WWE Year in Review: Ranking the Top 25 Best Matches of 2016

Graham GSM Matthews@@WrestleRantFeatured ColumnistDecember 25, 2016

WWE Year in Review: Ranking the Top 25 Best Matches of 2016

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    AJ Styles and John Cena contested a classic at SummerSlam.
    AJ Styles and John Cena contested a classic at SummerSlam.Credit: WWE.com

    Say what you will about the highs and lows WWE has experienced over the course of 2016, but the abundance of amazing wrestling that has transpired across all of WWE's major platforms cannot be denied.

    From a women's revolution taking place to the arrival of AJ Styles to the return of the cruiserweights, 2016 will be remembered as being a banner for WWE, especially inside the squared circle. The year started strong with one of the best Royal Rumble matches in nearly a decade and recently wrapped up with a women's Iron Man match at Roadblock: End of the Line.

    As you will soon see, there were more "Match of the Year" candidates in 2016 than there have been in some time. These types of lists are entirely subjective, but these bouts were the cream of the crop in terms of tremendous wrestling, monumental moments and magnificent storytelling.

    Criteria for the rankings include (but aren't limited to) the match's build, finish, aftermath, lasting impact, overall execution and other factors.

    That being said, let's reflect on the highlights of what has been an astounding year for in-ring action in WWE, NXT and the Cruiserweight Classic.

Honorable Mentions

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Charlotte Flair vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch (WrestleMania 32)

    There were so many amazing women's matches this year in WWE that it was difficult to include them all in the top 25, but this match stands out due to what it represented: the dawn of a new era in WWE's women's division. Flair reigned supreme over her former friends to win the new Women's Championship.

                    

    Triple H vs. Dean Ambrose (Roadblock)

    Before there was the "end of the line," there was the one obstacle separating the Superstars of WWE and WrestleMania 32, and mere weeks ahead of the event, Ambrose had his shot at fulfilling a dream by becoming WWE champion versus Triple H. Although it was fairly predictable that The Game would retain, Ambrose looked strong throughout and nearly had the title won down the stretch.

                   

    Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins vs. Big Cass (Raw, Aug. 29)

    One of the greatest main events on Raw all year came on the Aug. 29 edition of Raw, when four of the red brand's most elite athletes battled for the vacant WWE Universal Championship. The fantastic Fatal 4-Way was capped off by a thrilling finish, as a returning Triple H betrayed Rollins to aid Owens in clinching his first-ever world title. 

                    

    Cesaro vs. Sheamus (Clash of Champions)

    Although the best-of-seven series between Cesaro and Sheamus ended in a draw, all of the matches were well-wrestled, and their final face-off at Clash of Champions was the highlight of the night. They pushed each other to their absolute limits, making them an even better tag team down the road.

                       

    AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho (SmackDown, Feb. 11)

    Styles and Jericho had an excellent feud early on in the year, so it was necessary to include one of their encounters. Of the four matches they contested on TV and on pay-per-view, their outing from the Feb. 11 edition of SmackDown was by far the best, which saw Jericho hand Styles his premiere WWE defeat.

25. AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho vs. Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro (Raw, April 4)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Following a disappointing WrestleMania 32, fans were yearning for something unprecedented and new on the exciting post-WrestleMania edition of Raw. Roman Reigns had recaptured the WWE World Championship the night prior, and with Triple H out of the picture indefinitely, a new No. 1 contender was to be crowned in the main event.

    Chris Jericho, AJ Styles, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn all stepped up to challenge Reigns, and with issues established among all four men, it was bound to be a Fatal 4-Way for the ages. However, Owens injuring Zayn backstage before the bout caused The Underdog from the Underground to pull out of the matchup.

    Despite that, the match remained a Fatal 4-Way after Cesaro made his surprise return as the fourth entrant. He received a raucous reaction from the rowdy crowd as he ripped away his suit and prepared for battle against three of the company's most elite athletes.

    Truth be told, any one of those men could have reigned supreme, making the matchup that much more fun. They all had stellar showings and worked extraordinarily well together.

