This week Throwback Thursday on WrestlingDVDNetwork.com bids 2016 adieu by revisiting some of the best matches of the year and looking back on yet another banner year for the ever-expanding WWE Network, with the help of Jon Potter of WWENetworkNews.com.
2016 was a great year to be a fan of World Wrestling Entertainment. Though it was far from perfect the quality of the in-ring product may be as good as it’s ever been, and that’s saying something. From the shocking debuts of AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode, Austin Aries, and Kota Ibushi, to the return of Goldberg (and the Survivor Series squash) to the collapse of the “Roman Empire”, 2016 was a year for the ages. We saw records fall, another brand extension, and the true emergence of NXT as one of wrestling’s hottest properties. Dean Ambrose, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, The Miz, Dolph Ziggler, and Cesaro (finally) broke through while the women of WWE reclaimed their dignity and self-respect the only way they knew how, by fighting for it.
In the first half of this week’s TBT I’ll be taking a look at ten of this year’s greatest matches, including (for the first time) a complete list of “honorable mentions”. Then, Jon will look back on the year that was for the award-winning WWE Network, from series debuts to classic content to Live specials and so much more. So, without any further ado, let’s get this party started!
— Singles Match (WATCH – 39:41)
Chris Jericho vs.“The Phenomenal” AJ Styles
Monday Night RAW #1183 • January 25, 2016
Though rumored for some time, AJ Styles’ debut at the 2016 Royal Rumble in the infamous “One vs All Royal Rumble Match”(1:58:02) nonetheless shocked wrestling fans around the world. The following night on RAW Styles made his TV debut in this match against Chris Jericho, a dream match millions of fans thought would never, ever happen. Though they would have better matches on bigger stages it was this first encounter that proved AJ Styles truly was “Phenomenal” and that Chris Jericho was still every bit the “best in the world” at what he does.
— Singles Match (WATCH – 43:14)
Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
NXT TakeOver: Dallas • April 1, 2016
It could be argued that the first half of 2016 belonged to Sami Zayn, who had a host of great matches on TV and PPV in both NXT and the main roster. This match, Zayn’s NXT swansong, is hands down (for me, anyways) the match of the year for 2016. A true “crossroads” event, this match saw the end of the era of Zayn and the beginning of the rise of Shinsuke Nakamura. The match produced the kind of drama and excitement that wrestling fans hope for but rarely ever get.
— WWE Women’s Championship – “Triple Threat Match” (WATCH – 1:53:52)
Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte(WWE Diva’s Champion) w/Ric Flair
WrestleMania 32 • April 3, 2016
WrestleMania 32 was a mixed bag, a great show to some, a letdown for others. Though few of the marquee matches lived up to the hype, the Women’s Championship match exceeded expectations, delivering a stiff, exciting, unpredictable match that had the bulk of the Dallas crowd on their feet. The greatest women’s match in WrestleMania history, this match reset the division and finally put the women of WWE on the same level as the men.
— WWE Intercontinental Championship – “Fatal Four-Way Match” (WATCH – 52:13)
Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn vs. The Miz(c) w/Maryse
Extreme Rules 2016 • May 22, 2016
From the opening it was clear this match was going to be something special. Chock-full of false finishes and incredible saves this match, another of Sami Zayn’s classics, easily ranks as one of the greatest “fatal four-ways” in WWE history.
— Second-Round Match in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic Tournament (WATCH – 21:44)
Kota Ibushi vs. Cedric Alexander
WWE Cruiserweight Classic #5 • August 10, 2016 (Taped: July 14, 2016)
The inaugural Cruiserweight Classic produced a bevy of great matches and breakout stars. While everyone expected a classic between Kota Ibushi AND TJ Perkins in the semi-final round, no one expected this match (an NJPW-inspired battle) to steal the tournament. Alexander would get a WWE contract while Kota moved on as the prohibitive favorite to win the tournament.
— “Grudge Match” (WATCH – 1:03:05)
“The Phenomenal” AJ Styles vs. John Cena
SummerSlam 2016 • August 21, 2016
After a controversial finish in their first meeting at Money in the Bank the stage was set at SummerSlam for a true epic, and that’s exactly what was delivered. As he had done with the likes of Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens, John Cena not only put AJ Styles over, Cena elevated the “Phenomenal One” to astronomical heights, preparing Styles for an eventual run with the WWE Championship.
— “Best of 7 Series – Match #7” (WATCH – 40:33)
Sheamus (3) vs. Cesaro (3)
Clash of Champions 2016 • September 25, 2016
It’s safe to say that future best-of-seven series will be measured against this series as previous ones were to 1998’s Booker T/Chris Benoit series and 1986’s Magnum T.A./Nikita Koloff series. A series marked by stiff, grueling action was taken to a new level in this final match. No one expected the no contest finish to be as conclusive as it was, but the door has been left wide open for another chapter in the Sheamus/Cesaro wars.
