wrestling / Columns

Csonka’s Top 12 WWE Matches of 2016

December 29, 2016 | Posted by Larry Csonka
NXT Takeover: Dallas Sami Zayn and Nakamura Image Credit: WWE

WELCOME back, back to the column that makes lists and hopes that you enjoy them. This week’s column will look back at the best of WWE matches from 2016 (WWE proper, NXT, the cruiserweight classic). I always hear a lot of people saying that they can’t decide what to watch because they do not have enough time to follow everything, so maybe this will help those of you short on time find some stuff to check out. Have fun, and always, thanks for reading. Also, if you saw matches from companies I do not regularly catch; feel free to share them with the others. The more wrestling we share, the more fun we can have.

12. From WWE Summerslam – John Cena vs. AJ Styles [****½]: They had an excellent match with the right finish and man winning. The match hitting the climax at the right time, and never felt long. Both guys played well off of the first match, they set the stage that Styles could not only hang on his own but that he could take everything that Cena had traditionally put people away with, overcome it and win. AJ is a made man, give him the belt now. They did everything right here, Styles and Cena have great chemistry together, and I will have no problem seeing them clash again. The important thing is not just that Styles won, but that he won and looked impressive doing so.

11. From WWE Extreme Rules – Fatal 4 Way WWE Intercontinental Title Match: Champion The Miz w/Maryse vs. Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens [****½]: Zayn took out Owens as soon as the bell rang, hitting he helluva kick. Cesaro then took Miz out with the uppercut, so he and Zayn could do good things. After some fun back and forth, Miz returned and got sent to the floor with Cesaro and Zayn hit the big dive. The three worked for a bit, and then at the 4-minute mark, Owens returned, posted Cesaro and they went right after Zayn. They are focusing on the weakness of the multi-man match, which is the crutch of constantly sending people to the floor so that it can stay “one on one.” The crowd is into this, and the work is good, but it just comes across as very predictable. Miz and Cesaro returned for the tower of doom spot, allowing Cesaro to get near falls on Zayn and Miz. They started to incorporate more stuff with Zayn, Miz and Cesaro (including a cool three-man suplex spot), which I liked and felt they did a good job working together. Cesaro ran wild running uppercuts to all three, Owens cut him off and hit cannonballs to all three. They did a great job of turning this around, picking up the action to a wild degree; they did the big move buffet, and Cesaro survived the skull-crushing finale. Miz made the poor choice of slapping Cesaro, and ate a springboard uppercut for his troubles. Cesaro would get the swing on Miz, and lock in the sharp shooter. Miz fought to Maryse, who got pulled in the ring, and Miz tapped on the distraction for the phantom submission. Owens hit Miz with the frog splash, and then ate the neutralizer but Zayn made the save. This was just some great stuff happening here, with good work from all four guys. Zayn got a great near fall off of the code red, and looked destroyed when the ref told him that it only got 2. Cesaro cut off the helluva kick, but Zayn hit the suplex to the corner and Owens came back for the superkick on Zayn, and pop powerbomb on Cesaro, Miz pulled him to the floor, hit the skull-crushing finale and then covered Cesaro in the ring for a near fall. Cesaro would send Miz to the floor, Zayn destroyed him with the helluva kick but Owens pulled Zayn to the floor and they brawled. Miz then picked the bones, pinning Cesaro to retain. The style of win fits the Miz character perfectly, while the obsession that Owens and Zayn have for each other cost them the title in the end. That was an excellent package with great work from all four men.

