This year has been a great year for professional wrestling. It has seen the increase of the popularity of the UK Scene, as well as WWE being equally brilliant and poor, but overall this year has been great, with more great matches than any time I can remember.
I saw a fair amount of wrestling in 2016. Not as much as I would like, but a decent number. I mainly achieved a personal goal of mine and ended up going to Wrestlemania. Though the matches on that card weren’t the best, there were other shows that put on great matches. Of the year, here are my 3 favourite matches of 2016. This list are matches that I saw live (rather than those that I saw on TV). Remember, this is a list, so is subjective. If your opinions differ, then good for you!
3. James Drake vs. Fabien Aichner: PROGRESS Chapter 37 – A Sudden Sense of Liberty
There had to be a PROGRESS match on the list (PROGRESS being my favourite promotion of 2016), and rest assured that if this list had been a list of 5 or 10, then more PROGRESS matches would be present. However it isn’t, and it was a toss up between Adam Cole vs Will Ospreay at PROGRESS Chapter 40: Intercepted Angel, and this one.
Why Drake vs. Aichner got this nod is because whilst Cole vs. Ospreay was always going to be good (both talents get plaudits the world over), this was unexpectedly great. Drake is a relative unknown in PROGRESS, and Aichner was making his PROGRESS debut, his only previous appearance for me was in a losing effort against PROGRESS Alumnus Jack Gallagher in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic.
This match was great, Aichner displaying a STUPIDLY GOOD top rope plancha, and whilst not a “flippy shit” match, what was done was done incredibly well. This was the show after PROGRESS Brixton that saw 3 of its most recognisable stars leave for the WWE. The show felt like it could be a hangover from Brixton, but this match cemented (and the show going forward) that the London based promotion was in good hands going forward.
You can watch this match by subscribing to Demand PROGRESS.
2. Mike Quackenbush vs. Johnny Kidd – Chikara: The Chamber of Secrets
Be a wrestling fan for any length of time (even shorter if you are involved in any way), and you start seeing the same storylines crop up over and over again. I pretty much predicted the ITV World of Sport TV Taping after the first match, wrestling can be obvious to the jaded fan. It makes sense, for casual fans having an easy to follow storyline increases the entertainment value, but for us, it can be predictable. Watch the ending of the first few Royal Rumbles to see it – 2 bad guys vs 1 good guy, and the good guy wins. Overcome the odds, if you will.
Which is why when something you have never seen before drags you in.
It requires some luck and clever booking. In this match, long time British Wrestler Johnny Kidd was wrestling his last match (actually his last but one match, but I didn’t know this, so go with it) against owner of Chikara & special attraction Mike Quackenbush. Both I’ve never seen fight before, and this match was under Admiral-Lord Mountevans Rules. For those of you who are unaware, it’s 2 out of 3 falls, with rounds, and with a time limit. It’s more similar to boxing than WWE.
What was to happen? The match had a time limit, with 8, 3-minute rounds, and as the match was 1 fall a piece, it introduced another variable to the match foreign to those who are used to the WWE style – the possibility of a draw.
The story was simple, could Johnny Kidd win his last match before retiring? As the match went on, the rounds would tick down, the crowd getting more into it and Kidd becoming more desperate, with Quackenbush holding on. In the end, well, go and watch it. It’s worth half an hour of your time.
This was a great piece of storytelling that was accentuated by both Kidd & Quackenbush’s in-ring skills.
You can watch this match by subscribing to CHIKARAtopia.
1. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn – NXT Takeover: Dallas
So here’s the thing. WWE talk about “I was there” a lot. The notion that buying a ticket even to a house show means that you will witness history. Admittedly watching a house show or even a Monday Night Raw means that your history may be Sheamus vs. Dolph Ziggler for the 290th time, but they trade on it a lot.
At Wrestlemania, whilst the card was underwhelming, for most of the year I thought that I’d get to see The Undertaker’s last match (a winning effort inside Hell in a Cell against Shane McMahon), but it sounds like he will be returning for a future match, probably at Wrestlemania. So my “Historical Moment” took place earlier on in the weekend.
The WWE Debut of Shinsuke Nakamura.
NXT Dallas was my first experience of the Wrestlemania weekend, a build up of a week that saw wrestling fans meet up, share drinks and stories, and generally get hyped up before the main card on the Sunday.
NXT was the amuse bouche, in front of 4,000 of the most passionate fans. Slotted in the card towards the end saw Sami Zayn – an NXT stalwart – face the debuting star from Japan.
Here’s the thing, I’ve not been familiar with Nakamura, who is a superstar in his native country, but after this match I became a huge fan. A hard hitting style, and Freddy-Mercury levels of charisma, meant that his matches have become a much watch. Zayn did his part too, in a true babyface vs babyface, as Zayn eventually lost the match, doing the honours in his final match. Nakamura’s oh so catchy instant classic music ended first, before Zayn received plaudits from the 4,000 strong crowd before becoming full time on the main roster.
At the beginning of the match I wasn’t aware of Nakamura’s skills. By the end of the match, I wanted to be Shinsuke Nakamura when I grew up.
You can watch this match on the WWE Network.
Anyway, these are my 3 favourite matches of 2016. What are yours? Leave them in the comments!