As 2017 begins, it’s time to look back at some of the best wrestling matches of 2016. This past year may have been a dumpster fire for many reasons, but when it came to the pro graps, things were pretty great. I probably watched more wrestling this year than any year prior, which is why this list is the biggest that I’ve ever made.
I’ll give this disclaimer going into the list: this isn’t an objective list by any means. These are my favorites of the year and my bias will shine through. That being said, I think this is a list featuring many matches that all wrestling fans can watch and greatly enjoy. Feel free to agree or disagree with me in the comments here or on Twitter. Now, without further ado, let’s get to the matches!
I should get this one out of the way; The Final Deletion is not ranked. I had it on my initial rewatch list, but ultimately decided to disqualify it. What’s great about The Final Deletion isn’t the match itself, it’s everything around the match. The work in the match itself is kind of sloppy. The fun comes from Matt Hardy destroying Jeff’s lawn or Vanguard 1 having a hologram Matt. The Broken Matt Hardy character is much more important to the landscape of TNA, and wrestling as a whole, than The Final Deletion.
There are three other matches from my great 2016 rewatch that didn’t make the cut for the top 30. Those three are:
- Chris Hero vs. Tomohiro Ishii: Global Wars UK Night 1 11/10/16
- Kyle O’Reilly vs. KUSHIDA: Best of the Super Juniors Night 1 5/21/16
- AJ Styles vs. John Cena vs. Dean Ambrose: No Mercy 10/9/16
As I was putting the finishing touches on this piece, I noticed that there was a match missing from my list. I somehow completely forgot to include the Revival vs. DIY 2-out-of-3 Falls match. While I wasn’t as over the moon about this match as many others were, I still enjoyed it quite a bit and would most likely have placed it in between the matches at number 19 and 20.
30. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens: Battleground 7/24/16
While we all know that this won’t be the last time that these two ever meet in the ring (they’ve had a singles match since), this was the closing match for this chapter of their never ending feud. With callbacks to their past and hard hitting action, this was easily the standout match of WWE’s Battleground. The most memorable part of the match had to be the ending. Sami Zayn delivered a Helluva kick to Owens, who then slumped into Zayn. Instead of letting him fall to the mat, Zayn holds onto him, internally debating whether or not he would show mercy to his former friend. With his decision made, Zayn stands him back up in the corner to deliver a second kick, putting the exclamation mark on his victory. This stands up as one of the best single moments in WWE’s 2016.
Watch: WWE Network
29. Mask vs. Mask- Canis Lupus vs. Trauma I: IWRG Zona XXI 9/4/16
This was the year that I started watching lucha indies and this was the match that immediately comes to mind when I think about lucha in 2016. The first two falls of this match are fine, nothing especially great. It’s the third and final fall that brings out the blood thirsty animals in both men. When the chairs start flying and the masks get ripped, that’s when the fight really begins. By the end of the match, the ring mat is soaked red with their blood. Canis Lupus loses what I would consider to be an alarming amount of blood, but continues to fight on as though his life depends on it. It says a lot about the war these two men fought that the winner had to wear a neck brace in the post-match mask removal ceremony. Brutal, emotional, and violent; this match was everything that it needed to be.
28. Katsuyori Shibata vs. Chris Hero: Global Wars UK Night 2 11/11/16
Rev Pro brought us this dream match between two of the best strikers in wrestling. The intense contest closed out two great nights of action that saw Rev Pro bring many of New Japan’s stars to the UK. As you can expect, this was full of hard boots and elbows. I loved the show of respect between the two men after the match was over.
27. Meiko Satomura vs. Aja Kong: Sendai Girls 4/8/16
This is a prime example of how to do the fight against a monster type of match. Satomura took an absolute beating from Aja Kong, including one of the sickest spots of the entire year where she went for a splash, but was just met with boots to the stomach.
One of the craziest bumps of 2016. pic.twitter.com/SI7btVEhct
— Kelly Harrass (@comicgeekelly) January 2, 2017
Satomura fought back as best she could, laying in her kicks harder than I’ve ever seen in a joshi match. Aja Kong’s clubbing blows would be enough to destroy any mere mortal, but Satomura continued to find a way to push through the pain. Kong didn’t feel like a wrestler here, she felt like a force of nature. Shifting between apathy and rage, Kong was here to destroy. It took two sickeningly stiff ax kicks to finish her off, but Meiko Satomura pulled out the victory in this criminally under seen match.
26. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. AJ Styles: Wrestle Kingdom 10 1/4/16
This is one of those rare matches that actually gains something being viewed in hindsight. Upon a live viewing, this was a very good dream match. These two men had never met in a singles match before this, making the semi-main of Wrestle Kingdom 10 very special. The match itself was simple in its storytelling. Nakamura targeted AJ’s supposedly injured neck and Styles attacked Nakamura’s knees. In the day that followed the contest, we found out that both men were making their exit from the company and that this was effectively their goodbye match. The fistbump they shared after the match was more than a show of respect, it was a mutual congratulations. If you’re going to leave a company, going out by putting on a classic is the way to go.
25. Pentagon Jr. and Fenix vs. Heroes Eventually Die (Chris Hero and Tommy End): Battle of Los Angeles Stage 2 9/3/16
There is no other way to describe this match than to call it tag team insanity. The action was incredibly fast paced here, highlighting the strengths of all four men involved. Hero and End hit hard, Fenix flew around, and Pentagon came off like the scariest man in the room. This match featured a lot of inventive spots. Whether it was Fenix diving off of Pentagon’s shoulders or all four men being tied up in a submission chain, this match felt incredibly fresh. With a lightning fast pace, the match barely gave you a chance to breathe. In what was a lighter year for BOLA match of the year candidates, this tag was a huge standout from the weekend.
24. Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Will Ospreay: EVOLVE 58 4/1/16
These two British born wrestlers met in what would be the best indie match from 2016’s WrestleMania weekend. If this match is to go down in history as anything, it should be known as the coming out party for the European wrestling scene in America. These two know each other very well and the match was about as great as you would expect because of it. Zack Sabre used all of his technical wizardry to keep the high flying Ospreay from putting him away. When things were all said and done, it was Sabre’s experience that gave him the edge here over Ospreay. The matchup between these two worked so well because both men can deal with the other’s style. Ospreay can work very technically when he wants to and Sabre is quick enough to keep up with a flyer. This was about more than having a good match, this was about making a statement.
23. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada: G1 Climax Night 17 8/12/16
I don’t know if there was any match on this list that was as hurt by a rewatch than this one was. On my first unspoiled viewing, this was one of the most thrilling matches that I’ve ever seen. The final sprint was incredible as these two raced against the clock, only to have things end in a time limit draw. Upon watching it again, the ending is still thrilling, but overall the match doesn’t hold a candle to their performance from earlier in the year. That’s not to say that this was bad by any means though. It was great, just not all-time great. With callbacks to their previous matches and awesome action, Okada and Tanahashi had one of the best matches of the 2016 G1.
22. KUSHIDA vs. Will Ospreay: Invasion Attack 4/10/16
Less than two weeks after his last match on this list, Will Ospreay had another incredible match in his New Japan debut. The big story of this match was KUSHIDA’s continued attacks on Ospreay’s arm and how he altered his approach to the match to compensate for his weakened arm. I remember losing my mind when Ospreay hit a no-handed handspring off the ropes. Ospreay’s gutsy performance got the crowd on his side and he gained a lot here, even in loss. This match was dedicated to Ospreay’s late friend, Kris Travis, and you could tell that this pushed Will to wrestle his heart out. KUSHIDA was fantastic in this match. He was appropriately brutal, attempting to rip the arm off of the kid who just waltzed into the company and got a title shot. They had another strong match later in the year, but this was the far superior match.
21. TJ Perkins vs. Kota Ibushi: Cruiserweight Classic Finals 9/14/16
The Cruiserweight Classic had a lot of great matches, but I think this one was the best. This was Ibushi at his top form, kicking the absolute hell out of TJP. The match was as fast paced and crisp as you would expect it to be with these two men involved. Ibushi and Perkins had clearly scouted each other prior to the contest and they had reversals ready for some of each other’s signature offense. Kota Ibushi was the clear favorite to win the whole tournament. This match was all about TJP dealing with that, taking everything that Ibushi had to dish out and still finding a way to overcome. We had seen how effective the knee bar was in the past, but getting Ibushi to tap out to it really drove home how deadly this move was. Remember how great TJP was before he became Sonic the Hedgehog?
