This countdown isn’t in any order or declaring the definitive best, we’re just selecting ten that we Vultures loved. Find out more here.
Let’s start with a question: did AJ Styles just have the best debut year in WWE history?
It’s one of those things we might say now and again as a half joke. This time though, you’re actually thinking about it, aren’t you? Thing is, if you do stop to think about it, it actually is true. The Phenomenal One hasn’t had a bad match in 2016, and his best bout in WWE came courtesy of its biggest star: John Cena.
The Dream Match
Big Match John versus the Phenomenal AJ Styles was not the main event of Summerslam 2016. That fell to Finn Balor and Seth Rollins, two men seen as the future of the company. Buried somewhere near the middle of the card, Styles-Cena was still without a doubt the biggest match of the night. This was a dream match – one man representing the pinnacle of sports entertainment, the other embodying the highest pantheon of independent wrestling.
It started slow, obviously. Each man tested the other out. Soon though, the power of John Cena was on display. A right hand sent Styles to the mat. A back body drop and a chest-first Irish Whip into the turnbuckle left him reeling. Just as quickly though, after Styles managed a suplex on the ring apron, it became a back-and-forth. Exactly how good was it, you ask? Well, those ‘John Cena Sucks’ chants that greeted him as he entered the arena were by now getting some serious competition from a powerful ‘Let’s Go Cena’ counter attack. By the end, the Brooklyn crowd were practically a third man in the bout.
And the Kitchen Sink
Every great wrestling match has a core narrative, and this one was no different. Going in you might have expected it to be about Cena’s strength contending with Styles’ speed and innovative offense – and early on it felt like this was the plan. In the end though, this was that rare ‘big money match’. Both men cranked things up to eleven, throwing their entire wrestling arsenals at each other (and then some) only to be met by that last second two count or yet another reversal. Styles in particular was on fire, landing two Styles Clashes, a spin off power bomb and a missed springboard 450 before the end.
I’d like you all to pay particular attention to the gourmet serving of counters and reversals in this match. How often will you see the Phenomenal Forearm countered by the STF? How often is that STF then reversed into a crossface, followed by a Calf Crusher, then reversed back into the STF? If you’re still not sold on this one after that, you can just shut the hell up. Go back to your Attitude Era nostalgia, watch the Armageddon 2000 six-man Hell in a Cell match and realise how distinctly average it was.
If we boil this one down to its essence, it was a slugfest. The Mayweather-Pacquiao ‘money match’ of professional wrestling. And that finish was historic. Between the moment Styles kicked out of the Super Attitude Adjustment and him hitting the Phenomenal Forearm on Cena for the three count, the world changed. This was the when Styles went from being a merely great wrestler to being a future legend. And it happened in a five star match. Not everyone who reaches the summit of wrestling gets there in a match this good. Let’s all be glad of that. At least 2016 was good for something.