15. The Royal Rumble Match: Royal Rumble, Jan. 24
Royal Rumble match for the WWE Championship
Winner: Triple H
The "Roman Reigns vs. 29" storyline of this match kept fans' attention for the entire 30-man melee. Despite WWE's forced perception of Roman as a fan-favorite hero, fans yearned for a new champion. They were growing tired of Roman's stale, unbeatable hero schtick (à la John Cena). Thus, when Triple H eliminated Reigns over the top rope, the crowd erupted in a collective orgasm of cheers and "SUCK IT" taunts. And after eliminating Dean Ambrose, "The Cerebral Assassin" recaptured the WWE Championship for the 14th time in his career. Triple H and Reigns would go on to main event WrestleMania, but that match failed to live up to the intensity and excitement of their Royal Rumble drama.
Also, let's not forget the debut of "The Phenomenal One" AJ Styles.
14. TJ Perkins vs. Kota Ibushi: WWE Cruiserweight Classic, Sept. 14
Singles semifinals match for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Winner: TJ Perkins
One of the best things to come out of 2016 was the WWE Cruiserweight Classic, a single-elimination tournament that brought together 32 wrestlers from around the world, all weighing under 205 pounds. There were no backstories, no storylines, no angles. Just pure, unadulterated, athletic spectacle.
In this match, we saw TJ Perkins showcasing his wide range of offense, from aerial maneuvers to a BRUTAL kneebar submission move, while Ibushi relied on his authoritative kicks, the sickening thuds reverberating throughout the arena. The Full Sail crowd repeatedly erupted in long and continuous "THIS IS AWESOME!" chants throughout the match. In the end, Ibushi couldn't endure the pain of Perkins' kneebar submission hold and tapped out. While Perkins won the match, both competitors delivered a performance of a lifetime.
13. The Miz (C) vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro: Extreme Rules, May 22
Fatal four-way match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship
Winner: The Miz
Sami Zayn jump-started this match on an explosive note by knocking out Kevin Owens with a brutal Helluva Kick, just milliseconds after the opening bell rang. From there, we saw a beautiful chain of back-and-forth maneuvers that lasted a full 20 minutes. The match moved from one impressive move to another, at lightning-quick speed, capturing everyone's attention from beginning to end and garnering a well-deserved standing ovation.
12. Gran Metalik vs. Tajiri: WWE Cruiserweight Classic, Aug. 10
Second round tournament match for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Winner: Gran Metalik
At the ripe age of 46, Tajiri, best known for his work in Japan and ECW throughout the '90s and early 2000s, returned to WWE to compete in the CWC. Taking on Mexico's Gran Metalik, Tajiri proved just how much the ring veteran had in the tank. This match had everything, from impressive quick-paced lucha libre maneuvers, to creative submission hold counters. It eventually evolved into a VERY hard-hitting match, with the two delivering stinging kicks and chops reminiscent of the Japanese style of wrestling. Ultimately, Metalik would pick up a well-deserved victory and cement himself as a favorite to win the tournament, but not without the "Japanese Buzzsaw" leaving his mark.
11. Roman Reigns (C) vs. Seth Rollins: Money in the Bank, June 19
Singles match for the WWE Championship
Winner: Seth Rollins
Despite the speculation of some ring rust, Seth Rollins put on one of his best performances of the year after returning from a real-life knee injury. The move of the night came when Rollins countered Roman's signature spear into a Pedigree, a great example of wrestling innovation at its finest. Rollins beat Roman CLEAN and regained the WWE Championship.
But Rollins' moment of glory would only last a brief moment as Dean Ambrose, who won the Money in the Bank briefcase earlier in the night, cashed it in to become the new WWE Champion. In one night, we saw all three members of the Shield hold the prestigious title and it was awesome.
10. Roman Reigns (C) vs. AJ Styles: Extreme Rules, May 22
Extreme rules match for the WWE Championship
Winner: Roman Reigns
Sometimes in wrestling, you just want to watch two dudes beat the shit out of each other and that's exactly what we got at Extreme Rules. This was a balls-to-the-wall, demolition derby of a match, where we saw Reigns and Styles take their fight into the crowd. Reigns shined as the Samoan badass he should be, delivering some of the most exciting powerhouse moves of the night. He launched Styles through not one, but two announce tables, and slammed him like a rag doll from barricade to barricade. The interference of The Usos and Gallows and Anderson enhanced the drama and turned this fight into a real nail-biter. In the end, Roman Reigns beautifully countered AJ Styles' Phenomenal Forearm with an extra vicious spear to pick up the win.
