wrestling / Columns

The 411 Wrestling Year-End Awards: Part Nine – Best Matches of 2016

January 10, 2017 | Posted by Larry Csonka

Welcome back to the Wrestling Top 5, year-end awards edition! What we are going to is take a topic, and all the writers here on 411 will have the ability to give us their Top 5 on said topic, and the end, based on where all of these topics rank on people’s list, we will create an overall Top 5 list. It looks a little like this…

1st – 5
2nd – 4
3rd – 3
4th – 2
5th – 1

It’s similar to how we do the WOTW voting. At the end we tally the scores and get our overall top 5! It’s highly non-official and final, like WWE’s old power rankings. From some of the best and worst, the 411 staff is ready to break down the awards! Thanks for joining us, and lets get down to work.

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Jake Chambers
5. CWF Mid-Atlantic Title Match: Roy Wilkins vs. Trevor Lee – No NQ, No Time Limit
4. Lucha Underground Title, Six to Survive #1 Contender Match
3. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada – NJPW G1 – Day 17
2. Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW G1 – Day 18

1. IWGP Title Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada – NJPW WrestleKingdom – We watch so much wrestling in our lives that it is rare to have a moment of adult fandom that takes us out of our post-modern acceptance that this is all an artistically staged performance. And I’m talking about a feeling more primal that simply “Holy shit, he’s gonna cash in his briefcase!” or “He just kicked out of that finisher!” or chanting “This is Awesome!” yet again. I mean moments where you yearn against all rationality for a wrestler to overcome fate in order to purge your emotional anxiety. You might know it as that feeling when you’ve gambled on an underdog who has a shot to win in the final seconds of a big game, or when you ask the dealer for a hit when you’ve got 17 in Blackjack. Or maybe it’s how you felt watching Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker at Wrestlemania 26, or after Triple H hit that second Pedigree on Jeff Hardy at the end of the Elimination Chamber match at No Way Out 2008. Well, this is how I felt after 30 minutes of near-dominance by Tanahashi seemed to be leading to – against all odds and critical logic – another victory over Okada in the WrestleKingdom main event. But then there was a Rainmaker clothesline, and then a second… and then that third – that horrible, horrible third one that undoubtably meant the match was finally over. I just love Tanahashi and wanted him to kick out one more time damn it! I didn’t think it was possible anymore for a wrestling match to squeeze me in the gut like that, and it took a very special set of performers, at a precise moment, after years of build up, to make me consciously forget everything I think I know about reality and just get lost in the moment, like a true “mark”, and I loved it and I will chase that feeling again for the rest of my life.

Justin Watry
5. 2016 Royal Rumble Match
4. Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles (Payback)
3. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn (Battleground)
2. John Cena vs. AJ Styles (Summerslam)

1. Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (NXT Takeover: Dallas) – When Sami Zayn made his farewell entrance at NXT Takeover: Dallas, it was match of the year. When Shinsuke Nakamura made his debut entrance soon after, it was match of the year. When fans started chanting and getting jacked up before the bell even rang, it was match of the year. When Nakamura winked at the camera and Zayn stood there smirking, it was match of the year. You know what happened when the bell finally rang? Zayn and Nakamura officially had the 2016 match of the year. I have probably re-watched their match 15 times since April, and it gets better each time. More awesome moments. More goosebumps. More recognition of just how special the moment was. Not only for Nakamura arriving in NXT but also for everything Zayn had done. Both men had their own unique story, and everybody reacted accordingly. The crowd, the atmosphere, the commentators, the match, the finish, the aftermath, etc. I knew right away it was getting my match of the year vote, and over eight months later, that feeling has not gone away.

Jack McGee
5. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada (From The NJPW G1 Night 17)
4. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn (From NXT Takeover: Dallas)
3. DIY vs. Champions The Revival (From NXT Takeover Toronto)
2. Shinsuke Nakamura defeated AJ Styles (From NJPW WrestleKingdom 10)

1. IWGP Heavyweight Title Match: Champion Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (From NJPW WrestleKingdom 10 – While not a perfect match. I do feel that this match was a tremendous conclusion to the. There was beautiful storytelling as well as callbacks to their previous matches. It feels very weird to say, but while not my favorite match of the year, it was likely the most important as it officially crowned the new Ace of NJPW, culminated the Okada vs. Tanahashi feud and delivered as the main event of one of the year’s biggest shows.

Robert S. Leighty Jr
5. WWE TLC: WWE Title: TLC Match: AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose
4. CWC: Cedric Alexander vs. Kota Ibushi
3. NXT TakeOver Toronto: NXT Tag Titles: The Revival vs. DIY
2. NXT TakeOver Dallas: Sami Zayn vs. Nakamura

1. WWE SummerSlam: AJ Styles vs. John Cena – This is the match that launched AJ Styles in the WWE. Styles had back-to-back matches with Reigns that tore the house down, but came up short each time. When he turned heel on Cena it was amazing and the world wanted to see what these two could do. They didn’t disappoint in their first match and then delivered this classic at SummerSlam. The best was that Styles got something that may even be bigger than winning a World Title….he pinned John Cena clean in the middle of the ring at the 2nd biggest show of the year. This is the match that finally showed the WWE was jumping on the AJ Styles train. Nobody can have a big match like John Cena and as expected AJ Styles had no problems adjusting to Cena’s style and it made for My Match of the Year in 2016.

