2016 Brass Ring Awards Day 5 (Top 25 Matches of the Year #10-1)

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Top 25 Matches of the Year (25-21) (20-11)

10. Dragon Gate Dead or Alive 2016

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Wrestling Thread Rating: 5

Where to watch: The Internet

(written by @hadoken101)

Dead or Alive is Dragon Gate’s yearly event where 6 competitors compete in an elimination cage match where the loser is shaved bald (or loses their mask if they have one) and will not be allowed to grow their hair back for a full year. Throughout the PPV leading up to the match, a series of matches determine who will be the Dead or Alive participants’ delegates who face similar punishment if their assigned wrestler loses the match without freeing them. Before someone can escape the cage and save themselves, they must first score a pinfall or submission to free their delegate. Beyond that, the delegates outside of the cage can do anything they want to ensure their man wins: firing soccer balls out of a pitching machine, pies to the face, rocket punches, anything is legal.

If that all sounded super confusing, welcome to Dragon Gate. And despite that all sounding completely wacky and silly, the back half of this match is actually one of the most emotionally investing stories I’ve seen all year.

This year’s competitors were 6/7 members of VerzerK (Mondai Ryu managed to get out by winning a match) the major heel faction in the company. In the months leading up to this match, tension had been building VerserK’s leader Shingo Takagi and YAMATO. This divide in the faction had split the faction with Naoki Tanizaki and Naruki Doi siding with YAMATO and Shingo being backed by Kotoka and Cyber Kong.

The first half of this match is fun with a mix of DG’s “LuchaResu” blend of Mexican and Japanese styles of wrestling along with the absurd and often hilarious interference from the delegates. However, once it gets down to Kotoka, Doi, Shingo, and YAMATO, the match takes a turn in tone.

At one point, YAMATO has a chance to escape but, seeing his long time tag partner Doi getting beat down by Shingo and Kotoka, decides instead to climb back down and save his best friend. From there, things start to go downhill for him. Through the rest of the match, both Tanizaki and Doi turn on YAMATO, leaving him betrayed, without a faction, and on the verge of losing the match. In an equally shocking turn, members of the roster begin coming out to help YAMATO, including BxB Hulk returning from injury.

The post match promo from YAMATO brings it all together, with him swearing vengeance on his former best friend Doi and the rest of VerseK as well as delivering a tearful apology to the crowd and his three saviors for being the villain he was for the past three years, admitting he was wrong in calling himself the Almighty and that he really didn’t know anything. It’s one of the best and most well earned face turns I’ve seen in years and absolutely makes this one of the best matches of the year.

9. Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (NXT Takeover: Dallas)

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Wrestling Thread Rating: 4.96153846

Where to watch: WWE Network

(written by @milkman)

It would be hard to blame anyone for being nervous when the WWE signed Shinsuke Nakamura in January. The WWE’s track record with Japanese stars is poor, to say the least. It alleviated some of those fears to see Nakamura having his debut match against someone like Sami Zayn. It seemed appropriate that Zayn, who during his time at the brand was the face of NXT, would pass the torch to a new face in his final match. If there was any doubt that NXT would be good hands with Zayn gone, those doubts were dissipated by the end of the match. From the moment Nakamura’s music hits, the atmosphere in the arena is off the charts with the crowd absolutely losing their minds for both men before they even lock up. Nakamura’s charisma instantly shows that it will translate perfectly to the WWE style, a special gift that allows Nakamura to eliminate much of the same hurdles that were a death sentence for many Japanese wrestlers in the WWE in the past. Nakamura speaks the language of professional wrestling better than just about anyone in the world, which can easily break down any language barrier. Zayn, to his credit, has no problem looking like he belongs across the ring from one of the very best wrestlers in the world and matches him move for move. Zayn is never better than when he’s wrestling desperate as he does in the final minutes of this match, throwing everything he’s got at Nakamura to no avail. In the end, it’s Nakamura who gets the win and takes the throne at the top of NXT but Zayn had one more classic performance in him before he walked out that door.

8. Kazuchika Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito (NJPW Dominion)

Wrestling Thread Rating: 4.428571

Where to watch: NJPW World

(written by @drdarkstryfe)

Naito’s win over Okada at the Invasion Attack event was the exclamation point on Naito’s return to New Japan. With the title win over the golden boy of NJPW, Naito’s popularity soared as he become the top guy in a promotion that overlooked him time and time again. Okada was given his rematch at the Dominion event in June. Unlike the match in April, this showdown was not punctuated by constant interference by the rest of Naito’s Los Ingobernables stable mates, but was more personal fight.

