcard titles. Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens aren’t your typical intercontinental Championship contenders though. Both men are among the most over in the company and their feud over the title was pretty much the best thing in the late months of 2015 and early 2016. Their matches were good but had never quite reached great territory. I love when matches fit the story, so them coming out and just hammering away on one another at the bell was great. The violence just progressed over the 20:21 runtime, building and building to bigger spots. Owens cannonballing Dean through the guardrail and chair shot after chair shot from each guy only added to the brutality. Things got taken to the next level when two tables were set up outside just before Dean tossed a chair right into Owens’ face, two things we don’t see often anymore. Some of the things Owens got up from were nuts and I appreciated that because it is usually the babyface who keeps getting up. Little things like them screaming “I HATE YOU” at each other randomly was a nice touch. In the end, Owens went for a high risk move only to be tossed into a somersault through the two tables and lose. It was the best IC Title match in years, until it was bested later in the year. Also, these guys are the first IC Champions since Rock & Triple H to win their first major titles within the next year. ****¼

63. Ricochet vs. Will Ospreay – Evolve 59 4/2/16

Of the three matches I saw between these two in 2016, this was my favorite. Yes, even ahead of the more popular NJPW encounter. The other two took place during tournaments (Best of the Super Juniors and Battle of Los Angeles) and this was part of Evolve’s USA vs. Europe series of matches. A win for Ricochet would tie the series, but a loss would give Europe the win. Despite the stakes, they had some fun in the beginning. They posed with the other one’s entrance gear before the match and once it started, we got a battle to see who was more athletic. They played into that more in their second match. As the match progressed though, the fun stopped and things got more serious. Regardless of the tone during the match, the things they did were so fast paced but also so incredibly smooth. These two are freaks of nature. The closing stretch was insane, seeing an apron DVD, 450 splash, Spanish fly, Essex destroyer and more before Ricochet finally won at 18:31 with the Benadryller. Their best work together in a breathtaking main event. ****¼

62. Michael Elgin vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW G1 Climax 7/24/16

The B Block from NJPW’s G1 Climax strikes again. I told you it was an all-time great block. Both Michael Elgin and Tetsuya Naito suffered losses in their first G1 matches this year, so they were looking to rebound here. Elgin entered this main event as the IWGP Intercontinental Champion and the Lucha Libre Elite Champion. They both spent the previous year rejuvenating their careers. Naito was his usual relaxed self and avoided locking up with Elgin. Elgin got into his head a bit by stealing his signature taunt. Once things got going, Naito spent a good chunk of the 22:12 working the leg of his bigger opponent. It was one of the first instances of him utilizing a knee bar. There were plenty of great moments throughout this. From Naito’s attitude and disrespect to Elgin’s big offense like a corner DVD and his BIG MIKE FLOW (taken from his partner Hiroshi Tanahashi’s High Fly Flow) to an awesome spot where Elgin countered a super rana into a middle rope sitout powerbomb. Elgin sold the leg well, struggling to do most of his offense. They went into several counters down the stretch, including one where Naito reversed a deadlift suplex into Destino. Knowing the power that Elgin has and how Elgin fought through everything to not quit in this match, Naito added a second Destino for the win. You felt the desperation from both trying their hardest to not start the tournament 0-2. It was a great match with lots of twists and turns. ****¼

61. Number One Contender’s Two Out of Three Falls Match: Sami Zayn vs. Samoa Joe – NXT 3/9/16

A little over a month prior, Sami Zayn and Samoa Joe both made Baron Corbin submit in a number one contender’s match. Unsure about the true top contender, William Regal put Joe against Zayn two weeks before this and it still ended in a draw. This was their final battle to determine who would face Finn Balor at TakeOver: Dallas. With so much at stake, Joe and Zayn did what they do best and wrestled for an entire episode of NXT. Including commercials, it lasted 42:44. There was a relatively slow start, with neither guy wanting to make a mistake. Zayn held a slight advantage until Joe went to striking. Zayn sold Joe’s offense like he was on the verge of death. Despite that, it took Joe over twenty minutes to win the first fall because Sami just wouldn’t quit. I loved the touch of commentary saying there were more matches to come even though this was the entire show. About ten minutes after the first fall, Sami tied it by making Joe tap to the Koji Clutch. In the final fall they displayed their exhaustion. There was a great contrast of Sami not wanting a countout win, but Joe being more than willing to take it. Finally, after taking one hell of a beating, Sami fell to the Coquina Clutch. He didn’t even tap out though. The referee was forced to stop the match. Sami played the perfect resilient underdog (a role he is better than everyone at) to Joe’s monster. Sometimes long matches are pointless but everything here made sense and resulted in a great marathon battle. ****¼

60. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada – NJPW G1 Climax 8/12/16

Tons of people were quick to give out the ***** rating for the Wrestle Kingdom 10 match between these two but I found it to EASILY be their worst match ever. It felt like Kazuchika Okada led that match which led to a lot of nothing early on and a hot finish. This rematch on the final A Block show of the G1 Climax saw a return to form with a match that felt like Hiroshi Tanahashi (the superior worker) was back to leading the way. They’ve met a ton since 2012 with every match (except WK10) getting at least **** from me. A win by either guy in this match would put them in the finals of the tournament. They did a great job of playing into the fact that even though Okada finally beat Tanahashi at WK, he is frustrated to keep playing second fiddle to the bigger star at times. Both guys came close to winning early by using their vast knowledge of one another. After the hot start, they moved into standard Okada/Tana stuff with Tana working the leg, Okada getting bursts of hope and the classic Tana High Fly Flow to the outside. Tana nearly won by countout but didn’t want it that way. He went to bring Okada in but Okada met him with a tombstone and Tana nearly got counted out. Both men came extremely close to winning down the stretch and again played into how well they know each other with counter after country. The finishing stretch was top notch and called back to the standout moment from WK10 of Okada keeping hold of Tana’s wrist while battling. Tanahashi would hit High Fly Flow but time expired at 30:00 while pinning Okada. Neither man would win A Block, as the draw gave Hirooki Goto the win. My major gripes with this were the time limit draw felt obvious after a while and Tanahashi, knowing time was expiring, went for his finisher twice in the end, wasting time. Everything else was a return to form for these two. ****¼

