2016 Brass Ring Awards Day 4 (Top 25 Matches of the Year #20-11)

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

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

Day 3

Wrestler of the Year (Male) - Kenny Omega

Wrestler of the Year (Female) - Asuka

Top 25 Matches of the Year

25. Trent? vs. Chuck Taylor (PWG Thirteen)

24. Sexy Star vs. Mariposa - No Mas! (Lucha Underground)

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

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

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

20. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Naomichi Marufuji (NJPW G1 Climax: Day 13)

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Wrestling Thread Rating: 4.7272727273

Where to watch: NJPW World (2:38:00)

(written by @drdarkstryfe)

Let’s get this out of the way first. This year’s NJPW’s G1 Climax event was simply outstanding, and quite possibly the best G1 Climax ever. Like the Battle of the Super Juniors, it is an event that has wrestlers compete in one of two pools in round robin competition. The winner of the pools compete in a final match, with the winner of the match earning the right to face the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at the biggest show of the year for NJPW, Wrestle Kingdom.

You will see many mentions of it throughout the entire Brass Ring Award writings, and for good reason, but one of the highlight matches was much more than simply a fight for points.

Hiroshi Tanahashi has been the face of NJPW for well over a decade. He was elevated to top star of the company at a time when New Japan was struggling, and helped raise the promotion to the second largest promotion in the world behind WWE. He is the record seven-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, and has defended the title more and held the title for most days than any wrestler in history. For an entire generation of fans he is the walking embodiment of Japanese professional wrestling.

Naomichi Marufuji’s rise was something different. Originally a part of All Japan Pro Wrestling, Marufuji joined the exodus from the company when the legendary Mitsuharu Misawa created Pro Wrestling Noah. Marufuji would become one of Noah’s premier Jr. Heavyweight aces and would become the only man to win the Jr Heavyweight title in the three premier Japanese promotions; Noah, New Japan, and All Japan.

Every submission looked like a limb was being torn off. Tanahashi spent the first half of the match trying to hurt Marufuji’s dangerous knees and legs. Midway through the match, the two went on a two minute chop spree that drew blood on Tanahashi’s chest. Marufuji damn near took Tanahashi’s head of with a series of kicks and knees. It was two men who started in the business at the same time not giving an inch to the other. Tanahashi was able to finally put down his opponent after hitting his finisher, the top rope dive known as High Fly Flow, twice to get the pinfall.

Day 13 was the moment that this year’s G1 Climax went from being really good, to becoming an all time great tournament. It was one of the best days of professional wrestling in 2016, with another match that will be talked about later in this list.

19. American Alpha vs. The Revival (NXT Takeover: Dallas)

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Wrestling Thread Rating: 4.2173913

Where to watch: WWE Network

(written by @turboman)

Tag Team wrestling has evolved over the past decade to usually be much more chaotic and fast paced than it used to be many years ago, but there’s been a revelation this year in NXT: The old stuff still works. A lot of American Alpha and The Revival’s success should be credited to them watching tapes of the top 70’s and 80’s tag teams and being able to resurface a lot of sequences from years ago.

This match was the opener for NXT: Takeover Dallas and it was in front of a very pumped WrestleMania weekend crowd. Jason Jordan and Chad Gable came into the match as the hottest team in WWE, but the match was a real coming out party for The Revival (at this point in time the crowd was still chanting “Which one’s Dawson/Which one’s Dash?”). Throughout the match the heel team tried to use every single dirty tactic in the book to try and maintain advantage of the technically better babyface team. The Revival’s attack is methodical and fun to watch. There’s a giant fuck up in the middle of the match when The Revival try to do a double team move and completely miss, this could potentially ruin most matches but the way Scott Dawson brushed it off and played to the crowd would make you think that he’s been wrestling in front of arenas for decades.

Chad Gable finally gives Jason Jordan a hot tag and Jason Jordan just knows how to connect to big crowds off of hot tags. He just runs in and finds limbs to get a hold of and tosses guys around like they’re nothing. It’s a really cool spectacle every time you see it. There’s an inspired moment of selling where Dash Wilder is holding Scott Dawson’s feet on the ropes with a towel and when Jason Jordan kicks out the towel goes flying into the floor seats. The match ends with American Alpha winning their first NXT Tag Team Championship, and the post match promo that Jason Jordan gives being thankful for where he’s at now in the company after years of struggling within NXT makes him(and Chad Gable) stand out as a team that has an unbelievable amount of potential in WWE for years to come.

18. Johnny Gargano vs Tommaso Ciampa (CWC)

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Wrestling Thread Rating: 4.53333333

Where to watch: WWE Network

(written by @ht101)

Gargano and Ciampa are the best of friends and this match is a test of that friendship. Ciampa wants to win this match and shows how far he is willing to go throughout the match. Gargano wants to see if he can survive what his friend is going to do and pull a win out.