    Although he fell to Jericho at WrestleMania, Styles avenged his loss to his former tag team partner in this match by beating him with a Styles Clash, becoming the No. 1 contender to the title in the process. It was a changing of the guard and the beginning of Styles' ascent toward the top.

24. Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte Flair (Raw, Nov. 28)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    There is little doubt Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair helped redefine and revolutionize women's wrestling with their spectacular series of matches over the course of 2016. Each of their encounters offered something special, and their latest clash on Raw proved to be better than their bout at Hell in a Cell.

    One week prior, Banks challenged Flair to a rematch for the Raw Women's Championship. This time, however, they would battle on Flair's home turf of Charlotte, North Carolina, so the champ had the obvious advantage.

    They were set to do battle early in the evening on the Nov. 28 episode, but a double count-out cut their contest short. Instead of allowing the match to end in such indecisive fashion, Raw general manager Mick Foley announced they would meet again in the main event in a Falls Count Anywhere match.

    What helped this match stand out above other Falls Count Anywhere outings was that the two wrestlers made excellent use of the stipulation and took the fight all around the arena. The ruthless rivals also brutally battered each other with Kendo sticks, with each of them determined to inflict as much pain as possible on her opponent.

    Before Flair could close in on the win, Banks locked in the Bank Statement through the guardrail. Not only was the innovative maneuver an amazing visual, it earned The Boss her third Raw women's title.

23. TJ Perkins vs. Gran Metalik (Cruiserweight Classic, Sept. 14)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    When the Cruiserweight Classic was initially announced, all that was made clear was that a trophy would be up for grabs. Fans speculated as to whether the tourney would also be used to determine an inaugural cruiserweight champion, though that wouldn't be set in stone until the finals were about to take place.

    On the Cruiserweight Classic finale that took place on Sept. 14, both TJ Perkins and Gran Metalik advanced to the final round with wins over Kota Ibushi and Zack Sabre Jr., respectively. But moments before the bell rang, Triple H came down to the ring and unveiled a new Cruiserweight Championship belt.

    The title would be awarded to the winner of the tournament, making the matchup that much more meaningful. Perkins and Metalik fought their hearts out for the honor of being named the first-ever WWE cruiserweight champ.

    Both men were fan favorites in addition to being evenly matched, so it could have gone either way. But Perkins was able to secure the victory over the Mexico-based grappler to clinch the championship, which brought him to tears. 

    It was an emotional ending to one of the best tournaments WWE has ever produced. The follow-up on Raw was less than stellar, but fans still have that touching moment with Perkins by which to remember the CWC.

22. American Alpha vs. The Revival (NXT TakeOver: The End)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    When The Revival first captured the NXT Tag Team Championships in November 2015, no one expected Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder to hold the twin titles for more than a few months. But following their successful title defenses against The Vaudevillains and Enzo Amore and Big Cass, they proved they were the real deal.

    They then met their match in American Alpha, who they dropped the belts to at NXT TakeOver: Dallas over WrestleMania weekend. The feud was far from over, though, and The Revival continued to chase the championships until it received its rematch at TakeOver: The End.

    Just when you thought they couldn't outdo themselves from Dallas, American Alpha and The Revival contested an even better match. From the suspenseful counters to the phenomenal psychology, it was simply tag team wrestling at its finest.

    Although the fans at Full Sail University were engaged in the action and were red-hot for everything the teams did, not even they could have seen what was coming. With Chad Gable incapacitated at ringside, The Revival nailed Jason Jordan with a Shatter Machine to regain the gold.

    With that win, Dawson and Wilder cemented their names in the record books by becoming the first two-time champions of any kind in NXT. Meanwhile, that loss set the stage for American Alpha to be drafted to SmackDown Live the following month.

21. Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe (NXT TakeOver: Dallas)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    When Samoa Joe was brought into NXT in the spring of 2015, his role was seemingly to add momentum to the black-and-yellow brand. In the months that followed, he caught fire as a heel, and despite coming up short in his pursuit of the NXT Championship at TakeOver: London, he continued to chase the title heading into the new year.

