The year is over, which means it’s time to reflect on what happened in 2016. I already covered a lot of WWE related topics in my WWE Johnny Awards column earlier in the week and I also wrote about the 10 Most Memorable WWE Moments at The Comeback as well. Today, I’m going to post the full reviews and analysis of what I feel were the ten best WWE matches this year.
As you know from being a visitor of this website, I reviewed every WWE PPV, every NXT Takeover, every Raw and Smackdown (minus the two shows during WrestleMania week because I was away) and even specials like Roadblock back in March. When I review matches, I use a five star scale to rate them. A friend of mine named John Harper keeps track of all of my ratings on a spreadsheet, so it makes it easy for me to bring it all together in a post like this.
I rated two matches at five stars out of five and a third one was ****3/4 although when I watched it a second time I think I should have given it five stars. After that everything else is pretty damn close, so it’s hard to narrow it down to just ten. None of the matches on here were from Raw or Smackdown. They are all from WWE Network events. The TV matches were close, but none of them made this list.
For each match, I’ll include my full write-up of the match and the analysis that I wrote immediately after it. I’ll also list the date and the event it took place so if you want to check it out on WWE Network you can do that.
Side note: Apparently I use the word “Wow” a lot during my reviews of these awesome matches. Can’t help it! Let’s roll.
10. WWE World Heavyweight Championship Extreme Rules Match: Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles @ Extreme Rules – May 22
Since it’s an Extreme Rules match, all weapons are allowed and there are no disqualifications and no countouts.
They brawled it out early on. Some fans chanting “you can’t wrestle” at Reigns. That’s a dumb chant. Reigns hit a flying knee attack on Styles to send Styles out of the ring. That was a surprising move, but it worked. The crowd chanted “Ro-man Sucks” to the New Day chant. Of course the announcers don’t put the chant over. Reigns had a chair. He was able to send Styles into the barricade. Styles avoided an attack as Reigns swung the chair and hit the steps with it. Styles gave Reigns a clothesline that sent him into the crowd. Styles and Reigns brawled into the crowd. The cameras followed them as they went to the set where the Kickoff Panel was. Reigns tossed Styles onto the glass table. Styles came back with a kick to the face followed by a Phenomenal Forearm attack. They went back to the ringside area. Styles sent Reigns into the top of the barricade at ringside. Styles took off the mat by ringside to expose the concrete. Styles wanted the Styles Clash, but Reigns fought out of it with a punch. Reigns cleared off the German announce table. Styles fought out of a Powerbomb attempt by punching Reigns in the face repeatedly. There’s a “You’re An Idiot” sign in the crowd. Who? You. Reigns with a punch sent Styles over the barricade. Styles charged at Reigns, which was a mistake because Reigns hit a back body drop that sent Styles crashing through the English announce table – that’s the table in the middle of the three at ringside. That’s a huge bump with a lot of height on it. I think fans were chanting “you still suck” at Reigns. They went into the ring where Reigns covered for two.
Reigns picked up Styles, put him above his shoulders Razor’s Edge style and then into a sitout Powerbomb for two. When Reigns tried a Spear attempt, Styles did a shoulder tackle in the knee to take Reigns down. Styles with a suplex into the turnbuckle. Styles attacked Reigns outside the ring, Reigns caught him, slammed him into the side of the ring and into the barricade. Then Reigns gave Styles a Powerbomb through the Spanish announce table. He launched him into it. Another huge bump for Styles. Reigns went for a Spear outside the ring, but Styles moved and Reigns went crashing through the barricade at ringside. Fans were chanting for Styles while some were chanting for Reigns. Styles went to the top rope for the forearm, but Reigns caught him with a Superman Punch. Styles took a hard fall to land on the floor. That was nasty. With Styles on the floor, Reigns nailed him with a huge Spear on the floor. Reigns was selling his knee injury, which is good.
Reigns rolled Styles into the ring. Here come Gallows & Anderson. They nailed the Boot of Doom double team move on Reigns. Anderson put Styles on Reigns for a two count. The Usos ran out and they hit superkicks on both Anderson and Gallows. Double superkick on Styles. Another superkick on Styles. Superfly Splash by one of the Usos on Styles. They put Reigns on top of Styles and that’s good for a two count. Anderson back in the ring. Reigns with a Superman Punch for Anderson and then a Superman Punch for Gallows on the apron. Styles hit a boot to the face to counter the Spear. Styles Clash connects. Styles covers for one…two…no. Reigns kicks out. The crowd was mad about that. Reigns hit a back body drop to back out of another Styles Clash attempt with Styles’ leg hitting the chair. When Reigns went for a Superman Punch, Styles hit a Pele Kick on him. Styles hit a Styles Clash on the chair. One of the Usos pulled Styles off from the cover, Styles kicked him away, covered again and got two. Basically it was a way to delay the pinfall a bit setting up the kickout by Reigns. Reigns had the steel chair in his hand. He nailed both Usos with it multiple times. Styles hit Reigns with the chair as well. He probably did about ten total chair shots there. He was going wild with the chair shots. Styles went to the apron, jumped up for the Phenomenal Forearm attack, but Reigns caught him with a Spear and Reigns covered for the win after 22 minutes. Boos from the crowd as the champ retains.
Winner by pinfall: Roman Reigns
Analysis: ****1/4 That was great. I loved the intensity of the match, the big spots they did that worked really well and Styles took some huge bumps. The two table bumps plus that nasty Spear on the floor looked like they hurt a lot. Then there was that fall from the top to the floor that may have been the most painful at all. I thought Reigns did a pretty good job of selling the knee injury although he probably could have done it a bit more. The interference by G&A as well as The Usos was pretty obvious before the match started, but I thought the spots they did really worked. There were nearfalls because of the interference. Nothing wrong with that. That final spot was awesome looking. It’s not easy to jump off the top ropes and drill a guy with a perfect Spear, but they timed it perfectly. If there’s a complaint then it’s the fact that Styles hit the Styles Clash twice (second time on a chair) and Reigns was able to kick out both times. For the second one there was slight distraction caused by an Uso. Basically this the same sort of “Superman” booking we see from WWE’s top faces all the time whether it’s John Cena, Steve Austin, The Rock, Hulk Hogan or Reigns. That’s just how it’s always going to be. It does hurt Styles a bit that he could hit Reigns with two finishers and multiple chair shots, yet he wasn’t able to win. Reigns hit him with a Spear and that was enough for the win. Granted, Styles did take a beating prior to that with some huge bumps including two table bumps, a nasty bump on the floor and a Spear on the floor. Since I picked Reigns (like most people), I went 8-0 in my predictions. Hope you bet on what I picked!
(Styles may be the perfect opponent for Reigns since he can sell the power moves so well and AJ’s offense is great as well. I feel like this is the match that elevated Styles in the eyes of management and made them realize just how good he is.)
