Big M’s Best Matches Of 2016 - Part One

Hello WNW people, Mitch “Big M” Adams here, and I like the rest of you can not be happier that 2016 has FINALLY come to an end!!!

Culturally, we lost so many icons from Muhammad Ali to Carrie Fischer. Socially, philosophically and politically, we seem to have completely lost our minds! In fact, I’m more than willing to bet that in fifty years time, historians will call this recent twelve month period one of the worst in human history.

But, one thing I think we can take solace in, WNW people, is just how good pro wrestling was last year. There had been so many amazing matches and moments from all over the world, that I simply had to catalog them. So, therefore, I welcome you to the first of a three-part article covering the very best pro wrestling matches that happened in the year 2016.

The first part will list the ten best matches that occurred outside of WWE. The second part will cover the ten best matches that occurred in WWE’s developmental system (both NXT and the CWC). And the third and final part will cover the ten best matches that WWE gave us in the year 2016.

This article is obviously where I will be covering the ten best matches that occurred outside of WWE. I will be featuring matches from the TNA, New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor and Lucha Underground promotions as those are the promotions outside of WWE that I watch.

The Matches have been judged by three main criteria.
1. The level of in-ring work by the pro wrestlers involved.
2. The story that was told before, during and after the match.
3. The buzz generated by the matches and the people involved.

Now I apologize to everyone who may watch other promotions I don’t and feel I should include matches from them. But obviously, I can’t watch every promotion on earth! Moreover, compiling a list of the best matches of any year is a tall ask, and I know not everyone will agree with my choices. So instead of arguing about it in the comments section, I invite you to feel free to compile your own lists and discuss them with your follow WNW readers. I also hope some of you guys who don’t watch promotions outside WWE may feel inclined to check out some of these matches after reading this. So that’s why I will be profiling each match in a manner that is 100% spoiler free!

And now, without further ado, here are the ten very best matches that occurred outside WWE in 2016 in my humble opinion.

10. The Final Deletion: “Broken” Matt Hardy vs Jeff Hardy
Date: July 5th
Promotion: TNA Wrestling

This is one match that made this list purely on the buzz it generated. Now, when the writers here at WNW first watched this match, we were all completely divided! Some of us loved it, some of us hated it, and some of us (possibly only me) couldn’t quite make sense of it. Jesse-Elizabeth Sherwood was particularly scathing with her thoughts on this match.

But due to the broken brilliance of Matt Hardy (the only person that made TNA remotely watchable in 2016, alongside the Decay) and a few more viewings…Beth has since changed his tune and now considers this one of the most memorable matches of 2016.

Myself, personally, I haven’t changed my opinion of it since I first watched it. And my thoughts on it have remained unchanged even after multiple viewings. I simply can’t make sense of it in any way!

Was it creative? Yes!
Did it tell a great story? Yes!
Was it entertaining? Yes!

But can we really call it a pro wrestling match? In my opinion, the answer is no. So honestly, if I had my way it wouldn’t have made this list at all.

However, as I said, the buzz generated by this match simply demands it makes the list. Otherwise, I’d have both you, the WNW readership as well as a few WNW writers on my case never letting me hear the end of it!

9. Rey Mysterio vs Pentagon Dark: Lucha Underground Season Three Premiere
Date: September 7th
Promotion: Lucha Underground

One thing that Lucha Underground does better than any other promotion in the world is a strong focus on character development in all their storylines. Most people really don’t understand how important that is in all storytelling mediums! And it is definitely something that is missing in most pro wrestling promotions big and small. One of the best examples of LU’s devotion to character development just happens to be my favorite member of their incredibly talented roster! None other than the former Pentagon Jr, now Pentagon Dark.

His story arc in all three seasons of LU has gripped me at every moment and had me at the edge of my seat for every match. When you're that invested in a worker, you are only going to enjoy said workers matches even more.

