Hello WNW People, Mitch “Big M” Adams here welcoming you to part two of my best matches of 2016 list! I have received a lot of feedback for part one, so I hope you will enjoy part two just as much.
In this article, I will be covering the ten best matches that occurred in WWE’s developmental system. I will be featuring matches from NXT and the Cruiserweight Classic.
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 remember guys, 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 WWE’s developmental system 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!
Now before I begin with this list, I’d like to name a few matches that deserve an honorable mention.
DIY vs The Revival at NXT: Toronto.
Mickie James vs Asuka at NXT: Toronto.
Fin Balor vs Samoa Joe at NXT: The End.
EVERY SINGLE LAST MATCH OF THE CWC!!!
Now that that’s out of the way, here is my top ten list of best matches that occurred in WWE’s developmental system!
10. Akira Towzawa vs Jack Gallagher: Cruiserweight Classic
Date: August 17th
I have been a fan of pro wrestling ever since my father found an episode of WCW Nitro while channel surfing one night when I was four years old. And despite his best efforts to discourage me, I became a fan on the exact moment twenty-two years ago! And in those twenty-two years of watching pro wrestling, I thought I had seen it all! But I had never seen one wrestler tie up another into a human soccer ball and then proceed to do a “penalty kick” on said human soccer ball. I saw that in this match, between Akira Towzawa and my favorite Cruiserweight Jack Gallagher!
The Cruiserweight Classic tournament provided so many amazing moments and introduced us to so many incredible performers. But who would have thought a five foot five inch, one hundred and sixty pound pale English gentleman would have been one of the true standouts of a tournament filled with indy legends, Luchadors, and Puroresu stars!
This match was actually one of the most basic performances put on in the CWC, believe it or not. Gallagher works a European chain style that is famously considered to be the most boring style of pro wrestling. And Towzawa in-ring style is really a mixed bag of Lucha and Puroresu that doesn’t always work well if I am being honest. But these men both have so much personality and charisma that they could sell a match against The Great Khali, for crying out loud. Fortunately, they had the opportunity to work with each other instead.
9. Asuka vs Bayley NXT Takeover Dallas
Date: April 1st
This match was significant in so many ways for NXT in my opinion. We all knew Bayley was destined for the main roster very soon after tagging with Sasha Banks at WWE Battleground. And we all knew Asuka was in for a long and successful NXT Woman’s Title reign after her going over Nia Jax at NXT: The End. Now while that meant we knew what the outcome would be ahead of time…we didn’t care. Because we knew these two were going to put on a hell of a show. And we knew that Bayley’s swan song to NXT would be an incredibly special moment.
It’s stuff like this that makes NXT so special to so many fans now. It’s more than the fact they do the kind of booking we would like to see a ton more of in WWE. The fact of the matter is NXT is now an entity in its own right! A wrestling show for lifelong die hard wrestling fans. They don’t go out of their way to please the younger demographic or “casual fans.” No, NXT has a target audience, and the people behind the scenes are devoted to giving it’s audience the best show they can put on.
How can talented people like Bayley and Asuka not thrive in an environment like that? How can they not put on incredible matches with that kind of trust and support from people behind the scenes? How can they not give fans a moment they will remember forever after the bell has rung?
8. TM61 vs DIY: NXT Melbourne
Date: December 8th
I had the distinct pleasure of attending the NXT: Melbourne show on December 8th, and it was honestly the best pro wrestling event I have ever attended. I highly recommend you watch the event in its entirety on the WWE Network.
There were many proud moments for Australian pro wrestling fans like myself to enjoy with Buddy Murphy teaming with Tye Dillinger to Peyton Royce challenging Asuka for the NXT Women’s Title. But the moment that made my Aussie heart swell with pride was seeing TM-61 take on DIY in one of the best Tag Team matches you will ever see.
I have followed TM-61 F.K.A. TMDK (The Mighty Don’t Kneel) all the way back to their days in the Australian Independents. It was pretty much agreed upon by most Aussie wrestling fans that if any Australian workers would make it overseas, it would be these two. This was confirmed in spades when in the year 2011 the team of Shane Haste (now Shane Thorn) and Mikey Nicholls (now Nick Miller) began their name making run in Pro Wrestling Noah out of Japan. For five years these two rocked the Orient, working with some of the biggest names in Puroresu and having two reigns with the GHC Tag Team Title.
