Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Top 135 Matches of 2016: #35-26

35. NEVER Openweight Championship: Yuji Nagata (c) vs. Katsuyori Shibata – NJPW Dominion 6/19/16

Shortly after Katsuyori Shibata won the NEVER Openweight Title, he embarked on a war with the old guard of New Japan. In the previous three years, Shibata lost to legends Satoshi Kojima, Yuji Nagata and Hiroyoshi Tenzan in the G1 Climax. In 2016, Shibata put Kojima down on a Road to Invasion Attack show before beating Tenzan at Invasion Attack. He disrespectfully kicked Nagata, setting up a title match at Wrestling Dontaku. Nagata shocked the world when he beat Shibata and took the title. This was Shibata’s rematch and the buildup saw the two just go to war. Yuji brought the rest of the New Japan Dads with him to the ring. Shibata went after the arm early and often, but once this got past the early mat stages, this kicked into next gear. The rest of the 14:56 runtime saw these two beat the hell out of each other. Nagata sold his arm like it was going to fall off and Shibata kept attacking it. Nagata survived the sleeper, while Shibata did the same for the armbar. The battle waged on until Shibata’s next sleeper. Nagata fought and fought but couldn’t break it. Shibata reclaimed the gold after a PK. Not only was the match fantastic, but afterwards, Shibata shook hands with the old guard in a sign that he earned their respect. Even the commentator was in tears. Great storytelling and emotion. ****¼

34. Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa – WWE Cruiserweight Classic 8/3/16

Looking at the Cruiserweight Classic brackets, the most intriguing match of the first round was easily this one. Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa had been having a really good year as a tag team in NXT and were on the road to a shot at the NXT Tag Team Titles. However, they were pitted against one another to close out the first round. They began with some wrestling exchanges until Ciampa hit a loud elbow and things got more physical. Gargano did his best but couldn’t match Ciampa in terms of hard strikes. To combat it, he went to quickness, reeling off move after move in succession. Ciampa came so very close to winning several times, including when he got a knee up on an incoming Gargano slingshot and on a brutal Project Ciampa. Despite being vicious at times, after removing his knee pad for a knee strike, Ciampa decided against it. He held back because Johnny is his friend. Ciampa couldn’t believe Johnny’s resilience. Gargano started demanding shots from Ciampa and caught one into a backslide. Ciampa countered into his armbar, only for Gargano to counter back into another pin to win it at 10:46. Just a tremendous blend of hard hitting action with great storytelling. Gargano is an awesome underdog babyface and played the role to perfection here. They embraced after the match, with their partnership strengthened, in the first of many emotional moments from the CWC. ****¼

33. IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Naomichi Marufuji – NJPW King of Pro Wrestling 10/10/16

On the first night of this year’s G1 Climax, Pro Wrestling NOAH standout Naomichi Marufuji beat NJPW’s top champion, Kazuchika Okada. He didn’t just beat him though. Marufuji dominated him. That didn’t sit well with the champ, so Okada challenged Marufuji to this match. Ace of NOAH vs. Ace of NJPW. At the start of this 28:00 match, Okada tried to use his size advantage but Marufuji was too quick. They continued to tell the story of Marufuji having his number and always being one step ahead. I loved Marufuji just kicking and striking the shit out of Okada. Okada is often a smug son of a gun, so him getting his ass kicked is always great. Then, in one of the sickest spots all year, Marufuji delivered a piledriver ON THE APRON! Though Okada beat the countout, he looked dead. I even thought Marufuji pulled off the upset after hitting Shiranui. Okada busted out the Rainmaker but his attempt at a second was countered into a small package for another near fall. Okada went into a desperate flurry, even stealing Marufuji’s Emerald Flowsion, before winning with another Rainmaker. Just great pro wrestling here. Marufuji having guys from NOAH in his corner added to the importance of this match. When Okada is placed with a guy that’s better than him (Tanahashi, Ishii, Styles, Naito, Marufuji, etc.) he delivers top notch matches and this was no exception. It was the second best IWGP Heavyweight Title match of the year and a must-see performance from both. ****¼

