Another year in the WWE has passed and we've been given some unbelievable in-ring moments as well as matches that the WWE Universe will be talking about for years to come. The NXT brand is bigger than ever, ushering in a new generation of stars ready to etch their names into wrestling immortality.
There were also new additions to the WWE roster that have already cemented their legacy outside of a WWE ring and are prepared to make themselves known to a global audience. Performers like Shinsuke Nakamura, TM 61, AJ Styles, Bobby Roode have all entertained audiences around the world in every other major wrestling promotion, but making it to the WWE is the ultimate stamp of "making it".
As the year draws close to an end, we take a look back at the matches that made us cheer, stand up, and admire the men and women who put their bodies on the line to entertain us and have us thinking "that was the match of the year".
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Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn vs. Zack Ryder vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz vs. Stardust
In a WrestleMania that didn't exactly live up to previous bars and NXT Takeover: Dallas the night before, this definitely gave the WWE Universe the feel-good moment of the night.
Kevin Owens walked into WrestleMania as Intercontinental Champion and I had my money on retaining, but this could also be listed as upset of the year. Since WrestleMania no longer hosts the Money In The Bank ladder match and replaced it with the more mundane Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royale, this match needed to happen on the card.
The placement of this match might draw some ire from fans who might have put the TM61 vs. Authors of Pain match instead, or one of the Finn Balor/Nakamura matches, but let me explain: WrestleMania is about moments. It's not about winners or losers anymore, it's about how they lose. It's all about the stories that people tell and this told a great story. When was the last time you genuinely cared about Zack Ryder? After this match, I believed in Zack again, even if for a moment. A guy that got himself over with his YouTube channel and proved that he could be a solid mid-card performer and get people invested in his character.
This was the payoff.
Yes, it was an interesting booking moment, but by this point, the Zayn/Owens rivalry was pretty much one-sided and it seemed that Stardust was heading towards brighter things so could the Miz rekindle his career with a win (he did, but not on the Grandest Stage of Them All)? So when Zack Ryder took a hold of the ivory and silver championship, it was the best kind of swerve.
True, he lost his championship the never next night to the Miz, but in this moment, Zack Ryder was the better man and that's something remarkable all in itself.
Bayley vs. Asuka (Takeover: Dallas)
Having to follow the dynamite match between the returning Sami Zayn and the debuting Shinsuke Nakamura, would cause stomachs to tighten in most, but if you're Bayley and Asuka, you don't even blink.
Carrying the NXT Women's Championship going into the match, Bayley was a walking firework of positivity. Her mercurial attitude made her almost an instant fan favorite. With her colorful personality, none had rivaled her until the mysterious Asuka entered the scene, but it was this collaboration in the ring during WrestleMania weekend that solidified these two not only as megastars in the making but the saviors of the women's division in the WWE.
Think about the division leading up to WrestleMania that year. What were the women's matches primarily used for? While the match at WrestleMania might have crowned the new WWE Women's Champion and taken these athletes for a new drive, it was Bayley and Asuka that put the key in the ignition and got that motor running.
There was a lot of in-ring narrative going on with these two. Bayley, having held the title for almost a year and learning a ton of knowledge on that journey going up against a brand-new opponent, and Asuka taking everything that the champion was throwing at her. Asuka would retaliate with innovative blows and delivered a submission move that still nobody has been able to beat.
Crowning a new champion is a rite of passage and with Bayley's main roster promotion a matter of time, it was only a matter of time before these two would face each other again before she headed off to the wild red yonder. Their rematch at Takeover Brooklyn II was indeed great, but this one night in Dallas was something purely magical for these two competitors.
The Revival vs. DIY (Takeover: Toronto)
The Revival pride themselves on the mantra of no flips, just hits and they've proven themselves to be a dominant force in the tag team division. Gargano and Ciampa of DIY make their presence known during the Cruiserweight Classic, but their collective unit made an even bigger impact once paired up.
Both teams' chemistry was on full display in this tag team classic with the two teams already in a heated rivalry. It's been ages since we've seen a 2 out of 3 falls in a tag match, but when it comes to tag team wrestling, NXT gives fans exactly what they want.
Starting off quickly with Revival getting the first pinfall and DIY getting the second shortly after, it boiled down to the last moments going back and forth with DIY putting Dawson and Wilder away with a double tap out. The two teams brought out the best in one another and while the Takeover: Brooklyn II match between them was something to behold as well, it was their showdown in Toronto that brought the house down.
John Cena vs. AJ Styles (SummerSlam)
A match made in wrestling heaven.
A dream match. Fantasy warfare at its finest.
By 2016, John Cena had established himself as one of the all-time greats. Brandishing the moniker The Face That Runs The Place, Cena had been through the very best that WWE had to offer from this generation and the last. Enter AJ Styles at the 2016 Royal Rumble.
Styles is an almost twenty-year veteran, same as Cena, who has wrestled in every rival promotion of WWE. When it was announced early in the year that Styles had signed with the WWE, it was heavily speculated if Styles would debut in the main roster or head down to NXT for a quick session. Nobody saw it coming when his music hit and a confused Roman Reigns was faced with the Phenomenal One in the Royal Rumble.
That summer, Styles' dance card was full facing off against guys like Chris Jericho and Roman Reigns for his WWE Championship, but it was his feud with Cena that lit the wrestling world on fire. The back and forth between the two showed off that they even with hundreds of matches under their belt, that they still had plenty to show off. Styles landed two Styles Clashes and a missed springboard 450 that deserved every ounce of reaction from the crowd.
The match might have started slow, but when it evolved into a technical slugfest with a hot buffet of reversals and counters that you might have only seen in the cruiserweight division, but Big Match John and AJ Styles brought everything including the kitchen sink and renovations for a brand new kitchen and did what they do best: deliver.
AJ might have walked out the victor, but both men came out looking like legends.
Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (Takeover: Dallas)
This is a straight up wrestling clinic.
Texas might be the Lone Star state, but in this case, there were two stars that shone brighter than anybody else WrestleMania weekend: Sami Zayn, and the debuting Shinsuke Nakamura. Nakamura had made a name for himself across the globe in Japan and was one of New Japan Pro Wrestling's biggest stars before finally signing to the WWE back in early 2016. He has unmatched charisma and dramatics and the WWE Universe was about to find out what Strong Style is all about.
Everything about this match from the first time Nakamura came out to his WWE entrance music instead of his famous NJPW theme to the crowd giving their all for these two men in appreciation. Looking back now, this match was an instant contender for match of the year every other match had to compare itself to this one.
It just couldn't be beaten.
From the missed corner DDT to Nakamura having to land two of his rechristened Bomaye's (now known as the Kinshasa) to the kick out of the Blue Thunder Bomb, it all just kept building and building. You thought they might have to bust one another open to stop the other, but that didn't happen but it also didn't need to happen to make it unforgettable.
The wait was worth it and then some to finally have Nakamura compete in the WWE. This is a match that you don't just watch, you absorb and pore over every detail. It's not only hands-down match of the year in terms of technicality but how it was presented as a farewell from NXT to Sami and a gracious hello to Nakamura.