9. NXT Tag Team Championships: The Revival (Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder) vs. Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa @ NXT Takeover Brooklyn II – August 20
The Revival are a great heel team. Crowd loves Gargano & Ciampa, so the atmosphere is great for this match. Dawson stalled early on by going to the floor. Ciampa nailed some chops to work over Dawson and he brought in Gargano, who did a double knee attack into a Ciampa clothesline. Loud “Johnny Wrestling” chant for Gargano. Dash got in there, but he was met by a Gargano dropkick. Dawson tagged in wit ha back elbow for Gargano. They did a spot where all four guys were in the ring until the champs went to the floor. Gargano took out Dash with a dive while Ciampa did a running knee attack off the apron onto Dawson on the floor. More stalling by the heels although it worked because Dawson nailed a back suplex for two. The champs continued to work over Ciampa in their corner. Ciampa kicked his way free and went for the tag, but Dawson pulled Gargano off the apron. The Revival does that spot in nearly every long match they have because it works so well. Double team front suplex spot by the champs gets two. Ciampa with a jawbreaker on Dash. He wasn’t able to make the tag, though. They did the classic tag spot where the heels distracted the ref, Gargano got the tag and the ref made him stay out. The champs got a nearfall on Gargano soon after. Huge clothesline by Dawson as the match has gone past the 12-minute mark at this point. Ciampa avoided an attack by Dawson in the corner and avoided a Dash attack. Tag to Gargano.
Gargano was on fire after the hot tag with a great rolling kick to Dawson and a neckbreaker for two. Loud “Johnny Wrestling” chant. Gargano kicked Dash and nailed a spear on Dawson for two. Great nearfall right there. Loud “this is awesome” chant for this tag match. I agree. Dash tagged in and got a DDT for a two count. Ciampa tagged in and applied a flipping armbar submission. Dash was able to make the save although it was really close to the finish. Nice drama there. Gargano with a Spear on Dash and then Ciampa with a cradle on Dawson for a very close two count. Loud “NXT” chant from the crowd. What an awesome atmosphere. Ciampa with a knee attack, but Dawson nailed a punch. Dash went for the Shatter Machine, but that didn’t work as Ciampa avoided it. Double team move by Gargano & Ciampa connected. It was their kick/knee combo. The ref counted the three, but then Dash’s foot was on the ropes because Dawson put it there. The match continues. Dawson sent Ciampa into the ring post. Gargano knocked Dawson off the apron, so Dash nailed a forearm smash into the back of the knee of Gargano. Dawson applied a knee bar, so Dash jumped off the middle ropes with an attack to the knee. Dawson did a reverse figure four, Gargano was close to the ropes, but he tapped out instead. It went 19 minutes.
Winners by submission: The Revival
Analysis: ****1/4 Awesome match. It was an old school wrestling tag match where they used all the tricks we grew up watching in tag team wrestling and making it work so well. The crowd was into it from the beginning. They kept on getting louder as the match went on. I loved the way they did all the old school things to make the match entertaining. The faces came so close, they weren’t able to get the win and it’s easy to feel sympathetic towards them. That’s the art of storytelling within a wrestling match. The champs were booked to be so smart while the faces had a lot of heart and kept on coming back. The false finish was well done too because it could lead to another match down the road. I just loved the way they built that match. Listen to the crowd and they made more noise as the match went on too. That’s because the guys in the ring put on one of the best tag matches of the year. Well done.
Post match, The Revival left with the titles. Gargano & Ciampa received a standing ovation from the crowd. Well deserved. Gargano said sorry. Ciampa hugged him.
Analysis: I think they’ll do the title change in a few months. Build up to it some more.
(That prediction proved to be true. More on that match later.)
8. Intercontinental Championship: The Miz (w/Maryse) vs. Dolph Ziggler (If Ziggler loses, he must retire) @ No Mercy – October 9
They were both aggressive early. Ziggler nailed a hard clothesline that sent them both over the top to the floor. Back in the ring, perfect dropkick by Ziggler. Miz sent Ziggler sternum first into the turnbuckle in the famous Bret Hart corner bump. Miz took control with a clothesline and a running boot to the face. Miz sent Ziggler throat first into the bottom rope. Miz taunted Daniel Bryan with some “yes” hand motions. Miz nailed his backbreaker into a neckbreaker combo for two. Miz hit three corner dropkicks in a row followed by more “yes” taunts. Ziggler came back with a standing dropkick to stop him. Running clotheslines by Ziggler, Stinger splash, swinging neckbreaker and an elbow drop gets two. Sweet counter by Ziggler countering a powerbomb with a sunset flip for two. Miz kicked him and did a cover with his feet on the ropes, but the ref made him break it. Rollup by each guy with Miz holding tights and they each got two. Miz with a kick to the knee followed by a snap DDT for two. Miz trapped Ziggler’s leg against the middle rope, he kicked it and then hit a dropkick. Ziggler small package gets two, but Miz came back with a corner clothesline. Ziggler fought out of a slingshot Powerbomb for a second time. Miz applied the Figure Four Leglock as the crowd tried to rally behind Ziggler. After about one minute, Ziggler was able to get his hand on the bottom rope.
The lovely Maryse jumped on the apron, which I will never complain about it. Miz took the turnbuckle pad off the corner while the ref was dealing with Maryse. Ziggler came back with the Rough Ryder move that Zack Ryder does with Ranallo noting that Ziggler is good friends with Ryder. That got two. Miz sent Ziggler face first into the exposed turnbuckle and then Miz hit a slingshot Powerbomb for two. They almost messed it up, but it hit for a dramatic nearfall. Miz did some DBry like “Yes” kicks. Ziggler got back to his feet and hit the Zig Zag for one…two…no. Awesome nearfall. JBL said that was Ziggler’s “last chance” as I’d like to remind you that heels lie. The crowd really got behind Ziggler. Great counter by Ziggler gets two. Ziggler did a sleeper on Miz while wrapping his legs around Miz’s body to make it look more aggressive. Miz got to the ropes.
The ref checked on Miz, so Maryse grabbed some spray from her boot and sprayed it in Ziggler’s face. Miz hit the Skull Crushing Finale for the one…two…no! Ziggler got his right leg on the bottom rope. Miz didn’t hook the leg as he did a cocky pin. Wow that’s an awesome nearfall because that was the finish of their Backlash match last month. Miz continued to go after Ziggler, he grabbed at his boot, yanked the boot off and Ziggler nailed a Superkick to knock Miz down. That’s a bit of a Guerrero/Angle tribute. Maryse called for help, so Kenny and Mikey from the Spirit Squad showed up. They were on the apron and the ref told them to get down. Ziggler superkick on Mikey and Kenny dropped down to avoid an attack. Miz hit the Skull Crushing Finale for a two count. Another great nearfall. Kenny tried to interfere, but the ref stopped him. The referee kicked out Kenny, Mikey and Maryse. Ziggler got back up, Miz turned around and Ziggler nailed another superkick. One…two…three! Ziggler is the new Intercontinental Champion after 20 minutes of action.
Winner by pinfall and New Intercontinental Champion: Dolph Ziggler
The crowd was going wild as Ziggler celebrated with the title. JBL said this was Ziggler’s greatest night and the best performance of Ziggler’s career. The reaction to the win was a big deal. As Ziggler celebrated with the crowd, Miz had this really sad look on his face. That was great by Miz.
