wrestling / Columns

Hawke’s Top 60 WWE Matches from 2016

January 8, 2017 | Posted by TJ Hawke
No Mercy WWE AJ Styles

WWE produces a lot of shit, but they also produce good wrestling.

 

60. Bayley vs. Asuka – 4/1/2016

59. Cesaro vs. Sheamus – 9/25/2016

58. Austin Aries vs. No Way Jose – 8/20/2016

noway

This was a fun and energetic opener, and it was by far the most comfortable Austin Aries has looked since joining NXT in January. Both guys were pretty over with the crowd and that allowed them to just go out there and work a basic match in terms of structure. They both got in their shit, played to the last row in the crowd, and then timed everything in a manner to keep the match humming. Also, if you use some mathematical properties, you can make a theorem about how this match being better than Aries/Nakamura proves that No Way Jose is a superior wrestler than Shinsuke Nakamura. Aries won after hitting a sunset flip powernomb and then transitioning to the Last Chancery. ***½

 

57. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn vs. Zack Ryder vs. The Miz vs. Stardust vs. Sin Cara vs. Dolph Ziggler

This was a ladder match for Owens’ Intercontinental Championship.

This was a very fun group ladder match. It was paced very well so that it did not feel rushed, but the action never let up. You also had the bonus of the Kevin Owens/Sami Zayn issue adding a bit of emotion to the situation.

The match was wisely built around Kevin Owens who was clearly the biggest and most over star in the match. It seemed like everything started with or came back to Owens. Then Zack Ryder, the person who came out to no reaction, randomly won the match.

Beyond the whiny “Why didn’t Owens or Zayn win!?!?!?” reaction, this match did not even tell a good story to make Ryder’s win make sense.  Not to mention, Zack Ryder is an incredibly limited performer whose moment was in 2012. Whatever. Fun match. (***1/2)

 

56. AJ Styles vs. John Cena vs. Dean Ambrose – 10/9/2016

55. Luke Harper vs. Sami Zayn – 10/7/2016

sami

As you could imagine, this was quite good. It was very much a WWE style match but with the additional element of Harper playing to the crowd more because it was a house show.

Harper got control relatively early and used his size/strength advantage to stay on top for a bit. The match threatened to drag during this portion, but they turned it on for Sami’s comeback. They timed Sami’s comeback spots very well, and the match got very dramatic and exciting as a result.

Harper seemed to get back in control, but his overconfidence was his undoing. Sami caught him playing to the crowd and killed him with the Helluva Kick to pick up the win. These two had the expected strong physical chemistry and dynamic to produce a fun match. (***1/2)

 

54. The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler – 9/20/2016

53. Johnny Gargano vs. TJ Perkins – 7/14/2016

garganoo

This was a CWC second round match.

This was a satisfying and fun tournament match for the CWC. It mostly featured a ton of slick, back-and-forth action that was pretty much all executed very, very well. There was also the nifty story of Gargano’s knee being injured from TakeOver, and TJP sporadically going after it and then eventually winning with a submission on that knee. Gargano’s selling was a bit inconsistent but not in a way that distracted from the match too much. (Also, it was just impressive that incorporated this at all given the taping schedule.) This was one of Gargano’s better matches in a while, and TJP once again proved to be one of the underappreciated wrestlers in the world. He was a great if surprising choice to move on in the CWC. (***1/2)

 

52. Sin Cara vs. Viktor – 7/31/2016

sincaraviktor

This was *shockingly* good. Have they done the loop together a million times? Have they had a Best of 1001 series on Superstars? What’s the deal?

The structure of the match was basic. Sin Cara got some shine. Viktor cut him off and then got the heat. Sin Cara made a comeback and eventually won. The key though was the timing was perfect at every key moment, and the execution of Sin Cara’s arsenal down the stretch was downright snazzy. Their physical chemistry was insane.

This was a simple match yet fun all the way through. Check it out. (***1/2)

 

51. AJ Styles vs. Alberto del Rio – 4/12/2016

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These guys did a real solid ten-minute match here.