The start of the match had Naito send back the rest of Los Ingobernables to the locker as Okada taunted Naito into a one on one battle. From the bell ring, it was a high impact match that saw the two trying to outdo the other with the fight spilling outside of the ring several time.

As the match wore on, the ever growing threat of interference was there, but it never came. Okada was able take advantage of Naito trying to hit a second Destino to reverse the momentum to a win.

7. Cedric Alexander vs. Kota Ibushi (CWC)

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Wrestling Thread Rating: 4.75

Where to watch: WWE Network

(written by @milkman)

Looking back, it’s a miracle that the Crusierweight Classic happened at all. There’s really no good reason why the WWE of old would bring in a bunch of indie wrestlers from around the world, let alone a bunch of indie wrestlers who are under 210 pounds. But 2016 was the year where wrestling stopped making sense so of course, the singles match of the year in WWE was between a slimmed down Cedric Alexander and an un-signed Kota Ibushi. Beyond the obviously great wrestling that takes place, what elevates the match to a cut above the other matches in the CWC is the real life stakes attached to it. Alexander gave up a Ring of Honor contract and dropped about 25 pounds in order to enter the CWC but entry into the tournament didn’t come with the guarantee of a contract after it was over. Alexander had two matches to earn a contract and justify walking away from guaranteed money from ROH. By the end of his match with Ibushi, he had Full Sail chanting “Please Sign Cedric”, a live co-sign from Triple H and soon after the CWC, a roster spot on Raw. Fair to say, he justified the risk. Up against the favorite to win the entire tournament, Alexander had the match of his life and elevated himself from another solid indie wrestler to one of the very best cruiserweights on the planet.

6. Kazuchika Okada vs. Tomohiro Ishii (NJPW G1 Climax Night 13)

Fire is the exact description for this match.
Fire is the exact description for this match.

Wrestling Thread Rating: 4.90909091

Where to watch: NJPW World 2:13:00

(written by @aronleon)

Before we begin there is one thing you should know about Tomohiro Ishii, even tho he looks like he doesnt care about anything and might have killed before the truth is he is the biggest bro in Chaos(the faction he and Okada are part of) you see every single time any member of Chaos was ambushed the only one that ever comes out to help is Ishii, when you need a helping hand you can count on him.

Knowing this you already made the an idea of how this match will go, it could be ok but your head is saying we all know who is winning this, that idea last for 48 seconds trust me I counted, then Ishii reminds you that HE DOES NOT FUCK AROUND after a very normal clean break Okada gets a lariat that almost takes his head off, on this night at this very moment Tomohiro Ishii is not fighting his pal and leader from Chaos, he is fighting the current IWGP Champion and has every intention to prove he is a worthy contender, after the initial shock Okada knows this will not be easy, both men go all out trading moves with so much intensity and ferocity you could swear they hated each, hearing the crowd loose their minds adds to this insane match, after what it feels like a damn war Ishii finally takes the victory and when you get Jushin Thunder Liger on his feat claping you know it was a special match, let this be a reminder that if you ever find yourself face to face with the Stone Pitbull he will BITE U.

5. Mount Rushmore vs Matt Sydal, Ricochet, & Will Ospreay (PWG BOLA Night 2)

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Wrestling Thread Rating: 5

Where to watch: BOLA Night 2 DVD

(written by @hadoken101)

Many times The Young Bucks have been asked how they would describe their flavor of wrestling and every time the answer is the same: they want to go out there and create a party atmosphere, giving the audience the chance have as much fun as they are having in the ring. This mentality has created a very divisive split amongst wrestling fans with some preferring a more classic realistic style. This progressed to wrestlers like the Bucks, Ricochet, and Ospreay coming under fire recently from veterans of the business saying that they’re ruining wrestling by making it seem “fake”. The main event of BOLA Night 2 was a culmination of all of this and one giant middle finger to wrestling traditionalists.

After first watching the match, the best way I could describe it was as the Mad Max: Fury Road of professional wrestling; it’s got a barely-there story to tie together the magnificent, mind-blowing action. The Young Bucks & Adam Cole as Mount Rushmore have been together since 2013 as the primary heel force in the company and this match was yet another chance to take them down a peg. Beyond that, this match is simply a series of sequences that are almost impossible to believe you’re seeing performed live, and the crowd loves absolutely every second of it.

