WWE is more content-driven than ever, offering three brands and original in-ring action on most nights of the week. Between RAW, SmackDown, NXT, and pop-up specials like the recent Cruiserweight Classic, it’s getting increasingly difficult for even a hardcore fan to know what’s going on in all of WWE. That’s where this article steps in.
Focusing only on wrestling under Vince McMahon‘s umbrella, the best matches will now be counted down on a weekly basis. Did one of the main roster shows offer the best in-ring action or did NXT upstage them? How do the champions of all divisions stack up to their counterparts on the other nights of the week? These questions will now be answered.
Just looking at past seven days, there have been multiple matches that could land on many people’s Best Of lists for 2016. A new SmackDown Champion was crowned at Backlash while the final three matches of the Cruiserweight Classic introduced the first ever Cruiserweight Champion (assuming this belt has a unique lineage from the previous one). Also, Roman Reigns competed in a hard-fought contest on Raw in an effort to get included into the Universal Title Match at Clash of Champions while a James Ellsworth-less tag match occupied the SmackDown main event. All of these matches were good while some were great. Only one can be the best.
Fifteen matches from Raw, SmackDown, Backlash, NXT, and even an entry from Main Event follow. So proceed on to see where your favorite matches landed on this list…
15. Jason Jordan vs. Aiden English (Main Event)
If you’ve missed either American Alpha or The Vaudevillians as of late, apparently they’re hiding out on this secondary WWE show. Since Chad Gable is technically out thanks to a recent Usos attack, both he and Simon Gotch just hung out at ringside to support their tag buddies.
Both Jason Jordan and Aiden English are very skilled in the ring and told a simple but good story. English worked on Jordan’s arm, dropping his appendage on the top rope and working an arm bar. He even found time to show off a manly flex to the crowd while he had Jason’s arm pretzeled up using only his legs. Ultimately, the American Alpha member scored the pinfall after nailing this Vaudevillian with an exploder suplex.
It’s good to know that American Alpha are only on a temporary hiatus from SmackDown as they’re selling their on-screen injury. Heath Slater & Rhyno are fun in the spotlight for now but the Jordan and Gable void will start to become more and more apparent as time goes on. As for Gotch & English, it’s a shame that they were given a prominent role very early on their main roster arrival only to fall from the spotlight so fast. They’re fun characters and skilled in the ring. Hopefully they’re WWE fortunes will change.
14. Bray Wyatt vs. Kane – No Holds Barred Match (Backlash)
This was supposed to be a match between Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton. We can all blame whomever gave the thumbs up to allowing Brock Lesnar to throw some very real elbows to the top of a real human skull for why the original Randy/Bray match was cancelled. As always, the show must go on and in The Viper’s place stood The Devil’s Favorite Demon, Kane.
While not a match of the year candidate or anything, Kane and Wyatt did mesh well on this night. They were a good change of pace compared to the rest of the card thanks to the No DQ stipulation that they worked with. They used chairs against each other and Bray even dropped Kane through an announce table thanks to a running senton.
The one big criticism that this contest brought on was the Kane victory. It’s baffling why a part-time-at-best performer, even if he is the monster Kane, would go over the younger Bray Wyatt. Sure, Randy Orton did interfere at the end to give Kane the assist but couldn’t someone dream up a situation in which Randy still got to get in his RKO and Bray scored a pin? It feels cliché to complain about Bray losing because it happens too often but why not give him the win just this once?
13. Baron Corbin vs. Apollo Crews (Backlash)
Neither Baron Corbin nor Apollo Crews were advertised to compete last Sunday prior to when the pre-show went on the air but thanks to some very last minute booking, they got a kickoff match. It’s crazy that they don’t plan ahead a little better. Daniel Bryan & Shane McMahon should get a day planner or something.
These two were given nearly ten minutes and not surprisingly, they had a solid match together. One of the more memorable exchanges occurred outside of the ring when Baron Corbin was slammed into the steel ring spots. Crews followed this up with a big time Samoan Drop on the outside. Ultimately, it was Corbin that won the match thanks to his End of Days finishing move.
This was a good start to the first blue brand only Pay-Per-View event of this era. Corbin’s been in a rivalry with Kalisto as of late while Crews got the chance to vie for the Intercontinental Title at SummerSlam, but perhaps they should focus their efforts more against each other. They have chemistry for sure. If there was an actual story going into why they stepped inside the ring then it would give them more opportunities to show emotion.