They kept it back and forth early on. They did it in a fun way though where you couldn’t tell who would get control of the match. ADR did eventually get a soft control, and he packed in all the cool shit he’s doing now. He really has a great variety of movez in his arsenal at the moment, and he’s doing a great job of not putting them in his matches at the same time every time. He went for the cross armbreaker without setting it up though, and AJ caught him with a sloppy fruit roll-up for the win. More of these two together please. (***1/2)

Note: some narrative of ADR dropping AJ on his head took off after this match happened. AJ got his feet caught on the turnbuckle for the reverse superplex. Stop jumping to conclusions, ya dorks.

 

50. The Royal Rumble Match – 1/24/2016

49. The New Day vs. Y2AJ – 3/7/2016

newday

This was for New Day’s WWE Tag Team Championship.

This was a high-energy television tag title match that edited out most of the heat segment in the commercial. This is a very easy and effective way to make your tag team scene seem hot! I encourage all wrestling companies with television to do this! The closing stretch with everyone flying all around was good stuff, and I loved the ending of Big E reversing the Codebreaker into a Big Ending. This was probably the best match Jericho has been heavily involved in since 2013. (***1/2)

 

48. Sheamus vs. Cesaro – 8/8/2016

47. Sheamus vs. Cesaro – 8/21/2016

46. Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte – 7/25/2016

sasha

This was for Charlotte’s WWE Women’s Championship.

When discussing important matches (title changes, debuts, etc.), it can often times to be more important to assess whether or not a match should be considered ‘successful’ instead of whether or not it was ‘good.’ This was probably one such time.

Sasha and Charlotte have a long history of working well together and putting on satisfying matches. It was nice to see them get a chance to do that on Raw together since both have struggled to replicate the success they had on NXT since each was called up to the main roster.

This match featured a lot of clever ideas (Sasha pulling an Eddie Guerrero to get Dana Brooke kicked out) and big moments (Sasha’s tope suicida where she almost died and Charlotte’s moonsault to the floor immediately come to mind).

The finishing sequence was fantastic as well. Charlotte survived the Bank Statement, screamed “You’ll never beat me!” and then immediately got trapped in the Bank Statement again to lose the title.

However, the match felt like it was missing the thread to a certain degree. It would be an overstatement to say that it was disjointed, but you could not help but feel like the match could have been grander than just a series of cool moments.

That is a nitpick though. This was an enjoyable match that put Sasha over well and was a rare step forward for the WWE in terms of making women’s wrestling not a complete joke. (***1/2)

 

45. The Revival vs. Enzo Amore & Big Cass – 3/12/2016

44. Alberto del Rio vs. Kalisto – 1/11/2016

adr

This was for ADR’s United States Championship.

I really dug this one. They did the story where ADR was a step ahead of Kalisto for almost every moment of the match. Kalisto managed to get in enough offense and to sporadically tease comebacks throughout though to give the match some unpredictability.

ADR did his usual fun job of working over an opponent although I would have appreciated him targeting Kalisto’s arm more. On the bright side, it does play into the story that ADR was not taking him seriously enough and that leaves room for an interesting followup in the rematch.

Kalisto still is not very good (or at least just not very consistent). He’s one of the few wrestlers I would genuinely tell to slow down and do less because his ambition often gets the better of him.

Overall, this was quite fun. Kalisto getting the surprise fruit roll-up pin/victory came off well. (***1/2)

 

43. Christopher Girard vs. Tommaso Ciampa – 4/21/2016

biffciampa

Sometimes the right matchup happens in front of the right crowd. Biff and Ciampa both have roots in the Boston area, and the Lowell, MA fans treated them like conquering heroes. You would think that these two would be two of the biggest stars in NXT based on how they were received here. Combine that with a hard-hitting, fast-paced match that goes 8-9 minutes, and you’re left a super satisfying match that is easy to watch all the way through. Hopefully this match gets released on some future Unreleased NXT Compilation one day or whatever. It was very fucking fun. Biff won with a sliding uppercut. (***1/2)

 

42. Breezango vs. The Usos – 7/24/2016

woat

They worked a five-minute sprint here which was a great decision as the Usos are not over as a babyfaces at all. It would have been exceptionally awkward if this match was based around them working underneath for long periods of time. Instead, it was a Young Bucks match from ROH TV, and that was the right match for these teams in this spot. Unlike the great majority of PPV matches that the WWE promotes, you truly felt like these two teams were trying to put their best foot forward with this one. Breezango are fantastic. Make them the tag champs immediately. (***1/2)

 

41. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn – 5/1/2016

40. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn – 7/24/2016

owens

This was a fascinating match. The opening portion of the match was a bit slow and did not contribute to the match. Then Sami Zayn landed awfully on the ring apron on an attempted Arabian Press Moonsault. At that point, it seemed like Zayn had potentially seriously injured the shoulder that kept him out of action for a long time in 2015.