    By beating Sami Zayn in a lengthy 2-out-of-3 Falls match on the March 9 edition of NXT, Joe's title rematch with Finn Balor at TakeOver: Dallas was well-earned. In the weeks that preceded the event, he annihilated everyone who stepped foot in his path of destruction and promised to put Balor on the shelf the next time they clashed.

    Their initial encounter was well-wrestled, but what made their rematch in Dallas even better was Joe's ruthless aggression and desire to do anything it took to win. It started out as any standard singles match, with Joe immediately taking the fight to his foe and delivering some stiff shots.

    In fact, it wasn't long before The Samoan Submission Machine was busted open, with blood dripping down his face as he unleashed total hell on Balor. He came across much more merciless in his onslaught against The Demon.

    Joe had forced Balor to pass out with the patented Coquina Clutch many times before, so once he had it locked in, it was assumed he had the title won. But Balor barely managed to escape the hold by running up the turnbuckle and pinning Joe's shoulders down to the mat.

20. Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte Flair (WWE Roadblock: End of the Line)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair literally took their storied rivalry to new heights when they took part in the first-ever women's Hell in a Cell match in October. In addition to headlining the pay-per-view of the same name that night, Charlotte beat Banks in decisive fashion, yet their ruthless rivalry was still far from over.

    The Boss later regained the Raw Women's Championship on the Nov. 28 episode of Raw, which set the stage for one final face-off at Roadblock: End of the Line. After competing in Hell in a Cell and Falls Count Anywhere matches, it was apparent the only stipulation left befitting of their feud was an Iron Man match.

    Banks previously participated in an Iron Man match with Bayley at TakeOver: Respect and came up short, so this was her chance to redeem herself by overcoming her archrival once and for all. Granted, the early goings weren't anything to write home about and the falls felt rushed at the end, but the overtime was what made the match special.

    Banks tapped out to the Figure Four with two seconds left on the clock, forcing the contest to go into sudden death. With the stakes at an all-time high, they pulled everything out of their arsenal in an attempt to end the rivalry as the superior Superstar.

    For the first time in what felt like ages, Banks was busted open and the blood definitely added to the atmosphere of the matchup. Charlotte winning back the belt was a sight we've seen before, but it was almost hard to be disappointed after such a spectacular showing from both women.

19. Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa (Cruiserweight Classic, Aug. 3)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Among the familiar faces who took part in the inaugural Cruiserweight Classic were Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa. The dynamic duo had been a staple of NXT's stacked tag team division for months, and now they had the chance to compete for the title of the world's greatest cruiserweight.

    Many expected that it was inevitable they would clash in the tournament, though few could have known they would face off in the first round. Only one could advance, so despite their strong friendship, they made it clear they would hold nothing back against each other in the bout.

    And they didn't.

    You could hear the intensity of the blows they were delivering, and these were two wrestlers who respected each other. Imagine what they would have done had they been mortal enemies.

    The exhilarating in-ring action was on par with just about every other match in the Cruiserweight Classic this year, but that drama was something that just couldn't be manufactured. As much as Gargano and Ciampa wanted to win, it was painfully—literally and figuratively—apparent that it killed each of them on the inside to be battering his best friend.

    Gargano was the better man on the night of Aug. 3, and his efforts were applauded by his DIY tag team partner afterward. It will be a depressing day when Gargano and Ciampa do eventually go their separate ways, but at least we'll have more matches like this one to look forward to.

18. Dean Ambrose vs. AJ Styles (Backlash)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    You would have to be lying to yourself if you said AJ Styles was not one of the greatest performers in WWE this year. That will quickly become apparent to you in reading this list and realizing how many of these remarkable matches he was part of.

    Next to winning the WWE Championship, there arguably isn't a bigger accomplishment in the organization than beating John Cena. Once Styles managed to do so on two separate occasions, there wasn't anywhere else for him to go but the WWE Championship scene.

    Styles received his shot at the strap at Backlash, and with it being the first SmackDown-exclusive pay-per-view of the brand extension, the pressure was on for him and Dean Ambrose to deliver an above-average main event matchup.

    Styles was already 0-2 in marquee matches for the title against Roman Reigns earlier in the year, so this was his chance to redeem himself and take what was rightfully his. Ambrose had been a decent champion, but it was time for a change, and The Phenomenal One was the Superstar capable of ushering in the New Era for the blue brand.

