5. John Cena vs. Dean Ambrose vs. AJ Styles for the WWE Championship – No Mercy
Remember that one time WWE put the main event on as the first match? WWE No Mercy took place the same time as the second United States Presidential Debate, thus prompting WWE to move the main event first so that viewers had enough time to see Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton verbally duke it out. Regardless of such, the triple threat main event between these three bonafide stars proved to be an underrated classic of 2016.
This match kept the viewers on their feet while also providing a tremendous outlet to showcase each wrestler's talents. While some of the WWE Universe has felt that Dean Ambrose has grown stale, Ambrose proved that he deserved to hang in the title picture for the SmackDown Live brand. Although he was rather overshadowed by the star power of Cena and Styles, his presence allowed for the end of many close calls of Cena's potential victory. With his technical and brawling talents, Ambrose provided the perfect foil for John Cena and AJ Styles for this star-studded match up. As Cena exited the feud later on, Ambrose further proved that he can carry on an entertaining rivalry in the main event.
AJ Styles, riding the high of his career with victories over Cena and Ambrose beforehand, prevailed and retained his WWE World Championship. The former face of TNA hanging with two of WWE's top talents is a thought unimaginable before 2016, let alone keeping the top prize in sports entertainment. On this night in October, AJ Styles not only put on a fantastic match but beat both men through his dirty heel tactics. The best part of AJ Styles' heel run is the fact that he hasn't been overbooked like a cowardly heel who only resorts to cheap methods of victory. With his slick and unique offense, Styles presents a wrestling style unforeseen to many in the WWE Universe. I mean, have you seen anyone else with such a swift Springboard 450?
Finally, how about John Cena? The most polarizing Superstar in WWE today has officially moved past his Five Moves of Doom phase and put on a clinic with the two former indie stars in the ring. When have we seen John Cena in such a realistically dominant manner? This wasn't Super Cena here–this was the well-traveled veteran in John Cena. Did you see that double German Suplex and that attempted double Attitude Adjustment? It was no doubt that Cena had the strength advantage in this matchup, but instead Cena's will to learn showed as he pulled out more technical stops in the match. Can somebody explain to me why the 265-lb man in John Cena is even capable of pulling off a perfect Rolling Yoshi Tonic?!
Overall, this match was a fantastic main event and only furthered the careers of those involved. Cena, Styles and Ambrose have proven that they are naturally gifted and deserve to be in the ring night in and night out. With a main event like that, it only makes me more excited for the future of WWE.
4. TJ Perkins vs. Gran Metalik – Cruiserweight Classic Finale
I remember when it came down to the final four of the inaugural Cruiserweight Classic, my pick to win was TJ Perkins. TJP was the true underdog out of the 4, as everyone claimed that Kota Ibushi would win the tournament. After TJP pulled off the upset and advanced to the finals, I was so excited to see him potentially make a name for himself in the WWE. I've been following TJP since his Manik days in TNA, so I was well aware of his story of comeuppance. For a guy who used to be homeless and had to pick up change in order to buy 79 cent cans of tuna to survive to reaching the peak of WWE's Cruiserweight division is simply just a beautiful story in and of itself.
When the match finally started, I remember sitting literally on the edge of my seat for the entirety of the match. So many close calls and false finishes pervaded throughout the match as TJP and Gran Metalik duked it out for Cruiserweight supremacy. Both competitors were long-time veterans of the squared circle, so to see these tested athletes apply their honed crafts to the ring made for an emotionally engaging story all told through a series of wrestling moves. As TJP applied the devastating Kneebar for the finish, I remember jumping out of my seat and yelling across the living room in relief. It was one of those purely organic reactions that only professional wrestling can provide.
17 minutes and 47 seconds of pure athleticism in the climax of the 3-month Cruiserweight Classic definitely lived up to its potential. While nearly every match in the CWC was an instant classic, TJP vs. Metalik was certainly the most awe-inspiring.
3. John Cena vs. AJ Styles – SummerSlam 2016
Being at the Barclays Center to witness one of the most historical matchups in WWE history was a feeling unlike any other. Witnessing firsthand the face of TNA vs. the face of WWE face off is a match that would have been unimaginable in any other time period.
Brooklyn and New York in general are notorious for being one of the hottest wrestling crowds. With the electricity pumping throughout the crowd, this match definitely had a big fight feel written all over it. Clocking in at over 23 minutes, Styles vs. Cena was the longest match on the card, and by far the most emotionally draining of the 12 matches presented. Although I've earned a lot of respect for Cena this year, the smark in me was dying to see Styles prevail.
No gimmicks. No stipulations. Just two bonafide athletes going at it in one of the biggest wrestling states of all. As I've stated before, Cena has been pulling out a lot more technical stops in his matches recently, and to keep up with the independent, world-travelled veteran in Styles in an accomplishment in and of itself. I say this not to discredit Cena, but that the WWE style of wrestling is so much more different than what AJ Styles has to offer.