9. Kevin Owens (C) vs. Sami Zayn vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Stardust vs. The Miz vs. Sin Cara vs. Zack Ryder: WrestleMania 32, April 2
Ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship
Winner: Zack Ryder
2016 was an emotional roller-coaster for Zack Ryder. He was added last minute to the Intercontinental Championship ladder match at WrestleMania 32 — a welcomed yet VERY unexpected surprise. After all, the "Long Island Iced-Z" hadn't been relevant in WWE since 2011. His chances of winning this match were slim to none, but in a twist that caught everyone off guard, HE FUCKING WON THE MATCH. Ryder went from obscure, lower card, professional loser to IC Champion at WWE's biggest event of the year overnight. He was the ultimate underdog who finally overcame the odds, and that brought tears to the eyes of fans who had been with him since day one. Zack Ryder was on top of the world, living the dream alongside his adorable father, getting the recognition he FINALLY deserved...only to lose the title to The Miz the next day on Raw. :'(
8. Akira Tozawa vs. Gran Metalik: WWE Cruiserweight Classic, Aug. 31
Quarter-final match for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Winner: Gran Metalik
This match was defined by its sheer brutality and aggression. Every hold, every strike, every suplex, every flying maneuver was packed with a powerbomb of intensity. It felt like the closest thing to a real-life Dragon Ball Z fight, thanks to its incredible speed and Tozawa's piercing war cries (HA!). And while we know this spectacle relies heavily on theatrics, their mid-match chest-chopping contest made wrestling fans clench their chests and squirm in pain. This match received a well-deserved standing ovation from the Full Sail University crowd, and stood out as the best match in the entire tournament.
7. Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz (C): No Mercy, Oct. 9
"Career vs. Title" match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship
Winner: Dolph Ziggler
2016 was a pretty AWESOME year for The Miz. After becoming a stale superstar in the last couple of years, the "A-list Hollywood star" cemented himself as a legitimate threat after his jaw-dropping tirade against Daniel Bryan on Talking Smack, providing us with one of the most intense speeches since CM Punk's infamous "pipebomb." And with the help of his wife, Maryse, he made himself THE bona fide antagonist of SmackDown Live.
So, when Dolph Ziggler put his career on the line to challenge Miz for his title at No Mercy, the stakes were higher than the heavens. The match itself was outstanding, thanks to the exhilarating in-ring story fueled by kick-outs and a steady stream of wrestling adrenaline. Ziggler won the title, but Miz recouped the respect and admiration of wrestling fans, casual and hardcore alike.
6. Team Raw vs. Team SmackDown Live: Survivor Series, Nov. 20
Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins vs. AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton, Shane McMahon with James Ellsworth in a 5-on-5 Survivor Series elimination match
Winner: Bray Wyatt for Team SmackDown Live
Clocking in at almost one hour, this match was stacked with some of the most "HOLY SHIT!" moments of the year. We were flabbergasted when Reigns legitimately knocked out Shane McMahon when he countered the Coast-to-Coast with a spear. We jumped out of our seats when Orton connected an RKO on Rollins mid–frog splash, and we shrieked like fans at a Beatles concert when The Shield had their mini-reunion and triple powerbombed Styles through a table. And finally, we had a collective "THANK GOD!" when Bray Wyatt picked up the win for Team SmackDown Live. From bell to bell, the Toronto crowd and everyone watching through the WWE Network cheered endlessly for everyone in this match — a rare feat for a one-hour match with 11 people.
5. Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte (C): Raw, Nov. 28
"Falls Count Anywhere" match for the WWE Women's Championship
Winner: Sasha Banks
2016 was the year WWE decided to play hot potato with the Women's Championship. The two women who dominated the division were Sasha Banks and Charlotte, who had more matches together than anyone else on the roster. But their greatest match came on the Nov. 28 edition of Raw, where they competed in a "Falls Count Anywhere" main event. Beyond their technical prowess, these two upped the viciousness that was lacking in all their other matches. Some of the best spots included Sasha whacking the devil out of Charlotte with a kendo stick, Charlotte performing a moonsault off the stage, and Sasha forcing Charlotte to tap out with the Bank Statement on a guardrail. Overall, the two poured their heart and soul into this match and it showed. Hopefully in 2017 we can add more women to the mix.