Besides one noticeable botch early on (that is covered up and hand waved impressively well with some quick thinking), everything in the match is spectacular. These guys (Ospreay, Ricochet, and the Bucks in particular), have absolutely mastered their high energy style and they display their creativity in full force here. I could easily just sit here and name off cool moments from the match but I’d be here for at least a page and a half. From when Ricochet had me feeling like a child believing in superheroes again when he pulled out an insane 1v3 series that looked like it could have come out of The Raid, to the absolutely unreal finishing sequence that had the whole room on their feet screaming, the whole experience was a full on adrenaline rush.

Special shout out to Chuck Taylor and Excalibur on commentary for simultaneously making jokes about the people in the match like MST3K and absolutely losing their minds when the crazy stuff started happening. The levity they brought in the commentary perfectly set up the feeling of watching crazy dumb action movies with your friends.

4. Will Opsreay vs Ricochet (NJPW Battle of the Super Juniors Day 6)

Wrestling Thread Rating: 5

Where to watch: NJPW World 2:09:00

(written by @ht101)

As we move into the fourth best match of the year, I wanted to write about this one specifically for a couple of reasons. The first is that this was one of the first matches that introduced me to New Japan Pro Wrestling. In my life, I have only watched WWE and Lucha Underground(LU), with a little bit of mid 2000s TNA from time to time. Because of this, I was ignorant of wrestling that took place around the world. I knew it existed but I had no way to search it out so I left it alone. This year, I started to watch wrestling with other like minded people here on Giant Bomb and they opened my eyes and my mind to wrestling around the world. This brings us to the match.

To set the stage, let’s talk about the two people involved in this match. Ricochet is a wrestler I was familiar with because he is also Prince Puma in LU. I have loved watching him the past two seasons and feel his is one of the best wrestlers in the world. The other man, Will Ospreay, is someone I had never heard of before this year but I would see a lot of him as the year went on.

They start off reversing and countering each other for a good 4 minutes or so and this builds to the most insane reversal/counter/show off sequence of the year. This is what got people talking about this match and it was amazing enough that I had to search this match out for myself. I can’t really describe how it was, so here is a video of that sequence:

After that sequence, they start trading off moves that are slowing beginning to grow in both impact and look. You realize that they are going to try and oneup each other and continue to go for bigger and bigger moves. The other thing that leads to this being an amazing match is that the crowd chants during the match. Crowds in Japan are normally some of the most polite fans in all of wrestling. When a crowd that is normally quiet with some polite clapping and cheering reacts like this, you know that you are watching a seminal match from that year.

The match comes to an end after Ricochet goes for his 630 Splash but misses. Before this, there are two different times he hits a suplex and then deadlifts Ospreay for another suplex. After the miss, Ospreay then took over and finally beat him. Ospreay also went on to win this tournament so this match was one of his toughest contests on his way to the trophy.

The biggest thing to come out of this match was the controversy of some people, most notably Vader, came out and said this was not a wrestling match. They likened it to more of a gymnastic match and that it had too much “flippy shit” in it. The other thing brought up was that there was no story told during the match. Those people, I believe, are wrong and here is why: these guys played to their strength to help tell the story. They are super athletic and decided to use that in order to tell the story: two men who are super athletic and confident in their abilities to help them win the match. They decided they had to show they were the best and this was by doing crazy move upon crazier move until they either won or messed up. Ricochet messed up first and Ospreay won because of it. This was not the way stories are normally told in wrestling but it was how THIS story had to be told.

3. DIY vs The Revival NXT Takeover: Toronto

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Wrestling Thread Rating: 4.70588235

Where to watch: WWE Network

(written by @gorillamopena)

After failing to capture the NXT tag titles #DIY and their Do It Yourself #brand were given one last shot (or at least as much as anything in wrestling is) at the Revival’s tag team championships at NXT Takeover: Toronto in a ⅔ falls match.

The first fall of the match ends with Dawson catching Gargano out of a slingshot spear for the Shatter Machine. A display that despite all the underhanded tactics that the Revival uses, that they can also prove that they can be just a better unit than any other team.

The second fall is the struggle of Gargano desperately trying to tag out of the match and the Revival pulling every single trick they have to prevent him. Including one sequence where Dawson cuts between Gargano and Ciampa, Garano fights off both members of the Revival, only to have Wilder scramble underneath the ring to hold Ciampa. And even when Gargano fights off the Revival one more time to finally make the tag, Wilder is able to distract the ref so he doesn’t see it. The entire gorgeous sequence ends with with the Revival, wearing their pink and black ring gear in Canada, delivering a Hart Attack to Gargano for a near fall. One of the better sequences of the year where all the participants, including the ref, just flowed freely from spot to stop to chain together the sequence.

