2016 Brass Ring Awards Day 3 (Best Wrestlers of the Year / Best Matches #25-21)

Credit goes to @papercut for the Brass Ring desig
Credit goes to @papercut for the Brass Ring desig

Day 1

Wrestling Thread Moment of the Year™: Matt Hardy fucking up Jeff Hardy's yard

Best Weekly Show: Cruiserweight Classic (WWE)

Show of the Year: Battle of Los Angeles Night 2 (PWG)

Breakout / Rookie of the Year - Jeff Cobb / Matanza Cueto

Day 2

Most Improved: Matt Hardy

Best Tag Team: The Revival

Worst Match: Shelly Martinez vs. Rebel

Biggest News: Daniel Bryan's Retirement

Wrestler of the Year (Male) – Kenny Omega (NJPW)

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Previous Winners: 2015 - AJ Styles | 2014 - Sami Zayn

(written by @milkman)

To properly understand who 2016 Kenny Omega is, you first need to understand who 2011 Kenny Omega was. Always a fan favorite among internet wrestling fans for his anime and video games references (he used a Mega Man techno remix as his entrance msuic in DDT), Omega was always “our guy” among wrestling dorks online. In 2016, Kenny Omega was still our guy but he became their guy too. The most incredible part of Omega’s meteoric rise through New Japan Pro Wrestling in just a years’ time is that he never had to change who he was. Omega was still the same goofy video game and anime obsessed nerd that he was when he was having matches against nine year old girls five years ago. The truth is the difference between 2016 Kenny Omega and 2011 Kenny Omega is negligible at best. His playground just got his bigger.

After WWE poached Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson from NJPW following Wrestle Kingdom 10, the company looked as if it was in dire straits. Two of their biggest superstars were gone along with the three core members of their most popular group, Bullet Club. It would be easy to argue that NJPW turned to Omega out of pure desperation but regardless of the reason, this outlier of a junior heavyweight was suddenly thrust into the role as leader of the Bullet Club. In just over a month’s time, Omega had graduated into the heavyweight division and defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi to become NJPW Intercontinental Championship. This was noteworthy in and of itself for a guy who was in the same company that regularly has a blow-up doll as one of their champions but Omega ascent didn’t stop there. In August, Omega entered NJPW’s annual G1 Climax tournament for the first time. A near month long marathon of a tournament, winning the G1 Climax is the highest accomplishment in NJPW outside of becoming IWGP Heavyweight champion. Omega won the tournament, having the best match of his career against Tetsuya Naito in the semi-finals along the way, becoming the first non-Japanese winner in G1 Climax history. In less than a weeks’ time, Omega will move up another rung on the ladder to wrestling immortality and main event NJPW’s biggest show of the year, Wrestle Kingdom 11 against IWGP World Heavyweight champion, Kazuchika Okada. Win or lose, Omega will have done it his way with Terminator stomps, Hadoukens and anime villain promos. Perhaps the most satisfying feeling for any wrestling fan is seeing someone you believe in, someone you know is great but isn’t getting the rightful recognition that you know they deserve finally get their due. No one in wrestling gave their fans that feeling of satisfaction more in 2016 than Kenny Omega.

Runners Up: AJ Styles, Tomohiro Ishii, Kazuchika Okada, Ricochet/Prince Puma

Wrestler of the Year (Female) - Asuka (NXT)

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Previous Winners: 2015 - Sasha Banks | 2014 - Charlotte

(written by @drdarkstryfe)

The NXT women's roster was gutted in 2016. While the division lost Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch in 2015, NXT still had a considerable roster that was centered around long-time fan favorite Bayley and enough depth to continue to entertain in 2016.

The roster started to thin when Dana Brooke was called up to the main roster in May, and the WWE announced their brand split in July; making it a point that there would be several NXT call-ups to help fill out the Raw and SmackDown roster. During the draft, Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax, and Carmella were drafted, and in October, Bayley was promoted to Raw.

As the roster thinned the past year, and the next generation of NXT women’s talent was still getting used to the new exposure, there has been one constant in 2016 that helped keep the division afloat.

Enter Asuka.

Spending the first part of 2016 outside of the title picture, Asuka has impressed crowds with her charismatic personality and a Strong Style wrestling technique that is rarely seen in the US. Watching Asuka, and you get a sense that she is having fun when she competes. When she strikes her opponent, or tries to tear their arm off, there is a wide smile on her face.

At NXT Takeover Dallas, Asuka defeated Bayley for the NXT Women’s Championship; winning via TKO when Bayley passed out from the Asuka Lock submission. She would then go on to successfully defend the title against Nia Jax, a rematch with Bayley, and against former WWE Divas champion Mickie James. As the year progressed, Asuka became a dominating force in the division, and more importantly, knows that she is the best and carries herself as much. She has become cocky in her style, going so far as to not respect her opponent after the match.