10. From WWE Extreme Rules – WWE World Heavyweight Title Extreme Rules Match: Champion Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles [****½]: The crowd was clearly pro-Styles, and were enjoying giving Reigns as much shit as possible. I don’t care who they cheer for, they were super vocal early and it made for a great environment. Much like their first match, they worked the obvious power vs. speed game early on in the match. They did some spots, teasing using the chair, which has been part of the feud and made complete sense. We went to the floor and into the crowd, which I was fine with. The match is “extreme rules” and they don’t do it a lot these days, so it works here. The nature of this match should have chaos, playing off of how the feud has been booked, and this allows for that. Reigns played a great bully, which was amplified by the selling of Styles, which is on another level compared to most. In the interview with Cole this week, Styles claimed he’d do anything to win the title. He took padding off of the barricade and pulled up the padding on the floor, which was proof of that. Styles teased the clash on the exposed floor and announce table but Reigns was able to fight it off both times. This led to Reigns backdropping Styles from one announce table and through another. Reigns then hit the black tiger bomb for a great near fall. Styles turned the tide, clipping the knee of Reigns as he went for the spear. All was going well until Reigns caught Styles on a RANA try to the floor; Reigns slammed him to the barricade and apron, and then powerbombed him through the announce table. Sweet Christ I am amazed Styles is alive, that shit looked brutal. Styles was then able to sidestep Reigns, who crashed through the barricade. This series got the crowd to chant for both guys, and as Styles went for the springboard forearm, Reigns popped up with the Superman punch and Styles crashed to the floor. Reigns hit the spear on the floor, and looked to finish Style sin the ring but The Club arrived. Boot of doom to Reigns connected, and they put Styles on top but Reigns survived. The Usos arrived and laid out Styles and the Club. They hit the splash on Styles, Reigns covered but Styles survived! The others brawled on the floor, Reigns took out the Club but Styles countered the spear and hit the clash, but Reigns kicked out. Styles then set up the chair for the clash, Reigns backdropped out and Styles landed on the chair. PELE counter to the spear, CLASH on the chair! An Uso grabbed Styles, delaying the pin and Reigns kicked out. Styles hen laid into Reigns with chair shots, he took out the Usos as well! SWEET CHRIST STYLES IS CRAZED HERE! He took off the elbow pad, went for the forearm but Reigns caught him with the spear and retained. That was an excellent main event, with a hot crowd, a great use of the stipulation and tremendous performances from Reigns and Styles. I loved it.

9. From WWE No Mercy – Career vs. Title Match: IC Champion The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler [****½]: This was an outstanding match, as these two took the chance given to them once again and delivered. The performances from both guys may have been one of the best of their careers, as they played off of the previous matches and finishes well, the “over booking” was an example of it being done will without it having too much direct impact on the finish and then, despite all of Miz’s “bullshit cheating,” he finally got his comeuppance as Ziggler managed to survive and beat him clean. I do think that the ending needed a bit more time and drama worked in after the ejections, but they delivered and Ziggler finally gets is redemption. Miz was absolutely devastated post match, as he should have been after all of the shit he talked. They played their roles well, they fed off of the previous matches as they should have and it was easy to get into this match. This really should have main evented the show; it also came off even better on repeat viewings, while the triple threat from the same show lost some shine and was downgraded.

8. From The WWE Cruiserweight Classic – TJ Perkins vs. Kota Ibushi [****½]: This was an amazing overall effort, with the story of Ibushi’s neck coming into play and Perkins working the match of his life (both in terms of the stature of the tournament and in real life) and showed an amazing never say die attitude. In the end, he survived Ibushi’s best, but had to dig deep and use more than just the knee bar to score the win. Ibushi has been money in this tournament, and Perkins came out of this looking absolutely amazing, they have made he and Metalik look like stars, and that is a vital thing that they needed to do in this tournament.

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7. From NXT Takeover: The End – The Revival vs. American Alpha [****½]: The Dallas match had the better crowd and atmosphere, which always helps, but I feel that these two teams excelled here and were able to deliver their best match to date. These two teams have been working the loop like they are the Rock and Rolls vs. Midnights (I got to see them live where they worked a total southern tag match), and it shows. They took the greatness of that storytelling, added in the 2016 speed and flare and this was hot fire. I love the Revival for their no frills, Anderson like workman style; they are locked into that role and excel there. The way that they isolate their opponents and just work and grind them down is something of a lost art in tag team wrestling these days, and they have done a tremendous job of bringing that back and making it work as far as it never feeling boring. They feel aggressive and mean in all the best ways possible. These two were an excellent fit, and are a joy to watch. The bottom line is that both teams would be great additions to any tag roster anywhere. They got the time, they worked a tremendous match with some great near falls and it never felt long as they built to the finish; this was hot fire and one of the best tag matches of 2016 so far. I just loved everything about this.

