April 2016 featured perhaps the greatest WrestleMania Weekend ever, in terms to overall match quality. Within the first 24 hours of April we had two matches receive five star ratings on this website. Within the first 72 hours of the month we had seven of our top 10 matches of the month take place. By comparison, last March, WrestleMania weekend only had three matches place in the top 10, two of which were at WrestleMania. This month also saw the most matches nominated this year for any given month. Twenty-five matches received the required two nominations to be eligible for the voting pool and they took place in 15 different promotions. This month also served as the biggest month for voting participation of this year as well! We had 5,134 votes come in and I want to thank anyone that voted.
Since April was such a stacked month I had no other choice, but to expand this monthly column to covering the top 10 matches of the month instead of the usual 5. By the end of the 2016 April will probably be the best month of wrestling all year, with only August as a potential competitor with the G1, Super J Cup, SummerSlam, and most likely an NXT Takeover Special.
Match of the Month:
NXT Takeover: Dallas
Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
Won H2H 94.3%
The Build: After finishing out on the the losing end of his feud with Samoa Joe to determine the next #1 Contender for the NXT Championship Sami Zayn was without an opponent for Takeover: Dallas. On the March 16th episode of NXT, General Manager William Regal came out and told Zayn who he would be wrestling at Takeover: Dallas via a special video message featuring the newest signee, Shinsuke Nakamura. This video of course hit the internet back in January when the tapings for this episode took place, thus creating a buzz all over the world to see these two clash for the first time ever. These two ring veterans are both reaching their 15th year in the business, but could not have taken more different paths leading to their Takeover match.
The Match: This was the dream match that no one ever knew they wanted to see and it delivered on everything we could’ve imagined. Sami Zayn is the best wrestler in the world at conveying emotions through body language and facial expressions. When someone is as good as Zayn at conveying emotions it makes you want to go on the journey through the war in the ring with him. It makes you wince in pain when Nakamura is laying in his stiff knee strikes. It makes your heart launch into your throat when Zayn manages to kick out of a pinfall at 2.9999. It makes you exasperate in agony when Zayn goes down in defeat, but Zayn’s resilience and never say die attitude makes you want to pick yourself back up and go into the next war with him, and that is what this match was. A war of two 14 year veterans throwing their best of their best at each other until one broke.
None of this should take away from Nakamura’s performance which was the best debut in NXT history and maybe one of the best debuts into a new promotion we have ever seen. Nakamura had the perfect awareness of the new environment he was entering without missing a beat of what he does best. This was an incredible match and will make many people’s top ten list by the time the year is over.
The Voting: This match had the most definitive first place victory of the year so far (Feb – Omega/Tanahashi won H2H vs. other matches 79.7% of the time Mar – Ishii/Naito won H2H vs. other matches 85.6% of the time). This was my match of the month and I gave it my second five star rating of 2016 (Okada/Tanashi at Wrestle Kingdom 10 being the other).
The rest of the top 10
Best in the World Challenge Series
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Will Ospreay
Won H2H 85.24%
The Build: Zack Sabre Jr. continues the Best in the World Challenge Series as he is taking on the best wrestlers from a multitude of styles. At EVOLVE 56 and 57 ZSJ wrestled “The WWN Icon” Johnny Gargano, and “The Technician” Drew Gulak, respectively. EVOLVE 58 saw ZSJ continue the series against, “The Flyer” Will Ospreay as Ospreay has quickly become the best high flyer in the world. And not that it played into the actually story of the match, but if you were curious these two have wrestled each other only 5 times prior for 5 different promotions.
The Match: This was a great match between the perennial talents of the European independent scene, but between two wrestlers with very distinct styles. ZSJ has won the Best Technical Wrestler award in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter for the last two years and Will Ospreay is the front runner for Best High Flyer this year and many years to come. In his EVOLVE 58 review Rich Kraetsch waxed poetic about this being the definitive match that officially put the Euro-Indie scene on the map the same way the Do Fixer/Blood Generation Dragon Gate six man tag match changed North American independent scene forever at Supercard of Honor 2006, and I couldn’t agree more. For a couple of years now there has been a strong buzz surrounding the Euro-indie scene and to have two of their homegrown stars come to Dallas, Texas during WrestleMania weekend and have one of the best matches you will see all year is a special deal.