Watch: WWE Network
20. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Naomichi Marufuji: G1 Climax Night 13 8/6/16
The state of Tanahashi’s chest at the end of this match was dire. This was a rare ace vs. ace match as New Japan’s ace, Tanahashi, took on NOAH’s ace, Marufuji. The NOAH ace knocked off Kazuchika Okada on the opening night of the G1 and he was looking for another high profile scalp to add to his collection, but Tanahashi was not going to go down easy. Tanahashi took every chop, every kick, every knee, but he would not go down for the three count. Marufuji looked fantastic in every match he had in New Japan this year and this one was no different. Tanahashi gingerly clutching his blistered chest is one of the many visuals from the year in wrestling that has really stuck with me.
19. Kamaitachi vs. Dragon Lee: NJPW Presents CMLL Fantastica Mania Night 6 1/24/16
What can really be said about a match like this? There were maybe a handful of matches this year that could match the pace of this one. Kamaitachi, now Hiromu Takahashi, and Dragon Lee have had a series of incredible matches over the past two years and this might be their masterpiece. These two threw a ridiculous amount of offense at each other and they were both too proud to concede defeat to their rival. Kamaitachi lost his mask to Dragon Lee in Mexico, he wasn’t going to lose this match to him in his home country. Just like Canis Lupus vs. Trauma was the best that lucha brawling can offer, this was the best that flippy lucha had for us. Truly the highlight of the Fantastica Mania tour.
18. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn: NXT Takeover Dallas 4/1/16
Could there have been a better possible debut for Nakamura? This wasn’t a mysterious man from the orient here to squash some random jobber. This was Shinsuke by god Nakamura showing up to trade forearms with Sami Zayn. With this match, Nakamura made a legion of new fans by just being himself. He had the knee strikes, he had the awesome entrance, and he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Strong style arrived and these two beat the hell out of each other. What a match and what a debut. Sadly, Nakamura hasn’t reached a height like this since then.
Watch: WWE Network
17. Shuji Ishikawa vs. Kazusada Higuchi: DDT Who’s Gonna Top? ~ DDT Dramatic General Election 2016 – The Last Hope Special ~ 9/25/16
Shuji Ishikawa is the best monster in wrestling. Period. No qualifiers.
In this match, the monster was faced with a baby monster in the form of Kazusada Higuchi. The results were brutal. Higuchi is the pride of DNA; the NXT of DDT. In some regards, this match could been seen as a graduation for Higuchi. He had the opportunity to slay the biggest dragon he could get his hands on, but sadly for Higuchi, Ishikawa isn’t a dragon. He’s a real monster and he will knee you into oblivion. Higuchi did his best to slay the monster, but Ishikawa couldn’t be kept down. This match featured some of the hardest hits, slaps, and headbutts that you’ll see all year. Shuji Ishikawa had an awesome KO-D title reign and this was his best defense.
Watch: The Real Hero Archive
16. Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tomohiro Ishii: Wrestle Kingdom 10 1/4/16
The explosive opening of this match set the stage for what was about to come. These are two guys that were looking to slap the life out of their opponent and didn’t want to admit that they felt any pain. Matches like this are incredibly divisive among wrestling fans, mostly because of a fundamental misunderstanding of the match psychology. A lot of people believe that these guys aren’t selling (which is wrong to say from the get-go), but in those moments, Ishii and Shibata have too much pride to show the damage their opponent inflicted on them. Because of this, you’re going to see these two men hitting harder than normal. You’re going to see them literally cracking skulls. That’s not for everybody and I understand it, but I love matches like this.
15. Unit Disbandment Elimination match- VerserK (Kotoka, Naruki Doi, Shingo Takagi, and YAMATO) vs. Monster Express (Akira Tozawa, Masato Yoshino, Shachihoko BOY, and T-Hawk) vs. Dia.HEARTS (Big R Shimizu, Dragon Kid, Kzy, and Masaaki Mochizuki): Truth Gate Night 2 2/4/16
If you think you’ve seen wrestlers move fast in the ring, but have never watched Dragon Gate, you need to watch Dragon Gate. The speed that some of these twelve men work at is staggering. A match like this is non-stop action and is truly a fight for survival. This was an elimination tag match where the first team to have all of their members eliminated would be forced to disband. One thing that Dragon Gate does better than anybody is sprinkling their stories through big matches like this. Following a fantastic exchange with Mochizuki, Kotoka was the first man eliminated, furthering the story that he sucks. Shachihoko BOY got a huge pin on Shingo, getting his comeuppance on the bully that continues to target him in matches like this. When this match was over, Dia.HEARTS was no more. Kzy was the last man standing from his team and put in an incredibly gutsy performance that ultimately wasn’t enough when faced against the Verserk team of Doi and YAMATO. You could call this match a spotfest, but that would be doing the match and everyone involved a disservice.