For a few minutes, the focus of the match shifted to Owens going after the injured arm/shoulder of Zayn. This seemed like a great twist given the expected (and very effective) formula for Owens/Zayn matches does not really have time for such in-ring stories.

However, after a few minutes of that, the match returned to more of the traditional style these two do. There was an increased emphasis on big movez, timing them for maximum reaction, reversals, and kickouts. There was absolutely a ton of emotion to it, but it did seem a little hollow that they did explore the arm injury idea that only lasted a few minutes.

They nearly made up for it in the end though with Zayn pausing before delivering the killing blow. Owens collapsed into Zayn’s body, and Zayn stared into his eyes in a way that made clear that these two still love each other. That’s a note that WWE cannot usually hit so it was appreciated here.

While this was not the epic contest that the final minutes implied they wanted it to be, it was still an effective close to their rivalry for now. Sami finally got some revenge, and that moment felt very earned. It just happened in a match that basically encapsulated the holes in their wrestling games. (***1/2)

 

39. The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler – 9/11/2016

38. AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose – 9/27/2016

aj

This was for AJ’s WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

This was legitimately the best Dean Ambrose performance in what seems like years (but was probably only months or maybe year). He came out guns a blazing, and it immediately set an excellent tone for what would end up being a very solid television title defense.

Dean just took it to AJ right away, and AJ had to play catch-up from the beginning. The urgent tone did wonders for the environment and sense of fun. Both guys worked like they needed to win quickly otherwise they risked taking too much damage early on to survive. Lovely stuff.

The clusterfuck finish at the end with John Cena was bad for this match, but it was understandable in the larger story being told at least. Watch this match. It was a fun Dean Ambrose match. You may never see one again! (***1/2)

 

37. Sami Zayn vs. Seth Rollins – 8/1/2016

36. Bayley vs. Alexa Bliss – 6/24/2016

bayley

As someone who does not keep up with NXT too much, I’m wildly ignorant about the abilities and potential of Alexa Bliss. Clearly, I have been missing out.

She controlled this match from the beginning, and it truly came across like a great performance. The pacing was great. There was a crispness and sharpness to everything she did. She conveyed a sense of urgency and resisted the urge to do the NXT Heat Special of just relying on chinlocks. She is a wonderful performer who is clearly capable of great things.

Bayley meanwhile is so great that her work does not even stand out at this point. She just so effortlessly moves around the ring and the carries the crowd in the palm of her hands. She’s the John Cena of NXT and anyone who does not read that for the compliment that is is a dunderhead.

This was a fun match that made both women look great and gave a satisfying finish (Bayley cleanly). You cannot ask much more than that from a TV match. (***1/2)

 

35. Gran Metallik vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – 9/14/2016

zackk

This was a 2016 CWC semifinals match.

This was absolutely a fun sprint. Metalik set the tone right away and forced Zack to step up his game big time. They worked a furious pace for the first 90% of the match, as Zack desperately tried to keep up with Metalik and continue to do Zack things despite his strategies not really jiving with the pace Metalik set. Zack never could get into a rhythm, and Metalik was able to finish him with a Cradle Shock. Fun stuff despite them losing some momentum in the final couple of minutes. (***1/2)

 

34. The Wyatt Family vs. American Alpha – 11/29/2016

bray

The winner of this match got a Smackdown Tag Team Championship opportunity.