This was such a fun match to watch as you get to see Ospreay display some of his mat wrestling in the beginning of the match when trading holds with ZSJ. ZSJ then was always a step ahead of Ospreay, which is becoming a trend in Ospreay matches and works perfectly given that he is only 22 years old and is always wrestling veterans of the ring. ZSJ hammered Ospreay with the combination of the Soccer Kick into the Liger Bomb and then trapping him into a painful looking Double Arm Bar for the win.
The Voting: This match narrowly beat out #3 in overall percentage, when these matches came up head-to-head with each other Ospreay/ZSJ beat out Ospreay/KUSHIDA 11-5.
NJPW Invasion Attack 2016
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
KUSHIDA © vs. Will Ospreay
Won H2H 85.19%
The Build: On the opening night of the New Japan Cup Kazuchika Okada pinned KUSHIDA in a tag match. Okada then directed KUSHIDA’s attention to the video screen to introduce the newest member of CHAOS, independent British wrestling sensation, Will Ospreay. In this video Ospreay challenged KUSHIDA for IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. Ospreay declared that he would become Britain’s first ever IWGP Jr. champion and would defend the title all over the planet solidifying himself as the best Junior Heavyweight in the world.
The Match: After an all-time great WrestleMania Weekend, Ospreay travelled to Japan to prove that he isn’t just a guy with the best flips in wrestling, he wanted to prove that he has the heart and emotion to take fans on a ride with him. I’ve tweeted this throughout the year, probably every time I’m watching an Ospreay match, but the emotions/facial expressions that Ospreay conveys gives me Sami Zayn type vibes. Ospreay isn’t on that level, yet, but he will get there and that is when people will start throwing around the oh-so-important words “Best in the World.” For anyone that wants to downplay Ospreay’s talents and say he doesn’t sell then please watch this match as it was a Class 101 of selling and Ospreay aced the test. The way KUSHIDA kept working over Ospreay’s arm and Ospreay not only sold it throughout the match with the proper amount of agony that made you feel it as if your own arm was in pain, but it also forced him to alter his own moveset including a NO HANDED FRONT HANDSPRING which was incredible.
Unfortunately for KUSHIDA, because of performances like Ospreay’s, his run as the ACE of the Junior Heavyweight Division has been kept quiet. KUSHIDA’s matches all feel very similar, but don’t let that come off as a negative comment to KUSHIDA, because the brilliant thing about KUSHIDA is that he blends that same match into the style of his opponent seamlessly. It is like no one else in the world. This match was fantastic and was a great introduction of Ospreay to a Japanese audience.
The Voting: As said for the previous match, this was a very close second place. Personally I had this match as my second best of the month, but will never argue against someone thinking Ospreay/ZSJ was better and both of them will end up on people’s Top 10 Matches of the Year lists for 2016.
NJPW Invasion Attack 2016
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada © vs. Tetsuya Naito
Won H2H 73.3%
The Build: In March, Tetsuya Naito won the New Japan Cup for the first time by defeating four members of CHAOS throughout the four rounds of the tournament (Should be noted that Hirooki Goto didn’t become an official member of CHAOS until losing to Naito in the finals and accepting Okada’s handshake after the defeat). This of course lead to Naito announcing that the title challenge he earned from winning the NJC will be used to challenge Okada for his IWGP Heavyweight Championship. This was Naito’s fourth challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in his career, losing the previous three, two of which were to Okada.
The Match: The atmosphere for this match alone was outstanding. The ungovernable, Naito lead the audience in Sumo Hall into anarchy as everyone was cheering for the heel vs, presumed tweener/babyface, Okada.