Analysis: ****1/4 That was an excellent match just like their two other recent title matches (Backlash and then Smackdown a few weeks later). There was a lot of drama with several believable nearfalls for each guy. That nearfall after the Maryse spray leading to the SCF was so well done. I like how they followed up those matches by doing a tease of the finish that worked for Miz in the past. The Spirit Squad guys showing up was a bit of a surprise, but I guess it’s fine after what happened last week on Smackdown. As for the result, I’m not surprised by it because I picked Ziggler although I definitely thought that Ziggler could retire. I know some people thought Ziggler might lose too. The best thing I can say about this whole thing is that the Intercontinental really feels important again. Miz did an awesome job as champion and this feud was put over as a big deal with Ziggler saving his career by winning the IC Title again. Great job by both guys in the match as well as WWE’s creative team in making this feud feel important.
(I probably should have went ****1/2 for it. Loved their feud. This match should have been the main event of the show as well.)
7. Survivor Series Elimination Match: Team Smackdown Live (AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt & Shane McMahon w/James Ellsworth) vs. Team Raw (Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns & Braun Strowman) @ Survivor Series – November 21
Styles faced off with Owens as the crowd cheered champion vs. champion matching up. Both guys missed moves early on to show how even it was. Fans chanted “stupid idiot” to bring in Jericho to a huge ovation. Owens hugged Jericho to a huge ovation. Running shoulder tackle by Jericho on Styles and Styles came back with a dropkick. Jericho tagged in Rollins, which gave us Rollins vs. Styles – a feud I would love to see one day. Styles brought in Ambrose, who wrestled Rollins many times this summer. They each teased finishers and got out of it to show they are so even. Jericho tagged, yelled at Ambrose for destroying his jacket that was worth $15,000 and Ambrose took him down with arm drags. Jericho came back with an enziguri kick. Jericho and Ambrose exchanged some hard slaps. Shane tagged in against Jericho, both of whom are in their mid-40s. Flying back elbow by Shane. Otunga mentioned the battle of the bulge and said he’s not talking about Owens’ stomach. I saw Owens rip Otunga on Twitter, which was well deserved. A dropkick by Jericho knocked down Shane. Rollins tagged in with a suplex on Shane. Reigns tagged in to boos as he hit corner clotheslines on Shane. Rollins got the tag with a punch off the top rope onto Shane. Ambrose and Owens tagged in with Ambrose hitting a running clothesline, but Owens came back with a clothesline of his own. Ambrose crushed Owens with a clothesline and hit a suicide dive on the floor although he barely connected with it. That looked weak. Back in the ring, Owens nailed Ambrose with a kick and Ambrose fought out of a Popup Powerbomb attempt. Jericho saved Owens from an attack, Strowman tagged in and all then guys stood in the ring.
The match turned into a fight with all ten guys going at it. Strowman caught Ambrose in his arms and Styles saved Ambrose with a forearm smash on Strowman. Owens went up top and hit a cannonball dive onto the guys on the floor. Shane went up top and he teased a dive, but Strowman shoved him down. Ambrose and Styles worked together to stun Strowman and Shane hit a clothesline to knock Strowman out of the ring. Ambrose with a clothesline on Rollins and Styles hit a Pele Kick on Reigns. Crowd chanted “AJ Styles” as he bickered with Ambrose. Ambrose took down Styles. Shane broke it up, but Styles hit Ambrose with a forearm in the back. Strowman hit a running Powerslam on Ambrose to eliminate him.
Dean Ambrose eliminated by Braun Strowman
Analysis: They went several minutes with no legal man in the ring, so if you want to bee critical you could say that they ignored the rules of the match. I don’t mind it because the action was so good.
Strowman hit a running splash on Shane in the corner. Styles went for an attack, but Strowman shoved him over the top to the floor. That was a nasty looking bump by Styles. Orton went for a RKO, but Strowman shoved him away. Bray Wyatt got in Strowman’s face. Jericho told Strowman that he’s the captain now (good movie reference). Strowman tossed down Jericho and attacked Wyatt with a running dropkick that sent him out of the ring. Strowman cleaned off the German announce table as Orton showed up with a RKO out of nowhere onto Strowman on the table, which didn’t break. Wyatt and Orton cleared off the English announce table. They put Strowman on the announce table. Shane McMahon slowly climbed the turnbuckle and jumped off the top with the flying elbow drop on Strowman through the table. It looked great and drew a huge ovation from the crowd. The replays of the spot showed how impressive of a leap it was. Loud “this is awesome” chants started up. After all of that, the ref finally started a count as Styles rolled Shane back in the ring. Strowman was legal for Raw, he was at ringside at the count of eight and nine, but he couldn’t get in the ring at ten. Strowman was counted out. It was Ellsworth holding the foot of Strowman to prevent him from going back into the ring.
Braun Strowman eliminated by countout
Strowman went after Ellsworth, who went up the ramp and did the comedic stumble. Strowman caught up to him and heaved him off the stage onto a nearby table. There were some pizza boxes there too.
Analysis: Big bump by Ellsworth. It was a way to protect Strowman by not having him get pinned or submit. He ended up looking strong because of what he did to Ellsworth.
Jericho and Owens worked on Shane with Owens hitting a running senton. Owens mocked the Shane O Mac dance leading to a two count. Jericho nailed a dropkick on Shane. They did a spot where Jericho hit a Lionsault and Shane got his knees up, but Jericho didn’t sell it. I’m not sure if it was something where they made a mistake on that spot. Jericho hit a Codebreaker on Shane, Orton went in the ring and Jericho hit a Codebreaker on him. That led to Jericho slowly going to cover Shane, who kicked out at two. Rollins tagged in, slammed Shane and Jericho missed a top rope splash on Shane, who moved. Styles got the tag with a fireman’s carry into a backbreaker on Jericho. Owens wondered if Styles can even see through that stupid hair. That was clever. Styles locked Jericho into the Calf Crusher submission, but Jericho fought out of it. Styles got a cradle for two. Styles nailed a running forearm on Owens, who was on the apron. Styles set up Jericho for the Styles Clash, but Owens ran into the ring with the List of Jericho clipboard and hit Styles in the back with it. The papers on The List were all around the ring. Owens hit a Popup Powerbomb on Styles as the referee disqualified Owens. The crowd hated that and some chanted “bullshit” for it.
Kevin Owens eliminated by disqualification
Analysis: The List is an object, so it warrants a disqualification. Crowd wanted to see more of Owens, though.
Jericho freaked out about The List being used, picked up the papers and Styles tagged in Orton. That led to Orton turning Jericho around and he hit a RKO to eliminate Jericho.
Chris Jericho eliminated by Randy Orton
Analysis: The Raw co-captains were eliminated within one minute of eachother.
Jericho retrieved his list from a referee and left. The two Raw guys left were Reigns and Rollins against four Smackdown guys.