59. High Speed Championship: Mayu Iwatani (c) vs. Evie – Stardom vs. The World 2/21/16

One promotion that I was able to find a few shows for was Stardom. The all women’s puro company has a YouTube subscription service that I joined for a while. Coming into this, I hadn’t seen much of Mayu Iwatani, but heard great things. Evie is someone that I’d seen around various indies and especially SHIMMER. The positive things that I heard about this match is actually what drove me to sign up for Stardom World. The name of the title they competed for was appropriate because this went at a fast, breakneck pace for the entire 12:40. The opening sequence was too fast to do a write up on even if I wanted to. Evie unleashed a flurry of hard kicks. Seriously, you wouldn’t know it by looking at her, but the girl can be brutal. The pace somehow got even faster as the match progressed. Iwatani retaliated with some badass kicks of her own, showing that neither woman was holding anything back. The Korakuen Hall crowd gets to see a lot of great matches throughout the year and this was one of the best, regardless of gender. Evie fought valiantly but fell to a dragon suplex. It felt like a star making performance for her, while Iwatani continued to show why she is one of the best on the planet. ****¼

58. Number One Contender’s Match: Marty Scurll vs. Will Ospreay – RPW High Stakes 1/16/16

The previous October, Marty Scurll and Will Ospreay came up just short in taking the RPW British Heavyweight Title from AJ Styles in a great three-way match. To start 2016, they competed to earn another shot at the championship. It was clear from the start that these two know each other incredibly well. They had counters for everything and moved at a quick pace while everything came off crisply. This was more than your typical number one contender’s match because these two have a longstanding rivalry. It gave this a good mix of trying to win and trying to hurt your opponent, but there a few playful moments early on that I don’t think fit into the overall story. Anyway, you could tell that they both want to be the top guy in Rev Pro and couldn’t stand the idea of the other one being in that spot. The counters they had were mind blowing. Scurll turning an Ospreay ring post DDT into a suplex on the apron and catching the Oscutter into his patented chicken wing were both highlights. When their usual stuff didn’t work, they resorted to doing their opponent’s moves. After nearly thirty minutes (28:38 to be exact), Scurll finally made Ospreay submit to the chicken wing. This wasn’t perfect but they worked hard, had a very clear heel vs. face dynamic and delivered a big-time match that felt important. ****¼

57. Prince Puma vs. Rey Mysterio Jr. – Ultima Lucha Dos 7/20/16

Ultima Lucha Dos didn’t quite live up to its incredible predecessor, but the main event proved to be one of the best matches in Lucha Underground history. A match so big that it headlined their biggest show of season two over the Lucha Underground Championship. From the very first episode, Prince Puma was THE MAN of Lucha Underground and became the first champion. Rey Mysterio Jr. showed up early in season two and is pretty much the godfather of lucha. The face of Lucha Underground against the face of lucha libre. Puma wanted to prove he could beat the best and Rey wanted to show he could still hang. Early on, Puma’s ramped up cockiness showed when he outworked Rey. Outmatched in the speed and quickness departments, Rey had to utilize his veteran instincts. That was the story throughout and it was wonderfully told. Rey reached into his bag of tricks at times, like on a super reverse rana that we haven’t seen from him in a long time. Puma had counters ready, knowing Rey’s offense so well because Rey is his idol. He even hit Rey with his own 619, followed by a springboard 450 splash for a near fall. He stopped to basically apologize to his hero before trying a 630 and it cost him as he crashed and burned. Rey bested him shortly after with a diving rana at 16:37. I originally didn’t like the decision, but it set up a great season three arc for Puma. These two told a beautiful story and the match was full of twists, turns and counters at the right time. Awesome stuff. ****¼

56. Money in the Bank: Alberto Del Rio vs. Cesaro vs. Chris Jericho vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn – WWE Money in the Bank 6/19/16

Not counting the 2015 edition, the Money in the Bank match has been a lock for a big year-end list like this. This year’s field was one of the best ever. Alberto Del Rio was the only guy that didn’t enter with momentum. Everyone else seemed to have a legitimate shot at winning. The spots came early and often as pretty much everyone brought their A game. Though there were a lot of spots, it never felt like they were moving from one spot to the next. The match had a very natural flow to it. The emphasis on some of the personal issues throughout the match added something unique to this. Dean Ambrose and Chris Jericho were fresh off a feud while Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens continued their eternal rivalry. Jericho wanted revenge for Dean getting 69 thumbtacks stuck in his body and Zayn and Owens just hate each other. Some of the best spots saw Cesaro’s fun uppercut barrage, a cannonball barrage from Owens and Del Rio locking Cesaro in a cross armbreaker between ladder rungs. Cesaro swinging Jericho into a ladder was also great. Near the end, Zayn pretty much killed Owens with a Michinoku driver onto an open ladder. All six men battled on top of ladders, leading to a cool visual. Sami was close to winning but Owens pulled him away and powerbombed him onto a ladder. Dean stopped Owens from winning and pulled down the briefcase at 21:37. He would successfully cash in to end the night. This was the third best Money in the Bank match to me behind the original and the Smackdown one in 2013. Maybe the 2014 one has a case. Either way, this ruled. ****¼