This match had a lot of layers to digest with interference from Los Ingobernables, Naito’s rise to finally capturing the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, to SANADA making his NJPW debut by joining Los Ingobernables, to newfound ACE of NJPW Okada falling for the first time as the ACE, and they found away to blend it all together to where it never fell like too much. This match had a lot of action, a lot to unpack, and never failed to keep my attention for a second. Naito is the most compelling pro wrestler on the planet and his gimmick is so unique and fresh that anything he says or does is can’t miss. The least talked about aspect of this match, and equally important to Naito’s rise, was the way Okada worked in defeat. Okada’s performance in this match was subtle in the most perfect way. Okada took a back seat from the spotlight to shine the light on the succeeding champion while doing his best to make Naito look like a million bucks. 2016 started off as a treacherous year for NJPW with the losses of 5 key talents, but this match was the check point of the new era and proof that NJPW is still alive and well.
The Voting: This is where you will notice a drop off from the top three of the month and the rest. This won H2H versus other matches almost 12% less times than the number 3 match. Should be noted that NJPW’s Invasion Attack show had the number 3 and 4 MOTMs.
USA vs. Europe Series
Ricochet vs. Will Ospreay
Won H2H 70.4%
The Build: This match, like many matches during WrestleMania weekend, was just a dream match booked to put butts in seats. Early in his short career Ospreay cited AJ Styles and Ricochet as his two dream opponents. Ospreay had the opportunity to wrestle Ricochet twice previously to this match, both occurring in RevPro UK (In October 2013 and September 2015). This match was most certainly a showcase of the best high flyer of the five years versus the best high flyer of today.
The Match: This dream match delivered on everyone’s wishes of seeing the state of the art high flying that only these two are capable of. Ricochet proved that he still had it and wasn’t going to allow this 22 year old new comer to dethrone the King of Flight. Ospreay was out to prove that not only could he hang with the guy he’s always looked up to, but that he could out-fly the Best High Flyer in the world. With all of that said, this match wasn’t just about mindless flips with no ring psychology. There was plenty of psychology in these guys striving to outdo the other one. The match finished with one of the more vicious Benadryller’s you’ll ever see from Ricochet.
The Voting: This match had the unfortunate position of being in the middle of a great WrestleMania weekend. If this match took place as the main event of a stand alone EVOLVE show in a month that wasn’t April it probably would have finished in the top 2, unfortunately Will Ospreay himself had two better matches this month.
NXT Takeover: Dallas
NXT Championship Match
Finn Bálor © vs. Samoa Joe
Won H2H 61.9%
The Build: Finn Bálor and Samoa Joe teamed together in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic tournament going through the entire tag team division of NXT to become the tournament’s inaugural winners. Bálor was NXT Champion at the time and after winning the tournament Joe made his intentions clear, that his goal when he signed with NXT was to become the champion. This started off as a feud over the NXT title between two friends that respected each other and respected each other’s goals. That quickly went away as Joe’s mean streak progressed to the point that this became a blood feud. Balor successfully defended his NXT title against Samoa Joe at NXT Takeover: London in December of 2015. Starting from scratch on his path to winning the NXT championship Joe had to go through Baron Corbin and Zayn to earn his #1 contendership for the NXT Championship in a match that would take place the Friday of WrestleMania weekend.
The Match: This wasn’t a match, it was a fight. The Bálor/Joe match from Takeover: London received from criticism for being a well worked match that lacked heart and emotion. In hindsight you could say it was because they were building to this match that proved these one time tag partners have turned this into a feud of hatred. In the opening minute of this match Joe was busted open gushing blood from above his eye and retaliated by viciously throwing Bálor over the guardrail and into the fans. The rest of the match was a balls to the wall fight with both guys trying to put away their opponent with their complete arsenal of moves.
The Voting: This match wasn’t only a victim of the great month of matches it was competing with, it was also a victim of the great show it was on. NXT Takeover: Dallas had four matches pass through nominations with Zayn vs. Nakamura finishing higher than this match.