32. WWE Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs. Dean Ambrose vs. John Cena – WWE No Mercy 10/9/16

It was a surprising call, but the WWE decided to have this match open their No Mercy Pay-Per-View. The build to this was awesome as all three men fired some pretty personal shot s at one another. Dean Ambrose and John Cena were especially insulting. You also had the intrigue of Cena going for World Title #16 and AJ being 2-0 against him. Unlike a lot of triple threat matches, this wasn’t just two guys competing while one rests outside. I mean, it happened a few times but for the most part, all three men were consistently involved. Due to that, there were plenty of great sequences, with the first being a double German suplex by Cena. They all knew each other so well that they were ready with counter after counter. There was a moment where Dean and Cena had a calf cutter and STF applied at the same time, causing AJ to tap out. Of course, that couldn’t end the match because there must be one winner in a triple threat match, so things continued. Cena would hit Ambrose with the AA but AJ laid him out with a steel chair and retained the title at 21:07. Cena doing the job on his way out to film a TV show was perfect and allowed for the Dean/AJ feud to continue. I also love that AJ isn’t they typical coward heel, but still resorts to low blows and chair shots when he gets desperate. Not only did this match make this list but I have it as the third best WWE PPV opener ever behind only Bret/Owen at WMX and Bryan/HHH at WMXXX. ****¼

31. Johnny Gargano, Kota Ibushi and TJ Perkins vs. Marty Scurll, Tommy End and Will Ospreay – WWN Mercury Rising 4/2/16

On one side you have Team Europe, while the other side featured three guys who worked the first Evolve show. Those three would all go on to compete in WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic. These are six of the biggest and hottest names in all of wrestling as evidenced by four of them working with the WWE, one over in NJPW and one holding various titles throughout the indy scene. The early exchanges were good, but everyone, including the wrestlers on the apron, went nuts for the interaction between Kota Ibushi and Will Ospreay. Two of the most athletically gifted wrestlers on the planet just going at it full tilt is great. The match really gets going and becomes great when things break down. The second half or so of this 22:47 encounter is just wall to wall action. These guys were pulling out tandem offense like they all team up on a regular basis. It spawned chants of “all these guys” and “they are awesome.” The battle moved into the crowd, where Ibushi and Ospreay fought up in the rafters. It led to them doing stereo moonsaults off them because they’re insane. After everything got back to the ring, Perkins sent Scurll outside, Gargano trapped End in the Gargano Escape and Ibushi pinned Ospreay with his last ride powerbomb. A fantastic capper to one hell of a weekend for Evolve. To top things off, Gargano would leave right after this and go across the street to work NXT tapings. ****¼

30. RPW British Heavyweight Championship: Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Chris Hero – RPW Global Wars UK 11/11/16

Less than 24 hours after winning the title, Katsuyori Shibata had a big defense of the RPW British Heavyweight Championship. Shibata dethroned Zack Sabre Jr. on night one of the Global Wars events and his scheduled match for night two with Chris Hero became a title bout. Now, if I had to choose two guys from NJPW for Hero to wrestle, it would be Tomohiro Ishii (who Hero wrestled on night one) and Shibata. Kudos to RPW for delivering. They worked the mat early but things quickly got to the strike exchange that I wanted from these two. Hero tried to do his usual bullying act but Shibata was having none of that shit, giving it right back to the challenger. For 13:18, this was just a war. Hero’s reactions to being hit as hard as he can dish out were perfect. Down the stretch, it felt like Hero would win the title with a piledriver. A lot of people expected it since he’s more of a Rev Pro regular than Shibata, but the new champion kicked out. He then applied the sleeper hold to wear down Hero before finishing him off with the penalty kick. They worked a Shibata style match so well. I winced several times at the vicious strikes, which is just what we needed from these two. ****¼

29. IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Michael Elgin (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW Destruction in Kobe 9/25/16

This was about more than the Intercontinental Title. It had to do with respect. Michael Elgin dreamt of working in Japan for years and has found success there. He loves it. Tetsuya Naito disrespects NJPW as often as possible, from attacking officials to badmouthing top stars to treating the Heavyweight Title like garbage when he held it earlier in the year. Elgin didn’t want that to happen to the Intercontinental Title and he was out to teach Naito some respect. There were some early mind games with Naito avoiding Elgin and taunting, only for Elgin to return the favor. Naito made Elgin’s leg his target, which made sense since it was attacked often during the buildup to this match. Elgin sold the leg well and struggled to hit some of his power moves because of it. Naito continually wore it down with his knee bar submission. When it looked like Elgin had things in control, out came LIDJ only for Elgin’s buddies KUSHIDA and Tanahashi to make the save. With things back to one on one, Elgin survived Destino and again was on the brink of a win. Naito would counter the Elgin Bomb into Destino and add a third to win the title at 30:36. The crowd ate this up. The match had twists, turns and was full of drama. The win made Naito the only man to win the IC, Heavyweight, NEVER, Tag and Jr. Tag Titles, as well as the New Japan Cup and G1 Climax tournaments. ****½