It is beyond astounding to see how good the Orton/Bray team is right now. Take two boring as dirt wrestlers, put them together, and you have an inexplicably good unit. Their team dynamic and pushing aside ego is an interesting progression for each character. Their ability to work efficiently and with a good pace makes for easy viewing. Combine that with the great American Alpha team, and the quality match is all but guaranteed. GOOD STUFF. The Wyatts won cleanly. (***1/2)

 

33. Kalisto vs. Baron Corbin – 12/4/2016

breakfast

This was a fucking CHAIRS match.

This was a really good example of using an odd situation to your advantage. Normally, a chairs match gimmick seems to be something that holds wrestlers back. Instead, these two managed to use it for their advantage as it made their simple match stand out for the environment and for the, frankly, creative spots they did with the chairs. They integrated a series of fun moments with the chairs into the general framework of a big dude working a small dude. It all came off quite well. Kudos. Baron won with his move into a pile of chairs. (***1/2)

 

32. Akira Tozawa vs. Jack Gallagher – 7/14/2016

tozawa

This was a second round match in the 2016 CWC.

This was a really fun match with a great contrast in styles and two delightful, TV-ready personalities. Gallagher controlled the majority of the match and spent a great deal of time targeting Tozawa’s left leg.

Tozawa struggled through the pain and often seemed quite incapacitated by it. He kept going for the German though and managed to a snap one to give himself a chance. A deadlift bridging German one that he gutted out gave him the victory.

It was probably not the best that Tozawa successfully pulled off the deadlift bridging German to win given the context of how much pain he seemed to be in. It was at least built to though and treated like he barely got through the pain. (***1/2)

 

31. Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose – 2/21/2016

30. AJ Styles vs. Roman Reigns – 5/1/2016

aj

This was for Reigns’ WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

This was a weird PPV main event in the sense that it was really good in the ring, but the overbooking objectively made it less interesting despite the fact that it did not really do any harm to the momentum of the match.

The opening 40% of the match was one of the best executed feeling-out-processes/slow burns that I have seen in a good while. It really felt like a chess match without being methodical for the sake of being methodical. The fact that it ended on an awesome springboard forearm through the table helped obviously.

The overbooking kicked in after that with two re-starts and the interference by Karl AndersonLuke Gallows, and The Usos. None of this really added anything to the match, and they all took away from the fresh, athletic, and cerebral main event that we were getting. They did not make the match bad though for sure. They just took a potentially “great” match and gave it a “good” ceiling.

Things settled down in the final seconds which allowed Reigns to beat AJ “cleanly” with a spear. A rematch was clearly in order, but I hope they resist going back to it right away if AJ is just going to lose again. (***1/2)

 

29. Becky Lynch vs. Alexa Bliss – 11/8/2016

becky

This was for Becky’s Smackdown Women’s Championship.

Alexa Bliss is one of the smarter workers on top that the WWE has, and it’s not even really close.

She works with focus and purpose. She does it in style and interjects her personality organically. She never works at the expense of her opponent. Build the fucking company around her.

Becky was obviously wonderful as and did a lot to give Alexa credibility here. Becky was getting her ass handed to her throughout, but she just managed to escape with the victory when should applied the armbar. This was a gem of a television match. (***1/2)

 

28. The Revival vs. American Alpha – 4/1/2016

27. AJ Styles vs. John Cena – 8/21/2016

26. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro vs. The Miz – 5/22/2016

25. American Alpha vs. The Revival – 6/24/2016

nxt

This was a 2/3 falls match for The Revivals NXT Tag Team Championship.

The truly interesting aspect of this one was that the first fall actually felt like a proper match on its own and took up 75% of the match. They did the typical AA/Revival tag match during that time, and it was quite fun as usual. (AA won the fall cleanly.)

The Revival quickly got the second fall when Dawson applied a submission the leg of Jordan that was worked over for a large portion of the first fall. Everything seemed great after all of that, but then the match got a bit awkward and clunky.

As much as it’s appreciated that the first fall felt like a proper match, they unquestionably lost a ton of momentum after that second fall. That could in part be blamed on the length of the first fall and the “completeness” of it.