Tommaso has the upper hand for most of the match but he shows his care for Gargano when he holds up from finishing him off and Gargano surprises him with a giant superkick right to the face. We see the conflict on Tommaso’s face before deciding not to truly hurt his friend and you really feel the emotional connection between them. The main thing from Gargano in this match is that he takes a hell of a beating but wins after a minute long sequence of reversals and counters.

This is how a match like this should be done. Brothers battled it out and in the end, their love for each other was still intact. However, when the bond between them breaks, it will be that much more emotional and heartbreaking for us. I never want them to break up but I know they will. When it does happen, I know that I will be an emotional mess and will hate whoever turns on the other. The only thing I will be able to look forward to will be their reunion, which will make the break-up hard but not unbearable. That is what makes a good match become one of the best matches of the year.

17. AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura (NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 10)

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Wrestling Thread Rating: 4.71

Where to watch: NJPW World

(written by @commisar123)

It’s rare that you get two of the best in a chosen field to meet each other and work together in their prime, especially in sports, but that’s exactly what we got in Shinsuke Nakamura vs. AJ Styles: two of the best wrestlers in the world working their craft on one of the biggest stages pro wrestling has to offer. This match was my introduction to both of these men, and considering how much praise was heaped on them before the match even started, you would think there was no way their first match together could live up to the lofty expectations established for it.

Somehow it did. This was the last major match that both guys would have in New Japan and they certainly went out on a high note. It was a bit of a slow start with both men feeling each other out, but from the bell we could tell that they were evenly matched. This feeling continued throughout the entire match. It was basically twenty minutes of momentum swings and it was incredibly exciting. The smoothness and ease with which Nakamura and Styles moved was incredible. Every spot lead perfectly into the next. It’s one the most organic pro wrestling match I’ve ever seen.

There were tons of memorable spots in here too. My favorite is when Styles pretended to shoot Nakamura and Nakamura just grabbed the bullet out of the air, ate it, and spat it out. It was such a great little moment of character. There was also a sick back breaker early in the match, Styles turned an armbar into a Styles Clash, and of course some fantastic knees from Nakamura. Styles did an excellent job of selling his back. Prior to the match it had been reported that Styles had some pretty serious back problems that had left him out of action for a few months. The blending of reality and fiction is one of my favorite parts of pro wrestling and both performers perfectly mixed the two.

16. Brian Kendrick vs. Kota Ibushi (CWC)

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Wrestling Thread Rating: 4.84615385

Where to watch: WWE Network

(written by @turboman)

When the list of wrestlers was announced for the Cruiserweight Classic, both Kota Ibushi and Brian Kendrick stuck out for different reasons. Kota Ibushi is without a doubt one of the best high fliers we have seen in the past decade, he’s deceptively strong and all of his striking moves look devastating. He’s the prototype wrestler in an ideal Cruiserweight division in 2016 and was one of the early favorites announced for the tournament. And then for Brian Kendrick, he was a name that was relevant within WWE for a couple of notable stints, but nothing more. Brian Kendrick was thought of as just an older name in the tournament whose only purpose was to lose to a younger guy in the early rounds and continue work as a trainer within WWE’s developmental system.

And his character also reflected this. He came into the tournament just grateful that he’s getting one last shot to make a name for himself in the WWE. He doesn’t even feel like he belongs there to begin with, but he wins a couple of matches in the tournament and he gains a lot of self confidence, but his next opponent is the favorite to win it all Kota Ibushi. Kendrick knows that he stands no chance against Ibushi in a regular match, so he’s only going for desperation wins early through trying to win by countout against Ibushi. Kota Ibushi dominates most of the match early on.

The tides turn when Kendrick is able to execute a neckbreaker across the turnbuckle steel and damage Kota Ibushi’s surgically repaired neck. This makes the match much more evenly fought and from here we go a little bit insane with the moves. First, Kota Ibushi does his rarely seen deadlift german suplex from the second rope. After that Brian Kendrick gives Kota Ibushi a Burning Hammer. Mind you, this is in a room with a few hundred people in it, not the Tokyo Dome. The overall match is a joy to watch and tells an excellent underdog story.

15. Hiroki Goto vs. Kenny Omega (NJPW G1 Climax Finals)

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Wrestling Thread Rating: 4.75

Where to watch: NJPW World(3:45:00)

(written by @commisar123)

Kenny Omega was my favorite wrestler this year and this match was a big part of that. It’s not a perfect match, but the storytelling and the ending make it one of the more spectacular and memorable matches of the year. The match has a great intensity and energy to it and a lot of that is thanks to a crowd that is extremely invested in what’s happening in front of them. Every near fall takes on much greater significance with the crowding losing their minds.