Watch: The Real Hero Archive
14. Miz vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro: WWE Extreme Rules 5/22/16
Ever watched a good match, but it was scrubbed from your mind by the terrible match that followed it? That’s what happened with this one. I had zero recollection of this one prior to revisiting it and I was blown away. This is easily the best main roster match that WWE had to offer this year. You had the continuation of the Zayn/Owens feud. You had Cesaro absolutely shining. And don’t forget you had Miz really kicking off his fantastic 2016. Miz has been good for quite a while, but this is the match where he really cranked it up. You put these four men together and you get a perfect storm. The action was fast and furious and you could tell that these men were out to steal the show. Miz in particular stood out, wanting to show that he can stand at the same level as these former indie darlings. My favorite thing about this match is Miz sneaking out with the win with the ultimate heel move after pinning an opponent that he didn’t even incapacitate. All four men killed it in this one.
Watch: WWE Network
13. Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tommy End: Battle of Los Angeles Stage 1 9/2/16
For my money, this was the best match from 2016’s BOLA. There were two of the best kicky submission boys in wrestling going head to head. The results were vicious. While Zack Sabre is known mostly for his work as a technical wrestler, he doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being able to kick the life out of his opponents. Tommy End is a maniac and has no problems trying to knock out his friend here. They say that you hit your friends the hardest and that applies here because this match was STIFF. Tommy End was great in here, hitting moonsaults on two different occasions. That’s a move that I’ve never seen him use prior so it was an absolute shock to see. Very few people were talking about how great this was, but it is worth going out of your way to see.
12. Will Ospreay vs. Ryusuke Taguchi: Best of the Super Juniors Finals 6/7/16
The BOSJ finals had to follow up incredible finals from the past two years; Ricochet vs. KUSHIDA and Kyle O’Reilly vs. KUSHIDA. This match belongs right in the conversation with those two in terms of amazing tournament finales. Ospreay walked into this match looking to make history. Taguchi on the other hand was looking to add another accolade to his very successful career in front of his hometown crowd. It was easy to get behind both men and their relatable motivations. Predictably, the hometown crowd was firmly on Taguchi’s side, but as the match wore on, Ospreay won them over. While most people know Taguchi as a comedy wrestler, he left that behind here and did everything he could to win. This was a match that led to a lot of people talking about how much Taguchi had improved, which is absurd to say. Taguchi can always be as great as he was here, he just chooses to work a different style. Look at the reaction he gets from the crowd with his ass based offense. Why needlessly put your body on the line if jokes get just as good a reaction?
As I was saying, Ospreay won the crowd over with his high flying and his sheer determination. Taguchi used his veteran wiles to control a good portion of the match, but even that couldn’t overcome the sheer talent of Will Ospreay. While I normally like to listen to the native commentary, I really think that Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino helped this match, bringing an emotion and excitement that made this awesome match even better. By the end of this tournament, Will Ospreay went from being an outsider to being accepted by this crowd in what was a fantastic tournament finals.
11. Will Ospreay vs. Ricochet: Best of the Super Juniors Night 6 5/27/16
I think it’s safe to say that this was the most talked about and perhaps most controversial match in New Japan’s 2016. After it happened, everybody had an opinion on it. Some fans and wrestlers went as far as to say that the match wasn’t wrestling. I completely disagree with these people (*cough*Vader*cough*) and say that this was one of the most brilliantly worked matches of the year.
On one side, you had the man known as “The Future of Flight,” Ricochet, and on the other side you had Will Ospreay, a young man that would dispute that title. Put them both in the same ring and you have two high fliers trying to prove which of them is the best at what they do. This match was all showing off and cocky posturing. I loved it.
The flips were plentiful and the pace was unrelenting. Ricochet was essentially facing his mortality in this match. No matter how good he is, there’s always going to be a new kid arriving on the scene that is just a bit faster and can jump a bit higher. Ricochet was that person at a point in his career and now Will Ospreay represents his past come back to haunt him. Ultimately, Ospreay prevailed and while this doesn’t mean that he surpasses Ricochet, it certainly proved that he shouldn’t be underestimated because of his age. Ospreay’s success didn’t stop there, as he went on to win the entire Best of the Super Juniors tournament. This is a match that will not only be looked back on fondly, but I truly believe that it will go down as being historically significant. This was the true arrival of Will Ospreay.