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6. From The WWE Cruiserweight Classic – Kota Ibushi vs. Cedric Alexander [****½]: They worked so well together; they got the crowd early and never lost them as they got more and more into the match with some amazing near falls. Gargano and Ciampa set the stage the previous week with the first great match of the classic, and these guys outdid them. Ibushi may have won, but the performance by Alexander is a star making one under the WWE umbrella, and the guy got signed. Ibushi was the star of the classic, just having great matches like it was no big thing.

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5. From The WWE Cruiserweight Classic – Kota Ibushi vs. Brian Kendrick [****½]: I have praised him previously, but I think one of the most under-appreciated things in this tournament has been the story and work of Kendrick. The veteran that had fallen out of the spotlight, getting one last chance and doing everything he can to move on against the stronger, faster and younger competitors. His work here on the neck was fantastic, they delivered excellent near falls and when you add in the commentary of Daniel Bryan (willing his friend to continue on and win), who was in tears as he praised his friend’s effort at the end of the match as he lived through him, made it all the better. The only thing better than excellent wrestling is excellent wrestling with an equally as good a story, and that was this. And that is the reason that this match tops my overall list.

4. From NXT Takeover: Back to Brooklyn – NXT Tag Team Title Match: Champions The Revival (Dash and Dawson) vs. Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa [****¾]: This was an absolutely incredible match, with everyone playing their role perfectly and the structure allowing it to organically build all the way through. The juxtaposition of the Revival’s old school approach against the current independent style of Gargano and Ciampa worked perfectly together; the Revival are not only the best big match tag team in wrestling right now, but they may be the best team in all of wrestling right now. I loved this match and the way it sets up the future of Gargano and Ciampa. This was the best tag match I’ve seen this year, everything was effortless, the crowd was into everything and I’d call it upper tier MOTY stuff. This was the best match of the Summerslam weekend.

3. From WWE Battleground – Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens [****¾]: This was simply amazing, with great emotion from both guys as far as the hate and desperation went. These two know how to work together, you expect good at the very least from these guys, but they have the ability to take their emotions (feud wise) and translate that to their work, which makes the audience care and react in kind. This was so good, the only negative is that they were NOT separated in the draft. This was the time to separate them so that they can come back at a later date and do it again. But the shitty post match booking doesn’t take away from the fact that they delivered an awesome match that was fitting of their pre-WWE story.

2. From NXT Takeover Toronto >: DIY defeated Champions The Revival [****¾]: This was an excellent tag match, with great near falls, a tremendous crowd and some beautiful call backs to their last match. This was everything I wanted it to be and I loved it, it checked all the right boxes. The action was great; the story was great, the villains fell and the heroes won (while Gargano) found redemption. This had a little bit of everything I love in wrestling. This was beautiful tag team wrestling here, with the Gargano redemption story a hugely important thread that kept this together. The underlying tease of Gargano failing again and a possible Ciampa turn was also there, which I loved. It was easily one of the best tag matches of the year, if not the best. It was just the right two teams, telling the right story in front of the right crowd; it worked and

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1. From NXT Takeover: Dallas – Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn [*****]: The beginning was simple, but effective as they played off of the crowd and allowed their charisma and selling to carry things early. And they should have because when you can barely do anything and the crowd goes ape shit, you play off of that all you can. It became a battle of who wanted it more, and they did a great job down the stretch of teasing the near falls before they got to the near fall scenarios. The counters to the signature stuff were also so good. The thing that shocked me, and trust me I know how good these guys are, is that they worked together like they have been working the loop for years. But there are times when you can stick two awesome workers in the ring, give them the time and the finish and magic simply happens. And that is what happened here. These guys could have stopped and held the crowd up for all the monies they had to continue the match and they would have given it to them. Nakamura finally hit the kinshasha, and that was the end to that beautiful match. This lived up to my expectations and more. You could not have asked for a better match to debut Nakamura to WWE fans or for Zayn to say good-bye to NXT. There was no match this year that I was more emotionally invested in from bell to bell than this one.