The Dark Match Best of 2016 – Matt’s Top 10 – They Don’t Want None

In sitting down to consider my favorite 10 matches of 2016, I realized that they were predominantly one of two things.  A) They were NXT matches or B) AJ Styles was part of it.  The Phenomenal One has carried both the WWE and his competition for me this year, even if the workload seems to have aged him 10 years already.

10) Cesaro and Sheamus claim the WWE Tag Team Titles – WWE Roadblock: End of the Line (12/18)

I was torn with the Number 10 spot.  I think this match won out over the No Mercy bout between Miz and Ziggler simply because of the “what have you done for me lately?” Factor.  Cesaro is a lot like AJ Styles for me.  Anytime he’s performing in the ring, I’m watching intently.  The man is a physical marvel, and it’s about damn time he start to get the credit he deserves from the company.  This Tag Championship reign can’t possibly last, as tensions were already pretty damn high going in to claiming the belts and then seemed to get a touch worse when Sheamus crapped on the moment the humble and sportsmanlike Cesaro was having with The New Day.  This match was damn good though.  And those new red tag belts are the shit!!!

9) Dean Ambrose vs HHH – World Heavyweight Championship – WWE Roadblock (The first one) (3/12)

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Roadblock just sort of popped up out of nowhere in the gap between Fastlane and Wrestlemania last year, and it wasn’t bad, at all.  In fact, I legitimately thought Ambrose had a chance to leave the show with the title that night, as earlier in the weekend WWE launched the first of the “Inmate Runs the Asylum” t-shirts.  It was just a great match that both proved Triple H still had it in him to run the lengthy match with a young, fast competitor and solidified the idea that Ambrose was a legit Championship contender, which he would capitalize on later in the year.  Was just a great match.

8) Finn Balor vs Samoa Joe – NXT Championship Cage Match – NXT TakeOver: The End (6/8)

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There were probably multiple options in the Joe-Balor rivalry that could have gone here.  The “Let Joe Bleed” match in Dallas was a good one.  There was something about the storytelling that culminated at The End that made it more important to me than the others.  You knew the brand split and draft were coming and more than anyone on the NXT roster, you knew Finn Balor was leaving for the show.  The MuscleBuster off the top rope was pretty awesome too.

7) American Alpha vs The Revival – NXT Tag Team Championship – NXT TakeOver: Dallas (4/1)

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I had been high on American Alpha for quite a while already, but you put them in the ring with my favorite tag team in professional wrestling right now, The Revival, and it’s a recipe for success.  Gable and Jordan bring that spark that Kurt Angle brought, and the same level of authenticity and credibility to the ring.  This was a fantastic match, even being the live trying to watch it from the nosebleeds in an excruciating amount of pain from the shingles flareup I was going through.

6) Sasha Banks vs Charlotte – Hell in a Cell Match – Hell in a Cell

Some part of me wanted to not include them on this list.  Mostly because I’m really just burnt out on it.  I also didn’t want to use the Hell in a Cell match because of the piss poor lead up to it with Mick Foley trying to make it seem like they weren’t capable.  But all things considered, as soon as Charlotte laid Sasha out from the get go before the cage had even come down, I knew it was going to be a good one.  I’ve been lobbying for a long time for the women to get their own Money in the Bank, mostly because there is a women’s division logjam and giving the extra suspense of the MITB to the division might help freshen it up, since they clearly only want to work two women against each other, on both programs, for months on end and sort of forget the rest of the women exist.  Yes, Nikki Bella and Carmella have a storyline, but it is kind of setting the Revolution back a bit.  Sasha Banks is not one of my favorites.  I know that puts me at odds with the Smark community, but her face character is complete shit and I’m tired of seeing her cry every other time she’s holding a microphone.  The Spider-Man maneuver off the side of the cage however….well done.  Taking a powerbomb through an announcer’s table….bravo.  These two women were both already good in ring performers, but they bring something better out in each other.  Charlotte is a fantastic athlete, and I’m really hoping that a run with Bayley does the same thing for her, because if Charlotte and Bayley can elevate each other, you’ll forget this Sasha Banks title run ever happened.

