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The 10 best matches of 2016 (so far ...)

Which showstopping bout leads the pack halfway through 2016?

Time flies when you’re having fun. And 2016 has been a hell of a lot of fun. From new championships to new Superstars to old rivalries renewed on the grandest possible stage to dream matches we thought we’d never see, this year has encapsulated the very best WWE has to offer. And it’s only half over! As we round into the back nine of 2016, WWE.com looks back on the ten best bouts of the year so far.

10

Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens; WWE Payback

These two have been teaming and tussling for the better part of a decade; some would go so far as to say their careers are intertwined, or, if you’re in a comic-booky mood, “destined to do this forever.” In that case, count their first one-on-one match on a WWE pay-per-view among their best. Owens won, by the way, but that hardly matters; Zayn beat him in a rematch later on Raw. On and on it goes.

9

The New Day vs. Y2AJ — WWE Tag Team Championship Match; Raw, March 7

If Chris Jericho hadn’t gone and taken out AJ Styles at the end of this match, they might have made a pretty good tag team. Easily the most dynamic of The New Day’s challengers throughout their nearly year-long reign, the only thing that could stop this “codebreaking and risk-taking” duo from capturing the W. W. E. World. Tag. Team. Championships. was each other. Woe is them, miscommunication led to exactly that outcome, and Styles took a series of Codebreakers from an incensed Jericho to complete the most shocking about-face of 2016.

8

Dean Ambrose vs. Chris Jericho vs. Cesaro vs. Alberto Del Rio vs. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens — Money in the Bank Ladder Match; WWE Money in the Bank

If there is such a thing as a glass ceiling, Dean Ambrose had been slamming his head against it for a solid year leading up to this star-making match for The Lunatic Fringe. But to highlight Ambrose’s ultimate Money in the Bank victory — and subsequent cash-in — would do a disservice to the magnificent performances of Chris Jericho, Cesaro, Alberto Del Rio, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, all of whom laid their bodies on the line in the most inventive fashion possible to reach the proverbial next rung. Dean-o’s victory was sweet, to be sure, but anybody here would have been a worthy champion-in-waiting. To quote one of the participants: Drink it in, man.

7

Triple H vs. Dean Ambrose — WWE Championship Match; WWE Roadblock

While Triple H’s WrestleMania challenger, Roman Reigns, was sidelined with an injury, The Game might have thought he had an easy Road to WrestleMania to look forward to. Dean Ambrose made sure that didn’t happen, hounding The King of Kings into a title defense at WWE Roadblock and coming one technicality away from stealing the gold for himself. Apart from being a top-tier performance from both Superstars, it’s tempting to look back at this as a moment of clarity for Ambrose, who fell short of the ultimate prize once more, but would not do so again.

6

American Alpha vs. The Revival — NXT Tag Team Championship Match; NXT TakeOver: The End…

Watching this match in slow-motion might be the best way to enjoy it: The action is so fast, furious and crisply executed that the finer details may be lost in the sheer speed at which it unfolds on the screen. With twin wrestling machines American Alpha defending their titles against satin-jacket bruisers The Revival, the NXT Universe expected a contest of the highest caliber, and they got one, plus a little history to boot: Revival’s eventual win made them the first team to hold the NXT Tag Team Championship on two separate occasions.

5

Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch — WWE Women’s Championship Match; WrestleMania 32

A year ago, at an NXT Live Event in Philadelphia, Charlotte, Sasha Banks (then the NXT Women’s Champion), Becky Lynch and Bayley spoke about headlining WrestleMania one day. One Divas Revolution later and three of the “Four Horsewomen” were centerstage at AT&T Stadium, battling for the newly-instituted WWE Women’s Championship that officially sent the Divas Title into retirement. With an unprecedented canvas on which to create, the three Superstars showed the WWE Universe that the future of the sport doesn’t just lie with the Y chromosome set. They didn’t headline per se, but they did something better: They stole the show.

4

Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles — Extreme Rules WWE Championship Match; Extreme Rules

There was a lot of talk for a lot of years about whether AJ Styles “belonged” in WWE. Well, consider this match the answer to that sewing-circle speculation: The Phenomenal One lived up to every inch of his reputation in a battle with Roman Reigns that spilled across the entirety of the arena, leaving bones and tables shattered in its wake. Reigns, for that matter, lived up to every bit of his own reputation in retaining when all was said and done, but it was Styles’ showcase that left everyone talking. Not only did he show he belonged, he rendered the idea that he didn’t utterly absurd in hindsight.

3

The Miz vs. Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens — Fatal 4-Way Intercontinental Championship Match; Extreme Rules

Say what you will about The Miz’s personality, and there’s certainly a lot to say, but 2016 has been a Renaissance year for the self-proclaimed A-Lister. This Fatal 4-Way was his masterpiece, his “Godfather,” if you will, a breakneck tussle with three of the most talented Superstars in WWE history that featured thrills (Cesaro surviving everything thrown at him), laughs (Sami Zayn booting Kevin Owens in the face to start the match) and a shocking ending (Miz retaining by the skin of his veneers). That’s blockbuster material to be sure, and even the most devoted denizens of the Cesaro Section would have to give it two thumbs up.

2

John Cena vs. AJ Styles; WWE Money in the Bank

Fifteen years is a long time to wait for two people to have a match. And yet, that was the required incubation period for a marquee bout between John Cena and AJ Styles. That’s a lot of time to be watching the clock, but it’s hard to argue with the results: Cena and AJ’s “dream match” was wish fulfillment in almost every sense, from the two trading finishers right down to the ending sight of Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson helping Styles destroy the 15-time World Champion, which was like Christmas come early for the “Cena Sucks” set. If a decade-plus hold time is the price for something like this, we’d gladly pay it again.

1

Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura; NXT TakeOver: Dallas

Very few people knew what was going to happen when the debuting Shinsuke Nakamura was slated to face yellow-ropes lifer Sami Zayn at NXT TakeOver: Dallas, apart from an inkling that it would be Sami’s last match under the NXT banner. The two put on a bout that was equal parts tribute to the Superstar who helped raise NXT up on his back and the so-called “King of Strong Style” who was poised to carry it into the next generation. When Nakamura finally blasted Sami with his twisting Kinshasa knee to the face, more than a few tears were shed — not just because of the finality of Sami’s farewell, but because he’d gone out the only way he knew how: Full speed ahead, no regrets, and with everyone wondering how anyone could possibly follow that.

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