WWNLive Supershow: Mercury Rising 2016
Kota Ibushi, Johnny Gargano, & TJ Perkins vs. Will Ospreay, Marty Scurll, & Tommy End
Won H2H 61.4%
The Build: At Ring of Honor’s first Supercard of Honor event, then booker, Gabe Sapolsky booked a six man tag team match featuring the stables of Do Fixer and Blood Generation from Dragon Gate. This instantly created a fury of buzz all across North America and served as the precursor to Sapolsky’s next ventures Dragon Gate USA and EVOLVE, while also serving as a big reason “WrestleMania Weekend” became a thing with independent wrestling. Sapolsky then made it a tradition to put together an all-star six man tag team match as a signature of WrestleMania weekend.
On one side you have three men that were featured on the first ever EVOLVE card back in 2010 versus three of the hottest acts in the UK independent scene.
The Match: This match was the equivalent of an NBA All-star game. It had all of the top stars in independent wrestling showing off their flashiest of moves like the high scoring dunk contest that the NBA All-star game becomes every year. Kota Ibushi got the biggest reaction in this match as it was only his third outing since getting injured last October. The dream pairing in the match was Ospreay and Ibushi and we got to see them clash at two different points in the match. The latter occurrence was following stereo moonsaults off the balcony to the other four men with Ospreay and Ibushi meeting in the ring 1 on 1 afterward. This was a fun 20+ minute match, but I wouldn’t have put it in my top ten. Just like the NBA All-star game analogy this match was easy to forget about the following day.
The Voting: It surprised me that this match finished as high as it did. As said, the NBA All-star game aspect of this match will play out in hindsight as well. I doubt many will remember this match even happened by the end of the year.
Wrestlecon Supershow 2016
PROGRESS World Championship
Marty Scurll © vs. Will Ospreay
Won H2H 60.5%
The Build: Marty Scurll and Ospreay wrestled each other 6 times in 5 different promotions leading to this encounter. The feud between these two have rivaled only Dragon Lee vs. Kamaitachi as the hottest feud in wrestling over the last two years. Ospreay vs. Scurll has the edge of appearing in more promotions, more countries, and has also been nominated for Match of the Month 3 times out of 4 months in 2016. This match also served as the top championship of PROGRESS wrestling earning its “World Title” status, which is always nice to see an independent promotion wait until their top prize has been defended in multiple countries before referring to it as a “world title.”
The Match: These two have wrestled in the most highly touted matches of any pairing this year on the independent scene. They’ve wrestled each other in 5 different promotions and each time they manage to improve the incredible chemistry they already have. This match was in a different country from their last PROGRESS Championship encounter in January, but it was still a match to be believed as “in canon” with PROGRESS wrestling. That aspect kind of grinded on me as their match in January was a No DQ match that felt like a true blood feud and this match felt like two guys that respected each other more and just wanted to compete to see who was the best with no real context of that growing respect happening in between.
This match in a vacuum did tell a nice story of Scurll having Ospreay’s number and doing his homework as he was always a step ahead of Ospreay at every point in the match until Scurll finally put Ospreay away.
The Voting: This match had two things working against it in the voting. 1. It was the third best match of this feud and 2. There is a growing circle of fans that are growing tired of the buzz these two are generating thus creating the inevitable hate watchers of any ring these two step into. With that said, I cannot disagree with its placement in the top 10 and it will most likely split votes with their other matches when it comes time for MOTY lists.
NJPW Road to Wrestling Dontaku Night 7
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Kenny Omega © vs. Michael Elgin
Won H2H 58%
The Build: Kenny Omega won the, then vacant, IWGP Intercontinental Championship by defeating Michael Elgin’s Unbreakable Aces tag team partner, Hiroshi Tanahashi. At Invasion Attack Omega and the Young Bucks (collectively known as branch of Bullet Club called The ELITE), defended their NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championships against the Unbreakable Aces and the returning Yoshitatsu. Elgin pinned Nick Jackson to win the NEVER Six Man titles for his team. After the match Omega stepped into the ring with his other championship, the IWGP Intercontinental Championship and laid it out in front of Elgin challenging him to step up. This marked a historic encounter because it was the super rare time that two gaijin wrestlers headlined a NJPW show.