The final fall for the most part is a throwback to the #DIY vs Revival match from NXT Takover: Brooklyn II where Gargano attempts to survive on a damaged leg after kicking the title held up by Dawson. Surviving that and a chop block to his other leg, #DIY was able to get over the hurdle that ended them at NXT Takeover Brooklyn II. And send with Gargano and Ciampa locking submissions on both Revival members as the Revival hold hands trying to come up with anything else to save their titles before ultimately tapping out at the same time.

All three falls of this match told their own small story within the grander tale of this feud. The entire match, but especially the second fall, had an pace and spots that all build on to top of each other. The match propelled #DIY and their #brand to the top of the NXT tag division while also showing that Revival are the true top guys in wrestling.

2. Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (NJPW G1 Climax Night 17)

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Wrestling Thread Rating: 5

Where to watch: NJPW World

(written by @aronleon)

By this point the G1 tournament has had some of the best matches in the whole year but you might be wondering how is the same match twice on this list, well im glad you asked this match has been descrived as the perfect match not only for the in ring quality but the way it was handle, a lot is riding on this match who ever wins takes A Block and goes on the to finals, its also a very anticipated rematch from WK and finally who ever wins this match will prove if their first match at the start of the year was fluke or not.

Unlike the championship match this has a 30 minute time limit that makes things go faster than usual both men know they dont have much time to waste and they need to use every second, once the match start they each pic a spot to work as much damage as posible to take the victory, Tanahashi recently healed shoulder and Okada´s leg will take a lot of punishment before this is over. For most of this match it feels the match is very even and could end at any point but once we start to get near the end the tide turns in Tanahashi´s favor however Okada is not going down just when you think a second High Fly Flow might end it Okada kicks out and its then that the bell rings signaling the end of the match in the end neither was able to put the other one down making Hirooki Goto the winner of A Block.

In any other circustance this ending could have been a disapointment but the story of how both men gave their all and how a single 30 minute match is not enough for this 2 feels earned and thats how this match became the only other 5 star rated match to feature the same wrestlers on the same year a testament on how important in ring storytelling can be and how its our number 2 match of 2016.

1. Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito (G1 Climax Night 18)

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Wrestling Thread Rating: 5

Where to watch: NJPW World

(written by @turboman)

At the beginning of 2016, the big news of AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura leaving NJPW for WWE came out of nowhere. All of the sudden, there was two spots vacant in the top four promoted wrestlers in the company (often referred to as the “Aces” of New Japan). Tetsuya Naito was going to be the first guy who was picked to fill a spot, already coming off of an extremely successful 2015(We gave him the “Most Improved” award last year). It seemed pretty easy to use that momentum and turn him into one of the permanent fixtures of the main event scene by the end of Spring this year.

The second person was going to be Kenny Omega (who turned out to be our favorite Wrestler of the Year). Omega solidified himself later in the year as a current day Ace of the company by winning the G1 Climax in a finals match against Hiroki Goto (which ended up being our #15 match of the year). Before Kenny Omega gets Goto, he has to defeat Tetsuya Naito in the semi-finals.

The crowd is immediately on fire for this fresh matchup. It’s somewhat obvious that whoever is going to win this match is most likely also going to win the finals as well over Hiroki Goto and the crowd knows it. The early parts of the match has Naito attacking Omega’s knee. There are glimpses of Omega comebacks, but Naito continuously cuts him off with a knee strike and contains Omega for the opening 15 minutes. And then Omega finds a way to hit a desperation combination of moves together to turn the momentum: a powerbomb through the announcers table followed by an incredible springboard flip from the ring to outside the guard rails.

After this moment, the lid really comes off and both guys just go back and forth. It’s really incredible to watch two wrestlers look so natural in the ring. One of the key things to note is that the night before Tanahashi and Okada went to a 30 minute draw which eliminated both of them, so the possibility of a draw was really present in the match and added another layer of excitement. The match did end at 28 minutes with Kenny Omega coming away as the victor. This was the first out of hopefully many that we’ll see out of Omega and Naito, and it paved the way for the first ever matchup of Kenny Omega and the current top Ace of the company, Kazuchika Okada.

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