There were plenty of great matches in WWE this past year. Here’s a look at the top 10 WWE bouts of 2016.
As 2016 comes to a close, it’s time to take a look back at some of the incredible matches that took place this past year, and there were a lot to choose from. Between 15 pay-per-view events, tied for the second-most in history, Monday Night RAW and Smackdown Live, the WWE Universe was treated to many memorable encounters. And let’s not forget about NXT. However, with all of the amazing matches that we saw from that brand this year, they may have taken up nearly half of the spots on this list so we’ll have a top 10 NXT matches list later this week, so make sure to check back in with FanSided for that.
But for now, let’s stick to the main WWE roster. Now, any list like this is going to be subjective. Each member of the WWE Universe has their own criteria for what makes a great match. Maybe you like how a crowd reacts. Maybe you just prefer the matches of one particular wrestler. Or maybe you just don’t like somebody and refuse to accept that he or she can put on a great match. For instance, you may not like that I’ve got both Roman Reigns and John Cena on this list. But the fact remains that whether you like a WWE superstar or not, you have to take everything into account, even those matches in which the finish may not be perfect, and decide if you’ve been entertained. And that’s what I’ve tried to do here.
I like matches to tell me a story. Most of the great matches in WWE history have been able to do that and I think that the ten I have listed here accomplished that. And there’s going to be some matches that you may have loved that I didn’t, and once you’re done reading this, I want you to tell me in the comments section why I should have included it. And that’s the fun part. Take any wrestling fan and ask him or her to put together their top 10 matches of the year and you’d likely get millions of different combinations.
With that being said, here’s my list of the top 10 WWE matches of 2016.
- Kevin Owens vs. Dean Ambrose-Royal Rumble
- Fatal 4-Way WWE World Heavyweight Championship #1 Contender’s Match (AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho vs. Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro) –Monday Night RAW, April 4
- Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte-Monday Night RAW, July 25
- AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose-WWE Backlash
- Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz-WWE No Mercy
10. AJ Styles vs. Roman Reigns – Extreme Rules
Following a lackluster main event at WrestleMania a few weeks earlier, Roman Reigns defended his newly-won WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Payback against AJ Styles, who won his spot in this match in a Fatal 4-Way number one contender’s match that just about made this list. Styles came very close to winning the title and was granted a rematch at Extreme Rules just a few weeks later and the result was a high-quality encounter that made both participants look very good. And even knowing that Anderson and Gallows and The Usos were likely going to get involved didn’t really matter.
The buildup to this match was done very well, and once it came time for this Extreme Rules match, you knew that if done correctly that this could be a great match and that’s exactly what happened. AJ Styles took a lot of punishment in this match and endured some crazy bumps throughout, including going through not one but two broadcast tables, one via backdrop and another via powerbomb. But that didn’t keep Styles from getting his own offense in, hitting Reigns with the Phenomenal Forearm from the pre-show table and a couple of Styles Clashes late in the bout, including one onto a steel chair. For a minute there, it almost looked like Reigns was going to drop the belt but “The Guy” ended up getting the victory after a solid finish saw him hit a spear as Styles went for another forearm. And yes, Anderson and Gallows and The Usos did play a part in this match but it only helped the story and the outside interference may have actually strengthened this match.
This was a hard-hitting and very intense battle, which it should have been seeing how it was at Extreme Rules, but it wasn’t even the best match of the night (more on that later). Oh yeah, Seth Rollins came back after the match as well for a nice post-match moment, but what should come out of that match is the show that Styles and Reigns were able to put on. Good chemistry here.
9. Dean Ambrose vs. Triple H – WWE Roadblock
I’m going to be honest with you here. I really never saw Dean Ambrose as a world champion. Don’t get me wrong; I think he’s a talented individual with a lot of charisma and some decent mic skills but I just didn’t think he had it in him to be in the world title picture like Rollins and Reigns did. But it’s matches like this one that proved me wrong. Of course it helps when you’ve got a great storyteller and in-ring psychologist like Triple H across the ring from you.
What I like about this match is that we knew the outcome going in. Triple H was on a collision course with Roman Reigns at WrestleMania after winning the Royal Rumble to become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. They needed a main event for this little filler event and Ambrose, who almost won the Rumble himself, made perfect sense.
This was almost two matches in one as the bout started as more of a technical affair that turned into a brawl at the end. Ambrose started the match by focusing in on HHH’s legs and actually turned a Pedigree into a Figure Four, seemingly scoring a pinfall to win the title, which would have been the shocker of the year, only to have the decision voided when the referee claimed Ambrose’s leg was under the bottom rope. That’s when the brawl really started. Back and forth they went but The Game would eventually get the win after Ambrose crashed through the announce table, allowing the champ to go on and hit the Pedigree for the 1-2-3.
