WWE was a mixed bag in 2016, with a combination of amazing matches, fantastic developments in bringing the wrestling world together (thank you, Triple H), risk taking developments on the main roster, and the filler that makes you ashamed to be a wrestling fan. There is one thing that isn’t up for debate however, and that is that this might be the most talented roster of workers WWE has ever had (from an in ring perspective), as the fantastic matches have been churned out week after week. Just take a look at AJ Styles for example. He went from NJPW star to WWE Champion in less than 8 months, and he has competed in 9, yes 9 matches that were rated 4 stars or higher by Dave Meltzer in 2016 alone - that is crazy.
Unfortunately, WWE, or Vince McMahon more specifically, like to inject their brand of ‘comedy’ as filler onto RAW and Smackdown (although mainly RAW), and this has made for some cringe worthy TV and some terrible matches.
So enjoy as we take a look back on the year that was, what matches blew our minds away, and which we don’t want to remember much beyond the year 2016.
23 The Best
The inaugural Cruiserweight Classic was an undeniable success (even though RAW’s treatment of the cruiserweights have been horrendous), and one of the biggest moments to come out of the tournament was this incredibly match up between two of independent wrestling’s biggest stars. While not the length of other matches from the tournament on this list, this was high pace, back and forth action, exactly what we expect from the smaller guys, and Full Sail ate up every second of it. Ibushi went on to win the bout after a huge onslaught from Alexander, but following the match, the crowd chanted “Please sign Cedric”, proving that both men came out winners on this occasion. This bout wasn’t Ibushi’s best, but it has led to Alexander performing on both NXT and RAW, which is a huge win for WWE.
22 The Miz vs. Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens – Extreme Rules
This one looked like it would steal the show at Extreme Rules, and despite a great main event, it was the standout bout on a good card. From the start, this match was non-stop action, and featured four of the most talented performers on WWE’s current roster. Inside the action also, there was fantastic story telling, with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens continuing their historic rivalry, and the Miz solidifying himself as the best male heel on the main roster. On that note, the match finished with the reigning champion successfully defending his title, by utilizing his best weapon, wife and manager Maryse, as he has done throughout his fantastic reign. From this match, it’s hard to think that WWE won’t let these 4 men play a huge role on the main roster in the coming year.
21 American Alpha vs. The Revival – TakeOver: Dallas
This fantastic match kicked off arguably the most consistent and entertaining special event of the year for WWE, and the crowd was hot from the beginning, knowing that this could be the day that Chad Gable and Jason Jordan finally reach the mountain top. The fastest rising team in NXT history looked unstoppable, but the Revival was coming into their own as the top tag team in the world, so this was a match that was not to be missed. The match itself played into the strength of both teams, and after about 15 minutes of beautifully paced warfare, American Alpha managed to capitalize on a rare Revival mistake, and one Grand Amplitude later, TakeOver: Dallas was kicked off with a huge, crowd popping moment.
20 Kota Ibushi vs. T.J. Perkins – Cruiserweight Classic
This was one of the most anticipated matches in the first ever Cruiserweight Classic, and it didn’t disappoint in the slightest, as you’d imagine with a performer the caliber of Kota Ibushi, who was a clear favorite coming into the tournament. It came as the first bout on the live finale episode, and neither man came out better for it physically, as T.J.P was obviously quite scarred from the bout, despite having to move on to face Gran Metalik a matter of minutes later. Like most people feared, Kota Ibushi never signed a WWE contract before the tournament was over (contrary to quiet rumblings on the internet), and therefore he was the third straight crowd favorite to perish to TJ Perkins’ knee bar, and sent him on his way to becoming the winner of the inaugural and amazing Cruiserweight Classic.
19 The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler – Backlash
When The Miz was drafted to Smackdown, his Intercontinental Title reign was fairly average at best, but his appearance on Talking Smack changed all of that in a hurry. In a heated, emotional rant, Miz went off at Daniel Bryan for calling him a coward, in what most fans have called the best promo since CM Punk’s infamous Pipe Bomb. Insert Dolph Ziggler into Daniel Bryan’s place, and you have one of the hottest and most intriguing feuds in recent WWE memory. Their first match at Backlash did not disappoint either, as the two waged war in an epic story telling encounter, until Miz played his trump card – Maryse. She interfered to ensure a Miz victory, and the two have been waging wars in entertaining matches ever since, even trading the IC title.
17 Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa – Cruiserweight Classic
This match was the crown jewel of the CWC first round, because it featured two NXT tag team partners going head to head, in a presumably light hearted, fast paced affair? Not in the slightest. Johnny Wrestling and the Psycho Killer tore shreds out of each other, in what could be described as the hardest hitting WWE match of 2016, and from the get go, the fans knew this was special. Add this onto the fact that Johnny Gargano plays the best baby face in peril in WWE, and it was a recipe for success. Gargano ended up pulling out the win after 12 minutes of brutal action, and despite other amazing contests during the tournament, this is up there as one of the most memorable encounters.