That of course is a testament to how good Omega and Goto are. The match has your standard chain wrestling start but it soon begins to tell its own story. Goto worked Kenny’s knee at the start of the match, a call back to how it had been heavily damaged by Naito the night before. Omega did his own reference to the previous night when he teased power bombing Goto into the crowd like he did to Naito the night before. Instead he slams him onto the apron (the hardest part of the ring). There was also a lovely little moment where Omega kissed the G1 statue in the middle of the match and then moonsaults onto Goto. It perfectly demonstrates his brashness and lack of respect.

After the beginning though the match slows down for a bit and becomes a fairly standard wrestling match. Things really picked up near the end though, when Omega broke out of a sleeper hold by falling off the top rope. It doesn’t sound that crazy, but the brutal simplicity of it was pretty remarkable. From then on the match is hot fire. Omega uses everything finishing move he can think of to put Goto away, Kota Ibushi’s Last Ride power bomb, Prince Devitt’s Bloody Sunday, AJ Styles’ Styles Clash, some very Shinsuke Nakamura looking knees, and even Goto’s own signature moves. Goto refused to give up and it took Omega’s finisher to keep him down for good.

The image of the first ever foreigner winning the G1 with the crowd going wild is exciting no matter how many times you look at it. It’s certainly one of the most significant and historic matches of the year, but that doesn’t give enough credit to the amazing show that both Goto and Omega put on.

14. Kenny Omega vs. Michael Elgin (NJPW Dominion)

Wrestling Thread Rating: 4.66666667

Where to watch: NJPW World

(written by @drdarkstryfe)

The WWE raid of New Japan talent was one of the biggest news stories in wrestling in 2016. Seemingly overnight, NJPW lost Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, and Doc Gallows.

Nakamura’s departure was the most difficult. He was the IWGP Intercontinental champion, a title that has become synonymous with the King of Strong Style, and there was no major show on the schedule before his departure at the end of January. It was decided that he would vacate the title at his last show with the company, leading Kenny Omega to come out to verbally assault the departing Nakamura and wanting the title, officially leaving the Jr Heavyweight division and entering the main card. Kenny was stopped by Hiroshi Tanahashi, and the two would be booked to compete for the vacant title at the next big show, The New Beginning in Niigata.

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Even though he was nursing an injured shoulder, Tanahashi would go on to fight Omega in Niigata, only to lose to Omega. Tanahashi would demand a rematch, only for Kenny to decline, saying he would only to fight Tanahashi “American style” in a ladder match. Tanahashi would agree, but due to his injured shoulder, had to step away from the match to recover.

This opened the door for Michael Elgin to take his place. A friend of Tanahashi ever since Elgin first showed up in New Japan, he would take Tanahashi’s place in the ladder match.

Gimmick matches are few and far in-between in New Japan. The last ladder match was in 2007, coincidentally also featuring Tanahashi, and the concept of gimmick matches usually go against New Japan’s approach of wrestling as a sport. Unlike most ladder matches, Omega and Elgin spent a considerable part of the match competing without resorting to ladders for moves. It built anticipation for the ladders, and added a real sense of escalation when ladders and other objects were in play.

The match contained the usual interference that you expect from a Bullet Club match, but it just helped to add to Elgin’s struggle. He was just a replacement in this match, and was never expected to defeat a fire hot Omega. When he was handcuffed to the rope by the rest of Bullet Club, it was a foregone conclusion that the match was over.

But Big Mike is not going to let a pair of handcuffs stop him. Tearing free from the ropes, he lifted the ladder with Kenny at the top, knocking him out of the ring and on top of the rest of Bullet Club, and climbed the ladder and claimed the title for himself. Elgin became only the second American to win the IWGP Intercontinental title, the first since MVP was the inaugural champion.

This was one of the most unlikely outcomes to a match in 2016. It was one of those matches that I tell to myself “I know what the outcome will be, but I just hope it’s a good match to watch.” It is a feeling that seems to permeate WWE’s almost by-the-numbers booking that the result is long written in stone. New Japan is not WWE, and they prove it time and time again by truly shocking the audience.