Analysis: While at the show, I remarked to the guys seated near me that I thought Reigns and Rollins would win even in this 2 on 4 scenario. It didn’t happen, but I thought it was possible.
Orton with a powerslam on Rollins. Can we get a Curb Stomp counter into a RKO like at WrestleMania 31? Nope. Wyatt tagged in with a running splash on Rollins in the corner. Orton worked with Rollins in the corner and seated him on the top rope. Orton with a superplex on Rollins. Reigns got the tag with punches on Styles, he knocked Wyatt off the apron and hit a Samoan Drop on Orton. Reigns with a popup Samoan Drop on Styles, who he had a great feud with earlier this year. Reigns with a seated Powerbomb called a Niagara Driver by Graves earned a two count. Styles avoided a Superman Punch with a leaping kick to the head. Shane tagged in with a DDT on Reigns. Rollins missed a leaping attack, so Shane hit a clothesline and slammed Rollins down spinebuster style. Shane sent Reigns hard into the ring post. The crowd was standing because they knew what was coming. Shane climbed the top rope and went for the Coast to Coast dropkick across the ring. He jumped, Reigns got up and crushed Shane with a Spear. Wow! That was nasty to watch again. Reigns covered and Shane lifted his right shoulder up while Cole was yelling about how Shane was eliminated. Shane looked knocked out. The ref called for the bell saying that Shane was knocked out.
Shane McMahon eliminated by Roman Reigns
Doctors checked on Shane in the ring. Orton went over to one of Shane’s sons (and I think Shane’s wife was there) to tell them he’ll be okay. Good guy Randy. Fans chanted “Shane O Mac” as doctors helped him to the back.
Analysis: When it happened live I thought Shane was legitimately hurt because he hit his head so hard. Watching it on the broadcast is even more painful to watch. They didn’t botch it, but it was just a violent crash. Shane performed very well in this match with some big moments that we won’t forget. Shane appeared on Smackdown two days later, so he was fine even though he was likely hurting from the spot.
It’s 3 on 2 for the Smackdown guys as Wyatt hit a running back splash on Reigns. Fans chanted “Roman Sucks” as Reigns hit a clothesline on Wyatt, who he had many matches with. Rollins tagged in against Styles with a blockbuster off the ropes, a kick to the head and a flying knee attack off the top rope. Rollins sent Wyatt into the barricade with a suicide dive. Forearm smash by Rollins in the corner. The crowd chanted “Roman’s sleeping” because he was laying against the barricade. The announcers didn’t mention it as Rollins hit an enziguri kick while Styles was on the top rope. A “wake up Roman” chant started up. Rollins with a superplex into a Falcon Arrow for a two count as Orton made the save. Forearm shot by Orton blocked a suicide dive attempt from Rollins. Reigns saved Rollins with a punch to Orton. Rollins cleared off the German announce table and Reigns cleared off the Spanish announce table. Styles made the save with a running kick on Reigns. Styles went back in the ring to pose and Ambrose ran back down to the ring. Ambrose hit Styles in the back of the head with a clothesline. Ambrose pounded on Styles with punches. Other referees went to the ring to stop Ambrose as fans chanted “stupid idiot.” Ambrose sent Styles into the steps at ringside. Security guys showed up, but Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns beat them all up. The crowd cheered. The three former Shield guys all looked at eachother as Ambrose and Rollins held Styles. They hoisted Styles in the air and Reigns led the three man Shield Powerbomb on Styles through the table. Rollins rolled Styles into the ring and pinned him.
AJ Styles eliminated by Seth Rollins
Analysis: Great moment. I was sitting by this guy that hated Reigns that was marking out for this as much as anybody. It’s funny how the haters hate Reigns on his own, but when he’s with The Shield guys he is loved again.
The match is down to Reigns and Rollins side by side in the ring against Orton and Wyatt on the floor. Luke Harper showed up at ringside. He must have been under the ring. That distracted Roman and Seth, so the SD guys paired off with the Raw guys. Reigns sent Orton into the post, but Harper was there to send Reigns into the ring post and nailed a superkick. Rollins was on fire with a Slingblade on Wyatt and somersault dive over the top to the floor took out Harper on the floor. Rollins nailed Wyatt with a kick in the ring. Rollins went up top with a Frog Splash, but Orton greeted him with a RKO and Wyatt pinned Rollins for the elimination.
Seth Rollins eliminated by Bray Wyatt
Analysis: Great spot with Orton helping his buddy Bray again. I kept thinking that Orton might turn face against Bray, but it didn’t happen. Rollins had an incredible performance all night long.
The fans chanted “Let’s Go Smackdown” because they don’t like Reigns. Wyatt was in there with Reigns and Reigns hit a punch on Orton. Outside the ring, Reigns sent Wyatt into the barricade at ringside. Drive By dropkick by Reigns on Wyatt on the apron. Reigns hit a Spear on Harper on the floor. Back in the ring, Wyatt teased Sister Abigail and Reigns fought out of it with a Superman Punch. Reigns went for a Spear, but Orton shoved Wyatt out of the way so Reigns hit the Spear on Orton. Wyatt capitalized with Sister Abigail on Reigns and covered for the win.
Roman Reigns eliminated by Bray Wyatt
Survivors: Team Smackdown Live – Bray Wyatt & Randy Orton
Post match, Wyatt posed with Orton and Harper.
Analysis: ****1/2 Awesome match. They went nearly an hour long making it the longest WWE match of the year, told so many different stories and gave us a memorable ending as well. I tried to comment on things as they happened because if I left it all for this space it would have been difficult. There were a lot of great spots with the Shield Reunion taking place, Strowman tossing Ellsworth off the stage and that Reigns spear on Shane that looked absolutely devastating. As for the result of the match, I’m happy that Smackdown won and hope it leads to a serious push for Wyatt although I have my doubts about that. I picked Reigns and Rollins to survive because both guys are pushed strong on the Raw side, but I’m happy to be wrong about it because of how the match turned out. This is one of the best Survivor Series elimination matches ever. While I wish there was more on the line and that the win meant more, in terms of match quality this was pretty damn good.
(This is the longest match on here. I remember a couple people saying I overrated it because I was there. I don’t think so. They really put together a lot of cool elements in a match that went nearly and hour and I thought it came off great.)
6. Kota Ibushi (Japan) vs. Cedric Alexander (United States) @ Cruiserweight Classic – August 10
They shook hands before the match. Bryan commented about how Alexander looks great after losing 22 pounds to qualify for this tournament under 205 pounds. Crowd chanted for both guys as they battled it out with Ibushi nailing a shoulder tackle early. Ibushi worked on the arm a bit, then Alexander tripped him up, they each hit arm drags and Alexander hit a sweet reverse hurricanrana. He got a rollup for two, then Ibushi did a pinning attempt for two and they both went to corners as the crowd clapped for them. Tight headlock applied by Alexander. After Alexander nailed a back elbow, Ibushi nailed him with a hard kick to the chest. That looked great with a big crowd reaction. Ibushi with a chop to the face and a springboard missile dropkick sent Alexander out of the ring. Ibushi went for a moonsault out of the ring, but Alexander moved, went into the ring and hit a somersault dive over the top to take out Ibushi on the floor. What an awesome sequence there. Alexander with a springboard leaping clothesline for a two count. Ibushi landed on his head/neck to make it look even more painful.