The Match: Omega and Elgin are the two top gaijin wrestlers in NJPW right now, so it was only fitting that they be in this unique gaijin vs. gaijin match. During his entrance Omega made a comment about how the Young Bucks weren’t there with him so Omega attempted to pull out of his antics with his Cleaner trash can and broom, as well as a table, but Elgin thwarted that and forced Omega to wrestle him in a legit match. This was full of great wrestling that we have come to know from these two and during the closing stretch we saw a dangerous Powerbomb to the outside from Elgin sending Omega through a table. It was a spot that Omega was lucky to be able to walk away from. Omega was finally able to put Elgin away with a definitive One Winged Angel to continue Omega’s path to being a legit main eventer.
The Voting: This was the perfect placement for this match. It was a very good match in an all-time great month of wrestling.
WWE WrestleMania 32
WWE Diva’s/Women’s Championship Match
Charlotte(c) vs. Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks
Won H2H 53.2%
The Build: In July of 2015 WWE attempted to manufacture a trend, or in their words a “revolution” of women’s wrestling. The real women’s wrestling revolution in the company started at NXT: arRIVAL when Paige defended the NXT Women’s Championship against Emma. That match started a trend of having excellent women’s matches on the NXT specials that blew the minds of fans who only knew of women’s wrestling from the fashion model turned subpar wrestler era of WWE women’s wrestling of the last 17 years. There were four women who stood out and ushered in that new era of women’s wrestling, three of which were in this match. And these three women debuted on the main roster this past July when introduced by Stephanie McMahon. WWE took something that was organically happening on NXT and instead of allowing that groundswell to grow on the main stage, they slapped a buzzword, #DIVASREVOLUTION, on it and shoved it down the throats of the casual fans who were unaware of NXT.
The manufactured main roster version of the #DIVASREVOLUTION did more to hinder fan’s perception of the great wrestling these women were capable of then it did to perpetuate the success that the NXT women were having. WWE finally steered the ship in the right direction when they put the women who carried the organic women’s wrestling revolution in this match to showcase their talent on the biggest stage.
During the WrestleMania 32 pre-show, WWE Hall of Fame diva, Lita made the announcement that Charlotte’s Divas Championship would be rechristened the WWE Women’s Championship that night complete with a new title.
The Match: This was an absolutely fantastic match and will go down as the greatest women’s match at a WrestleMania to date. It was great to see Charlotte coming out in a custom robe made out of the same robe her father, Ric Flair, wore to the ring for his retirement match against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 24. Sasha Banks came out to the ring with her WWE Hall of Fame cousin, Snoop Dogg, wearing tribute gear of the late Eddie Guerrero. Special entrances on this scale set the stage for what was to be an important match in women’s wrestling. These three women went out and had a match that reached the caliber of one of NXT Takeover specials women’s matches only this time in front of nearly 100,000 people. The best spot in the match was Charlotte’s Moonsault to the outside, which was the most beautiful Moonsault ever seen at a WrestleMania. This was the best match of the night and unfortunately it will only be discussed by WWE in hindsight, but this match did more for the #DIVASREVOLUTION than anything WWE ever fabricated.
The Voting: This match snuck into the number 10 spot on the last day of voting narrowly beating out the Bayley vs. Asuka match from NXT Takeover: Dallas. WrestleMania was not a good show, but this was the best match on the entire card and it deserved to be recognized in the top ten matches of the month.
MVP for April 2016
The MVP for this month is no doubt, Will Ospreay. Not only did Ospreay have a great month, but he put together maybe the greatest 10 day string of matches anyone has ever seen. From April 1st – April 10th Ospreay was in five of the top eight matches of the month. On April 2nd Ospreay was in three matches that placed in the top 6 matches of the month! IN ONE DAY! Ospreay gets the MOTM MVP for April and I do not see anyone, at any point of this year, surpassing the month this man had.