— WWE Intercontinental Championship – “Career vs. Title Match” (WATCH – 1:23:36)
Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz(c) w/Maryse
No Mercy 2016 • October 9, 2016
There are some, like myself, who believe that when this program was hot it was the best thing on WWE TV, and the matches were even better. These two had torn the house down on TV and PPV, proving why Miz was one of WWE’s top heels and Ziggler one of WWE’s most-deserving performers. This match, my runner-up for MOTY 2016, was all about the story of Dolph Ziggler, seemingly packing his entire career (and its hurdles) into one match.
— NXT Tag Team Championship – “2-out-of-3 Falls Match” (WATCH – 49:54)
#DIY (Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa) vs. The Revival (Dash Wilder & Scott Dawson)(c)
NXT TakeOver: Toronto • November 19, 2016
If the first half of 2016 belonged to Sami Zayn, the second half of 2016 surely belonged the The Revival. Whether it was against TM-61, Almas & Alexander, American Alpha, or #DIY, The Revival have stolen show after show with a kind of tag team wrestling once thought to be extinct. This match may very well be the tag team match of the year in WWE. With classic storytelling and incredible false finishes this was a Starrcade worthy tag team match for the ages.
— “5-on-5 Men’s Survivor Series Elimination Match” (WATCH – 1:58:39)
“Team SmackDown Live!” w/James Ellsworth: Shane McMahon, The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt & Randy Orton), WWE World Champion AJ Styles, & Dean Ambrose vs.
“Team RAW”: Braun Strowman, Seth Rollins, WWE United States Champion Roman Reigns, Chris Jericho, & WWE Universal Champion Kevin Owens
Survivor Series 2016 • November 20, 2016
With history hanging heavy over the 30th Survivor Series these two teams delivered one of the greatest traditional “Survivor Series” matches ever, and the longest match in event history at 52:51. Featuring great spots, high drama, and incredible twists this match delivered an old school tour-de-force that may never be surpassed.
Honorable Mentions (chronological order)
WWE Intercontinental Championship – “Last Man Standing Match” (WATCH – 5:19)
Kevin Owens vs. Dean Ambrose(c)
Royal Rumble 2016 • January 24, 2016
“2-out-of-3 Falls Number One Contender’s Match for the NXT Championship” (WATCH – 1:25)
Sami Zayn vs. Samoa Joe
NXT #324 • March 9, 2016 (Taped: Jan. 27, 2016)
“Grudge Match” (WATCH – 15:55)
Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn
Payback 2016 • May 1, 2016
WWE World Heavyweight Championship – “Extreme Rules Match” (WATCH – 2:19:11)
“The Phenomenal” AJ Styles vs. Roman Reigns(c)
Extreme Rules 2016 • May 22, 2016
NXT Tag Team Championship (WATCH – 13:05)
The Revival (Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder) vs. American Alpha (Chad Gable & Jason Jordan)(c)
NXT TakeOver: The End …of the Beginning • June 8, 2016
“6-Man Money in the Bank Ladder Match for a WWE World Heavyweight Championship Contract” (WATCH – 1:54:41)
Chris Jericho vs. Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn vs. Alberto Del Rio vs. Kevin Owens vs. Dean Ambrose
Money in the Bank 2016 • June 19, 2016
First-Round Match in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic Tournament (WATCH – 37:49)
Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa
WWE Cruiserweight Classic #4 • August 3, 2016 (Taped: June 23, 2016)
NXT Women’s Championship – “Grudge Match” (WATCH – 1:27:28)
Bayley vs. Asuka(c)
NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II • August 20, 2016
Semi-Final Match in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic Tournament (WATCH – 30:44)
Kota Ibushi vs. TJ Perkins
WWE Cruiserweight Classic #10: The Live Finale • September 14, 2016
WWE Women’s Championship – “Hell in a Cell” (WATCH – 2:32:46)
Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks(c)
Hell in a Cell 2016 • October 30, 2016
When it comes to the WWE Network’s original programming in 2016, it was a case of expanding what worked while dipping a toe into other genres. The service has always seemed to be at its best when it mines the rich history of pro wrestling. In the wake of the Stone Cold podcasts losing their edge, Legends with JBL looked to pick up the baton. While the show never reached the same heights as the excellent two-parter premiere with Eric Bischoff from September of 2015, it has been a regular fun foray into the closest thing to a shoot interview that WWE have ever produced. Legends With JBL produced 8 new episodes throughout the year.
Meanwhile, Table for 3 also continued to roll along with its more relaxed style. Also pushing out another 8 episodes in the last 12 months, the casual discussion series featured such trios as Edge, Christian and Mick Foley; JJ Dillon, Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard and R-Truth, Booker T and Goldust, all generations have been covered.