Alexander was still in control with some chops. Ibushi went for a kick, but Alexander blocked it and chopped him in the face for a two count. Ibushi countered a move by slipping out and nailed a beautiful dropkick that made a big noise. A huge ovation for a dropkick. You don’t see that very often. They exchanged forearm shots with Bryan saying these guys are going to war and Ranallo saying this is the strong style that Ibushi is used to. Ibushi with a standing corkscrew moonsault. Wow that’s not easy to do. Crowd was giving them a lot of applause. Ibushi with an Exploder Suplex sent Alexander to the floor. Ibushi ran to the top rope and hit an Asai Moonsault to take out Alexander on the floor. Wow! I’m saying wow again. What a move. Crowd chanting “fight forever” as Ranallo noted there’s a 20 minute time limit. Back in the ring, Alexander came back with a Michinoku Driver for a two count. He was shocked that Ibushi kicked out. Uppercut by Alexander, but then Ibushi chopped him on the top rope. Ibushi went for a top rope rana, Alexander blocked it and flipped off the top landing on his feet. Alexander nailed a hard forearm shot, but Ibushi came back with a Pele Kick. Damn this is so good! Alexander avoided a Powerbomb, hit an enziguri kick and nailed a brainbuster. Bryan: “OH MY GOD!” It gets only two to the shock of the crowd. Alexander nailed a spin kick to the head for two. Another shocking kickout. Good closeup of Alexander’s face showing the shocked expression. Bryan: “I am blown away by Cedric Alexander.” Fans chanted “this is awesome” for them. Damn right. Ranallo noted there’s about five minutes left. Alexander went up top, Ibushi moved out of the way of an attack. Ibushi nailed a German Suplex and a hard kick to the head. Ibushi hits the Golden Star Powerbomb (Last Ride into a sitout Powerbomb) and that’s enough for the one…two…three. Wow. That was so good. It went 15 minutes.
Winner by pinfall: Kota Ibushi
Analysis: ****1/2 Wow that was incredible! Loved it. One of the best WWE matches this year. The amount of moves that they hit that could have won the match is the reason why it was so awesome. When you can have several moments in the match that are believable finishes, the crowd is going to buy into it and it helps tell the story. Alexander hit him with everything, yet Ibushi was able to kick out. That shocked look on Alexander’s face was great because it tells the story about how tough these guys are. It’s an example of why you need believable nearfalls in a match, but you don’t always have to have them in every match just for the sake of having nearfalls. It’s more about telling the story by using the falls. Then there’s the way they finished the match, which was brilliant. Alexander did all he could to win, he went up top, which proved to be a mistake and Ibushi finished him three moves later. That’s how you end things in a decisive way. I’m glad that Alexander got a chance to really show what he can do because even though he lost, he won over the crowd. Ibushi was able to finish him off, but really they are both winners after that much. It sucks that Alexander is out of the tournament because he’s such a great performer, but as we saw with Ciampa in the first round, there’s nothing wrong with having a loss when you have such a good match. As I said it’s one of the best matches of the year. No doubt about it. Nakamura/Zayn still tops the list, but this match is in the top five this year.
(Love this match. It was so huge for Alexander’s character while Ibushi showed why he’s considered one of the best in the world. It was top five at the time I wrote that, but a couple of other matches passed it.)
5. WWE Intercontinental Championship: The Miz (w/Maryse) vs. Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn @ Extreme Rules – May 22
In a four way match it’s first fall gets the win. I think Maryse looks tremendous. Just want to get that out there. Zayn hit a Helluva Kick on Owens as soon as the bell rang with KO rolling to the floor. Cesaro hit an uppercut shot on Miz to send him out of the ring. Cesaro faced off with Zayn as they reminded us of how great they are together. Look up their NXT matches from two years ago. Miz sent Cesaro out of the ring and Zayn sent Miz to the floor too. Zayn with a somersault dive over the top to the floor to take out both guys. They looked like they were setting up the Tower of Doom corner spot, but Owens broke it up by knocking Miz to the floor and then he sent Cesaro into the ring post. Owens with a huge clothesline to Zayn followed by a hard kick to the back. Owens with a senton splash on Zayn gets two. Owens punched Miz off the apron to send him into the barricade. Owens tossed Zayn into Cesaro on the apron. When Zayn was on the top rope, Owens tripped him up. Owens was on the top rope with Miz and Zayn trying for a suplex, so Cesaro showed up with a Powerbomb on two guys for the Tower of Doom spot. That led to some nearfalls for Cesaro. Zayn with a Blue Thunder Bomb on Cesaro, Miz kicked Zayn and Miz got a couple of nearfalls. Miz with an exploder suplex on Zayn, Cesaro grabbed Miz for a German so it was a double suplex spot. Fans chanted “This is Awesome” for them.
Cesaro was on fire doing uppercuts on all three guys as they were all standing up against turnbuckles. Owens with a German Suplex on Cesaro. Owens with a clothesline on Miz, a cannonball on Cesaro, a cannonball on Miz and a cannonball on Zayn too. Zayn avoided the Popup Powerbomb and hit a Tiger Suplex on Owens. Cesaro sent Zayn out of the ring after a huge uppercut. Miz hit the Skull Crushing Finale on Cesaro for a two count. Miz was my pick to win and I thought that was it, but Cesaro was able to kick out to keep it going. Cesaro with a springboard corkscrew uppercut on Miz. Cesaro did the Cesaro Swing spot with the crowd counting how many spins: 20. Cesaro applied the Sharpshooter on Miz. Miz reached the rope, but it doesn’t cause a break in a four way. Maryse was in the ring and the ref got her out of there. Miz tapped, but the ref didn’t see it so Cesaro was screwed out of the win. Owens with a rollup on Cesaro gets two. Owens with a Six Star Frog Splash on Miz as he was against the ropes being held by Cesaro. Cesaro came back with a Neutralizer on Owens that Zayn broke up. Zayn came back with a sunset flip into a quick Powerbomb for a two count. What an incredible move that was. The replay of it was even better. Cesaro crushed Zayn with an uppercut. Zayn hit an exploder suplex on Cesaro into the corner. Owens back in the ring with a Superkick on Zayn and then Owens hit a Popup Powerbomb on Cesaro. Miz broke up the pin. Owens sent Miz into the barricade. Maryse yelled at Owens, which allowed Miz to come back with a Skull Crushing Finale on Owens on the floor. Miz tried to cover Cesaro, but it was only good for two. The crowd gave them a standing ovation with loud “yes” chants. All four guys were down. Miz went to attack Cesaro. Zayn with a Helluva Kick on Cesaro, but Owens yanked Zayn out of the ring. Oh man that drew massive heat. Zayn was angry and went after Owens on the floor with Zayn throwing Owens into the barricade. Miz slid in to the ring, covered Cesaro and that was enough for the win after 20 minutes. Zayn crawled back into the ring right after the fall.