13.Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (WK 10)

Wrestling Thread Rating: 5

Where to watch: NJPW World

(written by @aronleon)

Last year we talked about how the idea of pasing the torch has always been there for wrestling such a simple idea yet it carries so much at the same time, by this point Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada had have some of the best matches in the world 6 of those have been for the IWGP beltwith making this match a little more special, its even more amazing that this same match has been the main event of 3 of the last 4 Wrestlekingdoms but one thing never seemed to change no matter what Tanahashi was always number #1, he won the last 2 matches on WK7,WK9 and when it came time to decide the "real" main event on WK8 the fans decided that Tanahashi vs Nakamura was more important than Okada vs a pre Tranquilo Naito. Seemed no matter what Okada was always going to be nothing more than a shadow but then 2015 happen Okada did what Tanahashi could not he beat AJ for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, the same man who took everything from him was defeted in many ways The Rainmaker was reborne, of course Tanahashi didnt like this idea he was now done so he goes and wins the G1 Climax for a second time to get another chance at glory.

Pride vs Revenge, Ace vs Rainmaker, Old Guard vs New Guard the stage was set and what follows is a match that will talked about for a long time. At the start of the match you see that Okada is taking things at his own pace stoping Tanahashi ofensive and keeping things cool but that doesnt last for long Tana begins a vicious comeback delivering some really nasty looking dragon screws and an insane high fly flow to the outside cause he is a crazy man, just when it looks like history will repeat itself Okada fights back with everything his got he will not go down not this time and at moments it does feel like it could end at any point, in one of my favorite moments of the year after taking a suplex Tanahashi slaps Okada to escape the Rainmaker but Okada holds on to Tanahashi´s hand he is not letting it go no matter what this is his time, 3 Rainmakers later Kazuchika Okada can finally say he is NJPW #1 Star, Krazy to think this 2 could an even better match right?

12. Ladder War 6 (The Addiction vs The Young Bucks vs Motor City Machine Guns ) (ROH All Star Extravaganza 8)

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Wrestling Thread Rating: 4.66666667

Where to watch: ROH iPPV

(written by @drdarkstryfe)

The Ladder War is the pinnacle of Ring of Honor gimmick matches. A normal ladder match in design, it has been the decider in some of the all-time great feuds in the history of the company. The Briscoes, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn are just some of the wrestlers that have competed in this exceptionally rare match.

The three teams that competed in this year’s Ladder Wars fought for more than the ROH Tag Team Championship. These are three teams that have been together for years, and their careers have criss-crossed all around the globe.

Nick and Matt Jackson, The Young Bucks, are considered one of the best tag teams in the world. Their list of accolades can be compared with some of the all-time greats in the industry, but they continue to push themselves to put on the best show possible. While they tend to wrestle a style that is part-comedy, and part-Attitude Era throwback, the Bucks enter a different level when the stakes are high. They lobbied hard for Ladder Wars 6 to be a reality, because they know

The Motor City Machine Guns got back together in Ring of Honor in early 2016. Chris Sabin and Alex Shelley have been a team for the better part of a decade, but took a break when Shelley went to Japan and teamed with KUSHIDA. The long anticipated reunion came when Sabin turned on Christopher Daniels, helping Shelley beat him in a singles match. THey have been feuding with The Addiction since, falling short of winning the belts several times.

Christopher Daniels saw The Addiction’s latest tag title reign as the last chance to keep his legacy. In an emotional promo, Daniels declared that he be measures his life by the tag title that he and Frankie Kazarian holds. Daniels is 46 and Kazarian 39. These are two men that are in the final stages of their long careers, and holding onto that last bit of legacy means everything.

The match itself is one of the greatest gimmick matches of all time. It is difficult to put into words just how much the six men placed their bodies on the line to get tossed from incredible heights, got slammed with all manners of objects, and escalated the violence as the match went on. The finishing move was one of the most brutal looking spots seen in a wrestling ring in the US as the three teams added a bullet point to their already impressive resumes.

11. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Katsuyori Shibata (NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 10)

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Wrestling Thread Rating: 4.81

Where to watch: NJPW World

(written by @turboman)

If you have seen a Tomohiro Ishii vs. Katsuyori Shibata match before, then you knew exactly what this match was going to be. It was going to be Ishii and Shibata kicking/chopping/elbowing/punching/headbutting the hell out of each other. The only difference to note was that this time it was going to be in the Tokyo Dome instead of being in the middle of the G1 Climax.

And that’s the match we got. There is no lock up or early match “feeling out” process. Both of these guys are immediately trying the hurt each other and are continually going back and forth daring each other to hit them harder. It’s like watching two wild animals fight to the death. You can only do this type of match once or so a year or else it would be considered barbaric.

The ending sequence of the match involves both men putting all of their momentum into headbutts towards each other, resulting in a sickening thud every time they do it. In 2016 where unprotected chair shots to the head are pretty much banned everywhere and now wrestling is starting to take concussions much more seriously today than in years past, these headbutts are extremely brutal looking, and somewhat out of place. You'll either love or hate this match due to the headbutts, but either way you have to respect both wrestlers for putting their bodies through the hell they went through in front of the Tokyo Dome.

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