Also worth a mention is the second season of Swerved. While never a smash hit, the original concept for the show had its fans. Unfortunately, reported unhappiness amongst the wrestlers led to the format being changed so that they were in on the joke. It really didn’t work the same, though some laughs were to be had from those with good comedic timing (such as R-Truth) as they messed with the general public.
Moving on from returning concepts, we have Ride Along, which actually began way back in January. Admittedly, the show is very sporadic and has only managed 7 episodes in a full calendar year, but the road trip premise creates a few memorable moments here and there. At around 15-20 minutes a pop, it can be a fun timewaster.
The Edge and Christian Show was a rather strange case. Debuting after Fastlane 2016, it was widely despised. In fairness, the premiere did feel somewhat clunky and as if it was struggling for a direction. However, the season relentlessly picked up steam as it progressed, eventually becoming adept at biting humor and parody, both towards the IWC and the pro wrestling business itself. By the time the finale aired, many were distressed at rumors of a cancellation. Talk about pulling victory from the jaws of defeat.
When it comes to true damp squibs, Holy Foley was the only series to really land with a thud. Holy Foley was the first step into “reality TV” since 2014’s Legends’ House and the first of the genre to be specifically made for the service. Unfortunately, it didn’t even really receive a tepid response, with both the acting and humor being widely panned as terrible. This isn’t to say nobody liked the series, but the fact that the second half of the 10-episode season still hasn’t materialized four months later speaks volumes.
Camp WWE was the first ever TV-MA Network show, animated or otherwise, and featured unedited swearing with more risqué stories. Admittedly, the humor is very sophomoric and the vulgarity can feel like a gimmick, but it’s not unusual to be caught off-guard by at least some of the less childish jokes. Created by Seth Green’s Stoopid Buddy studio, there’s obvious talent behind it. It’s just a shame that it aimed for the lowest common denominator.
Story Time is the newest addition to the original programming slate, arriving in late November. It’s short-form content, clocking in at around 10 minutes each. All told, this series is very middle of the road. The road stories are kept relatively tame and the animation is fairly standard, with only a few visual jokes sprinkled in to make it worth watching. The only remarkable aspect of the show is the TV-14 rating, making it the only original series with a non-PG rating to air on the live stream.
I must also make mention of a couple of the special documentaries from the year that were worth watching. WWE 24 is always a treat whenever it decides to resurface and 2016 was no different. Both Seth Rollins: Rebuild, Redesign, Reclaim and Thank You Daniel are fantastic and even work as two sides of the same coin. The first sees an athlete fighting to return, while the second sees another coming to terms with the end. Both are emotionally draining for different reasons and essential viewing if you haven’t seen them already.
2016 was the year when the WWE Network really focused on tying up loose ends in regards to its historical vault. We saw the completion of Monday Night Raw (with every episode prior to the 30-day delay now available on the service), ECW’s entire televised history uploaded and every single WCW Monday Nitro. Add in a steady increase of NWA footage along with SmackDown being only two monthly drops from being done and this year was fairly impressive for completists.
According to WWE themselves, we saw 1,500+ hours of archival footage added in 2016 alone, with the same planned for the next 12 months.
Yes, all of this is a drop in the bucket compared to the 150,000 hours that WWE have touted owning in the past, but what makes 2016’s content focus even better is how much it has freed up the slate for 2017. Even if we assume NWA World Championship Wrestling/WCW Saturday Night and SmackDown are a lock to be finished, that still leaves 5 out of 12 monthly blocks unaccounted for.
For the first time since classic content became more of a focus in September last year, things are unpredictable for the vault. If the variation continues, some pleasant surprises are in store.
Speaking of pleasant surprises, we also saw the introduction of curated “Collections”, which effectively function as playlists. It’s true that these are often just a way to channel casual fans towards content already available, but they did at least grant us the gift of “WWE Hidden Gems”. More importantly, the Last Battle of Atlanta was unearthed, a feat thought for decades by many to be a pipe dream.
If this was a hint at the Network’s potential, you can count me in as a lifetime subscriber!
The WWE Network tends to stumble slightly when trying to go beyond its comfort zone, but really shines as its video library continues to expand. If the service can stick with what it’s good at while filing in some gaps in the classic vault, 2017 could be the true breakout year.
If you’re not already subscribed to the WWE Network, then what are you waiting for? Sign up to relive all the great action, classic content, and original programming it had to offer this year!
I’d just like to shout-out Brock for inviting me back for one night only and the “powers that Bee” for allowing it to happen. It was fun to look back at a hectic 12 months! Don’t forget to check out WWENetworkNews.com for all the latest coverage on the award-winning WWE Network.
From all of us here, we wish you and yours a safe and joyous New Year.
Thanks for reading – until next year, see ya at ringside!
Watch the best of 2016, the upcoming Royal Rumble 2017 PPV, and 7,000 more hours of content on the WWE Network. Your first month is FREE! Click here to subscribe to the WWE Network.