The Best WWE Matches Of 2016

The Best WWE Matches Of 2016

In 2016, WWE turned towards the future. The WWE Network expanded both its user base and its program offerings. The NXT developmental program graduated a new class of Superstars to the main roster. The main roster split into a Raw brand and a SmackDown brand, a healthy move for a company that had gotten complacent due to lack of competition. And women’s wrestling continued its upward ascent.

There’s been a notable upswing in match quality across the board. The WWE does a fantastic job of picking and cultivating the top indie talent in the world, and the trainers at the WWE Performance Center provide a high bar for quality control. Here are the best WWE matches of 2016, chosen for their technical polish, their narrative power, and their raw, infectious energy. It may all be predetermined, but none of that matters during a great match.

The Best WWE Matches Of 2016

AJ Styles makes his singles PPV debut

Match: AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho

PPV: Fastlane

Date: February 21, 2016

A familiar talking point in recent years has been that the best active American professional wrestler in the world doesn’t work for WWE. But this past January, AJ Styles made his debut at the Royal Rumble, and the live crowd went absolutely insane. His first singles PPV appearance was at the following month’s Fastlane against Chris Jericho. It was a perfect showcase for the Phenomenal One. He performed nearly all of his signature moves, and Jericho enhanced his opponent by playing his heel role to a T.

It’s always a little worrisome when a non-homegrown talent signs to WWE. Will he or she be forced to job to everyone on the roster? This match quelled some of those worries, even if Styles’ loss to Jericho at WrestleMania would later reignite them.

Sami Zayn meets the King of Strong Style

Match: Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

PPV: NXT Takeover: Dallas

Date: April 1, 2016

Sami Zayn was the classic hero of NXT — an earnest, high energy, squeaky clean babyface. But then out came Shinsuke Nakamura — lurid, perverse, and dripping with sexual charisma — and the fans didn’t know who to cheer for.

This was the undisputed Match of the Year. From the mind games at the beginning, to the variability in the middle, to those brutal knee strikes at the end, this contest was ring storytelling at its finest. Both men will struggle for the rest of their WWE careers to top it.

The Best WWE Matches Of 2016

The women steal the biggest show of the year

Match: Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte

PPV: WrestleMania 32

Date: April 3, 2016

It’s appropriate that on the same night WWE killed the “Divas” title and replaced it with the “Women’s Championship,” the featured women’s match was the best match on the PPV card. But this was no ordinary PPV. This was WrestleMania, the biggest show of the year, when wrestlers are expected to leave it all in the ring in the hopes of registering a classic “WrestleMania moment.”

That evening, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, and Charlotte Flair did a stellar job of combining spectacle, dangerous spots, and technical prowess. They made it all look like a single, fluid performance rather than a series of staged spots. Notable highlights included Charlotte’s moonsault to the outside and Banks’ tribute to Eddie Guerrero, which, beyond her iconic outfit, included one of his signature Frog Splashes.

A Fatal 4-Way gives everyone the chance to shine

Match: The Miz vs. Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn

PPV: Extreme Rules

Date: May 22, 2016

Usually, the more participants there are in a match, the more likely that the match will be bad. There’s simply too many heads to keep track of, and the entire affair can devolve into a sloppy, indistinguishable brawl.

But this Fatal 4-Way for the Intercontinental title did the impossible. It shone an equally bright spotlight on four Superstars with completely different wrestling styles. It’s a strong testament to the wrestlers’ communication — to roll out and “rest” to allow their opponents the time to shine.

The Best WWE Matches Of 2016

Owens and Zayn end their feud (for now)

Match: Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn

PPV: Battleground

Date: July 24, 2016

Owens and Zayn have tangled with each other many times over the years, particularly when they both wrestled for Ring of Honour. But this blowoff to their WWE feud ranks as one their best matches. It was gritty, technical, and full of love/hate drama. It’s the sort of chemistry that’s only possible when two people work with each other for decades and know each other’s playbook, inside and out.