    As expected, it was a well-wrestled affair and among Ambrose's best bouts in singles competition up to that point. But not even The Lunatic Fringe could outsmart Styles, who resorted to underhanded tactics behind the referee's back to become WWE champion for the first time in his decorated career. 

17. Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens (Royal Rumble)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Coincidentally enough, Dean Ambrose will end 2016 chasing the same championship that he was pursuing at the start of the year: the intercontinental title. He beat Kevin Owens for the strap in shocking fashion at TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs 2015, and Owens was determined to get the gold back in his grasp in the weeks that followed.

    With their championship clash on the Jan. 7 edition of SmackDown ending in anarchy, the powers that be deemed they would finish off their feud in a Last Man Standing match at the Royal Rumble. A handful of Last Man Standing matches have occurred at the event in the past, but the belt itself had never before been defended in such a stipulation match.

    Owens and Ambrose are notorious for putting their bodies through immense pain in order to get what they want, so it wasn't surprising to see them go all-out in this bout by brutalizing each other with chairs and tables.

    Ambrose has always thrived in the underdog role, so this was the perfect type of match for him to battle back against Owens and eek out the victory. It was an excellent opening to a Royal Rumble event that featured many unpredictable moments.

    Moreover, their feud helped elevate the title to levels never before reached. Ambrose's short-lived title reign was merely a stepping stone to bigger and better things in the months ahead.

16. Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins vs. Roman Reigns (Battleground)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    We all knew the day would come when Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns would collide in a blockbuster Triple Threat match for the ages, but it was a bout better saved for a stage such as WrestleMania or SummerSlam.

    Truth be told, WWE couldn't wait any longer to pull the trigger. Battleground marked the final time the three former Shield members would be on the same show due to the impending brand extension.

    One month earlier, Rollins beat Reigns for the WWE Championship, only for Ambrose to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase and win the title. Thus, every member of The Shield held the prestigious prize within the span of five minutes, so this was as good an opportunity as WWE would get to do the match.

    Although Reigns spent the better part of the build on the sidelines due to his 30-day suspension, it didn't take away from fans' excitement for the anticipated Triple Threat. As soon as the three former allies stood across the ring from each other, there was a certain magic in the air that had been nearly four years in the making.

    Better yet, the match was every bit as awesome as fans figured it would be, but the finishing sequence—with Ambrose pinning Reigns cleanly to retain his title—was a pleasant surprise. Finally, Ambrose won a major match on his own, with the belt becoming property of SmackDown in the process.

15. John Cena vs. AJ Styles (Money in the Bank)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Speaking of matches fans had been waiting a great while to see, John Cena vs. AJ Styles was more than just a few years in the making. They had been the faces of their respective companies for over a decade, and only in 2016 did they cross paths for the first time.

    Money in the Bank has arguably become more of a Big Four pay-per-view than Survivor Series in recent years, especially with the star-studded cards WWE has presented since the event's inception in 2010. This year was no exception, with Cena vs. Styles finally taking place.

    WWE billed the bout as being WrestleMania-worthy, and it wasn't wrong at all to say that. The excitement surrounding the match was huge, and Las Vegas was an electric environment for the matchup at Money in the Bank.

    Styles and Cena had the tough task of living up to those lofty expectations, but they did so spectacularly. Despite never facing off prior to that point, they found instant chemistry with each other and had an incredible match filled with fantastic near-falls and suspenseful counters.

    Furthermore, Styles beating Cena in their first encounter was huge. The Club interfering when it swore it wouldn't was slightly disappointing, but it allowed the rivalry to continue through the summer.

14. AJ Styles vs. John Cena vs. Dean Ambrose (No Mercy)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    John Cena taking time off following his shocking loss to AJ Styles at SummerSlam was a breath of fresh air for the SmackDown scene. In his absence, Styles solidified himself as a main event player by becoming WWE champion.

    Dean Ambrose had his rematch clause and planned on invoking it at the No Mercy pay-per-view. But standing in his way was the returning Cena, who also had unfinished business with Styles and wanted to win his 16th world title.