10. Io Shirai vs. Mayu Iwatani: Stardom Year End Climax 2016 12/22/16
In a very late addition to this list, Io Shirai and Mayu Iwatani killed each other with ridiculous suplex after ridiculous suplex. Seriously, this match is insanity. I didn’t have Stardom World prior to the buzz surrounding Io/Mayu, but seeing all of the good word of mouth on this got me to order the service. I certainly got my money’s worth on this match alone. I know that Suplex City is Brock Lesnar’s thing, but these two women took over the city and burnt it to the ground. Shirai and Iwatani take turns dumping each other on their heads in inventive and dangerous ways. There were several times I caught myself gasping at the brutal bumps these two were taking.
Mayu and Io put together a match that makes me want to see Mayu beat Io so badly. I can’t wait for the next time they meet. I can’t wait for Mayu to prove herself to Io. I can’t wait for her to win that belt and put that smug Io Shirai behind her. The strength of the storytelling in this match is truly a testament to how great these wrestlers are. I didn’t know anything going in and I was able to pick up on everything I needed. Keep an eye out for the eventual rematch because I’m sure that they saved something special for that day.
9. Hair vs. Mask Steel Cage Survival Double Risk Six Way Match- Cyber Kong vs. Naoki Tanizaki vs. Naruki Doi vs. Shingo Takagi vs. YAMATO vs. Kotoka: Dragon Gate Dead or Alive 5/5/16
If you’re looking for an example of everything that makes Dragon Gate amazing, look no further than this cage match. A rift was formed in Verserk and six of the members were placed in the Dead or Alive cage match. The rules to this match are a little complex, so let me explain them for people that might not have seen it. In this cage match the only way to escape the cage with your hair or mask intact is to climb up the side of the cage and grab one of the five flags. Before you’re allowed to grab a flag, you must score a pinfall over one of the other men in the match. Each of the wrestlers is also representing another wrestler who is forced to put their hair/mask on the line as well. Once a wrestler scores a fall, not only can they go after a flag, but they free the wrestler they are representing of losing their hair/mask. The wresters that have their hair/mask in the hands of another man are outside of the cage, trying their best to help their representative. It all sounds confusing, but trust me, it makes for an awesome match.
With six men all wrestling at once and assistants outside the ring using all sorts of means to keep wrestlers in the cage, this is quite the spectacle. The action in the ring is great, particularly any time that YAMATO and Shingo go at it, but where this match really shines is its storytelling. The match all builds up to one character turn that is legitimately shocking. I would talk about it here, but I want people that haven’t seen the match yet to seek it out and enjoy the moment organically. The ending of the match is extremely dramatic with one man facing off against the entire force of what used to be his friends in Verserk. Everyone plays their roles amazingly, both inside and outside of the ring. For all the drama that this match had, there was also a ton of comedy with the various means used to keep wrestlers in the ring. From Gamma and CIMA rocketing soccer balls at Cyber Kong’s face to Akira Tozawa bopping guys in the head with a squeaky hammer, there was a lot of laugh at. This is truly a match that has something for everyone.
Watch: The Real Hero Archive
8. Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe: NXT Takeover Dallas 4/1/16
I think it’s safe to call this the stiffest WWE match of the year. Seconds into the match, Joe and Balor’s heads collide, busting Joe open. For the rest of the match we get one of the greatest wrestlers to ever walk this planet; angry Samoa Joe. Balor gets the hell beaten out of him by Joe, at one point being tossed into the crowd, taking out an unsuspecting security guard. Balor fights back with shots just as stiff because he’s fighting for his life. Officials and doctors do everything they can to get Joe to pause his mauling in an attempt to stop the bleeding. While stopping the match had a chance to kill the pacing, it just made this feel all the more real.
Samoa Joe looked like an absolute killer in this match. While this wasn’t to the levels of his famous clash with the Necro Butcher, this is the closest that we’ll get to that Samoa Joe in WWE. Joe felt dangerous here, giving off the feeling that Brock Lesnar used to before he became the boring suplex machine. His brutality was off the charts and Balor could only do his best to keep up. The ending was perfect with Balor pinning Joe while he was trapped in the choke. Finn Balor didn’t win that title defense, he survived.