12. Sasha Banks vs. Bayley vs. Dana Brooke (Raw)
Before Monday, Charlotte still needed an official challenger for her Women’s Championship and there were a couple of people that could rightfully step to her. Sasha is the former holder of that belt while the recent NXT call up Bayley scored a pinfall on the current champ very recently. Dana Brooke also has some beef with her mentor but it was a little odd including her in this matchup. Hopefully she continues to get sympathy as she keeps getting mistreated.
The matchup was enjoyable, as expected. All three were competitive, even pulling off a Tower of Doom spot that Michael Cole called a Super Superplex. The finish was a little awkward, with Sasha doing a unique rollup that had her own shoulders pinned to the mat just as much as Bayley’s but the ref didn’t score it as a double pinfall. It seemed like they were going to rule some double fall that might put both ladies in the Women’s Championship match at Clash of Champions but neither the ref nor the announcers remarked on both sets of shoulders on the mat. Strange…but Charlotte vs. Sasha should still be good.
11. Tommaso Ciampa & Johnny Gargano vs. Noam Dar & Cederic Alexander (CWC)
The Cruiserweight Classic was a fantastic night of wrestling, including the one match that wasn’t a part of the tournament. Featuring four guys who were previously eliminated in earlier rounds, Team DIY (Tommaso Ciampa & Johnny Gargano) took on the makeshift pair of Noam Dar & Cederic Alexander. All four have signed contracts with WWE and have been announced for Raw’s cruiserweight division, so this served as another solid presentation of their talents.
Probably the best spot of this match was when Dar found himself in the Electric Chair setup on top of Ciampa’s shoulders. Gargano then shimmied onto the apron and gave Noam a Superkick, crashing him hard onto the edge of the ring. Dar took the losing pinfall later in the bout when his opponents hit him with tandem superkicks.
All four of these athletes are exciting additions to WWE’s roster. Ciampa & Gargano have already established themselves, whether together or even against each other. Noam Dar is very young and has a great look so it should be really easy to market him and of course, Cederic Alexander had one of the breakout performances of this tournaments. If WWE is looking to separate top-tier guys in the cruiser class into eventual successors to TJ Perkin’s new belt, Cedric seems like a shoe in for that position.
10. John Cena & Dean Ambrose vs. AJ Styles & The Miz (SmackDown)
Shane McMahon set up a triple threat match between Cena, Ambrose, and Styles for the WWE World Championship at No Mercy, so what better way to begin building for that than with a tag team main event? AJ was responsible for finding his own tag team partner and it almost gloriously became James Ellsworth. The Miz beat him up on the entrance ramp and took his spot instead because apparently we can’t have nice things. As great as Miz is right now, it would’ve been fantastic if Ellsworth was inserted into this contest. Cross your fingers for future main events.
With more time, this could’ve been way better because they didn’t really get to do extended sequences of trading signature moves back between all four guys over and over. However, with less than ten minutes of match time (9:50), they did make it exciting. The big story here appears to be the heel turn of Dean Ambrose. He bantered with some pretty sharp verbal jabs with John Cena in the opening promo and that lead into him refusing to tag in the Dr. of Thuganomics when he was asking for it. After the match, Dean gave John a Dirty Deeds to the scorning jeers of the crowd. A truly bad boy version of Ambrose is probably the best thing for him so it’s good that WWE isn’t delaying on his turn.
9. Heath Slater & Rhyno vs. The Usos (SmackDown Tag Team Championship – Backlash)
The man that went undrafted when Raw and SmackDown formally went their separate ways appeared to have an uphill battle if he was going to make the story that he was given work. After a few face-to-faces with the likes of Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar, he was starting to get sympathy. The crowds kept jumping on the Heath train all the way to the finals of the tournament to crown new SmackDown Tag Team Champions at Backlash. In the end, it was a satisfying end for the journey of the man that needs this job.
The most memorable part of this ten minute match was when Slater was Superkicked at the very end and it looked like he might succumb to the pinfall. However, the ref had his back turned to Rhyno and couldn’t prevent the Gore that was delivered. The crowd cheered for Heath to roll over and cover his opponent, which he slowly was able to do. The unlikely team of Slater & Rhyno defeated the now villainous Jimmy & Jey, earning the man with seven kids from West Virginia an official spot on the roster. The celebration in the ring truly felt like one of the feel good moments of WWE’s 2016.