Pentagon Dark and Rey Mysterio put on a clinic in this match, and I was so invested in it due to what had happened to each man during the season two finale of LU. From Pentagon Dark turning on his “Master” Vampiro after failing to capture the LU Championship. To Rey Mysterio putting over the next generation of worker in Prince Puma, while also proving that he’s still one of the very best in-ring workers in history.

This match, while looking quite generic and meaningless on the surface was actually Lucha Underground at their very best!

8. Adam Cole vs Kyle O’Reilly: Final Battle 2016
Date: December 2nd
Promotion: Ring Of Honor

Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly are the two most prominent workers out of ROH’s so-called “second generation.” They history as the tag team known as Future Shock certainly added to the build up of this match.

But what struck me most about this match was how hardcore it got! Anytime ROH runs shows in city’s where the original ECW had a foothold in, they always take things somewhat to the extreme. Now while this match was hardly the most extreme match ever seen in ROH, it was far more extreme than I thought these two would ever get.

Kyle O’Reilly is an MMA style wrestler who’d rather incorporate stiff strikes and joint locks than weapons in his matches. And Adam Cole reminds me of Shawn Michaels in a sense that he likes to have more flashy technical style matches. Now while both men got a chance to work their preferred styles a little, they spent a great deal of match time just beating the tar of each other! Both men used weapons; both men bled and most surprising of all, both men bleed through blading. A practice that will always be mired in controversy in pro wrestling!

Now, while we as fans complain a lot about WWE’s PG era in regards to blood, I think we can all agree that workers cutting themselves in order to produce color is simply barbaric. Not to mention dangerous when you consider it can go horribly wrong and workers wind up requiring blood transfusions after a match (e.g. Eddie Guerrero at Judgment Day 2004!). And it worries me that smaller promotions like ROH doesn’t have any qualms about allowing their workers to do it!

However, with all that being said, color always adds to the drama of any match. And when done only on rare occasions and with the firm knowledge that all the participates have no blood born diseases, I feel color can and still should be used to add something special to big matches like this one was. I’d still rather color only happen unintentionally through the hard way and left untreated in order to add to matches, though.

This match was a throwback to the late 90s early 2000s where pro wrestling was a little less restrictive. And it worked very well in regards to the story O’Rielly and Cole told in New York City!

7. Rey Mysterio vs Prince Puma: Ultimate Lucha Dos Part Three
Date: July 20th
Promotion: Lucha Underground

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Lucha Underground if I'm honest. The quality of the matches is without question, don’t get me wrong. And The Women of Lucha Underground may just have the Women of WWE beat (more on that later). But I’ve always struggled with the way they present their storylines quite frankly. The promotions “cinematic style” of storytelling either works very well, or it makes little sense at all. Dario Cueto’s story arc in season three has been especially head scratching!

But the program that lead to this wonderful match between Prince Puma (A.K.A. Ricochet) and Rey Mysterio is one of the instances where they got it oh so right! Most likely because it was a more simple storyline to craft. In this match, Lucha Underground both paid respect to a legend and a pioneer in the entire industry. While also, they looked to the future by giving one of the best in-ring workers today the credit he most definitely deserves.

Regardless of the outcome, some people saw this match as a type of passing of the torch moment. And I can certainly understand why they felt that way! But Rey, even in his forty’s, and with two destroyed knees, still has plenty of fuel in the tank. So people should not have expected Rey to walk out into the sunset after this match, as proven in season three.

But make no mistake about it, Prince Puma is one of the people who will be leading the industry after Rey does decide to hang up the boots. And this amazing match was Lucha Underground’s way of showing us why.

6. Ladder War Six: ROH All Star Extravaganza Eight
Date: September 30
Promotion: Ring Of Honor

The way Ring of Honor promotes their Ladder War matches with Kevin Kelly constantly harping “There is a reason why we have only done six of these!” can make a fan question what all the fuss is about. That is until you see the pure chaos that is a Ladder Wars Match!

These matches are obviously akin to the famous Ladder and TLC matches made famous by The Hardy’s, Dudley’s, Edge and Christian in WWE. However, unlike those matches that were pure car crash television! Ladder Wars has a greater focus on brutality than it does crazy high spots. Although there were plenty of high spots to be had in the match as well.