5) Intercontinental Title 6-Man Ladder Match – Wrestlemania 32

Going in to Wrestlemania 32, Vegas odds on this match had both Stardust and Zack Ryder with 33:1 odds of walking away with the belt.  To put it in perspective, Kevin Owens had 1/2 odds, clearly the odds on favorite.  There was so much great stuff in this match, and it came on the heels of a 6 month stretch where the most important thing on the card felt like the Intercontinental Championship.  The back and forth between Ambrose and Owens over it, Ziggler was in the mix, Miz has always been around.  But this match gave us two really great moments.  Stardust using the polka dot ladder in honor of The American Dream…

And Zack Ryder pushing Miz off the ladder and claiming the Intercontinental Championship.  I never had a doubt, and I still Woo Woo Woo.  Get well soon, Bro.

4)  AJ Styles vs Roman Reigns – WWE World Heavyweight Championship – WWE Extreme Rules

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In a testament to just how damn high AJ Styles elevates his opponents, put him in an Extreme Rules match against a man who receives the level of hatred and shit from the Smark community the likes of which I’ve never seen for everything from his appearance to his in-ring ability and moveset to his appearance and mic skills.  This match was fantastic, and it left some sort of lingering affect on Reigns, as I can say that he’s performed right at this same level or better since.  Thank you AJ, maybe Reigns will actually start to see some love from the Universe.

3) AJ Styles vs John Cena – “The Armband” – WWE Summerslam (

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Have you ever noticed the trend that some of the best stories that WWE tells are those that come from just quiet moments?  John Cena was just defeated.  Not only defeated, he tapped out.  “Never Give Up” John had just given up.  And as he sat in the middle of the ring, knowing full well that he had to leave to satisfy his filming schedule for American Grit, it was still a fantastic way to lend a quiet pause to the already storied rivalry between two of the greatest performers that the WWE will ever have.  Can’t you hear the promo when he gets back next week already?  “At Summerslam, I did what I’ve always said I would never do…I gave up.  So I took some time away to reflect, and what I realized was that I didn’t give up.  Like some of the greatest winners of all time, I took a loss, and it happens.  I lost the battle, but I will not lose the war, and when the war ends, the only thing left to be said will be, “The 16 Time Champ is Here!!!!!!”.  Cena is a lot like Randy Orton, in that when his heart is in a match and he knows he is in the ring with a performer that will put on a show, he brings everything he’s ever had for that one night.  This match was no exception and both of these guys brought everything they had.  Go back and watch this one again.

2) #DIY vs The Revival – 2 Out of 3 Falls – NXT Tag Team Championship – NXT TakeOver: Toronto

What can you say about NXT other than they just keep getting better?  When the developmental brand lost Bayley and Finn Balor in a matter of a few weeks, there was a lot of speculation that they would trail off, and by all rights, viewership and ticket sales have, but what hasn’t changed is what NXT brings to the table even without its big face stars.  I want to say that we flew all the way to Toronto for Survivor Series, but really, Survivor Series was just a fortunate bonus to getting to be at TakeOver.  As soon as Gargano and Ciampa were given the 2 out of 3 falls match with, in my opinion, the best tag team working in WWE right now, The Revival, I was in.  I think we paid twice as much just to be at TakeOver as we did for SS itself.  This match wasn’t just four absolutely fantastic performers in the ring doing what they do best, this was the culmination of fantastic storytelling between a team that plays heel like no team I’ve seen in years against the two darlings of NXT (I’ll get to that further in a few minutes).  Just an absolutely fantastic experience from start to finish.

1) Tomaso Ciampa vs Johnny Gargano – Cruiserweight Classic

Two absolute best friends.  One was the best man at the other’s wedding.  These guys have been together for years, and every moment they spent together in the ring told a lifelong story.  They ran the friends angle, which could have been detrimental, but someone in the booth at the CWC (cough…cough…Haitch…Cough) knew what they were doing.  It wasn’t to build them turning on each other to get the CWC and the Cruiserweight Championship.  It was an expression of a friendship that wasn’t going to be swayed by competition.  These two went into the ring to face off knowing full well that one of them had to lose, and that was going to be ok.  It was one of the longest matches of the Cruiserweight Classic, and thank Haitch again for that (Bow down to the King).  And when it was all said and done, you had watched two men who love what they do and who love each other give everything they had for the love of both, and they embraced at the end of the match in a continued show of support for one another and the crowd (and the blubbery bastard typing this recap) ate up every minute of it.  I’m not going to lie to you, I don’t know that the main roster is ready for just how good these guys are.  When the next round of …. let’s call it payroll clearance… comes around, they will most likely trim some fat from the tag team division, setting the stage for the DIY and Revival call ups that either brand would be blessed to count among their talent pool.  If you didn’t watch this match, you missed the greatest moment the WWE gave us in 2016, hands down.