However, for the most part, their run in NXT had quite frankly been a bit of a letdown. I was especially upset that they were booked to put over the Authors of Pain in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Classic! But thankfully, my hope was restored after getting to watch this incredible match first hand, sitting twenty feet away from the ring!
Both teams looked like a million bucks in this match, but as a proud Australian, I’m going to have to be biased and say TM-61 are the best Tag Team in the world. You don’t believe me? Then watch this match!
7. The Revival vs DIY: NXT Takeover Brooklyn
Date: August 20th
This match, in my humble opinion, was the moment Tag Team Wrestling was restored to the level of prestige it once enjoyed so many years ago! DIY and The Revival, in my opinion, put on the very best Tag Team wrestling match in over a decade! I know that is a bold statement to make, but I DARE anyone to tell me I’m wrong.
Now, I realize some people may prefer the two out of three falls match these two teams had at NXT: Toronto make this list instead. But honestly, I watched both of these matches twice while researching this article and I can safely say the Brooklyn match was better in every way!
Not that the Toronto match wasn’t brilliant either (it got an honorable mention for a reason) but the pace and ring work both teams put into the Brooklyn match was simply on another level.
In an age where Tag Team Wrestling has become a lost art drowning in hip gyrations and Booty-O’s (so sue me, but I will never be a New Day fan) it was truly a special moment to see Tag Team wrestling done right for once!
6. Fin Balor vs Nakamura: NXT TV
Date: July 13th
I don’t know about you? But I can’t begin to imagine how proud Triple H must be of NXT. His creation has continuously provided wrestling fans with some of the best moments and matches of the last three years. But most importantly, NXT has introduced the next generation of WWE superstars to the world. Workers like Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura, who have proven themselves to be two of the best in the world through their work in New Japan Pro Wrestling. But are nowhere near as well known as they should be due to WWE’s monopoly on the industry and Vince McMahon’s narrow-minded outlook of who and what a WWE superstar should be.
I can just picture Triple H sitting in Gorilla at Full Sail watching this match with a huge smile on his face. All the time thinking to himself “Everything I have ever done in the industry pales in comparison to what I have created in NXT.” He may have even let go of his twenty plus years of experience in the industry and became a fan again, losing himself in the magic of this match.
Some people at the time worried that this match would not live up to the hype…they were dead wrong! Shinsuke Nakamura and Finn Balor put on an incredible match and gave us a wonderful passing of the torch moment. The longest running and arguably greatest NXT Champion in history Finn Balor, in his last NXT match, put over arguably the greatest in-ring talent Japan has produced in twenty years. For over, a year Finn was the franchise star of NXT! And on that night he passed that supreme honor to Shinsuke. I don’t know about you? But that is a moment I will never forget!
5. Kota Ibushi vs Cedric Alexander: Cruiserweight Classic
Date: August 10th
When watching the entire Cruiserweight Classic tournament, three things become very clear!
1. The Cruiserweight style is still incredibly exciting to watch.
2. Daniel Bryan is an excellent color commentator.
3. Cedric Alexander was born to be a HUGE WWE Superstar.
If you need further proof of point number three…watch this match.
Cedric had been a mainstay in Ring of Honor before the CWC, so he had his fans in attendance for this match. But the crowd was fully behind one of the biggest stars of Puroresu in Kota Ibushi. However by the end of this match, not only was every fan in attendance chanting “Please sign Cedric,” but Triple H came out from Gorilla to personally shake Cedric’s hand and look out to the audience and say “Yep, I think he just got himself signed.”
It’s moments like that in this business that you just can’t plan or script. Moments when a worker as the opportunity to work with someone more experienced and well known and winds up completely stealing the show. And it’s those moments that fans like me will never forget!