Watch: WWE Network
7. Kazuchika Okada vs. Naomichi Marufuji: King of Pro Wrestling 10/10/16
Man, having Marufuji in New Japan was great.
The action in this one was incredible. Marufuji went into this match with a counter to the Rainmaker; a knee to the fucking face. Okada had already lost once to Marufuji and if he lost this time, he would lose the IWGP Heavyweight Championship too. He used the only strategy you really can to beat Marufuji. Okada fought through the pain of the numerous chops and stayed conscious through the barrage of knees and kicks to the head. As you can expect with an Okada match, the closing stretch was fantastic. A huge victory like this over NOAH’s ace added a bit of extra legitimacy to Okada’s title reign and only added to his wrestler of the year resumé.
6. Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito: G1 Climax Night 18 8/13/16
The leader of Bullet Club clashed with the leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon and created one of the greatest heel vs. heel matches in wrestling history. And this wasn’t just any match, this was a match to decide which of them would be representing the B Block in the G1 finals. While the match started off with antics like a literal spitting fight, things escalated quickly and we saw Kenny Omega make an insane dive from the ring, over the guard rail and into the announcer’s area. This match was a much needed reminder that Kenny Omega is one of the best wrestlers in the world. That’s not to say that Naito didn’t do his fair share though. Naito had a fantastic 2016, but he was never better in ring than he was here. As far as I know, this was the first time that these two met, but they had incredible chemistry.
5. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kazuchika Okada: G1 Climax Night 13 8/6/16
And here’s where we learned who the real leader of CHAOS is. Not only did Ishii beat his friend in the G1, he also proved that he can take the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from Okada any day that he wants. He just chooses not to. Things start off friendly enough, but then Ishii starts taking Okada’s head off with lariats and almost scores the pin in the opening moments of the match. Things only accelerate from there with these two stablemates giving each other everything that they’ve got. As the match nears its close, Okada hits the seated Ishii with repeated dropkicks. This is a callback to Okada’s match with Genichiro Tenryu, who is one of the men responsible for Ishii’s training. The difference this time is that Ishii doesn’t fall to Okada. The Stone Pitbull protects himself from the Rainmaker and delivers a Rainmaker of his own, but this was a headbutt instead of a lariat. After another of Okada’s amazing closing stretches, Ishii wins with the brainbuster as the crowd goes nuts. With this victory Ishii proved what many of us have known for quite some time, that he’s one of the best in the world.
4. Go Shiozaki and Yuji Okabayashi vs. Daisuke Sekimoto and Yuji Hino: Fortune Dream 3 6/14/16
I like watching big beefy dudes slap each other and I got everything I could have ever wanted out of this match. A couple of months ago I saw a video on Twitter that was a compilation of every chop in the match. It runs for over two minutes.
Every chop from Go Shiozaki & Yuji Okabayashi vs Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Hino pic.twitter.com/lCotC26s8s
— LARIATOOOO!!! (@MrLARIATO) November 13, 2016
You either love a match like this or you don’t. I loved every second of it. This isn’t so much a wrestling match as it is an ass kicking contest. There’s no story here and it’s better for that. There isn’t a bad guy, there’s just four guys that want to prove that they can hit and get hit the hardest. At its core, this was a tribute to Kenta Kobashi. Something like this might be as close to a cover song as you can get in the wrestling medium. These four men put on a true classic that I have no doubt I’ll be revisiting for years down the road.
Watch: The Real Hero Archive
3. ROH Tag Team Championship Ladder War- the Young Bucks vs. the Addiction vs. the Motor City Machine Guns: All Star Extravaganza 8 9/30/16
As wrestling fans, we’ve become desensitized to ladder matches. They’re such a regular occurrence that WWE currently has two big shows built around them; TLC and Money in the Bank. Those matches come and go and we really don’t think much of them as the months go on. Every now and then though, a match like this comes along and reminds us that these matches can be something special.
The sixth Ladder War in Ring of Honor’s history was one of the most dangerous matches that I’ve ever seen. It stands right up there with classic matches like TLC 2 and the first Ladder War between the Briscoe Brothers and Kevin Steen and El Generico. While so many ladder matches feel commonplace and forgettable, this one felt innovative and scary. When Matt Jackson was thrown off a giant ladder through a table on the outside, it was a legitimately death defying spot. While I’m sure the ladder match between the Bucks and the MCMG would have been great, this match was entirely elevated by one man; Christopher Daniels.