Before this match, Dean Ambrose was a star vying for a top spot and this match solidified that he wasn’t going anywhere. He would finally win his first world title a few months later and this won’t be the last you see of him on this list.
8. Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte – Falls Count Anywhere, Monday Night RAW, November 28
It’s very difficult to pick a favorite match in what I see as easily one of the top two feuds of the year in Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks. There was their history-making bout at Hell In A Cell, the match from RAW in July that made the Honorable Mention list, their Iron Man match from Roadblock: End of the Line, or really just any time these two are in the ring together (which was a lot). But for me, I’ve got to go with their Falls Count Anywhere Match that took place on RAW just a few weeks ago and it warrants a position on this list.
Charlotte may be the queen of pay-per-view but Sasha has the leg up on Monday nights in this rivalry and had taken home the title in their previous two encounters on WWE’s flagship show. Now, I had said that this rivalry needed to end at Hell In A Cell but I’m happy that they decided to give it another go because we got a great night out of it. It’s almost easy to forget that this match stemmed from their match earlier in the night that ended in a countout, which is actually why Mick Foley ordered the Falls Count Anywhere stipulation for the final bout of the night. I said it during my review of Roadblock: End of the Line and I’ll say it again. Sasha can sell and she had plenty of chances to do so in this match, including a big bump off the apron. As the action spilled to the floor, we saw a Natural Selection and a Figure Eight from Charlotte. We saw a kendo stick get some good use, something you hardly ever seen in women’s matches and the two then battled to the top of the ramp to set up one of the best spots in the match.
When they reached the announcer’s table on the stage, you knew you were in for something special and we saw Charlotte throw caution to the wind as she hit an amazing moonsault onto the challenger below. But Sasha got her moment as well, as she hit her double knees from the barricade, and following some more action with the kendo stick, the action spilled into the stands where Sasha locked in the Banks Statement through the railing in the aisle to once again capture the title.
Throw in the fact that this match actually took place in Charlotte and Ric Flair came out to raise the hand of the woman who had just defeated his daughter and you’ve got one of the best matches of the year.
7. AJ Styles vs. John Cena – WWE Money in the Bank
When AJ Styles debuted in WWE at the Royal Rumble, you knew it was only a matter of time before the former face of TNA would step foot in the ring with the face of WWE, John Cena. Cena had been out of action for five months due to a shoulder injury and was welcomed back to Monday Night RAW in late May by Styles. AJ had distanced himself from Anderson and Gallows the week before, so when the two hit the ring looking for a fight as the two icons got to know one another, Styles turned heel and realigned himself with his pals from The Club and attacked the 15-time world champ. This set up a dream match at Money in the Bank, with Styles signing a contract saying that Anderson and Gallows would not get involved.
Say what you will about Cena, but when the stakes are high, he puts on a show and when you’ve got arguably the best wrestler in the world across from you, you really don’t have a choice but to step up and he did just that. In a match that the world never thought they would see, Cena and Styles battled for over 24 minutes in a great back-and-forth affair. What was odd about it was that Cena seemed to be the one to opt for the high-impact maneuvers while Styles tried to slow Cena down. It’s not that Styles didn’t bring the high-octane moves out, as he certainly did, but it was just a different approach and I dug it. As you would expect, each kicked out of the other’s finisher(s) and built some drama. I really enjoyed these two in the ring together.
The finish left a bit to be desired as Anderson and Gallows got involved after the referee went down, which allowed Styles to pick up the win, but that didn’t take anything away from how special this match was prior to their involvement. It was the start of a great feud and we’ll get into some more of that in a little while.
6. WWE Women’s Championship Match – WrestleMania 32
The women’s division is better than it’s ever been in WWE and Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch are obviously three of the reasons why. So it stands to reason that a triple threat match with three of the Four Horsewomen would be something special. Throw in the fact that not only was the term “Divas” going away, but also that horrific butterfly belt, and the match for the new WWE Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 32 ushered in a whole new era for the women of WWE and we should all be thankful for that. I’ve got no problem saying that this was the best match at the biggest and longest WrestleMania in history. In fact, it’s the only match from this year’s WrestleMania to make this list.
Aside from the fact that this was arguably the most important match in the history of the women’s division, the actual match itself delivered. Charlotte, whom I still feel may be the best athlete in the entire company, dazzled the audience with a moonsault off the top rope onto her two opponents on the floor, and Sasha channeled her inner Eddie Guerrero with a great frog splash to break up a Figure Four that Charlotte had on Becky. And speaking of Becky, while it seemed that she really didn’t have a chance to win this match, she was involved in so much of the action that her performance should not be overlooked. With Charlotte as the champ and Sasha as the fan favorite, Becky took it upon herself to keep the action flowing and she should be commended for it, as she was down the line as the first women’s champ on the blue brand.