    Cena didn't do anything to earn a shot at the strap, but the feud benefited from his involvement. He and Ambrose were at odds throughout the feud as well, bringing out an aggressive side of The Lunatic Fringe we had yet to see.

    Due to the presidential debate airing opposite of No Mercy, WWE opted to open with the planned WWE Championship main event. Thus, the three competed as if they were wrestling in the main event slot and contested a tremendous Triple Threat match.

    Styles was against all odds with two credible challengers gunning for the gold, but he somehow found a way to emerge with his title intact. We haven't seen Cena since, though he is slated to return on the final episode of SmackDown in 2016.

13. Team Raw vs. Team SmackDown Live Men's Elimination Match (Survivor Series)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    There was a time when Survivor Series consisted of nothing but elimination tag team matches. As years passed, fewer and fewer were held each year, and there have been installments in the past decade where the elimination tag matches were total afterthoughts.

    With the renewed brand extension, WWE had a golden opportunity to make the most of this year's elimination tag team matchups by pitting the brands against each other. The first would feature the women, the second would feature the tag teams and the third would feature the best male athletes from each show.

    Raw enlisted the illustrious likes of Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman, and SmackDown Live recruited Shane McMahon, AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton. It was an even playing field, and after the first elimination matches underwhelmed, it was up to this one to hit a home run.

    The bout was allotted a ton of time, lasting almost an hour, and the participants more than made the most of it by eliminating each individual in clever fashion. James Ellsworth played a part in getting rid of Strowman, The Shield reunited to take out Styles and Reigns nearly killed McMahon with a scintillating spear.

    There were a ton of memorable moments scattered throughout the bout, and on top of it all, SmackDown solidified its superiority over Raw after Wyatt and Orton lastly eliminated Reigns for the victory. The main event of Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg didn't stand much of a chance at that point.

12. AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose (TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    The AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose feud had already lasted longer than it probably should have by No Mercy, so you can imagine how fans felt by the time their rivalry was set to culminate at TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs in December. Each of their encounters was excellent, but it was the heavy involvement of James Ellsworth and how he took center stage that turned viewers off to the program.

    As noted, Styles and Ambrose never ceased to contest awesome matches together, so it was virtually guaranteed going into the event that their TLC match would blow the roof off the American Airlines Center. Giving them weapons to work with added to the atmosphere and allowed them to innovate off spots they had done in previous matches.

    Styles has taken part in his fair share of hardcore matchups over the course of his career, but nothing else comes close to measuring up to TLC. He had never before been in such a match, but he was right at home with the tables, ladders and chairs.

    Ambrose shined at several points during the match, including when he jumped off a ladder and when he suplexed Styles onto a line of chairs. However, that still paled in comparison to The Phenomenal One's awe-inspiring 450 splash through a table at ringside.

    Ellsworth costing Ambrose the match was hardly a surprise for most, given that it had been telegraphed weeks in advance, but it was what needed to happen. Regardless of how it happened, Styles walked out with the title in tow.

11. The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler (No Mercy)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    The Miz and Dolph Ziggler have been battling each other for years, so when they rekindled their rivalry after SummerSlam, there wasn't a ton of buzz heading into their latest Intercontinental Championship program.

    Shortly thereafter, The Miz got the entire wrestling world talking with his scathing promo on Talking Smack that lit a fire under The Awesome One. All of a sudden, his feud with Ziggler became must-see television each week on SmackDown, and Ziggler held up his end with captivating mic work as well.

    The former world heavyweight champion fell short of winning the title on two separate occasions, and in order to get one last shot at the strap, he needed to put something of his own on the line against The Miz. All he had left was his career, so had he lost at No Mercy, he would have walked away from the company forever.

    The Miz had everything going for him at that point: his long reign as champ, Maryse and The Spirit Squad. That said, Ziggler was at a distinct disadvantage in their No Mercy match, but the crowd rallied behind him and desperately wanted to see a new champion crowned.

    Ziggler dug down deeper and powered out of everything The Miz dished out. Although interference nearly cost him the championship yet again, he was wise enough to not fall for it and instead nailed The Miz with a Zig-Zag for the emotional victory.