In the end, we saw AJ Styles pin John Cena. CLEAN. A heel, much less the guy who represented WWE's rival brand for the past 14 years, pinned the top guy in WWE with zero shenanigans. Apart from this being a historical match, when is the last time that a heel of this caliber beat John Cena clean? The only other person that comes to mind is Kevin Owens–another bonafide Superstar in that respect.
Seeing Cena break out of his Super Cena shell, expanding his wrestling repertoire and losing cleanly is something I never thought I'd see. I also thought that I would never see AJ Styles in WWE. 2016 really was the year of dreams in WWE, huh?
2. The Revival vs. #DIY for the NXT Tag Team Championships – NXT TakeOver Brooklyn II
Another match from the tremendous SummerSlam weekend! As a fan of the indies for many years, it was unreal to witness Johnny Gargano wrestling for a championship in WWE, much less in front of a sold out crowd of 15,671 at the Barclays Center! I remember years ago watching Johnny Gargano vs. Chris Hero at DGUSA Freedom Fight 2013 in front of 100 people in the rundown Brooklyn Lyceum. To see that kind of progression as a wrestling fan is heartwarming, knowing that the guys you idolized from the start have finally made it.
I remember this being the best match of that weekend. Two bonafide indie stars in Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano taking on the homegrown talents on Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder (who, ironically, wrestled at Freedom Fight 2013 as well, albeit not an established indie name) provided for a series of great matchups. It is absolutely ridiculous how much chemistry these two teams have together. All four competitors are so evenly matched in their talent so much to the point where their strengths and weaknesses all complement each other.
I remember jumping out of my seat so many times during this match due to all the close calls. Towards the very end, I lurched out of my seat and let out a primal scream after I thought #DIY finally won the titles, only for The Revival to retain 30 seconds later. It was incredibly disappointing, but after witnessing such an intense matchup with these four, I knew that they were destined to meet again.
With The Revival's hard-hitting brawling style and #DIY's innovative technical prowess, the near 20-minute matchup was filled with memorable moments. With its immaculate timing and placement, that sequence with Ciampa hitting the armbar, Wilder breaking it up and Gargano ultimately saving Ciampa from The Revival's double team was something that will forever be ingrained in me from the countless wrestling events I've witnessed.
Ultimately, #DIY defeated The Revival at the next NXT PPV and got their comeuppance. This feud was a tremendous highlight not just for NXT's tag team division, but NXT as a whole. The future only looks brighter for these four Superstars.
1. Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – NXT TakeOver Dallas
Artists use paint on the canvas to create their art. Wrestlers use their bodies.
Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura was not simply just a wrestling match–it was an artistic representation of what professional wrestling is all about. It wasn't just two guys senselessly beating each other up for the sake of a dream match–it was an emotional tale of two Superstars who had everything to prove. A match that had ZERO planning beforehand, Zayn and Nakamura went out there and organically told a story from scratch that captivated the WWE Universe. Some even said it was better than any match at WrestleMania 32.
This match served as Shinsuke Nakamura's–one of New Japan Pro Wrestling's hottest stars–debut in WWE. This match also served as Sami Zayn's–NXT veteran–exit from NXT. With both Superstars having to prove their worth to the audience, Zayn and Nakamura tore the house down with their raw technical and brawling skills. To see Nakamura make his debut as Zayn made his exit made for a rather bittersweet matchup.
For those who weren't familiar with Shinsuke Nakamura beforehand were certainly enlightened to the kind of performer he is after watching this match. Nakamura proved that he can stand in the WWE, despite his limited English proficiency, through his artistic way of wrestling. Everything about his performance, from the entrance to the mannerisms in the ring, was so organic and unique to the WWE that it only drew fans even further into his allure
As for Sami Zayn, this match truly proved that he was NXT's Underdog from the Underground. Seeing Zayn lose in his final NXT match was expected knowing that he was going up against the debuting Nakamura, but it didn't really sink in that he was leaving NXT until the very end of the match. Seeing the tears flow from Zayn's eyes as he reflected upon his NXT career was a heart-wrenching moment. Knowing that he worked so hard for the NXT Championship without attaining it a second time around hurt, but it was also bittersweet as he was destined for greener pastures on the main roster.
Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura is my pick for the match of the year. The story, the action, the emotion, the tears–it was art at its finest. Professional wrestling has this strange way of capturing a viewer's heart and sending them on an emotional rollercoaster–something that outsiders don't really understand unless they witness it firsthand. The pure and organic nature of this match cannot be recreated with any average wrestler–it takes two perfect wrestlers to put together such a wonderful match. Knowing that we could eventually see Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura on the main roster only gives me hope for the future. It's only upwards from here.
Lists like these are always subjective and are open to criticism. What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with my choices? Sound off in the comments below!