The styles of these women are so different from one another and yet they were able to pull off a triple threat match, something that’s very hard to do in itself anyway. Sure, a large portion of the WWE Universe was disappointed that Sasha didn’t leave Dallas with the title but the outcome wasn’t even the most important thing here. These three put on a great show and proved that the women’s division is in good hands for a long time.
5. Fatal 4-Way Intercontinental Championship Match – WWE Extreme Rules
This might be the most overlooked match on this list but I absolutely love this one. The second match from WWE Extreme Rules to appear here, this Fatal 4-Way match for the Intercontinental Championship between The Miz, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and Cesaro was fantastic and cracks the top five.
I don’t care what anyone says. The Miz is good at his job. No, The Miz is great at his job. Now, he’s never going to be confused with Curt Hennig or Bret Hart but he knows how to get under the skin of a crowd. And anytime you can get any kind of reaction from the crowd, especially a hostile one like he gets each and every week, then you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. He’s the male version of Vickie Guerrero and he makes it work. The return of Maryse has only made him better, and following a long series of events that saw these four men work with one another in singles and tag matches, they finally all squared off against one another in this great match.
The match started off hot with Zayn almost immediately taking out Owens with a big kick and things just went from there. Zayn and Cesaro had an underrated feud in NXT and were able to bring some of that magic to the big stage. The chemistry with Owens and Zayn (more on that next) is always going to be there and there were some really original multi-man spots throughout.
Every single one of these competitors put in an amazing effort and a great story was told. After Cesaro was knocked out due to a Helluva Kick from Zayn, Owens pulled his former best friend out of the ring to brawl, which allowed The Miz to perfectly slide in and steal the victory. There are just too many great spots in this one to cover them all so I highly encourage you to go back and check this one out again.
4. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens – WWE Battleground
I don’t care if it’s Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn or Kevin Steen vs. El Generico and I don’t care if it’s in WWE or ROH or PWG or wherever. Just give me these two guys in the ring together and I’ll watch.
When Zayn and Owens were both finally on the main roster, it was only a matter of time until their history came into play and it was a build that was executed beautifully. It was Zayn who eliminated Owens from the Royal Rumble in January. They then butted heads again during the Intercontinental Championship ladder match at WrestleMania and delivered a phenomenal match at WWE Payback a month later. After both men failed to win the Money in the Bank ladder match, this match was set as the final encounter and it delivered on every level.
In a match that went longer than even the much-hyped main event that saw all three members of The Shield battle for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Owens and Zayn wowed the live audience in Washington, D.C. and those watching on the WWE Network with yet another classic that in my opinion was their best match together since their time on the indy circuit. They told a great story in the ring that night and hit some great spots as well. Owens turning a Helluva Kick into the Pop-Up Powerbomb almost got the job done but Zayn was able to get his foot on the rope to avoid the loss. Owens pleaded with his rival to stay down towards the end but The Underdog from the Underground hit an amazing combination of suplexes and two Helluva Kicks in the corner to get the victory.
It’s kind of crazy to look back on this now as Kevin Owens didn’t suffer from the loss and went on to become WWE Universal Champion about a month later and Zayn unfortunately hasn’t come anywhere close to that level besides being thrown into an Intercontinental Championship match at Survivor Series that everybody knew he couldn’t win. I’m hoping that creative can find something better for him soon so he can fully display all of the talent he showed on that night at WWE Battleground. Great match.
3. Dean Ambrose vs. AJ Styles – WWE TLC
The rivalry between Dean Ambrose and AJ Styles may have lasted a little longer than we expected and took some strange turns (we’re looking at you, Ellsworth), but it got us all the way to WWE TLC and I’m extremely happy that it did. I absolutely loved this match, despite what happened at the end. It was a real TLC match from start to finish with all of the brutality and big spots that we always want but sometimes don’t get.
For more than half an hour, Ambrose and Styles tortured each other with big spot after big spot after big spot and there wasn’t one second of that 30 minutes and 50 seconds when I wasn’t into this bout. As I said in my WWE TLC review, Ambrose was very good here, probably the best I’ve ever seen him in any match, but AJ Styles showed why he’s the best wrestler in the world. He took all that punishment from Ambrose without overselling and obviously got his own offense in as well. That Springboard 450 Splash to the outside where Ambrose was laid out on a table was freaking marvelous. Trust me, I could sit here and go through just about each and every spot with that same enthusiasm but I’m afraid I’d run out of adjectives.
And not only was the action great but the story told in the ring was great as well. There were a lot of shifts in momentum and it really was hard to tell who was going to come out on top in this one. And yes, we knew that James Ellsworth was going to show up at some point but that little swerve at the end didn’t affect what led up to it. I’m just happy that it wasn’t a goofy finish, which did concern me as he made his way down the ramp. But it was an actual interesting twist that gave us one last big spot to enjoy for the year.