It is a stark difference compared to what we have seen in WWE’s main roster this year. Raw has been in a long holding pattern with Flair and Banks dominating the exposure, and SmackDown trying to do their best with a roster that is less talented. The Women’s Revolution of 2015 has become a token angle.

Asuka’s presence elevates NXT Women’s division. She has become a “final boss” for the promotion, and acts like it.

Runners up - Kairi Hojo (Stardom), Io Shirai (Stardom), Becky Lynch (WWE), Taya (Lucha Underground/AAA)

Top 25 Matches of the Year (25-21):

25. Trent? vs Chuck Taylor (PWG THIRTEEN)

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Wrestling Thread Rating: 4.25

Where to watch: PWG THIRTEEN DVD

(written by @hadoken101)

The story of Chuck Taylor and Trent? is one that had been brewing for over a year by the time this match was announced. In PWG they teamed as The Best Friends for a couple years to a fair amount of success, even going so far as winning DDT4 (PWG’s tag tournament) in 2014. However, in 2015, Trent had gotten the opportunity to work in NJPW as Rocky Romero’s partner in Roppongi Vice, leaving Chuckie T without his best friend and less work opportunities.

Over the months, the banter between the two continued on Twitter with Chuck saying that Trent ruined his life. PWG, being home for all the weird inside jokes and meta humor in the American independent wrestling scene, set up a match between the former Best Friends at their Thirteenth anniversary show, aptly titled THIRTEEN.

At first, it seemed like the match would be just a light fun comedy match between the two, given the matches they generally have in PWG. They started with some standard chain wrestling and countered each other’s anti-climactic springboard attacks, even hugging each other like they used to.

Then it all took a hard left and Trent? whipped a chair at Chuck’s face.

The ref allows the match to continue once Trent screams “BEST FRIENDS DON’T NEED RULES” in his face and from there, it becomes a full on hardcore match with chairs, a ladder, and even thumbtacks being pulled out. It’s an almost comedic (if it wasn’t so brutal) level of escalation. Of course, despite beating the shit out of one another for 15 minutes, they still manage to hug it out after the pinfall, showing that Best Friends are forever and not even chairs to the face can stop that.

24. Sexy Star vs. Mariposa - No Mas!

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Wrestling Thread Rating: 4.46153846

Where to watch: Lucha Underground's Youtube Channel

(written by @turboman)

In storyline, Sexy Star was kidnapped by the super creepy Marty “The Moth” and was tortured by his sister Mariposa at the end of Season 1 of Lucha Underground. During some point of Season 2 Sexy Star escapes but is haunted whenever she’s in the presence of Marty and/or Mariposa. This builds up for a while and Dario realizes what happened to Sexy Star and motivates her to take her revenge on Mariposa. And thus, we get the first ever “No Mas” match!

Take a look at Mariposa, she’s dressed like a female version of Mankind. One of Mankind’s most famous matches is the vicious “I Quit” match against The Rock at WWF Royal Rumble 1999 where he took 11 unprotected steel chair shots to the head. So going into this match you have some sort of an idea that there is going to be a certain amount of brutality between the two during the match.

The match starts out simple enough, and I feel like it’s important to say this: Sexy Star isn’t a great wrestler. In most matches she needs to be put with someone who is great enough of a wrestler that they are able to carry her through a watchable match. However, in this match type you can get away with complete smoke and mirrors and have a match filled out of the ring brawling and weapons. There’s an incredibly creative spot fairly early in the match where Sexy Star wedges a steel chair in between Mariposa’s legs and then hammers another chair in there so hard that Shelly Martinez could feel it. From there they brawl all around the temple and even up to the rafters at some point. Sexy Star is busted open up here and starts dripping blood on the fans below.

Once they get down from the rafters, the brawl continues around the arena and Sexy Star has an amazing babyface comeback towards the end of the match. Mariposa puts Sexy Star in a submission hold, and the ref asks if Sexy Star is ready to say “No Mas”. Sexy Star replies by screaming “FUCK YOU!” followed by one of the most insane crowd reactions you’ll see in 2016. Within the past ten minutes, Sexy Star goes from being a mediocre wrestler at best to being a crowd favorite in the company by the end of the match. After this match she carried the momentum and was able to be the first female Lucha Underground Champion in the company by the end of the year. It’s a match that is never going to be viewed as a technical masterpiece by anybody, but it was extremely effective in catapulting a new wrestler in the main event position within the company.