16 Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch – WrestleMania 32
Up until 2016, the so-called Diva’s Revolution was flopping in a major way, but after introducing the Boss to the feud between a newly crowned heel Champion and Becky Lynch, it finally began to hit its strides. These talented women had been crying out through their performances to have a marquee match at the biggest event of the year, and on their first try, they hit it out of the park. Add on to that, Lita announced before the bout that the ‘Diva’s’ title would be rechristened the ‘Women’s’ Championship, and the three women tore the shreds out of each other to be the first to hold it. Eventually, with help from Ric Flair, Charlotte managed to come out on top, in perhaps the best match of the night.
14 T.J. Perkins vs. Gran Metalik – Cruiserweight Classic Final
This match was not only a back and forth, all out war between two standouts throughout the CWC, but was given even higher stakes prior to the match with Triple H unveiling the brand new WWE Cruiserweight Championship. The atmosphere was electric, and the Full Sail crowd was rewarded for following the entire tournament, as this one topped them all from start to finish. We may not have seen high flying, spot fest matches throughout like people expected, but this match personified what the tournament was about, great story telling, and fantastic psychology, which was on full display here. In the end, Perkins managed to get the win with a top rope reversal into his knee bar, and while no one has set RAW on fire thus far, the CWC was the best thing about WWE this year, and TJP was a big reason for that.
13 Samoa Joe vs. Sami Zayn – 2 Out Of 3 Falls, NXT
When you put two veterans with loads of talent in the ring together, things are bound to work out well, especially when you dangle a chance at Finn Bálor’s NXT Championship in front of them. It was such a big encounter in fact, that NXT dedicated an entire episode to just this one bout, and the almost hour long contest did not disappoint. While fans may have seen the writing on the wall, with a rematch between Joe and Balor the more obvious choice, this match was engaging and exciting throughout. It took 40 minutes for the first fall, but the selling and story telling in the match was commendable, and without a shadow of a doubt, it was one of the best NXT put on this year.
12 AJ Styles vs. Roman Reigns – Extreme Rules
Every fan of AJ Styles knows what he can do in the ring, but after his WWE debut, they were left doubting how WWE would treat him, but after a standout first few months, he surprisingly found himself challenging for the WWE Championship. Unfortunately, standing in his way was WWE’s golden boy, Roman Reigns, who, despite major improvements in the ring, was still being booked terribly by the company. Their first bout ended a Reigns victory, which had some fans confident that the Phenomenal One could come out victorious in the rematch, but not so much. The match itself however was a hard hitting, engaging bout, and at the end of 20+ minutes of back and forth action, distractions from both the Club and the Uso’s led to another Reigns victory.
10 Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks – Falls Count Anywhere, RAW
Many fans thought that this would be the thrilling conclusion of this rivalry, which has been waged since even before the brand split, and although it wasn’t their final encounter (hopefully Roadblocks match was), this was by far the best performance from both workers. Like others, this match took place on RAW, and not surprisingly, Sasha Banks again came out victorious, but this time, Charlotte’s father, the Nature Boy Ric Flair came to the ring to raise her hand, a sign that the feud should have been over. The two went at it again on PPV for Charlotte to win it back, but for the time, this was an incredible match (in my opinion the best televised match of the year), and a sign that the chemistry and viciousness between the two will always be present.
9 Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn – Battleground
This was touted as the final battle between two former friends (despite it being like their 10th match of the last 2 years), and surprisingly, WWE have stuck to their word on it so far. But what we got was worthy of an epic final showdown, as this bout had everything you could want in a wrestling match. Fans who may have been sick of the friends turned enemies battling were even in awe of this gripping contest, which was about as emotional as any WWE affair in quite some time. The match easily stole the show and ended with a beautiful bit of story telling, where Zayn thought about taking mercy on his foe, before setting him up for one final dagger to the heart. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, I highly recommend giving it a watch, even if you were growing tired of the rivalry.
8 AJ Styles vs. John Cena – SummerSlam
When these two went head to head at Money in the Bank, some fans were left disappointed, feeling robbed of a dream match 15 years in the making, but those fans were rewarded for their patience at SummerSlam, in the best main roster match of 2016, hands down. From start to finish, this felt like a huge match on what was an incredibly long card, but Cena and Styles captivated the audiences attention like two world class performers should. The bout was incredibly well timed, and didn’t drag on long enough to becoming boring, with a shocking finish where AJ picked up the clean 1-2-3 victory. This was an amazing contest, but finally showed that WWE were ready to pull the trigger on someone finally putting the champ down 2-0. AJ has carried on as the face of Smackdown since, rewarding WWE’s faith so far.