The Revival is the greatest tag team in the world

Match: The Revival (Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder) vs. Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa

PPV: NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II

Date: August 20, 2016

The Revival are not a flashy team. They don’t do daredevil flips or high spots that could land them and their opponents in the ER. But they wrestle better than any other tag team. So many tag team power moves, coordinated followups, and bait and switch tactics to fool the referee.

Their contest against Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa in Brooklyn was the sort of wrestling match where it’s difficult for a highlight reel to do it justice. The pacing is 90% of the appeal; you have to watch the entire thing to pick out the subtleties.

The Best WWE Matches Of 2016

Bayley says goodbye to NXT

Match: Asuka vs. Bayley

PPV: NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II

Date: August 20, 2016

Asuka is the current NXT Women’s Champion, or at least until Envy Moon gets a little more experience under her belt. How do we know that Asuka is that good? Because Bayley tried really, really hard to crack her, and she failed.

Bayley is the living, breathing symbol of NXT — the try-hard girl-next-door who rose to the top of the promotion with a combination of hard work and raw talent. Per wrestling tradition, before she left NXT for the main roster, Bayley put over her toughest opponent. She threw everything she had at Asuka twice — once at Takeover: Dallas, when she lost the belt to Asuka, and again at Takeover: Brooklyn II, when she failed to recapture it. It solidified Asuka as untouchable, and it was absolutely thrilling to witness.

The Best WWE Matches Of 2016

AJ drops Cena down to part-time status

Match: AJ Styles vs. John Cena

PPV: SummerSlam

Date: August 21, 2016

I was in the crowd at this year’s SummerSlam, and the atmosphere was electric. Nothing — not even Finn Balor’s triumphant win over Seth Rollins — could top this match.

John Cena is booked so strongly that a win against him, even with cheating and outside shenanigans, is shocking. But a clean win against Cena, with a 1-2-3 count in the center of the ring? It’s almost unheard of. Styles’ path to the main event was sealed from this moment forth. And now that Styles is the current WWE Champion, the inevitable rematch (perhaps at the Royal Rumble?) is going to be epic.

Triple H adopts a new son

Match: Seth Rollins vs. Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens vs. Big Cass

Show: WWE Raw

Date: August 29, 2016

Triple H hasn’t been on TV much recently, and that’s probably a good thing. When The Game makes an appearance, it sucks the energy out of the room and away from the newer Superstars. But WWE needs his gravitas on special occasions, like this one.

The WWE Universal Championship was vacated by Finn Balor. Raw held a Fatal 4-Way to crown a new Champion, and Triple H came barreling out of the crowd. Most fans thought that he would help Seth Rollins, who he and Stephanie McMahon shared a weird mother/father/son dynamic with. But instead, he laid out Rollins with a Pedigree and literally handed the title to Owens. It was an incredible moment. Triple H symbolically reinforced his growing status as a boss behind the scenes, and in the process gave Owens the biggest rub possible.

The Miz just keeps getting better

Date: Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz

PPV: Backlash

Date: September 11, 2016

Miz is a Real World alumnus, and so the hardcore fans (and his fellow wrestlers) were against him from the start. But the anger and resentment all came to a head on an August episode of post-SmackDown show Talking Smack, when The Miz tore into fan favourite Daniel Bryan with an emotional, angry promo that blurred the line between fact and fiction.

Miz has been reinvigorated since then, turning in stellar match after stellar match. His match against Dolph Ziggler at Backlash was our first PPV exposure to this new, angrier, more intense Miz. It was a revelation to see what the guy is capable of when he has a little motivation. At this rate, he’ll be WWE Champion by the end of 2017.