10. Kota Ibushi vs. The Brian Kendrick (Cruiserweight Classic, Aug. 31)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    The Brian Kendrick was once a staple of WWE's tag team division for several years before joining the singles ranks in 2008 on the SmackDown brand. Once his short-lived push ran its course, he was released from the company in 2009.

    It was a long road back to WWE for The Wizard of Odd. Seven years since we had seen him last (save for a one-off appearance in NXT), he resurfaced this past year as part of the Cruiserweight Classic. He said from the get-go that he was willing to do anything necessary to earn another contract with WWE, so his sights were set on winning the inaugural tournament.

    Kendrick's first- and second-round matchups against Raul Mendoza and Tony Nese, respectively, weren't exactly easy wins for him, but they weren't the same caliber of competitors as Kota Ibushi. The New Japan Pro Wrestling star had an exhilarating rise to the third round as well, and their clash of styles was bound to be a blast.

    There aren't many adjectives that can be used to describe this masterpiece of a match other than dramatic and impassioned. Both agile athletes laid it all on the line, though it was Ibushi who punched his ticket to the Cruiserweight Classic finale by beating Kendrick.

    Kendrick may not have fulfilled his goal of coming out on top in the tourney, but what he did earn was the fans' respect. Everyone in the arena applauded him afterward before good friend Daniel Bryan wept with him in the ring as the show faded to black.

9. Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles (Extreme Rules)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    AJ Styles was a main event-caliber competitor the moment he walked into WWE at the Royal Rumble, but it did take time for him to convince officials he was every bit as phenomenal as fans claimed he was. After proving his worth in his feud with Chris Jericho, Styles transitioned into a starring role by challenging Roman Reigns for the WWE World Championship at Payback.

    Although Reigns walked away as champion on that night, there's a decent chance Styles might have won the title had it not been for interference from The Usos and The Club. It was made official that same night that they would meet again at Extreme Rules in a match where there would be no disqualifications or count-outs.

    Reigns and Styles were both babyfaces at the time, so the crowd chose who it wanted to cheer for throughout their feud. At Extreme Rules, the audience was largely behind Styles, which worked to his advantage as he beat up The Big Dog all around the arena.

    Granted, The Usos and The Club once again ran down to ringside to help out their allies, but in this case, their involvement actually added to the match due to there being no rules. Styles showed a more ruthless side than usual by battering Reigns with a steel chair over and over, but Reigns survived the onslaught and pinned Styles with a spear for the hard-fought victory.

    Reigns retaining his title wasn't exactly the outcome fans were hoping for that night, but Seth Rollins' surprise return from injury afterward helped sweeten the mood just a bit.

8. TJ Perkins vs. Kota Ibushi (Cruiserweight Classic, Sept. 14)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Kota Ibushi was the fan favorite to win the entire Cruiserweight Classic as soon as his involvement was announced at the start of the summer. His impressive body of work from Japan spoke for itself, and now, he was about to take his talents to the United States and show WWE fans what he was all about.

    In the first three rounds of the tourney, Ibushi contested incredible matches with the likes of Sean Maluta, Cedric Alexander and The Brian Kendrick. At the Cruiserweight Classic finale, he was set to collide with TJ Perkins in a semifinal match.

    Perkins had an unexpected rise to the top of the tournament himself, but he was virtually no match for Ibushi on paper. Despite that, he looked like nothing less than an equal to Ibushi throughout the bout.

    Not only did he hold his own against Ibushi, but Perkins also pushed him more than anyone else before him. After kicking out of the powerbomb that had put away so many opponents for Ibushi in the past, Perkins secured his TJP Clutch submission maneuver on Ibushi and forced him to tap out.

    As discussed earlier, Perkins went on to contest a classic with Gran Metalik in the finals, but some may say he won the tournament right then and there. It was a career-defining victory for the video game aficionado and an amazing match to boot.

7. The Miz vs. Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn (Extreme Rules)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    The Intercontinental Championship may not be at the same level it was back in the 1980s or even mid-'90s, but it feels more prestigious than it has in well over a decade.