Kevin Pantoja
5. NXT TakeOver: Dallas: Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
4. WWE SummerSlam: AJ Styles vs. John Cena
3. CWF Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship No Holds Barred Match: Roy Wilkins [c] vs. Trevor Lee –
2. WWE Battleground: Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn

1. NXT TakeOver: Toronto: NXT Tag Team Championship 2 Out of 3 Falls: The Revival [c] vs. DIY – As I write this, I’m still in the process of compiling my big “Top 131 Matches of 2016” list and my top five may change after rewatches. The number one match isn’t changing though. After stealing the show with the best tag match of the year (up to that point) in Brooklyn, The Revival and #DIY bested it with this two out of three falls rematch in Toronto. This was tag team wrestling at its finest. So many close calls, so much old school tag work, so many moments that me gasp. This was perfect. I watched over 1,000 matches this year, spanning fifteen promotions and this was the only one to get the full five star treatment from me. They perfectly played into the possibility of Ciampa turning on Gargano while still managing to gain sympathy and play the babyface role expertly. The Revival were at their very best and it all came together in the best possible way.

Paul Leazar
5. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada @ G1 Climax Night Seventeen 8/12
4. The Young Bucks vs. The Addiction vs. The Motor City Machine Guns in Ladder War VI for the RoH World Tag Team Titles @ All Star Extravaganza VIII
3. Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito @ G1 Climax Night Eighteen 8/13
2. The Revival vs. #DIY in a 2/3 Falls Match for the NXT Tag Team Titles @ NXT TakeOver: Toronto

1. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kazuchika Okada @ G1 Climax Night Thirteen 8/6 – I gave out the five snowflakes to six different matches this year! SIX! So, how the hell do you them in order when you’ve given them a perfect rating. Personal enjoyment? I greatly enjoyed all of those matches obviously? Work-rate? Can’t really do that either, everybody in those matches worked so damn hard, and so well, that they deserve all the praise in the world. Storyline? It helps. Certainly in the case of The Revival and DIY? Ultimately what it came down to me was what stuck with me most throughout the year, and Tomohiro Ishii and Kazuchika Okada creating a whole mess of drama where none existed, and then the out and out brawl they had sealed it for me. I love Ishii’s work so much too, and Okada has been wonderful all year. Ishii getting the surprise win was so much more shocking then Okada taking the loss to Marufuji at Night One. So where, Ishii has a title shot waiting for him, and that has me salivating.

Chad Perry
5. ROH Tag Team Title Ladder War: Addiction (c) vs. Motor City Machine Guns vs. Young Bucks [ROH All-Star Extravaganza 8]
4. NXT Tag Team Title: Revival (c) vs. D.I.Y. [NXT TakeOver: Toronto]
3. Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura [NXT TakeOver: Dallas]
2. G1 Climax Block B Final: Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito [NJPW G1 Climax 26 Day 18]

1. IWGP Intercontinental Title: Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. AJ Styles [NJPW WrestleKingdom 10] – (From my write up one year ago) An absolute dream match right here, however 24 hours after this match was done more people were talking about the future of these two instead of the amazing performance they put on here. When this match happened a month ago I would have never imagined that one of these men would be on WWE TV a few weeks later, with the other on his way in short order. Sometimes the little things of a match can mean the most, AJ shooting the bullet at Nakamura, only to have him swallow it was one of those times and showed the charisma of Nakamura. Ax’s Calf Killer looked brutal with his application here and Nakamura’s reversal into the arm bar looked just as nice. Styles hit every signature move he could on Nakamura but was not quite able to put him away, and the drama built with every near fall perfectly. In my original viewing I went with a 4.5 for this but the second viewing really exposed to me just how wrong I was. This match was as near perfection as one can get and honestly I can not pick out a single thing I would change about it. The show of respect after the match had me so intrigued as to where they were going with Styles, but really it was about where Styles was going. This match is the perfect example of why sometimes a second viewing is so important as this is the first match that I have given a full boat to in quite some time.