28. The Brian Kendrick vs. Kota Ibushi – WWE Cruiserweight Classic 8/31/16

File Brian Kendrick under the list of guys that I never thought I’d see on this list in 2016. Not because he isn’t good, but because I didn’t see him returning to the WWE. He did though and was a great addition to the CWC. Kendrick brought a different style to the show. While there were mat technicians, hard strikers, fun charismatic guys and high fliers, Kendrick was the wily veteran who did whatever it took to win. Kota Ibushi was a heavy favorite to win it all though. Knowing he was outmatched in a lot of ways, Kendrick played mind games, trying to get in Kota’s head. He did little things like trapping Kota’s foot in the guardrail to try and steal a countout win. He targeted Kota’s neck, hitting a neckbreaker on the ring post. I’ve never seen that before and it made sense considering Kota’s neck surgery. He hit Sliced Bread and a goddamn BURNING HAMMER for two very close near falls. You could just feel his desperation. The reaction when Kota missed a Phoenix Splash and Brian immediately applied the bully choke was perfect. Ibushi proved to be too much though, escaping that and winning with the sitout powerbomb at 13:57. An incredible match that got better on a second viewing. Not only was the action top notch but the story of Kendrick’s last stand and the neck work were excellent. Extra points to Daniel Bryan for trying to will his friend to victory on commentary. ****½

27. Chris Hero vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – Evolve 60 5/6/16

Zack Sabre Jr. is almost always in control. In Evolve, he has beaten pretty much everyone there is to beat but Chris Hero remains a thorn in his side. Evolve billed this main event as “the rivalry comes to Maryland”. While the matches are great, it is a pretty lopsided rivalry. I’ve said it before but their styles come together so well. Hero bullied Sabre, who responded by trying to twist Hero up at every opening. No matter how hard he tried though, Sabre remained a step behind. Hero again nailed every interaction. His trash talk was in top form with both Sabre and the fans. “YOU MAY BE THEIR FAVORITE BUT YOU AIN’T SHIT TO ME!” Both guys worked the arm with Sabre being more technical and Hero being brutal. Sabre doesn’t always sell great but he did a good job here and you felt his desperation whenever he’d manage a hope spot. Sabre survived several piledrivers and his pinning combinations made you believe he’d finally get one over on Hero. Finally, a third piledriver kept Sabre down at 29:06. It was honestly one of the sickest I’ve ever seen and I thought Sabre broke his neck. This told a simple story of one man trying everything and showing a ton of heart but being unable to get past the man who has his number. My favorite match in their series and I can’t wait for more in 2017. ****½

26. PROGRESS Championship No Disqualifications Match: Will Ospreay (c) vs. Marty Scurll – PROGRESS Chat Shit Get Banged 1/24/16

The rivalry between Marty Scurll and Will Ospreay has spanned several promotions including Rev Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor and PROGRESS. Considering the title on the line and the no DQ stipulation, this was their biggest and most heated altercation. Within the first few minutes of this 30:16 war, Ospreay was bloodied and Scurll had used his signature umbrella as a weapon. They did a wonderful job of blending their past battles of counter after counter with several hardcore aspects. Ospreay’s moonsault off a railing and the two men both taking powerbombs through tables were great. Their chemistry is always top notch and it showed during several fast paced moments of back and forth. After a referee bump, Ospreay applied a crossface with an umbrella for added leverage. Scurll tapped but of course no ref saw it. Scurll would retaliate with some barbaric shots with umbrellas. When Ospreay refused to stay down, Scurll retrieved handcuffs and trapped the champion. He proceeded to beat the hell out of him with umbrella after umbrella. Ospreay was defiant as ever and spat at Scurll. Even with more umbrella strikes, Ospreay still found a way to barely get his shoulder off the mat. Scurll finally used the chicken wing and the referee called the match, giving Scurll the title. This was a grand match with a lot going on. It felt like the kind of match I’d do with my action figures as a kid in the best possible way. ****½