The Cruiserweights defy death

Date: Kota Ibushi vs. TJ Perkins

Show: Cruiserweight Classic

Date: September 14, 2016

Remember when the Cruiserweight division wasn’t treated like an afterthought on WWE programming? Granted, it’s getting better (Neville’s heel turn last Sunday was a good start), but we’re still a long way from the Cruiserweight Classic, when the entire division was white hot. The semi-final showdown between Kota Ibushi and eventual winner TJ Perkins was the best of the bunch. It showed that, booked properly, the smaller guys could hold their own on a big stage.

The Best WWE Matches Of 2016

Cesaro and Sheamus fight a battle of attrition

Match: Cesaro vs. Sheamus

PPV: Clash of Champions

Date: September 25, 2016

Cesaro and Sheamus engaged in a Best-of-Seven series that was somehow appropriately matched: the former is underappreciated by the front office, and the latter is underappreciated by the fans. But combined, they proved both groups of naysayers wrong, delivering old school, hard hitting contests: a throwback to the 80’s Saturday Night’s Main Events.

It was power versus power and brawn versus more brawn. Although fans complained about the finish — the seventh match ended in a no-contest — it all turned out well in the end. Both men are now Tag Team Champions, and hopefully that will lead to even bigger moves in the near future.

The Revival is still the greatest tag team in the world

Match: The Revival (Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder) vs. #DIY (Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa)

PPV: NXT Takeover: Toronto

Date: November 19, 2016

Alright, let’s talk about these guys some more. The Revival are a classic heel tag team, and they built up so much heat from their Brooklyn contest that a rematch against #DIY was inevitable. This time, the good guys came out on top, and they did it by forcing both of their opponents to tap in a humiliating loss.

Given its emotional build, this rematch was even better than the first match. But the pathos only existed because of the prior match. Combined, the two matches form a single work of athletic storytelling that have to be watched in full to be appreciated.

Too many tag matches emphasise the individuals over the duo, because too many tag teams are two singles wrestlers who were thrown together at random. It takes hours of practice and mind melding to make tag team wrestling look seamless and smooth. These two teams managed it better than anyone else has in recent years. Bravo.

The Best WWE Matches Of 2016

SmackDown pulls off the upset of the evening

Match: Team SmackDown (AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, Shane McMahon, and Bray Wyatt, with James Ellsworth) vs. Team Raw (Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Braun Strowman)

PPV: Survivor Series

Date: November 20, 2016

The Survivor Series format — 5-on-5 elimination tag matches — has been dying a slow, agonizing death for years. It simply isn’t a sustainable format when every wrestler has personal issues and axes to grind. How could everyone get on the same page and form a team, even for a single night?

But this match worked. It worked well because the participants didn’t ignore their personal issues — there was a ton of in-fighting on both sides. Everyone shone bright, particularly Shane McMahon, who was concussed by a nasty Spear courtesy of Roman Reigns.

Sasha Banks wins the title on Raw (again) before losing it on PPV (again)

Match: Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte

Show: WWE Raw

Date: Nov. 28, 2016

It’s a shame that the feud between Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair included so many title changes. A few less of them would have given each match additional consequence. It felt much too predictable. Sasha wins the title on Raw. Charlotte wins the title on PPV. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The feud included a lot of WWE first-times. The two women contested the first women’s Hell in a Cell match. They contested the first main roster women’s Iron Man match. But still, their most impressive, cohesive match of the bunch was this Falls Count Anywhere match on Raw, especially the finish. That final Banks Statement, where Banks wrapped Charlotte around the crowd railing surrounded by screaming fans, solidified the Bo$$ as the chosen champion of the people, belt be damned.

The Best WWE Matches Of 2016

Baron Corbin is a star heel in his infancy

Match: Baron Corbin vs. Kalisto

PPV: TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs

Date: December 4, 2016

Baron Corbin is a product of WWE’s developmental program, and for a long time, he was a monster adrift. In both NXT and on the main roster, he appeared awkward and ungainly — a combination of nerves and lack of experience.