Mike Hammerlock
5. Sami Zayn vs Shinsuke Nakamura, NXT TakeOver: Dallas
4. ROH Tag Team Title Ladder War: Addiction (c) vs Motor City Machine Guns vs Young Bucks, ROH All-Star Extravaganza 8
3. Matt Sydal, Ricochet & Will Ospreay vs Adam Cole, Nick Jackson & Matt Jackson, PWG Battle of Los Angeles – Night 2
2. Ricochet vs. Will Ospreay, NJPW Best of the Super Juniors XXII – Day 6

1. Shinsuke Nakamura vs AJ Styles, IWGP Intercontinental Title match, NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 10 – They pretended this match was for a belt. Wrong. It was for the mantle of Best Wrestler on the Planet. For anyone who wondered how good these two could be, we got our answer. They broke out every club in the bag. It was hard hitting, fast paced and high flying. The execution was flawless. We saw a lot of great matches in 2016, but this set an impossibly high standard. It’s a desert island match – if you had to bring one match with you to watch while stranded on a desert island, what would you pick? And it had to be amazing to beat the others on this list. I still find it hard to believe Ricochet and Ospreay wasn’t a product of CGI. The six-man match at Battle of Los Angeles was an all-out frenzy. The ROH Ladder War had fans chanting “Please don’t die!” Nakamura and Zayn stole WrestleMania weekend. Yet my take is the wrestling industry spent 2016 chasing Nakamura-Styles and never quite caught it.

Jack Stevenson
5. Will Ospreay & Mike Bailey vs. Marty Scurll & Trevor Lee, wXw 16 Carat Gold Tournament Night III
4. Ricochet vs. Will Ospreay, NJPW Best of the Super Juniors XXII- Day 6
3. The Young Bucks vs. The Motor City Machine Guns vs. The Addiction, Ladder War, ROH All Star Extravaganza 8
2. Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles, WWE Extreme Rules

1. The Revival vs. #DIY, 2 out of 3 Falls Match, WWE NXT Takeover: Toronto – 2016 was an absolutely magnificent year with about 72 credible contenders for the coveted Match of the Year title. It wouldn’t surprise me if I change my mind on this numerous times after this column’s been published, but at the moment my gut says #DIY vs. The Revival from NXT: Toronto. Perhaps it’s just because the match was relatively recent and the freshest in my memory of my top five, or perhaps it’s because it was one of the most lovingly crafted tag matches in WWE history, a total joy from start to finish, very nearly perfect. The story going into it was pretty straight forward; both teams badly wanted the tag team championships, but the crowd were unanimously behind Gargano and Ciampa. From that kind of base, you can create utter magic, and it was wonderful to see the two teams take an already excited crowd and slowly bring them to an absolute frenzy with all these nail biting near falls and thrilling twists and turns and intricate, beautiful sequences. 2 out of 3 falls matches can be tough to get right, they’re always at risk of rendering those first pair of falls largely redundant, but when they’re well executed they can heighten the drama to utterly addictive levels, and that’s what happened here. Gargano and Ciampa’s ultimate victory was one of the most rewarding moments of the year, and as someone who’s not an ultra ultra ultra huge fan of theirs, nor an avid viewer of NXT, I can only conclude that it was the sheer brilliance of the match that made it such emotional, heartening viewing. As I alluded to earlier, I’m not calling this my Match of the Year with absolute certainty. I loved the carnage of the Triple Threat Ladder Match and the relentless aerial mayhem of Ricochet-Ospreay and the electrifying super indy sprint that was Ospreay/Bailey vs. Scurll/Lee and the WWE main event sports entertainment perfection of Reigns/Styles. However, if I had to pick one match this year that I feel will withstand the test of time, it’s DIY vs. The Revival, 2 out of 3 falls, and so maybe this isn’t just gut instinct. I don’t know. The important message to take away is that pro wrestling is the absolute fucking best.

Larry Csonka
5. From NJPW WrestleKingdom 10: Shinsuke Nakamura defeated AJ Styles [*****]
4. From The NJPW G1 Night 17 – Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada [*****]
3. From The NJPW G1 Night 18 – Tetsuya Naito vs. Kenny Omega [*****]
2. From The NJPW G1 Night 13 – Kazuchika Okada vs. Tomohiro Ishii [*****]

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.

AND 411’s The Best Matches of 2016 ARE…

5. AJ Styles vs. John Cena (WWE Summerslam)11 points

4. Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito – (From NJPW G1 – Day 18)15 points

3. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. AJ Styles (From NJPW WrestleKingdom 10)17 points

2. Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (From NXT Takeover: Dallas)19 points

1. DIY vs. The Revival (From NXT Takeover Toronto)22 points

* The Biggest Disappointment of The Year: The WWE Cruiserweight Division – 28 points
* The Best Non-Wrestler: Dario Cueto – 45 points
* The Best Tag Team of The Year: The Revival – 45 points
* The Worst PPV/Major Show of The Year: WrestleMania 32 – 23 points

* The Best Female Wrestler of The Year: Charlotte – 44 points
* The Best PPV/Major Show of The Year: NXT Takeover: Dallas – 27 points
* The Best Promotion of The Year: NJPW – 33 points
* Most Outstanding Performer 2016: Chris Hero – 27 points

* The Best Match of The Year: DIY vs. The Revival (From NXT Takeover Toronto) – 22 points
* Most Overrated Performer 2016 : TO BE DETERMINED (JANUARY 11)
* Most Underrated Performer 2016 : TO BE DETERMINED (JANUARY 12)
* The Best Wrestler of The Year: TO BE DETERMINED (JANUARY 13)