4. AJ Styles vs. John Cena: SummerSlam, Aug. 21
Winner: AJ Styles
At SummerSlam, we saw a dream match of sorts. Cena, who reigned as the face of WWE for almost a decade, and Styles, who was the face of rival company TNA, put on one of the best matches of the year. The two had an explosive back-and-forth match in front of a hyped-up Brooklyn crowd full of die-hard wrestling fans. Cena graduated from his stale "five moves of doom" and pulled off some innovative offense — some of the best we've seen in his career. Styles was equally impressive, using his agility and high-flyer style against Cena's powerhouse strength. But in the end, not even a second-rope AA could finish Styles, which spoke volumes of WWE's newest acquisition. Styles defeated John Cena, fair and square, with a Styles Clash and a Phenomenal Forearm. The victory cemented Styles as the top dog of the New Era of WWE.
3. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn: Battleground, July 24
Winner: Sami Zayn
Someday, far into the future, a Pulitzer Prize–winning book will be written on the friendship and animosity of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn.
At Battleground, Owens and Zayn had their final match of the year to put a cap on their long, storied rivalry. The match flowed beautifully between Owens' brash, brawler offense and Zayn's loose and high-flyer style. There were plenty of near-falls and a plethora of impressive wrestling moves. In the end, Zayn showed no mercy toward his ex–best friend, and knocked him out with two consecutive Helluva Kicks. Hopefully, this won't be the last time we see these two in the middle of the ring. After all, they're destined to do this forever.
2. The Revival (Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder) (C) vs. #DIY (Tommaso Ciampa & Johnny Gargano): NXT Takeover: Toronto, Nov. 19
2-out-of-3 falls tag-team match for the NXT Tag Team Championships
Since its rebranding as a serious developmental system, NXT has showcased some of the best tag-team matches in modern wrestling history. But nothing comes close to the matchup between The Revival and #DIY. This match delivered on every level, from emotional storytelling to fast, hard-hitting action. Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder, who once started out as unknowns without a name, rose up the NXT ranks with their unique, old-school, brawler-style of wrestling, using brute force and dirty tactics to pick up wins. Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano proved themselves as the scrappy up-and-coming underdogs, the indy darlings ready for the big stage. And while this was the third time these teams faced off against each other, this final matchup would prove to be the crème de la crème. The double tap-out at the end of the match culminated an emotionally draining storyline that left the Toronto crowd in hysterics.
1. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn: NXT Takeover: Dallas, April 1
Winner: Shinsuke Nakamura
Shinsuke Nakamura is a charismatic leading man, with a theatrical presence heavily influenced by Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson, donning bright red leather outfits and a half-shaved head. But more than just a gravitating appearance, the man knows how to deliver some soul-crushing kicks and knees, garnering him the sobriquet of "King of Strong Style." Nakamura's NXT debut was scheduled for the night before WrestleMania in Dallas, and his opponent would be none other than Sami Zayn. For die-hard wrestling fans, Christmas came in April.
This match exceeded all expectations and delivered one of the most memorable performances in wrestling history. Nakamura's "Strong Style" kicks packed a wallop that could be felt across our TV screens. But our lovable Sami also knew how to dish out some serious offense of his own, and turned this match into a real-life "bloody knuckles" game. Nakamura cemented himself as a bona fide top dog, not only of NXT, but WWE as a whole. And this match will go down in the annals of the great wrestling matches in history.
Honorable Mention: Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker: WrestleMania 32, April 2
Hell in a Cell match
Winner: The Undertaker
The match itself was not great, considering the contenders had a combined age of 97 years. But this match had the single most unforgettable moment in wrestling history: Shane McMahon attempted to drop the elbow off the top of a 20-foot cage and crashed through the announce table. This 46-year-old man with three children, WHO DOES NOT NEED TO BE DOING THIS FOR A LIVING, put his life on the line for our entertainment. And so, for this death-defying moment alone, we'll list this "bowling shoe ugly" match as an honorable mention on this list.