Winner by pinfall: The Miz
Post match, Miz was exhausted as he celebrated the win. Zayn was so frustrated by the loss. Miz got a kiss from Maryse for the win. Cole put the match over as a Match of the Year contender.
Analysis: ****1/2 Wow that was an outstanding match. I had high hopes for the match, but they even exceeded what I thought they would do just because they built up the nearfalls so well. It looked like any of them could win at different points in the match. It’s hard to really go over everything here, but I think it’s pretty telling when the crowd stands on their feet to give them a standing ovation during the match. Those guys all earned it. Give a lot of credit to Zayn, Cesaro and Owens for being three of the best guys in WWE while Miz isn’t at their level all the time, but he showed he is good enough to be part of something special. The big spot was Zayn about to get the win, Owens breaks him out of the ring and Zayn loses his mind because Owens is a thorn in his side again. Great storytelling with those two being involved in that way. Miz getting the stolen pin was the right way to go because he’s better with the title while the other three guys should be factors in the Money in the Bank match. I highly recommend you check out that match if you missed it because it’s one of the best of the year. I don’t think a lot of people picked Miz to win, but I did so I’m 5-0 in the predictions so far. One of the best WWE matches of the year, but Nakamura vs. Zayn is the leader in that category. For main roster, this might be first at this point.
(This was when Miz started to turn a corner in terms of having better matches. Working with these three certainly helped.)
4. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens @ Battleground – July 24
Zayn was aggressive early on as Saxton noted that Zayn was the best man at Kevin’s wedding and the Godfather to Owens’ son, whose name is Owen by the way. They brawled outside the ring a bit early. Back in the ring, Owens tripped up Zayn on the top rope. Owens with a cannonball in the corner for two. Owens beat on him with some hard chops. When the crowd chanted “ole ole ole” for Zayn, Owens mocked the crowd. Owens suplexed Zayn ribs first on the top rope. Running senton splash by Owens gets two. Owens took him to Chinlock City – he should put that on a shirt. Owens mocked the crowd chanting “Sami” for him. JBL compared Owens Bam Bam Bigelow as being a great athlete for a big man. I think that’s fair. Not the same body type, but similar. Zayn came back with a hard clothesline to knock down Owens. Zayn with a Michinoku Driver for two. Owens pulled him out of the ring, Zayn fought out of it, Zayn went for a springboard moonsault and he slipped. Zayn hit his right shoulder hard. Ouch that had to hurt. Owens sent Zayn arm first into the ring post. Back in the ring, Zayn came back with a Blue Thunder Bomb for two. They slugged it out on the top rope, Zayn shoved him down and Zayn missed an attack, so Owens nailed a superkick for a two count. Owens with a Crossface on the injured right arm of Zayn. Zayn was able to get to the ropes to break it.
Owens with a clothesline on Zayn in the corner. Owens charged in, Zayn caught him and hit an Exploder Suplex into the turnbuckle. Owens rolled to the floor to avoid the Helluva Kick. Owens wanted to do a Rolling Senton onto the floor, but Zayn blocked it and hit a brainbuster on the apron. Ouch! You don’t see that very often. JBL noted that it’s the hardest part of the ring. Fans chanted “this is awesome” for them. Owens took a count of nine to get back in the ring. Both guys were down in the ring. The crowd did “Let’s Go Owens/Sami Zayn” chant as they started throwing punches (look a the banner of this review – it’s like that). Zayn won that battle. Owens rolled to the floor, so Zayn charged in and Owens stopped him with a Superkick to block the DDT. With Zayn leaning against the turnbuckle, Owens hit a cannonball crushing Zayn into the turnbuckle. Owens up top and hit a Bullfrog Splash for two. Zayn was talking to the ref, but I’m not sure about what. Zayn came back with a beautiful Tornado DDT. Zayn charged in and KO with another Superkick. Zayn with a one armed Dragon Suplex, Owens landed on his feet and Zayn hit another one armed Dragon Suplex dumping Owens on his head for two. Wow! What a sequence! Crowd gave them a standing ovation. Zayn charged in, Owens caught him with a Powerbomb and Zayn’s foot was on the bottom rope at the two count. Owens yelled at him about not staying down. Owens with a hard slap. Zayn told him to bring it. Zayn slapped him again, Zayn hit an Exploder Suplex in the corner, then Zayn hit another one armed Dragon Suplex and a Helluva Kick by Zayn in the corner. Zayn held him up as if to say he’s not done yet. Zayn hit a second Helluva Kick for the pinfall win after 19 minutes. Huge ovation for them.
Winner by pinfall: Sami Zayn
Post match, Zayn celebrated it big time. JBL: “Somebody call the sheriff because these boys just stole the show.” He’s right.
Analysis: ****1/2 Wow that was an incredible match. What a performance by both Zayn and Owens. The crowd was really into it. It was better than their Payback match was and that was a lot of fun to watch too. There were big spots in the match like the brainbuster on the apron. Zayn’s fall during the springboard moonsault attempt looked bad, but I’m glad Zayn was able to get through the match. I know some people think they do this match too much and maybe that’s true, but when it’s as good as this match was how can you complain? I definitely won’t. They are two of the best in-ring performers with incredible chemistry. How many standing ovations do you see during a match? Doesn’t happen often. One of the best matches of the year – probably #2 right now. I think Nakamura vs. Zayn in Dallas was still the best WWE match this year, though.
(In a perfect world, Zayn would be the one to beat Owens for the Universal Title at WrestleMania. It would allow their story to come full circle. Sadly, it’s not a perfect world.)
3. AJ Styles vs. John Cena @ SummerSlam – August 21
The crowd was very loud early on. No surprise. Styles nailed a dropkick and celebrated like it was a big deal. Cena punched him in the face and then did a hard whip into the turnbuckle two times. I heard Cena say “apron” so Styles went there. It led to Styles hitting a snap suplex on the apron, which is the hardest part of the ring. Back in the ring, Cena with a huge back body drop. Dropkick by Cena gets two. The crowd did their familiar “Let’s Go Cena/Cena Sucks” chant. Styles came back with fists, a clothesline and a forearm to the face. Cena with the shoulder tackles, the spinning slam and the Five Knuckle Shuffle as the crowd booed him. Styles landed on his feet to counter the AA, Pele Kick and he hit the Styles Clash. Cena kicked out at two. Cena hit Attitude Adjustment and Styles kicked out of that. Not even ten minutes into it. Styles put Cena on his shoulders and hit a spinning powerbomb for a two count.