But ever since the brand split, the Lone Wolf has been killing it on a weekly basis. He moves and speaks with more confidence every passing week, and WWE is currently building him up for a title shot — incredible news for this unlikeliest of Superstars.

But he’s earned it. His David vs. Goliath faceoff against Kalisto at TLC was star-making, with a ton of brutal, hardcore spots. He smacked Kalisto out of the air with a chair for Chrissakes. In both Corbin and Braun Strowman, we’re witnessing the rise of WWE’s next big, monster heels.

That about wraps it up. The year’s best matches were, if we could use a single word to describe them:



  • Best WWE matches is like saying Best Maccas burgers, kind of pointless as other places offer a much better quality product even if they aren’t available from as many places and aren’t as well known globally.

    • Hard to argue against the point you’ve made in a lot of ways, but WWE did put on some pretty great matches this year. A lot of the best stuff the WWE has done this year is from NXT and the CWC though, which shows how decidedly average the main roster product has been (outside of a few things here and there – mainly most of what AJ Styles, Sami Zayn, and Cesaro have done).

      My biggest disagreement with your idea here is the phrasing I suppose. I think it comes across as a little dismissive of what they’ve done well (which is understandable given the garbage fires they have routinely presented to audiences). I guess the comparative ease of access of the WWE Network globally (native console apps compared to web browser services sometimes in foreign languages) gives justification to an article like this. Perhaps another article that highlights great matches from other countries/promotions would be an excellent companion to direct those less familiar to different products outside of the WWE…

      • Yeah I don’t really have the time to consume anything outside WWE but usually seek out what people think were the best PPVs and matches outside of WWE towards the end of the year. Especially in Aus it’s hard to get hold of stuff.

    • You might be right in past years but have a look at some of the names in those lists. AJ Styles, Sami Zayn, Nakamura, Owens, Ibushi. Regardless of whether it WWE, NJPW or ROH these guys are stars and put on great matches and WWE had some great matches with them this year. Their women are putting on brilliant matches too.

      • If Maccas got Jamie Oliver it also wouldn’t do much until they change their recipe.
        I watched quite a bit with with AJ Syles, Jericho and others, I also had a one month trial of WWE Network for Wrestlemania, and it’s still not as good as ever other wrestling company I have seem this year.
        Final Deletion at TNA was about the best I have seen.

        • WM was quite bad save for the women’s triple threat match. WWE in ring style is definitely heading towards the American indy style. It’s a big reason why they have had so many injuries.
          From this list definitely check out Zayn/Owens, Styles/Cena and Zayn/Nakamura. The NXT tag team matches mentioned here are so incredible too, definitely not WWEs typcial style.

  • A great list (that Fatal Four Way for the IC title was incredible!). Just a couple that I feel are ‘missing’ from this list:
    – Revival vs American Alpha at Takeover: Dallas, and their subsequent 2 out of 3 falls match on NXT, were 2 more examples of how great the tag division in NXT is.
    – Gargano vs Ciampa on the CWC was, by far, the best match of the first round of what was a truly incredible competition/series, and was worthy of being a semi-final match. Even if most of the momentum gained from that series has since been squandered, it doesn’t deny what a great thing the CWC was…
    – Both AJ Styles/Roman Reigns WWE Championship matches were great, but the No DQ match was incredible as well, even if I still feel like the wrong person won that one.

    But absolutely no question that the WWE MOTY is Zayn/Nakamura. I know there is a lot of non-WWE stuff, particularly from New Japan, that has been incredible, I just sadly haven’t seen it. I caught Styles/Nakamura match from Wrestle Kingdom 10 in January this year on YouTube, and it was fantastic!

    • Yeah Reigns/Styles meshed well together. Now I don’t think Reigns is as bad in ring as people say (my problem is just with his out of ring work) but jeez Styles is easily the best in the world being able to pull such a terrific set of matches out of Reigns that the crowd was hyped for.

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