The final fall had a number of strong moments, but it did not feel like the conclusion to this epic match. It was not terrible or anything of course. The distinct loss of momentum just clearly caused a choppiness to the final minutes. Regardless, this was a very good television match that was well worth checking out. Revival won after they hit  Shatter Machine on Gable on the apron. (***3/4)

 

24. American Alpha vs. The Revival – 6/8/2016

23. Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte – 8/21/2016

22. Akira Tozawa vs. Gran Matalik – 8/26/2016

cwc

This was a quarterfinal match in the 2016 CWC. 

This was a very entertaining match and really smartly worked given the result. Matalik was basically a step ahead of Tozawa throughout 90% of the match. Tozawa hung in there though and even managed to hit the deadlift bridging German that won him his first two CWC matches. He then went for the strait jacket  German, but Matalik escaped it and hit the Cradle Shock for the win. This combined exciting action, great pacing, and an incredibly satisfying finish. Very fucking good. (***3/4)

 

21. Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte – 10/3/2016

20. Bayley vs. Asuka – 8/20/2016

19. Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch – 4/3/2016

18. Kota Ibushi vs. Cedric Alexander – 7/14/2016

kotaa

This was a second round match in the 2016 CWC.

After the initial and needless slow start, this turned into quite the deal. Cedric was about to get the advantage for a bit due to him scouting the triangle moonsault. From there they proceeded to basically just space out a series of exciting and scream-inducing moments in a way where the great majority stood out as significant. (In other words, they did a spot-heavy match without rushing through them so that they all ended up blending together.) The tension built and built until Kota finally won with the Liger Bomb. This got a lot of deserved praise, as it was exciting and stood out compared to most matches that the WWE produces.

It also signified the arrival of Cedric on a larger stage because this was the reaction and performance needed to ensure that he got signed. Given how much he was dicked around by ROH for years, it was great to see him stand out and get the respect he deserves,

Kota meanwhile is clearly physically deteriorating, but he showed here that he can still work like the Kota we all know and love (or hate). In fact, working shorter matches in the WWE environment can probably only help his work and his health.

This was a GOOD NEWS match. (***3/4)

 

17. Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Drew Gulak – 7/14/2016

gylakkk

This was a CWC second round match.

Yes! This was the exact match these two needed to have and Drew needed to wrestle to properly showcase the benefits of working the #grapplefuck. They didn’t just roll around on the mat without a sense of purpose or urgency. Instead, Gulak took the fight to Zack and was actually working like he wanted to put him away as soon as possible. He had something to prove, and everything he did in the ring organically came about because of that.

Zack, getting used to lounging around in the ring for the first half of his matches, was taken completely off guard and basically seemed helpless for the longest time. He had to desperately attempt submissions and pinning combos to win, and it honestly did not even feel like a deserved victory by the end. That’s how great Gulak was here. Helluva a match. (***3/4)

 

16. Alberto del Rio vs. Kalisto – 2/21/2016

15. Alberto del Rio vs. Cesaro – 6/21/2016

adrcesaro

This was a fantastic example of two extremely talented wrestlers making the most of the limited television time given (6-7 minutes) to tell an exciting and interesting story.

ADR, pissed at not winning MITB the weekend before, immediately takes it to Cesaro. That perfectly establishes a tone and pace for the match.

Cesaro fights back, but ADR then going after his taped up shoulder. On top of the great pace and sense of urgency, there is now a clear path to victory for ADR given his cross armbreaker finish.

Cesaro then only uses his non-injured arm to deliver uppercut after uppercut to give himself a chance. ADR fought back and then took his time setting up the double stomp in the Tree of Joey Lawrence. Cesaro reversed that, and it led to a hot finishing sequence that ended with Cesaro reversing a cross armbreaker into a Neutralyzer.

If they didn’t whiff pretty badly a couple of big strikes, I would have felt comfortable calling this great. As it stands, it was clearly one of the best TV matches of the year. (***3/4)

 

14. Kalisto vs. Ryback – 5/1/2016

13. Cesaro & Sheamus vs. The New Day – 12/18/2016

sheamus

This was for The New Day’s WWE Tag Team Championship.

Hot damn, this was some very good stuff. The key was how efficient Cesaro and Sheamus were as a team. They worked as if they genuinely came up with a strategy for how they could possibly take the belts from the longest reigning tag champs in history.