    The Miz, surprisingly enough, has had quite a bit to do with that. From when he regained the title the night after WrestleMania 32 to now, he has done a superb job of making that title the single most coveted championship in all of WWE.

    His first tremendous defense of the strap occurred at Extreme Rules, where he went up against Cesaro, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. All three men had been in hot pursuit of the prize for months, so this Fatal 4-Way presented them with the opportunity to win the title without having to pin the champion.

    With most multiman matches, there is a stretch of time when one of the competitors is on the outside or there isn't anything going on. However, that was far from the case in this contest, as all four men were constantly interjecting themselves in the action, and there never seemed to be a dull moment.

    Zayn would have had the title won had it not been for Owens, and once they brawled up the stage, The Miz capitalized and pinned Cesaro to win the match. This was as great a Fatal 4-Way match as you'll ever see, and it's safe to say the stock of the intercontinental title was raised coming out of it.

6. The Revival vs. DIY (NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Long before they were officially signed by the brand, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa teamed up on occasion in NXT dating back to the fall of 2015. They were never viewed as threats to the titles because they were mainly utilized as enhancement talents.

    However, once teams such as American Alpha and Enzo Amore and Big Cass were promoted to the main roster, that allowed Gargano and Ciampa to rise up in their absences. They began building momentum with a win over The Vaudevillains shortly after TakeOver: Dallas before later beating The Revival in a non-title match in early June.

    That shocking upset victory planted the seeds for the feud that would heat up between the two tandems over the summer. In less than one year, Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder went from being no-names to total stars, and there was nothing stopping the duo now known as DIY from doing the same.

    TakeOver: Brooklyn II was filled with awesome outings, but even better than Bayley vs. Asuka II and the premiere Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Samoa Joe match was The Revival vs. DIY for the NXT Tag Team Championships. Similar to the series of matches The Revival had with American Alpha earlier in the year, these two teams managed to perfect the art of tag team wrestling.

    There was one stellar spot that saw Gargano nearly capture the twin titles for himself and Ciampa, only to discover Wilder's foot was on the bottom rope. The fans in Brooklyn believed they were about to witness new champions crowned, only to be disappointed when The Revival beat DIY by way of submission.

5. Cedric Alexander vs. Kota Ibushi (Cruiserweight Classic, Aug. 10)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    When two wrestlers face each other without much of a story behind their bout, it is that much more difficult for them to contest anything above an average match. Without a narrative for fans to be familiar with or get engaged in, they simply have to enjoy the in-ring action for what it is.

    Therefore, the wrestlers have to produce something special in order to capture the audience's attention, and Kota Ibushi and Cedric Alexander were successful in their efforts to not only steal the show, but also contest a classic.

    Ibushi and Alexander impressed audience members with their respective outings in the first round of the Cruiserweight Classic, but when they went one-on-one, they captured lightning in a bottle. Despite both wrestlers being new to the WWE scene, those in attendance were electric for everything they did.

    Alexander's aerial arsenal combined with Ibushi's hard-hitting style made this match a real treat for fans. The Cruiserweight Classic arguably peaked early with one of the top five matches of the year.

    Once Ibushi scored the victory, Alexander was left in the ring to a standing ovation and chants of "Please sign Cedric!" from the crowd. Triple H then pulled an audible by coming through the curtain and endorsing Alexander by raising his hand. That will go down as one of the coolest sights we have seen all year.

4. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens (Battleground)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens had one of the best feuds of 2015 down in NXT, but unfortunately, it was cut short after Zayn got injured prior to his first singles match on Raw against John Cena. That said, fans knew it was inevitable they would rekindle their rivalry upon Zayn's return.

    In the 2016 Royal Rumble match, Zayn came out as a surprise entrant and eliminated Owens from the match. The ruthless rivalry descended into chaos from there, with the two crossing paths in various ladder matches, Fatal 4-Ways and tag team matchups on Raw.

    Battleground marked the end of an era for WWE, and as such, Zayn and Owens needed to settle their score in case they were separated by the brand split. They promised their Battleground bout would be their final face-off, and although it wasn't, it was by far the strongest match of their feud and one of the most monumental matches all year.