What The Young Bucks, The Addiction, and The Motor City Machine Guns were willing to go through in order to put on an incredible show for what was to my knowledge the largest crowd ROH has ever drawn was simply awe inspiring. I simply can’t delve into this match any further than this because it’s something you have to see for yourself to fully appreciate.

5. Will Osprey vs Ricochet: Best Of The Super Jr’s Tournament match
Date: May 27th
Promotion: New Japan Pro Wrestling

Now, some people may not like this match being included in this countdown. The kind of people who like to jump on bandwagons and trash anything so called “internet fans” like. The kind of people who agree with bitter old men like Vader and Jim Cornette that pro wrestling matches should have some kind of complex story behind them and not be spot fests blah blah blah.

Here is the reality of the situation, the two men in this match DID tell a story! They told a story of two men competing in a tournament to crown the best Jr-Heavyweight in the world. And they put on one hell of an action-packed show when doing it. Was it the Citizen Kane of wrestling matches? No! Truthfully, it was closer to something like The Avengers of wrestling matches.

Will Osprey and Ricochet (AKA Prince Puma) make themselves the talk of the pro wrestling world in one 15 minute match! So, of course, they were going to be added to this list! And if you can honestly sit there and tell me that you watched that match and didn’t enjoy it…then you are NOT a true pro wrestling fan, as far as I am concerned!

4. Jay Lethal vs Adam Cole: ROH Death Before Dishonour Fourteen
Date: August 19th
Promotion: Ring Of Honor

If you're one of those people, who believe Ring of Honor matches are just mindless spot fests with no story behind them…then I recommend you watch this match! The story told by these two men told in an eighteen by eighteen ring was nothing short of spectacular.

Jay Lethal’s record-breaking ROH World Title reign helped bring Ring of Honor to new heights in my view. He can defiantly take some credit for the growth ROH has experienced in the last two years.

Adam Cole came into the year 2016 without his “Kingdom” and seemingly without direction! As rumors swirled about Cole possibly leaving ROH, people began to wonder if they would soon lose the opportunity to shout at the top of their lungs “ADAM COLE BAY BAY.” But then he joined the Bullet Club, becoming the international wrestling stables de-facto leader of its ROH squad. The new lease the Bullet Club brought to Cole’s career was obvious from the start, and it only proved to increase his standing in the eyes of the ROH faithful.

These two men put on a clinic for over thirty minutes! And it was honestly one of the greatest ROH has ever put on, in my opinion. The ebb and flow, the high spots and the near falls were all paced and timed perfectly. And all of it added to the drama and the excitement of this main event match. If you are unfamiliar with the ROH product and want to learn what they are all about, I’d recommend you start your journey with this match!

3. Tetsuya Naito vs Omega: G1 Climax 26 Night 18
Date: August 13th
Promotion: New Japan Pro Wrestling

If 2016 was the year of AJ Styles in WWE, 2016 was the year of Kenny Omega in New Japan. Not only was this absolutely incredible match with Tetsuya Naito the very best of a stacked G1 Climax tournament! It was also the moment we all believed a “Gaijin” might actually win the tournament for the first time. A prediction that turned out to be true unbelievably. People who follow Puroresu will understand just how HUGE that really is!

I do still feel a little bad for Naito (who’s also had a career year by the way) as the front office of New Japan still, doesn’t have the confidence to give him the ball and run with it fully. But if he keeps putting on performances like this match…I can’t see them denying him much longer.

Kenny Omega is probably the most sought after worker in the world right now with New Japan, Ring of Honor and now WWE offering massive amounts of money to secure his services fully. And it’s easy to see why! The moment he took over the leadership of the Bullet Club from AJ Styles the day after WrestleKingdom ten, there has been no stopping him. And with every classic match he’s had in 2016, Kenny Omega has established himself as the hottest star outside of WWE without a doubt.

I simply can not praise this match the individuals involved highly enough!