8. Sheamus vs. Cesaro (Raw)
Cesaro entered this match on the bad end of a 3-1 record of this Best of 7 series. Sheamus had a vital advantage, so The Swiss Superman is now in a perpetual must-win situation from here on out. This was the typical decent match that these two put on. They have no problem laying their stuff in, which is always fun to watch. Sheamus was going for his Irish Curse backbreaker in the closing moments of this contest but it was countered. This led to Cesaro rolling up the Celtic Warrior, propping a foot onto a rope for some added leverage.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and Cesaro resorted to a heelish tactic in the end to nab the victory. The ref didn’t notice the foot during the fall so Cesaro’s victory stands. He’s still down 3-2 so if he gets one more win next week on Raw then these guys will be all tied up going into Clash of Champions. Will Cesaro use even more nefarious tactics as this series progresses? That would be an interesting character tweak if so.
7. Natalya vs. Alexa Bliss vs. Carmella vs. Becky Lynch vs. Naomi vs. Nikki Bella – SmackDown Women’s Championship (Backlash)
If WWE wanted to kick off the new SmackDown Women’s Championship and also their first brand-exclusive Pay-Per-View with a bang, they did just that at Backlash. The ladies were the opening match on the main card and the contest was filled with action and athleticism. There was a Tower of Doom spot as well as a Blockbuster/Powerbomb combination. Naomi even pulled out a springboard crossbody to a pile of women outside of the ring. Even though there might’ve been fears that the plethora of athletes in this contest could have muddied the presentation, they overcame that obstacle and put on a match that set a high bar for the night.
As for Becky Lynch’s career, this match will be historic because it marks the first time that she’s won a championship belt in WWE. For whatever reason, she never won the NXT Women’s Championship and even though she came to the main roster at the same time as Charlotte and Sasha Banks, she went without a Diva’s/Women’s Championship run prior to this. Lynch undoubtedly would’ve been at the top of her division at some point in her career but thanks to the 2016 brand split, that long overdue moment came on the first blue brand big show.
6. The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler – Intercontinental Championship (Backlash)
Ever since going off on Daniel Bryan on a recent episode of Talking Smack that went viral, The Miz’s status has been soaring in WWE. At the first ever SmackDown Live-exclusive Pay-Per-View, The Miz got to defend his Intercontinental Championship against the man who challenged for the WWE World Championship at SummerSlam, Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler is a great talent who can wrestle on an elite level and he’s pretty much always on his A-game, which was the case last Sunday.
Right from the start, Miz and Dolph planted an easter egg of sorts into their match by mocking CM Punk‘s UFC performance. From there, Miz purposely altered his arsenal a few times to remind Daniel Bryan that he still has strife with him. A few running dropkicks into the corner along with a variation of the surfboard stretch were directed at the boss that he recently told to quit and go back to bingo halls. The finale was also good as Maryse sprayed some toxic substance into Ziggler’s eyes, setting him up for a Skull Crushing Finale to finish him off.
The ending leaves open the possibility that there will be a rematch soon and judging by how well these two meshed at Backlash, that match should happen. The one thing that should not happen is for Miz to drop his belt any time soon. His Never Ending Intercontinental World Tour keeps getting better and better so let’s see where it ultimately leads.
5. Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns (Raw)
Roman Reigns was just as cheated out of the WWE Universal Championship by Triple H as Seth Rollins was, but wasn’t given an automatic shot at Kevin Owens and that title like his former Shield buddy. For the main event of Raw, Reigns was given the chance to turn the upcoming title match at Clash of Champions into a triple threat contest as long as he could score a win over Owens.
The match itself was presented in two parts, the first of which wasn’t all that exceptional. If the contest simply ended when Seth Rollins interfered and caused a short-lived DQ ending, then this match would’ve been knocked several spots down this Best WWE Matches of the Week list. Of course, Mick Foley restarted the match and that’s when things got really exciting. The crowd was on fire as Roman and Kevin dodged Superman Punches and Popup Powerbombs and various other signature moves from each other. These two have serious chemistry in the ring and should wrestler each other far more often than they do.
The ending came when Rusev made a surprise return, distracting Roman and causing him to eat the pinfall. It’s shocking to see The Big Dog lose a main event with those kind of stipulations riding on the outcome, but that’s the reality of the current state of Reigns’ career. It’s okay for him not to be the second coming of John Cena and that should serve far better for him in the long run. He can put over guys like KO when he’s no longer the chosen guy and hang out slightly lower down the card to mix it up with Rusev for a little bit.