7 Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn – TakeOver: Dallas
There’s not much that can be said about this match that hasn’t been said 50 times this year, but it truly was a showcase of two of the brightest talents that WWE has had to offer in years. It was Zayn’s NXT farewell, and the arrival of the King of Strong Style, which makes it all the more surprising that there was no story heading into this match, as fans were thoroughly invested from the moment Sami’s music hit, until the final “Thank you, Sami” chant. The action was gripping, and every moment brought the fans further out of their seat, and although it isn’t talked about as much today, this may go down as one of the best matches in NXT history, just edged out by the next encounter on our list.
6 DIY vs. The Revival – 2 out of 3 Falls, TakeOver: Toronto
This match may be ranked highly due to it being so fresh in my mind, but, without hyperbole, this was quite possibly the perfect tag team match. From the beginning we knew this match would be special, but to say it exceeded expectations is an understatement. Right from the opening bell these two teams meshed perfectly, and the story was told (both by the performers and Graves & Phillips on commentary) that the underdogs never had a chance, to the point where most fans would have believed it. The indy star duo then tied the match at 1-1, and that’s where the match kicked it into high gear. Near fall after near fall, flawless spots and a crowd who were biting on every single moment, this was near perfection. DIY ended up coming out on top, and after 2 show stealing matches, it’s safe to say that no one wants this to be the last contest that these two teams have.
5 The Worst
This match was hyped up as Brock Lesnar’s return to WWE after he conquered the UFC, and many expected Randy Orton to finally give the Beast a challenge in what would be the nights main event. It ended it what was a controversial moment, but looking back, it was a horrible end to a horrible match, in what was a very undeserving main event. The match was lethargic and lacked the electricity that came with most Brock Lesnar matches (ie. Survivor Series), and then came the ending, oh god the ending. Who’s idea was it to trust Brock Lesnar to hit someone in a way that only just nicked their head, to ‘slightly’ bust them open. Orton showed guts, but as suspected, Lesnar cut his head in a bad way, leaving everyone to discuss whether Lesnar was out of control or it was a work. We later found out it was a work, but the main event of SummerSlam was sacrificed for what was a pedestrian match and a talking point following the show.
4 Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal - WrestleMania 32
The winner of this years Andre the Giant memorial battle royal was well deserved, and it was a great way to introduce Baron Corbin to the wider WWE audience who hadn’t seen his work in NXT, but the match itself was the definition of a bathroom break. We saw appearances from the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and Tatanka, but nothing felt important about this match, at all. Maybe it’s because Cesaro gained nothing from his victory, and the Big Show won the following year, so fans couldn’t give a damn about the result, but either way, it was a terrible waste of 10 minutes on the biggest show of the year, which could have been used for a more important bout.
3 Enzo & Cass vs. The Vaudevillians - Payback
We may never know how good this bout was going to be, as the teams are now on separate brands, and the Vaudevillians are basically as bad as the Ascension, but coming into this event, this was a match that was quite exciting. If you believe rumors, the Dudleyz were due to interfere, so a win for English and Gotch was coming regardless, but the way it happened was downright scary. While Aiden English was attempting to throw Enzo Amore out of the ring, his head hit the bottom rope and whiplashed, looking like he was seriously, seriously injured. Thankfully it was nothing more than a concussion, and he returned to the ring weeks later, but this was a scary moment that soured a match which should have been a highlight of the Battleground show.
2 Bayley vs. Dana Brooke - Hell in a Cell
This was one especially disappointing considering it was the first big match of Bayley on the main roster, and came with a green Dana Brooke after an incredibly silly arm wrestling match just days before. But nonetheless, the two headed into a match at Hell in a Cell which would have been by far the worst match of the year if not for Bayley’s brilliance with both her wrestling abilities and her baby face character work. There was nothing particular (like a botched spot) that made the match stand out as a terrible one, it’s just that it was a terrible way for Bayley to reach the main roster, and the match was just boring and sluggish, but hopefully WWE continue to build the underdog character that Bayley plays well, which will culminate no doubt at WrestleMania.
1 The Shining Stars vs. The Golden Truth
This isn’t restricted to just one bout, as these teams went to battle many times this year, but each and every time it made you question why on earth you were a wrestling fan. Both of these teams were among the worst performers in WWE this year, with the company opting to use them as filler more than is ever needed, proving that the company hasn’t moved past the idiotic comedy into wrestling promotion like many had hoped. Hopefully coming into the year 2017, WWE realizes that the 3 hour RAW format just isn’t working, and that they can get more out of the product by reducing it to 2 hours, eliminating the filler. Just like Smackdown, RAW too could become ‘All killer, no filler’.
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