Cena with a slingshot into the top turnbuckle, then he had Styles in his arms, tossed him into the air and hit a Cutter like move similar to a RKO, but not the same move. Styles missed a forearm, Cena tripped him up and Styles came back with the Ushigoroshi, which is like a AA into the knee. JBL thought it was the AA, but Ranallo said the name of the move. Cena with a Code Red (sunset flip powerbomb) with Ranallo referencing that name for two. Styles with a face first slam gets two. Styles with a springboard attack, Cena caught him by the leg and applied the STF submission hold. Styles countered into a Crossface leading to cheers from the crowd. Cena powered out, but Styles applied the Calf Crusher submission hold. Cena turned it into the STF submission. Styles was able to get out of it. Styles with a hard kick to the head. Cena with a back elbow and a Tornado DDT for two. Cena went up top and hit the guillotine legdrop on Styles for a two count. Styles came back with a springboard hurricanrana for two. So good. Styles nailed the Phenomenal Forearm for two. Wow. Another very believable nearfall. Crowd thought that was it. This match is past the 20 minute mark now.
Cena nailed Styles with a huge clothesline to slow him down. Cena went to the middle rope with Styles on his shoulders and Cena hit the Attitude Adjustment, but Styles kicked out at two. Wow. Huge nearfall. Same finish they did at Battleground. Cena was shocked that Styles kicked out of that. He backed into a corner looking stunned about it. Cena went for another AA, but Styles landed on his feet and hit a Styles Clash again. He didn’t cover. Styles went to the apron, hit the Phenomenal Forearm and covered for the victory after 23 minutes! Wow that was awesome. The crowd cheered for the win.
Winner by pinfall: AJ Styles
They aired replays of this classic bout. JBL did a good job of noting this was a career defining moment for Styles. Styles left up the ramp victorious.
Post match, Cena sat up in the ring alone. He looked at his “Never Give Up” arm band and left it in the ring. He went up the ramp as the loser, but it was a damn good match.
Analysis: ****3/4 What a great match. That was very impressive. They only had one televised match two months ago, but they have wrestled at live events too. Clearly they have built up an amazing chemistry together. So many believable nearfalls for both guys. I thought Cena had it won a couple of times and then I thought Styles could have won multiple times as well. What a great build up to a big moment at the end. I liked how Cena reacted in a big way when he didn’t win after the middle ropes AA. He was shocked it didn’t win, which cost him because it allowed Styles to come back. I’m glad that Styles won because it makes sense to give him some momentum heading into a possible feud with Dean Ambrose. Cena’s off to film the American Grit TV show soon. He deserves credit for putting over Styles over again and this one was better than their Money in the Bank match. One of the best matches this year. I think it’s my only match with that rating with Nakamura/Zayn at five stars, which is the leader for MOTY at this point. This is second place for me at this point. If I watch it again I may change my mind.
(I should have went five stars. It’s hard sometimes doing a live review and really appreciating a match. This match was incredible.)
2. NXT Tag Team Championships: #DIY (Gargano & Ciampa) vs. The Revival (Dawson & Wilder) @ NXT Takeover Toronto – November 19
Gargano started with Dawson. Ciampa tagged in and they hit a double dropkick on the heels for a two count. The heels worked on Ciampa a bit with Dawson slamming Wilder onto Ciampa by having Wilder hit a legdrop on Ciampa. Ciampa sent Wilder sternum first into the turnbuckle. Gargano tagged in with an overhead belly to belly to wilder and a bulldog/clothesline spot on both heels. Gargano neckbreaker on Dawson gets two. Gargano was in the heel corner. He tried to hit Dawson with a slingshot spear, but it was blocked and the champs hit Shatter Machine (double team Codebreaker) with Wilder pinning Gargano for the first fall.
Winners of first fall: The Revival 1-0
Analysis: Great move by Dawson to counter Gargano’s move into the finisher. It’s also smart for the heels to get the first fall to build up to the faces trying to come back.
The heels beat on Gargano on their side of the ring. Wilder hit a headbutt on Gargano and noted they were two time champs. Dawson applied the Gory Special submission. Gargano broke free and hit a kick on Dawson while he nailed a DDT on Wilder. Dawson went under the ring to pull Ciampa off the apron, but Ciampa fought it off. The referee didn’t see the hot tag leading to the Revival hitting the Hart Attack double team clothesline for a two count. Wilder with a back body drop on Gargano off the top, but Gargano turned it into a cross body black. Ciampa hot tag against Dawson with a missile dropkick, running knee in the corner, back elbows, boot to the face and a leg lariat to the back of the head for a two count. Ciampa with three German suplexes in a row to Dawson followed by a running knee strike for a two count. Fans were chanting “this is awesome” for them. The heels went for a double team move, but Ciampa came back with a cross body block off the top for two. The ref told Wilder to get out of the ring, so Ciampa and Gargano did a double team move with Ciampa hitting a running knee while Gargano hit a superkick to the head of Dawson at the same time.
Winners of second fall: #DIY 1-1
Analysis: That looked nasty. Great spot to give #DIY a fall to even up the match.
Ciampa had a slug fest with Wilder that he won. Dawson tagged in, countered an arm bar into a pinfall attempt and nailed a boot to the face. Gargano tagged in as Ciampa dropped Dawson face first into the mat. Gargano jumped over the top rope and hit a DDT on Dawson for a two count. Wilder tagged in and the heels did a great double team uppercut into a German Suplex spot for a two count as Ciampa made the save. By this point in the math the crowd was so into it they were standing up for a lot of it and chanting “this is awesome” regularly. Dawson sent Ciampa into the ring post. The heels worked on Gargano in their half of the ring until Gargano got an inside cradle for a two count that everybody thought was the end of the match. Wilder brought one of the tag team titles into the ring. Ciampa took out Wilder with a clothesline that sent them out of the ring. Gargano kicked Dawson, who had the title in his hands, so Gargano’s leg was hurt as he kicked the title. Such a cool spot. Inverted figure four by Dawson, which was a move that Dawson used to beat Gargano in their last title match. Gargano nearly tapped, but he was able to crawl to the ropes to huge cheers from the crowd. Dawson had a bit of blood, but it wasn’t that bad. The Revival teased a double team move, but Wilder actually kicked Dawson instead. Gargano and Ciampa hit the Shatter Machine finisher that Revival uses to a huge ovation for the one…two…no. Wow what a nearfall that was! Most of us thought that was it. Dawson came back with a rollup using the tights, but the ref saw it, so he stopped the count. Wilder sent Ciampa into the ring post outside the ring. Gargano kicked Dawson out of the ring, which led to Wilder clipped the back of the left leg of Gargano, so both legs of Gargano were hurting. Gargano and Wilder exchanged pinfall sequences. Gargano did a Crossface like move. Ciampa locked Dawson in an armbar. In a great visual, Dawson & Wilder were holding eachother’s hand to prevent the tap as the crowd was rabid! We were going wild! The image of the people in the background told the story. The heels tried to fight out of it and then both guys tapped out! New champs! The legal finish was Gargano forcing Wilder to submit. Gargano & Ciampa got the win at the 22:15 mark. Wow! What a match!
Winners and New NXT Tag Team Champions: #DIY (Gargano & Ciampa)
Post match, Gargano & Ciampa held the titles in their arms as the fans showered them in “you deserve it” chants. Replays aired of all the great spots in the match. Following the replays, Gargano & Ciampa soaked in the cheers while The Revival were on the stage looking sad about the loss.