4. TJ Perkins vs. Gran Metalik (CWC)
All three tournament matches from Wednesday’s CWC were absolutely fantastic. The crowd was on fire for almost all of the action and how could they not be? That night on the WWE Network will go down as one of the best wrestling shows of 2016. While the championship final between TJ Perkins and Gran Metalik was amazing, it charts slightly lower than the other two simply because of the inadvertent fatigue of live audience. Adding in the tag match as well, the had witnessed a 90 minute action ride up to that point. They were quieter at the beginning of the match than they were for Metalik’s and Perkins’ earlier matches, but the two athletes got everyone on their feet again in no time.
The selling especially should be applauded in this matchup. Perkins continued to work on his knee bar submission and at one point it affected what could have been his demise. Metalik performed his Metalik Driver finisher but laid on the ground in pain from the weight he had to put on his knee to execute the move. By the time he covered, TJ kicked out before the 3 count. Perkins later countered the same signature move off of the ropes, dragging Metalik to the ground for a final knee bar sequence.
After Metalik tapped out, Perkins was presented the brand new Cruiserweight Championship by Triple H, which looked good below the disgusting mess of flesh that was his chest. Go easy on those chops, fellas!
3. Zack Sabre, Jr. vs. Gran Metalik (CWC)
In hindsight, it makes total sense that the wrestlers who were signed already to WWE went over the guys that haven’t been confirmed to stick around when the Cruiserweight Classic ended, but that wasn’t talked about much before the finale aired. Zack Sabre, Jr. and Kota Ibushi were still touted as favorites. So when Gran Metalik went over, it was a genuinely surprising moment.
Right from the start, these two competitors got the crowd on their feet after Metalik rushed Sabre then dive out of the ring with an aggressive tope. When Zack was able to take control with his pretzel-ish submission style, Metalik showed that he could match that style as well with a few painful looking knots of his own. In the end, Metalik went over ZSJ by connecting with his Metalik Driver and scoring the winning pinfall.
Gran Metalik has been a fun competitor prior to the finale of the CWC but this win over Sabre felt like a huge boost for him. He’s not just a flashy luchador, he’s a real competitor who can compete with the best in this division. It’ll be exciting to see him on Raw in the future, helping lay the groundwork for what role the cruisers will have on that show.
2. AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose – World Heavyweight Championship (Backlash)
AJ Styles has been having quite the year in WWE and his win against Dean Ambrose for the WWE Championship was very deserving. He’s been the consistently best WWE performer of 2016 and apparently nobody who’s calling the shots backstage could argue with that fact.
The match itself was a lengthy main event that was filled with plenty of moments to get the crowd on their feet. AJ Styles being catapulted shoulder-first into a ring post and Dean Ambrose running across the announce tables to dive into the crowd onto his opponent were two of the more memorable spots. The finish saw AJ capitalizing on a momentarily bumped ref, kicking Dean in the figs before hitting the Styles Clash for the win.
Dean Ambrose was in need of a character reset and this championship loss allows him the opportunity to do so. The fans haven’t soured on him for super long so as long as he gets some momentum going again with a slightly meaner attitude then he should be able to rebound back into the title picture over the next year. His title run wasn’t fantastic but it doesn’t have to be his downfall. As for AJ, he helped his opponent end his reign on a high note as far as match quality is concerned – and match quality seems to be an aspect of his game that he has no problem with. With Styles as champ, it’s easy to be optimistic about the next few months.
1. TJ Perkins vs. Kota Ibushi (CWC)
TJ Perkins’ tournament win and celebration was already covered in a prior entry but it was this semifinal match against Kota Ibushi that was the crown jewel of the week. Kota Ibushi was one of the favorites to win this special competition since the start, so Perkins was the underdog going into this contest.
Perkins showed more seriousness such as when he opted not to dab after taking Ibushi down with his twisting head scissors. It’s a slight change in demeanor like that that set up the latter moments of the match when he kicked out of the bigger moves by Ibushi. For example, TJ kicking out of the Golden Star Bomb was a huge moment in the match that put the eventual CWC winner huge. In the end, Kota did the ultimate honors when he tapped out to a very savage looking STF.
This tournament has proved to be a coming out party of sorts for Perkins. The fans really rallied alongside him in the earlier rounds and he rode that rising wave of momentum all throughout the past 10 weeks. TJ was a CWC success story and while we can hope that this wasn’t the last WWE match for Ibushi, it doesn’t look like he signed a contract up to this point.