Monday, February 6, 2017

Top 135 Matches of 2016: #5-1

5. AJ Styles vs. John Cena – WWE SummerSlam 8/21/16

Their first match at Money in the Bank was marred by interference from Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. With them on Raw after the draft, AJ Styles wanted another match with John Cena to prove that he was better. No excuses. Like their first encounter, AJ was confident and shouted “WE’VE BEEN THROUGH THIS BEFORE, YOU CAN’T STOP ME!” when getting the early upper hand. That overconfidence cost him a bit and Cena turned things around, leading to a fantastic back and forth display. They did go deep into the finisher kickout barrage, which I don’t always love, but they didn’t go overboard here. My favorite thing about this was that it was a straight up wrestling match. No nonsense, no bull. Just two of the best ever trying to see who the better man was. Cena’s middle rope Attitude Adjustment, which has beaten AJ before, failed. I totally bought that as the finish. Cena sold the disbelief perfectly. It was as if he realized, right there, that AJ was indeed better. AJ avoided another AA and hit the Styles Clash followed by the Phenomenal Forearm to end it at 23:10. An incredible match by two incredible performers. Their chemistry is off the charts and this did wonders for AJ. For all the guys that Cena never properly put over (Bray, Owens, Rusev, Barrett, etc.), they got it completely right with AJ. He beat Cena clean and went on to win the WWE World Title. This was everything I want a dream match to be and more. ****¾

4. Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – NXT TakeOver: Dallas 4/1/16

It was the highly anticipated WWE debut of one Shinsuke Nakamura. Some matches don’t need a storyline or build. Just put two of the best on the planet together and sit back. I must start with the atmosphere. The Dallas crowd was one of, if not the best NXT crowd I can recall. They were hot all night but on another level for this. They treated both men like megastars. The reaction for Nakamura still gives me goosebumps as does his entrance here in general. Even Sami couldn’t help but smile during it. The match itself was the perfect introduction for Nakamura. It allowed him to showcase the things that make him work to the audience at home, while the live crowd reacted perfectly to everything. Sami Zayn brought all he could but the physical toll that Nakamura’s various knee strikes took on him was just too much. He managed to bust out the spots he had to, like the blue thunder bomb and tope con hilo, while Nakamura got all his shit in. Though there was no animosity between them, this felt like a fight. It was the match that spawned the “fight forever” chant and though it has been used since, it fit here better than ever. Nakamura won at 20:06 with Kinshasa. This was the best debut match I can recall. Nakamura came off looking like a star, while Zayn went toe to toe with the strong striker and added so much to this match. It was Zayn’s final NXT appearance and he made it count. He put Nakamura over, ending one era of NXT and setting the stage for the next. Incredible. ****¾

3. CWF Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship No Holds Barred Match: Roy Wilkins (c) vs. Trevor Lee – CWF Worldwide 3/9/16

104:43. That’s how long Trevor Lee and Roy Wilkins wrestled here. That’s mind boggling. The stakes were high as more than just the title was on the line. If Lee lost, he would be forced to leave CWF Mid-Atlantic for good. The match could only end via pinfall or submission, which was notable because Lee couldn’t attempt to knock out Wilkins since the title wouldn’t change hands that way. I’d say that like a film, this match could be broken up into acts. They started with hold for hold grappling that hammered home how Lee is the superior technician. Lots of credit to Wilkins for understanding his role and not trying to showcase his own stuff. Since he was behind, he and his entourage cheating in the next section of the match made a ton of sense. As the match passed the one hour mark, all the All-Stars (Wilkins’ stable) got involved. My one gripe with the match was that this lasted a bit too long. Lee rallied from it, with some help, and it came back down to the two competitors as things closed. The final section of this is insane. They go to war in a way that would make you think they hadn’t just wrestled for over an hour. The best part of it is that all the work done throughout the match comes full circle and makes sense. Too often I see matches that go long for the sake of it and things happen with no rhyme or reason. Everything here made sense and paid off. Lee finally captured the title by making Wilkins submit. It’s not just one of the most incredible feats I’ve ever seen in wrestling, it’s also a spectacular match. I know a lot of people will scoff at the runtime and avoid this but I implore you to make time and give it a watch. You won’t regret it. ****¾

2. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn – WWE Battleground 7/24/16

Former best friends and tag team partners, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn went on to be even better rivals. Their main roster story saw Zayn eliminate Owens from the Royal Rumble and their feud cost each other the Intercontinental Title and the Money in the Bank briefcase. Owens beat Zayn at Payback, but this was billed as the end of the rivalry, for now at least. Sami went for the Helluva Kick at the opening bell but Owens avoided it. Owens wore him down and in classic Owens fashion, he even made a simple chinlock entertaining. A scary moment came when Sami tried a springboard moonsault and landed badly on his previous injured shoulder. Brilliantly, they worked it into the story when Owens attacked it. There were so many callbacks to their past and fantastic sequences in this. Sami busted out a freaking apron brainbuster! I loved that Sami didn’t kick out of the Popup Powerbomb either, since matches tend to rely on the finisher kickout gimmick too much. Instead, he got his feet on the ropes. Surviving, not overpowering. What put this match over the top was the emotion and story. Owens shouting for his former best friend to “STAY DOWN”, only for Sami to catch him in two suplexes was great. Even better was Sami stopping to close his eyes and take in the Helluva Kick he was about to hit. He caught a falling Owens and played the conflicted role so well. Did he want to win there or did he want to inflict more punishment? That moment made you think Sami was gonna be compassionate but he finally decided to get his revenge, hitting a second Helluva Kick to win at 18:21. This had the hot crowd, intense exchanges, great story, emotional impact and all around excellence. When done right, wrestling can be a beautiful thing. ****¾

1. NXT Tag Team Championship 2 Out of 3 Falls: The Revival (c) vs. #DIY – NXT TakeOver: Toronto 11/19/2016

When done right, tag team wrestling is one of the best things in the world. This wasn’t just tag team wrestling done right. It was done perfectly. It’s honestly hard to sit here and fully express everything about this match that worked. They had an absolute classic and the best tag match in WWE in the past decade plus a few months prior, only to build upon that and best it here. The two out of three falls stipulation is perfect for the old school style of the Revival. The first fall is great and sees #DIY a step ahead, but not quite able to put the champs down. From out of nowhere though, Gargano ate a Shatter Machine and they fell behind 0-1. The second fall saw the Revival do what they do best. They dominated with the best tag work on the planet. They’ve mastered it. Since this was in Toronto, they even busted out the Hart Attack (while wearing punk and black). Ciampa finally got the hot tag and it led to DIY hitting their finish to tie it up. The final fall is incredible. Non-stop action with breathtaking near falls and close calls. Gargano got trapped in the submission he lost to in Brooklyn but survived this time around. The Revival tried doing #DIY’s finisher, only to have it cut off. #DIY then did the Shatter Machine and I absolutely believed it was over, but it was broken up. The finish was brilliant though. #DIY locked in stereo submissions and the Revival stopped each other from tapping before giving up at the same time at 22:16. Everything here clicked. The crowd was hot, the work was crisp, the callbacks to their past, the storytelling and the underlying tease of Gargano possibly failing again and Ciampa turning on him, which was possible considering the Brooklyn match and the CWC. Being invested in characters always helps and #DIY’s win was emotional, hard earned and beautiful. I loved every single second of this. *****