23. Kyle O'Reilly vs. KUSHIDA (NJPW Battle of Super Juniors Day 1)

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Wrestling Thread Rating: 4.57142857

Where to watch: NJPW World

The Best of the Super Juniors is New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) annual showcase of their Jr Heavyweight division. Similar to other New Japan events, the competitors are put into one of two pools where they compete in a round robin. The top score in each pool faces off in a final match, with the winner gets a shot at the IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship. Day one of the event was highlighted by a rematch from the 2015 Brass Ring Award seventh best match of the year; Kyle O’Reilly vs KUSHIDA.

Since winning the title last year KUSHIDA has gone on to become one of the biggest stars in NJPW and face of its Jr Heavyweight division. He spent his 2016 defending the title in feuds with Kenny Omega, Bushi, ACH, and Jushin Thunder Liger.

Kyle continued to tag with Bobby Fish and competed in NJPW’s Jr Tag division as reDRagon; competing against The Young Bucks and Roppongi Vice.

This year’s BOSJ match was almost a copy from last year’s exhibition, with the exception being that KUSHIDA spent the majority of the match on the offensive, attacking O’Reilly’s arm throughout to weaken it for his Kimura Lock finish. This was a high octane match where even the holds and submission attempts took a huge physical toll on the two.

The highlight of the match, and one of the best moments of the year, came when KUSHIDA, sitting dazed on a chair outside of the ring, catches a diving O’Reilly and applies an armlock.

Kyle would end up coming out on top and get a measure of revenge for his loss in last year’s finals. While neither of these two would win the tournament, they put one of the best matches of the entire event.

22. Team Liger vs Team Ciampa (PWG BOLA Night 3)

Wrestling Thread Rating: 4.923076

Where to watch: BOLA Night 3 DVD

(written by @hadoken101)

Wrestling is an inherently silly thing that can sometimes take itself too seriously. Sometimes it’s good to take a step back and remember that Pro Wrestling is an entire art form and not a singular genre. While it can be used to tell strong, emotional stories such as Zayn/Owens over the years or Sasha/Bayley in NXT, it can also be a vehicle for absolutely bizarre comedy and fan interaction.

Such is the case in PWG’s now annual Battle of Los Angeles 10 man tag match; a match that fully embraces how fun and dumb wrestling can be. As soon as the bell rings, Chuck Taylor makes a call back to the previous years’ matches by yelling at Ciampa “If you stick your thumb in my ass I swear I’ll kill you!” which is far from the most absurd thing shouted in the match but all the same sets the stage for the match that’s about to happen.

Early on it’s pretty standard fare for a match of this size, with everyone pairing 2 at a time to show off their stuff. A particularly great moment comes when Jeff Cobb and Matt Riddle tag in and receive the biggest pop for basic amateur wrestling ever. Eventually, it cycles back around to Chuck and Ciampa and when Chuck gets set up for the aforementioned “Thumb in the Rear” Jushin Thunder Liger intervenes.

And then things get weird......

It’s worth mentioning that in addition to Jushin Liger, one of the greatest high flyers of all time and certified legend of wrestling, the prestige of many of the other participants is staggering, especially when viewing the match just a couple months after the fact. You’ve got: A man who competed in the 2004 Olympics, a former UFC fighter, one half of the current NXT Tag champs, 2 standout performers of the CWC (one who would go on to win the Cruiserweight Title about a month after this match), and the PROGRESS Champion who is being heavily featured for WWE’s upcoming UK Championship tournament.

It also can’t be overlooked how much the rowdy crowd adds to the atmosphere of the match. Everyone in the room plays along with all of the absurd hijinks without anybody taking away from the wrestlers, from reacting and chanting in slow motion with all of the action in the ring to joining in an R Kelly sing along. Simply put, this match is the best comedic match of the year and just an absolute joy to watch.

21. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens (WWE Battleground)

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Wrestling Thread Rating: 4.7222222

Where to watch: WWE Network

(written by @milkman)

There’s few rivalries in the modern day wrestling that feel as special as Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens. Every time these two have shared a ring for the past seven years has felt like an important moment. And their most high profile meeting yet came at WWE Battleground this year. In what was billed as an at least partial finale of the rivalry, Zayn believed that he need to exorcise Kevin Owens from his life in order to properly move on with his career. With the WWE Draft looming, Battleground felt like his final chance to finally put Owens in his rear view for good. Of course, this is the WWE so they never actually followed up on that and both guys ended up being drafted to the same show. But WWE’s inability to tell a coherent story aside, Owens and Zayn are still masterful storytellers in their own right. The Battleground match joins their Fight Without Ladder, multiple ladder wars and NXT championship meetings as classic matches in the pantheon of one of the greatest wrestling rivalries in the modern era. You have to believe it’s only a matter of time before they add another classic to their ever growing list.

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