    The chemistry Owens and Zayn share is simply remarkable, and with as many matches as they have had, one would assume they would repeat the same spots. As it turns out, each of them is a master of innovation, and the storytelling in this match was sensational.

    For almost two years, The Underdog from the Underground couldn't defeat his rival, though he was finally able to beat his biggest demon at Battleground. Don't expect this to be the last time these two clash on a major stage, either.

3. The Revival vs. DIY (NXT TakeOver: Toronto)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Sequels not being as good as the originals is a universal fact of life, especially in pro wrestling. A prime example would be The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, as the two had one of the greatest matches of all time at WrestleMania XXV, but they couldn't capture that same magic the following year.

    The Revival and DIY produced one of the best bouts in NXT's illustrious history at TakeOver: Brooklyn II, so how they were going to match that effort, let alone top it, was unknown. The bad blood continued to simmer between the two teams in the months that followed, leading to a 2-out-of-3 Falls match at the subsequent special in Toronto.

    It was only a few months earlier when The Revival toppled American Alpha in a match with a similar stipulation, so it had the advantage heading into the contest. That was in addition to how the bout had been teased for months. Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa could potentially be going their separate ways, and that appeared to be the direction they were going in after Gargano lost the first fall.

    The second fall was a bit better than the first, with DIY hitting its finisher for the win, but as the teams entered the third fall, they tapped into that next gear and delivered a fantastic finishing sequence. The lively crowd in Toronto bought into every near-fall and added to the excitement of the match, and it could have gone either way.

    Being the old-school villains they are, Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder attempted to cheat whenever they could to come out on top with their titles intact. But in the end, they were caught in the middle of the ring with a pair of submission holds that they had no choice but to tap out to.

2. John Cena vs. AJ Styles (SummerSlam)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    You would be hard-pressed to name more than a few feuds John Cena actually lost. Rarely, if ever, is he not the last man standing in his feud, and even if he loses the first match, he typically comes back to win the second and third.

    That seemed to be the case when AJ Styles beat Cena at Money in the Bank, especially considering it was via nefarious means. Although Cena pinned him in six-man tag team action at Battleground, he still had yet to defeat him one-on-one.

    Their rivalry heated up leading into SummerSlam, where they were scheduled to go to war one last time. For as extraordinary as their initial encounter was, their second match was even more magical, bringing back memories of the string of stellar matches Cena had with CM Punk five years earlier.

    After both men kicked out of the other's signature moves, it became a question of what it would take to put the other away. Cena virtually had the match won when he hit Styles with an Attitude Adjustment off the top rope, but Styles survived.

    The stunned look on Cena's face told the entire story, and without help from The Club or anyone else, The Phenomenal One connected with one final Phenomenal Forearm for the clean victory. If there was ever an endorsement by the company of Styles' ability to be a top star, that was it.

1. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn (NXT TakeOver: Dallas)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Much like many of the matches we witnessed throughout the Cruiserweight Classic, Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura didn't have any semblance of a story behind it. Zayn had just fallen short of becoming the No. 1 contender to the NXT Championship when it was announced by NXT general manager William Regal that he would face the debuting Nakamura at TakeOver: Dallas.

    By that point, Zayn was already an active member of the main roster, so it was apparent the match would serve as his swan song from NXT. Meanwhile, Nakamura needed to make as grand an impression as possible if he was going to experience success on the black-and-yellow brand.

    Those familiar with Nakamura's work on the Japanese wrestling scene knew he would be a blockbuster addition to the roster, and putting him in the same ring as Zayn was a Match of the Year candidate waiting to happen.

    Nakamura's entrance alone gave everyone goosebumps, and the match that followed was unbelievable. As the heart and soul of NXT, Zayn had his best showing since returning from injury, and Nakamura remained unchanged from who he was before coming to WWE.

    When you watch the bout again, you'll notice there isn't anything wrong with it, and as Zayn's final outing in NXT, he couldn't have left on a higher note. As for Nakamura, he became WWE's hottest commodity his first night in the company and is bound for big things once he eventually joins Zayn on the main stage.

                   

    Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is a Digital Journalism major at Endicott College. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.