If I were to title this match, I would have to call it the Fallen Angel’s Last Stand. With blood pouring down his face, Daniels fought with everything that he had. He took crazy fall after crazy fall and kept getting up until he couldn’t get back up anymore. Leading up to the show he said that he would fight to the death to retain the ROH Tag Titles with Frankie Kazarian and it felt like he did. That’s not to say that Kazarian didn’t do his fair share of the work, because he put in a strong performance too, but this was truly the Christopher Daniels show. By the end of the match, I was pulling for the Addiction to retain, but this would be the end of their reign. The Young Bucks put an incredible exclamation point on the match by not just grabbing the titles, but making sure that all of their opponents were disposed of. With the Guns down on the outside, Daniels unable to stand, and Kazarian knocked out with an Indy Taker through a table off the top of a ladder, the Bucks had no opposition left. Surrounded by broken bodies, the Young Bucks were victorious in a match was lived up to its name. This was truly a war and war leaves scars.
2. Kenny Omega vs. Hirooki Goto: G1 Climax Finals 8/14/16
Many of you may think I’m crazy for ranking this higher than Omega’s match with Naito, but this catered more to what I love out of wrestling. While I think the work in both matches was amazing, I feel like this match had the better story. Kenny Omega was thought to be a man with one foot out the door of New Japan. With every strike he threw, with every move he made, Omega made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t going anywhere. With callbacks to the men he defeated in 2016 strewn throughout the match, Omega live up to his KennyOmegaman Twitter handle. When he vanquishes you, he takes your move and makes it his. It took the finishers of everyone he defeated, the moves of his former partner Kota Ibushi, and the One Winged Angel to put away Goto.
If there’s any wrestlers in New Japan that’s never the bride, always the bridesmaid, it’s Hirooki Goto. In every shot he’s had to become the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Goto has come up short. He’s won the G1 and the New Japan Cup, but he’s never won the big one. So far 2016 had seen Goto soundly beaten by Okada in his title challenge and defeated by Naito in the New Japan Cup finals. Things started to turn around for him when he joined CHAOS, but could he continue his success by winning the G1? Omega was facing a man with nothing to lose and everything to gain. It’s also worth noting that Goto got into the match in the most Goto way possible by finding himself at the top of Block A after Tanahashi and Okada went the distance in their match.
The match saw both men put in a heroic effort, especially Omega who was just coming off of his match with Naito less than 24 hours earlier. The Bullet Club leader proved that he wasn’t going anywhere and that he is one of the most brilliant minds in the entire wrestling business. With a scar on his back, the One Winged Angel found a way to fly to the Wrestle Kingdom main event.
1. Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi: Wrestle Kingdom 10 1/4/16
Not only is that my favorite match of 2016, this might be my favorite match ever. The story going into this match was perfect. One year earlier, Okada was challenging Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight championship. He came up short and it was the most crushing defeat in his career. As Wrestle Kingdom 9 came to a close we saw Okada break down in tears as Tanahashi mocked him from the ring. In the year that followed, Okada rebuilt himself and became the IWGP Heavyweight Champion by defeating AJ Styles. Now in a role reversal, Okada finds himself as the champion and his challenger, after winning the G1, is Tanahashi.
The storytelling in the ring was some of the best that I’ve ever seen. These two men know each other very well and as a result both men had counters and counters for counters. When they couldn’t put away their opponents with their finishing moves, they tried each other’s finishers. Tanahashi tried to destroy Okada’s legs with repeated Dragon Screws, but Okada continued to will himself to stand. Okada used the Rainmaker, a death sentence for most wrestlers, but Tanahashi found the energy to kick out. As the match neared its eventual conclusion, it seemed like nothing would be enough to pull out the win.
The most powerful moment of the match came when Okada attempted the Rainmaker, only to be met with a hard slap to the face. Both men fall to the mat, but Okada maintains his hold on Tanahashi’s wrist. His spirit may have been broken a year earlier, but now he’s stronger than ever. Okada brings them back to their feet and he proceeds to massacre Tanahashi with three Rainmakers, never breaking the hold he has over Tanahashi’s wrist. This would become a recurring moment in Okada’s big matches from this point forward. These were the moments where other wrestlers would have given up, but not Okada. He held on, powered through, and found the way to defeat Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom. Not only did Okada retain his title, but he took another title from Tanahashi. With this victory, Okada cemented himself as the ace of New Japan. This amazing match wasn’t just a five star classic, it was the signal of a new era.