They worked quickly and overwhelmed the champs almost the entire time. This strategy would not guarantee them victory, but it would significantly increase the odds that they could pull off the victory. The cherry on top was then that Cesaro and Sheamus executed a “fake tag” to throw off Kofi in the final seconds that left him prone for Sheamus to catch him with a pin.

Between the great story, compact package, and constant action, this was one of the most satisfying tag matches from WWE’s 2016 (which is actually saying something for once). (***3/4)

 

12. Kevin Owens vs. Dean Ambrose – 1/24/2016

20151230_1920x1080_RR_Match_DeanKevin

This was a last man standing match for Ambrose’s Intercontinental Championship.

This was the match I’ve been waiting these two to have. They both absolutely busted their ass here while still resisting doing “too much” as both can be guilty of doing in big matches.

Owens was in great form in terms of dictating a fan-friendly pace, and he did a good job of controlling the match in a fun manner. Ambrose also teased comebacks sporadically throughout the heat to make sure things never got monotonous. On top of those crucial elements, they did a great job of progressively integrating bigger spots and weapons into the match without either of those feeling like overkill.

The last thing that really needs to be noted was how well they organically used the Last Man Standing stipulation to enhance the match. It basically forced both of these guys to make their biggest spots matter, as they used huge spot for a “nearfall.” The fact that they did this while making each spot, and thus each nearfall, bigger made it all the more impressive and important.

This was a great example of a WWE style weapons brawl. It’s nothing that will go down as an all-time great match or anything like that, but it’s a style that usually is a ton of fun in the moment. Big thumbs up for this one, and it’s a low-end MOTYC. Ambrose won after putting Owens through a pair of stacked tables. (****)

 

11. AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose – 12/4/2016

aj

This was for AJ’s WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

This was a really great match undermined by the finish. AJ and Dean delivered a compelling war where both guys managed to deliver bomb after bomb without the match ever feeling empty or repetitive. It was an impressive display of brawling and intensity. James Ellsworth showing up at the end to determine the winner was incredibly unsatisfying though unless you care about that story. Regardless, his involvement was not the ideal way to end a PPV main event. Oh well.  (****)

 

10. The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler – 10/9/2016

dolph

Dolph’s career and The Miz’s Intercontinental Championship were on the line.

As crazy as it reads in 2016, Dolph vs. The Miz has been the best feud of the year. The story in the ring each time has been that The Miz just flat-out better than Dolph due to his focus and ability to stay a step ahead of Dolph.

The Miz is working like someone who has never been more confident in his abilities and who has discovered a new level of passion and pride. He is currently the most interesting in-ring performer right now in the company. It’s fucking insane.

For all of his flaws in the ring, Dolph has been on his best behavior in the Miz feud. He’s taking a great beating instead of trying to get attention through ridiculous bumping. His movements look a bit weird still, and his selling sometimes feels like he’s still playing to the last row in the crowd too much. It’s working though.

Together, they seem to bring out the absolute best in one another. They had the crowd hook, line, and sinker. They even managed to incorporate interference from MaryseKenny, and Mike Mondo in an organic manner. Truly an accomplishment.

The only shame of the match was that Dolph won. There would be no better time for him to leave. He would get to go out on a high note, and then The Miz can continue to make the IC belt mean something. We’ll just have to see how it plays out. (****)

 

9. The Usos vs. American Alpha – 9/20/2016

doublewide

The winner of this match got a shot at the Smackdown Tag Team Championship.

This was a compact version of the American Alpha formula that works so well. They came out hot. Gable got cut off and had his knee worked over. Jordan made a great hot tag. We then got a quick (and hot) back-and-forth to take us home. We then were treated to this incredible moment where Gable wanted to tag in to help, but Jordan emotionally decided Gable was too hurt and that he couldn’t put his partner in danger. Jordan then quickly got overwhelmed and finished off cleanly. MATCH OF THE FUCKING YEAR! (****)

 

8. Kota Ibushi vs. TJ Perkins – 9/24/2016

drake

This was a 2016 CWC semifinals match.

