We’re more than halfway through what has been a very interesting 2016. On Episode 16 of the podcast, we all gave our top five wrestling matches of the year thus far. I took some detailed notes, and they’re right here in this blog post. Do you agree with my choices? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter! To see the entire discussion and get everybody’s top five, check out the episode on YouTube!
#5 Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks
WWE Women’s Championship
WWE WrestleMania 32, April 3
In early 2016, nothing was hotter than the WWE women’s division. Three of NXT’s Four Horsewomen (excluding Bayley) got a chance to compete for the newly christened Women’s Title (RIP Butterfly/Vagina Belt!) on the grandest stage of them all. Sasha was so over at the time that they included Snoop Dogg (Sasha’s cousin) in her entrance. I cannot recall WWE making this much of a spectacle out of a women’s match. While she sent a long time on the injured list after Mania, there is no denying how over The Boss was. Overall, this was an excellent match that ended with Charlotte breaking up a Banks Statement on Becky and then making Becky tap to the Figure 8 as Ric Flair prevented Sasha from getting back into the ring. As mentioned, injuries placed plans for Sasha to chase the title on hold, and what we got was Ric Flair constantly rescuing his daughter in a division that supposedly prided itself on the women being strong an independent. It’s easy to forget, though, that the original intent before that trainwreck was to plant the seeds for Sasha’s big push for the title. Make no mistake, this was about Sasha. Had things transpired differently, this would’ve been the start of a brilliant piece of storytelling.
#4 AJ Styles vs. Roman Reigns
Extreme Rules Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWE Extreme Rules, May 22
On the same night when Roman Reigns became firmly entrenched as the babyface champion who was getting pushed to the moon, AJ Styles debuted in the Royal Rumble to a reaction that not even the most hardcore of TNA or NJPW marks could’ve predicted. That meant that AJ was rocketed immediately to the main event. After Reigns took care of HHH at WrestleMania to secure the strap, AJ and friends (Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson) took to delivering beatdowns both verbal and physical on the champ. The smart money was on the outsider, Styles being simply fed to Reigns to help get him over. Instead, the consummate professional carried Roman to the match of his life. You know you’re a great wrestler when everybody watching knows that you’re going to lose and you can, on several occasions, make them believe that you just might actually win. While Roman ultimately got the duke, I included this match in my top five simply because it made me feel like a mark again. I truly believed that AJ could win. On top of that, while not a technical masterpiece, this was an intense, high-impact brawl that made both men look like a million bucks.
#3 Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn
NXT Takeover: Dallas, April 1
Shinsuke Nakamura had never wrestled in a WWE ring, but on WrestleMania weekend, he and Sami Zayn stole the show as Nakamura became an overnight mainstream sensation in the US. Anybody who has watched NJPW or Ring of Honor knows that Nakamura is one of the most charismatic wrestlers in history, but many questioned whether it would translate to the American stage. From the second Nakamura’s music hit, he had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand, and they still are to this day. These two international superstars put on an absolute clinic, showcasing both Sami’s high flying moves as well as Nakamura’s stiff strong style work. At one point, Nakamura was busted open. Rather than getting checked on by the medical staff, Shinsuke simply wiped the blood onto his hand, looked at it, and licked it off with a maniacal look on his face. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a crowd at a wrestling event chant “Fight forever” before this match. Honestly, I really wish they would’ve.
#2 Sexy Star vs. Mariposa
“No Mas” Match
Lucha Underground, May 4
An absolutely brutal blood bath that spilled out into the crowd in the Lucha Underground Temple and featured some absolutely vicious spots and some surprisingly stiff work (especially for a women’s lucha libre match) in and out of the ring. Sexy juiced hard and they told an absolutely compelling story. I don’t regularly watch Lucha Underground, but these two ladies told an unbelievable story. They made their bitter hatred believeable to everybody in the building and watching at home. As they climbed to dizzying heights, the audience watched in horror. The production crew deserves credit for capturing the emotion of the fans as Mariposa swung sexy into a wall like a ragdoll. After finally making their way back to the ring, Sexy got caught in a tough spot. The ref asked if she’d had enough, and she screeched, “Fuck you! Fuck you, Mariposa! Fuck you!” before hitting a low blow and turning it around for a truly emotional victory.
#1 Ricochet vs. Will Ospreay
NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 23, May 27
This match broke the internet. It was so good that NJPW used it as a showcase for their NJPW World streaming service (only ¥999 a month!). I am not usually a huge fan of flippy shit, but I was marking out like a twelve year old getting his first taste of Lucha Libre. Ricochet is on fire, from playing Prince Puma on Lucha Underground to his work as King Ricochet in New Japan. Ospreay made the right move, signing with NJPW instead of toiling in the obscurity of TNA. Rarely do you hear a Japanese wrestling crowd react so emotionally to a match. From the impressive chain wrestling that opened the match to the amazing athleticism that defined the bout’s later stages, there was something for everybody here. You know you’re doing something right when even the ref is cheering after spots. It’s easy to forget, sometimes, that pro wrestling is nothing more than an athletic exhibition with theatrics. That’s why, while some say that the match was too choreographed, I say that this style is the future of professional wrestling.