2. Shinsuke Nakamura vs AJ Styles: WrestleKingdom Ten
Date: January 4th
Promotion: New Japan Pro Wrestling

This match was so significant for many reasons! For starters, everyone knew that both participants were leaving for WWE, and this would be the last big match in New Japan both men would ever have. AJ Styles was also just coming off from rehabbing a back injury, so fans were unsure if he could deliver on the biggest day of the Puroresu calendar.
And despite Hiroshi Tanahashi being the official “Ace” of New Japan for several years, most fans had considered Nakamura to be the promotions true “Ace” since 2012.

People came into this match wondering what they were going to see. It turns out; they saw arguably one of the greatest matches ever to take place in a Japanese ring! If you are unfamiliar with the art of Puroresu (Japanese Pro Wrestling), then I strongly suggest you watch this match. Because this match will tell you everything, you will ever need to know about this exquisite art. No egos, no prima donnas, no childish storylines, and no gimmicks! Just an amazing story, told in the ring by two great artists at the very peak of their genius!

Now, before I name the number one match on this list, I’d like to name a few matches that deserve an honorable mention.

Aztec Warfare Three: Lucha Underground Season Three Episode Eleven
Date: November 16th
Promotion: Lucha Underground

The Briscoes vs The Young Bucks: Final Battle 2016
Date: December 2nd
Promotion: Ring of Honor

Kenny Omega vs Hirooki Goto: G1 Climax Final
Date: August 14th
Promotion: New Japan Pro Wrestling

And now, the very best match that happened outside WWE in 2016 was…

1. No Mas match: Sexy Star vs Mariposa
Date: May 4th
Promotion: Lucha Underground

I have been outspoken in my support and fandom of Women’s Wrestling in WWE, as well as the need to get away from everything associated with the archaic term “Diva.” Apart from Nikki Bella and Eva Marie still being such a focal point each week, I think the current crop of Women in WWE have put the men to shame in 2016. But, the thing of it is…I also think the Women of Lucha Underground put the Women of WWE to shame!

Some people are still uncomfortable with how Women are portrayed in Lucha Underground. And honestly, I can completely understand why you may feel that way. The inter-gender matches can be seen as either true equality of the sexes or glamorizing violence against women, regardless of who wins or loses. It’s a never ending debate with valid arguments coming from both sides that I’d rather not get into.

But one debate I will throw my opinions into is the one about whether women should be able to do hardcore matches. And after watching this match, my answer is a resounding yes! Was it hard for me to watch at times? Of course, it was! Sexy Star and Mariposa did things to each other no pair of human beings should do regardless of gender. But the fact remains, they told an incredible story and pushed themselves beyond their limits.

It saddens me that Sexy Star has opted to leave Pro Wrestling behind to pursue a boxing career. Especially after all the incredible things she’s done for Lucha Underground and women’s wrestling as a whole. But I think she can not only be proud of her accomplishments but also the barriers she destroyed for her fellow Luchadora’s as well. And this match is proof of her legacy in the industry as far as I’m concerned.

So, as controversial as this may be for some…this match tops my list of the best matches to occur outside of WWE for the year 2016. I’m not doing so to make a statement or to earn brownie points with SJW’s, but because it fits all my criteria to be the number one match on this list!

Well, that was my list of the ten best matches that happened outside of WWE in the year 2016. Stay tuned next week for part two of this article where I name the top ten matches of WWE’s developmental program (NXT and the CWC) right here on WNW.

Feel free to follow me on twitter @TheBigM91 and make sure to join in the fun and discussion that is WNW’s new Facebook group that Richard Gray and myself administrate. The group URL is www.MMAPW.com, and it’s all about pro wrestling and MMA discussion. I hope to see you there!

  • CM Punk

    good choices and i know you said in article its matches from outside wwe… you should probably put that in the title just saying, some people may come here thinking you’re talking about wwe and then get mad or something.. good article though

    • “BIG M” Adams.

      I only have a certain amount of space for the title unfortunately!