Well, this was wild and great. TJP tried to stay a step ahead of Kota early on and was even able to thwart a golden triangle moonsault attempt once. Kota fought back though and later connected on the moonsault which led to both guys just going for home runs at a furious pace for the rest of the match. It was incredibly exciting and fun to watch. The cherry on top was that TJP transitioned from the kneebar to an STF that put the main pressure on Kota’s surgically repaired neck. Lovely fucking stuff. (****)

 

7. Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa vs. The Revival – 8/20/2016

gargano

This was for Revival’s NXT Tag Team Championship.

This match was structured largely how you would expect given the previous big matches from The Revival. The first third of the match was shine for the babyfaces. (The less said about this the better. John Boy & Tomato Camper are no American Alpha.)

The Revival did a typically solid and extended heat segment. The match then had a very fun and lively back-and-forth sequence to finish the match. Unsurprisingly, Gargano and Camper were at their best during this portion of the match. It seemed like Gargano and Camper had all the momentum on their side.

However, The Revival played the numbers game and then isolated Gargano. They started targeting one of his legs out of nowhere and that led to a submission victory. This finishing stretch was so brilliantly done that it basically made up for the earlier portions of the match.

[Note: This match has seemingly ended up with a higher star rating than any Revival/American Alpha match that I’ve reviewed. That doesn’t feel right, but Gargano/Ciampa being infinitely better at closing sequences might explain it which just reveals my own bias about what I care about. Wrestling is weird.] (****)

 

6. AJ Styles vs. Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler – 12/27/2016

corbin

This was for AJ’s WWE Championship.

My gawd, what a fucking contest. Bodies were flying all over the goddamn place. Baron Corbin looked like a future world champion. AJ was being AJ Styles and running around the ring like he was a decade younger. Dolph Ziggler continued his hot streak of not ruining good things. It all came together. The action never stopped from bell to bell. Everyone came out of it looking fantastic. This was a HUGE success. SmackdownLive, baby! AJ pinned Dolph after Baron hit the latter with his finisher. (****)

 

5. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn – 4/1/2016

4. Kota Ibushi vs. Brian Kendrick – 8/26/2016

hammer

This was a quarterfinal match in the 2016 CWC.

This was a great match that did an excellent job putting over both men despite the clean and satisfying conclusion. Spanky worked a very smart match where he combined two strategies: picking his spots and relentlessly targeting the surgically repaired neck of Kota. He couldn’t compete with Kota athletically so he had to be crafty. It worked as well as it could for Spanky. Unfortunately, he just couldn’t do enough damage until Kota managed to hit the Liger Bomb to put Spanky away. Great performances from both guys. Great pacing. Great integration of big spots into a match that was about anything but big spots. Beautiful. (****)

 

3. Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte – 11/28/2016

sasha

This was a Falls Count Anywhere match for Charlotte’s WWE Women’s Championship.

This was a great. Both wrestlers looked as if they were just trying to murder each other with the full realization that they might die in the process. What more can one want from wrestling??? They also did some great spots on the floor. Took full advantage of their surroundings. There was an over-rotated moonsault that Sasha failed to catch (probably to her benefit). There was a submission in the metal rail. Just great stuff. (****)

 

2. Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa vs. The Revival – 11/19/2016

1. AJ Styles vs. Roman Reigns – 5/22/2016

romanaj

This was for Roman’s WWE World Championship.

WWE really accidentally stumbled upon something brilliant with the chemistry between AJ Styles and Roman Reigns. When these two wrestle each other, everything about it feels like a big deal. That is one of those undefinable qualities that enhances everything about a match but is so hard to organically create.

They worked a big-time main event, and they got to bust out all sorts of tricks for the occasion. Everything came off red hot, and both guys looked like main event stars in process. While I was not a fan of the overbooking, the run-ins from the lackeys actually got the crowd more invested and were done without overwhelming the match. Everything helped the match build to a hot finish that ended with Roman cleanly pinning AJ after catching him with a spear during a springboard attempt.

This was essentially just a fantastic remake of their already strong match a month earlier on PPV. The issue was mostly just that the story did not feel continued so much as redone in order to buy the WWE another month before moving on to something else. In the end though, I do not really care and just am grateful that this fantastic match was produced. It will likely be the WWE MOTY. (****1/2)

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WWE, TJ Hawke