2. Team RAW vs. Team Smackdown Men’s Elimination Match – Survivor Series
I might catch a little heat by putting this traditional 5-on-5 Survivor Series Elimination Match ahead of Ambrose and Styles but I loved this match. It was full of big spots and memorable moments and I have no problem in saying that this was the best traditional Survivor Series match in WWE history. Yeah, I thought it was that good.
I don’t think there was one WWE superstar that came out of this match looking bad. Not one. Let’s go through this quickly. First of all, I thought it was very shocking that Dean Ambrose was eliminated first but it served a purpose to further the storyline between him and AJ Styles, who were scheduled for their TLC match just a short time later. So they get into it and then Ambrose eats a powerslam from Braun Strowman, who picks up arguably the biggest pin of his short career. But then Strowman gets eliminated five minutes later and didn’t have to get pinned or submitted to get eliminated, thus keeping his monster image intact. Instead, he has his leg held onto by James Ellsworth who was hiding under the ring at the time. And then we get one of those “Holy S%&*” moments when Strowman launches him off the ramp onto a table. Both of these eliminations happened AFTER 16 solid minutes of wrestling.
Then we get to Kevin Owens, who got himself disqualified by destroying The List of Jericho on AJ Styles and Y2J was hit with an RKO 45 seconds later, all of that furthering that particular storyline. From there, we get 10 more minutes of solid action before Shane McMahon got completely obliterated with a spear from Roman Reigns while attempting his across-the-ring jump. I’m still trying to figure out if Shane was supposed to have his shoulder up following that destruction or if he just had a spasm due to being knocked out. And if you haven’t seen Randy Orton break character and walk over to Shane’s son to let him know that he was okay, go check that out. It only adds to how cool this match was.
And then the audience got what they wanted as Dean Ambrose made his way back down to the ring to assist in eliminating AJ Styles by reuniting with his former Shield brethren for the Triple Powerbomb. So we get a Shield reunion and more fuel to the fire that became the last match I talked about. And from there, we basically have The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family, albeit with both teams having a little different look. And much to my surprise, Bray Wyatt ends up pinning both Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns to pick up the victory for Team Smackdown. It was about time for Wyatt to get a meaningful win and they’ve picked up momentum since then by winning the tag titles.
Now that was just the eliminations. There’s close to an hour of amazing wrestling in this match, and combined with everything else this match had, that’s why it’s sitting in this number two spot.
1. John Cena vs. AJ Styles – SummerSlam
Following their great match at WWE Money in the Bank, you knew that we’d get to see John Cena vs. AJ Styles at least one more time, and with WWE’s second biggest pay-per-view coming up, you had to figure it would be there. But they still had WWE Battleground to get through so they still had to get through that event. So they booked Cena to team with Enzo and Cass to take on The Club and Cena walked away with a pinfall victory in that one. But he still hadn’t beaten AJ Styles one-on-one and SummerSlam provided the perfect setting for this encounter. The two icons delivered one more time in what I believe was the best WWE match of the year.
I said it earlier but I’ll say it again. When John Cena needs to step up for a big match, he does so and he did so in a big way on this night in Brooklyn. Sure, we saw some of his usual stuff with the AA’s and STF’s and whatnot but he was also able to once again pull some new moves out of the arsenal and surprise us. And while he had a bit of a problem with this early in his career, Cena has gotten so much better at telling a story in the ring and even the biggest Cena haters have to admit that they were impressed with what he did here. He gave everything he had to beat Styles but AJ kept kicking out time after time after time. Watching Cena sit in the corner with a look on his face that said “I can’t beat this man” was perfect and one of my favorite moments of the year in WWE.
And let’s not forget how phenomenal AJ Styles is each and every night. Yes, pun was fully intended there but he has that nickname for a reason, and if WWE fans hadn’t caught on to how great he is by that point, they sure knew when this match was over. He pulled out his full arsenal of moves at SummerSlam with the dropkicks and forearm strikes and the Styles Clash and everything else he could muster to make this match look the way it did. Also, all of the near-falls. I know that this can sometimes be overdone but I thought it was done so well here. It’s rare that John Cena ever loses a big feud or a big match, especially with no outside interference, but that’s what happened here and it was done so very well as Styles hit a second Phenomenal Forearm to get the 1-2-3 victory right in the middle of the ring. Beautiful.
What happened after the match only added to the story. After Styles left the ring, Cena placed one of his armbands right in the center of the ring before heading to the back. But as he walked out, he received a standing ovation. I don’t think it’s a secret that not everybody likes John Cena but wrestling fans know (usually) when to show respect and they did that following this epic encounter. Match of the Year.
We’d love to hear what you think the best WWE match of 2016 was. Feel free to use the comments section below to give us your thoughts and be sure to check back in with FanSided for all your WWE news, including a couple more top 10 lists as the week goes along.