Analysis: ***** That’s five stars out of five. It’s rare, but that’s what that this match was. One of the best matches of the year and maybe the winner. One of the best tag team matches I have ever seen. I had high expectations going into the match after their Brooklyn match, but they managed to top themselves with this performance. There were so many things to like about the match as they did some spots similar to their last match, they built on those things and they teased the finish several times in the last five minutes. There’s really nothing to pick apart as far as complaints go. The pacing was great, the match time was the right amount and the work was exceptional. I think making it a 2/3 falls match was a way to differentiate it from their previous match. The chemistry between the teams is amazing. Gargano & Ciampa wrestle more of the fast paced, current era style of wrestling with a lot of kicks and high impact offense. The Revival are old school tag team wrestlers who don’t look physically imposing, but they are so well schooled when it comes to technical tag team wrestling. From a storyline standpoint, it was exactly what it needed to be with the faces overcoming the heels for the biggest victory of their careers. Five stars, gentlemen. What a f’n great match this was that I enjoyed so much live when I saw it at the arena and I liked it even more watching it on the broadcast today. All four of these guys are ready for the main roster obviously, but if they want to do this match at every Takeover for the next year I’m perfectly fine with that too. If The Revival were on the main roster, Vince McMahon would be too consumed with trying to give them a stupid gimmick (see Breezango as the “fashion police”) and I doubt they’d get to have meaningful matches as often.
Analysis x2: I have more praise for this match. To put it in perspective in terms of WWE history, I think it’s one of the best tag matches ever. My three favorite traditional tag team matches in WWE history (not counting TLC matches, which is why I say traditional) are Angle/Benoit vs. Edge/Mysterio at No Mercy 2002, Benoit/Jericho vs. Austin/HHH on Raw in May 2001 and this match.
(This was the best match I’ve ever seen in person. It beat Undertaker vs. Triple H at WrestleMania 28 for me.)
1. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn @ NXT Takeover Dallas – April 1
The crowd was going wild for this with “yes” chants as well as chants for both men. They’re both faces. Nakamura ducked a lockup and followed it up with a strut. Zayn showed his quicks as he avoided some kicks from Nakamura. When Zayn took down Nakamura with an armdrag, he signaled him to bring it just like Nakamura did a couple of minutes earlier. Knee drop by Nakamura gets two. Nakamura hit an enziguri kick that rocked Zayn back into the corner, Zayn blocked a kick and Nakamura hit a spin kick using the front foot instead of the back foot like most people would use. Zayn with a suplex. Zayn with a leaping heel kick to the face for two. Forearm shot by Nakamura rocked Zayn, but then when he went to the top, Zayn nailed a forearm smash to send Nakamura to the floor. While on the apron, Nakamura nailed a leaping kick to the face and then two knee drops. Those knee strikes look nasty. The fans were doing a dueling “Nakamura/Sami Zayn” chant. Nakamura missed a corner charge, but then he came back with a running knee lift to the ribs for two. Zayn was able to use Nakamura’s momentum to send him to the floor. Zayn capitalized on that with a somersault dive over the top rope to take down Nakamura on the floor. Back in the ring, cross body block by Zayn gets two. Fans chanted “this is awesome” for them.
Nakamura came back with some knee strikes on Zayn on the mat. Zayn with a Michinoku Driver. Both guys were out as the crowd clapped to get them going again. They had this really cool sequence where they exchanged forearm shots to the face as the crowd chanted “yay” for every shot as well as “yes” chants. Nakamura had a busted nose due to all the forearm shots he took. Both guys were selling exhaustion although they were probably so tired from that exchange that it was legit too. Nakamura won the forearm battle as he battered Zayn to the point that he was knocked out against the ropes. Another kick to the face by Nakamura. The ref cleaned up the blood on Nakamura’s nose. Nakamura ran the ropes and Zayn crushed him with a huge clothesline that Nakamura sold with a flip bump. Great spot. Another clothesline by Zayn. Knee by Nakamura followed by a flipping armbar in the middle of the ring. Zayn fought it off with some kicks. Zayn kicked away at Nakamura repeatedly in the head just like Nakamura had done to him. Zayn with a Koji Klutch submission on the upper body of Nakamura. The crowd chanted “please don’t tap” as Nakamura countered into a pin attempt for two. Nakamura came back with a step up enziguri that connected really well. Both guys were down in the ring as the fans chanted “fight forever” at them. Nakamura came back with a one legged dropkick to the face. Zayn went for the Helluva Kick, but Nakamura countered with an inverted Exploder Suplex. What a move! Zayn came back with a Blue Thunder Bomb for two. What a nearfall that was! Damn! The crowd bought it! Standing ovation from the crowd for that exchange. Wow that’s an amazing sight. Loud “NXT” chants for them. Zayn went for his leaping DDT outside the ring, but Nakamura nailed a hard kick to the face to counter it. They battled in the ring with Nakamura hitting elbow strikes to counter a suplex attempt. Nakamura went to the middle rope and hit a knee strike to the back. That was sweet. Nakamura hit the Kinshasa running knee strike for the pinfall win at the 20:07 mark.
Winner by pinfall: Shinsuke Nakamura
Analysis: ***** Wow! What an incredible match! That’s a five-star match and that’s as high as this scale goes. It was wrestling perfection, my friends. There was so much hype going into this match and they lived up to the hype. They got the perfect guy to face Nakamura because Zayn was willing to go toe to toe with him and they were able to tell an incredible story while also having a very physical match. The match came off like a mix of technical wrestling as well as a brutal fight. It’s not like they are the biggest guys out there, but they treated it like a real battle. The best matches are the ones that feel the most real. Sounds simple, right? It sounds that way, but it’s not always easy to execute. When you watch some main roster WWE guys they just can’t pull off a match like this. All of the knee strikes by Nakamura tell the story of this physical match. It wore down Zayn to the point that Naka was able to hit that final strike to get the win. I liked that it wasn’t a match with guys kicking out of finishing moves. It ended when Nakamura hit his finish. It felt like a fight more than a wrestling match and I absolutely loved it. Nakamura getting the win made sense in terms of the booking because it puts him over huge right away. Zayn’s on the main roster, so no problem with him losing in what is likely his NXT farewell match. If you’re wondering, I believe my last five-star match was The Undertaker vs. Triple H in a Hell in a Cell match at WrestleMania 28 four years ago. It’s been a while. This match deserves that rating. I’m not sure when they’ll have another match, but I’m already looking forward to it.
(Hey WWE jerks, can we get a rematch in 2017? Please and thank you.)
That’s it. Congrats to all of those matches because YOU JUST MADE THE LIST (thanks Jericho) of my top ten WWE matches this year. There were so many matches came close including several women’s matches. I just don’t think one of them stood out above the others.
Let me know how you think I did here and please share your favorite matches in WWE this year as well.
This is my last post of 2016, so once again I wish you all a Happy New Year. Thanks so much for the support.