4. Gran Metallik vs TJ Perkins: Cruiserweight Classic Final
Date: September 14th
I have, to be honest with you WNW People. Out of all the incredibly talented workers in the CWC, I did not expect these two to be in the finals when I began watching it! As exciting as Grand Metallik and TJ Perkins were to watch in the tournament, I would have bet dollars to doughnuts that Kota Ibushi and Johnny Gargano would have been in the finals. But the powers behind the CWC felt otherwise, and man alive am I glad the did!
We were already expecting an incredible match out of these two, but Triple H coming out and rising the stakes by announcing whoever would win would not only win the CWC tournament but also be representing the new Cruiserweight Division in WWE as it’s Champion! Man Alive, that just added a whole new layer of awesomeness to not only the match but the entire tournament.
Both Grand Metallik and TJ Perkins put on an impressive showing in this match. The second best showing in the entire CWC tournament (The first will be named a little later in this article). Now I admit neither man has really made much of an impact since joining WWE’s main roster (usual disastrous main roster booking for developmental standouts). But if this match isn’t proof that both of them belong in WWE then I don’t know what is!
3. Nakamura vs Samoa Joe: NXT Takeover Brooklyn
Date: August 20th
Just like everyone else who saw it, I loved this match so much! But I had more reasons to like it than most. For you see, as many of you might have guessed after reading part one of this article, I am a MASSIVE Puroresu fan. And I will take any opportunity to try and introduce fans unfamiliar with the exquisite art that is Japanese pro wrestling any way I can. Usually, this is a difficult task due to access to the promotion and the language barrier being huge obstacles to overcome.
However, New Japan’s streaming service njpwworld.jp is helping remedy that.
But the thing of it is ever since this match I have the easiest method of introducing people to Puroresu. Because the fact of the matter is Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe (Two NJPW Dojo graduates) put on a classic Puroresu style match in a WWE owned ring for millions around the world to see! Plus, HOW BLOODY COOL IS NAKAMURA’S ENTRANCE!!!
2. Kota Ibushi vs TJ Perkins: Cruiserweight Classic
Date: August 17th
The term “match of the year” is thrown around all too often these days. Any time two workers can gel together and put on a memorable match fans tend to overreact and call it one of the best matches all year! However, in regards to this match, the fans were absolutely correct in their appraisal.
Kota Ibushi and TJ Perkins without a doubt put on one of the best matches of the year 2016 on August 17th. If you haven’t watched it yet…you simply must sign up to the WWE Network and do so. In a tournament filled with some of the best pro wrestling anyone has ever seen, these two men put on a match that will live on forever as far as I am concerned.
Now while the final of the Cruiserweight Classic was brilliant and gave us yet another moment fans can cherish forever (see match number four on this list) this match was the best showing of the entire CWC period.
I repeat…YOU MUST SIGN UP FOR THE WWE NETWORK AT WATCH THIS MATCH!!!
1. Sami Zayn vs Nakamura: NXT Takeover Dallas
Date: April 1st
Was there ever any doubt that this match would top this list of best matches to take place in WWE developmental in the year 2016? Even the people who claim NXT is an overrated WWE farm system that panders too much to the IWC were blown away by this match. And for bloody good reason!
Sami Zayn was at the absolute top of his game during these twenty plus minutes of pure pro wrestling brilliance. And I could not think of a better way to introduce Shinsuke Nakamura to the WWE fan base who don’t follow other promotions like New Japan! From the beginning, middle and to the end the crowd in attendance at NXT Takeover: Dallas were beyond hot for this match! Chants like “This is Wrestling” and “Fight Forever” filled the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Centre.
Every single member of the nine thousand plus people in attendance were on the edge of their seats for every last move. All of them showing their appreciation and respect to these two amazing performers, these two in-ring artists. And it’s further proof that “Hardcore” fans of pro wrestling are a much larger demographic than WWE higher ups realize.
The booking was absolutely perfect! Both men looked like a million bucks no matter who won or lost, and the handshake between both men was enough to bring a tear to the eye of even the most jaded of fans. It’s matches and moments like this that remind us all why we fell in love with this industry, this art form known as pro wrestling!
Well, that was my list of the ten best matches that happened in WWE’s developmental system in 2016. Stay tuned for Part three of this article where I name the top ten matches of WWE's main roster 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!